The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts by Aimee Custis

Aimee Custis is a wonk, communicator, and professional advocate at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Her writing represents her own views, though they're often aligned with her employer's. Weekends, you'll find Aimee at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography

Photography


December days 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.


2016 National Christmas Tree lighting. Photo by Ted Eytan.


Photo by nevermindtheend.


Oxon Hill park and ride. Photo by nevermindtheend.


Rosslyn. Photo by Jason OX4.


Dupont Circle. Photo by Mike Maguire.

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!

Transit


Metro now has an official plan for getting better in 2017. It's called Back2Good.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has released the agency's plans for fixing its safety, reliability, and finance issues in 2017. Metro is calling the plan "Back2Good."


Wiedefeld at the National Press Club. Photo by Adam Tuss on Twitter.

Speaking at the National Press Club this afternoon, Wiedefeld outlined the plan. Highlights of the initiatives include:

  • Preventing near misses by reducing red signal overruns.
  • Completing work on schedule for installing the public radio system and activating cellular service in the tunnels as work is completed.
  • Reducing delays and offloads from track defects and railcar failures by 25% in 2017, through means including accelerating the retirement of the oldest and most unreliable cars, commissioning 50 new trains, implementing targeted repair campaigns of defective components on the legacy fleet, and rebalancing the rail yards to avoid missing terminal dispatches.
  • Power washing, scrubbing, and polishing all 91 stations annually instead of every four years.
  • Further reducing expenses by eliminating a total of 1,000 positions.
  • Balancing the budget and securing regional governance and funding solutions.
Read the full details in Back2Good white paper released by WMATA here. What do you think of Back2Good? Tell us in the comments.

Photography


Sea lion silhouettes 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.


National Zoo. Photo by Beau Finley.


15th and W Streets NW. Photo by BeyondDC.


Glen Echo. Photo by Joe Flood.


U Street. Photo by Jill Slater.


Chinatown. Photo by John J Young.

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!

Photography


Veterans Day in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite Veterans Day images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool. Thank you to our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and everyone who has served our country in uniform.


Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Thursday. Photo by Jarrett Hendrix.


"Bob is a Vietnam war Veteran, I had a nice conversation with him. He was at Freedom Plaza in support of the Occupy/K Street DC movement." 2011. Photo by pablo.raw.


WW II Memorial, 2015. Photo by Victoria Pickering.


McClellan Gate, Arlington National Cemetery, 2011. Photo by Brian Allen.

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!

Meta


Alienation and inclusivity

This year's campaign season and election have been very divisive, and has left many members of our community feeling alienated. This includes people of many races, national origins, sexual orientations or identities, religions, or other qualities. Our hearts are with you today.

Whatever happens in years to come, we want to emphasize at this moment in history that we strongly believe that being inclusive and welcoming to everyone is a big part of why our region and nation are great, and it is important to making them even greater. It's something we as a Greater Greater Washington community, and we as a country, don't always get right, but we want to keep working on it for ourselves and our society at all levels.

Our volunteer contributors and staff are working on posts about election outcomes, from transit ballot initiatives to ANC races to the bigger implications of the urban-rural divide. As we write those pieces in the coming days and weeks, we're excited to share them with you. Tomorrow, we'll be back with the first of those posts, as well as our traditional urbanist coverage, including WhichWMATA and other local issues.

Moving forward, no matter who you are and whom you voted for, we hope you will continue to live and work here if you can, and collaborate with us to build informed and civically engaged communities who believe in a growing and inclusive Washington region for all.

Politics


America's most unattainable housing is right by downtown DC. That's a huge problem.

Tuesday is Election Day! In celebration, we're re-running our favorite April Fools post from earlier this year to remind everyone exactly how important it is to go vote! The polls are open until 7:00 in Virginia, and 8:00 in the District and Maryland. Find your polling place here, and Greater Greater Washington's endorsements here. Don't forget to vote!

Five people are currently vying for the chance to occupy the White House this November, but only one will win. This is a classic supply and demand problem, and the solution is simple: Build more housing.


Concept rendering for The Estates At President's Park. Original image by Jeff Prouse.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is an extremely low-density property, with 82 acres housing a population of only 5 people (and a very small amount of office space). Even without adding new buildings, the existing one could become a taller apartment building with plenty of room for the Clintons, Sanderses, Trumps, Cruzes, and Kasichs, even without changes to Washington, DC's federal height limit.

This building is also located in a gated community with large open spaces around it which serve little purpose. They are off-limits to most pedestrian foot traffic and residents of the exclusive community are rarely seen using them either. The Ellipse, just to the south, is largely used as a parking lot. Developing some of these open areas could have provided even more housing.


Significant underutilized land. Photo by US Department of Defense via Wikimedia.

