DDOT Delivers Radio Show – George Branyan, Active Transportation Branch Manager

Hello everybody I’m Terry Owens with the
District Department of Transportation better known as DDOT and welcome to DDOT
delivers each week we take you inside one of the district’s largest government
agencies for a look at what we’re doing to serve residents and visitors of the
District of Columbia. Today our guest is George Branyan he’s manager of the
active transportation branch at DDOT George welcome to the show. Thank you for
having me. Now before we get into the nitty-gritty of what you do every
day one of the things we like to do here is to it’s what I go behind the scenes
and learn a little bit about our guests and just the journey that brought them
to the agency so that it might inspire somebody else who hasn’t thought about
transportation that hey this might be a career ladder for me talk about your
journey George. Yeah happy to my journey has been very non-traditional and that
may bring inspiration to those who are looking for new opportunities and career
changes I was a high school teacher in the late 90’s and was as much as I like
teaching I was kind of looking for a change and I decided to try to switch
into Highway Safety and was really quite lucky and I. Wait, what were you teaching? Social studies US history and government yeah
okay and so I kind of leveraged some some
contacts from previous jobs and I had been a car mechanic earlier in my life
some of my earliest passions and I thought maybe there was some type of
career related to the highway safety mechanics that that cars have that I
might be able to put together somehow and I ended up applying for a job in
Maryland with their Highway Safety Office in the year 2000 and and low and
behold got that job yeah that was a pretty amazing occurrence and and and
but it opened up some fabulous doors I really became extremely impassioned by
the the pedestrian movement that was just beginning in the late 90s and
around 2000 where the real energized movement to make our
communities more walkable and safer for all people to walk and to bike and so as
the pedestrian coordinator among other fields among other programs in Maryland
I started working to try to improve pedestrian safety and then a few years
later on the job opened up at DDOT for pedestrian coordinator and and I was
lucky enough to get that job and so that brought me to DDOT in 2005. And today
you’re wearing a slightly different hat you are the manager of the active
transportation branch for people not familiar with that unit of the agency
what is active transportation. So our team is five planners who work for me
who oversee five different areas that improve both biking and walking
within the district so they’re planners so they they they design and and then in
some cases implement plans to make biking and walking safer so I have a
safe routes to school coordinator so he specializes in the school area to try to
make it safer for kids walking kids biking as well as as many people know
there’s a lot of parents who need to drop off and pick up kids so there’s a
lot of safety issues with that have a trails planner so all the trails the
Metropolitan branch trail the the Capital Crescent Trail there’s a new
south cap trail in planning there are multiple trails that the district is
planning designing and will build in the future and he is working on that and
then I have a bike lane planner probably most of the bike lanes that have been
installed in the district he’s had a hand in over the last 15 years and he
works on the bike lanes and then I have two new people who are working on both
cycle tracks these new protected bike lanes that we’re putting more and more
in as well as focusing again on the pedestrian issues it up that I used to
be primarily responsible for on the team so we have a great team
multi-disciplined multi-talented team working on these issues. Talk about the
importance the relevance of what your team is doing to change the face of
transportation in the district. Yeah you know this is part of a lot of really a
national movement to make cities walkable and bikable you know they’ve
always been a few hardy souls out there who in the 1970s 1980s we’re trying to
bike and and that has changed to a movement to make biking not just for
those type of riders with their lycra and the road bikes but to make it so
that someone could jump on a bike and get go about a mile two miles three
miles to work and do it safely without feeling like your life is threatened so
that really guides everything we do with our bike lane planning is to create
facilities that make it easy for the average person to get on their bike and
that’s something that is a lot of cities are looking at but we’re leading the way
we’re now at five percent of DC residents are biking to work in the
district and that’s overall if you look at just some of the neighborhoods that
are the very intense biking areas we’re seeing 15 to 20 percent of the people
who are on Capitol Hill our biking to work people live in Columbia Heights
are biking to work so we’ve seen a lot of success and then on the pedestrian side
