The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Emerald City

Photo by rjs1322 on Flickr.
Green is good: The central portion of the Green Line has seen tremendous growth over the past 10 years, adding more households than the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and will see dramatic retail, office, and housing growth in the next 20. (WBJ)

Gentrification not behind murder rate drop: Washington has seen a drop in murders citywide, but Chief Cathy Lanier doesn't think it's due to gentrification, saying instead that redoubled police work is to thank. (DCentric)

Getting the Occupy out: Mayor Gray wants the Park Service to evict Occupy protestors in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza for health and safety reasons. The NPS says protestors have a right to a 24-hour vigil, so they may not be leaving soon. (Post)

Purple Line's condemnations: Purple Line construction will require condemning 74 homes and businesses along the route as well as bits of at least another 250. The list of properties affected will not be final until engineering is completed. (Post)

Compromising on the waterfront: Alexandria's contentious waterfront plan is almost over. The city council is set to approve the plan and address opponents' concerns about density and development afterwards. (Alexandria Times)

Metro board wants options: The WMATA board wants more revenue options than just a fare hike as proposed by CEO Richard Sarles, and they want to put the question to the public. (Post)

Business density makes for walkability: A successfully walkable area needs more, small businesses rather than just a few large ones, with easy access to residences and connections to residential populations outside the neighborhood. (The Atlantic Cities)

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast working on his master's in city and regional planning at Cornell University. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin


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(Finding that was easier than the Captcha. Can 'fix the link' be the new I'm-a-human-not-a-bot task on GGW?)

by David F-H on Jan 13, 2012 8:52 am • linkreport

I truly wonder if the purple line will ever be built. There seems to be a lot of NIMBY's out there who will fight it at every level. This new report does not help.

by Matt R on Jan 13, 2012 9:00 am • linkreport

The third item is not an accurate reflection of Mayor Gray's position. The mayor has not called for Occupy protesters to be removed from Freedom Plaza.

by Paulus on Jan 13, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

That green line study is a bit wacky.

A lot of those condos are also within 1/6 of a mile of another line. Not sure how you seperate that.

by charlie on Jan 13, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

Although I hope the entire Purple line will be built, they should at the very least build the portion between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

by Paul C on Jan 13, 2012 9:27 am • linkreport

WMATA wants public input? They are meeting with the governors and mayor behind closed doors, and now all of a sudden they want public input? How is it even legal for four government entities to meet behind closed doors?

by DAJ on Jan 13, 2012 9:30 am • linkreport

The Police Chief thinks that the primary factors behind the drop in the murder rate are those that she can control, not those that have nothing to do with her? Shocking!

Personally, I attribute the drop in the murder rate to my presence in the area. I have as much evidence as Chief Lanier to back up my theory: before I was around, people were just more violent.

You can all thank me now.

by Gray on Jan 13, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

Can anyone explain why the Purple Line will run in the center of the street from Silver Spring to College Park, displacing few properties, but then moves out of the right-of-way and displaces numerous businesses and houses when it turns south on Kenilworth Ave and east on E-W Highway?

See maps Riverdale 1 and Riverdale 2 here

by stitchbones on Jan 13, 2012 10:01 am • linkreport

Mr. Sarles,

You and those who formerly served in your position know what needs to be done. The source of Metro's fiscal problems has been discussed for nearly 20 years. It is written about, blogged about, submited in online and neighborhood forums in perpetuity. I don't know if your organization simply has a short term memory issue, or are activly ignoring us in the hopes that we simply go away.

Here it attention:

Metro's Pension!!

There it is. Addressing this one issue and making some minor tweaks to this program frees up hundreds of millions of dollars in the next decade, and more in the following.

Metro spends $200,000 MORE per employee than the average amount spent by local jurisdictions on the same program(s).

200K more than the AVERAGE!! Do you realize how unsustainable and ridiculous this is? Simply bringing this metric in line with local averages completely does away with your fiscal problems. I don't see any ffx or Arlington pensioners living in boxes on the street so why not model theirs?

100% employer funded pensions are a relic, especially in terms of public taxpayer funded institutions. Even the Federal Government did away with its pension in the early 1980's.

The fact that the newborn Metro organization created one in the late 70's when the entire country was getting rid of them was irresponsible to begin but I am sure the newly created Metro leadership of a new organization simply took the easy most popular way out knowing it wouldn't surface as a problem for 15-20 years and wouldn't become a critical issue for 30 years and they could simply push it down the road.

Well, here we are, more than 30 years later.

I've given your the problem (which you already knew). Here is the solution:

Everyone currently a metro employee still gets a pension, the amount of which is based on their years of service. 20 year employees get their full pension, no changes. Employees who started last year still get one, just a much smaller, prorated one.

You immediately change your program from a 100% employer funded one over to a standard 401K, where both employer and employee contribute to their retirement.

There, I just freed up probably a billion dollars for you spread over the next 15 years. You can thank me by spending it on actual maintenance and upgrades of the system.


by freely on Jan 13, 2012 10:13 am • linkreport


I believe the answer is that Wayne Ave has much lower traffic volumes than other streets. Another factor would be the space required to do a grade separation at the intersection of Kenilworth and E/W, as the LRT tracks will be in an aerial overpass at that intersection, changing the geometry.

I'd also note that the property impacts are all a result of widening the right of way, regardless of what that right of way is used for. There are some portions along University where the tracks are in the center, but the road needs to be widened, and the road is what displaces those properties.

