Greater Greater Washington

Weekend update: 2015 reader drive & match

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to our reader drive so far this year! We're making good progress on our goal of raising $18,000! Where are we today?

As of today, you've contributed: $7786 total.

Double your gift: Did you know? Our matching fund is helping you give more, dollar-for-dollar. So far, you have fulfilled $1075 of our match, meaning that the next $4175 in gifts will still be matched dollar-for-dollar!

If you can fulfill our full match, we'll be extremely close to our $18,000 goal, and either way, on our way to solid start to 2015.

Thanks again so much for your support! If you haven't yet made a gift to keep Greater Greater Washington going strong in 2015, we hope you'll donate today:

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Cold days, warm thoughts in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.


Yards Park. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


Federal Triangle area. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


Marine Corps War Memorial - Arlington. Photo by Brian Allen.


1301 Constitution Ave NW. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


6th St NE protected bikeway. Photo by BeyondDC.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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Koch-funded groups: Cut all federal funding for walking, biking, transit

You know it's time to fight over the federal transportation bill when the fossil fuel-soaked elements of the conservative movement start agitating to stop funding everything except car infrastructure.


As inflation eats away at the gas tax, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. But a group of conservatives is pretending that the problem is transit and "squirrel sanctuaries." Image from Brookings.

Yesterday, a coalition of 50 groups, several funded by the Koch brothers, sent a letter to Congress arguing that the way to fix federal transportation funding is to cut the small portion that goes to walking, biking, and transit [PDF]. The signatories do not want Congress to even think about raising the gas tax, which has been steadily eaten away by inflation since 1993.

The coalition membership includes many stalwarts of the Koch network, including Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth. The Koch brothers recently went public with plans to spend nearly $900 million on the 2016 elections.

The billionaire-friendly coalition is trying to play the populist card. Raising the gas tax to pay for roads, they say, is "regressive" because poor people will pay more than rich people if the gas tax is increased. But eliminating all funding for transit, biking, and walking, which people who can't afford a car rely on? Not a problem to these guys.

"This scorched-earth proposal would eliminate the ability of local transportation agencies to invest in their own transportation priorities and lock us all into a 1950'sstyle highway- and car-only mentality that flies in the face of common sensenot to mention economics and what the free market and simple demographics have been telling us for years," wrote Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.

Eliminating federal funding for transit would devastate many American cities, where transit agency budgets would be thrown into turmoil. And while federal funding for biking and walking can make a big difference because the infrastructure is so cost efficient, killing those programs won't affect the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund. The savings wouldn't even be enough to cover the cost of rebuilding a single interchange in Wisconsin.

Congressional Republicans tried this maneuver before during the last transportation bill reauthorization battle, unsuccessfully, although they did eventually whittle away secure funding for programs like Safe Routes to School. That didn't actually solve any problems, but it was a fine way for the GOP to pretend like the country can go on spending like a drunken sailor on highways.

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All the buildings and races of DC, Arlington & Alexandria on one map

This incredibly cool map shows the footprints of every building in DC, Arlington and Alexandria, colored according to the predominant race living on that block.


Map from Kenton Ngo at kentonngo.com.

By coloring blocks only according to the most populous race on each block, rather than showing everyone who lives there, this map sacrifices overall diversity to instead show simple majorities. That makes it less racially precise than the famous racial dot maps that have been floating around the internet in recent years.

But the dot maps are too cluttered to show buildings, so making that racial tradeoff allows this map to illustrate the built environment too. It's a good way to show two disparate pieces of information at the same time.

What pops out as interesting to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Cyclists more often get the blame if they die in a crash

Over 100 Washington area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes since 1987. Previously, I mapped out their locations. What about the outcomes? Police fault cyclists and drivers equally, except in Prince George's County, where they overwhelmingly blame cyclists.


Photo by The Bike Fed on Flickr.

Cyclists are found at fault more than drivers

I collected data on fatal crashes involving both a cyclist and a driver in the region since 1987. The data came from media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

I was able to determine who was found at fault in 83% of the crashes. Cyclists got the blame 58.9% of the time. This could be because cyclists are just more reckless than drivers, but it could also be that there is a failure in the reporting itself.

