Greater Greater Washington

Posts by David Alpert

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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. 

Development


Muriel Bowser announces eight sites for homeless shelters

DC is working to close the homeless shelter at DC General and replace it with smaller shelters spread around the city. Today, Mayor Bowser announced where they will go and a set of public engagement meetings to discuss the plan.


Image from NBC Washington.

The DC General shelter has needed replacement for a long, long time. Spreading homeless residents out around the city is generally a good move. To segregate all homelessness in one part of the city forces all of the residents to one area and also concentrates the negative impacts of a shelter.

While a big facility does have some economies of scale and makes it easier to offer some services to all of the residents with staff in a single location, it's not fair for some parts of the city to be able to push all of this necessary service to someone else's community. Living in a mixed-income area instead of an all-homeless enclave also can benefit the shelter residents themselves.

Bowser set as a goal to place one new shelter in each of DC's eight wards.

Our contributors weighed in on the choice of locations.

Kelli Raboy wrote: "It seems like most of the sites have access to at least some transit (mostly frequent bus routes), so that's good."

Neil Flanagan added:

The one in Ward 3 is sort of in between Glover Park and the Cathedral, not ideal from a transit perspective, but it is a lot that's been empty for a while, and it's a lovely neighborhood with decent access to services.

All over, it seems to be in line with expectations of not only equity on principle, but also the benefits of distributing social services more evenly.

Gray Kimbrough brought up an eternal question with social services and below-market housing: It's cheaper to put it in the lowest-cost parts of the city, but spreading it out can be better for the people getting the services and for the communities that would otherwise have the concentration. But it's more expensive.
The 213-bed women's shelter stuck out to me, especially when I realized that it's a prime Chinatown location. This is much of the backstory.

This is taking the place of new residential development which surely could have been traded for a new, less prime location. But it's certainly transit accessible.

It also seems possible to me that that might be the only one to open any time soon (since the article says the others are slated for 2018 at best).

Canaan Merchant elaborated on the tradeoffs:
It would be important to note that the best places for equity might not be the best places to get a good deal for costs. This is an important distinction when you have a lot of stuff moving to places east of the river because it costs less to do things over there but residents criticize though decisions because they say that keeps the area depressed.
Finally, Geoff Hatchard brought up an interesting political side angle:
By explicitly making sure that each ward gets a shelter, you create a situation at redistricting time where you need to make sure you're not moving the lines so one ward gets multiple shelters and another gets none.

Normally, that shouldn't be too difficult to avoid, if you put the shelters closer to the geographic centers of the wards. But, many of these are placed near ward boundaries. The proposed locations in Wards 1 through 4 all could, at some point in the near future, create a type of restriction on how redistricting happens.

(Granted, this is speculative, but having been on the redistricting committee last time around for Ward 5, you'd be surprised what gets proposed as 'requirements' for the drawing of lines.)

It's also somewhat interesting how the Ward 7 & 8 locations are so close to the Prince George's County line. It may not be intentional, but it's notable when one looks at the map.

The community meetings are Thursday, February 11, from 6:30-8:30 pm:
  • Ward 1 - Anthony Bowen YMCA, 1325 W Street NW (Conference Room)
  • Ward 2 - One Judiciary Square, 441 4th St NW (Old Council Chambers)
  • Ward 3 - Metropolitan Memorial UMC, 3401 Nebraska Ave NW (Great Hall)
  • Ward 4 - Paul Public Charter School, 5800 8th St NW (Auditorium)
  • Ward 5 - New Canaan Baptist Church, 5800 8th St NW (Auditorium)
  • Ward 6 - Friendship Baptist Church, 900 Delaware St SW
  • Ward 7 - Capitol View Public Library, 5001 Central Ave SE
  • Ward 8 - Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, 2616 MLK Ave SE (Fellowship Hall)
In the long run, the homeless residents really need not shelters but permanent housing. That housing, too, ought to go in many different neighborhoods.

What do you think of the choices?

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Transit


Did Metro handle buses correctly in this mostly-non-storm?

On Monday afternoon, WMATA announced that Metrobuses would only run on a "moderate" snow plan, which cancels or reroutes a large number of buses. But when snow didn't materialize on much of the region, the agency restored service at dawn Tuesday. Did it make the right calls?


Not what happened. Photo by tadfad on Flickr.

