Greater Greater Washington

Posts by David Alpert

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Flowerpots create a safer pedestrian crossing from Gallaudet to Union Market

Large flowerpots recently appeared on 6th Street NE along a crosswalk connecting Gallaudet University to Union Market. These aren't the work of a rogue gardener; they're a way for the city to narrow the crossing and enhance pedestrian safety.

Images by @GnarlyDorkette on Twitter reposted with permission.

Twitter user @GnarlyDorkette, a Trinidad resident and Gallaudet Deaf interpreter, posted these photos of the new flowerpot.

6th Street is only striped as a two-lane road, but it's a very wide two-lane road, with lanes formerly 22 feet wide. Drivers often used it as a four-lane road, said Sam Zimbabwe of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

The road is part of the area that has long been a wholesale food market. There was a lot of truck traffic, but very little pedestrian traffic, and so it wasn't a top priority to change. But now this is a popular destination. Union Market opened two years ago and has become a bustling food destination with 34 carefully-curated vendors. Its success has drawn other businesses as well, like the Dolcezza gelato factory across the street. And a lot more Gallaudet students are walking over.

The university recently modified its gate on 6th Street to allow people with university IDs to pass through 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Zimbabwe said. All of this led DDOT to install the flowerpots to keep drivers on the two official lanes and encourage them to pass slowly.

What about Florida Avenue?

There's another wide road adjacent to Gallaudet that neighbors say could use some narrowing: Florida Avenue. The roadway there is three lanes each way but narrower elsewhere, and the traffic volume doesn't warrant six lanes. There's a study underway to look at widening the extremely narrow (and non-ADA compliant) sidewalks and adding bike lanes.

Zimbabwe said that study is about to wrap up, after which DDOT will submit proposed changes to the regional Transportation Planning Board for its Constrained Long-Range Plan. Departments of Transportation submit their projects for that plan each December, and Zimbabwe wants to get the Florida changes in this year.

The extra step is necessary, Zimbabwe said, because Florida Avenue is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent MAP-21 federal transportation bill, and is a major artery in the regional traffic models. DDOT expects to be able to modify the road, but has to jump through some administrative hoops first.

Between NoMa, Union Market, H Street, and more, the number of shops, restaurants, and other destinations around Gallaudet University has exploded in recent years. This makes it even more important to ensure the streets are safe to cross on foot for everyone of all ages, walking speeds, and hearing abilities.

No, DC is not abandoning plans for most streetcar lines

If you read the headlines in the Post and WAMU today, you might come away thinking that the DC government has decided not to try to build a streetcar line on Georgia Avenue or from Anacostia to Buzzard Point. But that would be wrong.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

What's going on?

What happened yesterday is the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced three finalists for its contract to design, build, operate, and maintain streetcar lines. Earlier this year, DDOT had planned for that contract to encompass all of the 22-mile streetcar system: an east-west line from Benning Road to Georgetown, a north-south line from Southwest to Takoma or Silver Spring, and a line from Anacostia to Southwest.

To make that possible, the mayor's office had asked the DC Council to essentially set aside all of the money for the entire system right now.

While they insisted, vehemently, that they still support the streetcar system, the Council dedided they just weren't ready to give it all of the money today. Therefore, this current bidding process can only legally encompass the lines which are in the six-year capital planthe east-west line and the part of the Anacostia line from Bolling to the foot of the 11th Street Bridge.

The news stories have, accurately, reported that the current funding only lets the system grow to about 8.2 miles. Unfortunately, some of them also gave them impression that DC has "cut" the program. It's going to happen slower, definitely, but that might not even be all bad.

It's not really a surprise the council didn't boost streetcar funding

Let's say you want to start a company and are going to venture capital investors. You put together a rough business plan and they give you some seed money to hire some people. Then a few years go by, during which time your prototype gets delayed and you don't talk to your customers. You then come back to investors asking for much more money, but your business plan still isn't more detailed despite your promises to flesh it out. Would the investors fund you?

Even with crazy money in tech sometimes, it would be pretty tough. And it's understandable that DC councilmembers balked at the mayor's funding request. They continued authorizing about $600 million at a time when the starter line on H Street has been delayed and officials have given vague or no answers to questions. The mayor was asking for a very large amount of extra money, and politically, it just didn't fly.

Since Terry Bellamy took over at the start of the Gray Administration and Carl Jackson came from Greenville, SC to run the transit programs, DDOT went mostly silent on the streetcar. There were a few required environmental study meetings, sure, but the agency basically stopped collaborating with groups like the Sierra Club or local BIDs, which it had done under Gabe Klein and Scott Kubly.

The mayor convened a task force chaired by City Administrator Allen Lew which included many business leaders. The business community was willing to talk about special taxing districts to help pay for the streetcar, but Lew ultimately decided not to even try a "value capture" system and instead just dedicated 25% of future new tax revenue to the streetcar.

At the same time, the government basically spent all of 2013 lying to the public about how the streetcar would open that year while everyoneat lower levels, anywayknew it wouldn't. Promises that DC would lay out detailed plans for things like where streetcar storage and maintenance yards would go went unfulfilled and questions about how it would work without overhead wires across the Mall and key viewsheds remain unanswered and unstudied (but studies are now beginning).

So, four years has gone by since the height of streetcar enthusiasm. In all that time, few detailed emerged, promises were repeatedly broken, and ties with allies atrophied.

The council said, give us a plan

Many councilmembers said, publicly and privately, that they still want to see the entire streetcar system built. The two leading mayoral candidates support the plan at least to a significant degree; both point to failures and mistakes along the way, which indeed happened.

But councilmembers, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, and also people in the budget office, say they just want more detailed plans. They want DDOT to do more legwork and answer more questions before they'll hand over a blank check. I don't entirely blame them.

Unfortunately, some in the Gray administration responded to the cuts by essentially saying, "okay, you didn't give us the money, so that's it for most of the lines." That's misleading. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee, told the Post that the Gray team is being "childish" and not working with others. "You don't take your marbles and go home," Cheh said.

Sure, the cuts make things harder. Sometimes transportation projects can be a chicken-and-egg situation where you can't know every single thing up front. The plans for the Metrorail system shifted between when construction started and when it ended (delaying the Green Line by years), for example. "Design-build" can be a more economical and faster way to get transportation projects built, but it also involves hiring your contractor before you have every detail laid out perfectly.

People who are more skeptical of the streetcar, like Phil Mendelson, are less tolerant of gaps in the plan which can get filled in during the design-build process; they don't trust the team to fill the gaps well. Planning everything and then building it is slower and more expensive, and it becomes even more expensive when you go back and make changes along the way.

We can't know every single detail now. DDOT and its contractor partners will learn from the mistakes of H Street as well as the (hopefully smaller) ones that come in the early stages of lines still scheduled to be built. The same thing happens with the road network, Metro, bike lanes, and any other large transportation facility.

Still, there also needs to be a role for the public in correcting the course along the way. Under Terry Bellamy, DDOT did not show a willingness to meaningfully involve others in streetcar discussions, which compounded mistakes. We do need to see how H Street works and then ask questions about how to do better on the next lines. We need to get answers, too.

