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Posts from September 2008

Public Spaces

Compliment random strangers on the Mall Oct. 18th

Did you ever play "assassin" in college or at camp, where you have to hit a randomly-assigned person with a squirt gun? In today's terror-fearful and nervous-security-guard times, that's a bad idea in a city, so Cruel 2 B Kind has morphed the weapons into... random kindness.

Your weapons may be serenades, compliments, or friendly greetings. A crowd cheer may catch players unaware. You never know when you'll face the smile that has your name on it.

Your targets are unknown to you. Players have no uniform, know the terrain as well as you do, and can blend in seamlessly. The only way to tell a bystander from another player is by bringing your kindness to bear against them. An innocent will be charmed; an assassin, slain.

Innocents will be caught in the crossfire, but when the weapons are random acts of kindness, the only collateral damages are smiling bystanders.

Here's Cruel 2 B Kind in San Francisco:

DC's is Saturday, October 18th, on the Mall. Register here.

P.S.: Ironically, I played a more traditional game of Assassin against this game's DC organizers back in the spring of 1999.


More fun with graphs

Continuing the discussion of Washingtonian transit exceptionalism from here and here, commenter SamZ posted this graph comparing the amount of non-car commuting in each region between the "transit zone" (within a half mile of transit) to the rest of the region.

Our transit zone commuters ride transit, bike and walk more than in other cities. There's also a greater split between the transit zone and the rest (though bicycle commuting is on the rise in Fairfax too).

Image by Reconnecting America.

On the lighter side, commenter Dave Murphy posted this amusing graph:

Image by GraphJam.


On Hilton, HPO takes broad view of historic compatibility

The Historic Preservation Office is recommending that HPRB wait to approve the Hilton's proposed renovations until the hotel can work out an agreement with the community over loading docks. Once that is done, the staff report recommends moving ahead with the project.

From the Hilton development team.

Loading is a severe problem along 19th Street. When the Hilton was first constructed, planners anticipated a freeway running along Florida Avenue west of Connecticut and then eastward between T and U. The Hilton was to sit at the edge of the freeway, and 19th Street would have been primarily an access road on and off the freeway.

Instead, thankfully, 19th stayed a neighborhood residential street, but instead of sitting under a freeway, the loading docks now impact the neighborhood. The bays are not deep enough for many of today's trucks, which stick out across the sidewalk, blocking pedestrian traffic and creating noise.

Neighbors and the ANCs of Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle have consistently brought up this issue, often to deaf ears. At the landmark hearing in July, HPRB Chairman Tersh Boasberg repeatedly cut off witnesses who mentioned the loading problems, claiming they had no place in the landmark decision. But, at least according to the staff report, they are appropriate to discuss when reviewing the proposed modifications.

One of historic preservation's controversies revolves around how broadly preservationists should evaluate each project. Is their mandate simply to consider the aesthetic appearance of the building in the context of a historic area, or can they address other concerns? How do we define what factors go into determining if a change is 'compatible'?

ANCs such as Dupont's have regularly clashed with HPRB over this very issue. For the building at 1433 T Street, the allegations of tenant abuse fell outside HPRB's mandate to approve or disapprove the proposed alterations on historic grounds. When rejecting the raze permit for Third Church, HPRB Chairman Tersh Boasberg repeatedly stressed that the Board could not consider the religious liberty arguments made by church officials.

The impact of loading docks, however, represent a grayer area. One could argue that loading and traffic impacts a historic district in more direct ways than tenant abuse or religious liberty, and therefore that it's appropriate for HPRB to insist on a satisfactory solution to the problem as part of a historic review.

The report, primarily written by Historic Preservation Office director David Maloney, states,

From its initial discussions with the applicants, the staff has stressed both the importance of achieving compatibility with the historic landmark and the need to address long-standing community concerns about the impact of the hotel design and operations on its neighbors. Some of these concerns relate more to urban planning than historic preservation issues, but in the context of a multi-year project representing the most substantial change to the building since its completion, a thorough consultation on these issues with all interested parties has seemed the only appropriate course of action.
What to do about the loading docks? Neighbors have asked the Hilton to move the loading docks into the garage, creating a passageway where they would enter on T Street and exit on 19th Street. According to the staff report, the owners' analysis shows this to be cost prohibitive. Instead, the Hilton has proposed reducing the two lanes of traffic exiting the garage to one lane, making room for wider and deeper loading bays. The trash compactor would also go in a deeper bay with room for a truck to completely park in front without sticking out.

