Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Jenifer Joy Madden

Jenifer Joy Madden is an independent journalist and founder of DurableHuman.com. Vice chair of the Fairfax County Transportation Advisory Commission, she got her start in transportation planning by organizing a multi-purpose trail system where she lives in northern Vienna. 

Transit


New Tysons Circulator bus routes get mixed reviews

When the Silver Line opened, Fairfax County also launched three new bus routes to help people get around Tysons Corner. How are they working? Jenifer Joy Madden had a good experience on the buses, but Navid Roshan says that the meandering route makes the bus slow for many trips.


Photo by Jenifer Joy Madden.

Madden writes,

Recently, two family members and I biked from our home in suburban Vienna over quiet streets and neighborhood trails to Spring Hill, the closest of the Silver Line stations. Our final destination was the Tysons I mall, but instead of continuing by bike or Metro, we parked our bikes, walked over the Route 7 Metro pedestrian bridge, and caught Fairfax Connector 423.

For walkers and cyclists, the bus is a great solution for bypassing or crossing the Tysons core. The 423, like the other new Fairfax Connector circulator buses, runs every ten minutes from morning until night. The cost is only 50¢ per ride or free if you transfer from Metro. The ride to the Tysons Corner Metro station bus stop took less than 20 minutes, about the same time it would have taken by bike.

However, Navid Roshan points out that while the bus takes a fairly direct route between Spring Hill and Tysons, it winds circuitously around the rest of Tysons, making it less useful for many trips.


Map from Fairfax Connector.
Unfortunately, the [North Central Tysons] residents who would rely on the 423 would see an approximate 8 to 10 minute bus ride from the Park Run region to Tysons Corner station. That is only 2 minutes shorter than walking. Add in the average headway wait of 5 minutes (half of 10 minutes) and it makes more sense for the thousands of residents in this community to walk instead.

That being the case, it's not shocking that ridership on the 423 is so pathetic, especially considering the very strong ridership from this same neighborhood on the 425/427 series to WFC... which used to take only 4 minutes more than the 423 to get to the Metro station.

That's just the morning. Forget about riding the bus if you want to take it home after work. Due to the 423′s one way loop around Tysons, grabbing the bus from Tysons Corner Station to get to the center of the North Central residential region will take between 14 and 18 minutes. All of this is being caused by the serpentine and over stretched nature of the 423.

Roshan says that initial plans called for four Circulator routes, but Fairfax combined them to save money. He suggests re-dividing the 423 into two routes, one mostly using the north-south roads to and from the Tysons Corner station, and one more east-west to Spring Hill.


Map from Fairfax Connector modified by Navid Roshan.

That would mean the bus wouldn't serve the specific trip Madden took. but since that was between two Metro stations, the train is available except during rush hours when bikes are prohibited on Metro. Meanwhile, she has her own suggestions to improve the circulators:

It would be useful if a circulator route could ferry cyclists and pedestrians past the dangerous Beltway/Dulles Toll Road interchange. Also, the circulators should have their own design and colors. Right now, they are indistinguishable from the external buses and their purpose isn't clear. I think that's why the 423 isn't being used as much.
Have you used the Tysons buses? What do you think of the routes?

Roads


How will "connected vehicles" affect urbanism?

A consortium of Virginia schools will soon start testing vehicles in Fairfax County that can talk to each other and their surroundings. But what will "connected vehicles" (CV) really mean for transportation and urbanism?


Photo by Steven Mackay.

Researchers have attached tracking equipment to light poles and other roadside infrastructure in and around Merrifield, including stretches of I-66, Lee Highway, and Route 50. The roadside equipment will communicate with devices about the size of an E-ZPass installed in 12 "connected vehicles," including a bus, semi-truck, cars, and motorcycles.

The devices collect data such as acceleration, braking, and curve handling. Researchers hope that the new system will dramatically reduce highway crashes, increase fuel efficiency, and improve air quality.

"The intersection can say 'there is snow happening right here,'" explains Gabrielle Laskey of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Conversely, if a connected car were to experience a loss of traction, it would relay that information to the roadside devices so authorities would know the precise location of hazardous conditions.


Left: a CV data collection unit. Right: an in-car CV display. Photo from the VTTI.