Make it work now

The streetcar program will be good for DC. In some corridors, it will add capacity. It will drive higher transit ridership and connect communities. In some places, it will help kick-start economic development as well. It will have some bugs and then they will get worked out.

The most important thing is to build the full east-west line, and build it to its great potential. It's already definitely going to have dedicated lanes on K Street, which will make it avoid the worst of the traffic. It also needs lanes, signal priority, and other features around Georgetown, Mount Vernon Square, and North Capitol Street to make it a speedy and attractive mode of travel. The streetcar needs to work well both operationally and for riders.

If it does, then public support for more lines will only grow, and the council will put money behind the rest of the lines. Already, Bellamy's successor Matt Brown and Sam Zimbabwe, who is handling Jackson's former duties, are steering the streetcar back toward the right track.

The lines are not "cut." They're just going to come later. It would have been a lot better if they could be built sooner, but with all of the mistakes during the Bellamy years, we lost that chance. It's not the last chance, though.

David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.

Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMIwe need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadwayswe're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for othersthe cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

Topic of the week: Banning cycling on sidewalks

A bill by councilmember Jim Graham to ban bicycling on sidewalks by adults when there's an available bike lane has gotten a lot of attention. We asked our contributors what they thought about the idea.

Photo by fromcaliw/love on Flickr.

Some contributors, like Dan Malouff, didn't want to outright dismiss the idea of changing the laws around sidewalk cycling, depending on the details:

I'm actually OK with making some compromises on where bikes are allowed, but it has to be reasonable. It has to actually take into account the real-life needs of cyclists.
Topher Mathews agrees:
I do think it's important to develop a strong case for why exactly adults should be allowed to bike on narrow sidewalks. This is a big issue for Georgetowners (particularly senior citizens) who are baffled that it's legal in the first place. So far most of the defense of sidewalk biking has been sort of circular: it's legal so it's OK.
There may be some place for selective banning of bikes on sidewalks outside the CBD. This could turn into the camel's nose under the tent, but outright opposing any extension of the ban could engender a even wider ban.
Other contributors think it's just a bad idea. Here's Jonathan Krall:
With all the nuances and exceptions, this takes a near non-issue and makes it a mess. This almost certainly creates more problems than it solves. Education and design (such as putting bike parking on the street instead of the sidewalk) would help more than this.
Canaan Merchant worries about the effect of discouraging cycling:
Any time someone considers banning cyclists from doing something, they run the risk of having fewer cyclists overall. While a ban on sidewalk riding can seem reasonable and argued for from a "common sense" perspective, it's critical that the city keep its larger transportation goals in mind, mainly that DC wants more and more people to travel by bicycle in the future.
David Cranor notes that sidewalk cycling is already illegal if it creates a hazard, and therefore this law could only have a harmful effect:
The kind of behavior that supporters of this ban wish to make illegal is already illegal. The law says that cyclists may use the sidewalk "so long as the person does not create a hazard." So hazardous sidewalk cycling is illegal.

What this law does is make non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal. The only reason for this is under the pretense that enforcement would be easier. But the logic behind making non-hazardous sidewalk cycling illegal because it would be easier to enforce is somewhat lacking.

It reminds of the old vaudeville joke, where one man is looking for his wallet and another offers to help. After some time, the second asks "Where did you lose it?" and the first says, "Over there in the woods." "Well then why are we looking over here?" the second asks angrily. "Because the lighting is better." Why are we going to ticket non-hazardous cycling? Because the lighting is better.

Sidewalk cycling is not ideal, but for some cyclists and at some times it is a totally adequate option, and possibly even the best one. Rather than changing behavior by trying to make some less desired kinds of cycling less appealing we should do it by making other types more appealing.

Bans do not get cyclists off the sidewalks, but bike lanes, and to a much larger extent, cycletracks do. That's where efforts should be focused.

Steve Seelig also feels that we need better infrastructureeven better than what DDOT is building today:
I would be very willing to agree not to ride on sidewalks outside the central business district on streets where the city has decided to construct a safe, PROTECTED bike lane. Sorry, L Street and M Street do not count. I have 30-plus years of DC bike commuting under my belt, so until recently the number of times I have ridden on the sidewalk has been minimal.

Of course, this was until my 5-year-old started to ride. Sounds like he can ride on the sidewalk while I am in the bike lane, at least until he is 12. Shall I not get to ride with him on the sidewalk to teach him proper bike behavior? How about when I have him on the cargo bikeam I consigned to the completely unprotected bike lane? And do we really think that it is safe for a 13-year-old to ride a bike in an unprotected bike lane?

Plus, we have many folks who are new at this, and rightfully terrified of riding in the street because of inattentive drivers, blocked bike lanes, etc. Shall those folks be consigned to not riding at all?

Where else has this debate raged?

DC isn't the only jurisdiction in the country that has debated changing laws around bicycling on sidewalks. Some contributors referred to their experiences elsewhere. Jonathan Krall dealt with a similar issue in Alexandria:

Alexandria went through this, in reverse, last year. Last year, Alexandria changed the law to allow bicycling on sidewalks, legalizing something that timid adults and children where already doing, largely without injury to anyone. The main effect of the law was the occasional ticket issued to an incredulous citizen.

When sidewalk bicycling was legalized, there was a sizable outcry from the public, along with a morphing of the usual anti-bike "war on cars" language into a "war on pedestrians." Proponents of legalized sidewalk riding replied that the new law would change little, other than to stop the police from issuing tickets to timid cyclists who probably shouldn't be riding in the streets anyway.

A year later, the hullabaloo has died down and not much has changed. Children, their parents, timid cyclists, and cyclists riding from the street to on-sidewalk parking are all still riding on sidewalks and the anti-cycling crowd has gone back to complaining about cyclists not stopping at stop signs.

Jaime Fearer is dealing with a similar debate in San Jose, California, which has pitted pedestrian advocates against cyclists:
A cyclist did hit and kill a senior earlier this year on a campus path/sidewalk in San Jose, which certainly propelled this proposed legislation.

Having attended a number of meetings on this now, one thing is clear: pedestrians and bicyclists are being divided to fight against each other and for whatever scraps they can get, rather than being encouraged to work together. I see the politicians encourage this through legislation, and I see us (the advocates on "both sides") continue to approach this as though these sides are polar opposites. Whether we're being divided purposefully or not is up for debate, but the fact that we are divided to our detriment is not.

Fortunately for us in DC, the main pedestrian advocates here are not interested in starting a pedestrian-cyclist war and don't believe cyclists are the biggest threat to pedestrians. Tracy Hadden Loh, a co-founder of All Walks DC, had this statement:
All Walks DC is devoted to improving safety for those who walk in DC. We ask our DC Councilmembers to take an evidence-based approach to improving conditions for pedestrians. Motor vehicles kill or injure hundreds of pedestrians every year in the District. Bicycling, on the other hand, is a low-speed, sustainable transportation that serves as an alternative to car trips.

We believe most cyclists riding on sidewalks do so because they don't feel safe on the street, or even in the existing bike lanes. Where high quality bike infrastructure exists, such as on 15th St NW, L St NW, and 1st St NE, very few people ride on the sidewalk.