Ned Russell wasn't so enthusiastic about the original decision. On Monday, he wrote,

This seems a bit much for what is forecast to be rain to an inch dusting in the city. NYC buses don't change at all for this little snow. I live in Eckington and the three primary routes that serve the neighbourhood—D8, 80 and P6—are all detoured or cancelled with far fewer stops in and around the neighborhood.
Gray Kimbrough felt some whiplash from the decisions:
I understand that there's a lot of uncertainty here and it's impossible to please everyone, but keeping transit service running is important to the region. Preemptively announcing significantly limited service only to switch back to regular service early this morning was disruptive to a lot of people.

I guess this could be the new normal strategy, which could be okay if we're clear on what it means. "WMATA plans to curtail bus service tomorrow but will reevaluate at 4 AM; check back for updates" would have been a much more helpful communication to riders if that was their intended strategy all along.

I checked and the @metrobusinfo Twitter account did tweet the revision just before 4 am, though @wmata didn't until 6 am and it didn't really filter through the media until later in the morning.

Other contributors, however, defended Metro, saying this was a very tough situation.

Abigail Zenner felt that she'd rather Metro preemptively cancel service than try to run it and have buses get stuck, as she's experienced in her neighborhood of Glover Park.

Warmer temperatures mean no ice. It could have easily gone the other way. We are cursed to be on the snow line.

In the past, we would slide to the bus stop only to find out a bus was stuck on a slippery spot never to be heard from again and blocking the road.

Adam Froehlig explained the extremely difficult forecast:
Yesterday afternoon it looked tricky. The "cutoff line" was basically right on top of the region, aligned southwest to northeast. This is a difficult forecast, as Abigail mentioned earlier. In scenarios like this where you're close to the freezing point not just at the surface but at lower altitudes, all it takes is a difference of one or two degrees at the right altitude to make the difference between rain, snow, or some other form of freezing precipitation.

What looks like happened is temperatures stayed just warm enough at the right altitudes to keep the precip as mostly rain or rain/snow mix from the District south and east. It should be noted (and highlights the cutoff mentioned above) that Dulles and BWI have been all snow since 4am, while National has been oscillating between rain or a rain/snow mix.

So the change overnight is likely what prompted WMATA to change their plans this morning, and also played a factor in OPM's status decision.

Jonathan Neeley also gave Metro the benefit of the doubt:
The thought I keep coming back to is that the blizzard was a chance to not screw up royally, and Metro seized it. They agency didn't handle everything perfectly, but given its however-many-years' worth of poor decision making and customer service, I think it's OK to say things went well.

Obviously, yesterday's precautions wound up being unnecessary, but as others have said, that isn't always clear until pretty late in the game. I don't know exactly what factors went into making decisions about bus service, both yesterday and pre-blizzard. But I'm willing to consider that being a bit too trigger happy in that realm has been part of a tradeoff that meant a positive move for bus and rail service overall.


Also not what happened. Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

While contributors reached a consensus that the forecast was understandably uncertain (one model predicted no snow and then 10 inches on consecutive runs six hours apart), some were still not persuaded that going to the moderate plan was necessary in the first place. Kelli Raboy said:

Going to the moderate snow plan was an overreaction, even for the worst-case forecasts. The moderate plan cuts a significant number of routes. The light snow plan would have been more reasonable.

Many people in this region rely on WMATA to get to work. When they cut bus routes far in advance of potential snow, it sends the message that WMATA is not a reliable option for transportation. I'm lucky to be able to telework when WMATA overreacts like this. Many people, especially the underserved in our communities, do not have that luxury.

From an operational standpoint, I understand the need to have a plan ready several hours in advance (so that employees and buses are in the right place at the right time). But that reasoning went out the window when WMATA changed their minds at the last minute anyway.

I also think they did a poor job communicating the changes. There was never any suggestion yesterday that the plan could change in the morning.

Matt Johnson agreed:
I think Metro is being overly cautious, and too much so in this case. The forecast was very uncertain (0-10" forecast), but Capital Weather Gang favored the "nuisance" end heavily, meaning that they thought the best chances were for very little snow.

Metro announced that they were going to "moderate" snow plan, which cuts service to many residents and businesses throughout the region long before forecasts were nailed down. And I suspect strongly that they were simply managing expectations. "Oh, look everybody, we're doing more than we promised!" That's not acceptable in this case, because as has been pointed out, the cancellation of much service was the last word anyone heard about it.