The research will focus on ways to improve both safety and mobility. "If we can detect initial braking, we can slow vehicles down and message the driver, saying something like 'Slow traffic ahead. Reduce speed to 45 mph' or 'Left lane closed ahead; merge right,'" said VDOT Spokesperson Cathy McGhee.

Study will involve area drivers and "regular" cars

The CV technology will go further than the Active Traffic Management System of overhead dynamic signs VDOT will soon install on I-66. The CV system "can give information directly to the driver and provide an additional level of information," said McGhee.

Although the CV roadside equipment is already in place in Merrifield, the connected vehicles are undergoing final road testing on the Virginia test track in Blacksburg. In January, those vehicles plus another 50 operated by VDOT will roll out on Merrifield highways.

In the spring, researchers will seek out drivers of an additional 200 "regular" vehicles through ads on Craigslist and in the Washington Post. Their cars will receive communication devices similar to test vehicles' which will notify drivers verbally or by tone through a GPS-sized display. Drivers who volunteer for the program will not need specialized driving skills. "We want to use naÔve participants and make these devices as useful and available as a cell phone," says Laskey.

Over the next couple of years, a consortium of research institutions consisting of Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Morgan State University will conduct 19 separate CV research studies, about half of which will have components in the Merrifield test bed, at a projected cost of $14 million.

One study looks at road signs that can switch from "yield" to "stop," depending on conditions. Another examines how to dim or shut off roadway lighting when it is not needed. And a study in Baltimore involves the use of smart phones and looks at safety and congestion issues related to public transit, transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

The new CV technology can also work in conjunction with some current safety systems which use video to "see" non-connected items, such as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then alert the connected vehicle. The system helps connected vehicles operate on the roadways before a fully connected or automated roadway system exists.

How will CV influence our transportation network?

CV technology could change the way we use and design our streets. Since connected vehicles will alert drivers to imminent collisions, CV technology is expected to drop the crash rate at least by 50 percent, according Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which is coordinating the public-private venture.


Dingus and a CV motorcycle. Photo by the Jessamine Kane-Wiseley.

Connected vehicles will be able to safely travel much closer together than cars can today, vastly improving the efficiency of existing highway infrastructure. At the CV system's public debut on June 6, Governor McDonnell noted that the technology "could do as much to help alleviate congestion as the building or widening of new highways."

Researchers say CV technology could be in widespread use within five years, which Virginia and Maryland should keep in mind as they decide how to spend billions in new transportation funding. Cars traveling closer together will require less space, so road widenings might not be necessary. On already wide streets, the extra space could be used for bike lanes, sidewalks, or landscaping. Building smaller streets not only costs less, but it frees up room for buildings and open space, making communities more compact and preserving land.

If you'd like to learn more about connected vehicles, USDOT is holding a public meeting in Arlington from September 24 to 26. The agenda includes information about the CV safety program and the Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Plan for 2015 to 2019.

Events


S is for S buses, streetcars, and social media this week

Find out plans for better bus service on 16th Street, weigh in on streetcars, or listen to panels on DC social media and the future of transportation this week. Plus, be sure you've marked your calendar for the Greater Greater Washington 5th birthday party on March 5!


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

WMATA bus planners recently promised to explore ways to increase service on lower 16th Street, where riders often watch multiple full buses pass by at rush hour. They'll be back Wednesday to present possibilities to the community. Head to the Chastleton ballroom, 1701 16th Street (at R), 7 pm on February 20 to hear what they have in store.

If east-west transit is more your speed, DDOT is beginning a study of "premium transit" between Union Station and the Georgetown waterfrontbasically, continuing the H Street streetcar farther west, though by federal law they have to formally consider all modes. It's also Wednesday, February 20, 6-8 pm at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1200 New York Ave, NW (entrance at 12th and H).

Then, local issues and the future of transportation are on the agenda at Social Media Week, happening in and around DC February 18-22.

Most of the panels aren't DC-specific or focus more on national politics, but at least one looks at what's going on in our local community. "Digital District" brings together Ghosts of DC founder Tom Cochran, ANC commissioner and prolific tweeter Tiffany Bridge, Brandon Jenkins of Fundrise, Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert, and John Lisle, who recently left his post as DDOT's communication head to join DC Water. The panel is 4-6 pm on Thursday, February 20 at LivingSocial, 918 F Street, NW and will also be streamed online.