again DC has always been a walking city it’s fairly dense it’s fairly it’s got a
good grid we call good bones in the planning field it’s got a lot of good a
lot of intersections a lot of places across the street but we do have some
big roads and some of those roads have are hazardous to cross difficult to
cross so we’ve been working on a lot of techniques people may have heard of the
hawk signal yeah it is one of them is gonna ask you about technology and how
that’s changing what you’re doing yeah some new things have come about and and
that have been sort of given the green light by the feds for us to use on our
roadways um and and that’s one that’s we have a 17 of those in the district and
they help people get across big busy streets we have some other you know
fairly low-tech and high-tech solutions that help slow down cars and get people
to be able to cross the street more safely. And we’ve also experimented in a
lot of ways the Barnes dance was that one that tell us about that. Oh well it’s
something that it’s funny we think about it’s quite unusual or experimental now
but this was something every city had many of actually began in the Midwest
in states like Indiana back in the in the 40s an engineer named Barnes
innovated it now and he came to Washington for a time and that’s why we
had them all they all fit 14th and G 13th and G 12th and I there’s a bunch of
streets at intersections that old-timers from Washington will remember and I’ve
had people call me and say you need to bring that back when I grew up in DC it
was it was wonderful all the cars stopped and we could cross so we put one
of those in in in Gallery Place Chinatown right at 7th and H and it it
works up pretty well and has some dragon artwork to highlight it to bring some of
the Chinese cultural identity back. Now for people not familiar with it how does
this work exactly. So the cars get to go one direction and then the cars get to
go the other direction and then all the cars come to a halt and you can cross
diagonally as well as with the crosswalks around the outside and so so
that was the first one then we added another one at Columbia Heights at 14th
and Irving which is also doing really well because that’s a very intense
location and it’s not for everywhere but places where we have literally more
pedestrians than motor vehicles that’s a place where it can be very successful
because it really does advantage the pedestrians. George I hear the
excitement in your voice when you talk about this stuff you really enjoy what
you do. Yeah it’s a it’s an honor to be part of DDOT the city is doing a lot of
innovative things we’re in the lead in so many ways and it’s just it’s it’s
it’s great to come to work every day I there’s no shortage of great things to
work on here. Ok we are talking with George Branyan he’s manager of the
active transportation branch at the District Department of Transportation
you’re listening to DDOT delivers on 96.3 HD 4 and DC radio gov let’s take a
break why don’t we come back in just a moment.
Welcome back everybody this is DDOT delivers on 96.3 HD 4 and DC radio gov
I’m Terry Owens our guest today is George Branyan he’s manager of the
active transportation branch at the District Department of Transportation
George we were talking in the break about sidewalks and just how important
they are to improving on the walkability of our city and and also pedestrian
safety people often hit us up talking about sidewalk conditions the need for a
sidewalk how does that find its way to your office. My team through the safe
routes to school program initially is responsible now for most of the new
sidewalks in the district this is something that our asset group which it
repairs existing sidewalks has done some of in the past but the rules changed in
2010 and and there’s a law that requires that there be a sidewalk on at least one
side of every street in the district but it also has some notification and some
process requirements so not to get too complicated but we the folks who build
who repair sidewalks are you know as you know they’re also doing resurfacing and
curb and gutter and and they they move very fast and they need to move fast
this is part of their commitment to the citizens to repair and move things along
as fast as possible the those notice requirements make it much more difficult
for them to put in new sidewalks so that has fallen to my team and I’m glad it
has and so for the last five years we’ve been building sidewalks they’re about
five or six years ago there were about 90 miles of roadway missing sidewalks in
the district Wow yeah these are not the freeways but but streets that should
have sidewalks on one or both sides so we have been working for five years and
to put in these sidewalks and and it is in my mind basic transportation
infrastructure it is something that every community should have but
especially a city where we want to encourage walking but more importantly
safe walking so so yeah so we’ve been out and we’ve installed about twelve or
thirteen miles of sidewalks in the last five years and it’s been a fabulously