It would have been much more prudent for the agency to have said Monday night, "Given the uncertain forecast, Metrobus service and routes may be affected in the morning. Please check the website for up to date information in the morning. An announcement about service will be made no later than 5:00 am."

Ned Russell added, "Residents should not have to check their transit options every morning of their commute. I imagine a lot of people are not in the habit of repeatedly checking WMATA's status round-the-clock."

What do you think?

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Meta


Can you sign up for a monthly sustaining gift to Greater Greater Washington?

Our reader drive is underway! Our donation box, by default, suggests making a monthly donation. Here's why we're so interested in those. Can you sign up for one?

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
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We love our readers and our reader drive has been a very important part of Greater Greater Washington's budget planning since we started it three years ago (when we started having a paid editor for the first time). All of your contributions mean a lot and have helped us continue providing this blog we all enjoy writing for and you enjoy reading.

It's also a lot of work to set up a reader drive every year, and each time, we have to essentially start from zero. There's a big exception: the 46 of you who've signed up for monthly ongoing contributions of $5 to $50 per month and the 31 of you who're making automatic yearly gifts of $25-250.

This gives us an ongoing baseline of revenue to plan around, and while we can't count on it—you're of course free to stop at any time—it makes our income a little more predictable. Predictability is really, really helpful for an organization, especially a small one like Greater Greater Washington.

We've set a goal for this reader drive of increasing our monthly sustaining supporters by a third. Can you be one of them? Just choose a level of $5, $10, $25, or enter your own higher amount in the box here:

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
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Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
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Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

If you are already one of those 46 + 31, thank you so much! Your support really means a lot. If you were one of the handful of people who'd been monthly supporters and your contribution lapsed, either because your credit card on file with PayPal expired or for some other reason, I hope you will also consider re-upping for a monthly gift.

And if you aren't comfortable signing up monthly or yearly, we still super duper appreciate your one-time support as well! Thanks again for reading and helping keep Greater Greater Washington producing high-quality content every day!

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
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Pedestrians


Walkers were left out in the cold after the blizzard

If you try to walk around in many parts of our region, particularly in the suburbs, it's easy to get the feeling that you're an afterthought, at best. Governments' actions in the recent "Snowzilla" blizzard show even more clearly how being "multimodal" is more lip service than reality.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn.

In Fairfax County, sidewalks in neighborhoods and along major arterial roads were impassable a week or more after the storm. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and other jurisdictions closed for seven consecutive weekdays, putting many parents in a bind. Children lacked safe routes to school and safe places to wait for buses.

This was no simple issue of having to prioritize; as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told residents, the Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows all of Fairfax's public roads, was not going to clear the sidewalks, and the county had no plan to either.

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

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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Meta


You helped us build a townhouse in 2015! Will you do it again in 2016?

We didn't actually build a townhouse. But you did give Greater Greater Washington enough last winter to beat our 2015 "townhouse thermometer" goal and raise $18,517 to help keep this blog going.


Our 2015 "townhouse" thermometer. Original photo by ekelly80 on Flickr.

Thank you for investing in Greater Greater Washington! Now's your chance to do it again.

Today is Greater Greater Washington's 8th birthday, and we're kicking off our 2016 reader drive. Between now and March 8, will you help us reach this year's goal of $25,000?

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Last year, your financial contributions helped make Greater Greater Washington the "Best Local Blog in the Washington Area," according to Washingtonian Magazine!

Your support also allowed us to:

  • Publish more than 1,200 articles that reached 1.53 million unique readers
  • Host live chats with Paul Wiedefeld and Leif Dormsjo
  • Educate residents and policy-makers about important issues in housing, transportation, education, and more
  • Get a two-year grant and private donation to expand our work
  • Hire two full-time staff
In 2016, your gifts will help Greater Greater Washington:
  • Continue to bring you more, awesome content
  • Push for more content about Maryland, Virginia, and areas east of the Anacostia while keeping up everything we're already talking about
  • Host "How to Blog" workshops to train new contributors
  • Organize even more happy hours and other social events to connect the Greater Greater Washington community offline
  • Experiment with new forms of content (maybe a podcast or video?)
We have grown a lot in the last year, thanks in large part to your financial support. Even though growing up means a bigger budget and funding from foundations and other sources, your financial support is still vital to Greater Greater Washington's success.

