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Posts from August 2010


I-66 "spot improvements" underway

A "spot improvement" on westbound I-66 between the George Mason Drive and Sycamore Street is underway.

These projects which are essentially short-distance widenings, have been the subject of great debate for more than a decade. VDOT has long wanted to widen I-66 to three lanes in each direction; Arlington, smart growth and environmental groups have been strongly opposed.

The original agreement to build I-66 included an agreement to not widen the highway beyond two lanes in each direction. VDOT settled on a series of "spot improvements," which widen sections of I-66 to three lanes. (Though most residents of Arlington would disagree that these are "improvements" at all.) This section is called "Spot 1."

In February of 2009, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board voted to put these projects on hold, only to reverse itself the very next month as Fairfax County put pressure on Supervisor Cathy Hudgins to break with Arlington. Since then, there has been little to stop this project from moving forward, particularly because it has received earmarked funding from Congress that can be used for nothing else.

I-66 looking westbound from Ohio St.
The contract was awarded in May, and construction has begun.

In the photo at right, you can see the (semi) vegetated median between the left shoulder and the Metrorail tracks. It is being partially removed to make room for the additional roadway width.

You can see the demolition of the median in the top image.

The Custis Trail passes under I-66 along this stretch of highway.  At the point were it crosses underneath there are three bridges: one for each direction of traffic and one for the Metrorail tracks. The westbound bridge is being widened.

To accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic during construction, VDOT has constructed a structure for protection (below). There have been occasional detours while work is being done here. The detour is well marked and only slightly longer.

Once the bridge is widened, there will be less daylight at this point. Although there is some relatively inadequate lighting now, it may need to be upgraded as part of the projects.

According to the project's entry in the 2030 Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan, the main motives for the project are to reduce "recurring congestion, support the economic vitality of the metropolitan area, increase the safety of all users, increase the accessibility of people and freight, and to promote efficient system management and operation."

Furthermore, the project will ostensibly enable the corridor to serve as an efficient emergency evacuation route. But the suggestion that this will improve the road as an emergency evacuation route is just silly. The capacity of I-66 for evacuation will not be increased by adding a lane for a mile and a half. This language is likely a holdover from the arguments used for widening the entire length of I-66 inside the Beltway.

Once the "spot improvements" are all in place, there's a good chance political pressure to widen the relatively short remaining sections will grow very strong, and VDOT will eventually prevail. It will be interesting to see how long that takes.


Communication problems accompany Circulator changes

Yesterday, the "Blue Bus" between Rosslyn, Georgetown, and Dupont became the District's newest Circulator line. DDOT also decided to make some routing changes to existing lines at the same time. Unfortunately, there has been little communication of these changes.

New Circulator stop flag at L & 24th Streets.

With the new service running along M Street in Georgetown, DDOT decided to reroute the westbound Georgetown-Union Station buses along lower K Street to Wisconsin Avenue, which is actually the alignment from the original Circulator proposal.

Eastbound buses keep the same route along M Street and Pennsylvania. Westbound service is discontinued at 3 stops, while another two would no longer have service heading north on Wisconsin, only west to Rosslyn. This is no "small system change," as DDOT refers to it (scroll to the bottom below the route map).

DDOT has been negotiating this takeover for nearly a year. Yet when it came to implementation on Sunday, the department seemed anything but ready. As of Saturday, there was no communication at the stops or in the buses about the new service changes. Some places in Georgetown had signs noting the switch of the Blue Bus to a Circulator Route, but lacked any notice about changes in the other route.

Furthermore, DDOT had plenty of time to solicit input on the new route and changes to Georgetown-Union Station route that would result. But they didn't. What happened and why has there been such a lack of communication from a government agency that has generally done a stellar job reaching out to the public?

Last week there was a brief outreach campaign centered around various websites and blogs notifying riders that the Blue Bus would become a Circulator. Some of these articles included the Georgetown-Union Station route changes as a footnote, while others failed to mention it altogether. The DDOT press release falls into the former category.