There's a big discrepancy between the two sources. Of all of the cases in which fault was assigned, 34.4% relied only on data from a FARS report. In these cases, cyclists got the blame 74.1% of the time. In contrast, where the details of the crash came from a media report or from both a media report and a FARS report, cyclists only got the blame in 30 out of 59 crashes, or 50.8% of the time.

Prince George's finds cyclists at fault far more often

Prince George's County has has the most bike fatalities of any jurisdiction in the area. It's also the place cyclists are most often found at fault.

Cyclists got the blame in 76.7% of Prince George's fatal crashes, compared to 52.9% in Northern Virginia, 50% in Montgomery County, and 48% in DC. In fact, outside Prince George's County, drivers and cyclists in the region share fault 50-50.

Could police bias explain these discrepancies?

Responding police officers are responsible for filling out FARS reports, so police bias might be a factor.

For example, in several cases the only contributing factor was "Walking/Riding With Or Against Traffic, Playing, Working, Sitting, Lying, Standing, Etc. In Roadway." This could mean a lot of things, including something as simple as the cyclist riding in the road.

The inherently one-sided interview can also play a role. Often the only living witness, the driver, has a strong incentive to blame the cyclist, and perhaps the police do not do enough to challenge these claims.

On the other side of things, it's possible that the media only reported on crashes where the driver was to blame. My data set has far more news stories on the investigation, subsequent trial, and verdict when the driver was criminally at fault. Perhaps stories where the driver is at fault, such as the recent fatal crash near Baltimore, are more appealing to the media.

In addition to asking why the county is so deadly for cyclists, Prince George's County needs to ask the question of why cyclists who die there are so much more likely to be blamed. Are Prince George's cyclists worse? Do the roads there invite risky cycling? Is there a difference in the way police and journalists investigate and report crashes in Prince George's?

If it's bias, someone needs to address it for the sake of both justice and safety. If it's cyclists riding dangerously, then the county needs more education and enforcement. If it's road design, the county needs to change the roads. Being such a negative outlier should be cause for alarm.

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Breakfast links: Purple Line hopes and fears


Photo by dan reed! on Flickr.
Purple Line signs: Earlier this month, Larry Hogan received $47,000 from a fundraiser with Purple Line opponents in the Columbia Country Club. Maryland's acting transportation head Pete Rahn is keeping an "open mind" about the Purple Line. (Post)

Add value off the bus: Starting in April, Alexandria will not allow DASH riders using a SmarTrip to add value on the bus, which officials say contributes to bus delays. (Post)

DC's own Kirby Delauter: Kathy Henderson, a commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5D channeled Frederick's Kirby Delauter by objecting when Frozen Tropics a resident filmed two public ANC meetings. (Frozen Tropics)

Different rules for Uber: Virginia lawmakers struck a deal to legalize ride-hailing services, but cab drivers from across the state rallied to demand Uber & Lyft drivers get the same background checks and insurance that taxis must. (WAMU)

Free parking myth: How much does cheap parking actually cost? According to a Ph.D student at Simon Fraser University, retail purchases in stores with free parking nearby have an invisible 1% sales tax to cover the cost of free parking. (Post)

Free transit myth: In theory, free public transit should entice people to stop commuting by car. But it didn't work in Rome, Denver, or Trenton because the step drew misbehaving young people that deterred wealthier commuters from riding. (CityLab)

And...: Bystanders kicked in windows to help passengers out of a smoke-filled Red Line train... on the Boston T. (Globe) ... What should you do if there's a runner in a bike lane? (City Paper) ... There are 31 candidates running for two open DC Council seats. (DCist) ... Delaware Senator Tom Carper will introduce a new DC statehood bill. (WAMU)

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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 36

On Tuesday, we posted our thirty-sixth 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?

We got 22 guesses this week. Six of you got all five. Great work Chris H, Peter K, MZEBE, Spork!, Mr. Johnson, and FN!