Our foundation grants which will help us launch a new housing effort don't cover all of what we need to run the blog, and in fact were based on an expectation that our support from readers would continue to grow. So if you enjoy Greater Greater Washington, please give today!

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
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Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Bicycling


A church in Shaw thinks bike lanes make streets safer

Some churches in Shaw are fighting hard to block a proposed north-south protected bikeway, but not all churches think it's such a bad idea.


Hemingway Temple AME Church. Photo by Martin Moulton.

Hamingway Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, at 5th and P streets NW, has sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation suggesting "a fair balance" in its ongoing study of ways to add a protected bikeway around 5th, 6th, and/or 9th streets.

The letter says,

We realize that as our neighborhood becomes more heavily populated, its needs also become more diverse. Preserving church parking is important to our members, but we appreciate the Mayor's Vision Zero initiative and strategies that will make our streets safer and eliminate all traffic related fatalities. ... Separate protected facilities for cyclists keeps them out of the way of motor vehicles. Reducing the width of roads makes them safer for pedestrians to walk across.
(Before someone jumps on the church's seeming to claim the only benefit of bike lanes is to keep them out of drivers' way, cycling advocates have long been arguing drivers should support bike lanes for this very reason—they're actually potentially in the interests of people bicycling and people driving alike.)

The letter credits Martin Moulton, board vice president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, for engaging with the church. The nearby KIPP DC Shaw Campus, for which Moulton has worked as a consultant on community outreach, also has for some time let church members park in its parking lot on Sundays.

This demonstrates, first, that reaching out to engage constructively with churches is important; and second, that there can be creative other solutions to churches' parking needs besides forbidding bike lanes entirely. We can hope more churches will engage with area cyclists and find ways to make streets safer while still allowing parishioners to reach worship services as well.

There will be an open house meeting on the bikeway study this Saturday, February 6, from 12-4 pm at KIPP. People who want to speak should arrive at noon to sign up, and public testimony will begin at 1.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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Transit


Ask GGWash: What one book should I read about transit?

If you want to understand the battles over transit in the United States, is there one book you can read? We asked our contributors.

  
Books our contributors suggested. Images from Amazon.com.

An organizer who works for a social justice-oriented group and is planning to start working on transit issues recently asked what book she should read to get up to speed.

If she were going to deal with how we design our roads and public spaces, I'd recommend Jeff Speck's Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At a Time or Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us. Is there a comparable book about transit?

Both John Ricco and Matt Johnson suggested Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker. Johnson said, "The book is fairly concise, but explains the basic information behind transit operations in depth in language that the layperson can easily understand and digest. Personally, I think everyone who rides transit should read this book. But anyone interested in transit at a higher level than just catching the bus should absolutely, definitely, positively read this book. As soon as possible."

Ben Ross endorsed Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. The book's summary says, "On a journey that takes him around the world―from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia, Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation―and better city living―for all."

Gray Kimbrough wrote, "This book isn't the only one you need to read to learn about transit (though I'm not sure such a book exists), but I recommend Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century [by Stephen Goddard] for its in-depth background of the policy processes that gave us the system we have now."

While this isn't the transit policy overview our question-asker was looking for, anyone interested in transit in the Washington region should certainly read The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro by Zachary Schrag. This is the definitive way to learn why our Metro system is the way it is. It's also just full of fascinating facts, like how WMATA's first head, Jackson Graham, tried to resist putting elevators in the stations because he could personally ride the escalators in a wheelchair.

Have you read these? Which do you think our organizer friend should read? Or what other suggestions do you have?

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
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Meta


Here's Greater Greater Washington's budget for 2016

Our goals for 2016 include targets for raising more money, including from our upcoming reader drive, foundations, and corporate sponsors. When we posted the goals recently, some of you asked to hear more about our budget and why it's getting bigger.


Budget image from Shutterstock.

Last spring, Greater Greater Washington was in a very different place financially. We had just formally set ourselves up as a nonprofit organization,* and through the reader drive and gifts from our board, editors, we were pulling in enough to pay for a half-time editor (Jonathan Neeley).

However, editing the blog is much more than a half time job, and a part-time job is not a recipe to keep someone for the long haul. Our all-volunteer editorial board and board of directors were amazing, but most are far more interested in urban policy than running fundraisers. What to do?

