Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Half or double?


Photo by graciepoo on Flickr.
Transit benefit will shrink by half: The federal commuter tax benefit will be cut in half January 1 even as parking perks increase. Riders nationwide are campaigning to preserve the higher limits. (Patch, Examiner, Forbes) ... Contact your representatives!

DC taxi rate may double: Soon after Arlington raised taxi rates, the DC Taxi Commission may do the same. Per-mile charges could almost double, but all the other fees for extra passengers, luggage and more would go away. (Examiner)

Watergate Safeway, 1966-2011: The store closes this week, leaving elderly residents without accessible groceries and college students without affordable groceries. Are Whole Foods and Trader Joe's the only urban model grocery? (Post, GW Hatchet)

Mall parking 60% empty: The weekend before Black Friday, typically a busy shopping time, shopping mall parking lots were only 40% full. That's a lot of land devoted to being 60% empty or more almost all the time. (Getting from here to there, Michael P.)

Replace fringe malls with downtown growth: The economics show that fringe suburbs won't be as popular as they used to be. Regions should encourage downtown growth, connect employment with transit, and stop paving farms. (NYT) ... Perhaps they could start by just allowing downtown development. (Yglesias)

Why's it hard to shop locally?: Despite "Small Business Saturday," it's not easy to shop in neighborhood commercial areas. Why? There are many such corridors with few retail stores, while there's greater demand for restaurants in neighborhoods. (RPUS)

Mickey Mouse is out: Disney backed out of plans for a 500-room hotel and casino at National Harbor. Only 1/3 of the planned development has happened, largely due to the economy. Will the county now focus more on developing its Metro sites? (Post)

Slower speeds safer, but practical?: 15-mph speeds on residential streets save lives in when crashes happen, but are hard on automatic transmissions. How about redesigning streets with lower design speeds? (TheWashCycle)

And...: A man is dead after a weekend shooting outside Dupont's Heritage India. Should ABRA be more proactive about places with known problems? (Post, Shaw Deserves Better) ... Governor O'Malley plans an ambitious agenda including marriage equality and gas tax hikes. (Post) ... Arlington sees some parking lot rage. (ARLnow)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
Born in DC, Moira grew up in Arlington and became an avid urbanist after studying and living in London. She is currently a fellow with Smart Growth America, working on the Governors' Institute on Community Design program.  

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Assuming you meant Black Friday instead of "Blank Friday".

by Froggie on Nov 28, 2011 9:09 am • linkreport

Oops! Editing error on my part... fixed.

by David Alpert on Nov 28, 2011 9:12 am • linkreport

Coming back from Europe, I can only say that I was surprised again how narrow streets are. Narrower streets lead to slower traffic, and more negotiations between traffic participants. It looks more chaotic, but works pretty well.

by Jasper on Nov 28, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

To answer your question about Whole Foods and Trader Joes being the only "model urban groceries" I would say no. The Safeway in the City Vista complex (where I live) and the proposed Giant at the 7th and O Streets development are both pretty good examples. I would say that it's 100% more about the design than the occupant.

by Shipsa01 on Nov 28, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

of course the week that jasper apparently leaves town there are a bunch of stories about the Netherlands working with/in DC.

by Canaan on Nov 28, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

@ Canaan: I saw that shortly in passing, but had nothing to do with it.

by Jasper on Nov 28, 2011 9:43 am • linkreport

Also the post story compares watergate to Kentlands because things are in walking distance which really shows how design matters.

by Canaan on Nov 28, 2011 9:43 am • linkreport

As a shadetree (auto and bicycle) mechanic, I'm skeptical of the assertion that 15 mph speed limits "are hard on automatic transmissions." It looks like the linked Washcycle post refers to (1) comments from AAA Mid-Atlantic about the astonishing physical challenge of staying below 15, and (2) some unsupported comments on that blog suggesting that cars with automatic transmissions will often coast above that speed. But even if we accept as true that some cars may have higher coasting speeds (not true of any car I've driven, but sure, why not?), I don't see a connection to transmission wear. Hard on brakes, maybe. But why would it be hard on transmissions?

by tdballo on Nov 28, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

Also the post story compares watergate to Kentlands because things are in walking distance which really shows how design matters.

I'm not sure the comparison is apt, but I get what you're saying. The sociological ideas behind New Urbanism / the RPA's use of centered neighborhood units and midcentury architecture's interest in semi-autonomous superblocks are pretty different.

