On a December evening in 1992, a group of Washington area residents gathered for the first meeting of the Transportation Planning Board's Citizens Advisory Committee.
Some members of the group had been attending meetings of the TPB for a while to voice their concerns about a proposal to replace the Capital Beltway's aging Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a plan they said had been formulated with very little input from the public.
When Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, calling for more public involvement in regional transportation decision-making, the TPB formed its Citizens Advisory Committee and some of the citizens involved in the ongoing Wilson Bridge project were among the committee's founding members.
Last week, several of those individuals and dozens of others who have served on the CAC since 1992 gathered in downtown Washington to celebrate 20 years of providing region-oriented citizen advice to the TPB and promoting public involvement in the regional transportation planning process, the committee's two main charges.
At the gathering, the group reflected on the last 20 years and on some of the committee's most significant accomplishments.
The committee's earliest members recalled the contribution they and others had made in pushing leaders to consider a range of different alternatives for the replacement of the Wilson Bridge and to involve the public more closely in the planning process. Although that analysis and additional public outreach led planners back to a proposal similar to the one originally put forth, the work demonstrated to the public that all possible alternatives had been considered, and led to reserving space on the new bridge for bicycle and pedestrian facilities and future transit service.
Another of the CAC's major contributions came in the early 2000s, when the committee turned its attention to scenario planning and pushed the TPB to incorporate scenario planning into its long-range planning activities. As a result, in 2001, the TPB launched the Regional Mobility and Accessibility Study, which aimed to explore the potential benefits of alternative land-use and transportation scenarios for the region's future. The CAC provided input into developing the scenarios and advised the TPB on how to involve the wider public.
Partly in response to the work on scenario planning, the committee also led the effort to launch the TPB's Transportation/Land-Use Connections program, which today provides technical assistance to local communities in the region to identify key improvements that will help make the transportation system and development patterns support one another more effectively.
When members of the committee heard that other metropolitan areas like San Francisco had such programs, they recommended that the TPB launch a similar program in the Washington region. Now in its seventh year, the TLC program has funded more than 50 small-scale transportation and land-use planning projects throughout the region.
Another CAC recommendation, in 2009, led to work that continues today to develop a regional transportation priorities plan. In its recommendation, the CAC called on the TPB to develop a more transparent and strategic process for determining which projects and programs in the region should be built or implemented in order to achieve broad regional goals. Tying the project-selection process more closely to a compelling regional vision for transportation would help the general public see how projects contribute to achieving goals, the committee said, and it would shape the public's view of the ability of leaders to bring about positive change and influence the public's willingness to fund transportation improvements.
Finally, just last year, the CAC was the primary force in urging the TPB to adopt a regional policy endorsing "Complete Streets," an approach to designing, building, and operating streets that enable safe access for all users and potential users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of diverse ages and abilities.
The TPB approved the policy in May 2012, officially encouraging local jurisdictions and transportation agencies in the region to adopt new implementation policies or to revise existing policies to include the core elements and best practices associated with the approach. The TPB policy also provided a policy template that jurisdictions could use to ensure that they were incorporating best practices in developing or revising their own policies.
Fifteen voting members and nine non-voting alternate members serve on the CAC for one-year terms. Members must either be elected by the outgoing CAC or appointed by the three incoming officers of the TPB. The outgoing CAC elects six individuals -- two each from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia -- to serve as voting members, and the three incoming TPB officers each appoint three voting members and up to three alternate members from their respective jurisdictions. The incoming chair of the TPB appoints the new chair of the CAC.
Ever since its first meeting in December 1992, the Transportation Planning Board's Citizens Advisory Committee has provided valuable input into the regional transportation planning process, advising the TPB to undertake projects or adopt policies that will have a real impact on the lives of the people who live and work in the Washington region, and working to ensure that the voices of the region's diverse population are heard in regional planning and decision-making.