Greater Greater Washington

A Game of Frogger From Jordan

Here's something to be thankful for: Traffic in DC isn't quite this much of a circus. This video is clearly staged, but imagine what life would be like if streets were really this hard to cross!

Visible progress on the Crystal City transitway

Arlington may have canceled its Crystal City streetcar, but work is continuing on the dedicated transitway that would have carried it. Only buses will use this now, but the infrastructure is rising from the ground.

This is the Glebe Road station, in Potomac Yard.

Glebe Road station. Photo by Arlington.

When complete, it will look like this:

Station rendering. Image by Arlington.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Breakfast links: Honoring Barry

Photo by tbridge on Flickr.
Barry memorial set: Today, Marion Barry's casket will lie in repose in the Wilson Building then moved to the Temple of Praise on Southern Ave SE for a musical and video tribute. Tomorrow, a celebration of Barry's life will take place at the Convention Center. (City Paper)

Gray invokes Barry in land swap: After the DC United-Reeves Center swap deal was scrapped, Mayor Vince Gray sent out then recalled a press release slamming the DC Council for not honoring Marion Barry's legacy. A new Reeves Center would've been built in Ward 8. (City Paper)

Drop the tolls?: The six-lane Intercounty Connector rarely ever has traffic, even during rush hour. Some are calling on incoming Governor Larry Hogan to reduce tolls to drive more traffic onto the underutilized highway. (Post)

Streetcar Fallout: Long known for its collegiality, the Arlington County Board is struggling to move past the streetcar vote. Tension and acrimony run high. (Post)

No taxes for providing parking: The Montgomery County Council will let developers apply for a tax exemption if they have parking lots. The County reasoned that they were charging taxes to developers for parking that shouldn't be paid. (BethesdaNow)

What will be DC's High Line?: NYC's High Line has successfully repurposed old industrial space for a new use. Local architects are using the High Line as inspiration for a variety of projects. (Post)

New tech at airports: The three Washington-area airports will be the first airports in the nation to start using NextGen technology. This program is designed to help planes land more quickly and efficiently. (WAMU)

And...: An outgoing Republican congressman introduced bills to open a gun range and shut down traffic cameras in DC. (WAMU) Train travel is up in the Northeast corridor: Train time is productive, while flying time is not. (CityLab) The busiest flying travel day of the year is not during Thanksgiving week. (CityLab)

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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 30

On Monday, we posted our thirtieth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week we got 21 guesses. Only one got all five correct. Great work, Peter K!

Image 1: Rhode Island Avenue

The first image shows the view looking south from the platform at Rhode Island Avenue. The height and clear view of the Capitol dome is distinctive of this station. Another clue are the construction cranes in NoMa at far right. Eighteen of you knew this one.

Image 2: Foggy Bottom

The second image shows an escalator at Foggy Bottom. This particular viewpoint is unique because this is the only island platform underground station in the system that has a solitary escalator, instead of a pair of escalators or an escalator next to a staircase. Pentagon and Rosslyn both have single escalators, but theirs are against walls on one side since those stations have tracks on two levels. Eight got this one correct.

Update: To clarify, Foggy Bottom has the only solitary escalator that comes down through a hole in the mezzanine. Other stations have single escalators from the end of a mezzanine. I was trying to say that in as few words as possible, and I realize I left out and important detail.

Image 3

The third picture was taken at Minnesota Avenue. This picture should have been easy to narrow down to two stations, since the CSX Landover Subdivision is off to the left. These tracks used to be electrified since the Pennsylvania Railroad ran electric freight trains. But the catenary wires have been removed. And while Deanwood is in a similar setting, north of Deanwood, the tracks curve off to the right, unlike in the straightaway pictured here. Eight of you knew this one.

Image 4

The fourth image depicts the western entrance at Cleveland Park. The distinctive Metro canopy visible at top narrows this to a street escalator entrance. The two signs also helped to narrow it. The "Downtown" sign means that we're at a station north of the central business district, and the "Zoo" sign should help you narrow it down to one of the Connecticut Avenue stations north of the Zoo. Fifteen of you guessed correctly.

