Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: conventional wisdom can be wrong edition

Learning traffic from Proust: Wilson Quarterly discusses the legacy of Hans Monderman, the revolutionary traffic engineer who convinced the Dutch town of Drachten to remove all traffic signals and signs. Contrary to decades of standard practice, it made traffic flow better and more safely. (Also, I didn't know that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a traffic engineer.)


Monderman at a sign-less intersection in Drachten. Photo by sociate on Flickr.

A new VRE line? VRE is evaluating a potential new branch from Manassas to Haymarket. My transit future map includes the route, which is currently single-tracked. Funding, of course, is the elephant in the room. Via WP Get There.

Why should the rate be different? An Emeryville architecture firm has started paying employees 58.5 cents per mile if they bike to official meetingsthe same as the official IRS rate for driving, reports the SF Chronicle. It's a great inducement. From a public policy standpoint, why should we reward people more for taking a more expensive and more polluting form of transportation? Tip: Ben T.

Hill loves parking, could do without youth: Residents of Capitol Hill discussed principles for redeveloping the Hine Junior High site last week, and voted for principles they found most and least important by putting colored dots on a board. "Maintain historic character and moderate density" and "housing accessible to a broad range of income and age groups" were among the most voted-for principles (27 each), but "Add underground parking accessed from 7th St" ran away with 45 green dots.

As for principles residents marked with red dots (a priority they opposed), parking was fifth (with 5), restoring C Street third (10), and the number one red dot vote-getter: "Maintain focus on youth with educational services, library or other youth oriented facility." In fairness, "maintain focus on" does suggest a youth use to the exclusion of others, which I can understand not being the right priority. Full voting numbers here.

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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. 

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Traffic circles were originally intended to work without traffic signals or signs. (Traffic coming in to the circle had priority ... i.e., traffic already in the circle had to yield to let the new traffic coming in.) I've seen it in operation in Europe and it works far better than our lights-encumbered circles such as Dupont Circle. (Pedestrians walk around the exterior perimeter of the circle --- crossing at crosswalks.)

by Lance on Jul 30, 2008 10:18 am • linkreport

The problem with that IRS rate is that it is almost certainly amortizing some or all of the fixed cost over the annual miles driven instead of just using the marginal cost. For example, my own marginal costs for driving are about 20 cents per mile (just gas, marginal maintenance, and marginal depreciation). Assuming maintenance and depreciation stay the same (and my gas mileage stays the same), gas would have to be $15.45 per gallon for my marginal cost of driving to be 58.5 cents per mile. For everyone whose marginal cost of driving is lower than the reimbursement rate, they'd make money on every mile reimbursed. In my case, I'd make about 38.5 cents per mile. It's a small amount in the grand scheme of things but it encourages driving. It'd make more sense to just reimburse actual costs (though marginal maintenance and marginal depreciation (and possibly marginal insurance) would have to be estimated).

by Mario on Jul 30, 2008 11:07 am • linkreport

Mario,

But your full amortization cost (plus gas etc) ARE the actual costs of using the vehicle. The more you use it for business the faster you wear it out. It's only fair that you be re-imbursed for that. Of course, the govt. uses an average rate. So someone driving a Mercedes doesn't get re-imbursed the full amount it costs them. Someone driving a Smartcar probably makes out royally. If the standard is allowing someone to drive to a destination (which makes sense if we want that person to be able to get to ANY destination in a metro area), then it's only fair that if someone chooses to bike instead of drive, that they should "make out" similarly to the Smartcar owner "making out".

In sum, you probably aren't making out if you aren't taking into account the fact that every mile you drive for your job is one less mile available on your car to be driven for personal purposes. You need to count all costs.

by Lance on Jul 30, 2008 11:29 am • linkreport

Actually, traffic already in the circle has priority over traffic entering a circle.

by William on Jul 30, 2008 11:57 am • linkreport

@William: I think you're confusing a traffic circle with a roundabout. In a roundabout there are no signals and traffic entering the roundabout must yield to traffic in the roundabout (these would usally be signed with yield or stop signs and a sign saying 'roundabout' or 'rotary'). Traffic circle is a term often used for just about any circle with different access control than a roundabout. Most roundabout are only one lane wide. You'll occasionally encounter some with two lanes. I have not seen any with more lanes though they may certainly exist. It's just that the more lanes there are, the more problematic entering and exiting the circle becomes, so at some point it helps traffic to signalize the circle.

by Mario on Jul 30, 2008 12:27 pm • linkreport

I went to the Hines Middle School meeting. Very disheartening. Someone asked me (when I put one of the 5 red dots on parking): "Don't you think DuPont or Adams Morgan wish they would've put in parking 50 years ago?" Maybe, but they'd be wrong. It doesn't make much sense to point to the two most vibrant parts of town and say, "There but for the grace of God go I."

