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Breakfast links: Living for the city


Photo by ElvertBarnes on Flickr.
DC homicide could be lowest since '63: The city's murder rate has reached historic lows. If the pace continues, it will reach 108 this year, compared with 132 last year and the lowest since 1963. (Post)

Anthony Williams '14?: With many debacles from Mayor Gray and Kwame Brown, who can lead DC? Colbert King wants Tony Williams back. (Post)

MBT plans fleshed out: A FONSI for Metropolitan Branch Trail improvements has more details of plans: 10-12' paths, better signage and markings, lighting and call boxes. An elevated structure in Takoma didn't make the cut. (WashCycle)

Strip mall to positive mixed-use: An underutilized Arlandria strip mall could become a mixed-use development under a new proposal, which would also retain an organic grocery and CVS, as residents desire. (The Arlandrian)

Join the RAC: Want to join the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council? There are slots in DC (2), Prince George's (2), Arlington (1) and at-large (1) coming up this year; the Board could reappoint the existing members or appoint new ones (maybe you!) Apply here.

Silver Line still at risk: The Silver Line project has used much of its contingency and might end up facing cost overruns. (Post) ... Japan's problems have delayed railcar delivery as well. (Examiner)

Britain debates higher speed limits: A British plan to raise the national speed limit from 70 to 80 mph is being debated. It will get places faster, but doesn't consider the additional cost of fuel and lives. (BBC)

And..: Metro executives are eating well. (Examiner) ... How do you cross the street in Chevy Chase DC? (PoP) ... Md. Del. Sheila Hixson is pushing for sales taxes on online purchases. (WBJ) ... Long DC taxi rides will soon no longer have a cap of $19. (WTOP)

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John Muller is an associate librarian, journalist and historian. He has written two books, Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC, Mark Twain in Washington, DC, and also writes at Death and Life of Old Anacostia

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In this age of austerity and given WMATA's precarious financial condition, some wonder bread, pb&j, and some ice water is all the Board should be eating.

That food that they're consuming should be reported as taxable income as well.

by Redline SOS on Oct 3, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

I have always thought that part of Arlandria would be a good opportunity for development. It would also be a good chance to add a streetcar from the new Potomac Yard Metro through here to Shirlington. Adding development potential to light industry on Four Mile Run Dr.

by MW on Oct 3, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

Wow, people freaked out about the pedestrian crossings in Chevy Chase. This flag system has been there for a few years and seems to be working fine. It doesn't allow people to cross with impunity, but does allow them to cross carefully where that was almost impossible before. This stretch of road handles a lot of car traffic, but is also the historic heart of Chevy Chase DC, with the libary, post office, numerous local businesses and a bus station all located in a 3-block stretch that also includes at least one senior living facility. To make it into another Rockville Pike simply isn't an attractive or viable alternative.

by Crickey7 on Oct 3, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

The news that METRO's Board has concealed the true project status of the Silver Line should warrant an article on GGW. It tells us the incredible hubris of these unelected and seemingly unaccountable Boards should be disbanded in the long haul. People seem to think taxpayers will pony up forever for the mistakes of government but they won't. This endangers future projects of all kinds from Bikeshare to pedestrain bridges...to even light rail or trolley plans. I hope GGW will speak out for greater accountability. This is a scandal and the board should be asked to resign...today.

by Pelham1861 on Oct 3, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

I used to live on Huntington Street and know they have been using this method to cross Conn Ave. up by the Avalon for many years.

by John on Oct 3, 2011 10:27 am • linkreport

Approximate Metro annual budget: $2B
Approximate cost of lunch to feed board members: $13K
Sensationalized journalism over item that costs less than 0.001% of budget: priceless

by OX4 on Oct 3, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

@Pelham1861:
I think you may be confused about the Silver Line. It's being constructed and managed by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, not Metro (WMATA).

by Matt Johnson on Oct 3, 2011 10:29 am • linkreport

Re:MBT

In general, to avoid impacts to wildlife on NPS property, lighting in or around natural areas would be avoided or minimized and directed downward.

