Greater Greater Washington

9 things people always say at zoning hearings, illustrated by cats

If you watch enough zoning hearings, the testimony begins to sound pretty repetitive. That novel argument you're making? The Council members have heard it a million times before. Here are nine of the things we hear most often at zoning hearings, illustrated by cats.

1. "I'm not opposed to all development. Just this development."

Those 1,000 times you sat on your couch to support developments far away from you surely counterbalance that one time you came out to oppose your neighbor's development.

If you're opposed, just tell us why; don't go on about how you're not a person that opposes things.

2. "Nobody talked to me!"

The city notifies neighbors and registered civic organizations about upcoming permits. Developers seek out people they think might be affected. But it's hard to know who is going to care and notifications are often thrown out. Don't feel left out! If you're at the hearing, you're being heard. Just say what's on your mind.

3. "Reality is, everybody drives a car."

Usually said while proposing somebody build more parking. If you want that reality to ever change, you have to accept building less car infrastructure.

4. "These greedy developers only think about profits."

Land development is a business. Like all businesses, sometimes you make money and sometimes you lose money. You just try to make sure that you make enough money on the winners to cancel out the losers. Focusing in on the fact that the developer is hoping to make money makes your testimony sound more like you oppose out of spite than a particular reason.

5. "Let me tell you my theory of economics."

If council members haven't learned economics by now, they're not going to learn it from your three minute testimony.

6. "What this neighborhood really needs is a coffee shop, not more apartments."

For all the mean things people sometimes say about developers, a lot of folks seem to fashion themselves amateur land developers, with a keen eye on exactly what types of businesses will succeed or fail. As it turns out, those things coincide perfectly with the things they personally enjoy.

7. "I'm 5th generation! My great great grandfather moved here before this was even on the map!"

That entitles you to one vote, just like everybody else. Now tell us what you came up here to say.

8. "We need to respect the hundreds of hours spent crafting this neighborhood plan."

Respecting people for volunteering time making plans doesn't mean those plans should never change. Now tell us your reasons for or against this particular change.

9. "This housing is too small for me!"

Different people have different needs and desires! Just because you don't like a particular thing doesn't mean nobody would like it.

Breakfast links: Be thankful

Photo credit: Washington Post
The worst is over: The heaviest holiday driving is two days before Thanksgiving, not the day before. The past three years, the worst time on I-95 was 5 pm on Tuesday before Turkey Day. (WTOP)

Transit transforms Tysons: Growth in Tysons shows no signs of slowing. Thousands of new residential units are coming next year thanks to the Silver Line and plans for a more walkable area. (Post)

Watch for crossing pedestrians: More people (58) have been killed walking in DC than inside cars (51) over 6 years. The most fatalities happen when people are crossing the street. This suggests DC needs to do more to make crossing safe. (Post)

Make it look little: For a new building at Potomac Avenue Metro, officials from the DC Office of Planning want it to "feel" shorter. The developer is working to maintain most of the housing but cut down on the appearance of height. Is that possible? (WBJ)

Where do the homeless go?: Muriel Bowser will soon pick sites for six new homeless shelters, aiming to have one in each of the eight wards. It's still unclear what role residents will have in the decision. (Post)

Safety first, Metro: US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is supportive of Paul Wiedefeld as WMATA's new General Manager. But he emphasized that he'll still refuse to let the agency spend money on anything but safety repairs. (WAMU)

Escalators rising: Two new escalators are now in service at the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro Station. Metro's plan to replace all six of the station's escalators, which are the longest in the District, will be complete in 2018. (PoPville)

Trains beat planes, but...: In the Northeast US, traveling by train is more popular than by plane because there's more time to sit and work or relax. But most people prefer car travel above all else because it's the cheapest option. (CityLab)

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The Northeast Corridor carries more rail passengers than anywhere else in the country. What could it look like in 2040?

The Federal Railroad Administration recently unveiled their draft plans to improve rail travel across the northeast, from Washington to Boston. The plan will help set the stage for a potential transformation of train service in the mega region.

Acela at New Carrollton. Photo by the author.

Today, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are linked by a busy rail line known as the Northeast Corridor (NEC). The 457-mile line is the busiest passenger railway in the nation, carrying over 750,000 passengers each day on more than 2,200 trains.