The exclusionary nature of this area has already prevented numerous families from being able to move here. According to news reports, families from Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and others gave up on their hopes of being able to move here for a better job. The lack of available housing is an clear impediment to labor mobility.

Historic preservationists and other groups may complain about such a move. After all, this house is one of many which tour groups frequently pass by on their tours, and some (but not all) US Presidents lived here, adding to its historic value.

However, Washington has many historic buildings; this one is not as architecturally interesting as the office building next door to the west. The National Park Service, which controls the area, is so under-funded it may have to shut down a bridge which carries 68,000 vehicles a day. NPS needs to prioritize its funds and not waste so much money on a property which few people can enjoy.

Original architect James Hoban actually proposed a larger building, but changed his initial design, supposedly to better reflect the "monumental" nature of Washington, DC. As Kriston Capps put it, it's a "Hoban cut off at the hipbone." "It's a perfect architectural metaphor for the almost-urbanism that characterizes life in Washington," he wrote.

Candidates react to the idea

Reached on his corporate jet, Donald Trump said, "I think it's terrific. I can make a great deal to build this and I'm working with the GSA on the hotel down the street which will open early and will be the best hotel in all of DC. I'm good at building things. I'm the best. I have built so many things. Good things, you know, really good things. I know how to build. I have the skills, the best skills. And I can get this done. And I have great taste in furniture, the best taste. We'll increase the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very, very high quality of luxury marble, the most luxurious marble you've ever seen. Just phenomenal luxury."

Based on the District's inclusionary zoning ordinance, the new White House will be required to include one affordable dwelling unit, which will likely go to Marco Rubio.

In a press release, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager said they'd worked out an agreement to use the basement to build an ultra-secure server room inaccessible to the House of Representatives.

Reached on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz expressed his opposition to the proposal. "I'm an outsider. I don't need a building to live inside."

The Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Bernie Sanders' campaign sent this statement: "This is why we need to break up the big banks and make sure everyday Americans benefit instead of just Wall Street and big corporations."

While many are excited about the 1600 Penn project's increased density, others have expressed concern that this is simply another situation where developers will trigger displacement of another black family from a neighborhood with an overwhelming percentage of African-American residents according to the 2010 Census.

Still, this neighborhood is very close to ample parks, stores, jobs, and transportation, including multiple Metro stations. The low quantity of housing is a clear public policy failure. Let's end the Lafayette Square housing crisis immediately.

Photography


Roving 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.


Ivy City. Photo by ep_jhu.


19th and M Street NW. Photo by Jill Slater.


Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum on the move. Photo by Colton Brown.


DC from the Potomac. Photo by John Sonderman.


Photo by Mike Maguire.

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!

Photography


Spooky in the Flickr pool

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


Photo by Victoria Pickering.


N Street, Georgetown. Photo by Mike Maguire.


Rosslyn. Photo by Steve VanSickle.


Georgetown. Photo by Mike Maguire.


Exorcist steps. Photo by Kevin Behr.

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!

Budget


Ask your Metro funding questions tonight at our live Q&A

Metro is staring down ever-more-serious long and short-term funding challenges. Tonight at 6 pm, regional officials and experts will tackle these challenges, including the prospect of dedicated funding, at a livestreamed forum we're cosponsoring.

Once the event starts, the player above will livestream it. After it's over, we'll swap out the livestream player for a recording when it's available.

The two-hour discussion will kick off with remarks from WMATA Board Chair (and DC Councilmember) Jack Evans and a response from Rob Puentes, the President of the Eno Center for Transportation and fellow at the Brookings Institution. Then, Maryland state delegate Marc Korman (D-16), Kate Mattice of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (the Virginia signatory to the WMATA compact), Emeka Moneme of Federal City Council, and Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth will join them for a panel discussion and one hour of audience Q&A.

The forum is happening at Georgetown University's Urban and Regional Planning program, hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and several partner groups including GGWash. Uwe Brandes, Executive Director of Georgetown's planning program will moderate.

If you have questions during or before the event, you can tweet them to using the hashtag #WMATAchat. During the Q&A portion of the program, we'll pose as many of them as possible.

Budget


Without more information, riders shouldn't accept Metro late night cuts

In July, Metro proposed ending late-night service permanently to allow more time for maintenance beyond what it's getting during SafeTrack. To really weigh whether this is the best option, the public needs much more information than what Metro has made available to date.


Photo by Aimee Custis.

When SafeTrack started, Metro moved from closing at 3 am on weekends to closing at midnight every day, giving workers around eight extra hours for repairs each week. In late July, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said that Metro needed to permanently end its late-night service to give Metro more track time to do maintenance and repairs.

Metro is using an online survey to get public feedback on four proposals for different service cut configurations, and on Thursday it's hosting a marathon public hearing to get more input. It's also possible to submit free-form written comments though October 25 at 5 pm.

After that, the WMATA Board will vote on whether to approve one of the four proposals.

