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Posts from March 2010


Serious business

Tomorrow (Thursday) is a big day!

Image by

Among other things, the NW DC and WMATA budget hearings, the last two in the series, will take place at 7 pm with an open house at 6:30. Sign up by emailing

They will probably be pretty full, so arrive early to get an early speaking slot. If they're like last time, they'll take speakers in the order they arrive, regardless of signup order.

Update: They'll be taking people in the order they sign up, so sign up ASAP. Online signups close at 2 pm; after that, you can still sign up in person, but will go after the people who signed up online.

At 11 am, Mayor Fenty will announce the DC FY2011 budget, and we'll find out whether it has room for added transit contributions or whether it sets the region on the edge of the "death spiral."

Finally, DDOT Director Gabe Klein will appear on the Kojo Nnamdi Show for a long segment at 12:06. (The first six minutes are the news.) Call in with your questions about WMATA funding, streetcars, bicycle lanes, bus priority, performance parking, pedestrian safety, snow, and more.

Meanwhile, throughout the day, feel free to use this as an open thread to discuss the serious news of the day.


Demystifying ADA complementary paratransit

Yesterday, I shared why access to public transportation is important to me as a person with a disability who cannot drive and who relies on the fixed route service.

Photo by Transportation for America.

In addition, I explored why access to public transportation is equally important to people with disabilities who rely on ADA complementary paratransit service (MetroAccess). I expressed concern about cutting MetroAccess service back to the minimum required service area without having adequate, affordable, and accessible alternative transportation options in place.

A number of commenters asked questions or gave opinions about ADA complementary paratransit, which for WMATA is MetroAccess. Easter Seals Project ACTION has an excellent Q&A section on this topic. Here are excepts from their site which are relevant to our discussion, reprinted with permission:

What is ADA complementary paratransit?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public transit agencies that provide fixed-route service to provide "complementary paratransit" services to people with disabilities who cannot use the fixed-route bus or rail service because of a disability. The ADA regulations specifically define a population of customers who are entitled to this service as a civil right. The regulations also define minimum service characteristics that must be met for this service to be considered equivalent to the fixed-route service it is intended to complement.

Service characteristics: In general, ADA complementary paratransit service must be provided within ¾ of a mile of a bus route or rail station, at the same hours and days, for no more than twice the regular fixed route fare.

What are the three categories of eligibility for ADA complementary paratransit?

Category 1: People who can't navigate travel on the bus or train, even if it's accessible, because of a disability

This category includes people who are unable, due to a mental or physical impairment (including a vision impairment), to board, ride, or disembark from an accessible bus or train without assistance. For example:

  • People with cognitive disabilities, if they do not know where to get off the bus or how to go to their destination from the bus stop
  • People who are blind or who have low vision, if they don't have the travel skills needed to navigate the route to their destination.
  • A person with a visual impairment that allows him/her to see well enough to travel independently during the daytime but not at night.
Category 2: People who need an accessible bus or train.

This category includes people who use wheelchairs and other people with disabilities who can use an accessible vehicle but who want to travel on a route that is still inaccessible (not served by accessible buses or accessible trains and key rail stations).

Category 3: People who have a specific disability-related condition

This category includes people who have a specific disability-related condition that prevents them from traveling to a boarding location or from a disembarking location. Environmental barriers (distance, terrain, weather) or architectural barriers not under control of the transit agency (such as lack of curb ramps) that prevent an individual from traveling to or from the boarding or disembarking locations may form the basis for eligibility. For example:

  • A person who uses a wheelchair may be able to negotiate a trip to the bus stop up a moderately sloped hill on a summer day, but not in the winter after a heavy snowfall.
  • A person may be eligible if architectural barriers present safety hazards on the only route to the train station or bus stop.
  • A person who walks with a cane and would need to travel 3/4 mile to the bus route, but she cannot walk that great a distance.
  • People with disabilities that affect them very differently over time, such as multiple sclerosis. During some periods, they are able to go to the bus stop or train station. During other periods, they are not able to do so.
All three categories include people who may be able to ride fixed-route transit for some, but not all of their trips.