Image 1: McLean

The first image shows McLean station from the bridge over Route 123. You should be able to tell fairly easily that this is a Silver Line station based on the triangular shapes and the tan brick (we featured all five in week 16). The grating through which I took the photo is also unique to the Silver Line. You can also tell that the roof type is "Tysons Peak," which narrows this to McLean or Spring Hill. Spring Hill, however, is in the median of Route 7, not off to one side like McLean is. Sixteen of you knew this one.


Image 2: Takoma

The second picture shows the end of the platform at Takoma. A primary clue here is the bank of escalators. Takoma is the only elevated station to have three escalators side-by-side (featured in week 32). Another clue is the "Gull I" canopy, which extends beyond the platform, creating a very high ceiling above the mezzanine below. The blue clock to the left also helped some of you narrow this down to Takoma. Fourteen of you got this one right.


Image 3: Tysons Corner

This image shows art at Tysons Corner station. We showed this art installation when introducing the Silver Line. Several of you guessed Largo, likely because you confused this art with the similar "Largo Beacon" sculpture that we featured in week 4. Twelve of you guessed correctly.


Image 4: White Flint

The fourth image shows the end of the canopy at White Flint. There were two primary clues here. The first is the tapered "ribs" on the underside of the canopy, which is unique to White Flint (featured in week 20). The other clue is the flat glass roof over the escalators. Of the "General Peak" stations, only Grosvenor and White Flint have this feature, and Grosvenor has a modified canopy that is distinctive. This proved to be this week's hardest clue. Only nine of you got it right.


Image 5: College Park

I took the final picture from the second level of the parking garage at College Park. If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see that the station has a "General Peak" canopy, which narrows the field considerably. College Park is the only one of those stations with a parking garage so close to the platform. Fourteen of you got this one.

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

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Bills in the Virginia General Assembly would hurt and help transit and cyclists

As the Virginia General Assembly session heats up, there's a lot percolating on smart growth and transportation. Key bills on congestion metrics, funding, and bicycle and pedestrian priorities are up this week.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Congestion metrics

For years, highway advocates and others hostile to transit have tried to make roadway "congestion reduction" metrics the primary way we choose which transportation projects get funding.

HB1470 and HB1915/SB1314 would do just that for the Northern Virginia regional transportation plan, local comprehensive plans, and new transit projects.

If passed, these bills would have serious impacts on Virginia's transportation planning. In effect, when selecting new projects to build, Virginia officials would have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities, and focus solely on how a project affects the capacity of existing highways to carry cars.

Undermining pro-transit jurisdictions

Another bill, HB2170, would merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which funds and manages Virginia's portion of Metro, into the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a broader agency that includes more of the outer suburbs, and has a multimodal focus rather than transit-only. Combining them would reduce the voting power of transit-dependent jurisdictions to control transit decision-making.

Funding and oversight

Comprehensive "transportation omnibus" bill HB1887 is receiving a lot of attention because it would partially fill a hole in state transit funding and increase funding for structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating pavement, and local transportation needs. It's a huge bill with a ton of provisions, some good and some bad.

Another bill, HB1886, would reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), establishing new oversight and accountability for public-private partnerships in transportation projects. This is particularly important following debacles like Hampton Roads' Route 460 project, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand.

Bicycling and pedestrian priorities

Delegate Riley Ingram (R) of House District 62 (outside of Richmond) has introduced HB1746, a "mandatory sidepath" bill, which would prohibit bicyclists from riding in the road wherever there's a sidepath or bike lane available. Obviously, this bill would have major negative impacts on the many Northern Virginia cyclists who use bicycles for transportation.

SB781, which would make it legal for cars to cross the double yellow line to pass bicyclists, with the required three foot safety distance, has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House. Another bill, SB882, would make dooring illegal, and would also make it easier for cyclists to be compensated after being injured by dooring.

HB1402/SB952 would make sure local jurisdictions don't lose state funding if they implement road diets, with bike improvements on local streets. Under current law, replacing a car lane with a bike lane reduces a jurisdiction's road funding, because the state funding formula is based on car lane miles.

SB1279 would ban use of any personal communications device while driving, unless that device is hands-free or the vehicle is stopped.

