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Links


National links: There are downsides to letting the Rust Belt shrink

An economist puts forward a strong argument on why it doesn't make sense to say that we should just let middle-of-the-country places that are struggling economically die off, Donald Trump has named a Secretary of Transportation, and Volvo just finished building the world's longest bus. Read about this, and more, from world of transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Bob Jagendorf on Flickr.

Leaving places behind doesn't pay: When it comes to places that are struggling economically, like Rust Belt cities, most economists would tell you that the solution is to let them shrink and for the people there to go somewhere else where they're more likely to thrive. Some would argue, however, that this is problematic both because it ignores the people who stay in struggling places and because there are wide-ranging benefits of keeping these places alive. (Vox)

The DOT goes back to the future: Donald Trump will nominate Elaine Chao to be the next Secretary of Transportation. She was the DOT's deputy secretary in 1990, and while working in the George W. Bush administration (as the Secretary of Labor), she praised public transit and said we don't necessarily need more highways, though she also fought raising the transit subsidy for Labor Department employees. There's reason to think she'll be pro-ridesharing services (for better or for worse) and pro-coal. (Slate, GovEx, Americans for Tax Reform, Lexington Herald Leader)

A really, really big bus: Volvo has built the world's largest bus. According to the company, the bi-articulated vehicle can carry 300 people and has a length of 98 feet. It was built in Brazil for bus rapid transit projects in the country. (Economic Times Auto)

Amazon is the new Walmart: One of every two dollars spent online goes through Amazon.com, meaning the company has an even bigger effect on the economy than we might have thought. At the local level, Amazon's expansion has meant the extraction of $613 million in subsidies for building new facilities around the country, but those haven't exactly added up to jobs for local economies, as 149,000 retail jobs have been lost in the last 11 years. (Institute for Local Self Reliance)

"Mega regions" in the US: Using data about how we commute, researchers have created new maps of US "mega regions." Mega regions have become a major topic of discussion as separate cities in close proximity to each other become more economically and physically connected. With census tracks and commute data, an algorithm was created to show how the United States has 50 of these regions. (National Geographic)

Quote of the Week

"Here's the hard message for Portland and Seattle and every other city growing like this. If the next 200,000 people come here, and we're planning for us to be a city of 850,000 people ... they're not going to be able to bring their cars and live like we did 20 years ago. In fact, most of us are going to have to drive a lot less. The streets aren't going to get any bigger. They are going to be walking, they are going to be riding their bikes, they are going to be riding the transit system."

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales on the need to put together a new zoning code that allows more people to live in the city. (My Northwest)

Photography


December days 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.


2016 National Christmas Tree lighting. Photo by Ted Eytan.


Photo by nevermindtheend.


Oxon Hill park and ride. Photo by nevermindtheend.


Rosslyn. Photo by Jason OX4.


Dupont Circle. Photo by Mike Maguire.

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!

Public Spaces


Are public spaces really public when not everybody can use them?

All around DC there are structures designed for the public that aren't actually very pleasant or easy to use, like dog ears on ledges, third armrests through the middle of public benches, and ridges in common seating areas. These things are there for a reason, but do they actually limit people's ability to live in the environment around them?


All photos by the author.

In July, well-known radio producer Roman Mars invited authors Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic onto his podcast, 99% invisible. Savicic and Savic co-edited a book called Unpleasant Design, which looks at the idea that while some things are built with a purpose that might seem reasonable-- for example, third armrests on benches that keep people from sleeping on them and therefore giving more people space to sit-- accomplish a greater effect of shaping city environments and how citizens interact with them without those citizens' consent.

There are examples in cities across the world. For example, in Europe, some store owners deter teens from loitering out front by playing classical music or high-frequency sounds, or using pink lighting to make pimples on their face stand out (particularly cruel!).

Should our cities ban skateboarding? Should they ban homelessness?

In most instances, skateboarding is legal unless posted otherwise. But like many other cities, DC has incorporated "dog ears" to deter skaters from using public spaces. This is de facto prohibition, and even though it's subtle, it sends a clear message that skating is not particularly welcome.

