The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts from August 2012


Walking, biking (and beer) in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Photo by afagen.

Photo by fromcaliw/love.

Photo by wolfkann.

Photo by ekelly80.

Photo by randomduck.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

Great photos of things like people enjoying walkable places, unwalkable places empty of people, transit, pedestrians, bicycles, cars, parking lots, parks, historic buildings, modern buildings, stores, urban decay, new development in DC, Maryland, and Virginia will get you featured in this weekly highlight.

Public Spaces

Good public space can make good retail

Take a walk around downtown Silver Spring and you'll notice a lot of empty shops and empty parks. As it turns out, the two are related.

Empty stores line the pocket park at the Veridian Apartments. Photos by the author.

Just look at The Crescent condominium on Wayne Avenue, which has seen a rotating cast of retail tenants since it opened in 2006. Or the newly-completed United Therapeutics headquarters, which has several empty retail spaces at the intersection of Cameron and Spring Streets.

Around the corner, developers of an apartment building called The Cameron placed tables and chairs in front of their ground-floor retail space in anticipation of a restaurant, but they got an outpatient surgery center instead.

Why aren't these spaces filled with successful shops and restaurants?

Retailers in an urban area like downtown Silver Spring rely on foot traffic, not car traffic. They need lots of shoppers walking in front of their windows, because a few of them will actually come inside. But new storefronts in the area are often too far from the sidewalk or each other to let that happen.

SurgCenter, Cameron & Fenton
Developers placed tables and chairs outside The Cameron assuming a restaurant would locate there, but an outpatient surgery center opened instead.

Each of those three projects, like most new buildings in downtown Silver Spring are required to have a pocket park. Some are more successful than others, but most create gaps in the street wall, the part of the building that faces the street. Street walls need to be continuous, and they need lots of storefronts to work well.

Renowned Danish urban designer Jan Gehl notes that successful shopping streets have storefronts about 25 feet wide. This means that a pedestrian walking at normal speed will see something new about every 5 seconds, keeping their attention.

In addition, pocket parks placed directly in front of a building separate the shops from the sidewalk, discouraging pedestrians from wandering over because they can't see what's going on inside. If that pocket park is intentionally or unintentionally designed to repel people, no retailer can survive there.

If you don't believe me, just look at any successful retail street in Greater Washington, from M Street in Georgetown to Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda to Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood. The shops all have narrow storefronts, there are few gaps between them, and they're close to the street. As a result, these streets can keep stores in business.

Empty Retail, Spring Street
A little plaza breaks up the street wall between empty storefronts in the United Therapeutics headquarters on Spring Street.

Not surprisingly, retailers moving to downtown Silver Spring are finding spaces next to the sidewalk. At the Veridian, an apartment building on East-West Highway, there's a small grocery store and a Papa John's on the sidewalk, but two other spaces facing a large and well-landscaped park have been empty since the building opened three years ago.

Of course, that doesn't mean that any space on a sidewalk will immediately get filled, especially if they're off the beaten path. Most of downtown Silver Spring's shops and restaurants are east of Georgia Avenue and south of Colesville Road; naturally, that's where the most activity is. Shoppers may be reluctant to wander even a few blocks away from that area, which in turn makes retailers reluctant to open there. That's a large part of why there are so many vacancies along East-West Highway and Cameron Street.

The key to making retail work in those places is to create a destination, even for people living in the immediate area. One way to do that is with a well-used park. A few weeks ago, I got an email from Eitan Gutin, who lives with his family in the Galaxy, a new apartment building on 13th Street.

Its pocket park, which is shared with two other buildings, "gets plenty of use," he wrote. "People often sit at the tables in the shade to eat or do work, and on the weekend the playground has at least one or two families for a good chunk of the day."

Photosynth of the public space at the Galaxy by JimmyO.

This is the kind of public space a shop wants to be next to. All three of the surrounding buildings open onto the park, meaning there's lots of foot traffic going through it. And the space is used for a variety of activities throughout the day—Gutin says a Jewish prayer group even has potlucks there—meaning it's busy at all times. Unfortunately, most of the Galaxy's ground floor is a parking garage, which was a missed opportunity for good retail.

How can create more successful retail space and public spaces in downtown Silver Spring? For starters, we should concentrate our open space. Instead of requiring that every building have a little park where nothing happens, we should encourage the creation of a few larger parks where lots of activities can occur. Fortunately, the county is already exploring ways to do this.