Image 5

The final image shows Van Dorn Street, from a train on the adjacent CSX/VRE tracks. The clues here were the Gull I canopy and the Convanta trash incinerator visible just to the left of the elevator. Additionally, if you look closely, you can make out three words on the platform pylon at the left edge of the frame. And as one commenter noted, one of the pylons has both BL and YL Rush icons. Only two of you got this one.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just for a day, Silver Spring gets a Purple Line

Purple Line supporters know what this time of year means: it's parade season!

Photo by Kathy Jentz.

For the second year in a row, the Action Committee for Transit dressed up as a light-rail train and walked in Montgomery County's Thanksgiving Parade in Silver Spring.

ACT members and supporters, including members of the Montgomery County Young Democrats and Transit Alternatives to Mid County Highway, marched in the 17th annual parade, blowing whistles and handing out stickers and purple Hershey's kisses.

Photo by the author.

This year, ACT members added to Barbara Ditzler's hand-made six-person train costume with a walking list of each of the Purple Line's 21 proposed stations. Miriam Schoenbaum, of Boyds, made the addition.

Photo by the author.

Young superheroes, clad in purple capes and with "P" emblazoned on their chests, carried the ACT banner and accompanied both Ditzier's train and Schoenbaum's line of stations.

For next year, Ditzler is considering retiring the current costume, which is made out of plastic, and replacing it with one constructed of fabric.

If you'd like to march with ACT, it's not too early to sign up for the 2015 parade and to start working on even more costumes!

Photo by Kathy Jentz.

Breakfast links: A pleasant rebirth

Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.
Apartments rise from the ashes: The former Deauville Apartments in Mount Pleasant have reopened as the Monsenor Romero Apartments, six years after the building was destroyed by fire. Most of the residents will be former Deauville occupants. (City Paper)

Buses get priority: DDOT plans to install transit signal priority equipment around DC, including 16th Street. The technology will allow longer green lights or shorter red lights for Metrobuses when traffic conditions are right. (WBJ)

Reeves off the table: The Reeves Center is now no longer part of the DC United stadium deal. Some on the council felt they could get more on the open market, while Mayor Gray warned the move will delay the project and cost DC more. (WAMU)

Transportation bills stall: The DC Council decided to table both the contributory negligence bill and legislation that would increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis until next year. (WAMU)

Amtrak on the move: A new Amtrak tunnel in Baltimore could also bring improvements to the West Baltimore MARC station. Amtrak has continued to see ridership increases, leading to its smallest operating deficit in 40 years. (Baltimore Brew, WSJ)

Georgetown gondola closer to reality?: The Georgetown BID has nearly raised enough money for a feasibility study of a gondola line to Rosslyn. So far, the money has come from private sources. (UrbanTurf)

Pay more, get less: Virginia's gas tax will rise next year, but state transit funding will decrease. Virginia had planned on federal revenue that failed to pass Congress. Though Virginia's gas taxes will remain among the lowest in the nation. (WAMU)

Frack away?: Governor O'Malley plans to allow fracking in western Maryland under strict environmental regulations. Governor-elect Hogan favors fracking, but criticized O'Malley's closing actions as governor. (Post)

Marion Barry, city-builder: DC developers remember Marion Barry as a mayor who got projects built, including Gallery Place. They credit his skill at negotiating and making deals. (WBJ)

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Congress gives itself more free parking than its own rules allow

As TransitCenter and the Frontier Group reported last week, the federal government pays a huge $7.3 billion subsidy to people who drive to work by making commuter parking expenses tax exempt. There are countless reasons for Congress to scrap this poorly-conceived, congestion-inducing subsidy. While policymakers consider the big picture, they also ought to examine how their own parking benefits are administered.

How much are these free parking spots worth? More than the $250 per month in tax-free parking benefits that Congress allows. Photo by JMT.

Here's the short version: Congress is breaking its own law, and it's shorting the Treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, by providing free parking far in excess of the allowable limits.