Many people would argue that skateboarding is one of this country's longstanding forms of expressionit makes space more inviting, and it gives people a reason to come and sit and look. If you value skateboarding as a way of breathing life into a city, public design that bars people from doing it is problematic.


As you can see, this ledge restricts skating.

Beyond skateboarding, there are also designs that stop people from doing more basic, fundamental things. In fact, while DC is known for its expansive "public" spaces like the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and numerous parks and squares, some people might tell you that these places really aren't very public at all.

DC has a homeless crisis, with the homeless population having risen 30 percent in the last year. And while Mayor Muriel Bowser has stated that combating homelessness will be a staple of her tenure, those who are left out have to exist somewhere. More likely than not, the aforementioned public spaces make the most sense.

But check out these public benches and how they keep people—homeless or not&mdashl from comfortably and freely using them:


The two armrests on the end of the bench would only allow a very short person to lie down, but the third armrest through the middle makes it impossible for most.


The ridges on this one aren't conducive to lying down and it is curved.

Unpleasant design negates usable public space, which is the hallmark of a thriving city

To be fair, unpleasant design, as a whole, is well intentioned. The risk in any public space is that a few people acting out can make the space unusable to everybody.

When it comes to the dog ears on ledges, skateboarding can damage property and possibly put people in harm's way, and lying down uses up more park bench space so fewer people can sit. In those ways, unpleasant design can make public space more inviting.

But where is the line? Who decides what should be forbidden and what shouldn't? Why not tell someone that if they want to eat lunch, they need to go to a restaurant rather than sit and eat in the park? Or that if they want to read, they need to go to a library rather than sit and do it on a public bench?

Skateboarding is an art form and organic culture in its own right, and limiting skateboarders use of public space is counterintuitive to why public space exists—to bring people together and allow cultures to thrive.

And regarding the homeless, it is entirely unfair to restrict access to an individual who literally has nowhere else to go. It is especially unfair when design restricts access to the very harmless activity of lying down.

So at what point does restricting human activity take the "public" out of public space? I'd say that it's when something gets built into the environment; at that point, it becomes non-negotiable. Laws can restrict activities, but you can protest and repeal those.

We should be mindful of what we build, what effect it has, and on whom If you restrict people's ability to use public space too much, then nobody goes there at all. I would argue that if space is truly public, then people on skateboards or people without homes are as entitled to use it as anyone else.

Transit


The DC reps on the WMATA board might veto late-night closures

The WMATA Board is nearly ready to move forward with new, shorter late-night hours, and the vote to make them official is in two weeks. But there's another big potential hurdle: DC's representatives on the Board might veto the cuts.


Photo by Tara Severns on Flickr.

Update: As of 10:30 on Friday morning, it looks as though DC will in fact OK the late-night cuts lasting for two years.

On Tuesday, WMATA staff submitted its final proposal for late-night hours to the Board: end service at 11:30 pm Monday through Thursday and 1 am Friday and Saturday and runs between 8 am and 11 pm on Sunday. Moving to this schedule would provide an additional eight hours per week for needed maintenance.

On Thursday, the Board's Customer Service Subcommittee, which is tasked with sussing out the details before the December 15th full Board vote, said the hours cuts are fine as long as the changes expire in two years, at which point new approval would be required to keep them in place. This came after a few hours of back and forth and arguing about how the cuts would impact low-income and minority riders, as well as how they would hurt businesses, employees, and the region's economy.

Most Board members (emphasis on "most") appear to be ok with either one or two-year cuts as long as there's an expiration date. Metro staff say the programs they need to get done require at least two years to get started.

There won't be any service cuts if DC vetoes them

Generally, once a subcommittee approves something, it's well on its way to Board approval. But that's not so clear here.

Since the late-night closures first became a possibility, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has been a strong opponent, insisting that Metro bring back 3 am weekend closings and return service hours to pre-SafeTrack levels.

On Thursday, WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans, who is also a member of the DC Council, reinforced the Mayor's stance, saying that even being open to the cuts was a huge compromise from DC. Evans warned the Board that if any new cuts were to be enacted, they would need to be limited to a year or the jurisdiction's Board reps would veto the measure.

