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Breakfast links: Love in the time of commutes


Photo by Adam Gurri on Flickr.
DC's warren of intrigue: 2 DC employees carried on an affair in a District office building and car. It turns out the aptly named "Reeves Center for Municipal Affairs" has its share of empty offices, obscure officials, and odd rental agreements. (City Paper)

Virginia is for transit lovers: Half of area drivers surveyed would take public transportation to work if the commute time were the same or shorter. Virginians are significantly more open to transit than Maryland and District residents. (WTOP)

DC favors taxi color: green: DC will lift its taxi moratorium for low-emission taxis and wheelchair-accessible taxis. Few cabs in DC are low-emissions vehicles. (DCist)

Baker and council at odds: The PG County Council does not like County Exec. Rushern Baker's nominee for county attorney. The nominee disagrees with how the council has responded to a religious discrimination and zoning lawsuit the county lost. (Examiner)

MWAA tidbits: Phase 1 of the Silver Line may run 5% over budget. MWAA, which is building the line, may look for cost savings elsewhere. (Post) ... Ironically, the MWAA board met in secret to discuss how it can be less secretive. (Examiner)

Congressman wants to ease streetcar rules: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), streetcars' biggest friend in Congress, recognizes that federal rules are especially burdensome to streetcar projects. Could he be thinking of the 11th Street bridge? (City Paper)

Washington has wealthiest median: Our region now beats San Jose as the one with the highest median income. Federal employees, government contractors, lobbyists and lawyers all may contribute. But 11% of DC residents are "very poor." (Bloomberg)

Arlington supports Boeing despite objections: Arlington approved Boeing's plan for a new headquarters site near the Pentagon. Though it's not mixed-use, as many had hoped, the county thought the employer was too big to lose. (ARLnow)

Area bridges need repair: 215 bridges in the area are "structurally deficient." They're safe to use, but they contain load-carrying elements that need work. Fortunately, several of the bridges on the list are being repaired or were recently replaced. (Post)

And...: DC's green roofs are good for the environment and recreation. (Miami Herald) ... MD's House approved the governor's gerrymander. (Post) ... Moving from a poor to a middle-class neighborhood reduces your chance of obesity. (Science Now)

Have a tip or building name pun for the links? Submit it here.
Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

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"Could he be thinking of the 11th Street bridge?"

Hopefully not ... for our own sakes. Why is it the GGW crowd (and apparently the former DDOT administration) jumps to the conclusion that using that particular bridge (or any bridge at all) is the best way for 'crossing the river' with the streetcar?

If the former DDOT had done all the required federal environmental impact assessments back when the bridge was being planned (as was pointed out to them at the time), whether or not that bridge was the best crossing conveyance could have been determined then and there and the streetcar would either have been included in that bridge planning ... or in some other planning.

Either GGW really doesn't understand that in their haste to do this thing without planning they delayed themselves, or it's just politically expedient to blame the process rather than the people who didn't follow the process ... And who could argue that knowing sooner rather than later what is the best way for that streetcar to cross the river (over, under it, at that point of the river or some other point) would have been a bad thing? Well ... I guess GGW will/can ...

by Lance on Oct 20, 2011 8:31 am • linkreport

just a slight rewording to clarify what was meant:
"Either GGW really doesn't understand that in their haste to do this thing without planning DDOT delayed themselves."

by Lance on Oct 20, 2011 8:33 am • linkreport

From the "structurally deficient" bridges article:

The Key Bridge, Memorial Bridge and the 14th Street bridge all need immediate repair. More than 215,000 vehicles cross them on an average day. The 14th Street bridge is scheduled to undergo a complete overhaul in the next four years.

Uh, didn't the 14th Street bridge just finish a 2+ year overhaul project? Or did I just imagine the full-time lane closures, huge traffic jams during overnight hours, barges and cranes blocking the Potomac to rowing and sailing traffic, etc.?

by Arl Anon on Oct 20, 2011 9:17 am • linkreport

Lance, I think you're making two points. One is that DDOT didn't follow the right procedures. (Which seems plausible, although from the small amount that I've followed this, there seems to be disagreement over the sequence of decisions that happened).

I'm somewhat amused by your other question, though:
Why is it the GGW crowd (and apparently the former DDOT administration) jumps to the conclusion that using that particular bridge (or any bridge at all) is the best way for 'crossing the river' with the streetcar?

Well, let's look at the options:
1. Use the 11th street bridge (or any existing bridge at all), which would essentially require doing the assessments and then the cost of adding tracks.
2. Build a new bridge, which entails the costs of, well, building an entirely new bridge.
3. Build a new tunnel, which, well, see #2, and quintuple the cost.
4. Don't cross the river with the streetcar, therefore reinforcing the de jure or de facto segregation of the last many decades.