Today when DDOT tweeted a reminder about the new route but failed to put a "." in front of @DCCirculator, meaning only followers of DDOTDC who also follow DCCirculator will have seen the tweet. In fairness to DDOT, Twitter doesn't make this behavior very discoverable and many people aren't aware of it.

Screenshot of last night.
Meanwhile, there is no indication of the route changes on the actual Circulator website. DDOT added the new Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route to under the individual route list, but as of this writing, the system map had neither any of the Georgetown-Union Station route changes nor the new route marked on it. The last post under "Latest News" is for a June 28th service change. The Circulator mobile site has neither the new route nor the new changes on the other routes.

DDOT posted new Circulator stop flags along M and L streets for the Dupont Circle-Georgetown segment of the new route, yet didn't remove the stop flags from the three stops on Pennsylvania where there would no longer be any Circulator service. As of Monday evening, this was the only notice at Penn and 24th that the Circulator no longer stopped there:

Photo by author

Can't see it? It's the small piece of paper taped to the front of the schedule holder. From the sidewalk, it practically unnoticeable despite its bright pink color. To read it you actually have to step into the street. Even if you do read it, it doesn't offer any advice about a rider's alternatives.

Now that you've told me my bus stop is no longer served, the next thing you should tell me is my next best option. Tell riders that they can take a 32, 34 or 36—but make sure to notify them it will cost $0.50 more—or tell them they can walk to 22nd and Pennsylvania to catch the Wisconsin-bound route.

At an agency that has so meticulously groomed its branding and communication styles, where are the official fliers, the planned outreach? For all we know even, these pink papers were printed by a fellow rider who was frustrated by the lack of communication. What happened?


For District of Columbia Council

The DC Council races include some no-brainers, and some tougher calls. First, the no-brainers. Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh deserve your unhesitating vote.

Mr. Wells, finishing his first term representing Ward 6 (Capitol Hill, H Street, Near Southeast, Southwest Waterfront) has made "livable, walkable" communities the lynchpin of his candidacy, both four years ago and now. He's promoted bike lanes, transit, better retail, and performance parking.

His opponent, Kelvin Robinson, has attacked these policies with vague racial innuendo and tried to set up a false choice between these projects and other priorities like public safety. Wells has actually fought very hard on issues like crime and social services (he heads the social service committee), but deserves our vote for his strong urbanist leadership.

Ms. Cheh is unopposed in the primary for her first reelection in Ward 3 (upper Northwest). She won on a Smart Growth platform in a ward that, previously, many people believed was dominated by voters opposed to any development. Vocal groups of residents fight and often sue to block nearly every project, like the Wisconsin Avenue Giant in Cleveland Park or Akridge's project in Friendship Heights.

Ms. Cheh unabashedly came out for development on Wisconsin and Connecticut Avenues, and for keeping most of the rest of the ward as it is. That's the essence of Smart Growth: more development in the commercial corridors and on transit stations, less in other places. And she won.

At-large, Clark Ray and Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown are both challenging incumbent Phil Mendelson. I really appreciate Mr. Ray's strong defense of Smart Growth, streetcars and more, though he didn't really bring these issues to the forefront until recently. Also, despite talking with him a few times and asking questions on a TV debate, I haven't come away with a really strong case for where he would show definitive leadership in controversial situations.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mendelson is a smart, capable, and honest councilmember who's been strong on the environment and a staunch defender of civil liberties and champion of same-sex marriage. His civil liberty stances have often led him to oppose crime legislation, and while public safety must be a priority, it's good to have someone asking questions like "is this Constitutional?" to keep the government from overstepping its bounds. But he's also a curmudgeon who tends to oppose changes to the city, like the aforementioned Giant and streetcars moving ahead on any kind of speedy timetable.

The contributors have generally come down on the side of Mr. Mendelson, mostly on the basis of his other good work on many issues outweighing his more obstructionist actions on a few specific points (and on which he has generally lost). Today's Post poll showing Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown in the lead is another good argument to tip the scales. That Mr. Brown has not made any compelling case for being a Councilmember, but most of his support comes from confusion between him and current at-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown.

