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Posts from September 2012


Autumn sunshine 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.

Dupont Circle. Photo by Kian McKellar.

Bartholdi Park, US Botanic Garden. Photo by philliefan99.

Photo by Nacim B.

H Street. Photo by philliefan99.

17th Street, Dupont Circle. Photo by sylmellon.

Photo by ekelly80.

Freedom Plaza, downtown DC. Photo by philliefan99.

Looking for a photo roundup of last Friday's Park(ing) Day? We've got those photos, too!

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!


"Neighborhoods are like children. They need attention differently."

"Gentrification is a word urbanists and people in this area banter about," said former Mayor Anthony Williams at a panel discussion last night, "but neighborhoods are like children. They need attention differently."

11th & U Streets. Photo by the author.

No one size fits all. Williams said residents in Upper Northwest "just want services and not development." Meanwhile across the Anacostia River, the demand is for "critical government attention," like the big projects in the works at Saint Elizabeths and Skyland, or the recently-opened early childhood development center Educare in Parkside.

The DC Humanities Council organized the panel, which Washington City Paper editor Mike Madden moderated. Washington Post business reporter Jonathan O'Connell and Historic Preservation Review Board members Maria Casarella and Rauzia Ally joined Williams to discuss the role of public policy and economic development.

Is there a "Plan" to displace residents?

In 2003, when Williams was mayor, he set a goal of attracting 100,000 new residents over the following decade. A recent survey now shows the District is gaining people at a rate of a thousand a month.

Some in the audience expressed suspicions that this is part of a devious and covert plan to drive members of old Washington communities out of the city. Williams disputed the concept. "The notion that there is a plan may sound good, but it's crazy," he said, and noted that as mayor, he supported programs like the Housing Production Trust Fund to preserve affordable housing.

Offering a reality check of sorts for skeptics, O'Connell added, "Marion Barry is glad to sit down with developers." During Barry's mayoralty, "investments were made that were part of 'the plan'" such as building the Verizon Center downtown and the Reeves Center at 14th & U Streets in the mid-1980s.

"The value of real estate has more of an impact than policy," said O'Connell. "Apartments are being built on 14th Street not because of policy but because it is the best place to build apartments in the country." Williams consented that "the market moves faster than the city." From bike lanes to new neighborhood branch libraries, panelists and audience members agreed that public policy decisions and capital investments made years ago guide current trends.

Neighborhoods need to be involved in shaping growth

Neighborhood revitalization is at its best when residents can work with government to regenerate from within, argued Casarella. She cited the successful restoration of homes in historic Anacostia through the Office of Planning's Historic Homeowner Grant Program as an ideal example of a working partnership between the city and neighborhood residents to direct change instead of just reacting to it.

Commercial and residential development in designated historic neighborhoods passes through Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which receive "great weight" at the final level of agency review, said Caserella. "You are the most important planner."

"When was the last time that ever mattered?" an audience member called out. "I have to dismiss your cynicism," Casarella said, reflecting the overall belief of the panel that Washington's active neighborhood level associations influence both planning and economic development.

Ribbon cutting for Old Market Square in Historic Anacostia, fall 2011. Photo by the author.
Panelists discussed how parks can be an irreplaceable public good for a neighborhood when an audience member asked the panel to predict the future of development "east of the river which is 15 years behind what has happened on U Street."

"It is very hard to add green space later," O'Connell said, alluding to ongoing development in NoMA where "they missed planning a park." With development projects either in the early stages or waiting to break ground throughout Wards 7 and 8, O'Connell cautioned residents to remain vigilant in maintaining their natural recreation space. "Poplar Point is 110 acres and 70 acres is set aside to be a park. I would be careful to make sure the 70 acres stays," as the project slowly moves toward development.

Whereas previous conversations in the Humanities Council series have been emotionally charged, the evening's conversation featured a more reasoned tone, with mature and insightful analysis. Most people were able to agree on at least a few things: as the city grows in population, neighborhoods will respond differently, but the best response is when residents engage constructively in the process. That gives residents both a sense of ownership over their neighborhood, and a voice in decisions that guide local development.


New, greener, safer, better design coming for 15th and W

15th and W Streets and New Hampshire and Florida Avenues, NW all come together in a large, barren expanse of asphalt that Stephen Miller nicknamed the Death Star after a driver killed a pedestrian there in 2009. But DDOT is on the side of the rebels and is striking back with a redesign.