Images from the Hilton development team. Click for a larger version.

Neighbors have panned the Hilton's loading dock suggestions, arguing they don't do enough to alleviate the issues. 19th Street is narrow, and trucks often have to back up several times to get into the spaces. Since the Hilton stands to make a great deal of money, they argue, they should do more to fix this problem rather than push negative impacts of the expansion onto the surrounding streets.

Tomorrow: The rest of the Hilton's plan, including the urbanism issues along the Connecticut Avenue, T Street, and Florida Avenue faces.


Cheh, Wells, Fisher on car-freedom

Marc Fisher spoke to Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells at last week's Car-Free Day. Fisher relays anecdotes about Harriet Tregoning converting her free office parking space into bike parking, and about Marion Barry moving Tommy Wells' bike to take one of the parking spaces at the Wilson building.

SmartBikes at Car-Free Day. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Wells advocates for "five-minute living," the idea of having all daily needs within five minutes' travel. That's still not quite a reality in DC, says Fisher; downtown drivers still honk at Wells on his bike, and suburban drivers retain a car-centric mindset. But we've also made great strides; a bike valet program at the ballpark which Wells initially had to push onto reluctant owners now sees steady usage and a corporate sponsor funds the whole thing.

Cheh criticizes the anti-development activism in her ward, including opposition to the proposed public-private partnership at the Tenley-Friendship Library which created so many restrictions (like a requirement that all housing be located on the school site and not the library site) that the deal is about to fall apart. Cheh agreed with those activists in fighting a drive-through Commerce Bank, but their opposition to the bank didn't revolve around its design; according to Cheh, "They opposed it because they oppose things."

But I'm most intrigued by the teaser for Fisher's column tomorrow, which reads: "TOMORROW: Build less parking—and they will come." Ooh.


Army chooses least transit-accessible site of three for 6,400 jobs

The Army has decided to locate 6,400 jobs at a site in western Alexandria, right off I-395 but far from Metro, reports the Post. The jobs were originally slated to move from Arlington to Fort Belvoir, but concerns about traffic led the Army to consider alternate sites.

Fort Belvoir. Photo by mindgutter on Flickr.

Unfortunately, while any of the sites were better than the remote and completely transit-inaccessible Fort Belvoir, this site is little better. According to the article, Virginia and Fairfax officials were pushing for two other sites, one a GSA warehouse less than half a mile from the Franconia-Springfield Metro and VRE, and the other the Victory Center near Van Dorn Metro.

Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the Army has missed an opportunity to make the best decision for encouraging transit and also spurring an economic revival in downtown Springfield. Connolly also noted that Fairfax will feel the brunt of the new traffic, particularly on the interstates.

"Many if not most of these workers will be coming from the south," he said. "That means they can't access this site by the VRE, and it means they're going to be in their automobiles driving across our county and Prince William County.

Unfortunately, the GSA warehouse would take a long time to get ready, and the Army preferred the I-395 site in part because the land is currently empty, giving more flexibility and speed. That's always an advantge of an undeveloped sprawl site over reuse or infill in a denser, transit-oriented area. But the long-term costs in traffic and pollution are enormous.

Sadly, the Army isn't weighing those factors, just its own speed, cost and convenience. As Richard Layman points out, California law imposes substantial environmental review on developments of this size. There, a similar project would have to improve transit infrastructure or otherwise mitigate the impact, making the better sites quicker and cheaper by comparison. But the federal government doesn't follow similar rules, and our region lacks such controls for private development—thus we have National Harbor.

The Army will set up shuttle buses to Metro, according to the article, but the added step of a shuttle will surely deter a huge share of the commuters who would have ridden transit. Plus, federal rules allow more parking spaces for developments far from Metro, making this office complex even more appealing for drivers.

Alexandria is still better than Fort Belvoir, but not much. The GSA should move its warehouse, including its "spare windows for the Pentagon", as soon as possible so it's not hogging valuable real estate near Metro and so another agency can move in without waiting the three extra years it would have cost the Army. And let's get Gerry Connolly elected and on some good committees as soon as possible, so he can join Donna Edwards in providing a strong voice for smart development practices in the region.