The public must have more information

To date, WMATA hasn't publicly shared its reasons for why it sees cutting late night service as the best way to do necessary maintenence. Or how much it will help. Or what will be accomplished with the additional work time.

Any more late-night closures should only happen after WMATA provides more information and accountability through concrete deliverables. Many advocates we've talked to have asked: instead of shutting down the whole system, couldn't Metro just follow a SafeTrack-like approach of shutting down late-night service in segments of the system? If not, why not?

Chicago, New York City, and New Jersey have all done temporary closures on isolated parts of their systems, which we know is far more efficient than continually doing track work for periods of only a few hours at night.

The mobility Metro provides is an essential service. Cuts cannot be taken lightly.

The sacrifices that Metro riders have been asked to make over the last seven years are not easy cuts to stomach. Less than a decade ago, Metro was a reliable system that was the foundation for building the region we know today.

The mass transit system's ability to quickly and efficiently deliver commuters to their downtown jobs, take residents to retail, entertainment, civic spaces, and take tourists to museums made it possible to build the sorts of neighborhoods and places that people are flocking to.

The transit villages of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, the resurgence of Columbia Heights, the robust feeder bus ridership throughout the region; these are all things that would be impossible without Metro. Here, unlike in many parts of the country, transit is something nearly everyone uses at least some of the time. That transit culture was built over decades.

And much of Metro's ridership has been driven by people who are willing to live a car-lite or car-free lifestyle because they know that Metro will get them around not just for their work trip, but for most of the trips they need.

Metro service has been being dismantled since 2009, and it's imperiling the region we've built over decades. Metro is increasingly unreliable even during rush hour, and seems to be on the brink of ceasing to exist in the evenings and on weekends. Passengers face waits that can stretch to 25 or 30 minutes. And when the train does finally show up, it can be so overcrowded that it leaves customers on the platform to wait another half hour.

Asking riders to sacrifice their ability to travel on weekends can be acceptable, even to the car-free, for a short term. But as Metro's overhaul stretches toward a decade of inconvenience, many are rethinking that choice. And as car ownership increases, it makes it more difficult to build the types of places, like Clarendon, that we want more of. Even when it gets better, many of the households that have purchased a car in the intervening years will be unlikely to return to Metro.

Continuing late-night cuts could make sense temporarily, but not permanently

We learned in May that the way WMATA scheduled track work wasn't working, as there wasn't enough time to set up for maintenance, go through safety protocols to prepare the site, etc. and get its immense backlog of maintenance work done. The Federal Transit Administration and others did indeed recommend more track time for maintenance crews.

The cuts WMATA is proposing would give it more limited operating hours than any large US rail transit system, and at lower evening frequencies. Metro should learn from how other major US rail systems perform inspections and routine maintenance without shutting down the entire system. Clearly, other systems have figured this out. Why hasn't WMATA?

In other words, once the maintenance backlog is cleared, it's too much to ask the region to give up late-night service. Lots of people depend on late-night Metro service, and not because it's how they get home after a night on the down; Metro is the only option for many third shift workers and people with families.

Also, Metro needs to show it's using the track time it already has

Metro's core mission is to provide mobility to riders. Metro should exhaust every reasonable way to take care of its maintenance crisis without impacting service. And we need to know that it has done so.

When and only when Metro is making the most of what it has can it reasonably ask for more maintenance hours. People want to know that the sacrifice of late-night service will actually be put to good use.

Particularly in the wake of a May 6 incident where track workers couldn't use over half of their allotted 5-hour access block, what is going to be any different if workers get an additional eight hours of late-night track access per week?

What does that look like in terms of feedback to the WMATA Board? Before it approves late-night cuts, it should require proof that staff is actually at work on tracks at least 80% of the track time already available.

If extending late-night cuts is truly necessary, certain strings should be attached

Transit is critical to our region. It would be catastrophic to have WMATA fail. Our colleagues at the Coalition for Smarter Growth are proposing that if the WMATA Board is serious about turning the system around and doing what's best for the region, it could allow a 12 month extension of Metro closing at midnight. But they also say the Board should only approve a one-year extension if and only if that extension comes with the following conditions:

  • 12 month limit on late-night cuts
  • Hard, measurable maintenance goals for what to accomplish in that time. If targets aren't met, the late-night service cuts cannot be renewed for another 12 months
  • Quarterly reporting on track time used for maintenance. If they don't use at least 80% of available track time, service cuts cannot be renewed
  • Publicly-stated projection for when Metro service will be back to 2007 levels (or another target level of service)
  • Night owl bus service must be provided at no more than 20 minute headways on weekends to provide alternative mobility for late-night riders
Even if you don't agree with this list of the strings that should come with late-night cuts, you should speak up and say whatever you do think to the WMATA Board.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has put together an editable email to the WMATA Board. You can send an email with their tool here.

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