15th, W, Florida and New Hampshire today. Images from DDOT.

None of the roads at this intersection are very wide or carry much traffic. However, traffic engineers in years past made the block between V and W function like a set of freeway offramps. The lanes merge to a narrower 15th Street and a gradual slip lane onto Florida that encouraged drivers to make the turn at high speed. Chevrons mark off a large tract of pavement between the two.

After the 2009 fatality, DDOT quickly moved to install temporary curbs and posts to slow traffic at the corners. On Wednesday, they presented preliminary options for a permanent solution to a committee of the local ANC.

Both options would limit traffic in the block of 15th from V to W only 2 lanes, moving back the 3-lane to 2-lane merge point to the block between U and V. At W Street, one lane would continue up the hill on 15th, while the other would let drivers turn right onto either Florida Avenue or W, in more of a traditional intersection.

The 2 options only differ in the location of the newly-created green space. One option puts it mostly on the east side of the street, while the other divides new green space between the east and west sides.

Click on an image to enlarge.

These options have safety trade-offs. Keeping the roadway on the left (left-hand image) makes the lane shift on 15th more gradual and makes speeding easier, but it also allows for a larger triangular pedestrian island in the middle of the intersection. Shifting the roadway to the right (right-hand image) forces drivers on 15th to slow down more as they approach the hill, but leaves a smaller pedestrian island.

Both proposals add numerous bulb-outs at the crosswalks just as the agency has included on H Street NE and other places around town. In these places, the curb juts out toward the travel lane and reduces the distance pedestrians must spend vulnerable in the roadway while crossing the street.

The design also extends the 15th Street cycle track into this area. Right now, the 2-way track ends at V Street. Riders heading northbound have to cut across traffic to a bike lane on the east side of the street (or just share the lane), while riders southbound can't legally use 15th in this area (though many do anyway).

The part of 15th going up Meridian Hill now has two bike lanes, both northbound, one on each side of the street. DDOT's original hopes for the 2-way 15th Street cycle track included having it stretch to Euclid, the northern edge of the park. DDOT bicycle program head Jim Sebastian says that when DDOT rebuilds the "Death Star" intersection, they will also complete a continuous 2-way bicycle facility from U to Euclid.

DDOT could just build the cycle track in this intersection along the edge of the roadway, separated with poles, as with the rest of the cycle track today. Other options, though, elevate it up to sidewalk level like many European cities do. The tree boxes would still separate the track from the sidewalk, but then one of a few different curb treatments would divide it from the roadway.

At the meeting, DDOT planner Gabriela Vega said the agency was still weighing the pros and cons of the last three designs' barriers between the cycle track and the parking lane. The barriers in the last three designs all include permeable pavers that allow the ground to absorb more stormwater.

Renderings show treeboxes between the sidewalks and streets including rain gardens to trap stormwater and "flow-through planters," where water that lands in one treebox can gradually flow to the next as it runs downhill, feeding more than one tree.

If those treatments make the trees extremely verdant, the intersection could ultimately look something like this:

Even while the trees are growing, it'd be a huge improvement over today:

Image from Google Street View.

Many years ago, DDOT had considered an unsignalized roundabout for the intersection. In 2008 we published a proposal of what that might look like. Back then, the agency responded that they had dropped the idea of a roundabout.

When asked at Wednesday's meeting why a roundabout was not under consideration, Vega said DDOT's traffic models showed that a roundabout could not accommodate the traffic volumes of both 15th Street and W Street.

The designs DDOT presented are preliminary concepts. The agency will update the ANC again in a few months with refinements. DDOT is still seeking input, especially on the cycle track separation options and the roadway alignment options mentioned above.


Breakfast links: Getting going

Photo by joelogon on Flickr.
Live social on late Metro: LivingSocial has put up money to keep Metro open late during any Nats playoff games. LivingSocial won't get advertising or even free tickets, though the Nats could break their stingy streak by giving them some. (DCist)

Metrobus gets more efficient: The fuel efficiency of Metrobus has risen by 27% over the past 8 year, to 3.76 mpg. Since 2006, WMATA has been replacing older buses with diesel-electric hybrids, which get 4.49 mpg. (PlanItMetro)

Metro wants help planning for the future: Metro is asking for input on its strategic priorities, how to expand the system, and more, with a new crowdsourcing site that lets you post and vote on ideas. What do you think of the new tool?

