DDOT Upgrades Transportation Online Permitting System

The District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Transportation Online Permitting System (TOPS) is getting a facelift: the redesigned TOPS—which goes live on Thursday, November 7, 2013—offers public space permit applicants a more streamlined experience.

The remodeled site offers users a more intuitive interface and frontloads a lot of important features so that visitors can find information about permit fees and conditions; required documents; kiosk locations; and permit types up-front, without having to log-in to the site.

An example of all the information that the new TOPS site offers about construction / excavation permits.

An example of all the information that the new TOPS site offers about construction / excavation permits.

For registered users, the TOPS site offers more useful tools as well. A glossary helps familiarize users with technical language. An interactive map features different layers (for example, permitted public space  projects, street tree locations) that can be toggled on and off by the user, street-view capabilities, and a tool that allows users to measure public space dimensions in an area.

DDOT’s new TOPS site not only provides users with a smoother, easier-to-navigate online tool for all their public space permitting needs, it also allows the agency to more efficiently process the influx of public space permits it receives. TOPS allows DDOT staff to review submitted documents electronically and provide revisions and stamp their approval electronically as well. DDOT has processed more than 90,000 public space permits in the last three fiscal years.

For more details about TOPS please visit tops.ddot.dc.gov.   To contact DDOT’s Public Space Permits Center please call (202) 442-4670.

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DDOT’s Keeping Pace With Increased Development, Permit Applications

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For a while, the District has been one of the hottest localities in the country for development projects.

Currently, there are more than 60 cranes hanging over construction sites in the city. The District has also become a “Top 10 City” for density of population per square mile in the nation. This break-neck development leads to increased economic opportunities (2,174 construction jobs and 1,419 permanent jobs were estimated to have been created by the 19 large-scale development projects that were completed in FY 2013).

With all of these factors in play, DDOT is running full-steam ahead trying to keep pace with the public space permits that all of this continuing development requires. In the past three fiscal years, the agency has been getting exponentially better at “getting it done.”

  • FY 2011 – 22,658 permits issued
  • FY 2012 – 30,621 permits issued
  • FY 2013 – 39,594 permits issued

This equates to 92,873 permits issued in the last three fiscal years and a 75 percent increase in permits issued between FY 2011 and FY 2013. These figures are sizeable, especially when compared to amount of permits issued by similarly-sized cities: Baltimore issued 7,133 permits in FY 2012; Denver issued 11,760 in the same fiscal year.

Despite shouldering such a heavy workload, DDOT’s Public Space Regulations Administration (PSRA) does not sacrifice customer service. In fact, their efforts at serving District residents and visitors throughout the public space permit process might be more noteworthy than their Samson-esque efforts of keeping pace with development in the District.

For more than a year, PSRA has helped DDOT receive “A”-level marks under Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Grade DC initiative, which ranks District agencies’ customer service competency. In FY 2013 alone, PSRA had 167,000 customer service “touches,” which combines customers served through permits reviewed, calls received, inspections, and office walk-ins.

DDOT is doing everything it can to welcome new development, and the opportunities it brings, to the District.

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UFA Combing the District to Save Bees

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DDOT’s Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) is on a new quest to help save bees in the District. Bees play a significant role as they pollinate over 80% of our vegetables and fruit plants and without them we would have a very limited food supply.  With the number of honeybees continuing to decline in northern America UFA is exploring how to sustain a healthy population of bees in the District.

As part of a pilot program that was launched two years ago UFA now has nine bee hives located throughout the District.

The idea to keep and maintain these bee hives came about after UFA was tasked with removing a swarm of bees from local neighborhoods. With guidance from a local bee keeper UFA was able to successfully capture these bees and allow them to form their own colonies.

The members of UFA team assembled the hives, participated in internal staff trainings for bee keeping and have partnered with various community groups to locate and maintain the hives throughout the District. The host sites for the hives include community gardens, green rooftops and parks.

The Earth Conservation Corps, whose mission entails empowering at-risk youth to reclaim their communities and their lives, partnered with UFA to host a hive and is educating youth on the significance of bees and training them on bee keeping practices.

Now in their second year, the bee colonies have matured and for the first time UFA, in partnership with the District’s Franciscan Monastery, were able to harvest honey from the bees. About 15 cups were produced and bottled.  As this initiative grows UFA hopes to be able to harvest a larger yield of honey to donate to local community food banks.

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A Land Where Bikes Rule the Road

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

Signs in Denmark point bicyclists toward multiple routes in the area.