On Friday, check out "Ping My Ride: How Mobile Apps Transform Urban Living." Mark Berman of the Washington Post will moderate a panel of people from Uber, Waze, Capital Bikeshare, Parkmobile, and Parking Panda. Besides apps, the panelists will discuss open data and how sharing services are working in DC. The panel is 2-3 pm at Ogilvy, 1111 19th Street NW, or you can watch live online.

The Anacostia Watershed Society's Green Roof Networking Happy Hour is next Tuesday, February 26, 5:30-7:30 pm at Boundary Stone Public House, 116 Rhode Island Avenue NW. Environmentalists, LEED professionals, and anyone else interested can talk about sustainable development in DC.

Finally, only 2 weeks remain until the Greater Greater Wasington 5th birthday. We turned 5 on February 5, but that was the same night as the State of the District speech, so we're celebrating on our 5 year, 1 month birthday. The party is at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street, NW from 6-10 pm on March 5. Hope you can make it!

Roads


Route 7 needs transit to get people to Tysons

In Fairfax County, some residents are worried about squandering a real opportunity to reduce traffic into Tysons. State officials want to expand Route 7 between Reston Avenue and the Dulles Toll Road, but can't consider transit because of the county's comprehensive plan.


Image from VDOT.

The Virginia Department of Transportation would like to widen Route 7 from 4 car lanes to 6 in a location literally at the western entry to the county's new downtown. 8 months ago, in a bold and uncustomary move, VDOT formed a project advisory group, including residents such as myself.

Since then, agency staff and consultants have presented lots of information about crashes, engineering issues and land use along the six-mile stretch. But having seen the details, we community members have concluded that the big picture needs to change.

It didn't take long to realize that this project is just one piece of a major corridor connecting burgeoning Loudoun county (and beyond) with Fairfax County's biggest jobs magnet. For that reason, no one can afford transportation business as usual.

To simply add more car lanes will only make it easier for traffic to inundate the heart of Tysons. We need a new paradigm to provide more options. That's why we'd like the entire length of Route 7 from Loudoun to Fairfax to offer high-quality mass transit. I'd favor something like Portland's MAX light rail.

But there's a roadblock. The current Fairfax County comprehensive plan doesn't allow for enhancing transit on Route 7. So, with comment time running out on this phase of the project, there's only one thing to do: tell VDOT to work with Fairfax County to change its comp plan so Route 7 is designated an "Enhanced Public Transportation Corridor," just as it is on the east side of Tysons.

Only by doing that can VDOT begin to consider transit options along the route. Ideally, the 2 new lanes should be dedicated from the outset to bus and HOV-3. They should connect to a system of commuter park-and-rides in church and retail parking lots, as well as on public land such as behind the new fire station at Beulah Road.

Time is of the essence. This summer, VDOT breaks ground on an adjacent Route 7 project at Georgetown Pike. In this case, they are widening the road from 4 car lanes to 6 for just one mile, but it will cost $37 million and have no provision for transit. We want to make sure the Reston Avenue project and the remainder of the corridor doesn't suffer the same costly, short-sighted fate.

Send comments on the Reston Avenue project by this Saturday to meeting_comments@vdot.virginia.gov using "Route 7 Widening project" in the subject line.

Bicycling


What will encourage more women to bike?

More women will bike if it's safe, communal, and inclusive. The bike indu­stry should also stop focusing on "mamils," or "middle-aged men in lycra." Those were some conclusions from the first-ever National Women Cycling Forum, held on Tuesday in conjunction with the National Bike Summit.


Photo by born1945 on Flickr.

The forum assembled the best minds in women's cycling, including panelists Cornelia Neal of the Royal Netherlands Embassy; Elysa Walk, General Manager of Giant Bicycles; Veronica Davis of Black Women Bike DC; and keynote speaker Sue Macy, an author and historian.

Macy shared fascinating facts and photos from her book, Wheels of Change, which details how cycling shaped the history of American women. Historically, bicycling offered women autonomy and self-reliance. As Susan B. Anthony put it, cycling "changed women."