satisfying thing to do to see communities and see the outpouring of
support unfortunately there are some communities that don’t have sidewalks
and the people are not always all that interested in sidewalks
and I think it’s a it maybe shows the shift of the cities of the perspective
of people in the city that you know 30 years ago 40 years ago just people
didn’t think twice about driving everywhere and now we’re trying to
encourage people to use transit and and and to you know to use walking as a
viable mode of transportation so what we’ve had to do is do some very delicate
negotiating with with with adjacent homeowners and the thing for for folks
listening is that is to realize that in almost every case we’re putting adding a
sidewalk to a street we are going to put it on DDOT property on on city
right-of-way it will not be on private property and and as of a change in law
in 2002 we pay for 100% of it a lot of people in the past used to file
petitions either for or against a sidewalk and that petition process is
what was around for almost a hundred years but it changed in 2002 and this
did not get well publicized at the time but but because DDOT is paying 100
percent of the cost now it is not necessarily up for a vote it’s nice for
neighbors to talk to each other and try to build some support find out who’s
against it if they’re against it why and then all I’m happy to come out and stand
in people’s front yard and show them where the sidewalk will go
and assure them that it’s not going to devalue their property because actually
these days sidewalks improve property values because people are looking for
homes in walkable communities across this country and regions. And the bottom
line is this is all about public safety is it not? Yeah I mean the ultimate
bottom line is if you see a woman pushing a stroller in the street it just
makes the hair on your on your neck stand up because you just know that’s
not a safe situation and we have that in this in our communities in this city and
so we’re working systematically to try to to get those sidewalks in so people
can walk outside of the roadway and especially on some of the busier roads
we are still kind of remarkably missing sidewalks on some fairly busy roads and
these are roads with bus stops in some cases and there’s a lot of research to
show that if you have to walk in the roadway on a busy road the chances of
being struck are much much higher than on say of
low traffic street in a neighborhood somewhere so so it’s it’s a high
priority on our teams part to address those missing sidewalks on the busy
streets. You guys are working very closely with the vision zero team
talk about that. Yes a vision zero is you know again the mayor’s initiative from
2015 that DDOT is a big part of we’re not the only part of obviously other
agencies such as MPD of the police department we’ve got the department
Motor Vehicles as well but DDOT has a big role because we control the the
infrastructure the transportation infrastructure is is is is our boat and
so we we are working very hard to try to re-engineer our streets to slow down
traffic and to make it safer for other modes to share that space with traffic
one of the things that always comes to mind when I think of vision zero is is
this statistic that if you are struck by a vehicle that’s going 40 miles an hour
you have about a 90 percent chance of dying if that vehicle is going 25 miles
per hour the chances of death dropped to about 30 percent 30 to 35 percent so
there’s a lot of wisdom and safety wisdom in getting people to drive the
speed limit so that they can A) avoid a crash with anything but especially a
vulnerable road users like a bicyclist or a pedestrian and then if that crash
does occur and crashes do occur we’re all human we’re all prone to error then
that crash is not a fatal crash or a very severe injury crash. So what’s the
message we need to be getting out to the public around speed you just cited some
statistics that if they don’t hit you in the face they should but right what
what’s the message we need to be delivering. Yeah I think you know we all
share the space here in the city you know this is this is this is our city
and everyone has an equal right to use the transportation system safely and so
you know people need when they’re behind the wheel and I think this is where it’s
most important because you’re gonna cause the harm and
I don’t mean to let pedestrians or bicyclists off the hook
who are doing risky behaviors but when they do a risky behavior and they make a
bad mistake they are going to pay the price so there’s always a built-in
incentive for the pedestrian or the cyclists to to use more caution drivers
on the other hand are in a two-ton car and there’s just not nearly as much
incentive unless they know that there’s a speed camera or there’s someone
watching their behavior who is a law enforcement official it’s a little
harder for drivers often to remember that their behavior can cause severe
severe consequences so I think we all just need to just take it easy and and
