Greater Greater Washington

Ties are a total waste; all gifts have to be video games

The Examiner ran an article Monday about the shocking news that a small share of a family's gift budget will go to gifts for some family members other than the kids:


Photo by sean dreilinger on Flickr.
Of the $11,200 the Thompson family plans to spend on holiday gifts over the next six years, $2,300 will be used for purchases other than video games, the chief concern of Thompson children.

Thompson children listed 587 video games and electronic devices in their draft Christmas list that would cost about $8,000. The rest of the money, however, is for items like clothes, ties, jewelry, spa treatmentsand holiday cards.

Proponents of non-toy gift purchases argue that those gifts do play a role in improving the family's happiness.

"Daddy deserves a present from Santa too," said mommy Mary Thompson. Others, though, want some of that money redirected to pay for actual toys.

8-year-old Jimmy Thompson proposed shifting some of money set aside for Daddy's ties to presents he argues would do more to reduce boredom, such as getting a new XBox Live and installing a new giant flat screen television set.

Doesn't that seem like a ridiculous article? Fortunately, it's not real, but it almost is. The real article, by the Examiner's David Sherfinski, sounded almost the same, but about transportation.

Sherfinski reports the shocking news that a small portion of Virginia's transportation money will go to bicycle and pedestrian improvements, but phrases it a way that sounds like he's actually shocked. Why? Well, roads are "the chief concern of Northern Virginia drivers," as if nothing and nobody else matters.

He quotes Mary Hynes of Arlington and Jeff McKay of Fairfax saying that road building alone isn't the answer for Virginia, and there needs to be some transit and some bike/ped as well as roads. Sherfinski writes: "Others, though, want some of that money redirected to pay for actual roads." Actual roads, because anything that's not roads isn't "actual" transportation?

The real news is how much of the state's budget Governor Bob McDonnell and Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton are putting toward new road construction and expansion ($7 billion of $8 billion in road spending) even though more than half of the state's roads need repair and the state should be spending $3.6 billion a year just to rehabilitate aging roads and bridges.

But instead of highlighting the growing backlog, Sherfinski's article parrots talking points from Rep. Jim LeMunyon (R-Fairfax), who has jumped on the national bandwagon about cutting all funding for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects.

LeMunyon and Sherfinski also play up the fact that wildflowers is a line item in the transportation budget. But when you juxtapose that item ($258,000) against the road spending ($7,100,000,000), it doesn't look like so much. If you're a demagoguing state delegate, though, why talk about real priorities when you can complain about something that constitutes 0.0023% of the total transportation budget?

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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It's nice of the article to point out that only the needs of drivers matter in Virginia. It's not like there are millions of Virginians who lack cars and/or licenses to drive.

And of course the article leads with a figure of $2 billion, then only itemizes less than $70 million in costs. I guess the author figures that people would probably not be blown away by 10-20% of the transportation budget going to transit, but they'll surely care about the .0023% going to wildflowers, or the .61% going to all combined pedestrian, bike, and trail projects.

by Gray on Jun 8, 2011 12:34 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I didn't even mention the other major implicit assumption in the article: that building more roads actually reduces congestion or improves accessibility.

I mean, setting aside all of the evidence to the contrary from projects pretty much everywhere else, who can look at NoVa's recent history and think that the solution to congestion and accessibility problems is building more roads?

by Gray on Jun 8, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

1. I didn't read the article as biased as you claim, though the Mark Center example was a bit of a cherry pick by the author and/or the Sec. Connaughton. But there were several quotes that emphasized how this was good spending, even for drivers.