The City Vista's integration into the fabric, while also encompassing a bunch of facilities might be a better one.

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 28, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

tdballo,
Correct, it makes no sense, not all cars gear ratios are the same. I bet this is an old myth, back in the days when most people drove manuals; where 15-20mph was the magic spot between 1rst and 2nd gear (either you ride high in 1rst or lugged in second).

by RJ on Nov 28, 2011 10:08 am • linkreport

If there's anything small government tea party-ers and liberal greens can agree on, it ought to be the elimination of regulations related to parking minimums. We don't need government to tell businesses how much parking they should provide their customers. Unfortunately, no one seems to be interested in commons sense centrist approaches these days.

by Falls Church on Nov 28, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

@tdballo - As another "Shade Tree Mechanic" also of bikes, cars and pretty much anything else mechanical, I agree with you 100%.

(I've never heard the term "shade tree mechanic" before but I like it and it is very apt for this area in the summer - I'll park my car several doors away under a large tree when I know I need to work on it the next day. Hot asphalt burns!)

by Shady on Nov 28, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

@Neil,

I was referring to how developments like watergate and Kentlands are usually compared by their differences, something like Kentlands being seen as an answer to mistakes found in a place like Watergate. That said, its not a "new" idea that people like to be able to walk to places considering that walking was pretty much our only means of transportation for a long time. Once you realize this (and its weird how this has to be retaught) then it comes down to the effinciency of design which something like Kentlands (which just sticks to basics) can eventually succeed compared to the relative decline of a super block where the concept didn't really re-shape how we view our urban areas for the better.

by Canaan on Nov 28, 2011 10:18 am • linkreport

Outside my office in suburban Virginia, there's a long, straight stretch of 15-mph road. It's by no means "physically impossible" to drive that slow. But it is highly frustrating because (a)the stretch is a half-mile long and (b) it has perfect sightlines. You can see kids playing in yards from that half-mile distance. It seems like I spend more time looking at my speedometer than I do watching for hazards, simply because that low speed seems very unnatural.

by David on Nov 28, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

I'm sorry, outside of alleyways, 15mph is simply not a reasonable speed to expect cars to drive at for any length of time.

Once you narrow streets to the point where it's reasonable to expect a 15mph speed limit, then they become too narrow and inefficient for both cars and bicycles to share the road simultaneously.

Sure, you might suggest separate bike paths or bikeways, but then the risk of an collision declines to the point where the 15mph speed limit becomes pointless.

This is as pointless as the 35mph speed limit on Route 50, and about as enforceable.

by JustMe on Nov 28, 2011 10:28 am • linkreport

If your car has an automatic transmission, and it "coasts" above 15 mph you should probably take it in for a tune-up. You're idle is way too high.

by oboe on Nov 28, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

If there's anything small government tea party-ers and liberal greens can agree on, it ought to be the elimination of regulations related to parking minimums.

Tea Partiers are actually an interest group in favor of exurban development patterns and take great offense to the elimination of parking minimums which would affect their own ability to find parking and is considered a "back door" towards more support of transit and mixed-use development and giving power towards their political rivals, liberal urbanists. "Tea Partiers" are much more of a force supporting a cultural vision than something related to a "philosophy of government."

by JustMe on Nov 28, 2011 10:31 am • linkreport

@JustMe: I'm sorry, outside of alleyways, 15mph is simply not a reasonable speed to expect cars to drive at for any length of time.

But is it a reasonable speed to expect people to drive cars at for any length of time?

by Miriam on Nov 28, 2011 10:50 am • linkreport

The commuter tax benefit is one of many such items that SHOULD be fully eliminated from the Federal budget. It is not the business of government to provide 'welfare' for commuters at Taxpayer's expense. If alternative transportation is not cost effective then it dies. These kinds of perks kill competition and should never have become part of the DC landscape. Also, why do we have these articles that this silly subsidy and hopefully other cuts will follow.

I doubt if taxpayers is most of the nation fully understood this perk they would end them in a fair vote. Yes, I know it's available outside DC but it benefits the few at a cost to the many.

by Pelham1861 on Nov 28, 2011 10:51 am • linkreport

---> "The store closes this week, leaving elderly residents without accessible groceries and college students without affordable groceries."