Unfortunately, the ballot will only say "Michael Brown," a very poor decision by the Board of Elections and Ethics. Therefore, I actually hope Mr. Ray will ultimately encourage his supporters to vote for Mr. Mendelson. It's very likely that there will be a special election soon for the at-large seat held by Kwame Brown, and so Mr. Ray would make a strong contender for that election. (In fact, some have speculated that this was really his game plan all along, and Vincent Orange's too.)

I'll cover the races for Council Chair and Wards 1 and 5 in a subsequent post.


For Montgomery County Council

I've found the Montgomery County Council frustrating. On important issues around growth, development and transportation, many councilmembers don't take much of a stand and vote in unanimous or near-unanimous numbers even on controversial and vital issues.

Many seem to prefer finding a consensus where they can vote unanimously or nearly-unanimously, regardless of the merits of that consensus. The I-270 battle was a good case in point, where advocates' opposition to SHA's plan got the Council to postpone a vote, then meet for a work session to agree on a compromise, which passed unanimously. As a result, most members avoided ever having to really stick up for or against something.

The County Council needs a strong advocate for Smart Growth and sustainable transportation issues. That would likely be Hans Riemer, if he is successful in his bid for one of the four at-large seats. Hans is a longtime Smart Growth proponent and an active member of ACT. He set out clear and excellent positions in his interview with Cavan.

The four incumbents are all definitely superior to the rest of the challengers besides Riemer. Those incumbents each have their pros and cons.

Marc Elrich has been a strong proponent of a Bus Rapid Transit network, pushing the idea tirelessly and making it a signature issue. However, he's also the strongest defender of traffic-based tests that in effect hinder walkable development.

Nancy Floreen pushed through the White Flint plan, one of Montgomery's biggest opportunities for meaningful transit-oriented development, and opposes the traffic-based tests that Elrich likes. On the other hand, she also opposes most rules that would limit development in rural areas far from transit. She generally advocates building in the county and is less discerning about what or where.

George Leventhal has been a leader in the fight for the Purple Line, and for transit in general in the county. Yet he also strongly supported widening I-270, and basically favors any transportation project of any kind in any location. Duchy Trachtenberg has been good on the environment and transit issues as well and not a road booster, but hasn't shown as much leadership on growth and transportation issues generally.

I'd recommend Montgomery residents (like my in-laws) vote for Mr. Riemer and decide among the other candidates based on the other issues, like schools, budgets, labor relations and many more. If you're not sure of some of the candidates, it's also fine to vote for only two or three. Leaving a blank or two on the ballot makes the votes you do cast count even more, as the top four total vote-getters win the seats.

Two district seats are also contested, which happen to be the two that had Montgomery's greatest development debates in the last few years. District 1 includes Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, and has significant numbers of residents who oppose the Purple Line and/or White Flint. Roger Berliner, the incumbent, has championed both projects a good future for his area despite the short-term political risk. Meanwhile, his challenger, Ilaya Hopkins, has chosen to throw her lot in with the antis. Mr. Berliner should be reelected to prove that anti sentiment doesn't drive Montgomery politics.

In District 2, the suburban and rural northern part of the County, former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson is the best choice for the open seat. He's been a strong proponent of Smart Growth on the Planning Board, and was largely responsible for the Agricultural Reserve, the large belt of (mostly) protected land at the County's edge, much of which is in that district. His support for the sprawl development at Gaithersburg West was more of a disappointment, but his multi-decade track record warrants your vote.

The other district members, Phil Andrews, Nancy Navarro, and Valerie Ervin, do not have primary challengers.


Reconfigure L'Enfant escalators for an easier transfer

The southern mezzanine at L'Enfant Plaza is only used for transferring passengers. But its current configuration is inefficient. Metro could easily solve this problem by reversing two escalators.

Photo by author.

L'Enfant Plaza is one of the busiest stations in the system. It's the only Metro stop with 4 rail lines. Many passengers transfer each day between the Blue, Orange, Green, and Yellow Lines.

The station is plus-shaped. On the upper level, the Green and Yellow Lines run in a north-south direction. The platforms are on either side of the tracks. The lower level holds the Blue and Orange Lines. They share a center platform between the tracks, which run east-west.