DC gets whiter and moves downtown: Most of the neighborhoods between Rock Creek and the Anacostia River grew much whiter over the last census period. DC was also had the 5th-most growth within 2 miles of a city hall. (City Paper)

DC fails elderly, disabled?: A new Inspector General's report claims DC is failing to care for its elderly and disabled population. The report asserts that Adult Protective Services rarely coordinates with police, even in instances of clear abuse. (Post)

Pepco gets rate increase: DC utility regulators approved a rate increase for Pepco; customers will pay $2.60 per month more starting in mid-October. Pepco requested more, but Mary Cheh criticized the deal as too favorable to Pepco. (DCist)

Louisville plans to build more urban highways: While many cities across the country are removing their urban highways, Louisville is bucking the trend with a $2.6 billion plan to widen highways and add a bridge between downtown and Indiana. (Streetsblog)

And...: A "Zipcar for scooters" begins operation in San Francisco. (Urban Turf) ... Marion Barry is writing an autobiography. (DCist) ... Did Britain's 1993 train privatization fail? (Atlantic Cities) ... A new bike lock comes with a GPS to track theft. (Atlantic Cities)

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New book chronicles Frederick Douglass in DC

A statue of Frederick Douglass (c. 1818-1895), the most famous African-American of the 19th century, will soon be added to or near Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol to represent the District of Columbia. It's a notable and long overdue recognition for both Douglass and the District.

John Muller, a journalist and Greater Greater Washington contributor, has meticulously researched the great man's comings and goings in our fair city for his new book, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC: The Lion of Anacostia.

Douglass was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland, escaped as a young man in 1838, and fled to New York, where he became passionately involved in the abolitionist movement. When his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave was published in 1845 it became a bestseller. White people marveled that a black man and former slave could write so eloquently, and they were even more astonished when they heard him speak.

Douglass became a powerful civil rights advocate and the embodiment of all that African-Americans could achieve in the face of truly daunting adversity. In later life, once he was famous and successful, he moved to the District and became a prominent city official, settling in to a charming 21-room country house atop a hill in Anacostia with a commanding view of the city.

Muller assumes that his readers know who Douglass was and, after a quick glimpse of his childhood, jumps quickly into the whirlwind of his life in DC. Douglass visited Washington during the Civil War to advise President Lincoln on the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army but did not settle here until 1872, following a fire that destroyed his house in Rochester, New York. Originally living in a spacious townhouse on Capitol Hill, Douglass acquired his mansion in Anacostia, called Cedar Hill, in 1877.

Postcard view of Cedar Hill, c. 1905 from the author's collection.

By that time, he was much embroiled in the city's Reconstruction-era politics. Muller provides a wealth of information about several pivotal moments, including his near election in 1871—even before he had moved to the city—as a non-voting delegate to Congress and his subsequent brief appointment as a member of the legislative council of what was then the Territory of Columbia.

Douglass' prominence was due not just to his lectures and writings but to the newspaper he helmed, the New National Era, which had begun publication in 1870. Douglass by this time was an experienced newspaperman and he foresaw the financial challenge of starting up a newspaper for blacks in Reconstruction times, and, in fact, the New National Era lasted only a few years. Nevertheless it left an important mark on the city and on African American journalism in the years to come.

"Colored citizens paying their respects to Marshal Frederick Douglass" from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1877. Image from the Library of Congress.

Though he lost money on the newspaper venture, Douglass had plenty of other irons in the fire, including his appointment by President Hayes as US Marshal for the District of Columbia. Muller points out the irony of this position, given that Douglass had spent much of his early life evading the law, first as a fugitive slave and later as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Though his appointment was opposed by conservative Democrats, Douglass was confirmed by the Senate and served from 1877 to 1881, a tumultuous time for race relations in the nation's capital. Douglass subsequently also served as the DC Recorder of Deeds for several years.

Douglass was in great demand for speaking engagements in addition to his official duties and had other important commitments as well, including serving as the last president of the federally-chartered Freedman's Savings Bank, which closed in 1874. Despite his many commitments, Douglass was also on the Board of Trustees of Howard University, an institution he staunchly supported.

Equally important as his many public commitments was his family life in old Anacostia, then known as Uniontown. Muller fills in telling details about this thriving little community on the other side of the Anacostia River from the Navy Yard.