We believe Councilmember Graham's proposal to ban bicycles from sidewalks would mostly just discourage people from riding bicycles, which we do not support, while failing to address the underlying problem of streets that are not safe for all users.

What about Segways?

While most of the discussion revolved around bicyclists, the bill would also ban Segway riding on sidewalks near bike lanes. But Matt Johnson feels that rather than pushing Segways off sidewalks and onto bike lanes, we need the reverse:

I would actually like to see a ban on Segways in bike lanes. Especially when being operated as a part of a tour where they're going to stop and sit in the bike lanes while the tour guide tells them how the French burned down the White House in the War of 1820.
Nick Keenan has some historical background to the Segway issue:
You may remember when the Segway was introduced that it was supposed to revolutionize transportation forever. That didn't happen. One of the obstacles was that the existing legal framework had no place for the Segway. So the manufacturer went on a lobbying blitz to get Segways recognized as comparable to bicycles.

In 2006 then-councilmember Carol Schwartz introduced the "Motor Vehicle Definition Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device Exemption Amendment Act of 2006." It did two things. First, Segways fit the then-existing definition of motor vehicles, so that definition was changed to exclude "electric personal assistive mobility devices" (the generic term for Segways). Second, everywhere the code mentioned the word "bicycle" it was changed to say "bicycle or an electric personal assistive mobility device" so that Segway operators would have the same rights and duties as cyclists.

For reasons that aren't clear, the person tasked with making those changes did not use an up-to-date version of the code. They used one that was at least ten years old. There had been significant changes to the code in 1996 and 2004, and they were erased. In effect, what Schwartz (or her staff) did was to accidentally undo all of the changes to the law between 1996 and 2006. Oops.

I think most of those changes have since been reinstated but for a while there confusion reigned.

David Cranor takes a different view on Segways:
I'm not bothered by Segways being treated like bicycles. What should they be treated like? Pedestrians? Cars? Some other category? It's really the answer that makes the most sense and I think we can graciously share space with them. We should put up with the occasional inconvenience of segways the same as we expect driver to tolerate the occasional inconvenience of cyclists. Besides it creates another constituency for bike facilities and an expanded argument for their need.
What do you think?

A new bill would ban cycling or Segway riding on DC sidewalks next to bike lanes

Lame duck councilmember Jim Graham wants to make it illegal to ride a bicycle or ride a Segway on the sidewalk along roads when there is a bike lane going in the same direction, except for children 12 years and under.

A sidewalk cyclist on Barracks Row (often not a great place to bike, but not covered by Graham's bill). Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Graham, who currently represents Ward 1 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Brianne Nadeau, introduced the bill this morning. His press release says:

Graham introduced the bill after receiving many reports of bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk without sufficient regard for the safety of pedestrians, especially the elderly, mothers with young children, and others.

This problem was tragically demonstrated four years ago when while walking in an alley near the Convention Center, a 78 year-old man and his wife were knocked to the ground by a speeding "hit-and-run" bicyclist. The elderly man was killed and his wife was hospitalized.

In recent years, the District has emerged as one of the foremost cities for bicycling in the US through the building of dozens of miles of bike lanes, and through its pioneering and successful Capital Bikeshare program. Graham stated "With so many miles of bike lanes now available, I think it's time that rather than riding on sidewalks, bicyclists and others be required to use bike lanes. I think this bill will help to encourage the construction of even more bicycle lanes for the safety of all".
People riding bicycles on sidewalks at high speed can be very scary for pedestrians, and they feel legitimately threatened. It's the same as the way cyclists feel threatened on the road. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer because outside rare cycletracks, cyclists don't have their own space and are yelled at both on the road and on the sidewalk (and on multi-use trails).

Just as many drivers think they can safely pass a cyclist with less than 3 feet of space, or nose through a group of pedestrians crossing at a crosswalk, there are cyclists who think they can use their maneuverability to squeeze quickly between pedestrians without hitting them. And 99% of the time they are right, but that doesn't make the more vulnerable road user not feel intimidated.

I've been walking around and had someone on a bike ride by too fast and too close many times. I've been walking with our one-year-old in a stroller, or with my wife when she was pregnant. Just because none of them actually hit any of us doesn't make it right.

Would a ban even work?

However, a bill banning sidewalk cycling near a bike lane is probably not the answer. While people should ride in the road, there are often legitimate reasons to sometimes ride on any given sidewalk at certain times and in certain circumstances. What if the bike lane is blocked, for example? Graham's bill won't deal with many situations where sidewalk cycling is a problem while also making riding illegal at times when it's not a problem.

It's hard have a law that basically says it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk only in a way that intimidates pedestrians. And any legal restriction is only going to have an effect if police ticket, and we don't need police deciding to target cyclists here as they have been in NYC.

It could be worth discussing some measure like a speed limit that applies on sidewalks where there are pedestrians (but not empty sidewalks), or a 2-foot passing buffer distance. When we've discussed this before, commenters seemed open to somehow codifying the idea of "pedestrian pace in a pedestrian space."

Would this bill encourage building bike lanes, or add to acrimony?

The only real way to reduce bicycle-pedestrian conflicts is to make sure cyclists feel safe riding outside the sidewalk, and that's simply not the case right now. Many people say they just aren't comfortable in the road.

Walking around the city, I often see people riding on the sidewalk when there is a good bike lane or low-speed street, and I wonder why they are bothering to ride there. But instead of passing a law, let's find ways to help those people feel safe (and be safe).

Graham says in his press release that he hopes this will lead to more bike lanes being constructed. It's hard to see how a bill limiting cyclists' rights will lead to more bike lanes.

The obstacle to more bike lanes is that whenever one is proposed, people complain about losing travel lanes or losing parking. Graham has often expressed "concerns" about a transportation bill because it might take away parking spaces. That kind of rhetoric tells transportation planners that they should be very hesitant to embark on any project which impacts even a small amount of parking, or at the very least, they have to do many years of studies and outreach.

Maybe Graham is thinking that if this law exists, people worried about sidewalk cycling will turn into advocates for bike lanes. But the bigger danger is that it only further demonizes an activity that already comes under a lot of criticism, against whom some columnists in national newspapers think alluding to the possibility of violence is appropriate.

Graham said he hopes to start a conversation about what to do about this problem. It's not clear that one best starts a conversation about conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians by proposing a restriction on one of the two groups. It's only going to lead to more rancor rather than understanding.

Why this, and why now?

Incidents of cyclists hurting pedestrians are vanishingly rare (while deaths involving cars are quite common). That doesn't mean it's okay to ride at a high speed on a sidewalk near pedestrians in a way that can be scary, but it's hard not to notice a little irony in the fact that Graham's press release cites a case from four years ago which wasn't even a fatality on a sidewalk or a road with a bike lane at all.

What bills has Graham introduced to deal with fatal crashes between drivers and pedestrians or bicyclists that happened since four years ago? In fact, speaking of safety for seniors and children, Graham has long fought a bill to get property owners to shovel sidewalks; icy walks create a real hazard, but not one that he seems to think is important enough to solve with a change in the law.