What is conditional eligibility?

In terms of ADA complementary paratransit, conditional eligibility (also known as trip-by-trip eligibility) refers to paratransit eligibility for some trips, but not all, as the customer's ability to use fixed-route service is likely to change with differing circumstances. Conditional eligibility may be appropriate for individuals who can reasonably be expected to use fixed route service for some trips (when barriers that prevent travel are not present), but who cannot be expected to use fixed route service under other conditions. A few examples of barriers and conditions that may prevent an individual's use of fixed route service include:

  • Weather conditions may prevent use of fixed route service by someone with a temperature sensitivity.
  • A person who is able to navigate the fixed route system for some trips. (See note below on travel training.)
  • A person with a variable condition (for example, multiple sclerosis, HIV disease, or the need for kidney dialysis) may be unable to ride fixed route service depending upon their condition at the time of the trip.
  • Barriers in the environment (such as lack of a sidewalk or curb cuts) that prevent a person from getting to or from a bus stop, or from using the bus stop (if a lift cannot be deployed at the bus stop because it lacks a 5' by 8' landing area, for example) would prevent use of fixed-route service for that trip.
Travel Training: Many people who cannot negotiate the entire fixed route system can be travel trained for certain trips. Typically, training is provided for trips that the person makes frequently, such as to work or school. These individuals would only be ADA paratransit eligible for trips they have not been trained to make on fixed route. As part of the application and determination process, it should be determined if such training has been provided. Individuals cannot, however, be required to participate in travel training. The public entity may choose to offer training and may encourage individuals to take advantage of this service. Until the individual takes advantage of this service and is adequately trained, paratransit service must be provided.

Can a person with a disability who lives outside of the designated ADA complementary paratransit service area apply for ADA paratransit eligibility?

Yes. Individuals who live outside of the ADA complementary paratransit service area, or even outside of the transit agency's jurisdiction, can still apply for ADA paratransit eligibility. Their applications should be accepted and considered. This includes persons visiting from other transit districts as well as persons who live just beyond the borders of the transit agency or in other areas where no public transit service is provided. These persons may be able to get to the ADA paratransit service area on their own and would then be able to ask for paratransit service.


Washington Post endorses Fair Share for Metro

A Washington Post editorial today endorses the message advocates have been promoting: that local jurisdictions must pay their "fair share" to stop crippling service cuts to transit.

Photo by Medmoiselle T.
Metro is facing the threat of service cuts—shorter trains, much longer daytime and weekend waits, and other drastic curtailments, including to bus service—whose effect would be to further sap an anemic transit system already losing ridership and facing the prospect of a long-term death spiral. If Metro has any hope of pulling out of its nosedive, it will be badly undermined by the $44 million in service cuts proposed for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Virginia jurisdictions have taken steps to leave room in their budgets for WMATA funding, but in yesterday's Post, reporter Ann Scott Tyson quoted Maryland and DC officials saying it's unlikely they will follow suit. Tyson also cited (correctly, this time) with a link. Unless all jurisdictions chip in, none will.

Tomorrow, Mayor Fenty will release his proposed FY2011 budget. If it contains room for added transit funding, it will continue the momentum and pressure Maryland to come along. If not, it will be difficult to add the money to DC's budget. The WMATA Board must make its service cut decisions before the DC Council completes its budget process. Any new cuts or revenue increases the Council might endorse could come too late.

Jim Graham sent an email to Ward 1 listservs yesterday expressing his vehement opposition to eliminating the Yellow Line to Fort Totten, but he still has not endorsed DC providing more money to maintain Metro service. In the Post article, he said, "The challenge that we face is, assuming the mayor does not come up with the money, what do we forgo?" The Post's editorial addressed the issue head-on about whether it's right to cut other services to maintain transit:

State and local governments nationwide have been forced to make painful cuts to services in recent years, but Metro is a service of a different sort: It's the region's vital strategic linchpin. If people can't get where they want to go with relative ease and affordability, the basic functioning of the region itself will falter, along with its prospects for prosperity. Metro is the priority on which other priorities depend. Given that basic truth, it shouldn't be so hard for the District, Maryland and Virginia to find an extra $50 million or so among them, which is what it would take to maintain an essential regional resource.
Thanks to Dennis Jaffe who took the lead in reaching out to the Post editorial board.