And how is this sentence in any way responsible journalism? Students and the 'alleged' elderly will be just fine. What is the point of this story...for someone to force SAFEWAY to stay open in a location really only aimed at the few and not the many?

by Pelham1861 on Nov 28, 2011 10:56 am • linkreport

Pelham, plenty of employers provide this sort of benefit. The government is just being competitive with private employers. You probably wouldn't have blinked if the article mentioned that government employees got subsidized parking spots.

by JustMe on Nov 28, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

Re: Transit Bill

I would note that the both Senators from Maryland are co-sponsors as well as Eleanor Holmes Norton, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran, Dutch Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes in the House.

If you are a constituent of Donna Edwards, Chris Van Hollen, Frank Wolf, Mark Warner, or Jim Webb, tell them to get on it.

by Adam L on Nov 28, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

"The store closes this week, leaving elderly residents without accessible groceries"

Do you mean that it leaves elderly residents without a grocery store in their own building? Is that how we're defining accessible these days? The USDA typically classifies "high accessibility" in an urban areas to be within a 1/2 mile walk to the nearest a supermarket. This means that the Whole Foods (4 blocks away) and the Trader Joes (5 blocks away) would satisfy that classification.

In addition, there are some university-associated food shops within walking distance and numerous competitive options for shipping groceries directly to the home. Let's also not forget that there are 1,250 below-market parking spaces in the Watergate and free parking at the major grocery stores in the neighborhood, to satisfy those who want or need to drive -- and a shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes between the Kennedy Center (directly adjacent to Watergate) and 23rd and I St (directly adjacent to Whole Foods).

On top of that, the Watergate is not a functioning elderly care facility. People are free to make the choice to unload their real estate in the complex or to lobby the building's ownership for better tenants.

I shopped at the Watergate Safeway for over 2 years; it was a subpar grocery store that had an awkward layout, horrible customer service and often ran low on staple foods. These are all issues that are understandably magnified for the elderly. I would hope that whatever replaces it serves the needs of the community in a better way. However, many would argue that Watergate's grocery accessibility has actually been enhanced in the last 5 years with the introduction of much better options within walking distance of the complex.

To suggest that the Watergate does not have accessible food options seems to marginalize the situation of the elderly, especially the elderly poor, who live in areas that are actually lacking in accessible food options.

by Scoot on Nov 28, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Happy to see the Senior Safeway close. A horribly designed store with a poor and mismatched selection of products. I would rather sit through Georgetown traffic to get to the Social Safeway then walk to the Senior Safeway.

Hopefully the space is used more efficiently in the future.

by cmc on Nov 28, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

Also, I have a question about your inclusion of a murder (in the And section) in Dupont last night. What's the criteria for getting listed?

On Saturday, Joseph Mickens was murdered in Kingman Park (http://homicidewatch.org/victims/joseph-jerome-mickens/) and Mico Briscoe was fatally shot in Trinidad (http://homicidewatch.org/victims/mico-briscoe/). Why no mention of them?

by Shipsa01 on Nov 28, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

@Pelham

I'd be fine with eliminating the tax benefit for transit if you also eliminated said benefit for parking, too. That's the issue here - it's not that the transit benefit is going away, it's that it's dropping in half while the parking benefit is not.

@JustMe

To be clear, this isn't about government benefits to government employees, this is about a pre-tax benefit that is available to any employer. Our tax code is set up in a way that certain employee benefits are offered tax-free (including things like healthcare and transportation).

This is different from what the federal government chooses to offer its employees. This change would affect all employees that get a pre-tax transit benefit.

by Alex B. on Nov 28, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport

Once you narrow streets to the point where it's reasonable to expect a 15mph speed limit, then they become too narrow and inefficient for both cars and bicycles to share the road simultaneously.

@JustMe: I brought up 6th St NE the other day on GGW for precisely this reason. For its entire length through Capitol Hill, 6th St has a normal-sized painted bike lane. South of K street, the road is one way, and somewhat (but not extremely) narrow. On these portions, cars drive at a somewhat reasonable pace.

North of K, however, the street is bidirectional, has no trees, and is designated as a truck route. Accordingly, the street is much wider, there's a turn lane with a traffic island, and people drive much, much faster (to the extent that I frequently hear screeching tires when drivers unexpectedly encounter the stop signs). These stop signs only exist because a young girl was struck and killed by a speeding motorist here a few years ago.