But the corridor is desperately in need of investment just to bring it to a state of good repair. Several chokepoints mean that the line is currently operating near capacity, which means it can't support expected growth in population, employment, or intercity travel.

The plan is what's known as a "Tier 1 EIS." That means that it is an environmental analysis that looks at the broader issues. Detailed study of specific elements will require "Tier 2" EIS studies and those will be conducted as projects work their way through the planning process.

The plan sets out three options

The analysis looks at three main scenarios for investment in the Northeast Corridor. Each of the options has the same core objectives: making rail more reliable, dependable, durable and environmentally sustainable, increasing both the number of passengers it can carry and the places it goes, and contributing to economic growth. But some of the plans are more ambitious than others.

Alternative 1 would make fixes to existing rail and other infrastructure, but would otherwise leave things alone. Its investments in the corridor would mainly involve fixing chokepoints, with limited areas of additional track. It allows for an increase in service which would keep pace with employment and population growth.

Alternative 1. All maps from NEC Future.

The second alternative would build more rail, allowing an expansion of capacity faster than population or employment growth. Work will involve getting rid of chokepoints, widening most of the corridor to four tracks, and building a few new segments outside the current alignment.

Alternative 2.

The third option would build a lot more rail, the goal being to "transform" rail into the dominant mode in the northeast. In addition to upgrading the existing corridor with new track and chokepoint relief, this alternative adds a new independent high-speed line parallel to the corridor. Between Washington and New York, it's very close to the existing route. However, between New York and Boston, there are three possible routings, including one via Long Island and two through inland Connecticut.

Alternative 3.

There's also a "no action" alternative, which assumes the corridor won't be upgraded, in which case, capacity and travel times won't be changed by 2040.

Each option has different ridership projections and capacity increases...

More people will certainly ride on the corridor by 2040, and taking no action would mean doing little to accommodate that growth. Even now, tunnels under the Hudson River are completely full during rush hour; the current 24 trains per hour in each direction is the maximum.

Alternative 1 would allow for a 75% increase over the no action alternative for inter-city trips and a 13% increase for commuter trains, to 33.7 million and 474.5 million trips, respectively. This scenario would add two new tunnels under the Hudson and allow for 37 trains per hour.

Alternative 2, which expands the role of rail, would allow for a 92% increase in inter-city and an 18% increase in commuter trips on the corridor, to 37.1 million and 495.4 million, respectively. The second alternative also adds two new Hudson tunnels, which, in conjunction with other projects, would allow for up to 52 trains per hour in each direction.

The third alternative, which transforms the role of rail, more than doubles intercity ridership to 39 million trips and increases commuter rail ridership to 545.5 million, a 30% increase. This option adds four tunnels under the Hudson, for a total of six. It would allow up to 70 trains per hour to cross under the river. well as a different effect on travel time

Each of the alternatives would reduce travel time over the no action option. Without the proposed improvements, an express could cover the distance between Washington and New York in 2:47. It would be 6:33 to Boston.

Alternative 1 would reduce the Washington to New York express time to 2:43 and Washington to Boston to 5:45. Alternative 2 does even better, reducing the New York trip to 2:26 and the Boston trip to 5:07. But Alternative 3 is the fastest, with a completely new high-speed corridor reducing travel time to New York to 1:48 and to Boston in 3:57.

For corridor trains (roughly equivalent to today's Northeast Regional), there are also time savings. The no action alternative would have Washington to New York trips in 3:23 and Washington to Boston in 8:02.

Alternative 1 would allow corridor trains to cover the distance to New York and Boston in 3:08 and 6:57, respectively. Under the second alternative, DC to New York would come in at 3:01 and to Boston in 6:22. The major investment alternative would bring times down to 2:51 to New York and 5:47 to Boston.

Details for each alternative
Even the no action alternative costs $19.9 billion. That's because it includes the costs of funded projects, funded and unfunded mandates, and over $10 billion in projects that are necessary to keep the corridor operating but which are currently unfunded.

Alternative 1
Alternative 1 is the cheapest alternative, with an estimated price tag of $64-66 billion.

There are a few notable projects included in this option. Locally, it calls for rebuilding New Carrollton station so that it has four tracks, each with access to a platform. It also includes a project to widen the corridor to four tracks from Odenton to Halethorpe, along with a new BWI station with four tracks.

