Posts from September 2009
Some days, it's hard to wonder how the National Park Service justifies having "park" in their name. Rock Creek Park is a large park with many amenities, but a large part of it is just a highway for cars with a narrow trail for everyone else adjacent. The Bike DC ride, a low-stress bicycle ride around DC, asked NPS for permission to use Rock Creek Parkway for two hours early on a Saturday morning. NPS turned them down very quickly, arguing in essence that all of these bicyclists enjoying the park and the roadway would get in the way of car traffic.
Here's the letter. NPS's primary argument is that "We believe that a large scale organized bicycle tour such as you have proposed, would require road closures and would result in a severedisruption to vehicular and pedestrian traffic." In other words, it's more important to NPS to use their park for car traffic, even on Saturday, than to let 10,000 bicycle riders enjoy the park at a slower pace.
NPS closes streets for large events, like protests, all the time. Sometimes they even do that during rush hours. Since when is disrupting some traffic on a Saturday morning the paramount concern of the Park Service?
They also argue that it would be too difficult to provide police resources necessary to ensure the safety of riders and pedestrians. Of course, most days the roads are far more dangerous with all the car traffic, but NPS doesn't seem very concerned about having enough police resources to protect the pedestrians then. Also, Bike DC will be closing various other roads around DC, and DDOT doesn't seem to need a lot of police there nor see the impact on vehicles as too onerous.
Bike DC applied to use Rock Creek Parkway to avoid passing through western Dupont Circle. Last year, the ride blocked off several roads leaving residents, including ANC Commissioner Mike Silverstein, with no way to drive out of the area. If unable to use Rock Creek, organizers will explore designating certain intersections where cars and the bicycles can cross. That may well actually require police resources.
At Thursday's Metro Board meeting, issues around open access to data arose twice, once around NextBus and once around schedule data and Google Transit. Both times, Board member Chris Zimmerman of Arlington advocated for Metro to take an encouraging stance toward innovation, while alternate Board member Gordon Linton of Maryland suggested Metro should limit access to information until and unless they can work out legal contracts to protect potential future sources of revenue.
This is a complex issue spanning two related but separate topics. First, should Metro do a deal with Google, a big company that might make some money from ads while riders use its service? Second, should Metro enable other, smaller developers to create applications, whether or not they make money? The issues are related and, more importantly, often get tangled up with each other. Today, I've transcribed the debates at the Metro board. In upcoming days, I'll boil down the key arguments and explain why Linton's point of view misses the forest for the trees.
First, Metro staff presented the NextBus summary we discussed last week. Zimmerman asked whether Metro can allow developers to build innovative tools using NextBus data. The exchange begins at 1:14:48 in this audio stream.
I'm told that there are bars in Portland, Oregon where they have digital displays, and you can be sitting there right up until the streetcar is coming so you can run and catch the streetcar. We heard sometime last year about something in Chicago, an application that can call your cell phone [when your bus is coming]. These were being done by outside third parties tapping into the information and making it more generally available. Can we do that here?Staff replied that they weren't sure, but would look into the possibility. Zimmerman continued,
To the extent that we can leverage this to increase the communication out there, increase the accessibility of the system, that would increase awareness. All the people who aren't using the thing say "What's that?" and "That's cool!" and you could pick up customers that way.Linton spoke up to point out that there might also be licensing issues. But should licensing issues prevent any progress?
While it's always good to be looking for how we can make any revenue we can to offset the cost of subsidies and fares, it would be a shame to get ourselves so tied up in what might not be a significant revenue stream that we miss the larger thing. Getting a customer on that pays a fare to fill a bus that's not full could be worth a lot more to us, potentially.Linton, a former FTA administrator and now private transportation consultant, didn't agree.
Many of of these kinds of applications aren't making a lot of money for anybody. One example that I heard of is some graduate student; basically it's a hobby. They do i for fun. Somebody sometimes money and a lot of them don't. Our fundamental biz is transportation, and to the extent that we can do that better and get more customers, that's where our emphasis ought to be.
That is our fundamental business, but we don't have that business unless we have revenue to support it. My experience has always been that we tend to underestimate and overlook the revenue implications of this. When we were looking at the idea to have car rental services, I suggested that we explore it and what I heard was that this was a service that we provide to our users. Just by exploring it we found that there was revenue.Zimmerman:
We always need to look and not assume that just because you provide a service that someobdy's not generating income. And since I am on the other side of this equation I know how people are out there generating income. Transit agencies I have supported for my entire career are always begging for money, but do not value their resources, and others do who are lining their pockets.