realize that we’ll get there ok at the speed limit probably get there just a
few seconds later then we might over for a racing because you’re gonna get caught
by that light anyway I said we all know so yeah so I think it’s it’s a it’s a
perspective that’s that’s maybe a bit new and in sort of a in our thinking but
we’ve got to we’ve got to sort of back off this idea that we need to just rush
everywhere in our motor vehicles. Yeah and why is it so important that we
embrace multimodal transportation yeah yeah I mean that this is the thing that
we have you know 39 percent of DC workers are taking the bus or metro to
work that’s that’s how many are using transit and every one of those is a
pedestrian at some point in that trip we don’t count them as pedestrians but you
have to walk to the bus stop for the metro station so it we all we are all
pedestrians at some point in the day so so yeah so there’s a you know there’s
just a whole lot of good arguments and you know one of the nice things about
you know walking and biking is you you’re in your community you sense the
community more you get a chance occasionally to stop and say hi to
people I’ve struck up conversations with other cyclists are waiting at the light
there’s this whole lot of other benefits too to neighborliness and friendliness
that comes with with those other modes that you’re not encased in a motor
vehicle okay you are listening to DDOT delivers on 96.3 HD for in DC radio gov
I’m Terry Owens my guest in studio today is George Branyan he’s the Manager
of the active transportation branch at DDOT we’ve got one more segment coming
up we’ll take a break and come back in just a moment stay with us welcome back
everybody you are listening to DDOT delivers on 96.3 HD 4 and DC radio
commentary Owens in studio today George Branyan he’s the manager of the active
transportation branch at the district Department of Transportation George I
wanted to talk a bit about infrastructure people often are trying
to figure out how they can get a another stop sign in their neighborhood a speed
hop on their Street step I can take us through the process you’re a resident of
the district you’ve got some safety concerns and you want DDOT to do
something what’s the process well yeah we certainly get a lot of requests for
stop signs we get a lot for traffic calming which is typically what speed
humps are involved in yeah it it might be the one thing to realize is some
projects some of the larger projects are in the pipeline and are gonna hopefully
come in and solve a lot of these problems one of the projects that I’m
really proud of is Maryland Avenue which has it’s going to be a road diet and
we’re gonna have bike lanes but also much safer pedestrian crossings because
instead of four lanes there’ll be two lanes so those are things that we’ve
been always been getting complaints over the over the years and so we go in with
some band-aids and it makes a little bit of a difference but sometimes the larger
projects are really going to fundamentally change the roadway but for
things for complaints or for issues that aren’t going to be solved by the
long-term projects it’s important to let your to use your ANC they in CSR are the
lowest in the ground level political body that all DC residents should use
and you have a commissioner who you can contact and say I feel like this street
is unsafe and then they can take that and contact DDOT there have been some
changes in the process over the last few years there used to be petitions we are
in the process of removing the petition requirement for speed humps and so we’re
trying to make it a more streamlined process where that request from your
agency Commissioner that sort of the filter we don’t
on everyone in this district resting a speed hump but the Commissioner can send
that to dDOT’s safety team and a safety team we’ll take a look at that Street
and see if it meets the criteria and and then can move forward with planning a
speed hump for that for that Street stop signs can be contentious there there are
some arguments on both sides the stop signs people think it’s going to improve
the ability to cross the street if you’re a pedestrian sometimes it solves
conflicts between motor vehicles but it can all if we put a stop sign in where
it doesn’t meet the threshold that sort of the requirements that are in an
engineering manual sometimes we end up with a stop sign that doesn’t feel like
it’s stopping or that there’s no cross traffic and people feel like they they
never see any cross traffic and if they keep having to stop and what that can
induce among drivers is a tendency to run that stop sign and then you’re a
pedestrian who steps into that crosswalk and that driver is assuming there’s no
cars to stop for and they don’t notice you so we have to be careful but we are
looking at some new stop sign policies to make it a little bit more liberal but
we’re not throwing out the engineering book but but we understand the concerns
because there are a lot of concerns in the district about two-way stops that
that would they would like to be see four-way so we’re working on some new