Exits are located at the east, west, and northern ends of the station. The eastern and western exits are located on the same level as the Green and Yellow Lines. The northern exit is above the Green and Yellow tracks.

A map at L'Enfant Plaza. North is to the right.
Photo by the author.

At the extreme south end of the station there is another mezzanine. But it does not have an exit. It's main purpose is to enable people to transfer between northbound Green or Yellow trains to southbound trains on the opposite line. It also enables patrons headed for the exit on the opposite side of the Green/Yellow tracks to cross them without transiting the lower level Blue/Orange platform.

But it is currently set up inefficiently.

Typical mezzanine arrangement. Graphic by author.
On mezzanines for underground side-platform stations, the escalators furthest from the faregates typically run up (away from the platform) while escalators closest to the faregates go down (toward the platform). If there are three pairs of escalators or if the configuration of the mezzanine is different, this setup can vary.

But the main reason for this design is so that riders entering the station can go directly down to the platform, while riders exiting trains encounter the up escalator first (unless they exit from one of the cars under the mezzanine). Because of this design, Metro typically arranges its side platform stations so that patrons enter and exit on whichever side of the station manager's kiosk their platform is.

This contrasts with center platform stations, where passengers usually enter and exit to the right of the kiosk (from their point of view). Although this also can vary.

Note: elevator placement varies widely because they were added to the design of the earlier stations after construction was underway.

But this is not an issue with L'Enfant's southern mezzanine. Since there's no exit, patrons don't need to be channeled to the faregates. The current setup, on the other hand, forces riders transferring between platforms to crisscross the mezzanine and cross paths with patrons moving in the opposite direction. It's an illogical, confusing setup which adds an obstacle to changing trains.

L'Enfant southern mezzanine. Graphic by author.

It would be far simpler to pair the up escalator with a down escalator in the same position on the opposite platform. This would shorten the distance patrons have to walk through the mezzanine.

Of course, on average, a person making two trips each day would walk the same distance—a shorter trip at one end of the day and a longer trip at the other end.

But it would make the mezzanine easier to navigate and give it a more logical layout.


Breakfast links: Park it

Photo from Arlington County
Who runs the Circulator: The City Paper asks Vince Gray if he'd turn over a future streetcar system to WMATA to run. He fairly rightly answers that he'd hesitate to put a DC-specific transit system under the control of a regional entity. (David Alpert)

The wheels on the bikes: CommuterPageBlog features a photo set from the Capital Bikeshare warehouse, including bikes under assembly and station components. (BeyondDC)

Stuck in park: The District will hold a ceremony today to celebrate the empty fields that will some undetermined day, supposedly in late 2011, be the "centerpiece" of Near Southeast, Canal Park. Nevermind that the Yards Park on the Anacostia waterfront is actually opening in two weeks. Still, the design and amenities of Canal Park are intriguing. (The Internationalist, JDLand, Jeff1248)

Reap what you sow: While most Dulles Corridor commercial real estate languishes in the recession, Reston Town Center is a noticeable outlier. They might be onto something with that "urban living" thing. (Post, Cavan)

Original art in transit: New York City's MoMA is displaying "Underground Gallery: London Transport Posters 1920s-1940s," a collection of the subway's beautiful, and in many cases informative, early branding campaign. (Slate, Jaime Fearer)

Making the grade: The EPA and Department of Transportation are looking to revamp vehicle window stickers for 2012 new car models. One proposal would give cars grades, from A+ for fuel-sipping hybrids and electrics to a D for gas guzzlers. Apparently even the auto industry has grade inflation. (

It's high time: Typically beholden to highway interests, AASHTO this week featured articles about driving-reduction programs and LA's 30/10 plan. (The Express Stop)

No more free parking: San Francisco's Muni will start charging all employees to park at the agency yards, after drivers refused to forgo their legally mandated pay raises. The parking fees will be charged to all employees, not just drivers. Now if only WMATA could get their employees to even park in real spaces. (SF Gate)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Endorsements coming up

Over the next few days, I'll be posting some endorsements for candidates in the September 14th primaries in DC and Maryland.

Photo by Dean Terry on Flickr.