Breakfast links: Impending doom edition

Bail out Metro instead? Tom Toles compares the federal response to the economic crisis with Metro's woes, though yesterday's bailout failure in Congress may make WMATA officials glad they're at least not WaMu. Richard Layman reminds us that Congress ordered DC's streetcar system destroyed in the '50s.

From the Washington Post.

Metro breakdowns double NYC: Infosnack compared the length traveled by an average Metrorail car to New York Transit, and found that Metrorail breaks down twice as often as the least reliable NYC line.

Keep that convenient light rail away from our students: Norfolk State University has won a battle to get light rail to its campus... moved farther away from campus, reports Track Twenty-Nine. They're using the old, discredited arguments that transit brings crime, and in the process ensuring lower ridership and less convenience for their students.

Google Transit reaches NYC... where's ours? Google Transit has launched in New York. Sadly, DC is still nowhere to be found, but Google has added MTA Maryland bus stops to its maps. Arlington's Joe Chapline points out on CommuterPageBlog, Google Maps' (and all other map sites') view of any U.S. city, even when you click on that city from the Transit home page, still shows all the highways and none of the transit lines. What's the way most people perceive NYC—this or this?


Hybrid taxis: the crushing burden of the tax break nobody will use?

Today, a handful of business owners showed up to oppose a tax break for themselves because of burdens that the bill won't impose, while other Councilmembers oppose it because they don't think it will work. And thus, in the bizarre land of today's hearing, a completely voluntary tax incentive that nobody will take advantage of will put people out of business who aren't affected at all.

Hybrid taxi in NYC. Photo by specialkrb on Flickr.

Today, the Council considered the hybrid taxi incentive bill, which would do two things. First, it would give a $2,000 tax credit to any taxi operator incorporated in DC, who lives in DC, for purchasing a hybrid or "alternative fuel vehicle." Second, it calls on the administration to create a plan to gradually convert more DC taxis to hybrids, starting with 5% in 2009 up to 50% in 2017.

Other cities, including New York and Boston, are far ahead of DC. Both of those cities are requiring conversion of all taxis to hybrids by 2012 (NYC) and 2015 (Boston). Taxis are a particularly ripe opportunity for emissions reduction because each vehicle drives far more than other cars (75,000-100,000 miles per year), idle for long periods of time, and drive in stop-and-go traffic most of the rest of the time.

Opposition followed two paths: those who don't think the bill will actually work (led by Jim Graham), and those who object to the burden of a phantom mandate on taxi owners, or who just wanted to vent about meters, led by industry representatives.

The Graham school of thought goes like this: At most 25% of taxi drivers would even be eligible, because many drivers live outside DC and many aren't incorporated. A used Prius costs about twice as much as a used Crown Vic, and a $2,000 tax credit couldn't cover the difference. And finally, most drivers don't even pay $2,000 in taxes, so they couldn't even get the whole credit. Plus, the targets aren't mandates, so that part won't have any force. Why pass a bill that affects very few drivers, might not incentivize any hybrid purchases, and sets targets with no force?

As witnesses (and GGW readers) Ken Archer and Abby Hall argued, that doesn't provide a reason not to pass the bill. If only a few taxis switch to hybrids, that's a few more than we have today. And setting targets, pointed out Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club, is how most emission reductions take place. Sure, maybe the bill is "wimpy," as Councilmember Tommy Wells put it; that's a reason to improve the bill, not to discard it completely.

Meanwhile, several taxi industry representatives and drivers claimed that the bill will put drivers out of business. They seemed to be testifying against a completely different, imaginary bill, one which requires taxis to switch to hybrids instead of just providing tax breaks.

But as Wells pointed out, the bill is entirely voluntary. "It would be a big strategic mistake for taxi drivers in this city to regard this as an attack," Archer said. "They should jump over this, which is a much better approach than was taken in other cities." The only possibly unfair portion, Wells said, is the one that makes DC residents eligible for the credit but not Maryland or Virginia residents. And that kind of unfairness had few objectors.

