Do you want to limit traffic? Build homes near jobs and public transit, says COG chief.

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Chuck Bean spent 10 years leading the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) as he solved safety issues on Metrorail, diversified the regional economy beyond a “government town” and endured a global pandemic.

Bean, 58, recently announced that he will step down as executive director of COG in February 2023 to travel with his wife, Betsy Howes-Bean, and volunteer.

Bean, who lives in Arlington, is unknown to many DC-area residents, but as a liaison between COG’s 125 staff members and officials representing 24 counties and cities, he played a leading role in the coordination of regional planning to improve transport, combat climate change and encourage more housing construction.

He spoke with The Washington Post about how the region can help its transit systems recover from the pandemic, help residents of historically underserved communities better reach jobs, and build an integrated network of charging stations. charging for electric vehicles. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You said Metrorail experienced serious safety issues soon after you joined COG, such as frequent track fires, which led to SafeTrack’s major rehabilitation program in 2016. Where do you think Metro stands on security issues?

Bean: I hope that in the next few months, by the time we get to the fall, we will have solved the problem of the 7000 series car, the Silver Line phase 2 will be open and we will have new energy and synergy between the [Metro] Board of Directors and the new CEO. All of these things are going in the right direction. One thing we didn’t have [before] was the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. The idea of ​​an independent safety oversight entity had been circulating. One day I received a letter from the Secretaries of Transportation of Maryland and Virginia and the Director of Transportation of DC asking if we would use federal funds to create a safety commission. I think this is one of COG’s proudest accomplishments over the past 10 years. I think we hear more about safety, partly because of the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission. I hope there will be good working relations between the [commission] and Metro which will continue to improve safety over the next few years. Obtaining funding dedicated to Metro’s capital needs and the creation of the safety commission put Metro in a better position. It’s not quite there yet, but Metro is in a much better position than it was five years ago.

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Q: How do you see the region’s transportation network, especially mass transit systems, recovering from the pandemic?

Bean: This is the question of the 2020s. This is the post-pandemic pivot. I think this question starts with an analysis of the implications of this much higher rate of people working from home? The question is, will these higher rates persist? … We have about 3.2 million jobs in the region. Just over half of all these jobs are ready for telework, which corresponds to 1.6 million workers in the region [who can telework] and now commute two or three days a week. There is less gravitational pull towards the central core for these 1.6 million workers [who can move farther out]. … Metrorail ridership is coming back more slowly than many of us might have hoped, but I think we are now back at the highest rate, compared to the pre-pandemic period. Suburban transit ridership is growing at a much faster rate.

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Q: Metrorail weekday ridership is still around 42% pre-pandemic levels. How do you see that recovery, or not?

Bean: I think the three things Metrorail can control that will help its future are the return of the 7000 [series] cars, the completion of Silver Line Phase 2, and a strong working relationship between GM, Metro Board and WMATA employees. The thing that is beyond Metro’s control is the return of commuters, because that’s what Metrorail is focusing its biggest numbers on, especially the return of the federal workforce. I don’t have an answer on how this will play out. … I sympathize with the feds because I could talk about the post-pandemic pivot, but there are still unknowns that I think the feds are trying to figure out.

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Q: COG has been very focused during your tenure on increasing the supply of affordable housing. How does the lack of affordable housing in the area contribute to its traffic congestion?

Bean: A few years ago we modeled various things that could be done to improve transportation and congestion. One of the things was to build more housing closer to the jobs so there would be more within a half hour drive, rather than a two hour drive. So if you want to improve transportation, one way is to improve the supply of housing and the location of that housing. We are basically in a housing shortage right now. In recent years, the area has not created enough housing for the increase in population due to increased employment. There aren’t enough accommodations within half an hour’s drive, either by car or public transit, so people have to [live] further and further. It just creates longer journeys and more congestion.

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Q: Last year, the COG Board of Directors made its first regional commitment to prioritize equity in planning and investment decisions on issues such as affordable housing, economic development and transportation. . When and how did the focus on equity emerge?

Bean: Our unified planning framework focuses on housing, greenhouse gas emissions and transit optimization. The fourth component is equity, particularly areas where the focus is on equity. We searched the region’s 1,222 census tracts to find concentrations of low-income communities and/or concentrations of communities of color. We have come to focus on approximately 350 census tracts and are committed to enhancing and prioritizing them. We were doing this analysis. I would say he was galvanized by the racial reckoning of 2020, and the focus on fairness came to the fore. …These census tracts occupy only 10 percent of the region’s land mass—they’re a little denser than the average census tract—but contain 30 percent of the region’s population. About 1.5 million people are found in these census tracts. They are like an acupuncture chart on fairness. We need to focus on these areas and connect them.

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Q: You said before that to ensure fairness, you also have to make it easier for people to get to transit stations. Can you elaborate on the link between equity and access to public transit?

Bean: It’s really about optimizing land use so that as many people as possible can use public transit. There will be 225 high-capacity transit station areas by 2030. There are 150 now, and 75 will be added by 2030. I don’t think any other area in the whole country does this kind of progress over the next decade. . These also represent only 10% of the region’s land mass, but 55% of future job growth will be in these nodes. … We will also need a range of housing at different price points.

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Q: What would you still like to see the region achieve in the seven months you have left?

Bean: I would like to work on a regional approach to [expanding] electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Rather than county X having their plan and county Y having their plan maybe with a different provider, it would be better if we all did it together. So many trips cross different jurisdictions. It’s going to be complicated. … There are big buys for this charging infrastructure, so there’s potentially huge buying power in buying them together rather than separately. All of this is precipitated by a major influx of federal funds to [electric vehicle] charging infrastructure. This is something we can focus on over the next six, 12 or 24 months. How can we all work together?

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