USC 26 Section 132f of the tax code allows employers to provide each worker with up to $250 in free parking per month tax-free, which can add up to $3,000 in tax-free perks per employee each year. That's a pretty big amount to pay people for exacerbating congestion, but the parking at the U.S. Capitol is worth significantly more than that.

It's hard to know exactly how many free parking spaces we're talking about. The Architect of the Capitol and relevant committees don't like to talk about it, but Lydia DePillis reported in the Washington City Paper a few years ago that a plan for the southern part of the Capitol complex completed in 2005 shows that the House office buildings alone have 5,772 parking spaces assigned to them.

To figure out the market value of those spots, it would help to be able to check the rates at adjacent private lots. The problem is: There are no adjacent private lots.

According to SpotHero, there are no available monthly parking spots within a mile of the Capitol. The closest oneabout a 20 minute walk to either the House side or the Senate sidecosts $270.

SpotHero shows how far a Senate employee would have to walkand how much she'd have to payfor a monthly parking spot near the Capitol. Image by SpotHero.

There are some cheaper options a little farther away, but the cost of parking more than a mile from the destination is almost inconsequential. Given the extreme scarcity of parking near the Capitol, which employs and attracts tens of thousands of people daily, you can bet that on-site parking is worth significantly more than faraway options. Moreover, if so many employees didn't get free parking on the Capitol grounds, how would that affect demand, and therefore parking rates, at surrounding lots?

According to the law, if an employee is provided with free parking in excess of the allowable limit, the difference should be reported as taxable income, and the employer would have to pay all the normal employment taxes (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.) on that portion.

IRS staff affirm that the value of any fringe benefit is based on the market. Congress can't just say the parking is worth $250 and call it a day. They have to acknowledge that the benefit they are providing to staff and members is worth the market price. In the case of a reserved parking space directly on the Capitol grounds, it is likely worth much more than the $270 per month established by the adjacent market for parking.

Streets, lots, and garages reserved for US Capitol personnel parking. Image by Streetsblog.

With this understanding, every staffer and member of Congress receiving free parking is not paying tax on at least $240 in annual compensationand that is a minimum estimate. Having seen staffers' pay stubs, I can verify that they are not paying the full value of the parking provided. The failure to report and tax this additional income easily costs the Treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The scandalous part is that this is a rule that Congress directly controls. If lawmakers wanted to have an even higher limit for free parking, they could debate it and pass an increase. But rather than address the issue, members of Congress simply break their own law.

The Ellipse, just south of the White House, is dedicated to free parking for federal employees. Image by SpotHero.

And it's not just Congress, of course. Most likely, many other federal, state, local, and private entities are guilty of non-compliance with the $250 limit on free, untaxed parking. In DC alone, there are huge swaths of land, like the Ellipse south of the White House, which serve only as free parking for federal employees. To my knowledge, no one is keeping track of the value of those spaces, or if employees with this benefit should be reporting additional income when it exceeds the limit.

If Congress would keep its own house in order in terms of reporting its taxable parking benefits, it could spark a larger conversation around whether this is a reasonable benefit to have in the first place. So long as the gravy train keeps rolling, and everyone both expects and receives free parking on Capitol Hill, we're missing an opportunity for meaningful reform of a tax subsidy that undermines the effectiveness of our national transportation policy.

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog

ART keeps graduating to bigger and bigger buses

After years of using exclusively smaller buses, Arlington Transit is now operating its first full-length 40-foot vehicles.

40-foot ART bus. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

When Arlington launched its first ART bus routes in 1999, it used tiny jitneys that looked more like vans than real buses. Since then, as ART has gotten more and more popular, the agency has graduated to larger and larger vehicles.

In 2007, ART added its first "heavy duty" vehicles - buses that look like buses, not vans. Those were rare at first, but are now a common sight throughout Arlington.

