Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Getting what you don't want


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
Friendship Heights gets power, not residents: The Akridge-owned site in Friendship Heights has sold to Pepco. Instead of the mixed-use development Akridge was planning, at least some of the site will be a power substation. (WBJ)

Congo gets a protest over front yard: Residents have decided to protest the Congo embassy at 16th and Riggs, which paved its front yard in violation of supposed promises from earlier this year. Appeals to the State Department have not been fruitful. (Examiner)

Issa giveth and taketh away for DC: Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) promised to give DC the ability to approve its own budget, but only if it restricts abortion funding. He also apparently didn't show any DC leaders the bill ahead of time. (Post)

Gray supports globe on freeway idea: That horrendously ugly globe-shaped center on top of I-395? Vince Gray's all for it. At least, he's for the concept of Chinese business­people opening a center in DC; he didn't talk about the design. (City Paper)

Deal makes Silver Line to Dulles likely: Both Virginia and USDOT have agreed to chip in for the Silver Line's phase 2 to Dulles and Loudoun. Tolls will rise to about $4 on the Toll Road, but not as much as feared. (Post, Examiner)

Windshield perspective gets creative: An entertaining letter to Dr. Gridlock claims bikes should always yield to cars because it takes gas for the car to start again, whereas getting back to speed is good exercise for the cyclist. (WashCycle)

Bad trail: The Washington Boulevard Trail in Arlington has a very dangerous segment. A reader spotted another crash, and says drivers routinely speed and don't yield to pedestrians or cyclists. (WashCycle)

Keeping up on corruption: DC Mayor Gray makes his cabinet sign an ethics pledge (All About D.C. Politics)... Sulaimon Brown will appear in traffic court for driving on a suspended license (WAMU)... Apparently Jack Johnson's wife knew everything about what her husband was doing. (Gazette)

And...: Ray LaHood's #2, Roy Kienitz, will leave USDOT (Streetsblog) ... Prince George's has ths 5th highest gang membership in the country. (Examiner) ... It takes more than a supermarket transform a food desert into a healthy community. (WAMU)

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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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On the other hand, if the bicyclist yields, he or she will lose forward momentum and will have to use additional physical energy to get back up to speed, resulting in a better workout.

Am I missing something?

Of course he is ... That these folks are trying to use the bikes as more than a recreational means. And it's understandable he wouldn't think that. In today's world where work and home and home and shop and everything in between is at vast disances, only the few and priviledged can be in a position to 'ride their bike to work'. I.e., It's completely understandable that he's not considering their special and priviledged circumstances. And they're of course not considering his circumstance ... i.e., that he's got to get to work and having to always yield to someone on a bike just isn't right or fair.

by Lance on Nov 15, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

I don't think you have an active link for the examiner story about the silver line. I couldn't open it at all.

And God forbid someone want to take a bike ride somewhere without feeling like you've just pushed yourself to the limit.

by Canaan on Nov 15, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Right turn on red was introduced as a gas saving measure. Along with the 55 MPG speed limit...

As someone who tries to drive efficiently, a lot of traffic calming measures are very unproductive for gas mileage. It is frustrating.

However, I think the better rule is one of size: Buses/Trucks yield to cars which yield to bikes which yield to pedestrians.

by charlie on Nov 15, 2011 9:31 am • linkreport

bikes should always yield to cars because it takes gas for the car to start again, whereas getting back to speed is good exercise for the cyclist.

But what about car drivers who are exercising their ankles?

by Jasper on Nov 15, 2011 9:32 am • linkreport

Fixed the Examiner link on Silver Line. Thanks.

by David Alpert on Nov 15, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

Oh Lance, it's so cute how you do that every time. As if the bicycle wasn't one of the most egalitarian modes of travel ever devised by man. Don't need a whole lot of money to procure one, nor maintain one. When was bicycling ONLY a "recreational" activity? Even in the 80's and 90's when, it seemed, only those pesky bike messengers were riding, it was to them, a utilitarian means of making a living. I know of plenty of people today who simply find it easier to get anywhere in and around the city by bike..not to mention they don't have to buy gym memberships to stay fit. Maybe if we, as Americans, weren't so fat and lazy, we could travel these "vast distances" you speak of. Or maybe, we could just design our environment so that we don't have to have "vast distances" separating us from our "work and home and home and shop and everything in between"....you know, like we used to.
I'll leave it to others to tell you (though I know you've heard it countless times before) how privileged today's motorists actually are!

by thump on Nov 15, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

I guess those NIMBYs in Friendship Heights got what they wanted.

by mike on Nov 15, 2011 10:12 am • linkreport

The congo embassy protesters should alsi appeal DC govt as I believe the driveway is city property.