What it takes to be sustainable

We could pull off an annual reader drive, but that alone would not make a sustainable organization. We especially needed someone to run the organization—to do all the financial tracking and tax filings and office policy writing and fundraising that it takes. Plus, there was a lot more we wanted to do—write more about topics besides transit, especially housing; about Maryland and Virginia and east of the Anacostia; about politics, education, and more.

Fortunately, the Open Philanthropy Project wanted to fund organizations that care about how not enough housing for everyone pushes housing costs up and up. A combination of a direct gift from Cari Tuna and a grant to our fiscal sponsor* funded us to grow to three people: Jonathan full-time, a Managing Director (Sarah Guidi), and a Housing Program Manager, who we're working on hiring.

Big opportunity, big challenge

This is a big opportunity and we're really excited about it. It's a chance to make the blog better, and also achieve far more than we can by "just" running a blog. We're doing this to make the city and region better, and want to find ways to actually push the ideas we discuss toward action. This is chance to do that.

It also creates a big challenge. First, we have to do a great job with the housing program Cari Tuna and Open Phil have funded. Second, even though this grant let us grow to three staff, they didn't give us 100% of what we need to operate with three people. They provided two years of funding, but there's no guarantee (far from it) that we'll get another grant from them. So, we need to raise more money to keep Greater Greater Washington going at the current level.

Here's our budget

Greater Greater Washington's budget for 2016 is $253,126. This budget is a projection. It reflects what we think it will cost to run the organization in 2016 at this new level of growth.

Most of the time, organizations look at the previous year's expenses to inform the current year's budget. Since this time last year Greater Greater Washington was still a mostly volunteer organization with no full-time staff or office, we didn't really have a budget. So, we had to build one from scratch. Our actual revenues and expenses may look a bit different at the end of the year, but we will aim to keep our revenues and expenses aligned with this board-approved guideline.

What we have to pay for

Management and the board predict it will cost approximately $253,000 to run the organization in 2016. That includes running the blog, carrying out the housing program, and exploring other projects that can further Greater Greater Washington's mission. Here are the main categories of expenses we anticipate in 2016.

FY 2016 Greater Greater Washington Organizational Budget
Personnel$ 179,493
Computer and web20,210
General operating47,923
Reserve5,500
Total expenses$ 253,126



  • Personnel: salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes for three, full-time employees (Staff Editor, Housing Program Manager, and Managing Director)
  • Computer and web: server and hosting fees, plus costs for website upgrades (we are planning to move the blog to a real modern platform this year).
  • General operating: rent, insurance, legal and accounting costs, professional development, processing fees to receive donations, printing, office supplies, etc.
  • Reserve: It is good practice for a nonprofit to build a reserve that can be used to make up for the unexpected loss of a funding source, to purchase equipment not covered in a grant, or to invest in opportunities that will generate additional revenue.
Where the money will come from

Here are the types and amounts of funding we plan to raise in 2016:

Fiscal Year 2016 Greater Greater Washington Organizational Budget
Individual donors$ 72,500
Foundations176,250
Corporate sponsorships11,000
Earned income2,500
Revenue$ 262,250

We're hoping to have foundation funding plus donations from individuals (the reader drive and some large gifts) make up almost 95% of our revenue. Sponsorships from corporations and income from providing services for a fee (earned income) would make up the other 5%.



Other than the reader drive and the foundation funding from Open Phil, these categories are something of a guess as we don't have specific committed revenue for any of these yet nor do we have past years' experience with them. Therefore, there's a good chance the end totals might shift a lot. That's also why the numbers don't all add up to exactly the same as the expenses. We may, however, need to go far above in one of the categories to make up for coming in far below in another.

We hope this is helpful. Please keep the questions coming. One of our major values, as a community-driven site, is being open with you about some of what's going on behind the scenes. Thanks for being a part of our community!

* We are incorporated as District of Columbia Not-For-Profit Corporation. We have applied to the IRS to be classified federally as a 501(c)(4), which is able to talk more freely about politics (as we do on the blog) than the "typical" 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit, but also for which donations aren't tax-deductible. A fiscal sponsorship arrangement with Smart Growth America allows foundations to fund some of our 501(c)(3)-eligible activities. Read more here.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Pedestrians


Pedestrian deaths tripled in Fairfax County. Bad road design didn't help.