Alternative 1 in Baltimore.

Importantly, the plans call for replacing the B&P Tunnels in Baltimore, which are near the end of their useful life. The plan also includes two new tunnels under the Hudson, bringing the total to four.

One realigned section of track is part of this alternative, a 50-mile bypass of the shore line in Connecticut and Rhode Island, between Old Saybrook and Kenyon. Slower trains would continue to use the curvy line, but faster trains would run on the new line, which would avoid several drawbridges.

Alternative 2
Alternative 2 comes in at around $131-136 billion.

Like the first alternative, it includes four tracks at New Carrollton and between Odenton and Halethorpe, along with a new BWI station. It also calls for a third track between Washington and New Carrollton.

The B&P Tunnel replacement in Baltimore and two new Hudson tunnels are included in this option as well. But the plan also adds two new tunnels under the East River (for a total of six), which was not part of the first alternative.

Alternative 2 in northeastern Maryland.

Several new segments are also part of this project, bypassing slower sections of the line with straighter bypasses. A new line between Aberdeen, Maryland and Newark, Delaware, a bypass of Wilmington, and a straightened section in north Philadelphia allow for faster trains. The plan also includes running a more direct route into Philadelphia 30th Street station via a station at Philadelphia Airport.

Alternative 3
Alterative 3 is the most expensive, since it's building two railway corridors. The estimate for that option ranges from $267 to $308 billion, depending on which route is chosen.

This option upgrades the existing corridor significantly, including many of the projects from the other alternatives. Under this plan, the existing corridor would be widened to four tracks for most of its length south of New York. This aspect would include four platform tracks at New Carrollton and BWI Airport.

Like the other proposals, this alternative replaces the B&P Tunnels. It also adds two new tubes under the Hudson for the corridor and two more Hudson Tunnels (for a total of six) for the high-speed line. The East River would also get two new tunnels (for a total of six).

The existing corridor wouldn't get very many straightenings under this plan, since the second spine would be far more direct and faster. The high-speed line would include tunnels under downtown Baltimore and Philadelphia, with center city stations there.

Alternative 3 in Baltimore.

North of New York, the second spine would be on a completely new route. There are a couple of options for the new routing.

Options for a new high-speed routing north of New York.

Between New York and Hartford, the new line could either run east across Long Island to Ronkonkoma and turn north to cross the existing line at New Haven before continuing to Hartford or it could turn north via White Plains and Danbury before reaching Hartford.

From Hartford to Boston, the line could either run east to Providence and then along the existing line to Boston or northeast to Worcester and then east to Boston.

These new lines are expensive, but have the possibility of opening up new markets, especially on Long Island.

Each of the options outlined in the FRA study is expensive. But an upgrade to the corridor is necessary. The current infrastructure is aging and overburdened. Chokepoints like the Hudson tunnels severely constrain capacity, and will prevent Amtrak and commuter agencies from meeting growing demand.

And the cost of doing nothing is not zero. Without this investment, the northeastern mega region won't be able to move efficiently or grow. And that will have dramatic economic consequences.

But not investing in rail will mean that we'll have to spend even more enlarging highways and airports. And even with that, we'll still have to spend money just keeping the existing Northeast Corridor infrastructure in a state of good repair.

Montgomery will go ahead with BRT, but at what cost?

Despite a big funding setback last week, Montgomery County could start building bus rapid transit after all. But to do so, it may have to do it on the cheap. That could mean making BRT less useful for transit riders.

BRT in Alexandria. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Montgomery County officials have been looking at building rapid transit routes for buses since 2008, and approved plans for a countywide BRT network in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett had proposed creating a transit authority that could raise taxes to pay for building it, but yanked the idea last week due to opposition from some community members.

Yesterday, he announced that the county would build one or two of its planned BRT routes in a "less costly" fashion. One way to cut costs is by taking out dedicated lanes that give buses a way out of traffic. But doing that would make BRT slower and less reliable, discouraging people from using it.

According to Leggett, the county can afford to pay for one or two BRT corridors from its construction budget, which the County Council approves each spring. There are three corridors transportation officials are looking at, down from ten in the original plan: Route 355 between Bethesda and Rockville, which would cost an estimated $422 million to build; Veirs Mill Road between Rockville and Wheaton, which would cost $285 million, and Route 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville, which would cost $200 million.