In turn, we need to concentrate retail activity. New retail space should be located near existing stores and restaurants, so they can form a more substantial destination. We should also make sure that existing shops aren't displaced by buildings with no stores in them, which puts gaps in the street wall.

In an urban area like downtown Silver Spring, successful retail and successful public space can go hand in hand. The key is making sure that they're both designed and located to get people using them.


Does Metro close too early on weeknights?

Last week, a Nationals game ran late, beyond Metro's regular weeknight closing time, sparking a debate about who should pay for late service. But there are plenty of riders who could benefit from later Metro service every night, not just evenings with sporting events.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on flickr.

On that Monday, some fans who didn't know Metro's schedule or who thought Metro would stay open for the late game showed up at Navy Yard station after the game only the find the last train long gone. It sparked several news articles and much consternation on social media. Much of the ensuing public debate has focused on whether the Nats or the DC government should pay to keep Metro open late.

For a major city, Washington's transit system seems to close very early. While many people are concerned because it cuts into their nightlife or ability to attend late Nationals games, the heaviest burden falls on service industry workers, whose jobs often keep them out very late.

How does Metro stack up?

I looked at all the heavy rail and light rail systems in the United States, and out of 30 total systems, Metro is the 6th earliest to close.

Because every rail system is different, it's difficult to compare any one system to another. The measure I used seems to be the most reliable way to compare systems, though it's not perfect.

To compare each city, I looked up when the last train leaves the central station of each system. For Metro, that's 12:06 am, when trains leave Metro Center in 4 directions.

5 systems close earlier than Metro by this measure*. Sacramento is the earliest by far, with the last train leaving downtown at 10:23 pm. Norfolk, Salt Lake City, and San Diego all have their last trains through the core before midnight, and Houston's last departure is at midnight.

Most cities run later. In Atlanta, the last MARTA train leaves the airport at 1:00 am and passes through downtown at 1:35 am, almost 90 minutes after Metro has closed. Even BART, Metro's suburb-oriented cousin in the San Francisco Bay Area, has its last train departing Embarcadero almost an hour later than Metro, at 1:02 am.

3 American systems operate around the clock. The New York subway, the PATCO Speedline, which goes from Philadelphia into southern New Jersey, and PATH, which connects New York with northern New Jersey.

In Chicago, the Red and Blue lines run 24/7, though the other lines shut down at night. The last train on Chicago's Yellow Line departs Howard at 11:00 pm. And while Philadephia's SEPTA closes the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines, it does run night owl buses along the same routes overnight.

*Note, that this measure looks at the last train leaving the core on any line. In DC, that time is roughly the same for all lines and directions, but in other cities, it can vary a good deal. For example, in Sacramento, the last train from the core is a Blue Line to Watt/I-80 at 10:23. But the last Blue Line train in the other direction (to Meadowview) leaves the core at 9:30.

Applying it to Metro

Metro closes too early. For countless workers in the region, Metro's early closing time keeps them from jobs or forces them to own a car to get around. For sports fans, Metro's early closure makes it difficult to take transit to games and means bad press when fans get stranded.

When Nationals games run late, fans need a way to get home. And in special cases, the Nats should be willing to chip in.

But the region as a whole needs to start funding later transit service. Increasing mobility won't just help baseball fans. It will make the region more accessible to more people.

Metro could extend service so that the last trains departed their terminals after midnight by adding 2 more departures to each line. With 20-minute headways, 2 departures would extend the span of service by 40 minutes, which would be a great start to running service over an even longer span.

That would be enough to bring Metro up to par with its peers in other cities. Of the heavy and light rail systems in the United States, the average last departure from the core is 40.42 minutes after midnight. Adding 40 minutes of span would result in Metro's last train departing the core at 12:46 am.

Of course it is true that nothing comes for free. WMATA and its member jurisdictions would have to pay for longer hours. But 2 more trains each way on each line wouldn't add very much cost. At the regional scale it would be affordable, and definitely worth the benefits.

Metro has been using the off periods for track work, but the short night periods don't give much time to achieve a lot, especially since it takes time to set up and break down a work zone. That's why Metro has been doing more weekend closures of whole segments of lines, when they can finish more work at one go.


Breakfast links: Making plans

Photo by jm3 on Flickr.
A new library: The DC Public Library revealed plans for new library in Woodridge. The three-story building with numerous balconies will be the latest new DC library building. (DCmud)

A Ward 7 Walmart: The DC Housing Authority has submitted plans for the Ward 7 Walmart, which look pretty much the same as the "school-like" design from 2010. It will have 665 parking spaces, half surface and half in a garage. (Post)

More CaBi for Arlington: Arlington proposes locations for its next set of CaBi stations, which generally fill in the space between Rosslyn-Ballston and Pentagon-Crystal City. What do you think? WashCycle wishes the airport had one.