2. Guessing David isn't a gamer (and this is nit picky), but you wouldn't buy "an XBox Live." XBox Live is Microsoft's online service for the XBox 360. So you buy an XBox 360 and buy a subscription to XBox Live.

by Steven Yates on Jun 8, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

Clearly these people have finally gotten to the root of NOVAs transpo problems. Its that we spend 99.99% of funds on roads instead of 100%. If only someone had realized this years ago we could have been saved from the awful congestion.

by Falls Church on Jun 8, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

@Steven, thanks for the clarification. Being a gamer, I did cock my head to the side in bewilderment over the whole Xbox Live (console) purchase.

by HogWash on Jun 8, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

I still can't get over this absurd gem:

"Del. Jim LeMunyon, R-Fairfax, proposed shifting some of money set aside for bike-sharing programs to projects he argues would do more to reduce congestion, such as widening Interstate 66 and building a ramp from I-66 to East Falls Church Metro to encourage Metro use."

by Max on Jun 8, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

The problem in Virginia is that only 1/3 of Virginians live in an area where transit is relevant. In a democracy where 50%+1 is the only thing that counts, those 1/3 will barely get any influence, even if they're the most productive 1/3.

by Jasper on Jun 8, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

The idea that bike sharing will help alleviate the traffic on 395 or I-66 is pretty laughable. There are thousands of cars too many on these roads and the bike share system will provide, at best, a few hundred bikes, for relatively short distances, to people who are the closest to their jobs. This has been gone over before, but bikeshare isnt an adequate tool for commuting.

That said, I find the premise of the article completely mystifying. I think there should be more spent on roads, mass transit, as well as bike and pedestrian improvements.

However, eliminating congestion isnt going to happen. Im not even that bullish on being able to dramatically curtail it.

If you significantly increase the transportation options, more people will use the car alternatives. However, as the population grows, people will automatically correct the lack of cars on the road until things get so bad that people want to use the alternate forms of transportation.

I think the number of people on the road is similar to the equilibrium price of gas - less people use gas when the price gets high, but then as the price comes down, the consumption goes back up.

All of this justifies why I think a lot more, especially in Virginia, needs to be spent on all kinds of transportation.

by Anon on Jun 8, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

Anon: to borrow/rephrase your first sentence, the idea of diverting bikesharing money to projects like widening I-66 or adding ramps is also pretty laughable. Bikesharing is a *REALLY SMALL* amount...diverting it wouldn't even pay for preliminary engineering and environmental studies for a highway widening project, let alone pay for construction.

by Froggie on Jun 8, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

I agree. But folks on both sides need to realize bikeshare isnt really competing with roads for commuting.

by Anon on Jun 8, 2011 3:26 pm • linkreport

Let's not forget the rest of the state. The Hampton Roads area is one gigantic traffic jam, and has some of the worst transit I've ever seen.

A 20 minute drive can easily turn into a 2-hour bus ride with 4 transfers. All in a region that is a densely populated, long, skinny peninsula that could easily be served by some kind of commuter or urban rail system.

Frankly, it's an embarrassment to Virginia.

by andrew on Jun 8, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

@andrew:
The Tide Light Rail opens later this year in Norfolk. It's not a lot, but it's a start.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 8, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Matt

Yeah, it's a start, but Peninsula Rapid Transit also needs to be built to connect up most of the major job centers in the region, as well as provide a good link to the airport.

by andrew on Jun 8, 2011 3:53 pm • linkreport

@andrew:
No disagreement here. But it sounded like you were unaware of the project. I just thought I'd share.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 8, 2011 3:59 pm • linkreport

@ andrew: Let's not forget the rest of the state.

Wiki data: NoVa: 2.6M; Hampton Roads: 1.6M; VA: 8M. NoVa + Hampton = just a little bit more than half of the state.

by Jasper on Jun 8, 2011 4:06 pm • linkreport

Okay, where are the metrics that suggest that more should be spent on transit?
Passenger miles?
Passenger minutes?
Commerce generated? (i.e. spending $2 on transit would generate $1 or $3 in commerce as opposed to roads)
Substitution costs (i.e. $2 spent on transit eliminates the need to spend $1 or $3 on roads)
They pay economists big money to come up with these sorts of numbers. Where are they? It doesn't have to be Gospel, but some indication of the cost/benefit would be nice.

by movement on Jun 8, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

@ movement: Where are they?

How about this one: The Orange Line moves more people along I-66 than cars do at rush hour. Both the Orange Line and I-66 are congested. Given the space, noise and environmental impact, which one do you pick: An extra metro track, or extra I-66 lanes?

by Jasper on Jun 8, 2011 9:02 pm • linkreport

bikeshare isnt an adequate tool for commuting.

