Patrick Wojahn serves College Park Maryland as a City Councilmember. He also currently serves as the Chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board at COG. Wojahn an attorney and civil rights advocate is Director of Government Relations at Rails-To-Trails Conservancy. Previously he advocated for the rights of people with disabilities at a national non-profit organization and provided legal services for adults with mental illness and for people living with HIV/AIDS in the D.C. metro area. Wojahn has served in leadership roles with a variety of other service organizations including Equality Maryland the College Park Food Bank and the College Park Community Foundation which he helped found.
What got you interested in public service?
I’ve been involved in advocacy work on different issues including student advocacy when I was in college and environmental advocacy over a number of years. When I moved to College Park I wanted to get involved with my community and put my advocacy skills to work to make College Park a better place to live.
What brought you to this region originally?
I moved to D.C. for law school in 1999 and [later] moved to College Park with my husband. We wanted to buy a house in the suburbs with a yard that was close to public transportation affordable and safe and College Park fit the bill perfectly.
What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge that we have is rapidly increasing population and infrastructure that is already struggling to meet the needs of the current population. The challenges we will face will be incorporating the additional population without the region grinding to a standstill with very limited resources. Additional population poses a number of challenges including public safety infrastructure education and managing the economy. The most important solution to keep in mind is keeping a regional viewpoint and making sure that there is strong regional coordination between the various jurisdictions. What that means in terms of transportation and infrastructure is we need coordinated planning—making sure that we take a variety of different approaches which includes multimodal transportation strategies and coordinating development with transportation planning. We need to focus our development in specific areas limit sprawl and ensure our transportation infrastructure keeps up.
What makes participation at the TPB valuable for you and your jurisdiction?
Two main ways. It allows College Park to make sure that our needs and concerns regarding transportation in the region are heard and addressed on a regional level. The TPB also provides resources and information that we need to make sure that the work we do in College Park makes sense in the broader context of the region.
What initiatives underway or planned in College Park will help advance our regional transportation priorities?
The biggest thing right now is transit oriented development around the two metro stations in or near College Park—College Park Metro and Greenbelt Metro. Increasingly dense development around the Metro stations will help us to accommodate a greater population and provide a lesser impact on the transportation infrastructure including additional employers that will promote a reverse commute and the accommodation of students faculty and staff closer to the University of Maryland.
Tell us about a project that you’ve contributed to at the TPB that you’ve been most proud of?
Most recently it’s the implementation of the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan. The development of that plan was a long process and involved a number of different actors and I think that was only the beginning. The implementation of the plan is just as important—if not more important—as what went into the plan. It will involve buy-in and outreach and coordination with all of the jurisdictions in our region.
Who is a past or present DC area leader (elected or non-elected) that inspires you?
My good friend Eric Olson a County Council Member in Prince George’s County. It’s because of his consistent principled approach to addressing problems in our region in his district and in College Park. Eric has been very involved with coordinating development and transportation in College Park and maintains a strong principle of pursuing transit oriented development and greater public transportation resources while pursuing smart growth in College Park. He’s set the template of how we need to approach development in the City down the road.
Chairman Wojahn has promoted the TPB and its programs on several media outlets this spring. See video/links below.
NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt (News Channel 8)
Washington Business Journal Op-Ed
Patrick Wojahn: When it comes to regional transportation there is no either/or
Few would disagree with the premise that human progress of all sorts can be slow and frustrating. Too often proponents of competing solutions to problems become obsessed with old arguments and miss changes already underway.
Transportation planning and the implementation of those plans in metropolitan Washington is a clear example of that tendency. As a result I believe the old battle that pits the advocates of highway construction against supporters of public transit can and should be left behind on the pile of outgrown 20th century disputes.
In a recent paper John McClain a transportation policy expert said he believes the region missed major opportunities years ago by neglecting to build some of the highways proposed then prompting a rebuke from Stewart Schwartz executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth which prompted a rebuke from Jim Corcoran president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Time out. Metropolitan Washington has grown rapidly over the last 30 years even though neither the public nor elected officials have consistently cast their lot with either camp. There is no “either/or.” The region needs to move forward with a broad mix of strategies to address our transportation challenges.
The region boasts a world-class transit system responsible for supporting economic opportunity and quality of life unparalleled in most other American cities. At the same time critical roadway projects like the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement and innovative highway tolling approaches in Maryland and Virginia are also making significant contributions to our shared success. Growing interest in walking and bicycling and new transit options like streetcars and high-frequency bus service are helping to make greater transportation choice available to more people every day.
Last January the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board passed the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan outlining a balanced approach rooted in three basic commonsense strategies. It says our first priority must be maintaining the region’s existing system of roadways and transit. The second strategy must be strengthening public confidence in transportation agencies and ensuring fairness and equity. Finally we must find more efficient ways to move people and goods by focusing on a wider variety of travel modes and concentrating growth in mixed-use “activity centers.”
Each of the strategies assumes the use of roads mass transit bicycling and walking. And the board is encouraging local governments to consider broader regional needs as they develop their own improvements.
I believe we now have a smarter more coordinated approach to transportation planning that should speed up our work to maintain and build our transportation infrastructure. Let’s agree to get to work.