If Evans and the DC contingent of WMATA Board members (four of the Board's 16 total members) use their jurisdictional veto power, the Board goes back to the drawing table. The existing service hour reductions that Wiedefeld put in during SafeTrack would eventually expire, and the system might end up going back to its normal service hours—but without the time WMATA staff says it needs to do much-needed preventative maintenance.

Links


Breakfast links: Metro is repeating itself


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
Copy, fail, copy again: The investigation of July's derailment outside of East Falls Church has revealed that Metro workers reused information from old inspection reports, misreported track status, and skipped inspections. Workers say they were under pressure to bury bad news. (WTOP)

Bus route blues: WMATA Board members are looking for alternatives to proposed cuts to bus service, such as offsetting costs by reducing midday service on other routes, and raising the fare on airport routes rather than cutting them altogether. (WTOP)

Contract pressure?: A former employee of DC's Department of General Services says he was fired for refusing to award development contracts to one of Mayor Bowser's biggest donors, Fort Myer, a street paving company. (WAMU)

Station designs move forward: The fate of the Purple Line is in still limbo, but work goes on. Here are new design renderings for 10 of the light rail line's stations. (Bethesda Magazine)

Empty homes create trouble: Dupont Circle residents say a row of vacant homes is attracting squatters who leave empty liquor bottles and other trash. A developer plans to turn the houses into a condo, but the ANC rejected their initial five-story proposal as too tall. (City Paper)

Ban the box: A DC bill that would keep DC landlords from asking about criminal records as a condition for housing is one step closer to becoming a law. DC could join San Francisco and other cities that have already "banned the box" for housing. (DCist)

Have you seen this slick?: There's a $1,000 reward for anyone with information about a strange oily sheen that appeared on the Potomac on Sunday. Water authorities say it should not affect the city water quality. (DCist)

What's in a (street) name?: Alexandria has initiated steps to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway and will solicit residents' input on the road's new name as part of a compromise that keeps a Confederate statue in its current location. (WTOP)

Walk down to Electric Avenue: The next time you're in Dupont Circle, step onto kinetic tiles that use pressure to generate electricity and power benches in a nearby park. DC expects 10,000 people per day to step on the tiles. (Post)

And...: People who move away from the DC region are most likely to head to Baltimore. (WBJ) ... Prince George's Council member Mel Franklin was charged with a DUI after crashing a county vehicle. (Post) ... Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is getting bike repair stations. (SNPT, Kate Schwarz)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Development


If racial inequities didn't exist, DC would look like this...

Across DC, black and Hispanic residents see a lot less socio-economic success than white residents, and many argue that's because the playing field is not level when it comes to opportunities for success. The charts below show what DC would look like if minorities got a fair shake, according to a recent study.


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

There are big racial disparities in DC

Generally speaking, DC's biggest pockets of black residents are in the east, Hispanic residents are in the north, and white residents are in the west. But according to DC's Urban Institute, white homeowners have more freedom to choose where to live: between 2010-2014, they could afford 67 percent of all homes sold in the District and all homes in Ward 8. Black and Hispanic homebuyers, on the other hand, could only afford 9.2 percent and 29 percent of homes sold, respectively. s

Affordable rentals are also hard to come by for minorities, who the report says spend 30 percent or more of their monthly income on rent—an amount that experts say make a houshold "rent-burdened," and that the report refers to as "cost burdened." East of the Anacostia River, black residents can afford 67 percent of the rentals, but west of Rock Creek Park, only 7 percent of the rentals are affordable.


All images from Urban Institute.

There's a reason things are this way

While the study acknowledges that in recent years, the recession hit minority groups harder than it hit whites, it's rooted in the acknowledgement that the above racial disparities are rooted in trends that have existed for much longer.

Minority groups have been traditionally barred from upward socioeconomic mobility by private actions and public policies for generations. Historically, it has been difficult for blacks to get mortgages, they were limited in who they could buy from, and they faced strict zoning restrictions. They were also prevented from getting better paying jobs, and when the federal government cut funding, poor black communities were usually affected most.

Over time, this has prevented minority communities from sharing in socioeconomic progress as a whole. This has meant a steeper barrier over time—one that the Urban Institute study calls inequitable.