Really? Tell that to the thousands of people who use it to commute every day.

by David C on Jun 8, 2011 10:01 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
Considering that adding an Orange Line track would cost on the order of about $5 billion and spot improvements to I66 are more on the order of $500 million, I'll take the road.

@David C
If someone commutes by bike this week, I don't want them within 20 feet of me unless they've had a shower. Bikes are fine if the weather is nice but if it isn't you're better off walking or taking the bus.

by movement on Jun 8, 2011 11:05 pm • linkreport

thousands? If by thousands, you mean 1100, then yes. About 1100 people MAX can commute on it every day. However, the real number has to be a lot less.

by Anon on Jun 8, 2011 11:25 pm • linkreport

Bikes are fine if the weather is nice but if it isn't you're better off walking or taking the bus.

There are showers and other means to handle this. Besides, what trail counts out of Arlington show us is that there is no real drop off in the summer.

If by thousands, you mean 1100, then yes. About 1100 people MAX can commute on it every day. However, the real number has to be a lot less.

For starters, you said bike sharing. DC doesn't have the world's only bike sharing system. Worldwide the number of bike-sharing commuters might top 1 million, but I was being conservative.

Even if we're just talking about DC/Arlington it's still thousands. They've averaged over 4000 trips per day in May. If you think bikes can only be used twice a day, you don't get how it works. I ride a bike to the Eastern Market Metro and catch a train - that's one commute. Someone else takes that bike to Navy Yard and catches a train south - that's two commutes. Someone else takes it to downtown for work - that's three commutes. The rebalancing truck grabs it and takes it Petworth where someone rides it downtown again - etc.... That's how 1100 bikes can get to thousands of commuters.

Besides, even 1100 bike-share commuters proves your declaration wrong. But by all means, continue to deflect.

It's like you aren't paying attention. One of the big complaints is that some people think there are too MANY commuters. That flies in the face of your statement.

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 12:11 am • linkreport

@Jasper; "The problem in Virginia is that only 1/3 of Virginians live in an area where transit is relevant. In a democracy where 50%+1 is the only thing that counts, those 1/3 will barely get any influence, even if they're the most productive 1/3."

I'd argue it is much smaller than that. I tried on WashCycle to figure out what percentage of Virginians live inside the beltway, and I think the consensus came to about 5%. Probably a bit more.

Transit is great for people like you, who live out in PW or someplace, and come into DC. But I suspect a large number of your neighbors works elsewhere in the suburbs, and building up our existing transit infrastructure isn't going to help them.

And I am very dubious of transit in Norfolk. there are opportunities, but the limiting factor is geography and the need for very expensive bridges/tunnels. And that area is very new, post WW2 suburban type development that is harder to switch over to density.

by charlie on Jun 9, 2011 9:03 am • linkreport

But charlie, transit in in VA isn't limited to the area inside the Beltway. There's also transit in Richmond and the Hampton Roads area. Even in NoVa you can use transit outside the beltway. The Silver line will go all the way to Loudoun County if I'm correct.

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

@David C ; correct, but a lot of that outside the beltway "transit' looks more like commuter rail. Or buses.

Richmond I don't know as well -- I suspect transit could work there.

Tidewater, as I said above, is a mess and I doubt any transit could work well.

The Silver Line debacle is going to shut down talk of heavy rail in virginia for a long time. It's a shame -- Rt 1 could use the investment -- but I don't see that happening unless the feds give us a rail line.

by charlie on Jun 9, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

charlie, Buses = transit. So Richmond (GRTC) and Tidewater (HRT) HAVE transit.

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

David C: you continue to be completely dense. I think you are being intentionally obtuse due to being blinded by your bicycle extremism. Bikes arent the answer to everything.