To arrive at these endorsements, I've polled the contributors to get a sense for their recommendations, and talked to allies in organizations we work with. I also met with the mayoral candidates, as you know, but didn't have time to meet with all of the candidates everywhere.

Ultimately, I'm making the decision, but if my recommendation differs from most or many of the contributors', I'll note that as well.

Who do you want to see endorsed in your area, and why?


The inglorious path back to Metro glory: Maintenance

For all the complaints about Metrorail, from outages to safety concerns, it's easy to forget that Metrorail was until recently considered by many to be the best subway system in the country. For those of us who rode the subway in the 1990s, this is not a distant memory.

Bus Maintenance circa 1954

So what happened? The Metrorail system got old. Much of Metrorail was built between 1970 and 1990. For a generation, we didn't have to worry about broken escalators and elevators, doors that wouldn't close and tracks that malfunctioned. Everything just worked because it was new.

The solution, according to WMATA's Capital Needs Inventory, is to replace all of the aging infrastructure that is at the end of its useful life. Hence the sizeable capital budget from WMATA.

The $11 billion in capital needs are driven by a number of factors, including the age and condition of Metro's assets. The 30-year old Metrorail system requires many life cycle replacement costs for the first time, including the replacement of nearly one-third of the rail car fleet. Similarly, Metrobuses need to be replaced and rehabilitated on a regular schedule.
The obstacle, we are told, is a lack of dedicated funding to finance this massive replacement. But is "useful life"-based replacement really the solution? Is it the best practice in maintenance today? Let's look a little closer at maintenance that is based on the "useful life" of infrastructure.

Scheduled Maintenance: The first step in the evolution of any organization's maintenance strategy is from reactive to proactive maintenance. The advantages of this step are obvious (fewer breakdowns, longer service life) and the easiest way to implement proactive maintenance is with a schedule. All transit agencies have implemented proactive, scheduled maintenance programs, for which we are fortunate as firms in many industries have not.

However, scheduled maintenance has one fundamental weakness: because maintenance is based on a calendar and not the objective condition of an asset, it is almost always either too late and a breakdown has already occurred, or it is way too early and thus wasteful. The breakdowns, of course, only increase reactive maintenance expenses, thus undermining the attempt to be proactive and stealing funds from proactive maintenance efforts.

The FTA is even complaining that manufacturers are building vehicles whose maximum useful life is based on agency expectations. While this weakness can be partially addressed by scheduling maintenance based on usage and not a calendar (just like a car's 3,000 mile maintenance intervals), any scheduled maintenance strategy inevitably creates a false costs vs quality trade-off. This is because the only way to improve reliability through scheduled maintenance is to increase its frequency, which further increases wasteful maintenance costs.

Much of the nation's built environment was built in the same generation as Metrorail, and our daily lives have become increasingly dependent on this infrastructure. Maintenance of aging infrastructure is thus not just a Metrorail challenge but one of the leading challenges facing the country. Scheduled maintenance could bankrupt our country while still leaving it with an unreliable infrastructure. Fortunately, maintenance best practices have developed that provide a blueprint to a smarter, leaner and more reliable built infrastructure.

Reliability-Centered Maintenance: Reliability-Centered Maintenance initiates maintenance activities when monitors or tests indicate that an asset's condition is likely to lead to breakdown. For example, vibration or temperature, two of the most common leading indicators of breakdowns, are easily monitored with remote sensors. Because the condition of an asset, instead of a schedule, determines when maintenance is initiated, this approach is called condition-based or reliability-centered maintenance.

The goal of reliability-centered maintenance is to initiate the right maintenance at the right time. The result is that maintenance is less costly and more effective.

DoD Hierarchy of Maintenance Approaches

Identifying the conditions that are leading indicators of different types of breakdown is accomplished through Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). The ways in which a car or bus system or subsystem could fail, its failure modes, are identified along with the possible causes of each failure mode. Causes of failure modes that are more likely to occur or have severe consequences are then monitored using remote sensors or manual tests. FMEA is an essential step to improving both reliability and safety at Metro.