For many years, the District has been heralded as one of the best cities for bicyclists. The city’s reputation for fostering cycling has continually grown in stature: earlier this month the Huffington Post heralded D.C. as the “new U.S.  bike city to watch.”

“Of all the major U.S. cities reinvesting in human transportation, none has been making bikes work better for its people more rapidly than the nation’s capital,” said the Huffington Post.

Statistics back up this praise. More than 4 percent of commuters bike to work, which is more than double the average of 70 other cities in the  country.

Copenhagen, Denmark—which Director Terry Bellamy and DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe visited as part of a five-day bike study tour of Denmark and Sweden sponsored by the Green Lane Project—is a little bit ahead of the District. Thirty-six percent of commuters in Copenhagen bike to work, making it a mecca for bike-centered transit.

copenhagen transit mode chart

In Copenhagen, cars often take secondary-billing to bicycles and public transit.  This is due to a 40-year evolution in transportation  planning in Denmark.

On Norrebrogade, a main artery in the city, 35,000 bicyclists make there way to and from the center of the city each day, physically protected by pedestrian pathways and traffic lanes by slight curbs. The bike traffic is so heavy on this road that Copenhagen transportation officials are investigating ways to ease bike congestion, a problem that rarely—if ever—needs to be solved in the U.S., although the District is starting to notice it in some places (for example, the 15th Street Cycletrack).

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes "Green Wave" signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and buses line Norrebrogade, which utilizes “Green Wave” signal timing to promote efficient bicycle flow.

This heavy bike use is supported by a vast network of protected bike lane and innovative bike-centric signal timing techniques such as “Green Wave,” which guarantee bicyclists a steady series of green lights if they maintain a 12mph speed limit.

Cycling from Sunrise to Sunset

To soak in Copenhagen’s unique milieu, Director Bellamy, Mr. Zimbabwe and the two other members of the District’s study group (Councilmember Mary Cheh and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council’s Ellen Jones) routinely biked from 8 a.m. to after dinner. They rode approximately 10 miles per day, according to Mr. Zimbabwe, going to different information sessions and places of interest as Copenhageners do—with a set of wheels.

On their trek through Denmark and Sweden, the District’s contingent (which traveled with groups from Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tenn.) noticed small idiosyncrasies in the local infrastructure that further underlined the importance these two countries placed on bicycling. Railing-like “waiting bars,” for instance, were placed at intersections for bicyclists to hold steady to while waiting for a green light. The openings of trash cans on some bike routes were placed at a slight forward-leaning angle, so that bicyclists could discard their trash  while peddling. Small LED lights, which were embedded on the sides of bike lanes, would flash yellow to alert cyclists to an impending red light ahead.

A cyclist rests at a "waiting bar."

A cyclist rests at a “waiting bar.”

Although Copenhagen is a model for bike transit, Mr. Zimbabwe is quick to point out that there are some things that the Danes could learn from the District.

The District does a better job of promoting walking and public transit, he said. Pedestrians, for instance, sometimes do not have marked crosswalks to use when crossing bike paths, and have to contend with cyclists that don’t often yield.

All in all, however, Director Bellamy and Mr. Zimbabwe had a great experience in a land where bikes rule the road.

DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council's Ellen Jones at Copenhagen's Nyhavn canal.

DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe; Director Terry Bellamy; and the D.C. Bicycle Council’s Ellen Jones at Copenhagen’s Nyhavn canal.

“Copenhagen is one of the few places I’d go back to,” said Director Bellamy. “One of the reasons I’d go back to it is that, as a bicycle rider, the protected lanes are great.”

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District Families Celebrate International Walk to School Day

Families walk to Shepherd Elementary School on International Walk to School Day.

Families walk to Shepherd Elementary School on International Walk to School Day.

District students and families joined communities across the country and the world on October 9, 2013 to celebrate International Walk to School Day.  Walk to School events work to create safer routes for walking and bicycling and emphasize the importance of issues such as increasing physical activity among children, pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, concern for the environment, and building connections between families, schools, and the broader community.

To date, 21 DC schools have registered Walk to School Day events on the program’s website and the total number of participating schools is expected to grow throughout October, which is International Walk to School Month.

Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Northeast DC encouraged students to bike or walk to school on October 9 by instituting a one-day car tax. All parents who drove directly to the school in a car were asked to pay the $1 car tax. To help parents avoid the car tax, the school provided parent volunteers to accompany walking school buses and bike trains from the Franciscan Monastery parking lot at 14th Street and Quincy Street NE. Students, parents and staff were on hand to cheer for students as they walked and biked up the last portions of the steep hill on Oakview Terrace directly in front of the school. Students gathered inside the school for a brief safety assembly before heading to class. This year’s celebration included representatives from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), Safe Kids Worldwide, Children’s National Medical Center and FedEx.