The MBT's biggest problem is a lack of safety. While minimizing light pollution is a worthy goal, safety should take priority if those goals end up in conflict.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

....and GGW have been extremely critical of the MWAA's lack of transparency, and way that it spends money like water (without really getting much for the investment).

Simply put, they should not have been put in charge of the Silver Line project. I'm not sure that WMATA were in a better position to manage things several years ago, but MWAA sure as hell get my vote of no confidence.

Right now, I'd be arguing for Phase 2 of the project to be turned over to WMATA (which, admittedly, could mean that it won't get built, given that the airport connection is a lot less important to WMATA than it is to MWAA).

by andrew on Oct 3, 2011 10:42 am • linkreport

Oh, and the guys who wrote the article on WMATA's lunches would probably have a heart attack if they saw what the corporate world pays for catering.

by andrew on Oct 3, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

Metro executives are eating well.

Why exactly do those meetings need to be lunch meetings? Embarrassing.

"Should there be a lunch and can we be efficient about it? We work hard to do that," Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins said. "We end up staying well past the lunch hour."

I am sure WMATA employees putting in overtime would love to eat on the job for free. The arrogance.

@Pelham:It tells us the incredible hubris of these unelected and seemingly unaccountable Boards should be disbanded in the long haul. ... People seem to think taxpayers will pony up forever for the mistakes of government but they won't.

The power was given to the MWAA by your duly elected representatives. Complain to them. They made that decision.

Also, a good chunk of the Silver Line is paid for by tolls, i.e. not tax payers.

In conclusion: Rants are fine. But please be informed on the subject. It looks stupid when you're ranting about stuff that's not happening.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2011 10:45 am • linkreport

RE: Silver Line
Just remember this when you want to extend Metro to Belvoir or Woodbridge or whatever. Unfortunately the same engineering maturity that has allowed us to complete the Mixing Bowl and Wison Bridge projects on time and on budget is not transferring to rail.

by movement on Oct 3, 2011 10:58 am • linkreport

Yeah, I put together the occasional catered meeting at work and found the catering costs laid out in that article to be reasonable for a regular, non-fancy meeting. Maybe a couple dollars more per person then I would typically spend, but nothing out of line.

by Phil on Oct 3, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

Some Metro Board members are not even paid for their service. Some are, depending on the jurisdiction they represent.

Meetings of Boards such as this should not be confused with nine-to-five jobs. They meet a couple times a month, and have an agenda. It requires them to work an entire day - including working through lunch. It is NOT a lunch meeting, folks!

And IRS rules are absolutely clear about providing food for people who must work through lunch - or must work overtime due to usual work demands. It's not taxable income.

Stop whining about this. Your myopia is showing.

by Mike S. on Oct 3, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

* unusual work demands (not usual).

Sorry for the typiing error. But there is such a thing as a tax-free lunch or dinner, if you have to work overtime or stay late for unusual reasons and your boss provides a meal, especially if it enables you to keep working without taking a meal break. At my former employer, it kicked in after 10 hours, and I enjoyed hundreds of tax-free meals (and meal allowances) over my years there.

by Mike S. on Oct 3, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

Re: Silver Line,

If you read the article, design changes demanded by Metro are responsible for some of the cost increases. You can't blame it all on MWAA. In the airport authority's defense, they do have a lot of experience managing large projects.

by Paul on Oct 3, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

re silver line: they are 50% through the project, and 70% through the contingency money. Thats a matter for concern, but I don't see that its a huge issue at this point.

by AWalkerIntheCity on Oct 3, 2011 11:24 am • linkreport

CHEVY CHASE CROSSING - I can't figure out why the P o P commentariat gets so exorcised over small things like this. The system seems to work well and, obviously, pedestrian safety is important. My guess is that, like with most stories regarding situations involving neighborhoods west of the park, the P o P commenters generally turn to ridicule first. The pervasive (but not universal) attitude on that blog is that anything not in Shaw, Petworth, H St., etc. is not cool enough and, therefore, worthy of attack in their minds. The insecurity shown by so many of the commenters is sad, really.