If you build places for car and traffic, what you get is cars and traffic.

by VC on Jul 30, 2008 12:28 pm • linkreport

I think it's notable that while 22 people voted against keeping youth-oriented activities, 15 people voted for keeping them. In that light, it doesn't seem to me that the community is anti-youth, just divided.

A bigger differential was 12 voting against green space, and 2 for.

The parking garage idea was pretty skewed, with 43 for and 5 against.

I wonder if the expectation for the garage was that it would be reserved for residents or provided free. If the implication instead was that the prices would reflect the costs of construction and opportunity cost for the land, maybe the vote would have been less skewed.

by Michael on Jul 30, 2008 12:45 pm • linkreport

From the photo, the triangles to the right of his left shoulder indicate "incoming traffic must yield", making that a roundabout as opposed to a traffic circle.

For fun: Here's the Magic Roundabout!

by Michael on Jul 30, 2008 12:52 pm • linkreport

Also in the Hines Middle School meeting was a presentation about turning the Eastern Market Metro Plaza into Capitol Hill Town Square. One push of the design was to connect all the little triangles now into one square (like Stanton Park) and directing Penn and 8th around the square. That did not go over well.

by VC on Jul 30, 2008 1:01 pm • linkreport

@mario, I am going by what DC law is with respect to places like Sherman Circle, Logan Circle and Chevy Chase Circle.

I did not know the distinction between roundabouts and circle, simply because DDOT hasn't adopted roundabouts as an engineering practice (although there are plenty of places where they shuold be considered).

by William on Jul 30, 2008 1:06 pm • linkreport

That Magic Roundabout is insane! Sounds like it works, though, because otherwise it would not have lasted for 30 years...

by NikolasM on Jul 30, 2008 2:44 pm • linkreport

Any day now (we are told by those who control it), the website designed to support this proposed project will include a couple of things that were left out: (1.) The presentation by the person hired by the developers who noted that town squares usually have buildings that reflect the community, like a church or A SCHOOL; and (2.) A January 2008 document from the DC Office of Planning, which states the Office of Planning would work with DC Public Schools to develop the Hine Junior High site to include a better-designed school building facing Pennsylvania Avenue, along with whatever condos or retail the community thought appropriate for the rest of the site.

Despite the historic appropriateness of a school on the Hine Jr. High site, and the most current analysis from the DC office of planning calling for DC Public Schools to use at least part of the site, Councilmember "One Term Tommy" Wells opened the meeting mentioned in this post by stating that there would be NO DISCUSSION of using the Hine site for a school. Who got to him? (Developers)

If there is to be some sort of town center focused on the Hine site, the Eastern Market Metro Plaza (which is the gateway to commercial activity on 8th Street to the south and along 7th Street up to Eastern Market on the north), and the pocket park kitty-corner across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Metro Plaza (which *protects* the residential neighborhood from all that commercial activity), then that town center should say something about the neighborhood.

It should celebrate the school site (Hine) and the historic Carnegie library (DC Public Libraries Southeast Branch) which share that corner of the town center, and in that way, tell everyone that we cherish children and learning in this neighborhood.

If the whole thing is turned into some Disneyland for Developers, that would say something very different about the neighborhood.

by EMMCA Member on Jul 31, 2008 12:22 am • linkreport

EMMCA: Doesn't the fact that 22 residents put red dots on the idea of using the Hine site for youth (the greatest number of red dots given to anything) pretty much prove that using the site for a school is not shared widely in the community? I have no particular opinion on using it for a school vs. not, but I'm just curious from looking at these numbers.

by David Alpert on Jul 31, 2008 1:55 pm • linkreport

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