On Capitol Hill, students from about a dozen schools gathered at Lincoln Park for their annual International Walk to School Day celebration. Several Capitol Hill schools host similar events on a weekly basis. This year’s event partnered with “The Long Short Walk” a global campaign for pedestrian safety in partnership.

At Ross Elementary School, student walkers were greeted by mounted Metropolitan Police officers and as well as McDuff the Crime Dog.

Shepherd Elementary School celebrated International Walk to School Day for the first time. Families gathered at Marvin Caplan Park and traveled to school via a Walking School Bus supervised by parent volunteers and school staff members. 

About DC Safe Routes to School Program

Walking and biking to school leads to healthier children and less traffic. DDOT’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program works to make it safer, more convenient, and more fun to get to school on foot or by bicycle. SRTS is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.   To learn more about the SRTS, please visit the program’s website or follow it on Facebook.

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Signal Optimization and Improving Traffic Flow in the District

All Things Go

The District of Columbia as a humanistic, people-friendly city is first and foremost an accessible city, where mobility is possible for all. Many cities today are plagued by traffic congestion, and in densely populated city areas the fastest ways of getting around are often on mass transit, by walking and bicycling.

Under Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s Sustainable D.C. initiative, our goal is to continue to switch commuters from driving alone, to bicycling, walking, and carpooling by making mass transit more appealing. Our goal is to have 75% of our morning commutes to start and end using these transportation modes.

Creating this balance starts with improving our transportation network and one key factor is traffic optimization for all modes of transportation. Toward these aims, The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is overhauling the District’s traffic signal management program through using advanced computer software.

Traffic signal management can be defined as using new technologies and equipment to make existing traffic signal control systems operate more efficiently. Improved traffic signal has many benefits including improving air quality and reducing fuel consumption; reducing congestion and creating efficiencies for commercial and emergency vehicles, and buses. This can also reduce the number of serious accidents; reduce aggressive driving behavior, including red-light running and postponing and eliminate the need to construct additional road capacity.

The DDOT system is comprised of traffic lights, stop signs, and various other control devices designed to control competing flows of traffic. It is designed to efficiently manage vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.  The 1,600 traffic signals in D.C. collectively form DDOT’s comprehensive signal program. Traffic signal re-timing and management is a cost-effective way to provide safe and efficient traffic flow throughout the city.  

Signal Timing

Signal timing is a special technique that traffic engineers use to manage traffic flow and determine who has the right-of-way at signalized intersections.   DDOT traffic signal engineers manage traffic signal systems operations in connection with capital improvement projects, sight clearance inspections and responses to residents’ inquiries.

The central objective of signal timing is to coordinate the competing demands of motor vehicles, public transit, bicycles and pedestrians in an efficient manner. Signal timing strategies are designed to minimize stops and delays, minimize fuel consumption and air pollution emissions and optimize traffic flow and progression along major arteries.   Signal lights are designed to coordinate a process in which lights respond to the traffic demand based on the time of day.   The current signal timing is determined by the preset movements of traffic.

DDOT’s comprehensive plan to improve the flow of traffic is a coordinated 5-year project.  It is well underway and several important changes have already been implemented at nearly 600 intersections. This part of the program (Phase I) is the first step in building a solid foundation to enhance and improve traffic flow. DDOT is replacing the old and outdated traffic controller software in the field during Phase I. More extensive changes will come in Phase II which is scheduled over next three years and will include all 1600 traffic signals in the District. 

The scope and scale of this project is far more comprehensive than any previous DDOT effort.  DDOT is on the forefront and cutting edge of managing traffic flow to respond to our population growth and improve safety and efficiencies.

DDOT’s ultimate program goals are to make DC traffic signals safer and friendlier for pedestrians, vehicles, public transit, and cyclists, and to reduce traffic congestion, improve bus travel, and reduce harmful emissions.

DDOT’s traffic engineers collect data on traffic patterns, volume, speed, lane-use, and timing of signals at intersections with the goal of utilizing the data to optimize traffic flow and better manage traffic movement in the District of Columbia.  Using advanced computer technology has enhanced DDOT’s abilities to manage traffic flow efficiently. 

DDOT uses off-line software model that can emulate real-life traffic conditions. It evaluates and optimizes traffic signal timing plans based on traffic volume and geometric conditions.  And it captures data based on capacity performance and level of service at signalized intersections. 

