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Breakfast links: Conflicting views


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Councilmembers' huge conflict of interest: Councilmember Michael Brown voted on a bill about online gambling while working for a law firm representing clients in that industry. Maybe the Council job should stop being theoretically part-time. And Jack Evans has been doing the same, shady thing for years. (Post, RPUS, Mike DeBonis)

Truxton Circle NIMBY or overconcentrated?: It's sad that an article on Truxton Circle extolled the neighborhood for rejecting the LAYC charter school and affordable housing, but do they have a point on overconcentration? (Post, RPUS)

Why McDonnell didn't push for Richmond-DC HSR: Virginia commuters from Richmond to DC would love higher-speed rail, but Virginia nevera even applied for funding. Why? Governor McDonnell's ideological bent. (Post)

Parking provider picked, has fee: DC will use ParkMobile for all its pay-by-phone parking. ParkMobile was running the pilot around Foggy Bottom, Georgetown Hospital and Nationals Park. There will be an extra 30-35¢ fee for each transaction. (WTOP)

Wyman gets profiled: Lance Wyman, the Metro map's creator and the man tasked with redesigning it, talks about his work and his thoughts on the map. During the original design, he had wanted distinct icons for each station. (Post)

How to spend performance parking money?: A new ANC committee will decide how to spend performance parking money in Capitol Hill. CHRS is also (re-)creating a transportation committee to focus on streetcars. (EMMCA)

Watch the "door zone": A lot of bike lanes fall entirely in the "door zone" where a person riding can get hit by someone opening a door. As Prince George's County plans new bike lanes, how can they minimize this hazard? (TheWashCycle)

It's not all families: Montgomery County has more seniors and more adult children living at home than ever. These groups don't send kids to school, so when planners suggest allowing something other than single-family houses, perhaps school capacity shouldn't be such a flashpoint. (Rollin Stanley)

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David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Never ride in bike lanes that extend into the door zone.

by TGEoA on Jun 6, 2011 9:41 am • linkreport

Truxton Circle's opposition to a live-in school facility/subsidized housing for troubled youth comes from the fact that the area already confronts a fair amount of quality of life problems from SOME, the local public housing complex, an already-existing problem of loitering drug dealers on nearby street corners, and the multitude of liquor stores.

The complaints about their opposition as not being appreciative of "diversity" is pretty disingenuous.

by JustMe on Jun 6, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

Hmm. We wants HSR rail so people more people (currently dozens?) can commute from Richmond to DC? That seems like an awful waste.

While we don't have 100% of the details, a part time councilman working for a law firm that does gambling work -- but no clients in DC --does not seem like much of a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict, which is grist for something like the Post, but not much reality.

Far less so, than for instance, a former director of a car sharing service giving away city parking to said company. Or, well, whatever sort of contract that gets a mobile parking app for 35 cents a pop.

by charlie on Jun 6, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

As someone who is apopletic that the highest paid Council in the nation is also free from their "part time" jobs to hold down outside jobs, I feel that in this particular case it is much ado about nothing.

Big law firms have their hands in everything, so simply ridiculing Brown for working on something that his law firm has a dept for, but had no work in the District isn't fair.

The question has to be, "Do we allow our Council members to moonlight for hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in additional income?"

My answer is plainly no as the fact that they have additional professional responisibilities that they are handsomely paid for is the ultimate conflict of interest. There are only 24 hours in each day. You can't be giving your fair share to both, I call me cynical but I have a hard time believing that Folks like Brown, Catania, Cheh, Evans etc say "no" when their other "part time" jobs paying hundreds of thousands per year come a calling...

by freely on Jun 6, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

JustMe: Sadly, we've gotten used to it, between that article, wcp reporting (NIMBY watch!), and the article that appeared here from an LAYC supporter we apparently don't do enough to support 'all' the city's needs. But hell, wanting something to counter the 20+ properties running services around that school makes us NIMBY's.

Thank you Richard Layman for your article.

by m on Jun 6, 2011 10:06 am • linkreport

charlie, The argument for HSR in Virginia isn't based solely on serving commuters, and I think you know that. That was just the example in the article. I suspect HSR between DC and Richmond would have few empty seats.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

Why is it that DC could not negotiate a contract with ParkMobile or one of the other operators that did not lead to a 35c charge for each transaction, or at least came out of the city's meter collection?

by ah on Jun 6, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

ah, ParkMobile has to be paid somehow for the service (35 cents seems like a lot, but what do I know?) and to take the money out of meter collections means taking it out of the budget and with the budget thin already that may have not been workable (just guessing). If I'm correct, this is an added service on top of the ways that one used to be able to (and still can) pay for parking. So they've set it up as a user fee, which is OK, but not great.

