Transportation Policy Academy 2014 – DC – Part 2: Harriet Tregoning, U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development

The opening day of the 2014 CSG Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, D.C. included a dinner featuring remarks by Harriet Tregoning, director of the Office of Economic Resilience at the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. As the recent director of the District of Columbia’s Office of Planning, Tregoning worked to make DC a walkable, bikeable, livable, globally competitive and sustainable city—re-writing the city’s zoning code for the first time in 50 years, planning the revitalization of the poorest parts of the District, and collaborating with her transportation colleagues to bring the nation’s largest bike-sharing program to the nation’s capital. Prior to this she was co-founder of the Governors’ Institute on Community Design. She also served as both Maryland’s Secretary of Planning and then as the Nation's first state-level Cabinet Secretary for Smart Growth. Prior to her tenure in Maryland state government, Tregoning was the director of Development, Community and Environment at the Environmental Protection Agency. She spoke about sustainable transit as an engine for economic growth. This page includes photos from the event, Tregoning’s PowerPoint presentation, excerpts from her remarks, and a selection of related links and resources.

Tregoning told legislators in attendance that technology is empowering transportation choice in cities like Washington: “The car was the disruptive technology for cities in the 20th century. The smartphone is the disruptive technology today. And in so many cities across the country, all kinds of new services are proliferating. … Not that millennials are any smarter than the rest of us but they might be poorer and for them, they’re like ‘wait a minute. I can’t afford with my college debt to invest in a depreciating durable good that I use 5 percent of the time. There’s got to be a better way. And so they started looking with their one and two college degrees for places to live that gave them those transportation choices so that they didn’t have to use a car if they didn’t want to or some of them are using a car all the time. They’re just never owning it. They’re using it when they need it and only paying for it when they need it. And cities like ours … are finding it’s a real differentiator. …What’s so amazing is at this point more than 81 percent of households in the District are what I would call “car-lite”—one or fewer automobiles. Almost 39 percent utterly car-free. … Because of the transportation choices, they’re attracted to be here. … The Washington region is the most highly educated region of the country and the people that are moving to the District—1100 people a month by last count… are much more highly educated than our regional average. It used to be that people followed jobs. Now jobs follow the talent. So all kinds of companies that had never been in the District or were never interested in the District, are flocking to the city and we have a really vital startup ecology here—lots and lots of new technology and knowledge based companies of all kinds. Every year the share of federal employment—because we were the Federal City, known as the Nation’s Capital, that was our company town company—has been declining every year for seven years. I mean declining enormously. But more or less the jobs are continuing to grow, all the government losses replaced by private sector businesses.”

For D.C., choice has bred more choice, Tregoning noted. “Biking wouldn’t work if we didn’t also have transit... Streetcar wouldn’t work if we didn’t have transit for the longer trips. We almost can’t have enough density of choices and people really thrill to it. Our citizens are so into transportation and new apps and new technology that dozens of startups have come here to startup because they know that people will kick the tires and give them really brutally honest feedback but it also means we’re going to have more of that transportation innovation here than maybe anywhere else. So it’s kind of a virtuous cycle.”

But things haven’t always been so rosy for Washington. Tregoning recalled that a dozen years ago, the city was flat on its back with little development happening and with many who worked in the city commuting from elsewhere to work: “When people started to come back and come back largely because of these transportation choices that are so dense here, amazing things happened to our revenue picture. Amazing things. Our entire streetcar systems we’re funding out of general revenue. We have universal pre-Kindergarten for three and four year olds. Free all-day daycare for everybody—not means tested—out of general revenue. I mean we’re paying for everything out of general revenue because the people that are moving here—remember I said two-thirds of the people who work here (didn’t) live here? For the new people, two-thirds of the people who work here at the new jobs do live here. So it’s entirely changed our revenue picture.”

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Further Reading