Occupy congo anyone?

by Falls Church on Nov 15, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

Do we have an official ruling that I-395 building is in fact "ugly"? Clearly not everyone thinks so right (or else no one would design/propose/build it)? Perhaps it is better labeled as "controversial"?

And Lance, seriously? cyclists are rich and privileged, because they live close to work and can bike? Then I guess those who walk to work - and are thus even closer - must be the 1%, huh?

by David C on Nov 15, 2011 10:41 am • linkreport

The Tenley and Friendship Heights NIMBYs must be thrilled there is a PEPCO substation going in at Friendship Heights, right next to the metro station, instead of an attractive 7-8 story residential building that would expanded DC's tax base. At least the PEPCO substation will generate very little traffic and the NIMBYs can probably park directly in front of it. Score one for the anti-progress NIMBYs!

by Ben on Nov 15, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

@Ben 'instead of an attractive 7-8 story residential building that would expanded DC's tax base.

Why does everyone always talk about expanding the tax base as if this happens in a vacuum? I.e., 'Yippee we've expanded the tax base and gotten more revenue in!'

Don't those new residents need services too? And given their oftentimes unique needs such as these condo/apartment residents who would likely be more mass-transit dependent then the current tax base (and this being a transportation mode that tends to be more highly subsidized by the taxpayer at large than others), wouldn't their arrival most likely mean a negative in regards to the revenues vs. expenditures equation?

I.e., isn't the overly simplistic 'expanding the tax base' only half the real story?

by Lance on Nov 15, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

@Lance:

I bet you would have been able to count the number of school-aged children who would attend DC public schools who lived at the 5220 Akridge development on one hand.

Also, the marginal cost of accommodating one additional metro-rail or bus passenger is negligible. The same can't be said about the tax revenue from $500K - $1.5M condos nor the income taxes from the residents who would have lived there or the expanded sales and restuarant taxes from these residents.

by Ben on Nov 15, 2011 11:10 am • linkreport

A lot of the opponents in NW are crippled by nostalgia for some place and time in DC's past - although this time, it seems to be near Northeast in the 1970s.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 15, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

Lance your argument makes little sense. Have you been living under a rock, residential smart growth is all the rage now.

by mike on Nov 15, 2011 11:36 am • linkreport

@Lance

Your math on the net impact of a development like that is hilariously off.

As for whether new residents are worth it or not, the biggest question is kids. If they have kids, they're net recipients. If not, they're net donors.

But add in the sales tax revenue from any retail in the place, as well as the property tax value of the development.

Their transportation costs would be negligible in any case. The Metro there is already built.

by Alex B. on Nov 15, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

Indeed, the Metro might be more efficient, because more passenger-miles will be ridden for each vehicle-mile.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 15, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

No guys, clearly every time a passenger gets on Metro, WMATA has to put another $1 in the piggy bank to pay the "per-passenger subsidy"!

by MLD on Nov 15, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Alex B,

As for whether new residents are worth it or not, the biggest question is kids. If they have kids, they're net recipients. If not, they're net donors.

So our model for growth in this city is to expand the 'taxpayers without kids' taxbase? Yes, I know that's how Williams and Fenty looked to solve all the problems with funding ... but again, this doesn't happen in a vacuum ... as witnessed by the demands for services in other areas by our new kid-less expanded tax basis. How many billions of dollars were we talking about in adding for the streetcar? And what about the dog parks and bike paths, don't you think they come at a cost? Mind you, I'm not saying we shouldn't be providing these services to the kid-less, I think we should. I'm just saying let's not lull ourselves into thinking we need to make all types of exceptions to attract a kid-less taxbase under the wrong assumption that this kid-less taxbase will solve all problems. And this is the case if for no other reason than unless we want to be a revolving door for people in that temporary stage in their lives when they are through with college (and becoming tax payers) but not yet requiring schools for their kids, then that's what we'll get. I.e., We'll have a city made up mainly of people who don't have a long term stake in it and whose decisions will accordingly be biased towards the short term benefits irrespective of the long term costs. Yeah, let's build a streetcar system haphardzardly and right away so that I can benefit now from it ... and leave the citizens of a Washington decades down the road to figure out how to pay for it. It's a mindset for disaster ...