Data is based on the time of day and organized around AM drive-time peak hours on weekdays from 7-9:30, mid-day peak from 11-1, and PM drive-time peak hours from 3 to 7.  On weekends, the traffic flow is different and the data collected creates a separate pattern, from 11am to 4pm.  The analysis takes the existing traffic conditions, then optimizes or creates an optimized plan to improve the flow of arterials by all users.  The small changes in Phase I have largely gone unnoticed to the general captures data based on capacity performance and level of service at signalized intersections.  Data is based on the time of day and organized around AM drive-time peak hours on weekdays from 7-9:30, mid-day peak from 11-1, and PM drive-time peak hours from 3 to 7.  On weekends, the traffic flow is different and the data collected creates a separate pattern, from 11am to 4pm.  The analysis takes the existing traffic conditions, then optimizes or creates an optimized plan to improve the flow of arterials by all users.

The small changes in Phase I have largely gone unnoticed to the general public but are fairly extensive.   The updated traffic controller computer software includes several features. One of the most important features allows traffic engineers to modify signal timing to improve bus progression.  DDOT, working in partnership with WMATA, is also planning improvements to assist in the operations and efficiencies of WMATA’s bus fleet. The WMATA/DDOT effort will improve bus routes through the implementation of a Transit Signal Priority in the various heavy bus corridors. 

Another feature of DDOT’s program in the traffic controller computer software upgrade is Adaptive Traffic Signal Control Technology which will utilize real-time traffic information to adjust the timing of lights to accommodate changing traffic patterns and ease traffic congestion.  In cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, DDOT will begin testing this new technology on New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Rhode Island Avenue corridors in 2014. This feature will work to improve overall traffic flow. 

The new traffic controller software will simplify the tedious process of designing new traffic signal timings and utilize the most modern computer technologies to create efficiencies. Increased traffic flow and a growing population mean DDOT must continually find new and innovative ways to manage traffic flow. The new software goes a long way towards assisting and driving this effort.

DDOT has built a complex traffic signal timing computer model that is being specifically adapted to DC’s local driver population, roadway network, and traffic flows. The traffic signal timing computer model was vital in helping DDOT evaluate various signal timing options and make quick signal timing changes in the Wisconsin Avenue corridor in August this year. 

A concrete example of the program’s early success is during the afternoon rush hour. Traffic engineers report that drivers making the trip along the full length of Wisconsin Avenue, a major traffic artery, are saving time. Drivers commuting between Georgetown and Friendship Heights on Wisconsin Avenue are saving up to 5 minutes in their daily commute. More quick-relief, traffic signal re-timing experimental projects are planned for Georgia Avenue, another major traffic artery in the coming months. And more extensive changes are scheduled for these two corridors as part of the Phase 2 implementation in 2015.

Phase 2

Phase 2 will result in more noticeable changes to the coordinated traffic signal timings. Engineers will complete the redesign of coordinated signal timings for the first 200 signals to be implemented east of the Anacostia River and along M Street in the Southeast/Southwest corridor before the end of 2013.

The next phase of the project is re-timing over 600 signals in the downtown area—which is undergoing a massive influx in development (for example, CityCenterDC and the Marriot Marquis)—by late 2014 or early 2015.  Re-timing downtown signals has some unique challenges with high volume traffic all competing for the same space and the same green lights.

Traffic signal re-timing will improve downtown traffic flow by timing the signals so that groups of vehicles (referred to as platoons) can travel through the series of signals with minimal stoppage. Importantly, traffic signal optimization also improves safety because traffic flow is smoother and vehicles stop less often. This reduces the probability for rear-end crashes, reduces vehicle emissions and lowers our carbon footprint. It also reduces travel costs by reducing the amount of time stopped at red lights, saving us money at the gas station.

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A bicyclist crosses at one of several HAWK signals that DDOT recently installed in the District.

DDOT is at the forefront of modernizing traffic flow and utilizing the most advanced computer software to improve traffic flow and safety. This important effort will improve the quality of life for citizens and commuters in the District of Columbia and be an important component of Mayor Gray’s Sustainable D.C. program.

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In D.C., More Kids Head to School by Bike (The Washington Post, Kids Post)


Here’s an interesting feature in The Washington Post’s Kids Post regarding the latest trend about the increase in bicycle use numbers. This time kids are part the mix and this speaks volumes to the work that is carried out by our Safe Routes to School Program team members. Enjoy.

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