Where people use transit in Montgomery County. These areas coincide with the three potential BRT corridors being considered. Map by the author using Census data.

The three corridors serve the county's two biggest downtowns, Silver Spring and Bethesda, plus the county seat in Rockville and emerging town centers like Wheaton, White Oak and White Flint. These are places where lots of people already ride transit.

They're also congested streets that are ideal for bus lanes, the key feature of bus rapid transit, which can give riders a fast, reliable alternative to sitting in traffic. But there's limited space to make bus lanes, whether by converting existing lanes or by widening the road. And some neighbors in these areas are loudly against them.

This street might be congested. And that's why it needs bus lanes. Photo by the author.

Not only do dedicated bus lanes make the bus faster, but they reduce labor costs, since bus drivers can do more trips in less time. Like train tracks, bus lanes create the sense of permanence that can attract development to underserved areas like White Oak. Better transit also means lower commute times, which has a huge impact on access to jobs and economic mobility.

Leggett might find that not including bus lanes on all or some of these routes could save money and avoid confronting transit opponents. But there are ways to design them that require less space and reduce impacts on neighborhoods. And as long as buses are stuck in the same traffic as everyone else, people will be less interested in riding them, and county residents will have a hard time seeing the benefits of investing in more transit.

Last week, I suggested that Montgomery County show people how BRT works by doing a temporary trial. It looks like county officials want to go a step further and try building something more permanent, which is great. That's why it's even more important they do it right.

The National Zoo has clarified its safety concerns. Turns out you're the problem.

The National Zoo is changing its hours because of safety concerns, but Zoo users aren't so sure that's necessary. The Zoo director clarified Friday that his concerns aren't about crime or animal safety; what he's really worried about are people jogging and running into Zoo maintenance vehicles.

Photo by Ron Cogswell on Flickr.

A November 6th email from Lyn Mento, the executive director of Friends of the National Zoo (which handles most of the Zoo's communications to members), said the shorter hours would "protect and safeguard our visitors and animals, especially when it gets dark earlier in the fall and winter."

But it's unclear what, exactly, is threatening animals' health and welfare. In fact, when it comes to actually explaining the safety concerns mentioned in the email, the the only thing Zoo director Dennis Kelly has clarified is that joggers literally run into the Zoo maintenance vehicles and that happens more when it's dark. Here's what he recently told the Washington Post:

"We've had for some time, going back years, increasing concern about safety and security," Kelly said. "We've observed many near misses for walkers and joggers, particularly in the dark. We've had joggers with headphones bumping into parked vehicles."
Rather than blaming visitors for the problem, the Zoo could let them help solve it

It seems like the Zoo is saying that its drivers shouldn't have to act safely and responsibly.

The Post article, noticeably, does not specifically focus on vehicles running into joggers and pedestrians, and seems to only mention people running into vehicles. Rather than assembling a plan for keeping people safe—posting signs that communicate safety concerns, installing more lighting, marking pathways for vehicles and people, or making vehicles more visible, for example—the Zoo director's statement positions joggers and pedestrians as the absolute cause of closing the Zoo for three extra hours everyday.

The focus on blame and consequences leaves the Zoo's visitors locked out from a key decision. The analysis that informed Kelly and his staff is not available for member or public review, and that isn't likely to change before the Zoo's hours do.

There are more ways to fix safety issues than to just close a place down

There are lots of public venues where people driving vehicles need to account for people walking around. The National Park Service maintains the National Mall and other parkland using vehicles, mostly while the parkland is in use. Amusement parks stay open long hours during the summer, while resupplying concessions, picking up trash and making repairs.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits the National Zoo, operates a Safety Committee "for gathering and disseminating best practices in safety within zoos and aquariums." This committee could serve as a resource for examining the full range of options to include best practices and professional training. The National Zoo's director currently serves as an adviser to the committee, and a Fire Protection Engineer from the Zoo who serves as a member.

The Zoo could work with the committee to find ways to make its paths safer without just closing them.