Drivers did argue that $2,000 won't be enough to help them buy a hybrid, and that the Prius doesn't have enough trunk or passenger space. Graham and Wells agreed that perhaps we need a greater incentive.

Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club also raised some valuable technical objections to the language. By naming hybrid technology, the bill ignores plug-in electric vehicles and other technologies we might see in the future. Better, he suggested, to create an incentive for any car that gets 40 mpg or better, and automatically raise that figure over time.

Evans, on the other hand, worried about the fiscal impact of the tax break amid a likely $131 million budget shortfall, or more, and the failure of the federal bailout plan fourteen blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue while this hearing was in progress. I'm sure a few people concerned by other past Evans tax breaks or tax-free bond issues might find a little irony in this.

If it won't break the bank, the Council should pass some sort of hybrid taxicab incentive. This particular bill may not be the one, for a myriad of reasons. But we should fashion an incentive that adequately encourages new environmentally friendly taxis while retaining the purely voluntary nature of the current bill, and one which rewards the ultimate effect on the environment rather than the specific technology we use to get there.

My complete notes from the hearing below.

Jim Graham is introducing the bill, which was referred both to his committee, on Public Works and the Environment, and to the Committee on Finance and Revenue, for the tax credit portion. New York is requiring all of its cabs be hybrid by 2012, and Boston by 2015. The first hybrid taxi in Vancouver saved enough on gas to recover its purchase price in only three years.

Graham agrees with the goals of the bill, but doesn't believe it will achieve its purpose of driving higher hybrid taxi adoption. The credit only applies to businesses incorporated in DC, but most taxis are owned by individuals, not businesses. It also requires the owner to live in the District, but most taxi owners do not. And finally, most taxi owners only pay about $1500 in taxes, and would therefore not receive the full credit.

A two-year-old Prius costs about $24,000, compared to a three-year-old Ford Crown Vic which sells for about $11,000. The Prius would save a lot on fuel, but it still took three years for the aforementioned Vancouver cab to recoup its investment.

Other cities limit their number of cabs, making it easier to require . Each taxi gets driven more and makes more money; the city can more easily place restrictions on medallions, and the company can use that medallion as collateral for a hybrid loan.

If we're serious, Graham argues, we should give a higher tax credit to get the job done.

Evans, the chairman of the Commitee on Finance and Revenue, is speaking next. He is also concerned about the criticisms Graham raised, but also about the financial impact due to the city's estimated $131 million budget shortfall announced last week. The financial crisis will surely reduce our tax revenue, forcing difficult budget cuts.

Tommy Wells: We introduced this bill a year ago this week, with seven co-introducers [Cheh, Wells, Alexander, Barry, Brown, Catania, and Evans] and three cosponsors [Gray, Bowser and Mendelson]. Other cities are far ahead of DC in converting their fleets to environmentally friendly vehicles. NYC faced steep opposition and the Taxi & Limousine Commission intiially ignored the law, but now the city is converting all of its cabs to hybrids. This bill is only an incentive.

With the stop and go of taxis in urban settings, hybrids get 30 mph compared to about 13 for a Crown Victoria. Most taxis save about $10,000 in fuel costs per year; NYC's T&LC estimated their taxis saved $13,800 per year. This is far more than the difference in cost, and it's very shortsighted. Yes, our fleet is different, but this bill only requires the Mayor to devise a strategy to create incentives and gradually convert the fleet. And, "even those goals put us way behind other cities in America."

Wells calls on his colleagues to help "refashion" the bill to accomplish its goals while addressing their concerns, because the effect on air quality and fuel savings are too great to ignore.

Graham adds that NYC also allowed alternative fuel vehicles to stay in service longer than other cars, and Boston raised fares to enable taxi owners to pay for the hybrids.

On to the witnesses...

William Wright, DC Taxicab Industry Group: We understand the desire to minimize pollution, but haven't forced auto manufacturers to make changes in cars to achieve these goals. The credit is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of a $30,000 car. We have been forced to put meters in our taxicabs; have lost revenue. A $30K car will put the independent drivers out of business. We don't even know how the government will decide which drivers will be forced to drive the car. We hope you will not impose this high priced car on citizens of DC.