Clearly the most tumultuous event to occur in Douglass' life on Cedar Hill was the death of his wife, Anna Murray Douglass, in 1882. The loss for Douglass was heart-breaking, but two years later he married Helen Pitts, a white woman who had been his secretary when he was recorder of deeds. Muller describes how family, friends, and others in the black community were offended by this move, but the bonds of affection between Douglass and Pitts seem to have been genuine. The two were together until Douglass passed away 11 years later.

Cedar Hill in 1977. Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey.

They called him the Sage of Anacostia. He was a celebrity, well off and widely respected. Yet Douglass's story during his Washington DC years is one of ambivalence about his prominence, even occasional discomfort. There's no doubt that he sought positions of influence and, as Muller points out, was sometimes criticized for his political ambitions.

Yet he was prone to doubting his own abilities—or maybe he just wanted to avoid being drawn too far into the system. He turned down an opportunity to run for the US Senate, as he did an offer of the presidency of Howard University. How could a man who never had any formal education be president of a university, he reasoned?

It's also striking to see his apparent perplexity about the backlash over his marriage to Helen Pitts.—Had he not realized that his life was no longer his own at that point, that he was obliged to embrace the constraints of his public image rather than make his own personal choices? For a man who had so famously overcome slavery, the subtler bonds of his successful later years must have presented very real challenges of a different sort.

Cedar Hill is now a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service, and it is well worth a visit. John Muller's book, published by History Press, will be available on October 2.

Cross-posted at Streets Of Washington.

Public Spaces

Park(ing) Day highlights the value of green, public space

Last Friday, the District and Arlington temporarily transformed pavement into parkland to celebrate Park(ing) Day, the annual event to raise awareness and generate discussion about how cities use public space. The pop-up parks showcased the value that green, public space has for communities, even in an area as small as a parking space.

Photo by the author.

The largest Park(ing) Day space was in front of the Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, hosted by half of the District's 12 councilmembers in their reserved parking spaces.

The 6 spaces created a long stretch of grass complete with picnic tables, a "reading room," and curb space for bike parking. Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Muriel Bowser, Kenyan McDuffie, Tommy Wells, Michael A. Brown, and Chairman Phil Mendelson all donated their spaces.

The Pennsylvania Avenue parklet was the most active in town, with a stream of events throughout the day. The programming kicked off with yoga and a storytelling session for families with members of the DC Public Library. Later in the day, Common Good City Farm hosted a fruit pie demonstration. Between events, visitors had plenty of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the spacious grass and seating.

Pennsylvania Ave. Park(ing) Day 2012. Photo by the author.

Storytime at Pennsylvania Ave. Park(ing) Day 2012. Photo by Joe in DC on Flickr.

Casey Trees participated in Park(ing) Day for the second consecutive year, this time occupying three spaces at 12th and G Streets NW, near Metro Center.

"[Last year] at Dupont Circle, it was a little easier for people already to see an urban landscape, but down here there are almost no trees," spokesman Christopher Horn told The Washington Post. "We've definitely had more people stop this year and ask, 'what's this?'"

Photo by the author.

Casey Trees brought shade trees from its farm in Berryville, Va., as well as a wide variety of plants, many of which were available for sale. Their park also featured picnic tables, a bean bag toss, and complimentary iced tea and lemonade, which visitors appreciated during the hottest part of the day.

Casey Trees Park(ing) Day 2012. Photo by the author.

In Rosslyn, Artisphere hosted two Park(ing) Day spaces, in conjunction with their Beyond the Parking Lot exhibit that is on display until November 4. The small park made the most of its size with a various plants, a small table, and chairs.

Park(ing) Day 2012 at Artisphere. Photo by the author.

Artisphere's space included the must-see attraction of the Park(ing) Day: a giant shopping cart that that was an oversized piece of art and a donation bin for the Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN). A-SPAN encouraged passersby to drop gently used professional clothing into the cart to help with its homeless job placement programs.

Park(ing) Day 2012 at Artisphere. Photo by the author.

Another parklet in Arlington, outside of Courthouse Metro station rounded out the Park(ing) Day festivities in the area. Visitors to this parklet were entertain in high style, with white tablecloths topping tables set in the repurposed parking spaces and surrounded by plants.

Courthouse Park(ing) Day. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Courthouse Park(ing) Day. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Even though Park(ing) Day is just one day each year, it's a lasting reminder of the tradeoffs we make with our public space.