WMATA hires in planning and development: WMATA has hired Shyam Kannan from RCLCO to run its planning division, replacing Nat Bottigheimer, and Stanley Wall to handle its real estate and development projects. (Post) ... We reported on presentations Kannan made about TOD at two forums this spring.

Maryland sees crime rate fall: Maryland's crime rate has fallen to the lowest rate since 1975. Murders fell by 6% last year, and other types of crime are also down. (WAMU)

Don't "like" new Facebook HQ: Despite a trend in tech companies toward urban offices, Facebook's new headquarters in Menlo Park is a single-use, isolated, and surrounded by a sea of parking. Oh, and Frank Gehry designed it. (TNR)

Dresden rolls out longest bus: Beginning in October, Dresden will operate the longest bus in the world, a 98-foot long double-articulated bus which holds 256 passengers. The manufacturers have also received inquiries from other cities. (Tecca)

And...: Why you shouldn't let dogs pee on trees. (Atlantic Cities) ... Google adds turn-by-turn bike directions to Android phones. ... Democrats and Republicans disagree over repairing the Capitol dome. (DCist) ... We'll miss JDLand.

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Public Spaces

DC DPR wants feedback on parks. Give them yours

Do you use your local park, rec center or pool? Have you encountered any problems? If you don't use them, why not? The Department of Parks and Recreation needs to hear from you to make its facilities better.

Rosedale Pool. Photo from DCDPR.

Most complaints I hear about DPR facilities concern upkeep or the attitude of park employees. But there are a lot of parks and a lot of staff, many short-term, running many programs across the city.

Without our eyes and ears, the central park staff can't respond to issues quickly. I had a frustrating experience at a local park one recent Saturday, but when I sent DPR a comment they responded very quickly.

I took my 3-year-old to Rosedale Pool, a brand new pool that opened in May, ideal for kids. My son and I arrived to find all three water slides closed. While playing in the pool for 2 hours, my little guy kept asking why the fun water-slides were closed, when they would re-open, and if we could come back when they did. Other toddlers were trying to climb onto the water slides only to have their parents pull them off.

When I asked the lifeguards why the water slides were closed, they said there weren't enough lifeguards to watch the pool and the slides. But I saw 5 lifeguards either working or sitting in their break room, rotating every hour so that only 2 were on-guard at a time. When I asked the park staff at the entrance, they said it was because the slides were broken. Something didn't seem right.

Perhaps more frustrating, though, was the apathy of the other families at the pool whose kids were just as disappointed as mine, yet who did nothing. I asked some other parents in the pool about the slides, and got one of two answers.

Some parents said the slides must be broken. When I asked if it seemed likely that all 3 slides were broken, a mere 2 months after the pool was built, they agreed but didn't know what to do. The other parents actually said outright, in a shrugging way, "what are you gonna do"?

Such apathy and defeatism doesn't do anyone any good. Sure, government can seem callous or unresponsive at times, but most often it's just that, a perception.

DPR Director Jesus Aguirre, for one, wants to change the entrenched system at DPR, but needs our eyes and ears. So I emailed, and received an apologetic reply within 15 minutes on a Saturday night. The slides were reopened, except for 1 of the 3 that was actually broken.

How can you quickly let the city know about issues at your local park and get a reply?

  • Email them directly at or, if it is aquatics-related,
  • Call them at 202-673-7647.
  • Tweet them at @DCDPR.
  • Create a 311 request on the 311 web site or using the 311 mobile app. From the list of Service Types, select "Parks and Recreation."
If the city is responsive to your request, compliment them at the new Grade.DC website. If they are not responsive, make sure to explain how they fell short.

Director Aguirre has demonstrated his commitment to creating a responsive, service-oriented culture at DPR. And now they've put the tools in place to submit questions and issues. The ball is now in our court, to quickly let DPR staff know of all issues in local parks.

It actually takes more time to complain to your neighbors about your local park than to fill out the online 311 form. We have to get into the habit of channeling our frustration about issues with local parks into the feedback system DPR has provided. Only then can DPR staff to respond to issues, and only then will Director Aguirre be able to hold his staff accountable for responsiveness.

So the next time you have an issue with the District's parks and recreational facilities, don't let it fester. Tell DPR, and give them a chance to rectify the situation.