Where is Metro on the hierarchy of maintenance approaches? Metro currently practices calendar-based scheduled maintenance, and has made the decision to migrate to usage-based scheduled maintenance. While this is good, it will not enable Metro to return to its glory days at an affordable price. The prospect of migrating to reliability-centered maintenance has both good and bad news.

The Good News: Many pieces are in place for a transition to reliability-centered maintenance that would be a model for the nation's transit agencies.

First, WMATA has invested in the leading asset management software system (IBM Maximo) which supports reliability-centered maintenance. Metro is currently using Maximo to track every asset it owns (267,000 assets) so that, for example, replacement components can be identified instantly or maintenance instructions can be remotely downloaded for any component. The Safety Management System that was quickly built by WMATA IT this year enables the Safety Office to analyze failures through point-and-click identification of components in any system.

However, Maximo could also be used to associate asset conditions (e.g. temperature levels) with failure modes. When this is done, Maximo can not only enable more cost-efficient reliability-centered maintenance, it can even use the data it collects to report the maintenance or replacement costs required to support any asset availability target (e.g. 99% availability). Imagine a capital expense budget that includes this type of data-driven, performance-based justification for each line item.

Second, WMATA has equipped the majority of its buses with Automatic Vehicle Monitoring (AVM) instruments. These instruments continuously survey the bus during operation, silently collecting fault, performance, and service data from braking, electrical, engine, transmission, security, fare collection, accessibility, and climate control systems, and then automatically uploading the data nightly.

The Bad News: Despite the presence of the building blocks for implementing maintenance best practices, there seems to be no management-level leadership in maintenance best practices, perhaps the most critical discipline for the future of Metro. As a result, WMATA remains in the trap of expensive reactive maintenance caused by calendar-based maintenance schedules that are independent of the conditions of WMATA's 267,000 assets.

A case in point is the elevators and escalators, some of whose manufacturers are out-of-business requiring expensive consultants or wholesale replacement. However, we were only reliant on these manufacturers because we implemented their maintenance schedules, instead of conducting Failure Mode and Effects Analysis to develop our own internal knowledge base and condition-based maintenance system for each elevator and escalator. Now Metro has hired a consultant to "fix" the elevators and escalators in 4 stations, a short-term reactive solution that will only work until the next elevator or escalator failure in those stations requires another heroic, expensive consultant.

WMATA can do this. It's been done in the airline and defense industries, and it will eventually be done in transit. The WMATA Board should select a GM with experience in reliability-centered maintenance, preferably from the airline or defense sectors. And we should encourage WMATA to lead the way among transit agencies, none of whom have adopted these maintenance best practices, lest rail travel across the country be increasingly perceived as out-dated, dangerous and unreliable.


Would Fenty do a better job if he did nothing at all?

Many people speculated, incorrectly, about my motivations for writing an article suspicious of Adrian Fenty on Friday. The simple fact is this. By all rights, I should love Adrian Fenty. He's aligned with me on most policy issues. However, I don't love him. Why?

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Maybe it's the way he seems to show contempt for the legislature, even when they try to work with him. Maybe it's the way he has an attorney general who stonewalls anyone who asks questions about anything. Maybe it's the way he just refused to implement the Inclusionary Zoning law for two years.

Or maybe it's the way that whenever he's personally involved in something instead of leaving it to his people, it's been for the worse. On Friday, I asked why this is the case. Why does Mayor Fenty seem to stand behind every Michelle Rhee decision but not every Gabe Klein one? How does he choose when to intervene politically in a decision of a cabinet official and when doesn't he?

After Friday's piece, a government insider pointed out one counterexample where the Mayor didn't stand behind Rhee either. In January, the administration floated the idea of moving the Duke Ellington School from Georgetown. Many people objected, including co-founder Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and DCPS quickly backed down.

Update: DCPS emailed us to dispute the facts of this case. Their response is here.

Now, maybe that was fine. Officials suggest an idea, people don't like the idea, they decide not to go ahead. If Vince Gray becomes Mayor, that might happen more, since more decisions would probably get run by the community (perhaps in a medium besides the Washington Post). It's appropriate to use community reactions as a factor in the decision, though it shouldn't be the only one.