The Zoo didn't give the public much notice on this change, which isn't a first

The decision appears to be sudden and based on an issue that had not previously been communicated to stakeholders in member newsletters, Congressional testimony or media interviews. Yet, the Zoo says this has been based on a longstanding problem.

Last summer, the Zoo shocked patrons and received national press coverage for closing its beloved Invertebrate Exhibit on six days' notice. Kelly explained the brief transition time as the only way to maintain "our standard of quality" in the exhibit. Negative comments and feedback dominated social media and press coverage. Here's an example from Wired magazine:

Having the nation's zoo suddenly and with little public warning close a long-standing exhibit is unprecedented. Public comments on the Museum's Facebook page are overwhelmingly shocked and negative, including some from volunteers that work at the Zoo.
By waiting until the last minute to announce changes that the public won't like, is the Zoo limiting public discussion and criticism? I have no way of actually knowing, but I'll say that it certainly seems that way.

The Woodley Park Community Association will host Dennis Kelly, the Zoo's director, at its upcoming meeting for a discussion of the Zoo operating hours changes. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm at Stanford University in the Washington Building (2661 Connecticut Ave NW).

WMATA's new general manager is listening before he even takes the reins

We won't know for some time whether WMATA's new General Manager, Paul Wiedefeld, will be able to fix the agency's many problems. But he seems to be off to a good start even before he officially starts the job.

Image from the Maryland Aviation Administration.

To get Metro on a stable path, Wiedefeld and other leaders at WMATA will need to address safety, finance, maintenance, communication, and much more. That won't all happen overnight, and fixing some problems will require help from local and federal governments. Therefore, he's going to need the support of riders, residents, local officials, members of Congress, federal regulators, and more.

WMATA has historically not been good at building bridges with people outside its walls. Too often, the message was "leave us alone, give us some money, and we'll fix things," a sentiment which rings hollow at any time but particularly after revelations this year that things weren't getting fixed very well after all. And, it turned out, WMATA almost hired someone who chafed at the level of public scrutiny that unceasingly accompanies this job.

Wiedefeld embraces it. He doesn't officially start until Monday, but he has already started meeting with people to understand what needs to change at WMATA. He's met with members of Congress and given press interviews. He sat down with leaders of the WMATA Riders' Union and agreed to attend a public forum.

"Paul Wiedefeld has already shown that he the initiative and interest in the immense challenge of reforming WMATA in the short time he's been named to the job by reaching out to advocates and riders," said Ashley Robbins, the chair of the WMATA Riders' Union. "He called us before he was officially voted in by the board and wants to be engaged with the rider community going forward."

On Friday, he also sat down to speak with me.

"Not sweeping stuff under the rug"

"We can't pretend our problems away," he said, in a refreshing change in tone from some in the past. "We're not sweeping stuff under the rug." Too often before, people in some divisions at WMATA kept problems quiet, hoping they could fix them before anyone else found out, and the agency as a whole would similarly keep problems from the public. That prevented bad press only until the problem became too acute to ignore, at which time riders and local leaders felt even more betrayed by the cover-up.

Wiedefeld is intent on changing this, though he acknowledged that bringing this attitude to the entire agency will be a challenge. Just some pronouncements at the top won't end decades of culture of not sharing bad news with superiors or the public. But he plans to push each department to think about how it can support others' goals and avoid "tunnel vision" of doing things the way they've always been done just because.

He's not going to come in swinging an axe, but also said some executives, if they're not on board with this approach, may need to go elsewhere. He made an analogy to an architect who, when Wiedefeld ran BWI airport, refused to design a ticket counter for electronic ticketing that was radically different from the traditional counter layout. That architect is not at the airport any longer.

The wrench-turners know more than we do

One more group Wiedefeld will be listening to is the front-line employees. "The gentleman or woman turning the wrench: They know a heck of a lot more and it's amazing what you can find out by listening, walking, and talking," he said. "The perception is that they don't, but that's not true."

Riders sometimes vent frustration at the employee who has a bad attitude, and certainly, Wiedefeld said, "every organization has knuckleheads." But he argued that most other workers are themselves getting frustrated at those colleagues and at bad conditions. As another analogy, he referred to an experience while he was running the Maryland MTA. Bus drivers were frustrated because the rest areas at the ends of the bus stops had no toilet paper. "If you worked in an office, would you go into a restroom like that?" he asked, rhetorically. And then, why would we "expect [the bus drivers] to turn around and have a smiling face?"