Here's how those inequities play out in terms of wages, and what DC would look like without them:

With housing and childcare in the District being very expensive, many DC families struggle to earn a living wage, but minority families face steep challenges covering costs.

According the Urban Institute, "the living wage for a parent to support a two children should be $38.01/ hour, or $79,000/ year," but a majority of minority families are below that threshold, around $75,000/ year. Only 44 percent of whites are below this threshold.

"East of the Anacostia, four out of five black residents working full time earned less than this living wage," the report says, and 70% of black and Hispanic families working full time make below the living wage. However, with the many service industry jobs that minorities occupy, bridging this gap is difficult.

If DC were more equitable, poverty levels would look like this:

Despite economic growth since the 2008 recession, communities of color have not yet recovered, and are in fact worse off than before the crash. In 2014, there were a recorded 18,000 more unemployed African Americans than in 2007, with a quarter of the black population now living below the poverty line.

On average, the poverty level for black residents is at 26 percent, with Ward 8 being the worst at 30 percent; white poverty in DC, on the other hand, stands at 7.4 percent. The report also shows that white child poverty is virtually zero, while the poverty rate for black children is 38 percent and 22 percent for Hispanic children. If things were more equitable, the report says, "no child would be poor."

Here's what the employment picture would look like:

In DC, black unemployment is 5.5 times that of whites at 19.5 percent, which is above the national average of 16.1 percent. In a city where minority employment reflected white employment, "2,200 more Hispanic residents and 24,000 more black residents would be employed."

The fact that many of DC's fastest growing job sectors require some post secondary education has severe consequences for unemployment, too.

Minority communities also face steep inequities in education, which have far ranging effects on choice of housing, wages, employment, and even general health. Most whites ages 25 and u, have a high school diploma or GED and some level of college education, whereas 31 percent of Hispanics and only 17 percent of blacks have a high school diploma or GED.

Further, only half of black and Hispanic communities have some level of education beyond high school. If the education gap didn't exist, according to the study, 50,000 black and Hispanic residents would have at least a GED, and almost 98,000 black residents would have some post secondary education.

Changing all of this would raise the quality of living for everyone

A more racially fair society, the study says, would have substantial economic benefits for everyone. When people earn more they invest and spend more, which would benefit local businesses and education. In fact, they estimate that "DC's economy would have been 65 billion dollars larger in 2012", if many of these inequality gaps were closed.

However, the limit of this data analysis is in showing what, exactly, equality looks like. Citizens and policymakers need to understand how and why this inequality persists today and pursue policy agendas that would actually close these gaps.

What agendas do you think policy makers should pursue to close the racial inequality gap?

Note: Some readers have reported that when viewing this post expanded on the home page, the embedded tool doesn't work. It should work if you are viewing the post on its own page; click here to go there.

Meta


We're launching our new website next week!

Back in July, we shared a preview of the new site design. After considering your comments and feedback, as well as invaluable input from our editorial board, we've finalized it and we're rolling it out at the end of next week!


Our new site.

As you may recall, we're seeking to accomplish several things with the new site. First, we wanted to transfer the site from the homegrown code that David Alpert used to build the current site to a content management system that more people can access. Second, we wanted to make the backend easier to use for the more than 140 contributors who used it to submit posts this year. Third, we wanted to create different ways to read the content on our page, not just in reverse chronological order.

Our designer and site builder, Derek Hogue, has done a great job translating these goals, guided by your recommendations, into a new site. Here's a sneak peek. The photos are just screen shots, so you won't be able to interact with the site just yet.

Take a look at our new homepage

The homepage will present posts in reverse chronological order, but will also feature popular stories, recent comments and upcoming events. We've also decided to give daily Breakfast Links a new format. Instead of flowing through the post slots, Breakfast Links will permanently live in a bar just below the most recent posts and trending posts side bar. Please note, we're still making some last minute tweaks to the homepage, but this captures the general look and feel.


Our new homepage.

Comments will allow threaded replies

Readers had a lot to say about ways to improve comments when we asked for your input back in April, and more recently, through our reader survey.