The Netherlands' Neal said that encouraging women to cycle starts with safety: "If bicycling is safe, people will get on their bike." She reminded the crowd that her country hasn't always been the pinnacle of bike mobility. In fact, the Netherlands was once as car-oriented as the US is today. Only after the oil crisis hit in the 1970s did the country change policies to make bicycle travel a top priority.

Veronica Davis, a Greater Greater Washington contributor, said a "Complete Streets" policy encourages planning for all modes of travel and travelers of all abilities. Next month, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments expects to issue a Complete Streets template local jurisdictions can use to develop their own policies.

"Women-only groups are critical to generating momentum for women" said Davis, who co-founded Black Women Bike, a DC-based women's cycling group that has grown phenomenally in less than a year. Women are often more "communal" than men, so groups such as Black Women Bike, or Birmingham, Alabama-based Magic City Cycle Chix can encourage and attract women to talk about and ride bikes.

In this video, Davis talks about why she started Black Women Bike, and what the group does:

Speakers said the bicycle industry needs to focus less on "mamils," or "middle-aged men in lycra." Advertisers should depict more women, more bikes need to be designed to female tastes, and bike shops should cater more to women's needs. One panelist said shops could start by "keeping the bathrooms cleaner."

"To get women to bike, you can't operate in a vacuum," added Davis, saying women need to be involved in advocacy, planning, and government offices from public health to land use planning. Says Davis: "You don't have people biking to school because half the time schools are all the way across the city." Panelists noted that more girls are also needed in engineering, pointing to Fionnuala Quinn, a local DC bike advocate and engineer who helped plan the forum.

The Forum's sendoff message was simple: the state of bicycling as a transportation mode depends on getting more women on two wheels. In order to get people to take bike transportation seriously, it's important for everyone, women included, to "bike as much as possible."

Transit


Jarrett Walker: Transit's job is to create freedom

Transportation guru Jarrett Walker had some criticism for the Metrobus map, and cautionary words for planners of the DC Circulator, streetcar, and similar circulators in Tysons Corner, when speaking to audiences last week in DC and Silver Spring.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Walker, a native of transit mecca Portland, Oregon, was here to sell his new book, Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives.

He acknowledged that many ascribe to him an anti-rail bias, but insisted that the goal of transit should be to provide fast, frequent, reliable service in the most cost-effective way possible, regardless of mode.

In his talk, he suggested that a great measure of transit's effectiveness is the isochronea map showing where you can travel on transit within a given time. Transit providers should aim increase the number of destinations within any given isochrone.


30-minute isochrone from the White House. Image from Mapnificent.

He encouraged cities to move away from the historic North American penchant for putting a bus stop at nearly every corner (something not done in the rest of the world), and expect riders to walk a little more so that service is faster for everyone. Shortening trip times reduces the cost of providing service, which usually means that more service can be provided. It also encourages more people to ride, because it increases the area of the isochrone.

Transit routes that deviate off a direct path to serve poorly-located shopping centers, housing cul-de-sacs, and insular complexes, inconvenience through-riders and make transit less attractive, he said. Anything not built "on the way" is essentially saying, "I only want as much transit service as I alone can support," because those destinations can't be pooled with any other destinations. Once urban areas have taken this built form, it becomes expensive to provide service to them.

He ripped into WMATA's Metrobus map, pointing out that almost every route is shown in red, regardless of how often it runs. That's not helpful, he says, because it's like a roadmap "which doesn't differentiate between a highway and a gravel road."


Section of the DC Metrobus map. Image from WMATA.

Maps like this, which Walker laments are all too common amongst US transit systems, put the onus on the rider to first figure out what routes get them to where they want to go, then consult a complicated schedule to find out how often it runs.

Instead, he said, the map's design should make it as easy as possible on the rider by displaying routes based on frequency. Routes with the most frequent and round-the-clock service "should scream out at you," he insisted. For example, putting routes in a different color would let riders know at a glance if they could easily jump on board and not bother with a timetable.