Sequestration could hurt Metro, other regional projects

Because the Congressional "supercommittee" failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan, WMATA is likely to lose about $12 million from the federal government in 2013. This could spell trouble for an agency that has already had to raise fares to keep up with its significant capital needs.

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Under the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011, without a supercommittee deal, nearly every item in the federal budget will suffer a 10% "sequestration" effective January 1.

Most of the nation's transit systems will be protected from this cut because they get formula grants from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is immune from sequestration. WMATA, however (like Amtrak), receives a direct annual appropriation from general taxpayer funds, $150 million a year for 10 years to make needed repairs that was part of 2008's Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, or PRIIA.

WMATA got that $150 million in fiscal 2012 (which ends September 30). A continuing resolution approved last week will continue this funding level through at least March 31, 2013. But after that, sequestration would take hold.

The HTF gets most of its money from gasoline taxes. Thanks to Congress's refusal to raise the gas tax, even to keep up with inflation, there hasn't been enough money in the fund to meet its obligations for the past several years. Thus, Congress has chosen to infuse general fund money into the HTF to keep it solvent.

These general fund infusions may be subject to sequestration, but none of the HTF's obligations to the states and transit agencies will be reduced. The most likely result is that Congress will have to infuse more general fund money into the HTF sooner. The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will have some leeway in applying the sequestration within each federal department and agency.

The WMATA cut is not the only way sequestration could hurt our region. If OMB chooses to apply the cuts retroactively to TIGER grants that the US Department of Transportation has already awarded, this would delay the completion of TIGER-funded projects like bus priority improvements and completing the Anacostia Trail.

Another possible victim is the Silver Line, much of whose funding comes from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which is not funded by the HTF. Many other capital projects in the region, including the Purple Line light-rail corridor, have yet to receive federal funding, and any reduction in the amount of money available for grants would put them even farther back in line.

The only alternative to sequestration is another grand debt-reduction deal from Congress. But such a deal could hurt some programs more than sequestration would, in order to preserve others. Even transit-friendly members of Congress from Maryland and Virginia may vote to axe Metro in the end if it means preserving other pots, such as Pentagon spending, that provide huge sources of employment for their constituents.

While members of Congress are campaigning in their districts throughout October, consider taking an opportunity to remind them how important investments in infrastructure that reduces traffic congestion and enhances mobility in a sustainable manner are to you and to the region's economy.

You can also make the point that we could avoid this whole sequestration mess altogether if they could muster the gumption to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, place a small tax on financial transactions, or finally raise the gas tax.

Besides, deficit spending really isn't a bad thing, especially with the economy in recession.


Graham converts to deregulation over 8-hour hearing

Sometimes legislative hearings are just theater, but sometimes they actually educate elected officials about complex issues. Monday's hearing on Uber and other innovative taxi service models achieved the latter, especially for Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham.

Photo by joyride1x1 on Flickr.

Graham started out the 8-plus-hour hearing lamenting an "uneven playing field" between Uber, which can charge any prices and doesn't have to use Taxicab Commission-mandated technology, and standard taxis, where regulation both limits their income and increases their costs.

At the start, Graham sounded like he wanted to impose taxi-style rules on Uber. By the end, he had come to a different realization: the solution could be to let current taxis enjoy the same freedoms Uber does today.

The question that councilmembers and regulators will have to grapple with now is how exactly to let existing taxis compete with Uber. Will existing companies have to buy whole new fleets of black cars, or can they upgrade their existing vehicles?

At the start of the hearing, Graham noted that these regulations have come about because residents want higher quality. He sparred with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, arguing that Uber sets prices instead of drivers (Kalanick disagreed, saying it was the product of a negotiation, and if drivers didn't like the prices, Uber wouldn't have any drivers) or that the money will go to Los Angeles because that's where Uber is based (Kalanick emphasized that most of the money goes to the drivers).

By the end of the hearing, though, Graham's tune had changed. He didn't stop believing that there was an uneven playing field, and he's right—there is. But after a lot of very happy Uber drivers testified at the hearing, he concluded that letting more companies play on the Uber side of the field is the best approach.

It is. Many of the burdensome regulations are there to push higher quality, but Uber proved that higher quality can come from competition instead, at least when customers can voluntarily choose which taxi company to patronize.