Eleven people on foot died in crashes in Fairfax County in 2015. That continues a rising trend since 2012, when the number was just four. What's going on?

NBC4 reporter Adam Tuss talked to some people about what's going on. A leading hypothesis in the story is that more people are walking around. That seems likely, but one element is missing: how poorly Fairfax's roads are designed for walking.

A number of people in the story talk about newcomers. One driver says, "I definitely worry about people who aren't from here," who try to cross when they don't have the light or not at a crosswalk. The subtext sure sounded like, "... people aren't familiar with the way we haven't designed roads for pedestrians in Fairfax County."

Just look at this intersection where Tuss is standing, the corner of Gallows Road and Route 29. It's about 0.6 miles from the Dunn Loring Metro station. And it's huge.


Image from Tuss' report.

That Target is part of the Mosaic District, which was designed to be walkable and transit-oriented. The interior is beautiful, but to get there from Metro requires walking along a not-very-hospitable sidewalk on 6- to 8-lane wide Gallows, and then crossing this monstrosity, 9 lanes on both Gallows and 29.

VDOT widened both roads in 2011 in a project billed to "increase safety, reduce congestion and enhance bicycle and pedestrian access," but which prioritized car throughput over other considerations. (This recent article from Joe Cortright effectively summarizes the mindset that would let VDOT think this would "increase safety.")

At least there are sidewalks, though, and you can legally walk directly along the road. That's not always true elsewhere in the county, like at Tysons Corner. Some sides of many intersections there were never designed for people to cross on foot. Only a lot of people are, now that Metro goes there.


Tysons Corner. Photo by Ken Archer.

Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax Police told Tuss, "We have situations that have occurred near Metro [stations], where people sometimes don't want to take that extra few minutes, and they cross where they shouldn't be crossing." If someone has to walk a few minutes farther to cross a road, most of all near a Metro station, you haven't designed it right.

To its credit, Fairfax officials are trying to gradually fix these spots, but there's a long way to go.

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Snow


How would you grade the region's snow response?

The Kojo Nnamdi Show is asking how you would rate your government's response to the snowtorm, your neighbors', and your own. At 12:40, I'll be on the show to discuss this, and I asked our contributors for their ratings.


Photo by Clif Burns on Flickr.

Joe Fox gave a succinct set of ratings:

  • PEPCO/Dominion/BGE: A+. Don't forget what a disaster the last few real storms have been. Teaming up w/ plow trains & tree trimming crews meant that what problems that did pop up were fixed, and fast.
  • WMATA communication: A. They were ahead of the needs, and explained what they were doing and why.
  • MNCPPC [Montgomery and Prince George's parks agency]: A. Many of the county park roads were cleared, with bonus points for sanctioning sledding hills this year.
  • DC Government: B. Execution was good, but farther from downtown was rough. Bowser had some head scratcher remarks on cars vs. peds, as well as why no travel ban that were a bit hard to comprehend.
  • WMATA execution: C. Is it still a surprise that when OPM gives a three hour delay, that rush hour will happen three hours later, and to set up service accordingly? Even with trains every 8+ minutes, still no 8 car trains...
  • Citizens: C. These storms bring out the crazies, I noticed a lot more anger this time than in 2010. But sidewalks on private property were cleared faster than before.
  • Montgomery, Prince George's, and VDOT (handling VA counties): D+. They did what they could, but were woefully overmatched. Clumsy declarations of victory and broken data trackers brought up comparisons with PEPCO of days gone by.
  • National Park Service: F. [See below.]
Contributors' views varied, but overall, there was a good amount of consensus. Here are some key points and ratings, broken down by agency.

The National Park Service

The Park Service controls a lot of downtown parks and major trails around the region, but does very little on snow clearance. Contributors unanimously agreed it flunked the storm.

  • David Cranor: "The Park Service deserves a very low grade. The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the only ones that was not plowed (thought I don't know about the Rock Creek Park Trail). Sidewalks along NPS property were untouched. I realize they're budget limited, but something needs to be done."
  • Neil Flanagan wrote back on Monday: "On my walk to work, through downtown to Georgetown, most government sidewalks were walkable (if not clear), with the exception of NPS."

Photo by Bill Couch on Flickr.