More information

The Virginia Bicycling Federation has an excellent online spreadsheet which they update regularly, detailing the status of bicycling bills this session. And the Coalition for Smarter Growth has a take-action tool to help Virginia residents contact their state legislators to support or oppose these bills.

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DCPS spotlights the needs of African-American and Latino males

DC Public Schools has announced a new initiative that will train a "laser-like focus" on African-American and Latino males, two groups that fare worst on many measures of academic achievement. But the effort, which includes a new all-boys high school, will inevitably leave some students in relative darkness.


Photo of student from Shutterstock.

DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson recently unveiled a three-pronged program targeted at the 43% of DCPS students who are males of color. Spending $20 million over the next three years, DCPS plans to recruit 500 tutor-mentors, fund school-level programs aimed at engaging and supporting black and Hispanic boys, andmost ambitiouslybring in a successful Chicago charter network to replicate its prep school model in DC.

Many details are still unclear. DCPS is already recruiting volunteer tutors for the four well-regarded tutoring programs it is partnering with, but at least one of them uses only paid tutors. More fundamentally, it's not clear exactly where the $20 million will come from, although DCPS hopes to raise at least $7.4 million of it from private donors.

Another question is whether Urban Prep Academies, the organization that will run DCPS's prep school beginning in the fall of 2016, will enjoy the same degree of autonomy here that it's had running three charter schools in Chicago. Henderson promised that Urban Prep will have "as many autonomies as they need to make it work," but she added that the DC Council may need to change the law to make that possible.

Urban Prep has made headlines for getting 100% of its alumni into four-year colleges since it began graduating students five years ago. Its school uniform, which includes red ties and navy blazers adorned with the school crest and motto"Credimus," Latin for "We believe"calls to mind an elite boys' school like St. Alban's.

But, unlike most of those at St. Albans, Urban Prep's students are black, and many are from low-income families.

Joining Henderson at last week's kick-off event, the school's founder, Tim King, told an inspiring story about a homeless student who "would actually sit on the cold floor in the shelter bathroom doing his homework, because it was the only place there that had the lights on past 10 pm." That student, King added, became class valedictorian and is now a student at Georgetown University.

Snaring Urban Prep was a coup for DC, according to Henderson. "Let me be clear," she said. "Everybody in the country wants Urban Prep Academies to open a school in their city."

One reason DC won out might be that Henderson and King have known each other since their undergraduate days at Georgetown, where King was assigned to be Henderson's mentor.

Critics say school has high attrition and low scores

As with almost any successful charter school, Urban Prep has its critics. Some say the attrition rate is high, with the size of a class sometimes shrinking from 150 to 50 students between 9th and 12 grades. (Urban Prep did not respond to questions about this and other topics.)

Another complaint about charters like Urban Prep is that its students are a self-selected group, with more motivated families and a lower poverty rate than students in neighborhood public schools. Although the DC version of Urban Prep will be a traditional public school rather than a charter, the same criticism could apply, since parents will presumably need to take affirmative steps to enroll their sons.

One response to these critiques is that even if Urban Prep doesn't work for all kids, at least it works for the ones who get there and stick with it. But some question even that.

At one of the school's three campuses last year, only 9% of students were deemed ready for college-level work, defined as scoring at least 21 on the ACT. At the other campuses, the figures were 28% and 20%. The average for Chicago public schools is 27%.

Even if one assumes that Urban Prep does change the life trajectory of the young African-American men it serves in Chicago, will it do the same for the young Latino men that are also supposed to be part of DCPS's "laser-like focus"? (Speakers used that metaphor no less than six times during the announcement of the initiative.)

While the DC school presumably won't exclude anyone on the basis of race or ethnicity, the Urban Prep model is clearly geared to black students. And its planned location at some unspecified site east of the Anacostia River, an area that is almost entirely African-American, may make it difficult for Latino boys to attend in any event.

Black and Latino girls need help too

And what about black and Latino girls? While the legality of single-sex education used to be in dispute, the federal government loosened its rules in 2006, and since then single-sex schools and classes have proliferated.