Nathan Price, Chairman, DC Professional Taxicab Drivers Association: Why was the taxicab industry selected instead of other industries? You are imposing a significant investment on individuals. Did you notify any cab owners about this economic impact? Price is going on to complain about the meter changeover, and then about how he's lived in DC all his life. "We don't need a cost incentive of $2,000. We need a chance to make money. ... We have a system that gives you more cabs per capita than anywhere else in the world."

DC has 4 times the cabs of similarly-sized San Francisco. We'd like to decrease emissions as well, but need a way to make money. Many of DC's cabs are Town Cars, which do burn gas but are comfortable to passengers. Let the market drive demand instead of the Council deciding.

Wright and Price both seem to be testifying in opposition to a different bill than this one, one that mandates hybrids instead of simply providing a tax credit. Have they even read the bill?

Jim Dougherty, Conservation Chair, DC Sierra Club: This bill should have two goals: 1) to reduce emissions on our streets, and 2) to reduce greenhouse gases. Recent reports show greenhouse gas emissions skyrocketing beyond previous estimates. This is a win for the environment and will save drivers money.

The bill talks about "alternative fuel vehicles", which is not defined, but may mean ethanol coming from corn. That's a mistake. Ethanol from corn takes more energy to grow than you get back, and the industry is only viable because of massive federal subsidies.

Second, the bill is technology-based. It talks about hybrids, but that technology is constantly evolving. We should ultimately go to battery-operated electric vehicles. In future years, we may not be using hybrids. Instead, provide an incentive based on the miles per gallon of the vehicle. We could start with 40 mpg, then, say, 1.5 mpg more each year, meaning 55 in ten years, etc.

We should also have a minimum fuel economy for taxicabs. The national average is 27.5 mpg. Every cab should get at least 20. Also, let's improve the fuel economy of the city's own fleet. I agree with Price that we shouldn't just target taxis. Let's convert the entire fleet to compressed natural gas, like WMATA did.

How can we incentivize electric cars? Those produce zero emissions on the city streets. How about charging stations outside every hotel?

Ken Archer, GGW regular reader: "My wife and I really want a cleaner city for our family." Taxis drive ten times more than other cars, averaging 85,000 to 100,000 miles per year. "This isn't cutting-edge legislation." This builds on what NYC, Boston and San Francisco have done.

In NYC, forcing hybrids jeopardized safety. There aren't enough aftermarket parts of taxis, making it harder to maintain hybrids. This legislation instead subsidizes the taxi drivers. That will require a significant investment. "It would be a big strategic mistake for taxi drivers in this city to regard this as an attack. ... They should jump over this, which is a much better approach than was taken in other cities."

Time for Councilmembers to ask questions...

Graham: Are these "goals" like New Year's resolutions, which we hope to accomplish but don't create an actual mandate? This bill doesn't provide incentives to most drivers and doesn't mandate anything, so maybe we need a different approach.

Dougherty: Most emission reduction programs are about goals.

Price: The industry will fail unless we change the industry. Wright: The meters have really destroyed this industry.

Evans: Maybe we should just withdraw this bill and start over.

Archer: No, this bill has some good elements learning from the other cities. It's not a mandate. It doesn't matter if most taxi drivers aren't eligible; what matters is if this gets a couple dozen taxi drivers to make this investment.

Dougherty: Let's build on this and produce a better bill. Concerned that tabling this would put it in the trash heap, but it makes sense to step back and try to make it better.

Price: Have to give drivers a way to make money. He's sounding like a broken record.

Evans: If it's a voluntary basis? Wright: "I'm always in favor of people volunteering." Evans: We have to keep stressing that this is voluntary. The theme keeps being that this is a mandate; we have to be clear that it is not.

Wells: The government fleets have moved substantially toward more efficient fleets. Agree with Jim Dougherty's point about incentives for efficiency rather than technology.

Appreciate that the taxi industry isn't saying absolutely not, but that they're independent businesses and have to make business decisions. But you're smart businessmen, and should not that the market is continually changing. There's now a 100% electric car service during baseball games, eCruisers, shuttling people between the stadium and Eastern Market. Now it's running during lunch hours too.

It's a profitable business, but the ride is free. Now there's basically a free electric taxi service on Capitol Hill. As we bring in new cars, new hybrids, larger ones than the Prius, the question is, do we have a model that provides a sustainable business model and improves our environment?