Anyway, it's almost the end of the session (and Graham's tenure on the council). He knows that there is probably not time to even hold a hearing if transportation chair Mary Cheh wanted to, and she likely does not want to. The bill will almost surely just die with the rest of Graham's actions this year that amount to shaking his fist at his younger, changing ward. But he can go out making a statement that of all the things that threaten seniors on the streets, like icy sidewalks or drivers not yielding in crosswalks, those damn bicyclists are the worst.

Here's what will (hopefully) happen in DC transportation over the next two years

DC will have more sidewalks, bike lanes, bus signal priority, real-time screens, many more finished studies, and other changes two years from now, if the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) follows through on a strong new "Action Plan" released today.

Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.

The moveDC plan is a forward-thinking, ambitious, and comprehensive vision for transportation across the District over the next 30 years. But will this become reality? Will DDOT start making significant progress on the many recommendations in the plan, or will this sit on a shelf and just be something we look at 28 years from now and lament how little got done?

To put some weight behind the plan, DDOT officials have now created a document that lists projects, studies, and programs they expect the agency to complete in two years.

Some points give very specific, measurable targets. For example:

  • Add sidewalks on at least 25 blocks where they are missing today
  • Improve pedestrian safety at 20 or more intersections
  • Build 15 miles of bicycle lanes or cycletracks
  • Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects
  • Get Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects at least to "advanced stages of design"
  • Install bus lanes on a small piece of Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue to Barry Place and signal priority on 16th Street
  • Put real-time screens in some bus shelters citywide
  • Work with WMATA to find at least 10 key spots that delay high-ridership buses and modify the traffic signals
  • Finish a project to better time traffic signals for pedestrian, transit, and traffic flow
  • Begin the Frederick Douglass (South Capitol Street) bridge construction.

Others call for a number of studies to take place on topics such as:

  • Transit improvements, possibly including a bus lane, on 16th Street
  • North-south bike routes between 4th and 7th Streets NW
  • The 22-mile streetcar system (detailed environmental studies still need to be finished on many of the lines)
  • Commuter and freight rail between DC, Maryland, and Virginia
  • Dynamic parking pricing downtown
  • Roadway congestion pricing
  • Transit "brands" (i.e. what is the Circulator, and what is something else?)

Other prongs involve setting up programs and systems of communication, like:

  • Working with a BID to set up parklets
  • Working with MPD on more and better traffic cameras
  • Working with neighborhoods (starting with three) to plan better parking rules
  • Working with regional governments to find long-term funding for Metro and other needs
  • Setting up more dashboards and releasing more data sets publicly, like public space permits and street trees.
And finally, while actually getting things done is most critical, transportation departments can also lay the groundwork for better decisions in the future by writing manuals and training their staffs about the best practices for pedestrian safety, bicycle infrastructure, transit, and other elements of making a truly multimodal, complete street.

The plan includes a few elements to advance this:

  • Revise the Design and Engineering Manual to include new "tools and techniques for multimodal street design"
  • Train all DDOT staff on multimodal design using the new manual and "national best practices."
This is a great set of projects and while every group will likely find something they wish were in here or where the target were more aggressive, if DDOT can actually complete these and the other items in the action plan, DC will move meaningfully toward being safer and more accessible to people on all modes of travel.

What will the next mayor do?

Of course, a lot will depend on whether the next mayor and his or her appointee to head DDOT stick with the plan. They could ensure these projects get finished, slow some down, or abandon this altogether.

Gabe Klein's DDOT put out an action agenda in 2010 (which, admittedly, was very ambitious); Mayor Gray generally kept up the same initiatives and projects that the previous administration had begun, though many moved forward more slowly than advocates would like.

For example, WABA sounded the alarm in 2011 about the slow pace of new bicycle lanes. The 2005 Bicycle Master Plan called for new bike lanes that would have averaged about 10 miles per year. The 2010 Action Agenda called for adding 30 in just two years. But in 2011, DDOT planned 6.5 miles, designed 4.25 miles, and installed zero, WABA's Greg Billing wrote at the time.

Since then, the pace has picked up. Since Mayor Gray took office, DDOT has added or "upgraded" 19 miles, said DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe. This counts new striped bike lanes or cycletracks and any places where painted lanes turned into cycletracks. This year, Zimbabwe said, they've done 9 miles.

The Action Agenda sets a goal of 15 miles over two years, for an average of 7.5 per year. That's more than the recent average, but less than this year, and less than in the 2005 or 2010 plans. Which means it's probably an okay target as long as DDOT sees it as something to actually achieve rather than a stretch goal where it's okay to come in close but well under target.

When businesses set goals, they vary on whether the goals should be "stretch goals" where you don't expect to achieve them all, conservative goals where you need to achieve almost all of them to get a good performance review, or goals so conservative that they don't mean much because people are afraid to set any target they don't hit.

Ideally, the next DDOT director will treat these goals as the middle category: tell each department that he or she expects them to actually achieve what's in this plan. Certainly some things here and there will run into unexpected obstacles, but this plan should be something everyone takes seriously and feels some pressure to achieve in the two-year timeframe.

Landover is not the place for the FBI

The owners of the Prince George's County land where Landover Mall used to sit are lobbying to locate the FBI headquarters there rather than near the Greenbelt or Franconia-Springfield Metro stations. But a site not easily accessible by Metro isn't the best location for the FBI.

Photo by Jonathan on Flickr.

While building the project in Landover might be cheaper to start, the long-term costs to local governments and regional workers, including added traffic and longer commutes, would be far, far higher.

Prince George's Metro stations are the least used in the system (averaging 4,716 daily boardings per station in 2012, compared with 8,478 systemwide). While other counties promoted walkable development around their stations to maximize their investment in Metro, most Prince George's stations remain isolated parking lots with little or nothing to attract activity and train rides.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

Architects try to spruce up NoMA's underpasses

Projectors could shine interactive art or sign language shapes on the walls of NoMa's underpasses. Large sculptures made of LEDs could give visual interest to the ceilings and walls. Ten teams of architects envisioned ways (some dubious) to illuminate and enliven the tunnels where K, L, and M streets and Florida Avenue cross under the railroad tracks.

Image by Citelum US.

The NoMa Parks Foundation, which is affiliated with the local BID, is conducting a design competition for the underpasses. Now, these are dark and unexciting spaces; while they will still be underpasses, NoMa hope to make them more appealing ones.

If successful, they also could help knit together both sides of the railroad tracks by creating some concrete sense of place adjacent to the urban fabric on either side, instead of just a dead zone. Some of the architects seem to have devised interesting ways of doing that; others perhaps missed the mark.

K Street

K Street is one of the hardest. It has narrow sidewalks flanking four lanes of car traffic. Relatively few pedestrians cross here.

Some of the designers seem to have embraced the car-oriented nature of this underpass and don't really try to create a pleasant pedestrian space, while others think more broadly.

All photos from the NoMa BID created by the respective architect teams.

United Visual Artists proposes linear lines of light that visually extend the street grid through the underpass. It's simpleperhaps too simple.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO uses the many columns which hold up the bridge between the lanes of traffic to create a moving zoetrope effect. This seems like a terrible idea as it only works at high speed, making it clearly geared to the driver and not the pedestrian, but at the same time, would distract drivers who need to be watching the road.