by The Heights on Oct 3, 2011 11:31 am • linkreport

Has no newspaper writer ever used a catering service before? I know they are just trying to be sensational now, but those prices aren't out of line for catering. Ever put on a conference? They would faint at the markups hotels put on food and drink.

by 80p on Oct 3, 2011 11:48 am • linkreport

Examiner article on lunches at Metro board meetings - the cost was a little over $20 per person for a catered lunch with decent quality food. Where is the story in that? Hookers, lavish dinners at expensive restaurants, kickbacks, free trips to the Caribbean. Those would be a scandal story, but $20 per person for catered lunches? Really?

Silver Line: did those who are ranting about MWAA, claims of hidden overruns, etc actually read the Post story? Phase 1 has burned through about 70% of the reserve fund so far. While one would prefer that they didn't have to do so, that is what reserve funds are for. Budgets for projects this big are always educated estimates. The local government officials appear to be apprised of the project costs. What were the reserve funds used for?
-$44.5 million more for utility relocation. A common problem for big projects that have to dig up or move utility lines; when they start digging and moving the utilities, often find a lot of stuff that were not on the maps and diagrams. The Second Ave Subway project in NYC ran into this big time as I recall.
-$49 million for Metro requested redesigns: $28 million for 2 additional power substations so a failure of 1 substation won't cause trains to shut down. Don't want to have a single point of failure bring the system down if it can be avoided. $7.5 million for a warning light system to alert operators when workers are on the track. Pricey, but sounds like this was added to the design after the rash of fatal accidents for workers on the tracks. $3.3 million more for concrete ties.
All very reasonable. Don't appear to be serious cost overruns for the heavy construction parts of the project. That is where real cost overruns can happen. I wish the Phase 1 of the Silver Line would open sooner, but December 2013 it is.

by AlanF on Oct 3, 2011 11:49 am • linkreport

Is there another company that can construct the rail cars. I feel bad for the folks in Japan, but a two-year window for first delivery is a bit ridiculous. That doesn't even cover the time required to test out the new trains and get them service-ready. WMATA doesn't have enough trains as it is and has to use half-dead 1000-series cars to fill in the gaps during rush hour. If there's another company that has the capacity to build the trains now, WMATA should definitely consider it.

by Adam L on Oct 3, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

I'd be more than happy to have Williams back as mayor. He's got my vote.

by Doug on Oct 3, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Adam L:
Just FYI, the original window is the period of delivery for the first order (which includes more than just 64 cars). The first cars were to arrive on site in early-2013, and the last of the Silver Line cars (128) were in January 2015. Since only 64 cars are needed for full service (all 8-car trains + spares) on the first phase, there would be an extra 64 cars for fleet expansion initially.

The "window" does not mean "we'll get you the first cars sometime between 2013 and 2015." It means, you'll be getting a few cars at a time during that period.

The delays are unfortunate, though. I hope it does not cause the line to get delayed in opening.
http://ggwash.org/5626

by Matt Johnson on Oct 3, 2011 12:53 pm • linkreport

Tony Williams had little to do with the city's renaissance during his tenure. It really had a lot more to do with good luck in terms of national trends, and a ward councilmember (Jack Evans) who knew how to capitalize on those 'back to the city' trends. (Something like 90% of the city's growth and redevelopment during that period occured in Ward 2). If you check the record, you'll note that Tony Williams was out of town more than he was in town during that period. Of course, that might have been a good thing for us ... since that meant he was out of the way.

by Lance on Oct 3, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson

Thanks for that, but if the original window was early 2013 though January 2015, then that seems to be the same as the new "delayed" delivery schedule, right? Or is just that the original order will be complete by 2015 and that second order of cars will be delayed until whoknowswhen?

by Adam L on Oct 3, 2011 1:03 pm • linkreport

@Lance

So do you think Tony Williams' time as CFO had nothing to do with DC's improvement? I think you give him too little credit.

by The Heights on Oct 3, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

RE: WMATA Lunch

The WMATA board members are not obligated to work during their lunch break. If taxpayers have to give them a $20 lunch and in return we get an extra hour of work from them, that's not a bad deal. The board member's time is worth significantly more than $20/hour.