Their transportation costs would be negligible in any case. The Metro there is already built.

Ask any provider or any public utility whether it's the last incremental costs which are the most expensive or not. Hint, why do you think the electric utilities do all they can to encourage keeping keeping 'peak usuage' low? Building new capacity for that last increment makes it the most expensive demand to satisfy.

by Lance on Nov 15, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

[T]his doesn't happen in a vacuum ... as witnessed by the demands for [b]services in other areas by our new kid-less expanded tax basis. How many billions of dollars were we talking about in adding for the streetcar? And what about the dog parks and bike paths, don't you think they come at a cost?[/b]

Nothing to add here. Since it's self-refuting with just a moments reflection, I just wanted to see it again in print.

by oboe on Nov 15, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

"Ask any provider or any public utility whether it's the last incremental costs which are the most expensive or not. Hint, why do you think the electric utilities do all they can to encourage keeping keeping 'peak usuage' low? Building new capacity for that last increment makes it the most expensive demand to satisfy."

in electricity the variable costs of marginal usage WITHIN capacity ARE low (though there are different costs for peaking units, because of different fuel usage) but ADDING capacity is expensive.

Certainly if there is going to be an additional track added to the red line to accommodate the growth along the red wine, that would be significant. I dont think thats in the cards though.

Additional service in not currently served directions (like the purpleline) is another matter, as that does more than serve additional customers on the existing red line, but adds additional regional connectivity

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 15, 2011 1:11 pm • linkreport

"As for whether new residents are worth it or not, the biggest question is kids. If they have kids, they're net recipients. If not, they're net donors."

if they have kids who are currently in public school. One with preschoolers, empty nesters, home schoolers, and ones who send to private schools, are all mostly financially equivalent to the childless.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 15, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

@Lance

So, you're suggesting that a 70 unit apartment building would massively change Metro's operating costs at one station?

Sorry, but no.

If you want to do the detailed fiscal benefit analysis, be my guest. But you actually have to do the analysis, that's my point.

by Alex B. on Nov 15, 2011 1:13 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

You're correct. The property line starts at the building itself, the yard is legally public property. If this were any other property, the government could take action to compel the owner to replace the yard, trees, etc. or likely take action itself, if necessary.

The issue here is whether anything can practically be done in this case. Even though it's public property, I'm not sure how the State Department would react to neighbors taking a jackhammer to the pavement.

But it's very, very clear that the embassy intends to put in "Nobody can stop us to do that driveway ... although that is not our intention," Mombouli said. They didn't reveal an intention to pave over the lawn, but that didn't stop them. They have to be watched like a hawk to make sure that they are stopped from putting in any illegal curb cuts.

by Adam L on Nov 15, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

@oboe, that statement isn't 'self-refuting' ... Maybe you didn't understand my point? And based on your misunderstand ... you think it's 'self-refuting'?

by Lance on Nov 15, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

Regarding the cost of public services, one child going through 13 years of DCPS, at current rates, will cost the taxpayers as much as building the entire two-mile-long cycletrack on 15th Street. (Compare that to $6 million [30 DCPS-pupil-cost equivalents] to repave one mile of Rock Creek Parkway.) Bike lanes and dog parks amount to pocket change in municipal government terms.

Even sprawl-apologist Joel Garreau's "Edge City" book notes a 1984 analysis by Loudoun County that the primary cost to local governments for residential development is schools, the primary cost of commercial development is roads, and that expensive houses make money for localities -- hence the "fiscal zoning" common to countless smaller suburban jurisdictions nationwide. New multifamily housing in Friendship Heights could very likely draw empty nesters who otherwise would consider living just across the line in Maryland, so yes, that's a potential net gain to the city.

by Payton on Nov 15, 2011 2:04 pm • linkreport

I'm genuinely surprised that Phase 2 of the Silver Line is moving forward without much fuss. I was nearly certain that it was going to either be tabled for several years, or not built at all.

I'm also surprised that MWAA will be managing construction of the second phase. I guess it makes sense for them to build their own station, but I can't imagine that many folks are happy with the way that the (almost stupidly expensive) construction of the first phase has gone, along with numerous features/amenities plucked out of the design along the way.

Granted, there'd be costs associated with transferring management duties to a separate entity, but I'd argue that MWAA haven't proven themselves to be particularly competent or efficient railroad builders.

by andrew on Nov 15, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

@Lance,

Perhaps you're right. Sorry if I did, but it sounded like you were arguing that streetcars, dog parks, bike lanes, and other initiatives were services that catered to single people rather than things that served old, young, rich, poor, childless and family alike.

