Greater Greater Washington

Past Posts

Amsterdam plays Spot the Christmas Streetcar

Remember #bikeinbloom, when Capital Bikeshare dressed one of its bikes up in cherry blossom regalia? Every Christmas, Amsterdam does the same thing with one of its famous streetcars.

Amsterdamers call it the "kersttram", or "Christmas tram."


Photo from Alexander Meijer on Flickr.

Amsterdam isn't alone. Other cities around the world partake in the same fun with their own trams. Among them: Budapest, Zurich, and San Francisco.

How about it, DDOT? Maybe next year, when H Street is fully up and running?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Breakfast links: Done deal


Photo by Connor Turner on Flickr.
Soccer deal done: After months of debate, the DC council unanimously passed a law that will provide land for a new DC United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. The deal will cost the city $193 million and the facility will open in 2017. (Post)

CaBi workers unite!: Yesterday, employees of Capital Bikeshare, operated by Alta, voted to join the Transport Workers Union. The workers want union protection to address concerns about employment instability. Their counterparts in New York, Boston, and Chicago also voted to unionize. (NextCity, TWU)

Florida Ave to change: DDOT plans to completely rebuild two blocks of Florida Avenue near U Street next year. The plans include bike lanes, sharrows, and bike boxes on the intersecting streets. (TheWashCycle)

Metro goes green: WMATA opened a new stormwater management facility in Largo. The facility pumps stormwater from tunnels with energy-efficient technologies, which helps WMATA meet Maryland's strict requirements while saving money. (PlanItMetro)

Woodmont Ave safety efforts: Montgomery County is auditing pedestrian safety on Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda. Drivers are not yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks. The county would like to improve pedestrian safety in the area. (BethesdaNow)

New road for Tysons: Fairfax County plans to extend a bridge over I-495 in Tysons corner. The "Jones Branch Connector" will provide a better road connection to the McLean metro stop. (Fairfax Times)

And...: Mayor Gray gave his farewell speech last night. (City Paper) ... Don't dump your grease down the drain, unless you want to create a "fatberg" in the sewers. (WAMU) ... Can a construction project be used to predict the effects of a road diet? (Streetsblog) ... Why does a widely used planning manual recommend building more roads than necessary? (Citylab)

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Farragut Square's virtual tunnel saves Metro riders time and eases crowding. Should downtown get another one?

Metro lets riders transfer between Farragut West and Farragut North without paying because while the stations are on separate lines, they're only a block apart. New data on who uses the "virtual tunnel" gives us perspective on how useful additional free transfers could be.


Usage of the Virtual Tunnel.

Between 15,000 and 18,000 people use the "tunnel" each month, which alleviates crowding at the Metro Center station. According to PlanItMetro, the crossing's higher use comes in the warmer months of the year.

WMATA advertises the "tunnel," but after PlanItMetro asked about ways to make even more people aware of the unusual but time-saving transfer, commenters suggested adding an actual note to Metro maps. New York City does this with its Subway maps.

Commenters also suggested another potential site for a similar crossing: between Metro Center and Gallery Place. Like Farragut West and Farragut North, these two stations are only a few blocks apart and could save Orange, Blue, and Silver who want to reach the Yellow and Green lines (and vice versa) from having to either transfer twice or ride all the way to L'Enfant Plaza.

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Your gift can help us recruit new bloggers

Imagine a Greater Greater Washington with even more diverse voices writing even more diverse stories. We want to make that happen in 2015, with blogger workshops to help new contributors publish with us.


Photo by J. Lim on Flickr.

Making it easier for more people (like you!) to blog with us will mean new ideas and perspectives, which we need to keep Greater Greater Washington relevant as our region changes and grows.

We're hoping to accomplish a lot with this reader drive. Our goal is to raise $18,000 to keep going strong in 2015 (paying our wonderful part-time editor and keeping our servers running) and add new projects like the blogging workshops.

Many people don't realize how many ways they can contribute to the Greater Greater Washington community. It can be overwhelming to even know where to begin. Blogging workshops will help us spread that information far and wide, expanding our community by broadening our contributor pool and deepening their skills.