Advocates have continued to pressure local officials through emails and flyering at numerous Metro stations. WJLA covered last week's flyering:

The Arlington hearing on the WMATA budget is tonight, followed by Montgomery (in Rockville) and Northwest DC (in Columbia Heights) tomorrow. These will likely be the most heavily attended, given their locations in more politically connected areas and their
locations atop Metro stations, unlike the others.


Prince George's residents speak out against bus cuts

Riders filled the Prince George's County WMATA budget hearing on Monday despite a suburban and relatively transit-inaccessible location, and made heart-wrenching please to retain their vital lifelines, bus service.

Photo by thisisbossi.

At least 100 riders attended and over 40 people gave testimony. Board Member Elizabeth Hewlett and General Manager John Catoe were both present to listen to the riders.

Many of the commenters called on elected officials to pitch Maryland's contribution in. Many audience members wore "O'Malley: Stop Bus Cuts" pins created by the Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, and said that if bus service is cut, they won't vote for O'Malley again.

Almost all of the speakers were strongly opposed to any cuts in bus service. Two blind Greenbelt residents, Laura and Shawn O'Neil, testified about the hardships cuts would bring them. Currently, they have two buses which serve both Greenbelt Metro and New Carrollton Metro. Under Metro's proposal, they will lose their service to New Carrollton, where one of them works, on both routes. His only option will be to switch from fixed route service to paratransit, at a cost of approximately $19,000 per year to Metro.

I overheard a Metro planner speaking with Ms. O'Neil in the audience prior to the hearing. Instead of offering her alternatives or even attempting to understand her condition, he blithely told her that she could find a way to cope with the changes. He completely blew off her concerns that transferring between buses in a strange place with poor pedestrian accommodations would be difficult for a blind person, and left her in tears. With representatives like this, it's no wonder the community doesn't have a lot of faith that WMATA actually listens to customers.

One speaker asked the WMATA panel if they ever wondered if paratransit (MetroAccess) costs were so high in Prince George's because the fixed route service was so abysmal. That comment got quite a few nods through the room.

A few citizens came forward to speak out against the elimination of the R3 bus, which serves the National Archives facility in Adelphi. Some riders in the area will be left without service at all times, others would lose service on weekends and off-peak. They spoke of the importance of continuing to have good access for visitors, researchers, and employees at the National Archives, and also of the general importance that transit plays in keeping livable communities accessible.

Other riders spoke out against fare increases. Some talked of the hardship of the additional cost of their commute, others were opposed to giving more money to an agency in which they have little faith. Some spoke of the waste they think exists in the agency, while others criticized what they characterized as the overpayment of workers and lack of oversight of Metro.

The meeting was at times boisterous, with applause and the occasional 'amen' from those in the audience. It was at all times civil. Most speakers stayed within the 3 minutes alloted for testimony.

Metro provided a shuttle from New Carrollton station to the hearing, which ran continuously during the proceedings. Additionally, the city of Greenbelt organized a bus to take residents to the hearing.

However, citizens who didn't know about the shuttles, might have been discouraged by the lack of regular service by the hearing site. Only one bus route, the F13, serves the church where the meeting was held, but the last return trip to New Carrollton passes by the church at 6:35—25 minutes before the hearing started.

Additionally, as several commenters at the hearing noted, even with shuttle service back to New Carrollton, the lack of decent bus service would make it difficult or impossible to return to their homes. One blind citizen criticized Metro for the location of the hearing, saying that they should be "ashamed" that there were no hearings held in southern Prince George's.

In fact, of the 6 budget hearings held in the region, the only one south of Route 50 is the one in Southeast Washington. The same commenter said that cross-county bus service was a "joke" and that was why the hearing didn't have even more citizens there to testify.