These new 40-footers are the next natural step up. Three of these big new buses now ply Route 41, and you may see them on other routes too.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Montgomery throws more money at unneeded parking

Montgomery County is about to spend tens of millions of dollars on a 395-space parking garage in Wheaton, even though more than 500 parking spaces sit empty in a Metro garage a block away.

Bethesda's $80,000-per-space garage under construction. Photo by author.

The new garage would sit northwest of the Metro station, beneath a mixed-use development that will house several county agencies along with retail stores and 200 apartments. The county will own the garage and office building, while the apartments will belong to the developers, StonebridgeCarras and Bozzuto.

County Executive Ike Leggett announced the complex financing arrangement for this multi-phase project last month. The developers will build a 12-story office building, the garage, and a public plaza for the county.

In exchange, they'll get $102 million in cash as well the land in Silver Spring where the Planning Board currently sits and the rights to use county property in Wheaton for the 200 apartments. They'll build 360 apartments on the Silver Spring parcel, and in both locations, they must include more affordable dwellings than ordinarily required.

When I asked, a spokesperson for the county transportation department did not provide a dollar value for the Silver Spring land or Wheaton building rights. The county spokesperson also would not break out the cost of the garage, but at a typical underground parking cost of $50,000 or more per space, it's likely that Montgomery County is spending at least $20 million on the garage.

The garage will have 383 public parking spaces plus 12 reserved spaces for Planning Board higher-ups. The county has not estimated revenue from the garage, as decisions about hourly rates and the number of long- and short-term parking spaces have yet to be made.

Unused parking spaces are nearby

Meanwhile, a Metro parking garage with more than 500 empty spaces sits close by. In fact, the 977-car Wheaton garage is actually closer to the development site than it is to the Metro station. Under a court order issued when the transit agency condemned land for the garage, it is open to non-Metro riders as well as riders.

This is hardly the first time the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has shown a ravenous appetite for expensive parking garages. Two years ago, in Silver Spring, the county opened a 152-space underground garage around the corner from a public garage that's mostly empty. In downtown Bethesda, where the existing parking is only 72% occupied, the county paid more than $80,000 per parking space for a soon-to-open 900-space garage. And at the White Flint conference center, the county plans to spend $21 million for a garage it will hand over to a private operator who charges $15 a day.

Opaque finances and money wasted on unneeded parking are a blot on projects that do a lot of good for Montgomery County's urbanizing downtowns. With the county suddenly short of money, now is not the time to repeat in Wheaton the expensive mistakes made in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Breakfast links: Ward 8 changes

Photo by Alyson Hurt on Flickr.
Too affordable?: Many newly renovated Ward 8 condos are seeing plummeting prices on the market while home values continue to rise across the river. Is it a lack of quality neighborhood stores, or is it something else? (CHOTR)

Changing of the guard: With the loss of Marion Barry, five of the DC Council's 13 seats will change hands this year. People are already positioning themselves for the Ward 8 seat. A special election will take place early next year. (Post)

Stadium stutter: The DC Council will move forward with soccer stadium legislation today without the Reeves Center swap. Negotiations will now likely require the use of eminent domain for the parcel owned by Akridge. (Post)

With friends like these: Who were the real opponents of the Columbia Pike streetcar project? It was not just fiscally conservative Republicans. Salon explores the anti-streetcar arguments from Arlington transit advocates. (Salon, Ashley R)

Teaching with technology: Some DC schools have seen success with blended learning, which combines part-time online learning with teacher instruction. But the approach is not proven and one school has had high teacher turnover. (Post)

Too Much Parking: If a parking lot isn't full on Black Friday, it never will be. If you see an empty parking space on Black Friday, take a photo and post it to twitter with hashtag #blackfridayparking. (Strong Towns)

Better bikeshare: Bikeshare has better ridership in high density networks with good connections to on-street bicycle infrastructure, rather than to big attractions. Capital Bikeshare lags behind other cities in density. (Streetsblog)

And...: These are all the planned sites for the 2024 Olympic bid. (Post) ... A personal-car rental startup is coming to DC. (WBJ) ... Dulles is one of the most frustrating airports according to one measure. (WBJ)

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