Can you help with a contribution now? Otherwise, our ideas for 2015 will stay just ideas, not a reality. If you believe in what Greater Greater Washington is doing, please give $50 or whatever you can to make blogging workshops (and so much more!) happen. Thank you, and here's to a greater greater 2015!

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San Francisco street lights will animate subway trains below

A public art installation on San Francisco's Market Street will add animated lights following the movement of subway trains running directly below.


Image from Illuminate The Arts.

The project is called "LightRail," and according to its sponsors it will be the world's first "subway-responsive light sculpture."

Two LED strings will stretch above Market Street for two miles through downtown San Francisco. Using real-time arrival data, the strings will visualize movement of BART and Muni trains directly underneath the street.

Sponsors hope LightRail will open in 2015, and will remain in place until at least 2018. If it proves popular, officials may decide to keep it up longer.

Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest public art projects I've ever seen.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Breakfast links: Underground preparation


Photo by Jaime Fearer on Flickr.
Art underground: The Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground finally signed a lease to use the former trolley tunnel under Dupont Circle. It has launched a crowdfunding effort to renovate part of the space and hold arts events there. (City Paper)

Year-late indignation: After discovering the year-old Georgia Avenue BRT study, the Greater Olney Civic Association is now worried that BRT will bring high-density development to the area. (Gazette)

Arlington Cemetery swamped: When 8,000 riders descended on Arlington Cemetery Metro on Saturday for the Wreaths Across America Project, the station, with limited faregate capacity, couldn't handle the volume. (Post)

Record bike lanes: DC added nine miles of bike lanes this year, setting a new one-year record. However, that still falls slightly short of the 10 mile per year goal in the 2005 Bicycle Master Plan. (City Paper, WABA)

Andy Harris banned: Capitol Hill Bikes has blacklisted Rep. Andy Harris from visiting the store because the Maryland Republican added a provision in the latest federal spending bill overriding the will of District voters on marijuana. (Post)

Get in line: There are 13 candidates vying to replace Marion Barry, including outgoing shadow representative Nate Bennett-Fleming. Will Muriel Bowser's campaign help her Ward 8 coordinator, LaRuby May? Will Barry's son Christopher run? (City Paper)

May your nights be merry and bright: Satellite imagery from NASA shows how Christmas lights make cities 20% to 50% brighter during the holidays.

And...: A drunk driver in Columbus, Ohio injured the leader of the local complete streets program and killed his intern. (Streetsblog) ... What's it like to be an Uber driver? (WNYC) ... What's the chance of a white Christmas in cities nationwide?. (CityLab)

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How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 33

It's time for the thirty-third issue of our "whichWMATA" series. This week, all five photos are guest submissions from reader thisisjamesj. Can you identify the station shown in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

I'd like to give a special thanks to thisisjamesj for submitting his photos!

We're always looking for reader submissions, so while you're riding Metro keep your eyes (and cameraphones) peeled for unique stations and architectural features. You can submit your photos to whichwmata@ggwash.org.

We'll hide the comments so that the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck!

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Metro's flooded stations, in pictures

The water main break that temporarily flooded parts of Metrorail this morning was painful for commuters. These photos from Metro's Twitter account show just how serious the flood became.


All photos from WMATA.

Metro's third rail is eight inches high. It was fully covered by water.

The flood drained after DC Water shut off water flow. As the water receded, the tracks slowly became visible once more.

Hopefully that's not an experience we'll have to go through again any time soon.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Maryland's rural economy depends on its urban and suburban areas

Maryland's incoming Republican governor, Larry Hogan, says he wants to boost the state's economy by building roads instead of transit and focusing on the state's rural areas over urban ones. But starving urban areas of their needs will only bring the entire state down.


Rural Maryland depends on this, too. Photo by the author.

Ever since his election last month, Hogan has been noncommittal about the state's two biggest transit projects, the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Red Line in Baltimore. Maryland's transportation priorities are "out of whack," he told Post columnist Robert McCartney, adding, "Less than 10 percent of the people use mass transit. Most people in the state want the roads to be fixed."

That's an appeal to rural voters who elected Hogan based on a claim from him and his supporters that there's a "war on rural Maryland." But with the majority of Maryland's population and jobs, urban areas drive the state's economy, and public money spent there goes a lot farther than it does elsewhere.