I would point out, though that your example is instructive. You're talking about car sharing. When we started that we just provided the space, and we didnt get any money back. More recently, we have been able to make arrangements that do provide us some money back, but when they first walked in here to do car sharing, there was no money to be made. Nobody was making anything. It was important to get it seeded and started to a point where someondey is making money and we can share in it.Linton:
If nobody is doing it then nobody is making any money on it. It's very important to protect our long-term interests. But again, if it doesn't get started, if it doesn't happen, then there's no value created. And I think we need to find a way to get these things started. In the long term if there is a flow of revenue that's significant, we should be tapping some of it. But this won't happen if we don't help stimulate it in the first place.
It's not a matter of not starting it, it's a matter of how you structure your deal. [It's fine if] the deal allows you to get the revenue that's generated, recognizing that for startups there's no revenue. I created public-private partnerships when I was at the FTA. They create a structure for innovation but at the same time recognize that at a point of innovation when we have a spinoff and rev starts to be generated, you should therefore start sharing in the revenues at that time.Next: The debate over Google Transit, a few hours later.
Dave Stroup of why.i.hate.dc has tracked down the gory details of the ghost bike removal.
In a nutshell, the request originated with Ed Grandis, who runs a Dupont Circle based group called DC MAP with significant overlap with Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets. The next week, the Mayor's Ward 2 specialist Andrew Huff asked DPW to cut the bike down within 24 hours, calling it a "mayoral request." DDOT's Jim Sebastian tried to give WABA a chance to remove the bike, getting Huff to agree to wait until Monday; however, DPW didn't get Huff's note in time and cut it anyway.
Following the outcry, Mayoral, DPW, and DDOT officials debated what to do. Some of the Mayor's people were willing to set up a permanent memorial, but DPW opposed the idea, as did other mayoral staff, and they collectively decided to refuse to give a better answer to inquiries.
From our previous discussions on this topic, I know commenters' opinions are divided on a permanent memorial, and I'm not sure if I'd endorse it either. The bigger question, as Stroup notes, is why a request from one local organization turned into an urgent priority on the part of the Mayor. Had the Mayor's office simply contacted Sebastian without such a short deadline, he would have talked to WABA, they would probably have taken the bike down, and that would have been it.
Stroup had to pay $65 in copying fees to get all of this. This is a good example of why it's important for bloggers to be considered news media and given the exemption to FOIA fees that journalists are entitled to. In this case, Stroup is digging up important information about the workings of the government that are interesting to the public, and publishing it. That's called journalism.
St. Matthew's, 3rd & M, SW
Scripture Cathedral, 9th & O, NW
This is a recent motorcycle safety spot from the Norwegian Motorcycle Union. In light of increasing motorcycle fatalities here in the US, this is an interesting way to help drivers keep their eyes out for all road users. This ad could have used cyclists or pedestrians just as effectively, without changing its message to drivers.
The Hotel Grafton was originally built in 1894 for Herbert, Fleming & Dulaney, and was located at 1139 Connecticut Avenue, NW (northeast corner of Connecticut and Desales). In 1909, it underwent extensive improvements and additions estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $200,000.
The new section added in the 1909 construction faced Desales street with a frontage of 45 feet. The exterior was faced in gray tapestry brick and the building was trimmed with white Indiana limestone.
The addition contained an elevator, 45 sleeping rooms and 30 bathrooms, and had terrazzo floors in the corridors. There was also a kitchen installed in the basement with enameled brick walls and a red tile floor. All in all, the addition was considered fireproof.
After prohibition had been repealed at the end of 1933, the Grafton along with the New Ebbitt Hotel continued to be "Dry Hotels" (no alcohol). At this time both properties were owned and operated by George C. Clarke.
The Grafton ceased being a hotel in 1941 when it was leased to the British Supply Council in North America. In the spring of 1945 it was purchased with plans for constructing a new 12-story office building on the site.
This past week, Safeway revealed their plans to renovate the Safeway at 42nd and Ellicott Streets, along Wisconsin Avenue in the northern reaches of Tenleytown. What they propose (huge PDF) is a dramatic improvement over the bunker-like current building, and will enliven a dreary section of the neighborhood.