If the goal is to connect the city with the streetcar network (which I understand is not part of your own car-dominant ideas for what the city should do), it's rather hard to conceive of ways in which #2 or #3 would be more feasible/practical than using an existing bridge.

Also, I'm not sure why you put "cross the river" in quotes, unless you either think there is no river, or that the river should remain as the literal and symbolic dividing line that it has for so many years.

by Jacques on Oct 20, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

@Jacques, The reason the feds didn't allow the tracks to go in there is that the overall environmental study wasn't done ... and putting the tracks in there before this study gets peformed would prejudice the decisions in that study because that bridge would now get extra points (in the study) for being the crossing for the streetcar by virtue of the tracks being there ... When in reality, we don't know that that is the best option until all options have been studied. And in a nutshell the feds are protecting us from ourselves (or DDOT) from making rash decisions that don't consider all options.

by Lance on Oct 20, 2011 9:30 am • linkreport

I'm thrilled by the finding that more VA commuters would use mass transit if it were quicker than driving.

Is there some sort of "break even" point for when mass transit becomes a guaranteed quicker commute? I'd imagine the formula is a complicated mix of distance, traffic patterns, time of day, service interval, spacing of transit stops, etc.

Generally speaking I'm wondering if the reason why DC and MD commuters are less inclined to use mass transit is that they believe (rightly or wrongly) that the transit options will NEVER be faster than driving. I commute in DC from Woodley Park to the West End and though I use the bus, it's NEVER faster than driving, either by taxi or a personal car.

by Anonny on Oct 20, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

@ Anonny; the linked article didn't go into too much methodology.

I have to wonder if public transit means "rail" in Virginia, while "bus" is the equilvalent word in the District and Maryland.

Interesting they focused on time and not cost.

by charlie on Oct 20, 2011 10:01 am • linkreport

Re: Virginia is for transit lovers

This poll misinterprets the results. Transit is hardly ever as fast as driving alone, considering the access time to and from transit stops and waiting for the transit vehicle. Therefore, asking whether people would take transit if it were as fast or faster than driving is of no benefit.

The bigger "aha!" from this study is the number of people who would still drive even if transit were faster. This shows us that, even if we could make transit time-competitive, it's very very hard to shift people out of their vehicles.

by MDE on Oct 20, 2011 10:06 am • linkreport

For folks who have the means to chose, the personal calculus will differ from person to person.

For me (and I imagine for many others) the decision isn't just as black and white as "is it faster". If that were the case I would never use transit because as MDE mentioned above, it just isn't time spent sitting on the bus or train seat, its the door to door time commitment.

One big factor for me is the convenince of not having to deal with the crazies on the road. Letting "someone else" drive is worth 10-15 minutes to me each way in additional trip time.

Weather is another. If the weather is horrible, I am less likely to wait at a bus stop or walk to the metro.

On and on...

However, I hardly ever take metro when the time required is mor ethan 25 minutes or so each way than it would to drive.

by freely on Oct 20, 2011 10:24 am • linkreport

There was some water work going on M st near the Key bridge yesterday.

Traffic was a nightmare. Usually when it rains I will hop on a Circulator to Rosslyn - but that wasn't an option.

While I'm sure nobody cares about my opinions, in terms of transit:

1) Having options --- for when a street goes down, or you car is in the shop, r when the weather is bad -- is nice.

2) I think part of our traffic problems is there are a lot of people with short (under 10 mile) coummutes and they don't care too much for finding alternative routes. Once they get through the bottleneck they are home quickly.

3) Traffic information is useless. I could see traffic backing up on M in the west end, which is always a danger sign. But looking on my smartphone didn't give me any information. Best I could see is traffic was stopped, which I could see out the window. information like "there is a water main break near the Key bridge" was impossible to find. Again, goes back to #1 and options.

by charlie on Oct 20, 2011 10:43 am • linkreport

I'm surprised that fewer DC residents than VA prefer to drive than take transit. Maybe because I always assumed that most people (even those with cars) in DC transit it anyway?

@Freely, I think that applies to a lot of people with cars who use transit. Convenience is huuuuge. But I also know that if I did drive, I could get from home to office in less than 20mins which is shorter than the time it takes if I walked to the station or boarded a bus to the station.

by HogWash on Oct 20, 2011 10:49 am • linkreport

@Charlie - You might want to get used to that Water Work. Its part of one of WASA's Large Valve Replacement projects. (Details here: http://goo.gl/hJgsA )

Re: Bridges. The WaPo article notes the *average* age of DC bridges at 57yrs - anyone else wonder what the min/max range is? LoC has lots of *old* pictures with Key Bridge construction in the background.

by Bilsko on Oct 20, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

Repairs were recently made to just one of the 14th St Bridges.