How would that work? The Taxi Commission wants to create a new "S class" license for "sedans," or black cars, which drivers can get and then operate under an Uber-style model. Meanwhile, there will still be standard taxis you can hail on the street. Furthermore, apps like Taxi Magic (working in DC today) and Hailo (which plans to come to DC soon) let riders request a standard taxi using an app.

What's the difference between a sedan and a taxi?

Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3), who chaired the hearing, focused on a key question. You have Hailo to request a regular taxi, and Uber to request a "premium" car, but what's the difference, really? How could one set of cars have to operate under one set of taxi-style regulations, and the other under Uber-style, when both sets of cars respond to riders who request them through smartphone apps:

I suggested one option: Let all cabs run in Uber mode when picking up app-based hails. DC could deregulate rates even for dispatch calls like Hailo. Apps that let you request a taxi could also know what rates various cab companies charge; they would have to publish their rates in some standard format. A rider could pick a cab based on a combination of which one's closest, what their rates are, how many stars it got, and your prior experience with that company.

That could be somewhat complicated, however. Existing taxi apps don't work this way, and the Hailo CEO wasn't really into that approach. For one thing, Hailo doesn't know your destination in advance, so it couldn't easily estimate your fare under different pricing schemes.

Right now, Uber doesn't know the destination either, but Kalanick said they're working on adding that. Doing so would help riders a lot. Councilmember Muriel Bowser (ward 4) said she tried taking Uber downtown from her home, but "surge pricing" was in effect. It only told her that everything would cost 1.5 times as much, but not what that would mean for her total bill.

Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton suggested a simpler difference between sedans and cabs. If you have an account with the company and it has your credit card on file, and when you request a trip it gives you the full fare in advance, then it can be a sedan trip; if not, it's a taxi trip.

Under this system, Yellow Cab could conceivably create Yellow Cab Premium, sign up some customers with accounts, get their credit cards, let them text message to reserve a car, and charge whatever rate they want. If their quality is good, people will probably use their service.

Can the same vehicle be a sedan and a taxi?

But are sedans and taxis two totally separate sets of vehicles? The current regulations require that all sedans be painted black, while all taxis will soon have to be a standard color. (Linton said that the commission will create and release 3 options for color and livery to get public comment, but he doesn't yet know what those options will be.)

This means that the hypothetical Yellow Cab Premium would have to buy a whole new fleet of different cars. Shouldn't we allow existing taxi fleets to compete with Uber? It would be great if Yellow Cab had an incentive to announce one day that they are going to spruce up the interiors of many of their cars, and anyone who signs up for Yellow Cab Premium will only ride in one of the top-condition cars with drivers who get good customer service ratings. Basically, the value proposition is, pay a little more, be guaranteed of getting one of DC's best taxi drivers and none of the worst.

This has value for all riders. Not only would there be higher-quality black cabs with higher-quality drivers, but pressure for existing drivers to offer good service and maintain their cars well. If that happens, even people who hail cabs on the street would benefit. On the other hand, if only completely separate fleets can make more money, there could be a trend toward the best drivers leaving the classic taxi market. There would then be fewer, and worse, cars available for street hails.

If companies can use existing cabs as sedans, then what is the difference between Hailo's app and Yellow Cab Premium's? If you request a car on Hailo, the driver makes a little less money just because Hailo doesn't know your destination? Maybe that will just lead Hailo to add Yellow Cab Premium as an option on their app. That gets us back to my original suggestion after all.

Regulations will get better

Linton agreed at the hearing that some of the proposed regulations will change. For example, he seems to have agreed with my argument that the requirement to have a local place of business, with "office furniture" and a receptionist during business hours, is silly. Instead, he said, they will just require the company to have a registered agent, so that official documents, court summons, and so on can be served to them. That's a common requirement for any company and totally reasonable.

Cheh asked if some more information about fuel efficiency could go on the Taxicab Commission's website, and Linton replied that they are only allowed limited web space. Cheh replied, "Well, that's not very persuasive." A few funny Twitter jokes about the Internet running out of room aside, this isn't the first time we've heard of limits OCTO, which runs the DC government websites, places on agencies, perhaps not with the best results.

The Taxicab Commission will revise their regulations, and it seems likely that they will end up at a place which doesn't unnecessarily burden Uber. Uber might have to start telling riders the fare ahead of time, which isn't unreasonable or that difficult, and they will have to ensure that a DC-to-DC trip uses a DC-licensed vehicle instead of a Virginia one, which also isn't unreasonable.