However, the project includes no residential or commercial component on top of the new stores, despite its location roughly one-half mile from both the Tenleytown-AU and Friendship Heights Metro stations. Like the TD Banknorth building across Wisconsin Avenue, these patches in the urban fabric will better the community, but without more of a plan, they are just patches.
The new Safeway will activate 42nd Street, which is separated from Wisconsin Avenue by just a small triangular park. Instead of a forbidding blank wall, Safeway plans some outdoor seating for an in-store Starbucks. Residential Ellicott Street will get a landscaped park in front of the store's substantial setback. The surface parking lot will become an enclosed one-story parking wing, and the loading dock will move to Davenport Street, adjacent to Georgetown Day School, screened from the street by a brick wall.
42nd Street view now (left) and planned (right).
Unfortunately, Safeway wanted to be expedient with the design and worked with one of the five neighborhood organizations that claims to represent the community, the Alliance for Rational Development. As their double-plus inaccurate name implies, ARD opposes most, if not all development of sites along Wisconsin and in Tenleytown. Their policies are transit-oriented-denialist, insisting that the area is optimally zoned and built up, and that any more growth will only have negative effects, primarily on the supply of parking.
42nd Street elevation.
Some of their concerns for any given project can seem legitimate when viewed without context, ignoring of the multiple benefits of well-designed areas with mixed uses. But Tenleytown's zoning only allows for densities along a very narrow band on Wisconsin Avenue, closer in form to a suburban arterial than an interconnected city neighborhood. Many other lots, just a block or two from the Metro have no opportunities for development at any scale, because they are zoned as low-density in spite of their location at a major node in the city's infrastructure network.
Because there are so few available parcels, city officials and residents on both sides end up debating the few opportunities for development even more hotly. The Tenley-Friendship Library, for example, represented an appealing opportunity to add housing to an existing project on publicly-owned land. But that small site posed other challenges, like fitting in a reasonable building without disrupting the adjacent Janney School. That proved too difficult, and city officials ultimately abandoned that effort.
Last week, the Economic Development office announced that the new library would have stronger columns in the rear third of the building, to support future construction above and behind the current building.
A small addition, mostly on top rather than beside the library, might be possible, but there's very little room to maneuver. And realistically, any building other than a modest standalone structure would seem out of place amid the other uses on that block. Eliminating one of Janney's fields is too steep a price to pay for the benefits. However, nobody would be suggesting such an expensive, controversial project if the neighborhood had zoning that was more reasonable for such a central location and neighbors that greeted development with constructive dialogue.
The local ANC issued a list of potential development sites in response to the Library fiasco, however, the sites they selected are not enough. Metro and the commercial potential along Wisconsin are both amazing resources that a neighborhood cannot squander while also looking to become sustainable and rational.
Cross-posted at цarьchitect.
Transport for London has these great bus maps that show routes traveling in all directions from major transit nodes.
These maps, known as "spider maps," are more abstract than the station-oriented bus maps Metro posts in stations and recently put online. They combine several useful features:
- A local area walking map, showing the location of the different bus stops keyed to a table of routes;
- A schematic route map for the bus, showing routing to other transit nodes in the area;
- A table of routes leaving from that node, either daytime or nighttime routes.
There are some challenges with this mapping method:
- You have to name the "dots". Could DC residents agree on what to call the many new places we'd have to represent as a dot on a map? Or would the dot names become conglomerations, like some Metro station names? Bus stops do have names today, typically the name of the cross street, so perhaps those could suffice.
- Our bus service seems more complicated. Some routes only travel certain times or have "turn-back" service. For example, there are some Metrobus routes that operate only two or three trips a day. Is it better or worse to put them on the map?
- Our buses are not as frequent as London's. This kind of map is most useful if the rider only has to worry about routing and not schedule. Once a rider has to worry about bus schedule and timetables, it's likely this won't be enough information. Perhaps the line widths could vary to convey frequency information.
- Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care?
- To bike without worrying about nearby cars, I'm happy on the MBT
- Alexandria has identified locations for its next 16 bikeshare stations
- Transit to Wolf Trap will still run through West Falls Church
- There's history to behold on some of DC's manhole covers
- Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base
- The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area