Some cities including New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Kiev have put images like this in their subway tunnels (sometimes as ads). That seems like a much smarter location since riders aren't operating the train.

CINIMOD + Studio LDVC + TALL designed a series of arcs around each end of the underpass which gradually line up to form a geometric ovoid shape as you approach the underpass. This seems like it would work well at pedestrian scale and speed and give more of a sense of the underpass being something to go to instead of merely through.

L Street

In contrast to K Street, L Street has very wide sidewalks but just two lanes of traffic. This creates far more opportunities to do something with this space. This also is the underpass with the most submissions (five).

A rendering from the NoMa Public Realm Plan showed the area packed with good-looking stock photo people like a rave is going on or something. In reality, this will still basically be a sidewalk between places, but the teams tried to make it a sidewalk you want to go to.

Narduli Studio devised a clever idea: a series of cameras that take photographs of the pedestrians and cyclists walking by, then project silhouettes of them on the wall that gradually fade over time. This would create a continuity between who is here now and who was here before, populating the underpass with the people from the past. When trains rumble overhead, the light pattern will add waves to represent sound.

Future Cities Lab (top above) and Mik Young Kim both created variants on the "make something artistic out of LEDs." Future Cities designed a weaving truss while MYK shaped them into a tree that will change color. The tree idea could give some natural feel to a place that is very utilitarian.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO, the people who also suggested the zoetrope, suggest suspending rods overhead that will sway back and forth to make it look like it's raining. I fear making people feel like they're out in the elements in bad weather is not a good way to make an underpass a welcoming space.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber's idea is to turn a wide sidewalk into what's effectively a much narrower one by building a big wooden structure with vertical poles that make a gentle arc. It's visually interesting, but makes both the center and side sections vary in width, constraining pedestrian and bicycle flow.

M Street

All three of designs for M Street are based on LED light strips.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber have another of their space-eating wooden structures.

Synthesis + Architecture & Moritz Waldemeyer would suspend some long lines of webbing. This also seems to cut down significantly on the space available for walking.

Meanwhile, Mik Young Kim (which proposed the tree of light for L Street) suggests an undulating "energy field" along the ceiling and wall, with sections popping out to form benches.

This one looks interesting, so much so that their rendering shows all of the pedestrians gawking at the ceiling but getting in the way of others. Also, apparently people would take photos of models on bicycles inside the underpass.

Florida Avenue

Citelum US's proposal, called "Luminous Aether," does the most to link the underpasses to the concept of parkland (which is very scarce in NoMa and was part of the impetus for the competition). Projections on the walls would rotate between the concepts of air, water, earth, and fire, each interacting as people walk past.

The proposal by Dulio Passariello + Ray King would project six hands on each wall making the American Sign Language letters for F-L-O-R-I-D-A. A background projection would change color throughout the day as speakers play the music of Duke Ellington and the sounds of a Florida beach.

This, especially the hands, goes the furthest to relate to the actual surrounding community as Florida Avenue connects the Metro station to Gallaudet University. Unfortunately, the Gallaudet community has not been involved in the process thus far, so this might need changes to comply with guidelines about the light and color necessary for deaf persons to see each other sign in the underpass.

Which do you like?

Overall, the CINMOD light circles (K Street), Narduli persistent mural (L Street), Mik Young Kim energy field (M Street), and Passariello sign language mural (Florida Avenue) seem best. I also really like the Citelum "Luminous Aether" projections, and perhaps that could go on one of the other underpasses (like K Street, whose designs aren't the most exciting). It's also worth considering using the Mik Young Kim tree instead of the energy field for M Street if there is room.

It's a little disappointing that so many of the designs focused on LED light strips or projections. While it's perhaps natural that designs for underpasses would be about light, they also could do more to create actual places for people to go.

Update: Tony Goodman, ANC commissioner for the area, wrote in an email:

In general I think that the designs should be brighter and more cheerful, while avoiding new obstructions that block pedestrian and bicyclist flow. For L & M Streets there should be more opportunities for people to sit, linger talk and sign as M Street especially is an increasingly popular meeting place for people in the neighborhood.

This project is entirely within public space and paid for with public money, so it's essential that the community is more involved in the implementation than they have been in this RFP process so far.

What do you think?

Regulators want to create a new app for taxis to compete with Uber. Would it succeed?

Taxi operators have complained that companies like Uber and Lyft are not competing on a "level playing field" with more heavily-regulated taxis. In response, DC Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton has suggested, in effect, a way for the taxis to compete with Uber: Run their own Uber-like app. Would it work?

Photo by Koman Tam on Flickr.

The proposal originated when some (as-yet-unnamed) group offered to donate code for a similar app to the Taxi Commission. Linton would have the taxi operators create a cooperative company that would then control and market the app and set rates for rides using it.

The co-op would have to provide every taxi driver in the city with a smartphone to log into the app and accept rides, whether or not they've bought into the co-op or not. But nobody would force the driver to actually log in.

Linton says that this will give the industry a chance to compete. But it's up to that industry to seize the opportunityor risk going out of business.

Why might you use the app?

If the industry does indeed embrace this path, there could be some real reasons to use such an app. In my anecdotal experience trying UberX and regular taxis, the taxi drivers know faster routes around town and also have an easier time actually getting to my house rather than circling the neighborhood multiple times.

We actually have Uber-like apps that hail regular taxis now. Hailo, like Uber, lets you see the locations of taxis that work with the app, get an estimate of time to pick you up, and find out within seconds which cab can come get you.

Mytaxi is another app offering this functionality. Uber also has its own taxi mode, though the company pushes the other options like UberX more actively. Curb, formerly Taxi Magic, also has an app, though right now that just passes your request to a taxi company's dispatcher rather than finding you a vehicle directly.

Some riders might want to choose an app that brings more experienced drivers. Some might also want to patronize an app for drivers who earn something closer to a living wage. But they will only do that if the service is actually better.

Finally, if every taxi driver in DC gets a device to log on, that's a lot of cars. The services like Hailo have only gotten a small minority of taxis on board; this would bring a big fleet right from the start.

Why might the app fail?

This app would compete with all of the other apps. Those have companies with marketing budgets behind them, and a built-in user base.

We don't know how good this app is from a technical standpoint. If it's a lot clunkier than Hailo and Uber, people won't use it. And even if it's great now, keeping an app competitive requires constant technical work. Will the co-op be able to hire the right people with the coding chops to pull it off?

Also, part of the promise of new "sharing economy" tools is that user feedback through "stars" and other means provides a check on quality that regulators formerly offered. Instead of needing inspectors to check a hotel's cleanliness, an Airbnb user can just see what other people who stayed there recently said. With taxis, Uber and Hailo and the others have a strong incentive

Ubser, Hailo, and the others have strong incentives to dump drivers who aren't providing good rides or good customer service. If a driver gets low stars regularly, there's a good chance they'll stop working with the driver.

Linton says the proposed regulations allow the co-op to kick drivers off the system for cause. One question is, will it? The co-op's managers could decide that to compete with the likes of Uber, they need to maintain high quality. Or, they could instead prioritize protecting all members, as some labor unions end up doing, regardless of performance.