"Don't underestimate what an organization can do if you get buy-in up and down the line," he said. About trends toward "bashing" public sector and unionized employees, "that's total baloney."

There are still big problems

Certainly, listening is not everything. Just understanding everyone's points of view won't cure the financial gap; WMATA will very quickly face trade-offs between higher fares, lower service, more money from local governments, or compensation for employees. WMATA isn't able to adequately maintain its railcars to get the number running that are supposed to be, and listening won't make new ones arrive faster from the manufacturer.

But while listening isn't everything, to paraphrase Red Symons, not listening is nothing. Good communication inside the agency will help Wiedefeld know what he needs to work to fix (and who he needs to hire to do it); good communication outside the agency will help build goodwill from riders, local leaders, and federal officials to help him succeed.

Communicating is also one thing he can do right away. He knows that it might "drive some staff nuts" for him to talk with everyone, but every big organization has people who think their best value is to stop the flow of information, to channel all communication through a rigid process to ensure it's fully sanitized. That doesn't make organizations effective. Wiedefeld isn't afraid to speak with advocates, or the press, or riders, or Congress. That frankness is just what WMATA needs right now.

"I am impressed and optimistic about what the future has to hold for WMATA with Paul at its helm," said Robbins. "If he maintains the openness that he's already shown and the gusto with which he's hit the ground running, I believe that we will see a very different agency in five years, and one that we will all be proud of."

Knowing that he can't solve all of the big problems at once, he also has been asking for quick steps he can take to make a difference. I suggested a few. What do you think he could do, realistically and in the short run? Post your ideas in the comments—he'll be listening.

Breakfast links: Transit calls and compromises

Photo by LaVladina on Flickr.
Talk to Wiedefeld: Metro's new chief will hold an open forum with the WMATA Riders' Union next month. He has already met with the group's leadership. The forum might be a chance to debunk some myths about Metro. (Post)

Betting on BRT: After some pushback, Montgomery will build Bus Rapid Transit service on its own dime, instead of funding through an independent agency. The county will now focus on planning less costly alternatives for one or two routes. (Post)

End of the line: If VRE expands to Gainesville, it might have to close the Broad Run station to allow for more storage space for trains on the Manassas Line. (Potomac Local)

H and I help K: If DC builds the planned streetcar transitway on K Street, Metro wants bus improvements to H and I Streets, like dedicated lanes or signal priority, to help speed up buses and alleviate construction traffic. (PlanItMetro)

Don't phase away: Drivers of clean fuel vehicles can use HOV lanes on I-66 without carpooling, but Virginia is phasing out the exemption for hybrid drivers. A local official says VDOT should enforce carpool rules first. (WAMU)

Maglev moves forward: Maryland just got a big grant to fund planning and engineering for maglev train service between DC and Baltimore. But is maglev just a distraction from more pressing transit priorities? (WAMU)

Mayor Mosby, maybe: The Mosbys are Baltimore's new power couple, with Marilyn prosecuting the Freddie Gray case and Nick running for mayor. Some residents say a mayoral win for Mosby could lead to conflicts of interest. (Post)

Regional economy blues: The DC region's economy grew much more slowly in 2014 than other large metropolitan areas around the country. Regions in Texas did the best. (City Paper)

And...: Here are ten ways to map Northern Virginia. (StatChat) ... US Transportation Undersecretary Peter Rogoff will move to Seattle to run its transit agency. (Post) ... Congress could help local governments stop "predatory towing." (WAMU)

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Bike paths are good for business, says the president of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce

Some people were skeptical that Shortcake Bakery would succeed. After all, it's next to grungy strip of auto repair shops along Route 1 in Hyattsville. But David Harrington, the president of the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce, whose wife opened the bakery, says the shop's location had an "unexpected asset": a nearby bike path.

David Harrington was the featured speaker at a economic development conference hosted by the Greenbelt Community Development Corporation last month. His personal experience with how bike trails can be advantageous for businesses was just one of the things he talked about.