Comments

You generally wanted a platform that would allow threaded comments, but did not want us to use Disqus. So, we splurged and designed a custom commenting system that is responsive to the feedback we heard from readers and commenters. We think the tool that Derek designed fits the bill.

Posts will have a new look, but keep their old format

The structure of the posts hasn't changed much. We added more ways to share posts on social media, and also included suggestions for similar posts. Readers seemed to generally like the clean design of the current site and we wanted to translate that to the new site.


Posts

Here's the launch timeline

We'll transition from the current site to the new site next weekend!

Starting on Friday, December 9th, we'll freeze the soon-to-be vintage site. That means when you go to ggwash.org, you'll still see the old site, but you won't be able to interact with it. For example, commenters won't be able to leave comments and editors won't be able to make edits to live posts. Don't worry, we won't publish any new posts that day, so you won't be missing out!

Over the weekend, Derek will sync the old site and the new site, and switch the DNS for ggwash.org. That will trigger a slow roll out of the new site. Some of you may see the new site bright and early on Saturday morning. Others may not see it until later in the day on Sunday. The rollout will be complete by Monday morning, December 12th.

We expect some growing pains

Inevitably, the first week with the new site will reveal some glitches. Just like readers will be getting used to consuming information from GGWash in a new format, contributors and editors will be getting used to a new backend of the site.

In a normal week, GGWash publishes Breakfast Links and at four posts per day. During the first week after the launch, we're going to aim to publish Breakfast Links and three posts per day. If you don't see Breakfast Links at the usual time in the morning, don't panic! We didn't cut this feature. We just probably ran into a glitch and are working our butts off to get it fixed.

You can help
GGWash values open, participatory processes. You, readers, will play a big part in the transition to the new site. Here's what you can do to help:

  • Be patient. We expect there will be some hiccups and want you to be prepared for them, too. Staff will be working really hard to minimize them. Frustrated, angry comments won't help things, but words of encouragement might!
  • Report any bugs. If you see any bugs, glitches, or really annoying things you come across, email newsite@ggwash.org. We'll triage the issues you report to the developer and get them resolved as quickly as possible.
  • Don't stop reading! The face of GGWash is changing, but our content is not. Our articles and Breakfast Links come from volunteers among you, our community, and the site is only valuable if you enjoy reading it.
Share your questions or comments below.

Transit


Cell service in tunnels, junking old rail cars, getting finances in order. Here's what's in Metro's Back2Good plan.

On Wednesday, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld unveiled "Back2Good," his road map for getting trains running safely and reliably during 2017. There isn't all that much by way of new information—most of the efforts the plan mentions are already underway—but it does group ongoing projects together so it's easier to understand what Metro is up to and verify that it's making progress.

It's no secret that plenty has happened with Metro since Wiedefeld became the GM/CEO last November: the rail system shut for the snow storm; all trains were halted for a day to check for faulty power cables; there was a derailment; SafeTrack started; the delays continue.

Wednesday's announcement focused on looking into the second year of Wiedefeld's leadership, hoping to build off of the stepping stones put into place during 2016. Back2Good (unrelated to the Matchbox 20 song, I'll note) basically lists out how Metro plans to continue addressing the three key things Wiedefeld has stressed since he first came aboard: passenger safety, the actual service Metro provides, and financial management.

Looking broadly, the new plan looks to be a break from the past and is hopefully a continuation of Wiedefeld's goal of increased transparency. The majority of the goals listed include deadlines or other ways that both Metro and the riding public can monitor and keep track of. Below, there's more detail on the plan for each area along with my take.

Back2Good stresses following through on plans for making the system safer

Wiedefeld's goals for the upcoming year include making the system safer for everybody and try to make sure there aren't any more major issues. One big goal is cutting down red signal overruns, which are when a train enters track it isn't supposed to be on. The plan to do this is to change train software as well as make signal lights brighter.

Another goal included in Back2Good is continuing the effort to bring new cell service into the system's tunnels. That'd mean more than just cell service for passengers who want to watch videos and listen to music (with earbuds, of course) during their commute; it's also a critical life-safety issue so that riders can call for help in emergencies.