One big reason many DC residents embraced Uber is because there were a lot of old, decrepit taxis with drivers who seemed to be trying to cheat them (and because payment is a breeze). I've found Hailo cabs to be in good shape and it's just as easy to pay with Hailo, but if the co-op has every cab, will it be able to ensure riders don't get one of the small minority of really bad taxis?

There might be a better way

Taxi drivers might compete even better with Uber if the co-op can negotiate with companies like Hailo or mytaxi or another to essentially offer the large fleet of taxi drivers at one fell swoop.

The co-op could still run its own app, but wouldn't succeed or fail based on whether it can build, run, and market an app. Instead, it can draw on the talents of a company that's good at app development and marketing.

To make this work, the co-op would just need to set up a computer-to-computer interface, known as an API, where a Hailo-type app could look up the locations of nearby taxis and ask them to accept a ride. The co-cop would be the backend, and its chosen partner(s) could be the front end.

The co-op would negotiate rates and could ensure its drivers get a reasonable wage while also being competitive. It could do what it's positioned to be good atrepresenting drivers' needswhile not trying to also be the best tech company out there, something governments and industry associations have a poor track record on.

Update: Hailo also announced today it is closing its operations in North America. This makes the app likely more necessary if taxis are to compete with Uber and Lyft, because competitor apps aren't finding profitability doing it on their own. Alternately, it means that if the industry consortium existed and could offer more cabs to companies like Hailo, it could boost their success and productivity.

Muriel Bowser talks Metro, bikes, development, education, and more

We chatted with Muriel Bowser, DC councilmember representing Ward 4 and the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at 12:30 pm. Here is a transcript of the discussion.

David Alpert: I'm here in Bowser Campaign HQ with GGW editors Aimee Custis, Jonathan Neeley, and Steven Yates along with candidate Bowser.

Image from Muriel Bowser.

David Alpert: The way the chat will be working is this. I am going to ask questions to Ms. Bowser based on the questions you've posted in comments ahead of time and questions you submit during the chat on Twitter with hashtag #ggwchat.

David Alpert: Ms. Bowser will answer the questions verbally. Aimee and Jonathan will be typing in her answers as fast as they can. So know that any typos or errors are our fault and not hers. In the interests of keeping the chat moving, we'll type fast and correct typos later as needed.When you see a message from "Muriel Bowser (AC)," that's Aimee typing Ms. Bowser's words; "Muriel Bowser (JN)" is Jonathan typing.

David Alpert: So let's get started! As we go, please suggest your questions! Tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat.

David Alpert: Welcome, Councilmember Bowser!

Muriel Bowser (AC): Thanks for having us, Greater Greater Washington!

David Alpert: Most voters know you in your role as the Ward 4 councilmember. How do you see your role being different if you become mayor?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I actually think being a ward councilmember is the very best preparation for mayor of DC. As a ward councilmember you're responsible for leading a discrete group of people - in my case 75,000 people, in 20 neighborhoods. You're evaluated on it month by month and year by year. I'm proud that we have moved that agenda in Ward 4 the last seven years.

Muriel Bowser (AC): As mayor my job will be to set high expectations and hire great people, and focus on the shared agenda for the District that includes investing in our schools citywide, growing our middle class, and making sure that the government has the people and ideas to get the city ready for our growth.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

Muriel Bowser (JN): We've talked about, in my priorities plan, having the District sign onto the Vision Zero pledge, which looks at our transportation network to make sure that it's safe for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with an eye on taking down serious injuries and fatalities on our roads. That's very important.

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think that other cities are also doing innovative things with the bus, which I actually think is one of the quickest and most feasible ways to respond to changing transportation needs...

Muriel Bowser (JN): ...signal prioritization and dedicated bus lanes. In our city, we will have a focus on how we improve... we need to have a focus on how we improve east-west connections and better service east of the Anacostia river.

Pedestrian safety

David Alpert: Question from Tracey: You talked about Vision Zero, the effort to achieve zero deaths on the roads. What sort changes to enforcement, speed limits, traffic calming, and policy would you support starting with to achieve Vision Zero?

Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, we know that pedestrian safety and all of the ways to get to a safer transportation network... and you already mentioned the 3 Es: enforcement, education, and evaluation.

Muriel Bowser (JN): I think we do a decent job now with enforcement. I've pledged to evaluate our speed and red camera system to make sure that we are placing these cameras in areas that have a public safety purpose. So do we know, for example, where all the dangerous intersections are, and have we deployed the technology necessary to address it?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think that we know DDOT keeps track of the top intersections of concern in the district, and I think we need to have a steady program of to address it.

Muriel Bowser (JN): In some of that is enforcement but it may require actually engineering changes to the intersection. And lastly, we need to do more around education. Drivers need to know the rules of the roads and follow them, bicyclists need to know the rules of the road and follow them, as do pedestrians.

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think we're actually a lot lighter in that area, DDOT needs to have the resources necessary to educate everyone using our streets, sidewalks, and trails.


David Alpert: You've said you want a "visionary, effective" leader for DDOT. What skills and qualities should this person possess?

Muriel Bowser (JN): DDOT touches a lot of aspects of life in the District for residents, visitors, and businesses. I think the DDOT leader, first and foremost, has to think about getting the most out of our transportation capacity.

Muriel Bowser (AC): We are not going to get new roads, but we have a plan to invest in Metro over the next 25 years costing $26b...

Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to get the most out of those public transit investments. I think the next DDOT director must have a commitment and experience with public transportation. Furthermore, I hear all the time from residents that DDOT needs to be more responsive to the care of our roads and making sure there's a plan and that we stay on plan in replacing roads, bridges, sidewalks, and alleys.

Muriel Bowser (AC): And that's critically important. DDOT also engages our business communityworking with them when we're building new affordable housing or new restaurants...

Muriel Bowser (JN): can DDOT be more responsive to the business community will also be important to me.


David Alpert: OK, let's focus on Metro for a little while. Question from cbd: What were your biggest accomplishments as a member of the WMATA board? What do you wish you had accomplished?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think it's been a great experience being a part of the governing body over Metro. As a governing body, the board is responsible for making sure there's a great General Manager.

Muriel Bowser (JN): He or she has to have a vision for how Metro catches up with its maintenance program and plans for a state of good repair maintenance program and sets out a vision for how Metro should grow to meet the growing population in the region. Having Metro momentum approved has been very important.

Muriel Bowser (AC): I'll say also that I've chaired the planning and real estate committee at Metro and led the charge to have Metro adopt an affordable housing policy, and develop an affordable housing program...

Muriel Bowser (JN): ... not only in the District but around the region.

David Alpert: You mentioned having a great General Manager. WMATA is now looking for a successor to Richard Sarles. Are there specific skills you think the new GM needs in addition to those Sarles had?

Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, Sarles came to Metro when it was in crisis following a serious tragedy in the system. He brought a sense of confidence and focus on safety that has served the authority well.

Muriel Bowser (JN): The next big challenge is how not to just keep the system running to serve our current needs, but how to grow the system. The next general manager needs to understand how to run a very large transit system, needs to be able to work in a multi-jurisdictional environment...

Muriel Bowser (AC): ...regain confidence in regional funders in the federal government, and be committed to growing the system.