The "war on rural Maryland"

Hogan's comments reflect the conflicting views rural Marylanders have of the state's urban and suburban areas, especially Montgomery, Prince George's, and Baltimore City, the three jurisdictions that voted for his opponent, Democrat Anthony Brown. On the one hand, rural counties depend on them. They go shopping at malls in Montgomery, send their kids to big state schools like College Park, or attend athletic events in Baltimore.

And it shows. Montgomery County alone had one out of every five jobs in Maryland in 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Add Prince George's and Baltimore City and you have 45% of the state's jobs. Add Anne Arundel, Baltimore, and Howard counties, which voted for Hogan but are also urbanizing, and together they hold three-fourths of the state's jobs.

These areas are also leading the state's job growth. Of the 213,000 jobs added in Maryland between 2002 and 2011, 60% went to one of those six jurisdictions, and 28% went to Montgomery County. Montgomery County sends more in tax revenue to the state than it gets back because it's distributed to rural counties.

Yet rural lawmakers claim they're under attack from urban and suburban counties, with their liberal politics and diverse populations. Five counties in Western Maryland even tried to secede last year. Meanwhile, Carroll County won't allow its transit service to leave the county to keep out "criminals" from Montgomery.

Urban areas drive Maryland's economy

Larry Hogan is right about Maryland's transit use: statewide, just 8.8% of commuters use public transit, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. But that's because the state has built so many roads and so little rail transit. Just as you can't judge the demand for a bridge based on how many people are swimming across the river, you can't say we don't need transit because few people are using it.

Besides, 80% of Maryland's transit riders, or over 200,000 people, live in just three jurisdictions: Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties. That's where most of the state's transit is, but they're also three of the state's biggest job centers.

There's a strong link between investing in transit and economic development. A study of over 300 metropolitan areas in the US found that expanding transit resulted in more employment and higher wages. It saves businesses and households money due to lower transportation costs, time savings, and increased access to jobs and employees. Overall, transit generates about $4 in economic returns for every $1 invested.


Low-density development costs more in taxes than it makes in revenue. Image from the Hogan Companies.

Meanwhile, low-density development, like the strip malls and subdivisions Larry Hogan's development firm builds, requires lots of new roads and utility lines that serve a relatively small number of people. The taxes it generates can't even cover the cost of building the infrastructure, let alone maintaining it. A Florida study found that even small buildings in urban neighborhoods can generate 10 times as much tax revenue per acre as a typical Walmart.

More importantly, there's a demonstrated demand for transit and urban places. That's why most office space in the DC area is going in next to Metro stations and rents are at a premium. It's why areas around Montgomery County's Metro stations are growing faster than the rest of the county. And it's why Virginia Republicans fought to build the Silver Line through Tysons Corner, which is attracting a ton of private investment.

It's not about urban vs. rural, but what's best for our economy

Improving Maryland's economic competitiveness is something everyone can agree on, regardless of political party or location. But if Larry Hogan says we need to spend public money more wisely, shouldn't our limited resources go to the places where we can get the most in return?

Over breakfast last week, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett reminded Hogan that the county was the state's economic engine and that he should respect their priorities, including transit. That's a message rural Maryland should hear. As long as it depends on urban and suburban counties for its economy, the only "war on rural Maryland" is when Republican lawmakers shoot the entire statewide economy in the foot by starving metropolitan areas.

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In DC's confusing thicket of school choice, there's a guide for those who need help the most

Families in DC have an abundance of school options. But many low-income families don't have access to the information they need to make good choices.


Photo of trees from Shutterstock.

Some argue that school choice will ultimately result in a better education system, as families gravitate to schools that perform well. The best schools will flourish, according to this view, and competition will force the lower-performing schools to improve. But for that system to work fairly, all families need the same opportunity to make an informed choice.

With DC's school lottery opening this week, many parents are beginning to consider their options for next school year. And there's no shortage of them: nearly half of DC students opt to attend a DC Public School other than the one they're assigned to, and 45% of DC students are enrolled in a charter school.