Many Greenbelters turned out, which is to be expected since Metro has proposed restructuring all bus service in the city, including the elimination of one route (the R3), the truncation of another (the C2), and the restructuring of the R12 and T16/17. And while no official notice has been given, some feel that Metro's restructuring makes it more likely that Prince George's County Transit will discontinue at least one route, the 15.

Many of the Greenbelters were members of Transit Riders United, which for over 6 months has been working with Metro and Prince George's County planners to improve bus service in Greenbelt. In December, members tell me, they were informed that Metro had a proposal, but couldn't release it until it was okayed by Prince George's. The plan was finally released late last week, less than a week before the hearing, and with little time to consider the implications or find alternatives.

After the meeting, I spoke with one WMATA representative, who was surprised that there were not more positive comments, especially about some of the changes in the Greenbelt area. I told him that with only three minutes each, most citizens were bound to focus first on the changes most harmful to them, and then if there was time left over, they would get around to positive comments.

Update: WAMU also covered the hearing and interviewed Mr. O'Neil.


Breakfast links: Objects in motion

Outside the DC Convention Center. Photo by toniluca.
Convention center hotel back on track: A judge unexpectedly dismissed JBG's lawsuit over the convention center hotel, which was delaying the 1,167-room project; now it could break ground as soon as late May. (WBJ, Post)

Exurbs become "gated ghettos": A gated community at the far edge of the Los Angeles area, 88 miles from downtown and 35-40 miles from Riverside and San Bernardino, has turned into a "gated ghetto" as banks foreclose and many properties go vacant, while many others become cheap rentals. Not asked: how will the new residents get to work? Will commuter buses get more crowded? (LA Times, Ben Ross)

Ped hit at Wisconsin and M: A driver hit and seriously injured an elderly pedestrian in Georgetown last night. Georgetown Voice editor Iris Kim witnessed the accident and said the pedestrian was not crossing with the light. (Georgetown Voice, Scott C.)

Stroll and circulate freely: As promised, following Ken Archer's experiences, the Circulator has formally changed its rules to allow strollers. Only smaller strollers are allowed, and only if the "priority area" is not already occupied by people with disabilities or seniors with walkers.

Blogging transit agencies: LACMTA reviews eight blogs run by transit agencies besides their own. They're all west of the Missisippi. (The Source, Matt')

Give us our squares: DC Metrocentric laments the sad state of many DC federal parks' maintenance and asks the frequent question of why small city squares should be federally controlled at all.

JetBlue really coming to DCA: The US Airways-Delta slot swap that would give JetBlue some slots at National Airport is still under review, but JetBlue will indeed launch service at DCA in November, with 8 daily flights, after agreeing to a codeshare and slot swap with American. (WTOP, NYCAviation)

On politics: Former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich (R), who championed the ICC and tried to kill the Purple Line, will run again this fall. (Post) ... Columnists are fairly pessimistic about Vince Gray's chances in the DC mayoral primary (Post, Examiner) ... Jack Evans will run for Council chair. (WTOP)

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Dinner links: Crazy $#!% and lectures

Photo by ndanger.
A windshield fell out of a bus!: A windshield fell out of a bus in SE DC today. Nobody can say why yet, but that's what the operator said. (Get There)

A dog is worth 10 joggers: A driver killed a jogger along the side of a road in Frederick County, but only faces a $500 fine after prosecutors gave him a plea deal and dropped a negligent driving charge. Meanwhile, a man threw a Chihuahua off a bridge, and faces a $5,500 fine and 4.5 years in jail. (The Perils of Public Transportation)

You dented my car when I hit you!: An American driver hit a Danish cyclist with a rental car in Copenhagen last year. Police faulted the driver. Now the driver's insurer, American Express, is demanding compensation from the cyclist for so inconsiderately damaging that car when it hit her. (Copenhagenize, Matt', Erik W)

Rules apply to reporters too: Channel 9's Bruce Johnson got a parking ticket at Vincent Gray's announcement. Mike DeBonis rode his bike. (Twitter/mikedebonis)