WMATA

  • Kristy Cartier: WMATA gets an "A" for communication.
  • Abigail Zenner: I agree with Kristy about WMATA. Our ANC has battled with WMATA about better explanation on bus route changes. I was irritated they went to severe snow routes Friday morning, hours before the storm was due. BUT, they were very clear about when and where service would be restored and it was exactly as they said, at least in Glover Park.
  • Dan Malouff: WMATA I think was OK but a bit too gun-shy on closing everything early, and hasn't clearly communicated some stuff about reopening. For example, it's understandable that some buses have to go on detour, but Metro seems to have no system in place to let riders know if their bus is detouring or not.
  • Mathew Friedman: I rode the G2 to work Thursday morning for the first time since last Wednesday. It doesn't run from the "moderate" snow plan on up. Neither does the G8, which is a major route running down Rhode Island Avenue. From my neck of the woods, those are the only 2 bus lines that run downtown and for a full week, neither was running. I can at least walk 5 blocks to Shaw Metro if I need to, but for folks further out, that's not an option. I would think that taking so long to bring these bus routes and many others back online must leave a lot of people stranded.

    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steven Yates: WMATA's response was...mixed. Trying to shelter the trains was maybe a good theory, but the execution was obviously not great. Would it have been better to run the trains underground on Saturday instead? I'm inclined to say no, just because you probably don't want to be encouraging people to be out and about. The running of trains for free on Monday was certainly a nice gesture.
    • Travis Maiers: Metro is still operating at reduced service levels. They are apparently still short railcars due to the blizzard. I give them high marks for communicating their storm plan and being realistic on when service could be resumed, but I feel by now, 5 days later, they should be back at full service. Their plan to shut down the system for safety and to store railcars underground was prudent, but I'm not sure it was executed as well as it could have been.
    • Svet Neov: I think WMATA did pretty well, since almost everything was running on Tuesday. At my stop (Grosvenor) they did a great job cleaning the sidewalks—those were done wayyy before the parking lot was.
    DC
    • Abigail Zenner: I thought they did a great job all things considered. Even northern cities have trouble with storms of this size. I grade them a B+ or A-. The poor rhetoric notwithstanding, DC did well.

      I thought that many District agencies did a good job communicating on social media and through emails to ANCs. My ANC colleagues would then send information to our lists.

      [The Department of General Services] promised to clear areas around DCPS schools by midnight Monday and Tuesday morning, the sidewalks all the way around Stoddert Elementary was cleared including curb cuts and bus stops. I have never seen these walks cleared so fast. I did also tweet at DCPS, Stoddert, DPR, and DGS.


    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steve Seelig: From a cycling perspective in DC, it was great. I rode from Friendship to downtown on both Monday and Tuesday, and because only part of the roadways were plowed, there was plenty of room in the curb lanes to ride where a car could not fit.

      As for biking infrastucture plowing: an A+ for the Capital Crescent Trail -plowed from Bethesda to Georgetown. An F for NPS on any of its trails. DDOT gets a C+ for just getting to the L Street, M Street and 15th Street bike lanes.

    • Justin Lini: In DC's Ward 7, snow removal was a bit inconsistent. Parkside and a number of other communities saw plows nearly every day of the storm. In some cases, even blocks with public housing were cleared during the storm. However, some of my neighbors in other communities didn't see any attention at all until Monday.

      The Mayor's office also did daily briefings by teleconference with the ANCs. These were useful because they communicated DC government's plans so we could set expectations, but they also keyed us in on potential trouble. They also assigned us extra staff liaisons that could help resolve issues with trouble spots.

      We were able to get an important pedestrian bridge cleared by Monday evening. In the past this bridge was never consistently cleared even in routine snow events. I don't know if the other ANCs used their liaisons, but I found mine to be a good partner. I don't know if previous administrations employed this measure, but I thought it was very effective.

      Uncleared sidewalks are a huge problem in the ward. As of Tuesday many property owners, especially large apartment buildings and retail areas, did not clear sidewalks along some high volume corridors like Minnesota Ave NE. In some cases contractors had blocked sidewalks or intentionally used them to store piles of snow. Many crosswalks are also plowed over. The decision not to enforce sidewalk clearing laws on these properties until late was a big mistake that shouldn't be repeated.