I'm surprised that DC doesn't save money in not having to deal with and collect all that change out of the machines, not missing lost revenue when machines are broken, not dealing with theft or vandalism etc...And that those savings can't offset the costs.

I'd also rather see a system whereby many providers are available for this service and I can pick one. I'd listen to an ad before paying for my parking if it waived the fee, for example.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

Montgomery County has more seniors and more adult children living at home than ever. These groups don't send kids to school, so when planners suggest allowing something other than single-family houses, perhaps school capacity shouldn't be such a flashpoint.

Rollin Stanley's point is that there will not be as many children in the local public school from the new multi-unit buildings as the number of units suggests. But, if your school is already near or over capacity anyway, this isn't very reassuring.

Also, the reason there won't be as many children in the local public school from the new multi-unit buildings as the number of units suggests is because, according to Rollin Stanley, people with (non-adult) children will move into single-family houses and will not move into new multi-unit buildings near Metro stations. But that's not axiomatic. I would like to see some data on this, with unit size and price controlled for.

by Miriam on Jun 6, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

@ charlie: -does not seem like much of a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict,

The way most conflict of interest clauses are written, it is the appearance and opportunity that counts, not the actual conflict or action upon conflict.

That's why it never matters when someone says: "But I didn't act upon the conflict".

As Prince George's County plans new bike lanes, how can they minimize this hazard?

Put the bike lanes to the right of parking spots. Teach drivers and passengers to check if bikers are present.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

It's not just the door zone. It's also the double-parker zone, the Fedex/UPS zone, the lazy cop zone, the lost pedestrian zone, the jerk motorcycle zone, and the jogging zone.

by OX4 on Jun 6, 2011 10:38 am • linkreport

@DavidC; actually, I don't KNOW that. the most natural rail (DC to Richmond) in Virginia would not be well served by HSR. I'd see the argument that the corridor needs dedicated tracks -- and if you're building new ones might as well make it HSR -- but I'd rather see investment in VRE rather than HSR in Virginia.

@Jasper; I can't speak for the firm in question, but I doubt the situation described would meet an internal conflict check.

by charlie on Jun 6, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

@charlie

Investments in HSR and in VRE are not opposed, in fact they would be quite complimentary. Investments that would lead to eventual HSR operation to Richmond would also offer substantial time and operational savings for VRE.

Also, remember that HSR would connect to the entire NE corridor, not just Richmond to DC.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

HSR should be national, but the easiest places to start are at paired cities: DC-Richmond, DC-Baltimore, Richmond-Raleigh, etc. It would increase commuters from Richmond, but the pricepoint would probably be a factor. Streetcar/metro/rail sprawl is far better than highway sprawl, especially from a strictly urbanist standpoint.

by OctaviusIII on Jun 6, 2011 10:54 am • linkreport

There was an interesting story about the drop in the birthrate in USA Today:

www.usatoday.com/news/nation/census/2011-06-03-fewer-children-census-suburbs_n.htm

Among the stats quoted:
The share of the population under age 18 dropped in 95% of U.S. counties since 2000, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the 2010 Census.

The number of households that have children under age 18 has stayed at 38 million since 2000, despite a 9.7% growth in the U.S. population. As a result, the share of households with children dropped from 36% in 2000 to 33.5%.

This really gives pause to think as to why so much of our budgeting (and planning) is focused on these increasingly less-'typical' families. Of course there's a good public purpose to providing education to children who otherwise wouldn't get one, but why are we providing it to all children ... even those whose families can easily afford to pay for it?

I know my parents sacrificed to send me to parochial schools which they felt provided a better education than the more highly funded public schools in our town. But where we're in situation such as say Loudon County which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, why should the childless amoung their population be subsidiing those families who choose to have children? So, that they can take trips ... or buy a bigger house with the extra money? And even in DC with its dichomtemy of income levels, why are we paying for schools for the children of those relatively wealthy familes who could certainly more afford paying for their children's education than I know my parents could?