What elements do we need in a bill that would create incentives that would work?

Wright: In Hamburg, the government helps secure the kind of vehicles they need, then disposes of them at the end of their life.

Next panel of witnesses...

Carolyn Robinson, taxi driver: "I have serious and troubling concerns." Councilmembers introduced this bill without concern for the financial impact it will cause for the drivers.

Will DC also establish standards for passenger and trunk space? NYC is in litigation about safety for hybrid taxis.

Abby Hall: This bill will make a difference locally, and "creating incentives will have national and global implications as well." DC-Baltimore is in the top ten regions for ground level ozone. We got an F for high ozone days. According to the American Lung Associations, the automobile is still the greatest source of emissions.

This is a "simple tax incentive, not a regulation." It's a carrot and not a stick. "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." A lot of details still need to be worked out. Also agree with Dougherty about plug-in vehicles, which moves the pollution away from the population.

Abdul Kamuz, African Resource Center: His group works to improve employment opportunities for African immigrants. They support this bill but question if the credit is enough. DC is highly polluted and any effort on this area would be a benefit. But would this legislation work?

People take the first cab that comes, regardless of the age of the car or the impact on the environment. Since there is no cap on the number of cars, that keeps a lot of cabs on the street but the income of each driver stays low. The credit should be $5,000 to $10,000 and add low-interest loans for drivers to purchase cars. The Council should consider an exception to the ban on new companies for companies that promise to operate at least ten hybrids.

Wegan Tadesse (sp?), driver: Care about the environment, but have a wife and kids. Repeats many of the arguments others have brought up.

Graham repeats again that this applies to few people. Hall: Maybe it's just a pilot, a start for now, and can expand later.

Robinson: $2,000 would not be an incentive to purchase a hybrid vehicle. It costs too much.

Kamuz: Son has asthma, really care about the environment. But most drivers are from Maryland and Virginia.

Evans: How do we move forward with all the issues around this?

Wells: Want to reiterate that this is not a requirement. Drivers will not be required to do anything new. Can't understand why they oppose incentives for those that want cars that burn cleaner fuel. Explain how this is unfair, other than that DC residents get the only incentive. I don't mind giving DC residents an edge. "20% is a lot better than none."

In 5 months, EnviroCab operators [in Arlington] have saved $5,000 for gas bills. Trying to match something folks should have a competitive advantage controlling the cost of gas.

Maybe the incentive is not enough. This is a wimpy bill, but that was an attempt at compromise.

Robinson: Aware that this is not a requirement. It should be a much greater incentive. Have no problem with advantage for DC residents. Prius is small, doesn't have a lot of trunk space, and not much room to maneuver in the back. Would prefer to have an SUV, but that's $40,000.

George Hawkins, Director, District Department of the Environment: The executive hasn't taken a formal position on this bill. In general, reducing gasoline use in vehicles is a good thing. DC already has an incentive, waiving the excise tax for any driver (including taxis) who purchase a car that exceeds 40 mpg.

12% of DC children have asthma, vs. 9% of national average. Transportation is second only to building energy use in generating greenhouse gas. His personal work vehicle is a MetroCard and his feet.


WMATA: $11B or bust

Last week, WMATA announced over $11B in capital improvement spending needs. Where would the money be spent? I found a staff report (PDF) before the Planning, Development and Real Estate Committee of the Board that laid out what WMATA is proposing for capital needs.

WMATA breaks it out into three categories:

  1. Performance Focus - What do we need to keep the system running the way it is now?
  2. Demand Focus - What do we need to meet the demands of increased ridership?
  3. Customer Focus - What should we do to improve the customer experience?