    Mayfair Mansions, Ward 7, on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Lini.
    • Steven Yates: I can't really speak for other jurisdictions, but in my time here, I've been mostly impressed with how well DC handles large amounts of snow, given that these sorts of storms don't happen that often (oddly, smaller amounts of snow they seem to do less well with). This storm has been no exception. The street I live in (which is by no means a major street) was at least passable a few hours after the snow ended.
    Alexandria & Arlington

    • Ned Russell: Alexandria streets were far worse [than in DC] both for cars and pedestrians, not to mention the DASH bus service did not run even on a limited schedule to serve rush hour on Tuesday. Sidewalks across the station that peds need to use to access Braddock Road were not cleared until this morning.
    • Svet Neov: The only complaints, other than slow sidewalk cleanup, I've heard is dead end or small streets in Arlington which didn't get plowed until [Tuesday] night.

    King Street Metro. Photo by Justin Henry.

    Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax

    • Ben Ross: "I grade MoCo an A- on street clearing but an F on sidewalks. Our businesses, at least in Bethesda, did very well on sidewalks, much better than in past big snowstorms. [But] 27 hours after it has finished opening the roads to cars, the county has announced, it will begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks.begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks 27 hours after it finishes opening roads to cars. Ike Leggett announced "common sense" enforcement of the snow shoveling law. In my mind, common sense means that if you have shoveled out your driveway, you should have shoveled the sidewalk.
    • Kristy Cartier: In Fairfax County, the roads had at least one lane Tuesday so I'd give them a B+ (only because there are disappearing lanes). For sidewalks, I would give a D. One person was walking on Rte. 50 near Rte. 28 and two people were standing on Reston Pkwy Wednesday morning waiting for the bus. I hope that the addition of the Silver Line stations improves Fairfax County's response to clearing at least some of the sidewalks.
    • Matt Johnson: I didn't have any trouble [Wednesday] morning. But [in the] afternoon, I had to go to an appointment in the city, and drove to Glenmont. On my way from Glenmont to the ICC, I discovered that the 3 northbound lanes are essentially functioning as 1. The curb lane never appeared, except for the dashes periodically peeking out from the edge of the snow. The center lane would run for a few blocks and then suddenly, without warning, disappear, forcing drivers to swerve into the left lane, the only one left.

      In addition, pedestrians were walking in the lane, since the sidewalks were impassible, and unaccessible from the buses that run on Georgia. On the day after the storm, this might be acceptable. But several days later, on one of the region's most important radial corridors, this is quite intolerable.

    • Joe Fox: I've noticed that roads maintained by both state agencies (MD SHA and VDOT) fared the worst, by far. I've posted several tweets about Colesville Road this morning, which, despite having the ability to reverse lanes, has gone from 3 lanes to one the last two days, wreaking havoc in the neighborhoods, and with a slew of bus lines.

      To me, the fact that county/local roads/sidewalks/paths seemed to fare a lot better brings to mind the argument that counties (Montgomery, Fairfax), should follow the lead of the independent cities in their respective states and take control over their transportation infrastructure (save for perhaps interstate highways and maybe toll roads) from the state agencies, who are simply not equipped to handle local issues like intersection design, traffic signals, and snow clearing.


    Photo by Aimee Custis.

    Overall

    • Svet Neov: Given the amount of snowfall I would give the region a B. I flew home on Monday morning after being stuck in Texas and used almost every mode of transportation in several places around the area. The airports were back up and running on Monday (as normal as possible). I flew into BWI which seemed to have no problems.
    • Ned Russell: After reading the discussion and thinking about all the things that go into snow response, I give the region a B-. But there are a lot of things that could have been done better.
    • Canaan Merchant: I'd give it a B-. For what we can expect of the region I think they did well. But to get an A they're going to have actually acknowledge that people like to use sidewalks, bike facilities and transit and work towards that as well.
    What grades would you give? Fill out the Kojo show's poll and post your thoughts in the comments. And listen in at 12:40 to hear me and Petula Dvorak discuss the issue.

    If you're reading this before 12:40, it's also worth tuning in to Kojo for a segment on whether high traffic fines change behavior (they don't), including Gabe Klein as one of the guests.

    Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

    Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
    Greatest supporter—$250/year
    Greater supporter—$100/year
    Great supporter—$50/year
    Or pick your own amount: $/year
    Greatest supporter—$250
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    Great supporter—$50
    Supporter—$20
    Or pick your own amount: $
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    Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

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