New Hampshire Avenue latest to get 2-way and bike lanes

DDOT is on a roll changing roads from traffic sewers to multimodal neighborhood streets. It's remaking New Jersey Avenue, and now you can add New Hampshire Avenue in Foggy Bottom and the West End to the mix.

New Hampshire Avenue at L Street. Photo by keever04 on Flickr.

An upcoming streetscape project will add bike lanes between Washington Circle and Dupont Circle, bulb-outs at some corners, and change the one-way segment north of Washington Circle into 2-way.

The project will start in September and last until about March 2014. It includes a complete reconstruction from M Street to Dupont Circle, and just resurfacing from H Street up to M.

Washington Circle will get new crosswalks and traffic signals, which we discussed in March. Right now, Washington Circle is extremely unfriendly for pedestrians, and that will change with the project. In addition, the intersection of 22nd and K, just east of the circle, will get new pavement, crosswalks, and ADA-compliant curb ramps.

Intersection of NH and L. Images from DDOT.

Intersection of NH and M.

Plan for Washington Circle.

A lot of District streets were last reconstructed with a cars-only mindset. Engineers optimized all of the public space to maximize traffic, give pedestrians only the scraps left over, and make bicycles an afterthought at best. The changes, especially to Washington Circle, restore more of a balance and create a street for all users.

The sidewalks will stay brick south of Washington Circle, but the sidewalks north of Washington Circle will be concrete aggregate. Other Dupont-area streetscapes, like on 17th and 18th Streets, have chosen concrete with a brick strip along where the tree boxes are. It doesn't look like that brick strip is part of this one.

One concern I've sent to DDOT is to make sure the bulb-outs on M Street don't interfere with a future cycle track, as DDOT has promised to add. A cycle track on M would go along the curb lane. It might replace parking on one side, as it is on L, or if there is parking, the parking should go between the cycle track and the street. Either way, a bulb-out immediately adjacent to the current curb isn't right for a cycle track street. I'll update the post if I hear back.

Here is the presentation DDOT showed to community groups last night. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it; was anyone there who can relay any comments or concerns from the ANCs or other residents?


Arlington takes the lead on green-painted bike lanes

Arlington installed a green-painted bike lane yesterday at Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive. If weather cooperates, it will put in 4 more around the county over the next few days.

The new lane. Photo by the author.

When bikes and cars mix, the key to safety is for both bicyclists and car drivers to be aware of their surroundings, and expect to encounter each other. Therefore, the safest bike lane is one that's highly visible, so that car drivers see it and expect cyclists to be using it.

With that in mind, progressive cities around the world have been painting bike lanes green at key locations, to make them more visible. Within the US, green painted lanes are especially common in Portland and New York. DC has exactly one, on 15th Street, SE.

Map of all 5 of Arlington's planned green lane locations.

The other 4 planned locations are Clarendon Blvd at 15th Street North, Wilson Blvd at Veitch Street, Lynn Street at 19th Street North, and 15th Street South across the Pentagon City Mall parking garage entrances. More could come later, at other similar conflict points.

DDOT also plans to include green paint near the intersections on the L Street bike lane, but won't paint green at the actual point cars and bikes have to cross. They are concerned that the paint would quickly wear away with all the tires traversing that pavement.

Arlington's lanes include green paint in spots cars will be driving. Their experience with the paint could help other jurisdictions decide whether they can be more generous with the green.

Here is a set of 11 pictures of the first one being installed.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Breakfast links: Where the trail's at

Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.
Finish the Met Branch: DC and Montgomery County have stopped making progress on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Maybe this is a time to tweak the routing of the trail so it can get done faster? (WABA, RPUS)

Bike progress in Herndon: The Herndon Town Council approved new bicycle facilities including extending trails, new bike lanes, and a cycle track. The measure does not commit funds, but should make funding easier. (Connection)

Light rail plans in Maryland: Officials are planning a light rail line from the Branch Ave. Metro to Waldorf that they hope will spur mixed-use development similar to Clarendon and perhaps draw some federal agencies to the area. (SoMdNews, Ben Ross)

Rejection defended: The elections board says it didn't make any mistakes in rejecting Initiative 70; instead, proponents just didn't have the colors of their checkmarks which weren't on the black and white copies the board provided, and didn't avail themselves of options for monitoring the process that the board didn't tell them about. (Post)

On the waterfront: The redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront known as the Wharf will better engage the city with the water and better connect the sleepy neighborhood with the rest of the city. (Atlantic Cities, Circle Thomas)