Research has been equivocal on whether single-sex education produces better results. But some data indicate that it's most likely to benefit poor and minority students, although it's not clear why.

Single-sex charter schools like the Chicago version of Urban Prep are free to operate with no restrictions. But when a single-sex school is part of a traditional school district, federal policy requires the district to make another school of "substantially equal" quality available to the excluded gender. That other school can be either coed or single-sex.

Will black and Latino girls have a "substantially equal" option? That could become a matter for debate, and possibly even litigation.

Aside from legality, the plan for Urban Prep and indeed the whole "Empowering Males of Color" initiative raise questions of equity. On DC's standardized tests last year, the proficiency rate for black girls was about 45%, and for Latinas about 57%. That's better than the rates for black and Hispanic boysabout 35% and 49%, respectively. But it's way below the 90% proficiency rates for white students.

Of course, efforts that elevate the needs of one group almost always have an adverse effect on others. And in the case of young men of color, you can make a case that it's justified.

Perhaps a bigger problem is that Urban Prep, in combination with DC's many charter schools and its several application-only DCPS high schools, will further drain off the more motivated male students from neighborhood schools, leaving behind a higher concentration of those who are hardest to educate.

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The neighborhood where everybody "jaywalks"

When I moved to East-West Highway in South Silver Spring last fall, I quickly noticed one thing: people cross the street without using crosswalks all the time. Even as the surrounding area becomes more urban and walkable, this street remains a relic of its industrial, car-oriented past.


Drivers stop to let a man and his dog cross East-West Highway. All photos by the author.

East-West Highway was built in the 1920s to connect Bethesda and Silver Spring and provide an alternative to Military Road in the District. (An extension to Prince George's County came later.) Industrial uses like bottling plants, commercial bakeries, and repair shops sprouted up along the road in Silver Spring. When the Blairs complex was built in the 1950s, the developers purposefully faced it away from East-West Highway because it was so unattractive.

When the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring took off about 10 years ago, those buildings gave way to apartments and condominiums. More recently, businesses including Denizens Brewing Company, Bump 'N Grind, a coffeeshop/record store, and Scion, a restaurant based in Dupont Circle, have flocked to the area.

South Silver Spring is now one of the region's youngest neighborhoods, with a large number of transit commuters. Even the owner of the Blairs is embarking on a redevelopment plan to face the street again.


Parents run across East-West Highway with their kid.

As Silver Spring redeveloped, it became more walkable. But East-West Highway never caught up.

Even though it's fairly narrow, it's still designed like a high-speed commuter route, even as more and more people are walking and bicycling in the area. In some places there are no sidewalks, and the two crosswalks between Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road are each a quarter-mile apart, at least a five-minute walk. Even when you get to a crosswalk, the signals are timed to move cars through, making pedestrians wait for up to two minutes to cross.


People line up to cross East-West Highway at one of the few stoplights.

So people choose to cross where it feels convenient, or safer. In four months of non-scientific observations, I noticed that everyone seemed to cross in a few specific places. I started crossing there as well, and realized that most drivers will stop for you. And when I drove out of my building's garage, I always waited before turning, knowing that someone might be crossing.


Where to cross East-West Highway. Stoplights are in red, popular informal crossings are in blue. Click for an interactive map.

But this isn't ideal. A century of training people not to walk in the middle of the street means that nobody, including drivers, expects this to happen. Thus, informal crossing points aren't as safe as formal, designated places to cross that pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers can all recognize. And the unpleasant experience of walking in South Silver Spring depresses foot traffic, which hurts both existing businesses and prevents new ones from opening.

Even if it wasn't built for walking, East-West Highway became a place with lots of walkers. It's time for this street to adapt. More crosswalks would be a good start, as would filling in the missing gaps of sidewalk. More stoplights, or pedestrian-only signals called HAWKs, would be even better, as would a median where people could wait while crossing.

Yes, these things might cause additional delays for drivers. But as one of those drivers, I'd rather have a slower, safer street with more places to shop and hang out. As its surroundings become more urban, East-West Highway is a highway in name only.

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