But what I was trying to put my finger on is, why does the Mayor intervene when he does, and not at other times, like when Rhee replaced the principal of Hardy, also in Georgetown, around the same time? When does he listen to community reaction and when doesn't he?

I didn't feel that his answers to these questions were particularly enlightening or even particularly honest. "Measure three times, cut once"? For real?

Sure, most political leaders have to make political decisions. But in a good leader, the decisions aren't always political, or they're based on a bigger picture political calculus instead of just what some influential people are saying today. In education, he has that bigger picture, but in other areas he doesn't.

Fenty has some great cabinet members, but he's also fired some other great cabinet members because they clashed with him, or some have left because they didn't like working for him. People close to current or former cabinet officials say that Fenty often yells at his people if he doesn't like what they've done. Coupled with his lack of policy depth in these issues, I'm told that makes many cabinet officials constantly deciding based on what they can get through the Mayor instead of what they think is best.

The best solution would be to listen to community reaction and then make a decision fairly quickly based on facts. Listen to reactions and input, and then if the experts are still persuaded it's the right policy, move ahead. If the input has persuaded officials or the dissent outweighs the value, don't do it. This is what Gray says he will do, but many worry he would be long on the listening and short on the action part.

But Fenty's interventions don't follow this pattern. Instead, they follow the pattern of meddling when really powerful political insiders have objections. Developers argued that inclusionary zoning was risky, so it got put on ice. DDOE wanted to push some stormwater regulations, but suddenly Fenty stepped in and stopped it.

Besides North Portal, DDOT also wanted to put in sidewalks on University Terrace in the Palisades. The road badly needed repaving. The road was wide enough to include sidewalks without taking away any front yards. The professionals at DDOT decided on a plan. But suddenly Fenty overrode it. Why here? Does it have to do with one of the numerous powerful people who live on University Terrace?

And then there was the time DDOT wanted to cut back the Circulator to M and Wisconsin, because the Wisconsin Avenue segment to Whitehaven was only carrying 2% of the riders while costing 15% of the operating cost. DDOT made the decision, some Georgetowners complained, and suddenly they found money somewhere to keep it going.

Maybe this is okay. After all, if the Mayor lets his good department heads get their way 98% of the time and meddles 2% of the time, that's a pretty good track record. On the other hand, it's some of the more impactful policies, like IZ or stormwater, that get shelved. Back on the flip side, though, those impactful decisions are the ones that ought to get more consideration since it's a bigger deal to get them wrong.

However, if the impactful decisions get a bigger review process, then that should be a good process, and that's not what's happening. Ideally, Fenty would be in charge of the items like rec centers which should just go ahead, and Gray whould be in charge of the bigger policy issues that need thoughtful and participatory deliberation.

Actually, that's pretty much what we could have had when Gray was in charge of the Council. The Council could have decided some of the big policy questions, and the Mayor implemented them and handled the smaller stuff. It's too bad he took such a confrontational stance with the Council. According to Council insiders, at times the Council would propose a win-win way to work together to the Mayor, and his administration would just do the opposite anyway.

Here's the problem. The Fenty Administration has done a lot of good, but whenever Adrian Fenty himself seems to be involved personally in some way, it's been a poorer outcome. Fenty argues that the role of the Mayor is just to hire "A+ people." Maybe so. And if Fenty basically spent all his time on vacation, or doing photo ops, and never paid attention to actual governing, and also fired Peter Nickles, he'd be a great mayor.

But is there something wrong with voting for someone you actually wish were essentially replaced with a cardboard cutout? Thinking the government is just fine, except for the head? What does that say, exactly?

Update: Perhaps justifying our title of Best News Source Unlikely to Be Distracted by News, this article was originally written on Friday, before the Washington Post released its poll showing Gray in the lead. Personally, I'm not deciding whom to vote for based on any polls.


Why can't Calvin fly?

At age 59, Calvin Moore has job certifications several inches thick—driving, telecommunications, tires, Department of Transportation, etc. You name it; odds are Calvin knows how to do it.

Photo by black_eyes on Flickr.