Poor map design and inscrutable signpost information cost more than just riders. In some cities, it's become so frustrating that officials have thrown up their hands and turned to another form of transit altogether. Walker finds that unconscionable: cities shouldn't build streetcars or new bus systems simply because the existing system is incomprehensible. He pointed to the DC Circulator as a prime example of unnecessary duplication that squanders public resources that would be better spent making the most-used Metrobus routes more frequent and user-friendly.

His point about circulators is instructive for Tysons Corner, where five are planned. Walker says when good bus service is already there, adding circulators can be redundant and wasteful. In Canberra, Australia, planners faced with a similar situation saved lots of money by choosing simply to rebrand a section where many existing bus lines converged as one cohesive service (the "Green Line") with clock-face regularity.

He acknowledged that streetcars do tend to drive economic development because of their perceived permanence and attractiveness compared to buses. But he urged planners to remember that 50 years from now, any economic development potential today will be distant history, but the travel time riders gain from a bus which can navigate around obstacles will endure. He further cautioned against thinking of laying rails as signifying permanence, since most of DC's original streetcar tracks have been paved over.

Above all, Walker emphasized, transit agencies and the governments that fund them should see their job as enhancing freedom by making as much of the region as possible accessible by frequent, reliable service. The other things transit does, such as spurring economic development, providing jobs, protecting the environment and enhancing social equity, are all secondary to this primary purpose of transit.

If you missed Jarrett last week, you can watch his presentation to the Montgomery County Planning Department, below:

Get Adobe Flash player

Arts


Portland gets excited about transit with a Mobile Music Fest

DC residents can get fairly energized about improving transit, but Portland did us one better. They held a Streetcar Mobile Music Fest, featuring 8 bands on 6 streetcars. Here's a video of the sights and sounds:

Portland is actively trying to "bring greater enthusiasm that we have transit in our city," says Art Pearce of the Portland New Rail~Volutionaries, which bills itself as "a group of folks who are very excited about Streetcar."

The video was featured in Rail~Volution Filmfest 2011, co-hosted by the DC New Rail~Volutionaries and Coalition for Smarter Growth in conjunction with the Rail~Volution conference held here October 16-19.

Transit


Rail~Volution shows the way to a greater region

Last week, transportation planners and advocates came to DC for Rail~Volution, a conference committed to "Building Livable Communities with Transit." DC was lauded for its general walkability throughout the 4-day conference, along with 34 other places around the region, many of which have grown up around Metro stations.


Visualizing the Portland regionís transit orientation. Image from Portland's Metro.

Panels, charettes, and mobile workshops covered all things rail, bus, bike, and pedestrian. Of particular local interest were the lessons gleaned about living car-free, working with younger generations, choosing words wisely, and utilizing new technology.

The car-free lifestyle pays off

Swearing off a car can reap tremendous savings: from $8,000 to $12,000 a year, according to New Jersey parking consultant James Zullo. A car-dependent suburban lifestyle can eat up to 25% of household income versus a slim 9% in a walkable community.

Being able to walk to shops, restaurants, school, and home is good for the economy, too. Ilana Preuss of Smart Growth America says the Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda makes 20% more revenue per square foot than the store in a Rockville strip mall. According to Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution, the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint (by as much as 80%) is to move to a walkable community.

Who wants to be walkable?

"Millennials," that's who. Young adults have been "scarred by recession," said Manuel Pastor, Director of USC's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. He said they no longer see home buying as a good investment, but still want to live close to where they work and play.

Pastor had a warning for government officials and planners: the only way members of Generation Y will stay in walkable communities after they have children is if they also have access to good schools.

Words matter

To tell the story of what makes a community great, you have to choose your words wisely, with your audience in mind. "No wonk terminology!" cautioned Preuss, whose group has recently done some catchphrase polling. Words that frequently garner negative or confused reactions include: mixed-use, density, transit, and infrastructure. Only 36% of those surveyed like the phrase "compact neighborhoods," while 80% are fond of "walkable" even though the two terms refer to an identical concept.

Additionally, to get folks to listen, speak truthfully and in terms they care about, i.e. the economy and family. People love hearing that government will "use the money it has more effectively" and that "making great places is the key to turning around the economy." Busy parents will listen if you tell them that by driving less, they'll have more time with their children.