GOP on transportation: Republicans officially want to cut Amtrak and high speed rail funding and think President Obama's investments in infrastructure have been for "an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit." (Streetsblog)

And...: 2/3 of urban trees come from natural reproduction. (Atlantic Cities) ... A city's size seems to have little to do with how many car accidents it has. (Atlantic Cities) ... Cast your vote for a Route 1 bus design. (Patch)

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Cutting dependence on cars isn't anti-car, it's common sense

Cleveland Park resident Herb Caudill posted about the zoning update on the neighborhood listserv, and triggered a lively debate. On the issue of required parking, one resident wrote about "the growing hostility toward the automobile," and said, "The need for parking is a reality of modern urban life." Caudill followed up with this fantastic article, which we're cross-posting with his permission.

The thing about the "anti-car/pro-car" frame is that it's utterly useless when talking about urban planning and transportation planning. Most of us drive sometimes or all of the time. I drive, my wife drives, my friends and neighbors all drive.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Certainly some people are car-free by choice and sanctimonious about it; let's ignore them for the time being. And while externalities like pollution and fossil fuels are important, they don't need to factor into this conversation either. This isn't about morality or virtue or sustainability.

The central fact about cars, from a planner's perspective, is that they take up space. Lots of space. And this matters because space in cities (a.k.a real estate) is scarce and therefore expensive.

Cars take up space when they're moving and they take up space when they're parked, and even though they can't be simultaneously moving and parked, you have to plan for both states and plan for peak demand; so you have to set aside some multiple of the real estate actually occupied by the car at any given time.

That's just a practical observation about the spatial geometry of cities that doesn't bow to my ideology or yours. And it would still remain true even if cars ran on nothing but recycled newspapers and emitted nothing but rainbows and unicorn tears.

In the past, our policy response has been to just set aside more and more space for cars: More freeways, more roads, more lanes on existing roads, more parking garages and surface lots. This approach hasn't worked, and there are two very practical reasons why:

First, you can never build enough. There's a phenomenon called "induced demand" that is very well understood by now. A new lane or a new freeway never reduces congestion in the long run: People respond to new capacity by driving more or by living or working in previously remote places, and you're very quickly back where you started and have to build still more. The same phenomenon applies to increases in the supply of parking. It's a game you can't win.

Second, when you do make more space for cars you quickly start to crowd out any other potential mode of transportation, especially walking. All those parking lots and freeways and roads spread everything else out so that the distances become too great for walking. And the more you optimize any given space for cars the more hostile that space is for pedestrians. Very quickly you get to the point where it becomes impossible—or prohibitively depressing—to get things done on foot.

And this last fact has huge quality-of-life implications for human beings—not just because driving to a distant strip mall for a gallon of milk is less pleasant than walking to a corner store, but also because for many people driving simply isn't an option.

Some people can't drive because they're not old enough, others because they're too old. Some people are blind. Some people don't know how to drive. Most of all, plenty of people can't afford a car. And it's really, really not fun to be in one of those categories and live in a place where you have to drive to get anything done.

The District government has very belatedly come around to the realization that instead of focusing narrowly on cars, we need to focus more broadly on mobility. Cars will always a big part of that, but one third of DC residents live in households that don't own one, so it can't be the only part.

Some drivers have reacted to that shift with outrage that they're no longer the center of the universe, like only children who have acquired a baby sibling. That's not a mature or reasonable or productive reaction. As DC's population continues to grow, the population of cars can't keep growing at the same rate. Not because cars are bad but simply because we don't have room for them.

So we have to take steps to increase the market share of non-driving modes of transportation. That's not a pro-car policy or an anti-car policy, it's just a sensible response to the way the world is.

What does this have to do with zoning? Well, you don't take "everyone drives" as a starting point or as an end point. As a matter of fact, not everyone can drive; and as a matter of principle, we want people to have other options. So we allow corner stores so people can run simple errands without driving. We allow alley dwellings and garage apartments so a few more people can live in walkable neighborhoods and near metro stops. And we stop forcing developers to build more parking than the market demands. These are very modest but obvious common-sense steps.

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep driving when I need to, and so are you, and that's fine. Nevertheless it's in all of our best interests for DC to make sure that that's not the only choice we have.


Task force tries to make peace over cameras; AAA doesn't

Traffic cameras have saved lives, said Lisa Sutter of the Metropolitan Police Department at yesterday's task force meeting on automated enforcement. DC's fatalities declined 69% in 10 years, compared to only 28% nationwide, and MPT believes its speed and red light cameras are the reason.

Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr.

Still, many residents believe fines are too high, and that their purpose is to plug budget holes instead of make the streets safer. Will lowering the fines change that perception and increase public support for fines, or are a lot of people just unwilling to change their widespread and common behavior that's also illegal and dangerous?

A real solution to this camera angst probably involves lower fines. It also requires driver lobbying groups to start sending more positive messages about the reasons to curb dangerous driving, instead of endlessly playing the victim in front of television cameras.

Traffic cameras work

The task force had its first meeting yesterday. I am a member of the task force, at the request of co-chairman Councilmember Mary Cheh. Sutter presented a number of slides, including this chart of traffic fatalities:

Sutter also relayed a tragic story of an elderly woman killed in a crash that one of their cameras caught on video. A driver blew through a red light and got T-boned. The crash pushed the car up onto the sidewalk, killing the woman, who wasn't breaking any laws and wasn't even in the street.

This is the real human toll of unsafe driving. More people died already this year, just in the District, than in the Metro Red Line crash. We can't ignore the problem.

Can science set the fine?

The other co-chair, Tommy Wells, started off the meeting with a statement that he feels the current fines are too high, and contribute to the public perception that the cameras are a source of revenue rather than a safety tool. Cheh agreed with the goal of revising the fines, but added that they serve several purposes.

One is to simply deter people from "reckless and unsafe behavior." Relatedly, a fine is a kind of punishment for doing something inherently dangerous, as red-light running is, she said. Ultimately, the fine needs to change a culture of lawbreaking, and sometimes a high penalty might be necessary.

Cheh and Wells asked many thoughtful and detailed questions to try to identify a proper level for a fine. Wells pointed out that it could be very helpful if photo tickets included an explanation of why the District is charging what it's charging.

AU Professor Laura Langbein suggested an analysis which would estimate the economic and actuarial cost of the typical crash, then divide that by the chance any individual speeding or red light running would end in a crash, to get an optimal fine. That would peg a fine to the damage the behavior causes. Another approach would be to set the level around what it takes to get people to comply, but it may be hard to determine that scientifically other than through experimentation.

Where is AAA?

The task force included a representative from regional towing-services company AAA Mid-Atlantic, John Townsend. Unfortunately, he seemed little interested in any real meeting of the minds. He didn't even participate in the first half of the meeting, when people were mainly asking questions to MPD and DDOT about the current program. Instead, he left the table for a while to go talk to the press and get himself into news stories on the issue.

Later, Townsend criticized DC's plans to add cameras to catch people who blow through stop signs or recklessly turn across crosswalks where people on foot are crossing. These are serious safety issues in neighborhoods. If cameras can curb unsafe driving as much as they have for speeding and red light running, it can save lives and boost the quality of life in neighborhoods.

DC will only have 2-3 per ward of each type in the coming year, and I'd like to see any bill in the Council around fines also give MPD authority to buy more cameras with some of the money they raise from existing ones.

I also recommended that we discuss how to curb speeding under 10 mph over the limit. When a neighborhood limit is 30, most drivers assume that really means 40. 40 can be a dangerous speed in residential areas. MPD's Lisa Sutter confirmed that while DC law allows MPD to ticket people for speeding less than 10 mph, they are not currently doing that with the automated cameras.

Some cities are lowering the limits to 20 in order to get drivers to stay under 30, but is that the best approach? A $75 ticket for going 32 in a 30 would be grossly unfair, but how about a $5 ticket for going 5 mph over? Or how about a $1 ticket? Can a small "nudge" change the culture from 30-means-40 to 30-means-30?

That also might mean raising some speed limits, if transportation departments have set limits artificially low. James Cheeks from DDOT said that they never set speed limits 10 mph too low because of this, but many commenters believe that at least some jurisdictions do.

Unfortunately, Townsend immediately jumped in to call the idea of any enforcement below 10 mph over the limit "a non-starter." It sounds like he came to the meeting expecting that the only outcome would be to give drivers more of a pass for unsafe behavior.

I agree fines can come down as the number of cameras increases. However, it's not appropriate simply to cater to the whining and lower the fines unilaterally. Will lower fines actually make drivers believe the fines are for safety instead of revenue?

Many speeders will take their cue from their chief enabler, Townsend. He can set an example by agreeing to stop the constant camera complaints if fines come down. He says AAA doesn't condone breaking traffic laws or unsafe driving. Will he start being constructive, or is his real goal just to get attention and feed the egos of those who don't want to change their dangerous behavior?

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