Re: Silver Line

Bulova of the Fairfax BoS gave a fairly reasonable story that although they are 70% through contingency funds when the project is only 50% complete, a disproportionate amount of activity that could require contingency funding has been completed (e.g., utility relocation). If that's the case, they're basically on-budget, on-schedule which is pretty amazing for a project of this size and scale. Let's wait to hyperventilate.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

Agree with Falls Church. As someone who has been involved in the Fairfax Water relocations related to the Dulles Rail project, I can attest to the fact that the cost and scope of utility relocations is frequently underestimated by other engineers in the preliminary and even late stages of design. Inevitably there are utilities that are unmarked (especially all the black wires in Tysons) and changes that can only be made in the field during construction. Fortunately utility relocations almost always happen at the beginning of any major infrastructure project. With regards to the Dulles Rail project, they are now complete. If 70% of the total project contingency has been used at this stage, that isn't terrible.

by xtr657 on Oct 3, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

Britain debates higher speed limits

The british approach is actually pretty sensible: Sure they're willing to look at the speeds on their super highways, but they've begun imposing a 20mph maximum speed limit in dense residential areas, Also, lots and lots of automated speed enforcement.

by oboe on Oct 3, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

@Adam L:
I don't know. I checked some old documents, and delivery has always been scheduled for early 2013-end of 2014. I'm not sure what the Examiner means, since on the face of it, the dates appear the same.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 3, 2011 2:17 pm • linkreport

@oboe; I am pretty sure you are wrong on the speed cameras.

If anything, the new goverment is stopping cenral funding of speed cameras. In the past, local councils could put up speed cameras and collect the revenue. This is important, becasue local councils in the UK are exteremly underfunded and rely on central goverment grants. In addition, new revenue for speed cameras goes into the central treasury.

by charlie on Oct 3, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

Unless they're being scaled back, Britain already has FAR more speed cameras than we do here in the US. They're the primary method of speed enforcement over there. Much cheaper/safer than pulling cars over on the roadside.

The reduction in funds has no small part to do with the fact that they're enormously unpopular (and Jeremy Clarkson). On the other hand, they don't seem to be designed as cash cows like they are in the US. British speed cameras are painted yellow, and *directly* marked with huge signs. The only way I can think of to make them more effective would be to pair them with a "Your Speed Is ___" display so that motorists *know* for sure when they're breaking the law and are about to receive a ticket.

(That said, I was never particularly impressed by British highway engineering. I'm surprised to see them squeezing more speed out of their narrow, windy roads)

by andrew on Oct 3, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

@lance..let's also not foget that tony williams had to get on his last ballot as a "write-in"....at least I think he did...didn't he?...what's interesting about the williams love is that I think I remember him not being "too" favored eotr.

The crime stats are interesting but not surprising. At a minimum, I hope people start to revisit @least that part of the fenty talking points..which were valid but not really as a result of

by HogWash on Oct 3, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

Ahh Tony... your term as the independent CFO and 2 terms as Mayor were apparently nothing, as every good thing done in those 12 years would never have happened witbhout the can't get elected mayor CM Evans. Pshaw.

Colbert - what a line: "...that there’s still some part of the word “vet” that Gray doesn’t get."

by greent on Oct 3, 2011 4:57 pm • linkreport

The Examiner story is misleading. The cars are not being built in Japan; they are being built at Kawasaki's U.S. plant, located in Nebraska. There are apparently parts for the cars that are coming from Japan, but the Examiner story doesn't make that clear.

More about the plant here.

by Terry K. on Oct 3, 2011 8:01 pm • linkreport

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