Cell service is a long-running issue that includes one bankruptcy, but it looks like Metro is finally going to be able to start installing the cabling needed. Some sections on the Blue/Silver/Orange lines should start being activated throughout 2017.

Another pilot that Metro already announced will have track workers wearing armbands that'll alert them to when trains are nearing so that they can be standing clear of the tracks in time.

The plans and solutions laid out here aren't all new; most of these have been publicized before (the tunnel cell cable installation is a long time coming, for instance). What Back2Good is doing is simply grouping them under the umbrella that is Wiedefeld's second year. The fact that there's a consolidated list of known quantities in the pipele that have staff, project managers, and deadlines bodes well, though.

More reliable service is the best way to bring riders back

If service isn't reliable, riders aren't going to use the system; Metro has seen a ridership decline over the past few years corresponding with less-reliable service than in previous years. Wiedefeld is hoping to begin turning this around in 2017 by focusing on the rail cars - the 1000, 4000, and 7000-series cars, specifically.

Because of previous crashes and incidents with the 1000-series cars, the NTSB recommended they be removed from service as soon as possible; Metro wants to finally be able to finish this process in 2017. However, since the 4000s are so much more unreliable, they want to remove these at the same time, which would do the most to increase train reliability.

In the remaining "legacy" cars (2000s/3000s/5000s/6000s), Metro says it will perform "complete component fixes" on subsystems like the HVAC, propulsion, and brakes, which can cause train delays or offloads. Since the agency will no longer need to belly the 1000s or 4000s ("belly" means only running cars in the middle of trains), they can go back to operating same-series trains, which should in turn help increase reliability. They would operate as the six-car trains, while the 7000s will operate as eight-packs.

GGWash contributor Alex Cox had this to say about the railcar focus:

I'm glad that Metro is placing an emphasis on repair of its rolling stock, since disabled trains cause over half of rider delays. It's high time that the unsafe 1000-series and unreliable 4000-series cars finally be retired.
The goals set out for reliability are certainly doable; Metro is already in the process of removing 1000s from service and could start the 4000s if the NTSB allows it. By making sure shops have the people, training, and equipment needed to fix railcars and targeting the worst-performing subsystems, the 25% reduction in delays should be doable. The other projects listed in the Back2Good plan for cleaning and updating the stations have their own schedules and deadlines and reflect what riders see day in and day out.

Metro's working off the financial baggage

As Mr. Widefeld said in his GM's Plan almost a year ago, "Metro is doing less with more." Back2Good notes plans to cut 1,000 positions at Metro, ensure money dedicated for capital projects is spent as expected (Metro has had an issue with proper project management, so money gets left on the table), and to get a budget approved for the FY2018 year.

Metro finally received an on-time and acceptable financial audit for the past year, after several that were late or which the auditor had objections with. The agency could even be taken off a program in which they have to spend time justifying money spent to the FTA.

Showing that the agency knows how to handle it's money well and is not spending unwisely sends a message to the local jurisdictions that when Metro says it needs money, it really does. It also shows riders the agency is serious about controlling its costs.

There's more focus on riders, and Metro's progress is becoming easier for us to track

Alex, again:

It's nice to see WMATA putting a specific focus on improving the rider experience; most importantly by increasing service reliability, but also through more immediately perceptible changes like cleaner stations and cell phone service in the tunnels.

One of the major criticisms that Metro has faced over the last several years is a lack of transparency and poor communication with the public, but this plan looks to continue the agency's recent trend towards being more open about its problems (especially flagrant safety violations like red signal running) and letting its customers know how it intends to solve them.

In addition to the focus on the rider, the plan sets out goals and deadlines, which the agency and riders can verify later in time, including the promise to "cut delays due to train car issues by 25% in 2017." Through data Metro puts out in the daily service reports and the data given to third-party developers, riders can check to see how the system is running in almost real-time.

The lack of the publicizing specific projects and deadlines is something that I've criticized Metro for in the past, so some of the clarity in this plan is welcome news.

While it's goal isn't to fix every tiny thing that's broken in the Metrorail system, Back2Good should be a step in returning the system to one that's more reliable and more able to fulfill it's main purpose of moving riders from A to B.