New tricks to consider

Work on making the SmarTrip card smarter. A number of presenters talked about including bike share, car share, bus and rail fare, and even car parking on one card. The idea, says Rob Inerfeld of Eugene, Oregon, is "for seamless bike, ped and transit links."

Visualize data for instant understanding. Examples from the Portland metro area and i-SUSTAIN in Seattle are aesthetically stunning. As Inerfeld says, good use of technology "de-risks the planning process." By feeding government data into a visualization program such as Google Earth Pro, planning is more likely to happen according to facts rather than hunches or politics. Powerful, slick social media tools such as the MindMixer virtual town hall display opinion data using simple, colorful icons.

Become a "New Rail~Volutionary." The Rail~Volution Filmfest featured a video about one municipal transit system which held a mobile concert as a way to entice new riders. That's just one creative tactic of the New Rail~Volutionaries, a national network of professionals and advocates passionate about creating livable communities. We need to get on board here in the DC region.

It all starts with you

Finally, readers of Greater Greater Washington got props from assistant editor Matthew Johnson during a panel on the power of blogs to influence policy: "Our comment threads are often more informative than the posts in which they appear." By joining in on, and often driving (pun intended) the regional conversation, you are an integral part of making the Washington, DC region even greater.

Transit


Tysons commuter tries transit, becomes a convert

At least one Washington commuter is making Take Transit Week permanent. My cousin decided to hop on the bus after a collision this summer, and she hasn't looked back.

Here's how it went that first day in mid-August (the other voice you hear is mine):

My cousin loves her cara 2009 Infiniti G37 coupe. But her enthusiasm to drive was significantly curbed in June when she accidentally rear-ended someone in heavy rush-hour traffic for the second time in two months. Not only did it give her jitters behind the wheelher insurance payment doubled.

Knowing that taking transit saves money, burns calories, and frees up time, I decided to make The Ask. Since I was commuting downtown for the summer, I suggested we take the bus to the Metro from the stop right outside her development in central Tysons Corner. Before the accidents, she would have laughed it off, but instead she said yes.

Now that my cousin's been riding a while, I asked her a few questions.

Has switching to Metro saved you money?

The cost of using Metro per month is $196 (bus + train). Parking at the office is $270/month plus $284/month in gas. So my total monthly savings is $358. Additional pluses are less mileage on the car as well as wear and tear on the tires. Also there is less chance of getting in an accident (my personal favorite).
Are there other pros or cons to switching to transit?
Cons: I don't love being stuck at the mercy of bus and train schedules. Also, driving can take less time. The 11-mile commute by car ranges from 30 minutes on the best day to 90+ on bad days. My transit commute takes about 50 minutes, door-to-door. Plus, I like to have the option to stop on my way home which you cannot do as easily on public transportation.

Pros: On the other hand, it's less stressful than driving. I used to arrive at work all stressed out from the traffic delays, constant construction and really poor driving going on around me. I can work on my way in as I get service for the BlackBerry on the bus and train.

I've found the buses clean and air conditioned. The timetables seem to be pretty accurate. And having two different bus routes within 1 block of my home is convenient.

The bus drop-off at West Falls Church is covered so I don't get wet when it's raining. A dedicated, separate entrance to the train platform is provided from the bus area as well. The vast majority of the time I even manage to get a seat both ways.

To top things off, I can get a pre-tax benefit through my firm's WMATA SmartBenefits program.

Was it easier or harder than driving on the earthquake, hurricane and flood days?
In general, it was easier. While there were delays on transit, the traffic seemed way worse.

The day of the earthquake, it took almost twice as long due to the lower speed limit on tracks during the structural inspections. On the Thursday that Tropical Storm Lee blew through, I waited an hour for the buswhich I expected. But I equated traffic around Tysons to what one would see on Christmas Eve: gridlock. I was very glad to be on the bus.

What are your words of wisdom to anyone considering a bus/Metro commute?
My advice would be to try it for a week, take the time to do the math and calculate the savings. And keep an open mind.

I begrudgingly (still) have to admit I am a public transportation convert. Check back with me in November when the cold and snow has settled in.

If you haven't tried transit, give it a whirl. You might just become a convert, too.

Crossposted at The Durable Human.

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