David Alpert: Andrew S. asks: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to change this?

Muriel Bowser (JN): I don't know that I agree with the statement that changes to bus have had little impact. I can just look in the corridors of Georgia Avenue and 16th street alone, where the addition of Metro extra service has attracted more and more people to the bus.

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think there are more things we can do to make the bus more attractive. People will choose transit when it's reliable, convenient, and affordable. I think Metro Extra is just one example of the bus being quicker because it has fewer stops...

Muriel Bowser (JN): ...they're often newer and differently labeled vehicles, and we've gotten good feedback from that. So much so that people went on to be even more efficient, and we have to look for even better ways to prioritize the bus in those corridors.

Bus service

David Alpert: How does Metrobus interact with the Circulator? "Andrew asks: While many of us have enjoyed the success of the Circulator, it's hard to shake the impression that proposed Circulator expansion is an admission that DC has given up on improving or optimizing existing Metrobus routes." How do we think about when to expand Circulator versus work with WMATA?

Muriel Bowser (AC): That's a very good question. We know Circulator was introduced in the District as a way to move people around the Mall. But it's been a great way to move people around neighborhoods as well...

Muriel Bowser (JN): ...I think it's important that one doesn't take away from the efficiency of the other.

David Alpert: The DC council has been expanding the Circulator in the budget, but sometimes DDOT feels that those expansions are not the most appropriate ones. How would you balance this as mayor?

Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, I think we have to have a better way of planning transit service. The most inefficient way to plan is for the legislature to do it.

Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to leave it to the transportation professionals to recommend new bus routes or changes to bus routes. I don't think we've had a government structure to date to change that.

David Alpert: What governance structure do we need? Mary Cheh has proposed creating a DC transit board - is that the answer?

Muriel Bowser (JN): We need some kind of predictable transit-- I hesitate to put a label to it. Is it a board? An authority? The idea is that it's a group who we impanel for transportation planning, and professionals and people involved in the community with some expertise on how transit works and the impact it has on the community.

Muriel Bowser (AC): Any changes should be the subject of some debate. As you know, at Metro, any bus change requires hearings about how it will impact people.

Muriel Bowser (JN): If the District is to get more involved in public transit with our Circulator and our Streetcar, we also have to have a predictable way that transit is equitably distributed around the city.


David Alpert: Kingman Park asks: Under what circumstances would you support restoration of the full funding level of the streetcar, to the point where it will cover the full [planned] 22-mile length?

Muriel Bowser (JN): First of all, let me say this: I've been a huge supporter of Streetcar both for its transportation impact and its potential economic development impact in underserved areas. I do think it's important we get the H Street line running and connected, and learn some lessons and make decisions about how we move forward with the larger proposal that's on the table.

Muriel Bowser (AC): Are we completely sure about all of the lines on the table? It bears some discussion. But I've been very open to figuring out how to make both our transportation and economic development goals work.


David Alpert: Chris H. asks: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and NYC are just a few examples of mayors doing this. While the District is making good progress in becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking, and bikeshare so it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

Muriel Bowser (JN): No, I think we should push forward faster on bike facilities, specifically the Metropolitan Branch Trail. That's been something I think has been stalled because of lack of leadership and will. I want to make that a top priority for completion.

David Alpert: What about the bike lanes and cycletracks on the street?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I support on street bicycle lanes and cycletracks.

David Alpert: DDOT has installed - I don't remember the exact numbers - a few miles a year of lanes and cycletracks. But the plans call for far more, so do we need to increase, decrease, or maintain the tempo?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think our experience with bike lanes has been largely positive. People in communities see it as a way to move more people on our existing transportation network.

Muriel Bowser (JN): Often times without displacing any other use. Not displacing parking, not displacing access to a business, not displacing anything. I think where leadership and communication will help is when bike facilities do displace other uses. We can do a better job working with the business community and neighborhoods as we move forward with those projects.

Muriel Bowser (AC): But I just think largely, in the 7 years I've been on the Council, we've installed a lot of bike lanes in ward 4 and they've enhanced public safety in a lot of ways.

David Alpert: One time that there has been particular conflict is when bicycle lanes have gone past churches which might use more of the roadway than normal for parking on Sundays. Do you see a way to build peace and understanding on this issue? Specifically, what would you say to each side on these conflicts?

Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to work together to find a way where everybody's enjoyment of the road can be accommodated.


David Alpert: Let's switch gears a bit to development and buildings. Myles asks: The Kennedy Street area has many blighted, vacant, underused properties as values rise. Why can nothing be done?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I wonder how long, Myles, have you lived on Kennedy Street?

David Alpert: Meanwhile, one quick comment back on Metro. Matt asks, what about late night and weekend Metro rail service? What can or should be done about the quality of service for residents who depend on transit outside regular commute hours?

David Alpert: (We'll come back to Myles' question as soon as we hear back.)

Muriel Bowser (JN): It's an interesting question: this city is fast becoming a later night city, but it's not an all night city. So we have invested in late night service on Metro, but we still don't have a lot of people who use it at all hours of the night.

Muriel Bowser (AC): So we have to decide are we going to put the resources on the early hours when more people are going to use it, or late at night? As ridership changes, we'll continue to revisit to make sure service matches ridership levels.

Muriel Bowser (JN): Let's go back to Kennedy Street and talk about the progress that's been made in seven years. It's become safer, cleaner, and with community involvement has come together for a plan for how Kennedy Street can be developed. With the increased interest in investment on Georgia Avenue, more private sector interest in developing Kennedy Street is appearing.

Muriel Bowser (AC): Meanwhile, government investment including a multimillion dollar roadway project is also in the works. Lastly, government has made available small business assistance and facade improvements as part of the Great Streets program.

Tweet from Myles G Smith: @MurielBowser: Properties not listed as blighted. Absentee owners not fined. Fines not turned into liens. Liens not turned to sales #GGWchat

David Alpert: Do you have any further comments to Myles' tweet?

Muriel Bowser (JN): I will say, we do need urgent leadership at DCRA and all of our agencies.

David Alpert: What do you think of pop-ups? Crickey7 asks, somewhat colorfully, "Creative way of increasing square footage in desirable neighborhoods, or Satan's middle finger?"

David Alpert: (Lots of laughing in the Bowser HQ to that one.)

Muriel Bowser (JN): I'm looking forward to the Zoning Commission's hearing and recommendations.

David Alpert: BTA asks: What is your position on the McMillan redevelopment?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think McMillan should be redeveloped and I have focused on making sure it's neighborhood enhancing dev that includes affordable housing, parks space and a jobs center as well as a transportation plan.

David Alpert: Hill Feller asks: Please discuss how you weigh and balance obstacles to more affordable housing like historic preservation and height restrictions with the goal of affordable housing. When historic preservation drives up the cost of housing or limits the construction of new housing, which would you give up, cheaper housing or historic preservation?

David Alpert: (Keep those questions coming with tweets to #ggwchat.)

Muriel Bowser (JN): Well, we have a historic preservation law and we have to abide by it. But I think there are creative ways to have both historic preservation and development. And when we have both an Office of Planning and a historic preservation officer, we want them to work cooperatively with our affordable housing offices as well. more often than not, there can be win-win situations.