Bikesharing, no matter how big, is not an effective way to improve commutes. Just because 1100 people manage to do it, doesnt mean anything. No matter how many bikes you have, at peak times, the distribution will be skewed and high density areas will have people who are left out in the cold. That means, anyone who is looking for a reliable form of transportation at peak times, who live in high density areas, will not use bike share. There arent enough people going FROM where the jobs are TO where the homes are in the mornings and vice versa in the evenings. Just because 5k people use the system per day doesnt mean that more than ~2200 of those rides are related to commuting. Even if all 5000 rides WERE related to commuting, it wouldnt matter. Until they can figure out a way to get the bikes moved upstream quickly and efficiently, it wont work. But they need to ALSO expand the # of bikes AND scale up their efficient and quick redistribution. I dont think that is possible to do.

Get it now?

by Anon on Jun 9, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

Anon, thank you for informing me about my consistent density. I guess I just don't understand how any of this works.

I thought having thousands of people use CaBi to get to and/or from work meant something. I thought that having each bike used 4 times a day - and rising - was a sign of some reduction of car and metro trips. I clearly was wrong. According to you it doesn't matter. It clearly isn't working.

I thought it was possible to have enough bikes to meet demand - apparently that's impossible. Thank you for letting me know. I will be sure to let Velib in Paris know that it can't be done, even though they're doing it now.

I thought they were expanding their # of bikes and scaling up their redistribution via additional teams and an incentive program. Thank you for setting me straight.

Just out of curiosity - so that I can get it - how many trips per bike per day would be needed to matter? At what usage level would bikeshare matter?

I have enjoyed your polite and never arrogant replies to my comments. Thank you for taking time to set someone so stupid straight.

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 11:53 am • linkreport

A.) Paris, in case you havent noticed, is not DC. Other than height limits, there's very little you can find in common. Direction of travel is so much more diverse, the number of metro stops is so much greater, the average commute time is lower, the population is higher, and other factors, make the comparison impossible.

B.) It is impractical to expect a bike share system to meet demand at peak times in high density areas in this city. The direction is too consistent. You could counter act this by increasing the costs at peak times, but you cant do that too much because high density areas also happen to be the most metro accessible, so why would a whole lot of people pay more to pedal than to ride the metro? In terms of commuting, the metro and our road system is pretty damned efficient in getting people from high density housing to high density jobs. Its transportation at OTHER times that is really lacking. When there are 15 minute waits on the G/Y lines and it takes 30 minutes to go from Florida to NH on Georgia Avenue in a car on a Saturday afternoon, you know there's a problem.

C.) I dont think the inability of bike share to really answer very much commuting demand is really up in the air.

D.) I love how you think that because I dont think bikeshare should be relied on as a primary form of commuting that yuo think I believe it doesnt matter.

by Anon on Jun 9, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Paris, in case you havent noticed, is not DC

That's a total cop out. Nothing you mention is in the least bit relevant (and I'm not sure that any of it is correct). If you have enough bikes, you can meet 90-99% of demand.

It is impractical to expect a bike share system to meet demand at peak times in high density areas in this city.

I don't think that's true for starters, and I know it doesn't matter. If it sops up any demand it is reducing strain on other parts of the transportation system. The critical metric is not trips, but trips per dollar spent, and bike shraing is pretty cheap - especially if it gets to a revenue neutral point as they expect to.

I dont think the inability of bike share to really answer very much commuting demand is really up in the air.

I agree, in that its accepted that bike share can answer a large section of commuting demand. Will enough bikes, you could easily capture 10-20% of all bike commuting trips. And it only takes 1-5% to move the road system from congested to flowing or the metro system from crush capacity to merely SRO.

I love how you think that because I dont think bikeshare should be relied on as a primary form of commuting that yuo think I believe it doesnt matter.

Where would I get that idea? Is it because you wrote "Just because 1100 people manage to do it, doesnt mean anything." or "Even if all 5000 rides WERE related to commuting, it wouldnt matter."

I must have interpreted you saying that it doesn't matter as you saying that it doesn't matter. My bad.

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 1:51 pm • linkreport

Should read "With enough bikes, you could easily capture 10-20% of all commuting trips."

by David C on Jun 9, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

I've got to side with the Thompson children here. Is there anyone reading this who would rather have some ties than big screen TV or Xbox? Ties are in fact a total waste of money.

I agree with you about the roads or whatever but that makes a terrible metaphor.

by Doug on Jun 9, 2011 6:04 pm • linkreport

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