policies you touched on something that I don’t think most people are aware of and
that is that you guys in some ways at least are guided by federal guidelines
you you can’t just go in and make a change it’s got to meet some federal
code otherwise you can’t do it yeah yeah we can’t make make it all up there are
people who come in with interesting traffic control ideas and say you have
to do this and we say that isn’t that is no manual yeah there is there is a book
of traffic control devices that the feds have have approved for use in the States
and nd DC has signed on to abide by that there’s some wiggle room you can
experiment officially with some things but but you do have to you have to
broadly hold on to those to those and there are some good rules there’s
mitrik signal if people say you just need to put a traffic signal in the stop
sign it’s not enough just put a traffic signal in but once again if that’s good
if that light goes red and drivers never see any cross traffic or rarely seen you
cross traffic you start to create an incentive to run that light and so we do
have to we do have to look at that as well as as
the community needs it can be it can it can be difficult and I know the public
gets frustrated when they hear is trying to try and explain these rules but we
are bound and you know the risk is that we lose some federal funds if we if we
disobey the federal requirements too much so we have to we have to be we have
to be careful but we’re trying very hard to meet the community’s needs on these
traffic calming issues because they go to the heart of community quality of
life you touched on a coming project that you’re really excited about is
there another one that you’ve been involved with over the years that really
you know you when you got it done you said yes this is why I’m here this is
what it’s all about well I I it’s fresh on my mind because we did it last fall
but it was it was not not a particularly complex project but it was a sidewalk
project up in the upper Northwest on Arizona Avenue where it’s again a street
with 14,000 cars a day and we we determined that it was fairly high on
our list because it is a major arterial but only has a sidewalk on one side and
so we went in and actually the year before and began with some letters to
notify residents most residents were okay with it but the number were very
unhappy with it and they went to their councilmember and and they went to DDOT
they went to the director and they said we don’t need the sidewalk it’s going to
be disruptive and we just don’t need it and so it took a year or more but we
ended up convincing everyone on the street finally to accept the sidewalk
where there were some holdouts near the end where and I end up I always end up
in these projects in people’s living rooms sometimes with my director trying
to explain that it looked beautiful when it’s done really it will look beautiful
and you know if you’re worried about clear and snow you know I’ll volunteer
to come over the snow from I don’t know but it looks beautiful it’s just a
beautiful sidewalk and the kids are using it to get to KI Elementary School
which is just a block away down the street so I’m very proud of that project
because it’s it’s it certainly fits a important need at the end of the day it
really is all about public safety and I know that’s what you guys are trying to
accomplish anything else on the horizon that you can share with us well we we
have some cycle tracks coming up these protected bike lanes and I think one I’m
at I am allowed to talk about is the 20 22nd 20th 22nd 23rd we’re gonna we’re
gonna be having some announcements soon about about which corridor or
combination of corridors but this is sort of a Western downtown protected
bike lane that will take you from sort of Dupont Circle area all the way down
to the mall maybe it’ll add now to our other cycle track network which is of
course 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue that people know about but again
we we have ten miles of these protected bike lanes and we’re trying to add 10
miles in the next couple of years so it’s so we’re working hard on bringing
those bringing those into construction well George we appreciate what you’re
doing and there are good many people out there who feel the same way we know it’s
not always easy trying to add this infrastructure and work around our
friends who are in cars and other things but please keep up the tremendous work
you’re doing thank you very much Terry all right
we’ve been talking with George Branyan he is manager of the active
transportation branch at the district Department of Transportation and you
have been listening to DDOT delivers it’s a weekly show where we take you
inside one of district government’s largest agencies to give you a look at
all that our people are doing for the residents and visitors of the District
of Columbia that’s going to do it for us this week
we hope you’ll come back next week and check us out again when we’ll have
another DDOT staffer here in studio giving you a peek behind the scenes of
what’s going on at DDOT I’m Terry Owens have a great day everybody