Pedestrians


DC is telling us more about blocked sidewalks and car crashes, and that should mean safer streets

DC has created a map that shows where it has issued permits to block sidewalks and bike lanes for construction projects, and soon, the city will begin releasing more detailed data about where vehicle collisions have happened. Both will tell us more about where in the city pedestrians and bicyclists are at risk, which will make it easier to make those areas safer.


A closed sidewalk. Photo by Jacob Mason.

The map went up in August and is updated daily based on public space permits that DDOT issues.


Map from DDOT.

On the map, the green squares are where a utility company has a permit to block the sidewalk or bike lane, and the yellow triangles are where one has applied for a permit. The red triangles represent permits for DDOT contractors to work in the right of way, taking away parking for a temporary span of time. Orange squares mean there's a permit for a block party, purple squares are for mobile cranes, and red squares are for special events.

Jonathan Rogers, a policy analyst who reports to DDOT director Leif Dormsjo, said, "Obviously, DDOT can't be everywhere inspecting work zones, so to the extent residents are checking the public traffic control plan... we can work together make sure developers are keeping the streets and sidewalks safe."

We'll soon know more about car crashes around the District, too

DDOT will also soon begin publishing monthly reports with information about vehicle collisions, including the ward, block or intersection, the type of vehicle involved, the Police Service Area where the crash occured, the number of people killed or injured, and why it happened.

Some of this data, like the date and time of crashes and the geographic X/Y coordinates for the location, is available now in an open format, but it's much more sparse than what's on the way.

"This open data is a matter of transparency," Rogers said. "People have a right to know where traffic injuries and fatalities are occurring in their city. If residents do nothing more than discover the safety trends for their own neighborhood, that is part of good, open governance."

Rogers also points to how the data can be crunched in a variety of ways that DDOT may not have thought of.

"We want to tap into the expertise among the many data scientists out there, the civic hackers, coders, etc. and see what kind of correlations they may discover. Perhaps they can identify locations in need of urgent improvements that DDOT may not have detected."

Before DDOT starts issuing those reports, however, it has to be sure that they do it in a way that doesn't disclose personal information about victims that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) doesn't allow.

"We'll continue to publish the crash and violation data in the open data format in the meantime," said Rogers.

Links


Breakfast links: Decision day for late-night service


Photo by m01229 on Flickr.
The fate of late night: The WMATA Board is voting today on the schedule and duration of late-night service cuts. Board chairman Jack Evans wants late-night service to be restored in one year. (WTOP)

Political theater and the WMATA Board: Virginia Governor McAuliffe called out the WMATA Board for wasting time on political theater after Board member Corbett Price suggested that Metro should halt Silver Line construction. (Post)

Crowdsourcing accessibility: A new app, Project Sidewalk, uses crowdsourcing to map the accessibility of DC's streets. Users have mapped about 40 percent of the District so far. (Technical.lyDC)

A breath of fresh air: Smoking will be prohibited in public housing nationwide. The new federal rule goes into effect next year. (NYTimes, Corbin S.)

Westbard power struggle: The latest renderings of the Westbard redevelopment plan revealed that it will have above-ground utility lines. Only Montgomery's central business districts require underground utility lines, and the planning department says they "heard loud and clear" that residents consider the area suburban. (Bethesda Beat)

Phone theft is up: While the overall number of crimes reported on Metrorail and bus is down, pickpocketing (mostly of cellphones) increased 33%, and crimes in parking garages jumped up 47%. (WTOP)

From Fannie Mae to condos: Fannie Mae's 60-year-old building on Wisconsin Ave NW will be restored and transformed into a shopping center and luxury condos. The company is moving to new headquarters in downtown DC. (UrbanTurf)

Mass transit on mass media: Entertainment's depiction of mass transit in the past has been less than flattering, but new TV shows are making it a part of characters' lives. Could this help transit systems get the attention of policy makers? (NPR)

Fossil fuel failings: Pipelines are the supposed to be the safest method of transporting fossil fuels across the US, but there have been over 9,000 serious incidents in 30 years, with 548 deaths and 2,576 injuries. Is this really the best we can do? (CityLab)

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