If you've seen a patched pothole in Virginia or DC, there's a good chance Calvin filled it. Yet Calvin has been out of work for almost two years. In fact, Calvin has had a lot of intermittent work experiences during his life.

"I'm like a plane trying to take off. Up a little bit and scooter back down. Up a little bit and scooter back down," he says.

His current unemployment isn't for lack of trying either. He notes that he's applied for "over 42 jobs and was turned down for all of them." For Calvin, work has been difficult to get because of health problems and a decades-old criminal record.

Most recently, Calvin was a foreman and fleet manager at a tire warehouse, moved on, got his CDL, and applied at another tire company where he tore his meniscus in his left knee. A tire shipment had arrived and Calvin was helping unload tires off a truck. The driver was in a hurry because they had several other deliveries to make. As Calvin tells it, "I had to chase a few tires down that rolled off the palette. I ran laterally and stepped through the palette and tore up my knee." The knee didn't heal right after surgery.

Then Calvin got in a car accident this past February. "I was rear ended and couldn't accept work because of an injured back as a result of the accident."

He worked the tire job after suffering health problems while filling potholes on a road construction crew. "I got asthma due to the asphalt fumes while working for the DDOT. I kept getting sick, weak to the point that I couldn't pick up the shovel with the asphalt." They fired him within a few weeks of the end of his one-year probationary period.

"I really do enjoy seeing the potholes along the roads that I had fixed down in Virginia and throughout the District."

The biggest obstacle for Calvin, however, has been his old criminal record. As a kid, Calvin was attracted to the fast life. "I was fascinated by the young guys driving Cadillacs, going to dances with alligator shoes, getting girls." He wanted that life, so as an adolescent, "I went wild."

"I didn't have to go that route. I had good parents. I had a job. I wouldn't tell my friends I had a job, but I would go out at night and then go to work the next morning."

His lifestyle caught up with him when he was arrested for armed robbery in 1973. Calvin maintains his innocence for this particular crime, saying he was fingered mistakenly and happened to fit the profile after cutting his hair shorter from an Afro in between the crime and his arrest. Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that he was engaged in other petty crime at the time.

Calvin served three and a half years in prison and six and a half on parole. He started to turn his life around while incarcerated, getting his GED, taking college classes and getting married. He saved a guard's life whose patrol vehicle turned over.

"After getting out of prison I went to work for an insurance company, but I didn't complete the training because the bills were catching up. I went to waterproofing and then job after job after job. I built experience to put myself in a position where I was more versatile and more marketable."

The 1980s ended up being a tough time for Calvin. "I started self-medicating when things weren't going so well. I did petty theft stuff and was working intermittently at the time."

Calvin has long since put those days behind him. He established himself as a law-abiding citizen and has been so for the past twenty years or more. "I did a lot of legwork that rebuts the arrests, but not the armed robbery conviction. It's the worst thing on my record. I did ten years that I can't get back."

Yet finding jobs has always been tough due to his past. "I've been paid eight dollars and hour, ten dollars an hour at companies well below my worth." He was denied a hazmat CDL because of his record. His current prolonged unemployment has been the worst.

"I was written off before I got a chance to put my foot in the door. I wouldn't hire me based on my record. The employer is responsible for a safe workplace. But companies dig deep into criminal history and don't think that people change. I am serving a life sentence."

Calvin's only current income comes from unemployment and SSDI. "There's no meeting basic needs on that. The budget needs to be well-planned. You can't go outside the box. You need a cushion for things like car and transportation problems and medications. I did receive food stamps, but I can't get SSDI and food stamps at the same time. I found out how important receiving food stamps really is. I've had to move in with my niece and together we take care of what we can."

Things are starting to look up for Calvin. He's become a WAGE (Workers Advocating for Greater Equality) advocate at the DC Employment Justice Center, and recently testified about his struggles before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. The purpose of WAGE is to educate workers about employment law matters, provide advocacy and media skills, and help them identify and get involved in broad-based campaigns. He's going to vocational rehab now through Catholic Charities to become a certified addiction counselor and has some new prospects for employment.

"I want to help people avoid taking the route in life that I have. It's been a hell of a life."

Cross-posted from Defeat Poverty DC.

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