David Alpert: BTA and Bob ask: Would the Olympics be good for DC? Why or why not? Do you support taxpayer-funded incentives and infrastructure spending to bring the Olympics to DC?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think the Olympics can be good for DC. I support a private exploration of the benefits. I support investments that would live longer than the games themselves. I think we can look to cities that have been successful at making transit investments that serve long term needs, as affordable housing investments that serve long-term needs. I think what's important to the District also is that the entire region, if we went in this direction, would support those investments.

David Alpert: Andy asks: Do you feel it is important to keep DC United in the city? Does the stadium deal need to be tweaked or should the parties start from scratch?

Muriel Bowser (JN): I've always thought it was important to keep DC United in DC. I think world-class cities like ours support all kinds of things: sports, the arts, having great restaurants and attracting culture all make a city vibrant.

Muriel Bowser (AC): We want United to be in DC. In addition to the 2 hearingsat the Reeves Center and in Southwest, I recommended the Council have an independent 3rd party review to the Mayor's plan. We expect to get that report back within a few weeks, which will help us know if the appraisals are accurate and can be relied upon, and ...

Muriel Bowser (JN): ...the developers and the mayor were working on this for at least two years, and I think it was important for the Council to have its own review. We expect to get that report back within a couple of weeks, which will help us know if the appraisals are accurate and can be relied on. If the deal is good for the residents of DC, I'm going to be all for it. If it turns out we're getting a raw deal, and let's face it, there have been some questions about the swap of the Reeves Center and the property owned by Akridge, it would be incumbent upon all of us to look at that deal closely and make any changes that would make it in the best interest of the residents of DC.

Affordable housing & homelessness

David Alpert: Shawington Times asks, Given that improvements in DC drive up housing costs, what will you do to make housing available to the poor?

Muriel Bowser (AC): In talking about AH, I've made a commitment to invest $100m annually which is a position that has been advocated for some time by the CNHED. We'll also have a focus not only on creating new units but preserving existing housing, and recommit to the New Communities initiative which focuses on transforming public housing units.

Muriel Bowser (JN): Lastly, I'll say that in talking about affordable housing, you cannot talk about it without also talking about jobs. We can invest in affordable housing but if people don't have jobs, they won't be able to afford housing. My priorities plan for the District, I talk about how we refocus the $100 million the government spends on job training to work with DC contractors to train and employ our residents with the most significant barriers to employment.

David Alpert: KBT asks: Why are we moving families back into DC General when Mayor Gray vowed to get families placed elsewhere and eventually close down DC General?

Muriel Bowser (AC): As mayor I want to move toward a plan to close DC General. This will require finding transitional housing across all 8 wards of DC for up to 400 families.

Muriel Bowser (JN): I believe these must be small sites appropriate for families, with proper support services.

Past votes

David Alpert: Lurker asks: Is there any enacted legislation that you regret voting for?

Muriel Bowser (AC): (thinking)

Muriel Bowser (JN): When you vote on a budget, there are often things that you love and some that you don't love so much. In this most recent budget, I regret that the yoga tax was included and I regret that the senior property tax credit was not fully implemented as I envisioned.


David Alpert: One more about transportation: What do you think of the moveDC plan which DDOT created over the last year, and if elected mayor, would you continue to move towards implementing it?

Muriel Bowser (JN): I think there are a lot of great things in the MoveDC plan. The proof, though, will be in the implementation. I want to work with DDOT leadership on feasible implementation plans.

David Alpert: You would take it as a foundation for the city's transportation plan?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I would take it as a foundation, considered as a living document. I appreciate and have participated in some of the community outreach to date around MoveDC.

Muriel Bowser (JN): I think it's a legitimate plan and I will plan to work with the DDOT leadership on implementation plans and how we get it funded in the capital budget, and deliver on them in a cost-effective way.


David Alpert: A few questions on education before we wrap up.

Tweet from Chris Sondreal: Under Mayoral control, all things #ed come to mayor or a direct appointee. What is DC's greatest #ed challenge? #ggwchat #edudcision14

Muriel Bowser (JN): Educational equality is our greatest challenge.

David Alpert: How would you address it?

Muriel Bowser (JN): The middle schools. I'm committed to funding four middle schools across the city, which is very important. Also, how do we increase the number of quality, matter of right neighborhood schools? We've committed to a Good to Great initiative for our schools with extracurricular activities to regain the confidence of neighborhood parents.

School boundaries

David Alpert: You have said you would not retain the neighborhood school boundary plan from Mayor Gray. That is still your position, yes?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I believe this plan is not ready.

David Alpert: Natalie wrote: You told the Post that in devising a new boundary plan to replace the one adopted by Mayor Gray, you don't "anticipate that the chancellor of schools will be involved in the boundary process moving forward." Can you explain why you don't feel it's appropriate for the chancellor to have input into new boundaries and feeder patterns for the school system she oversees?

Muriel Bowser (JN): The deputy mayor for education has led the school boundary process, and I anticipate that to be how I would approach it as well.

David Alpert: Can you explain for readers who might not know, do you have specific objections to the boundaries or the process? What are your objections?

Muriel Bowser (JN): My objections are to the boundaries. I very much support what the proposals say about early childhood education and middle schools, but I think the boundaries themselves exacerbate inequality.

Charter neighborhood preference

David Alpert: Ward 1 Guy wrote: You said you support neighborhood preferences for charter school admissions. This is a very different position from your main opponent, David Catania. How would you implement this policy and would it affect existing charter schools or just new ones?

Muriel Bowser (AC): I think I would work with my education team to evaluation how best to implement a neighborhood charter school preference.

That would be a weighted preference, not a line around the school but some weighted preference in the charter school lotteries.

Charter schools still admit students city-wide, but with some preference for children in the neighborhood.

David Alpert: sbc asks, What do you think neighborhood preference for charters would do to residential patterns in the District? How does that affect your support for it?

Muriel Bowser (JN): This question speaks to the need for greater coordination among our public education sectors, both traditional DCPS and our public charter schools-- they both are public schools.

Muriel Bowser (AC): How we better coordinate location decisions about charter schools is one of the big issues our charter team will work on.


David Alpert: That's all the time we have. Any final things you want to say to our readers?

Muriel Bowser (JN): I want to ask your readers to look into our priorities plan for any remaining questions. They can find it at

David Alpert: CM Bowser says she has a moment to respond to one or two follow-up tweets.

Tweet from Matt' Johnson, AICP: I appreciate Bowser trying to answer my Q, but I wasn't talking about 2AM, but having to wait 24 minutes at 9P or on Sat afternoon. #ggwchat

Muriel Bowser (AC): Matt', I recognize a lot of people are frustrated with track work delays. It must be done, but we must better communicate and use better tools to know when the next train is arriving.

David Alpert: Thank you so much, Councilmember Bowser, for chatting with us today.

Muriel Bowser (JN): Thank you!

David Alpert: Please also join us for our chat with David Catania on Wednesday, October 22 from 12-1 pm. Please suggest questions in the comments on or with tag #ggwchat.

David Alpert: Also, you can continue to discuss Ms. Bowser's comments and your reactions and opinions in the comments:

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