There's plenty of information about all of these options available online: DC Public Schools offers profiles for each of its schools, and the Public Charter School Board uses an evaluation system to place charter schools in one of three tiers.

In addition, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education publishes equity reports that allow people to compare DCPS and charter schools on a variety of measures. And the lottery website, MySchoolDC, consolidates information about schools and how to apply to them.

Wealthier parents often hire private consultants to help them navigate the thicket of choices. Many middle-class families at least consult a website like GreatSchools.org, which rates schools in various cities and displays comments from parents.

Parents with few resources face obstacles

Parents with fewer resources and limited access to the Internet may be just as overwhelmed, but they're less likely to have help. In fact, they're often not even aware they have choices. If they do, they may not know where to begin in evaluating them. They may not realize they can visit a school and ask questions, and they may not have the time for that in any event.

And for parents coming to DC from places where kids just go to their neighborhood schools, it can be particularly confusing. "People were talking about the lottery, charter versus [traditional] public, out-of-boundary versus in-boundary," says Dominique Small, who moved to the District from North Carolina a couple of years ago. "I was like, what?"

Help for low-income parents

For parents like Small, an organization called DC School Reform Now can be a godsend. For the past three years, DCSRN has targeted its efforts on low-income parents in Wards 7 and 8. Its staff guides them through the school choice process from beginning to end, helping them find a school that matches their needs and priorities.

DCSRN recruits families at several DCPS and charter schools, where it focuses on transitions from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. The staff also finds parents through preschools, homeless shelters, and community organizations.

The organization holds "movie nights" at these partner organizations, when it screens some of its 15 videos showing what various schools are like. These Virtual School Tours, which are also available on DCSRN's website, include interviews with principals, teachers, parents, and students. There are also scenes of classrooms, arrival and dismissal, lunch periods and recess, and transitions between classrooms.

DCSRN uses other kinds of outreach as well. Its executive director, David Pickens, personally knocks on doors in public housing projects where low-income families live.

Once a family signs up, they're assigned to one of DCSRN's Parent Advocates, who begin by asking what the family's priorities are. Usually, says Parent Advocate Erika Harrell, the top considerations are academics and transportation. Amenities like before- and after-care can also be important.

Parent Advocates then help families come up with a list of schools and fill out applications, usually over the phone. They remind them of deadlines, and DCSRN staff even transports parents to schools when it comes time to enroll. DC requires that parents complete the enrollment process in person.

Still, it's not always easy to connect students with high-quality schools. Families who sign up for DCSRN sometimes slip away, often because the phone number they gave was non-working or got disconnected. Harrell says last year she started with a caseload of 130 families and was able to get 85 to enter the lottery.

Overall, DSCRN recruited 769 families last year, but the number of students who actually enrolled in what it defines as a quality school was only 115. That's not just because of attrition; some students simply didn't get matched with a school they wanted.

And many families didn't get matched with a Parent Advocate in the first place, because DCSRN doesn't have enough funds to hire more than two or three, each of whom has a caseload of about 100 families.

School choice is here to stay, so we need to make it fair

Opponents of a school system based on choice argue that competition won't actually make all schools better. When families leave their struggling neighborhood schools, they drain resources and make it harder for those schools to improve. From that perspective, DCSRN is part of the problem.

While Pickens acknowledges that argument has some validity, he says DCSRN's focus is on getting each individual child the best possible education. And sometimes, he says, DCSRN is able to tell families their neighborhood school is actually better than it used to be and urge them to consider it. Generally, DCSRN doesn't favor charter schools over DCPS schools, or vice versa.

In the abstract, it may be debatable whether school choice is the best way to improve education. But the fact is, in DC, a system of choice is here to stay. And the only way to ensure that it's equitable is to try to provide busy families who have limited resources the same information that wealthier parents have.

If it hadn't been for DCSRN, says Dominique Small, "I probably would still be at my neighborhood school, and very disappointed." Instead, her two kids are at J.O. Wilson Elementary, which she says is "everything I was looking for, and then some."

Parent Advocate Erika Harrell's only frustration is that she can't reach more parents who need her help. "When I tell people what I do," she says, "they always say the same thing: Where were you when my kids were in school, because I would have loved to have had some help with this."

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