What can we learn from Charleston?: Charleston's Mayor Riley will give a lecture on Monday, April 12 at the Kennedy Center. He's done a lot to revitalize his city and Richard Layman says his talks are terrific. (RPUS)

Shoup@NBM: Donald Shoup is returning to DC on May 27 and will give another talk about parking policy and pricing at the National Building Museum. (Bossi)

Cities in scope: Washington DC's own Neal Pierce, the founder of Citistates Group, has announced the launch of Citiscope, a new global news service focusing on cities, "to report regularly on cities' notable new approaches and solutions on every issue from climate adaptation to local food self-sufficiency to slum upgrading." (Eric Hallstrom)

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What's That? #19

It's week #19 of What's That?

Each week I show small close-up photographs of three different well-known places in and around Washington, DC.

Post your guesses in the comments. Comments will be hidden until the winner is announced.


Food desert or mirage?

Food security is an extremely important issue for the livability of cities. To educate citizens about it, accuracy in mapping is vital as well.

Upon first glance two weeks ago, I and a number of like-minded folks in the region sent along links and tweets to our contacts about "When Healthy Food is Out of Reach," a joint report from D.C. Hunger Solutions and Social Compact.

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that food deserts or or "grocery gaps," defined as an "area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities," exist in DC. Similarly, it comes as no surprise that, based on that definition, Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 are the hardest hit.

However the maps used to convey the District's food deserts are misleading, particularly Maps 3 and 4 on pages 15 and 18 of the report. Below is an annotated version of Map 4, "Food Deserts in the District of Columbia."

Click to enlarge.

This illustrates what Mark Monmonier calls a "Blunder that Misleads" in his book How to Lie With Maps. According to the report, map 4 combines "census tracts where 51 percent or more of the population lives at incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level" and census tracts with "below-average access to full-service grocery stores."

The blunder—not a lie but rather a "cartographic fallibility"—comes from using census block group data. Entire block groups get designated as food deserts that either have no living residents (such as cemeteries and parks) and so do not have much income and require no access to food, or house institutions (like hospitals) and so do not have much income but likely provide food on site. Nearly 1/4 of the areas designated as food deserts may technically, but not realistically, fit the working definition.

Particularly during this time of increasing unemployment, homelessness, and hunger, advocacy groups across the District and the country are working overtime. Like many others, I want to help in the fight for social justice, but we need to be sure our data are airtight in order to effectively convey our messages.

Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.


Transit makes world larger for people with disabilities

When I was 16 years old and all my friends were learning how to drive, I learned that driving was not an option for me due to a visual impairment. I lived in a small town with no public transportation. So, as my friends got their keys and gained their freedom, I watched my small world get smaller.

Photo by

Sure, friends and family members drove me around. But I couldn't get farther than a couple miles from my home on my own.

I was a straight A high school student with hopes of going to college, but also harbored significant doubts about my future. Without being able to drive, how would I ever be able to get a job, rent my own apartment, go shopping, visit friends, and live independently?

The answer: Public transportation. Since attending college, I have chosen to live in communities with good, reliable transit service. Thanks to the availability of transit, I've been able to pursue graduate degrees, work, live independently, own a home, volunteer in my community, shop, meet up with friends, you name it.

I can do anything—except drive, of course. And buses and trains connect me to almost every person, place, and activity in my life in the DC Metro region. It's pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.

There are many people in our region living with disabilities who cannot drive and who also share my experience. In fact, there are many people with more significant disabilities than I have. Some of them cannot access the fixed-route bus and rail system. They qualify for ADA complementary paratransit: MetroAccess.

Some people who qualify for MetroAccess need to use the service for every trip, whereas other people who qualify can use the fixed-route service some of the time and under certain conditions. This varies based on the individual's abilities and the conditions around the stops and stations and in the path of travel to the stops and stations.

There has been a great deal of discussion on how to address escalating paratransit costs in our region. Should the MetroAccess fare structure change? Should Metro cut back the ADA complementary paratransit service area to more closely reflect the ADA minimum requirements?