I'll grant you that a street would either need to have lots of speed tables, or be unreasonably narrow (and cyclist-hostile) to enforce a 15mph limit. However, DC has plenty of streets that could be redesigned to encourage drivers to obey the already-existing 25mph limit. 6th St is a great example, because it does this very well south of K, but sucks north of there.

I suppose you could make a narrow road cyclist-friendly by installing a curbside cycletrack. However, this is expensive, and would create safety problems for pedestrians in its own right, as you'd just be encouraging cyclists to go faster.

A 15mph limit would also drive a lot of traffic off of "neighborhood streets", and onto "through" routes (which would also necessarily be in *someone's* neighborhood). This might be okay for the "neighborhood streets", because cyclists wouldn't have many cars to contend with, but would funnel lots of traffic onto a few unfortunate streets.

I get the point of lower speeds, and sympathize with the goals. However, I worry about the unintended side-effects of such a policy, and whether or not those effects would offset the benefits. For this reason, I'd rather focus our efforts on designing streets to conform to the limits that are already in place.

(Oh, and on the transmission point, I kind of get what they're talking about. To achieve better fuel efficiency, most cars will shift up to 2nd as soon as it's physically possible, which can make driving at 15mph bit difficult, as you're either lurched into a too-high gear, or keep shifting between first and second. Manual transmissions also have their own set of issues in stop-and-go traffic)

by andrew on Nov 28, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

I'm with Alex B -- eliminate the tax benefit for both transit and employee parking so as to bring them in line with the tax benefit for walking to work...which is zero.

Absent the elimination of all subsidies, however, it makes sense for subsidies to be equal regardless of your method of locomotion. We don't need the government to be picking winners by subsidizing one form of transpo over another.

by Falls Church on Nov 28, 2011 1:41 pm • linkreport

Once you narrow streets to the point where it's reasonable to expect a 15mph speed limit, then they become too narrow and inefficient for both cars and bicycles to share the road simultaneously.

I have no idea what you're talking about. At 15mph, cars and bikes are going the same speed, which is really ideal for sharing the road. It's just they're doing it in series instead of parallel.

Besides, some of the narrowing could be done by adding cycletracks.

The commuter tax benefit is one of many such items that SHOULD be fully eliminated from the Federal budget.

So what is going on here is that commuter transit benefits are made into a non-taxable fringe benefit, the same way that parking benefits are. If you would like to get rid of all of these non-taxable fringe benefits, that is fine. If your employer provides you with free parking, they will then need to declare that as a taxable benefit, estimate the value and include it on your W-2, at which you'll have to pay taxes on it.

In addition, some people are given additional pay to pay for their transit just as they're provided free parking. So, again, if you're against this, you must also oppose free government provided parking.

I support parity. The easiest way to do that is to either charge market rates for parking, or allow a cash out option and provide parking free. You can either tax the free parking/cash out or not - it doesn't matter, but know that deciding to tax it, is deciding to raise taxes.

by David C on Nov 28, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: "A 15mph limit would also drive a lot of traffic off of "neighborhood streets", and onto "through" routes (which would also necessarily be in *someone's* neighborhood)."

Equally likely, a 15mph limit would cause a lot of traffic to evaporate into thin air in a sort of inverse of the induced demand effect. In particular, the through routes in other neighborhoods might well not be detectably affected. I'll let this be IMO since don't have time to cite anything more than Jane Jacob's description in "Death and Life..." of the closing of Fifth Avenue through Washington Square about half a century ago, when a heavily trafficked through route was closed and the floods of diverted traffic the "antis" confidently expected entirely failed to materialize.

by davidj on Nov 28, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

We don't need the government to be picking winners by subsidizing one form of transpo over another.

Maybe, but I think the case could be made that the government has a demonstrated interest in subsidizing certain forms of transportation on a basis of regulating commerce, enhancing national security, reducing environmental degredation, and improving public welfare and safety, among others. But if we're going to eliminate the picking of winners, then we should also eliminate the massive government subsidies to roads (local and interstate) and parking lots, various tax incentives for fuel efficient vehicles, and subsidies for regional rail like Amtrak.

by Scoot on Nov 28, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

We don't need the government to be picking winners...

And while we're at it, this is an oft-repeated refrain, but it isn't necessarily true. Having the government pick winners can be very useful at times. Setting a standard gauge for railroads or defining certain safety constraints like seatbelts is very handy.