So you can see where my amused bemusement would come from.

by oboe on Nov 15, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

@Adam L. Presumably DC, if alerted in a timely fashion, could at least order contractors to stop digging up city curbs and sidewalks to put in a driveway. And if they didn't stop (or weren't caught in time, the city could conduct the removal/restoration of curbs itself.

The issue with the front yard/public space is the optics of working inside a fence/gate that encloses public property. But the city could do it--it's not Congo's sovereign territory. Occupy Congo!

by ah on Nov 15, 2011 5:52 pm • linkreport

@Lance - if you think that only "the few and the the few and priviledged can be in a position to ride their bike to work", then you must not actually be observing who is on the roads, riding during workdays.

In my experience, recent immigrants tend to dominate this category.

by Frank IBC on Nov 15, 2011 9:54 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, Yeah my point was simply refuting the belief by many that "As for whether new residents are worth it or not, the biggest question is kids. If they have kids, they're net recipients. If not, they're net donors.

i.e., while they may not yet have a need for schools for their kids, as we've seen in the very recent past, they have other equally costly needs ... such as a multi-billion dollar streetcar system ... I.e., trying to fool people into moving in here with the intent of fleecing them for their tax dollars is proving to a very bad policy not only ethically but from a practical standpoint as well.

by Lance on Nov 15, 2011 10:48 pm • linkreport

Were people moving to DC previously under the assumption that they wouldn't be paying taxes? I don't see how it is ethically wrong otherwise to assume that new residents will necessarily bring increased tax revenues one way or the other. It's not like there are secret taxes to spring on newcomers that they wouldn't necessarily know about.

by Canaan on Nov 16, 2011 8:18 am • linkreport

Clearly it's a bait-and-switch on current DC residents who, when they move here, can reasonably expect that nothing will ever change and they are the last person who gets to make any sort of impact on the city.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

@Lance,

Maybe I'm just slow today, but it still sounds like you're arguing "that streetcars, dog parks, bike lanes, and other initiatives were services that catered to single people rather than things that served old, young, rich, poor, childless and family alike."

That's the argument that I find self-refuting. If you want to argue that we shouldn't implement public service that middle-class people like because they're expensive, obviously you're free to do so. But to put "schools" on one side of the ledger and "streetcars and dog parks" on the other, that's a pretty silly argument to make.

Parents are people too. And children will ride streetcars. And use bike lanes. And--although this is anecdotal--growing up I knew a child whose parents got him a puppy. So there's at least a single data point that the interests of children and dogs can be, at least in theory, aligned.

by oboe on Nov 16, 2011 10:44 am • linkreport

@oboe

I think what he's saying is we shouldn't allow anyone new to move to DC because then they'll just cost us more money!

Either that or we should have a DC HOA application that has the question "Do you ride transit?" on it.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2011 10:55 am • linkreport

@Oboe "But to put "schools" on one side of the ledger and "streetcars and dog parks" on the other, that's a pretty silly argument to make.

Who put schools anywhere on the ledger ... I never mentioned them. My point is simply that during the last two administrations (prior to this one) there's been a concerted effort out there to lure DINKs (dual incomes no kids) to the city under the belief (as expressed by many on here) that they use little in city services and, on the converse side, will contribute a lot 'to the ledger' in the way of tax revenue. And I'm saying that not only is trying to lure the DINKs in for this purpose a little on the shady side (i.e., 'come on in ... we need help paying our bills') but turning out to be very unworkable as the powers that be learn that these high income taxpayers without the traditional need for services from the city, have OTHER needs for services ... such as very expensive streetcar systems, increased density (which comes at a heavy price for everyone ... monetarially and otherwise), ... and those demands are just beginning. BECAUSE, if the city actually succeeds in fulfilling its vision for redevelopment and renovation these DINKs will be staying even after they become Dual-Incomes-WITH-kids ... and further add to those budget items in addition to the other readily apparent ones we're already seeing.

Bottom line ... there's no free lunch. Let's get our budget in order by not spending more than we take in, and not base our ever-increasing budgets on the assumption that we can just 'out grow' our debts by bringing in new residents with taxable dollars. It's a Ponzi game that'll crash some day.

by Lance on Nov 16, 2011 11:39 pm • linkreport

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