In these times where budgets are constrained, we really should look at the rationality of paying for other children's educations in those cases where the parents of those children can afford to pay it. While in the 50s when almost every family was comprised of children this may have made sense, in today's world where only a third of the households nationwide have children in them we have to ask ourselves if we aren't seeing an unjustifiable transfer of the costs of a child's education in the cases where the parents would experience no hardship in paying for this child rearing responsibility themselves out of their own pockets vs. out of the general taxpayers revenue.

by Lance on Jun 6, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

why should the childless amoung their population be subsidiing those families who choose to have children?

Because education is a public good, not a private good. I know this idea is falling out of favor, and it's part of the reason that legislatures are less inclined to fund colleges, but it is still true. I'm better off if your kid is educated.

we really should look at the rationality of paying for other children's educations in those cases where the parents of those children can afford to pay it.

This is covered through income/property/wealth taxes. Those who can afford to pay more for education pay more in taxes overall. In fact they probably pay more than what their kids take out. And if they go to private school, as many of the wealthy do, they pay for schooling they don't personally use. Which is all good because, as I mentioned, education is a public good.

e have to ask ourselves if we aren't seeing an unjustifiable transfer of the costs of a child's education in the cases where the parents would experience no hardship in paying for this child rearing responsibility themselves out of their own pockets vs. out of the general taxpayers revenue.

The answer is no. Because we aren't paying for their "rearing", we're investing human capital. Why you would want to dismantle the American education system, which is in part responsible for the extraordinary rise in income, productivity, health and competitiveness of America because of some perceived loss of "fairness" is beyond me.

by David C on Jun 6, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

we really should look at the rationality of paying for other children's educations

Yes. We should. We have decided it is rational.

in those cases where the parents of those children can afford to pay it.

We call them progressive income taxes.

by JustMe on Jun 6, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

@AlexB; fair enough point. But isn't that included in the $45M Virginia asked for last year:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dr-gridlock/2010/10/virgina_gets_45_million_for_hi.html

The point that Virginia wasn't willing to kick up state matches for a funding project is a good one. Yes, perhaps they could have been more proactive and gotten another 20 to 50M for further small improvements which would benefit VRE.

I see little benefit for the DC area for HSR to Richmond. There might be some benefits to Richmond. Enabling commuters from Richmond is just a horrible idea, and that is entirely what the post focused on.

by charlie on Jun 6, 2011 11:50 am • linkreport

@JustMe

I'm not against public education at all, but it's probably not correct to say progressive income taxes address the question if the rich benefiting from free public schools. Public schools are overwhelmingly supported by real estate taxes, which are almost always a flat tax.

I've had this debate with my libertarian friends over and over, accomplishing nothing. It really gets at the root of genuine libertarianism (as opposed to conservative Republican "libertarianism"). They normally don't mind the government setting aside vouchers and subsidies for the poor, but what they really can't stand is subsidies that go from the middle or upper class to other member of the middle or upper class. Typically they're blind to many of the myriad subsidies that flow to the upper middle and upper classes, but honest libertarians do object to them once they see them. The problem, of course, is that if we were to actually strip the government of all those myriad subsidies to the middle and upper classes, nobody but true believing libertarians would be happy.

by TM on Jun 6, 2011 12:12 pm • linkreport

@charlie

Yes, the Post focused on commuters from Richmond because they got a nice interview with a guy who commutes from Richmond. That's their anecdote and their story to tell - don't confuse it with actual policy analysis.

Improving rail connections to DC is almost always going to be a good idea. The rail improvements to Richmond would be part of an eventual upgrade of the entire Southeast Corridor to HSR, connecting to Richmond, the Research Triangle, Charlotte, and Atlanta.

And yes, the incremental upgrades from 79 mph service to 110 mph service to 125 mph service may not qualify as HSR, but they do lay the groundwork for future upgrades. Alon Levy highlighted a great document about the Midwest plans to do so: http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/quick-note-midwest-hsr-study/

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 12:14 pm • linkreport

And yes, the incremental upgrades from 79 mph service to 110 mph service to 125 mph service may not qualify as HSR, but they do lay the groundwork for future upgrades.

Um. Pretty sure that's not the case in many instances.

For instance, the NEC through New Jersey would essentially need to be rebuilt along an entirely new alignment to push the speed much further than what the current round of overheat catenary upgrades will allow for (which is exactly what Amtrak is proposing in its 30-year plan).