The highest priority funding is in the "Performance Focus" category, since that funding is what will keep the system from degrading. The major categories and examples of spending are:

  • Vehicles - replacing and rehabilitating old railcars that have reached end of design life, and replacing buses that have reached end of design life
  • Systems and technology - rehabilitating power systems and automatic train control systems that have reached end of design life
  • Maintenance and other facilities - replacing old bus garages and rail maintenance facilities
  • Track and structures - replacing and refurbishing rails and platforms
  • Passenger facilities - Rebuilding or refurbishing escalators, elevators, parking lots

The next highest priority is ensuring that increased passenger demand does not cause congestion or overburden the system. Major categories and examples are:

  • Vehicles - Purchase enough railcars to run 8-car service during rush hours, increase bus fleet by over 300 vehicles
  • Maintenance and facilities - Build maintenance and storage facilities for the new vehicles
  • Passenger facilities - Core station capacity enhancements, build pedestrian tunnels for transfers between the Farragut Square stations and Metro Center/Gallery Place stations
  • Systems and Technology - Electric rail power upgrades necessary to run a significant number of 8-car trains, new farecard machines

Unfortunately, the last priority items are the upgrades to the customer experience that get most people excited. Here are some highlights:

  • Passenger Facilities - Above ground stations would get canopies for the entire platform length, more stations would have entrance canopies
  • Safety and Security - "MTPD Priorities" (bus cameras, etc.), better station lighting, better direction finding signage at stations
  • Systems and Technology - Disposable Smartrip cards, EZ Pass at parking lots, more Smartrip dispenser machines, new web page
  • Maintenance and Other Facilities - Test track and commissioning facility (for all the new railcars and buses we'll be buying, hopefully)

If WMATA doesn't get at least $6-7 billion over the next 10 years for capital needs, we're going to be in some serious hurt. There is not much from the Performance Focus category that can be easily cut, and the items that appear borderline (to me) could probably be justified if I had access to more detail.

Even if we fund everything from Performance Focus, increased system load will be nearly unbearable for passengers. Everything from Demand Focus is necessary to meet the increased ridership. We're going to need more railcars, buses, maintenance facilities, electric power systems, and ways to get passengers around the bottlenecks to relieve congestion.

It's a shame that after we fund the first two categories, the sources of funding will likely be completely tapped out, because there are some exciting things in the Customer Focus category. Out of this category, my favorites would be disposable Smartrip cards, Enterprise GIS (better geographic data recording and reporting), and the webpage upgrade (though I question what WMATA is proposing for $32 million for a new "Web Portal").

Last time we went through this, we ended up funding $1.5 billion over 6 years, or about a third of the bare minimum under this plan. This time, if we don't get to at least $6-7 billion, the system will suffer.

Cross-posted on


Still the one (outlier)

Austin Contrarian extended the analysis of the chart of transit usage and density I posted before I left. He noticed the same weaknesses in the data that several commenters did—the absence of some cities, and the arbitrariness of using city boundaries which are small in some cities (like DC) and large in others (like Houston).

AC solved the problem by computing his own metrics. Better than standard density (under which LA is denser than NYC, enabling anti-urbanists like Randal O'Toole distort facts to make points), he used the better weighted density. That correlates very strongly with transit ridership.

Image from Austin Contrarian.

The best correlation of all, though, was in the ratio between standard density and weighted density—the "the degree of clumpiness" of the population.

In all three graphs, one thing stands out: Washington, DC is still an outlier with higher transit ridership than other cities of similar density (standard, weighted, or ratio).

Thanks to Dan Miller for pointing this out while I was away.


Breakfast links: Paved paradise edition

AP covers parking minimums: This Associated Press article summarizes the debate over relaxing parking minimums. The article quotes Jeff Speck, who testified in favor of relaxing minumums, and Capitol Hill ANC Commissioner Ken Jarboe, who testified against. It also gives an example of a historic Milwaukee building which burned down and couldn't redevelop until the city relaxed parking requirements. Tip: Allen, Dan E.

Photo by craig1black on Flickr.

Parking point-counterpoint: Donald Shoup debates a planner from West Hollywood, CA on the merits of performance parking. Norte, the opponent, argues that we shouldn't consider parking reforms until we expand mass transit, ignoring that performance parking can be the way to pay for that expansion.

Another shot for Third Church: The "Mayor's Agent" will hear Third Church's appeal of HPRB's decision denying them permission to raze their building. A victory for the church in this process would be much better than winning their civil rights lawsuit and potentially ending up with new special rights for churches in historic preservation.

Pleasant and unpleasant non-surprises: Fairfax supervisors approve the Tysons vision; Metro needs gobs of money; The MoCo Planning Board still rejects the ICC bike trail.

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