A study I read a few years ago showed that when government picked winners they didn't always pick the best technology (light water reactors for example) but on average the gains in efficiency made up for this.

In this case, there could be a very good argument made for preferring certain types of travel (biking and walking especially) over others (solo driving), and for tailoring incentives to encourage the former over the latter.

by David C on Nov 28, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Having the government pick winners can be very useful at times.

Having the government pick winners is very useful when the government makes picks in the appropriate instances and if they pick reasonably well. However, for every good pick such as a railroad gauge, there are bad picks like picking car transportation over walking (which is exactly what our current set of subsidies do). Furthermore, many of the bad picks (like the one just cited) are far more impactful than the good picks, so you need many good picks to outweigh a single impactful bad pick.

by Falls Church on Nov 28, 2011 2:45 pm • linkreport

Also, it's worth noting why government so often makes bad picks when the stakes are high. It's not because government employees are dumb. It's because when the stakes are high, the decisions are usually driven by a combination of populism and lobbyists.

by Falls Church on Nov 28, 2011 2:54 pm • linkreport

Falls Church, I wish I could find the analysis I'm thinking of. They attempted to score all of the picks over a certain time and measure the impacts. They determined that on average, government picking is a net positive.

I think we both agree that government, when it picks, should pick well. But it is capable of picking wrong just as the market is.

by David C on Nov 28, 2011 2:58 pm • linkreport

The past couple of years in this country have shown that the market is very adept at making bad picks.

by Scoot on Nov 28, 2011 3:17 pm • linkreport

We don't need the government to be picking winners by subsidizing one form of transpo over another.

Wrong, you specifically want government policy to ensure that there's a diversity of transporation options being used rather than risk a monoculture of drivers especially when an alternate form of transit exists.

15mph is so unreasonable for neighborhood streets that allow cars that I don't even see why we're discussing this ridiculous idea. Want to convert some streets to turn them effective alleyways? Go to town on the 15mph speed limit. Otherwise, don't waste our time.

by JustMe on Nov 28, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

The creation and maintenance of HOV lanes are a direct subsidy for car pooling and an example of picking winners and losers. I think the government should be in the business of supporting the needs of the masses over those of the individual car.

by Scott P on Nov 29, 2011 7:30 am • linkreport

No fair increase in the dc taxicab industry can match the loss taxicab drivers took from shared ridding.A big point of public safety also.>>Billy Ray

by Billy Ray Edwards on Nov 29, 2011 8:15 am • linkreport

I'm not sure its feasible to eliminate the parking tax benefit - in the suburbs you have businesses that offer free parking to all, customers, visitors, etc. They do so because they want to be competitive, because the transaction cost of charging for parking is higher than the revenue, etc. How do you monitor who's an employee, and getting something of value, and should be taxed on it? If you do not tax THOSE employees, but DO tax employees who get free parking at their employers closed lots, are you not encouraging more free to all lots? Is that good public policy? I'm not sure there is a good way out of that puzzle. Maybe better to keep the tax free parking, and off set with tax free transit benefits, and other offsets.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 29, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

DC Taxi Drivers think that an 83% increase is justified when Arlington raised the per-mile fare by just 5%? No matter how you slice it, that is unjustified. Some increase is acceptable -- but 83%? Come on!

AND on this notice that this will enable credit card machines in the cars -- unless it is mandated, it is not going to happen. Nobody prefers credit over cash, when cash is the status quo.

Personally, I never took taxis under the old zone system, and if they increase fares 83% (even getting rid of the surcharges), I plan to stop again.

by Marc on Nov 29, 2011 12:46 pm • linkreport

"AND on this notice that this will enable credit card machines in the cars -- unless it is mandated, it is not going to happen. Nobody prefers credit over cash, when cash is the status quo."

Even in cities like Philly where credit card is mandated, there are still problems - often the machine will be mysteriously "broken," or cabbies will get into a shouting match with you about using a card. NYC seems to be the only exception to this idiocy.

by Phil on Nov 29, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Phil: I'm thinking that this is a Philly problem, not a credit card problem.

My taxi experiences have been worse in Philadelphia than in any other city in the world that I've visited. "City of brotherly love", indeed...

by jcs on Nov 29, 2011 3:30 pm • linkreport

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