If you've got tight curves and a steep grade, there's really not very much you can do that doesn't involve building new tracks.

There are cases where you can pick and choose individual curves to straighten (as is being done in the pacific Northwest), but incremental upgrades don't help much in that scenario either, and may even be somewhat wasteful, as you'll be upgrading sections of track that will be abandoned in the near-future.

Still, I'd support projects to ensure that Amtrak's network can do 79mph nationally (ahem; Richmond to Newport News), and strategically upgrading those 79mph tracks to 110 and 125mph where possible.

Going far beyond those speeds also requires electrification, which is fantastically expensive.

by andrew on Jun 6, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B: And yes, the incremental upgrades from 79 mph service to 110 mph service to 125 mph service may not qualify as HSR, but they do lay the groundwork for future upgrades.

I disagree. True HSR has different requirements than regular rail: no at-grade crossings, ever; fenced off rails, straighter rails (in all 3 dimensions), and - at least in Europe - it's own separate power and safety systems. All HSR that I am aware of (in Europe) rides on separately built tracks, except occasionally to get in and out of town.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

The original ARRA proposal was to upgrade the existing DC-Richmond CSX-owned lines from a top speed of 70 mph to a top speed of 90 mph and add enough capacity to add another 8 Amtrak round trips a day and increase VRE to an hourly daytime service. The proposal cost nearly $1.8B. That included some work south of Richmond, though, including a new bridge over the James, so figure on the order of $1.5B for the DC-Richmond part. The Federal Government did not fund this proposal.

In the FY10 round, Virginia just asked for and got $45M to do an environmental study of DC-Richmond.

There are two interpretations of this.

1. The feds told Virginia after the ARRA round that $1.5B for a 20mph speed increase and 8 extra trains was the wrong answer, and gave them some money to come up with a better answer.

2. The McDonnell administration decided it didn't want to go for anything resembling a $1.5B project and asked for the study money to kick the can down the road.

The WaPo story clearly believes the second interpretation. I'd like to believe the first, but doubt the feds are up to it. I'd like to see HSR in the median of I-95 between the Occoquan and Richmond. It's not as straight as one might like, but it's no worse than I-4 between Tampa and Orlando airport and would handle existing Acela equipment at full speed.

by jim on Jun 6, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

@andrew and Jasper

I'd encourage both of you to read the report I linked to.

The broad conclusion is that even if segregated trackage is required, that doesn't necessarily mean new ROW - particularly with changes to FRA rules, PTC, etc.

My point about incremental upgrades is that if you can indeed use that same ROW, then the kinds of things you'd do going from 79mph to 125mph are exactly the kinds of things you'd need to do in order to hit 220+mph - removing grade crossings, straightening curves, etc.

The point is that there's a great deal we can do with existing ROW where you're not constrained by really sharp curves or steep grades. Likewise, in areas where we'd need to build new passenger tracks in virgin ROW, we're not talking about the entire segment necessarily.

Here's the full link to the PDF, the technical discussion of phasing and intermixing upgrades starts on page 121.

http://www.midwesthsr.org/sites/default/files/pdf/MHSRA_2011_Economic_Study_Technical_Report.pdf

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

You can only do things to RoW that the company that owns it will allow.

by jim on Jun 6, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

@jim

If we're talking about a massive investment in HSR, then changing the relationship between the railroads and their property ownership shouldn't be a problem.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B: the technical discussion of phasing and intermixing upgrades starts on page 121.

Interesting stuff. Point taken.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

Lance,

Why don't you ask the better question...which is many of those children will be sweating underneath a very big tax burden to pay the Social Security and Medicare benefits for those that do not have children. See, it goes both ways.

by Burger on Jun 6, 2011 4:31 pm • linkreport

Why does the Post article say Truxton Circle is in Northeast when it is in Northwest?

by Marian Berry on Jun 6, 2011 5:08 pm • linkreport

But where we're in situation such as say Loudon County which has one of the highest per capita incomes in the country, why should the childless amoung their population be subsidiing those families who choose to have children?
Adam Smith pointed out that education is a public good and since libertarians are dedicated to "the invisible hand of the market," you'd think they'd accept his judgment.

I don't have children, won't be having children, but I'm happy to pay taxes to ensure that there's an educated workforce supporting me in my old age.

by lou on Jun 6, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

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