For most people who do not have disabilities and who do not rely on ADA complementary paratransit service to get where they need to go, the answers are an immediate and resounding "Yes" and "Yes." But from my perspective as a person with a disability who relies on the fixed-route, it is not that simple.

Here's what I do know. Mobility is extremely important to the disability community, and I can speak to this from experience. The disability community, and in particular those individuals who rely on ADA complementary paratransit service, should be included and engaged in the discussions regarding any proposed changes to MetroAccess.

I also believe that the focus of this dialogue on paratransit should be expanded to address how we can preserve and promote mobility for people living with disabilities in our region. This will require thinking outside of the bus, so to speak, and should include other modes beyond ADA complementary paratransit.

Efforts are already underway to reduce MetroAccess costs. For example, the Centers for Independent Living in our area will soon be teaching people with disabilities how to use the less costly fixed-route bus and rail service when they are able to do so. In addition, WMATA is about to implement a conditional eligibility process for ADA complementary paratransit.

However, we've got a long way to go before WMATA, the jurisdictions, and the disability community will all be ready for the major changes to MetroAccess outlined in the proposed FY2011 budget. Here's a Q & A illustrating why:

Question: Is there a central number a person with a disability can call to find and reserve another ride if ADA complementary parartransit service is no longer available in his/her area or becomes cost prohibitive?

Answer: No.

Question: Are there currently other accessible, affordable transportation options beyond ¾ mile of the fixed-route?

Answer: In many cases no, though this depends on the trip distance. Fortunately, we have accessible taxicab service in our region. However, lengthier trips will be cost-prohibitive for individuals at lower income levels and perhaps even to some at moderate income levels. In addition, I can share from experience that some taxicab operators refuse or attempt to avoid the very short trips. So, relying on taxicab service exclusively could be problematic for the disability community.

Question: How many communities beyond ¾ mile of the fixed-route have robust transportation voucher programs to fill in remaining service gaps?

Answer: None, but there are some good programs out there that could be expanded (i.e., in Fairfax County).

Question: How far along are we as a region with human services transportation coordination? Could that be part of the solution?

Answer: We're not too far along yet, but we have great potential in this area to increase transportation options for people with disabilities through coordination. This will take time, however, and will not happen soon enough to help us in FY2011.

Question: Why do people with disabilities who rely on ADA complementary paratransit service choose to live beyond ¾ miles of the fixed-route anyway? Why can't they just move if the service area changes?

Answer: Not all people with disabilities who rely on paratransit service choose where they live. Some people live with family members who have already made the choice for them, and others simply live where they can afford to live. That is often not within ¾ mile of a Metro station or bus stop.

And finally...

Question: If Metro cuts back the paratransit service area to ¾ mile around the fixed-route, how will people with disabilities who previously relied on the paratransit service be able to get a job, rent their own apartments, go shopping, visit friends, and live independently?

(Sound familiar? This is the same question I asked myself when I was 16 and did not have access to public transportation.)

Answer: I do not have a good answer. Neither does WMATA. Nor do the jurisdictions.

The truth is that some people with disabilities would have no transportation options. I remember all too well what it was like to have no transportation options, and I would not wish that upon anyone.


What's your experience walking on Connecticut Avenue?

Residents along Connecticut Avenue from Woodley Park to Chevy Chase DC have created the Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action project to improve pedestrian safety along this important street.

Portion of CAPA's map.

Connecticut Avenue is the main street for many neighborhoods along its length, and a major commuter route from Maryland. Its wide cross-section and reversible lanes accommodate heavy traffic during rush periods, but also lead drivers to speed off-peak.

Local officials and residents have long grappled with pedestrian safety. Many pedestrian crashes happen there, especially in problem spots like the intersection with Nebraska Avenue which has more than its share of pedestrians killed and injured.

CAPA has raised funding for an audit of pedestrian safety by Toole Design. To help collect data, they would like people who walk in the area to take a brief survey and identify trouble spots on the interactive map.

What has your experience been along Connecticut Avenue? How do you suggest DC improve this key road?

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