I don't believe that any work was done on the outbound or HOV spans, and it's entirely possible that the defects were discovered on portions of the bridge that were not affected by the recent work (which, IIRC, mainly dealt with the bridge deck and road surface rather than the bridge structure itself).

by andrew on Oct 20, 2011 11:44 am • linkreport

@ Bilsko; 2012? Looking for a gun to shoot myself.

by charlie on Oct 20, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Virginians are significantly more open to transit than Maryland and District residents.

Correction: Northern Virginians are significantly more open to transit than Maryland and District residents. Virginians in Lee, Bath or Westmoreland County probably don't give a shit.

the county thought the employer was too big to lose.

This is bullshit. Where's Boeing gonna go? Fairfax? Same Arlingtonians can still work there.

by Jasper on Oct 20, 2011 12:04 pm • linkreport

Yeah - WASA had another document (I can't find it right at this moment) that indicated that all the work on M St at Key bridge was just the first of a multi-phase project.
The next round of work would be along M St in the West End.

I know they're also working on the cross-town tunnel which has access points from at the Corner of Foxhall & Macarthur and somewhere around 25th and M or N.
Anything on M st is going to gnarl traffic and Foxhall & MacArthur can get pretty ugly with backup too. I think some of the docs state that they're not allowed to work during rush-hour...but we're still talking about months and months of work.

by Bilsko on Oct 20, 2011 12:09 pm • linkreport

HogWash: "I'm surprised that fewer DC residents than VA prefer to drive than take transit."

The article said the poll was only of drivers who did not take public transit - so it's not very informative of what people who have experience using both modes prefer. I think having a poll of those commuters would be more interesting. (Also there were only about 50 DC residents interviewed to begin with).

by DCster on Oct 20, 2011 12:17 pm • linkreport

@ Bilsko; yesterday it was a big pit. During rush hour the lane was still blocked. Perhaps that can be allieveated quickly.

The tunnel isn't scheduled for a while?...there was a piece a few days (weeks?) ago on WASA getting the tunnel boring machines.

by charlie on Oct 20, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

"It turns out the aptly named "Reeves Center for Municipal Affairs" has its share of empty offices, obscure officials, and odd rental agreements."

And don't forget the Reeves Center also prominently has the name of DC's Mayor-for-Life (and self-proclaimed "night owl") Marion Barry on top...

by Bob on Oct 20, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

I think everyone wants more openness, but isn't it possible that meeting in private - or secret if you will - has some advantages that you don't get from a public meeting. It allows people to brainstorm without fear of looking stupid or offending a constituency. Once you put a camera in front of people, they say less than they otherwise would. That's just moving the secretive line from external to internal and at the cost of honest communication.

There has to be some happy medium that allows the public to be included in every step, but that allows policymakers to have discussions in private where they feel they can be honest without fear. The Constitution was formed in secret, and it turned out pretty good.

by David C on Oct 20, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Lance: If you accept that a streetcar line will be built (in addition to the one being built on Benning Road), given the reconstruction of the 11th Street bridge, this is the obvious place to put the tracks. No study is needed. Unless you think a completely new bridge should be built -- Mass Ave anyone?

by goldfish on Oct 20, 2011 1:15 pm • linkreport

Why is it the GGW crowd (and apparently the former DDOT administration) jumps to the conclusion that using that particular bridge (or any bridge at all) is the best way for 'crossing the river' with the streetcar?

Wouldn't requiring the streetcars to be amphibious or to operate in a "submarine-mode" further strain the projected DDOT budget? This might also lead to difficulties in sourcing appropriate cars, since no American manufacturers offer such cars currently.

I agree, though, that we should tread carefully, with a open-ended series of comprehensive, iterative studies to be undertaken...at least until people stop talking about streetcars.

by oboe on Oct 20, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

@goldfish,

given the reconstruction of the 11th Street bridge, this is the obvious place to put the tracks. No study is needed. Unless you think a completely new bridge should be built -- Mass Ave anyone?

I think it's the height of irresponsiblity to be floating these various proposals without a formal study. Who are you to simply declare "no study is needed". At the very least, we should encourage Mayor Gray to impanel a Blue-Ribbon Commission whose mandate is to study the issue of whether or not a study really is needed, and report its initial findings back to us no later than Q3/2017.

by oboe on Oct 20, 2011 2:10 pm • linkreport

@oboe: appreciate the support. But if you really want to give someone a boost, cite them.

by goldfish on Oct 20, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

The poll only asks current drivers whether they'd switch, so it doesn't really say anything about the proportion of VA/DC/MD residents who would or do take transit. Presumably the people most "open to transit" are those who already take it and weren't included in the survey.

by jakeod on Oct 20, 2011 7:21 pm • linkreport

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