But they'll be able to keep operating, and most of all, other companies including existing drivers will be able to compete with Uber on the same terms. That would be the best outcome for riders.


Breakfast links: The future is soon

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.
Water in McMillan's future?: DC Water is looking into whether it can relieve flooding in Bloomingdale using the McMillan Sand Filtration Site. That could stall development plans even to 2025, or at least require building it in stages. (Post)

Autoload is coming: A system to automatically reload SmarTrip cards from a credit card when the balance gets low is now in testing, as 30,000 riders got an invitation to try the feature. WMATA won't yet say when it will roll out to everyone. (Examiner)

Underground power?: A mayoral task force is looking at burying more power lines. Burying all could cost $5.8 billion, but a plan to eliminate 75% of power outages costs a mere $1.1 billion. Some protestors oppose the idea of ratepayers paying anything for such a plan, because they say Pepco "is greedy."

Less green, more sign: A developer removed 4 trees that separate a parking lot and the street in Rockville Town Center. Their reason was just to make signs for an upcoming grocery store more visible. (Patch)

Help Fairfax pay for transport: Fairfax is trying to decide how to raise more money for transportation, possibly sales or income taxes. There's a survey for residents to weigh in on the best solution. (Patch)

Politicians off the ticket: DC officials will not get any free seats to Nationals playoff games, meaning no fighting among the DC Council and mayor for tickets. (Post)

Less driving alone: The number of people commuting alone in cars declined slightly, reversing an upward trend since 2008. Transit also saw a small increase. (Streetsblog)

And...: Anacostia could be getting a BID. (DCmud) ... Skyland demolition has begun; Walmart will anchor the redevelopment. ... Create your own bike lane with lasers. (Patch) ... Some new insurance options give cyclists more peace of mind. (Bike League)

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In the real world: Zoning update hearing, citizen planners, Dupont/Logan bike safety, parking, and gentrification

Now that the summer is over, DC agencies and legislators are kicking it into gear, and there are a lot of important events coming up.

Photo by vbecker on Flickr.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is holding a hearing on the zoning update, and the Office of Planning has a forum about citizens can engage in planning. There's a meeting on Dupont and Logan bike safety, a star-studded panel on gentrification, and two parking think tanks, and more.

Tomorrow, the Dupont and Logan ANCs are having a meeting "for residents, business owners, and organizations to discuss bicycle safety issues in the community," including new infrastructure, laws like those against sidewalk cycling, and any ideas residents have. It's in the ballroom of the Chastleton, 16th and R, from 7-9.

Also tomorrow is a Humanitini panel on gentrification. Washington City Paper editor Mike Madden is moderating the panel, which includes Rauzia Ally and Maria Casarella, two architects who serve on the Historic Preservation Review Board; Jonathan O'Connell of the Washington Business Journal; and former Mayor "that's an old movie" Tony Williams. Sign up to attend here.

Next week are 2 of DDOT's Parking Think Tanks, Wednesday evening 10/3 at the West End Library (large conference room) and Thursday 10/4 at Wilson High School (cafeteria). Both are 6:30-8:30. If you can't make one of them, don't forget to fill out the online survey, which asks about both car and bicycle parking issues.

Also next Thursday, October 4, the Office of Planning is having a Citizen Planner Forum to talk about how planning projects can engage more residents. They held 4 focus groups with residents about ways planning processes can work better, and will talk about the results, new tools to involve the public and more. The event is 6:30 to 8 at the District Architecture Center, 421 7th Street, NW.

Finally, there's a pretty important hearing for those of you who can make a 1 pm DC Council hearing on a Friday. Zoning update opponents convinced former Chairman Kwame Brown to hold an oversight hearing on the zoning update, even though the topic already came up during the annual oversight hearings for the Office of Planning each of the last 4 years. Phil Mendelson kept it on the agenda when he became chairman. It was originally supposed to be today, but since it's Yom Kippur, they moved it to Friday, October 5.

Zoning update head opponent Linda Schmitt sent a predictably provocational and misinforming email, claiming that a process over 4 years with hundreds of community meetings (and more to come) is about "high-handed decisions by city officials ... who make every effort to play "hide the ball," deflecting questions, maligning civic advice and avoiding
stating their intentions." To sign up to testify, email with your name, address, and phone number.

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