"I can tell you one of the unexpected assets that we have at the bakery is that… it is near a bike path," said Harrington, referring to the Northwest Branch Trail, which is part of the Anacostia Tributary Trail system. "Cheryl and I always pray for good weather on Saturdays," he added, saying that when that happens "we may have 30 [cyclists] stop at Shortcake Bakery as they're going to Baltimore, going to College Park. It is a wonderful business asset."

Base image from Google Maps.

"If you create these bike paths and … create nice connectors for bicyclists to do commerce, that is an amazing business opportunity," he continued. "Walkability and bikeability are … strong economic tools that can help create entrepreneurship, and I think we need to look at that a lot closer than we are."

The Old Greenbelt Theater hosted the conference. Here's a link to the full video:

Not all the housing in a region costs the same, despite what headlines imply

We often see headlines about the most expensive cities in America, where writers look at the average or median price for renting. But by zeroing in on a single number, those reports doesn't always paint a complete picture of affordability.

Graphic by the author. Click for an interactive version.

I developed an interactive graph where users can explore how many people are living in neighborhoods (in the graph above, I looked at ZIP codes) of differing prices.

Measuring a city's rent with the median—the middle number in a series of numbers—is useful for quick comparisons. But in only using one number, we lose valuable information about affordability because we ignore the variation in prices.

While the median rent for the entire DC census-designated urban area is about $1500, some areas are cheaper (the 20010 ZIP code, containing northern Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant sits around $1250) and others are more expensive (20016, the Palisades, is at $1800).

In the interactive graph, the X axis measures rent and the Y axis measures the percent of the city's population living in a ZIP code where the median rent is less than X. For example, in the chart above, we see that 60.5% of Houstonians live in a ZIP code where the median monthly rent is no more than $999. The further a city's series is to the right, the more expensive it is.​ You can read more about the technical details here.

According to this data, DC is one of the most expensive urban areas in the US. (This is consistent with the area-wide median rent figure, which is higher than that of most cities.) There's a clear shortage of affordable areas: only about 6% of DC-area residents live in a ZIP code where median rent is less than $1000. That's slightly worse than other expensive places, like the Bay Area (7%) and NYC (9%), and considerably worse than more affordable cities, like Chicago (57%).

What do you notice in these graphs?

Zig zag road stripes can get drivers to pay more attention

At 11 points in northern Virginia, the familiar straight dashed lines on the road give way to a series of zig zags. The unusual markings, the result of a project from the Virginia Department of Transportation, are meant to alert drivers to be cautious where the W&OD Trail intersects with the road—and bicyclists and pedestrians frequently cross.

Virginia DOT installed these zig zag markings to caution drivers approaching the intersection of a popular walking and biking trail. Image from VDOT.

After a year-long study of this striping treatment, Virginia DOT officials say the markings are effective and should become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices—the playbook for American street designers.

VDOT found the zig zag markings slowed average vehicle speeds, increased motorist awareness of pedestrians and cyclists, and increased the likelihood that drivers would yield. They also noted that the effects of the design change didn't wear off once motorists became used to the it—they still slowed down a year after installation.

This photo shows another style of zig zag pavement marking tested in Virginia. Image from VDOT.

VDOT says the results indicate that zig zag markings are a more cost-effective solution for conflict points between trails and high-speed roads than the current treatments: flashing beacons placed above the road or off to the side.

The zig zag concept was imported from Europe. It is currently used in only two other locations in North America: Hawaii and Ottawa, Ontario. It was one of more than a dozen European traffic management techniques VDOT zeroed in on to test locally.

The zig zag markings reduced motorist speeds approaching the trail at Sterling Road by about 5 mph, according to VDOT. The effect remained strong over time. Graph from Streetsblog.

The W&OD trail is a popular route for both recreation and commuting in the DC metro area. Between 2002 and 2008, there were 21 collisions involving cyclists and two involving pedestrians along the trail, which intersects with major roads at 70 points along its 45-mile path in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia.

The effect of the zig zag markings was measured using speed radars over the course of a year. Feedback from motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians was also collected using online surveys. While the survey did not come from a random sample, 65 percent of drivers said they were more aware because of the markings and 48 percent said they liked them. The zig zags were also popular with cyclists; 71 percent said the markings affected driver behavior.

Said one respondent: "Drivers rarely stopped before the markings were installed. Since installation, they stop much more often."

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