Given the values espoused in the project so far (to not reduce auto lanes), this is more or less an inevitable impact.

by Alex B. on Jan 13, 2012 10:14 am • linkreport


No, CABI is the reason for the drop in the murder rate.

by TGEOA on Jan 13, 2012 10:17 am • linkreport

@TGEOA: I'm willing to share some of the credit with CaBi, but I think we can agree that economic factors and nationwide trends have nothing to do with it.

by Gray on Jan 13, 2012 10:29 am • linkreport

I'm generally skeptical of claims by law enforcement that law enforcement is the reason for drops in crime, but Chief Lanier has a real point. Wards 7 and 8 did not see the demographic shift and economic growth of other parts of the city, and yet have had a significant drop in murder rate. Policing is a variable that has to be considered.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 13, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

You've totally mischaracterized what Chief Lanier said. I heard her on Kojo's show, and the quote in the linked piece is very similar (it might even be lifted from the discussion on Kojo's show). SHe doesn't say demographic changes aren't a factor in the crime drop -- she doesn't even say these changes aren't the biggest contributing factor. All she's said is that demographics aren't solely responsible and that police work is a part. In the Kojo interview she noted the incredible shift in case closures -- I don't remember the exact number but it was a stunningly high percentage of homicides -- nearly all -- that now result in a conviction.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jan 13, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

The Atlantic Cities had an interesting article on the drop in violent crime throughout the US in the past decade or so, hinging a lot of it on the drop in the price of cocaine. Not saying it's true or not, seems there are a lot of factors that have contributed to this.

by dtsb123456 on Jan 13, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

The WAMU article on got it right when it said that gentrification is "one reason in particular" that the city's murder rate is falling. I'm sure that police efforts were another particular reason. As Chief Lanier stated, not any one thing is solely responsible for the decline. Her team definitely deserves some credit for reducing the number of random homicides; however, the number of homicides from gang-related violence is still very much a problem.

@ Tim Krepp

It's worth noting that while the murder rate in Wards 7 and 8 has gone down, lots of people from there have moved out to PG County, where the murder rate has gone up.

by Scoot on Jan 13, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

@Scoot Oh? It all depends on when you cherry pick your statistics:

by Tim Krepp on Jan 13, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

And here I was thinking that the steady drop in crime had to do with the brilliance of former mayor Fenty. You mean to tell me there are other factors? Get out! If we were being consistent, shouldn't we give the current mayor kudos for overseeing this historic drop in muders? :)

@freely, I think you might be one of the few who actually believes that the reason metro has mismanaged its operations over the past years is because of employee pensions. Logically, it doesn't make sense. But I've gathered that more than a few people, who are otherwise reasonable in thought, believe the same as you. Reason be damned.

by HogWash on Jan 13, 2012 11:28 am • linkreport

Washington has seen a drop in murders citywide, but Chief Cathy Lanier doesn't think it's due to gentrification, saying instead that redoubled police work is to thank.

I don't think you can separate the two. There have been a few technological developments that make policing more effective: community listservs, MPD SMS tip lines (50-411), direct email communications with vice officers, etc, etc...

As an "anecdatal" example, I live on a block that has gentrified considerably over the last decade. It used to be that nearly everyone on the street was gone during the day--of to work, etc... Now there are at least 5 houses where someone works from home every day. We have a street listserv. We take notes about the "problem" house on the street, and share photos and license plate numbers with the local MPD vice detective. My neighbor recently installed an IR closed-circuit camera to record car break-ins. We're like uber-snitches. It's awesome.

Compare that with a neighborhood of working-class single moms who're trudging off to work 14 hour shifts.

Obviously middle-class gentrifiers tend to have more free-time and resources.

by oboe on Jan 13, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

BTW, if we're talking about wy murders are down, it's reasonable to conclude another reason is that these idiots have decided to just stop killing as much. Policing is a great tool. But the decision to stop being murders has to come into play.

by HogWash on Jan 13, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

Broken windows theory? A drop in the murder rate in one part of the town can correspond to a citywide improvement?

Also, don't forget that murder statistics are complicated by acquaintance murders, which aren't counted separately. Obviously, they're still bad, but have very little to do with public safety in general.

by andrew on Jan 13, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport


I don't think I've mischaractarized the root of what she said. While she says economic development is part of it, it's just one of "many, many" factors. As evidence, she points to areas that have NOT gentrified that have seen crime rates decline. In other words, a drop in crime is not necessarily due to economic development but IS necessarily due to police work.

by David Edmondson on Jan 13, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Could WMATA hire contractors instead of employees for the 1000 new positions? That would circumvent the ridiculous pensions WMATA needs to provide employees.

Sounds like WMATA's HR department doesn't even have the capacity to process applications for 1000 new hires, so might be easier to handle this with one RFP.

The Green Line, Kannan said, "is the regional economic engine we need to focus on over the next two decades.

What about the Silver Line? I think we'll see more growth there over the next two decades than on the Green Line which is further along in being built out. Tysons will probably be the regional economic engine of the coming decades.

by Falls Church on Jan 13, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

@Falls Church
They might be able to hire a company to do a scope of work (fix escalators, etc.) but they most likely can't hire individual "contractor" employees.

by MLD on Jan 13, 2012 11:54 am • linkreport


Reading comp is key. I said Metro's fiscal problems have to do with their unheard of labor and pension system. I didn't say anything about mismanaged operations.

Operations and Maintenance and Fiscal Issues are two seperate things. I didn't combine them, you shouldn't either.

Metro has enormous Ops/Maintenance issues. They also have enormous fiscal issues which are completely unrelated.

On a another note, do you happen to work for Metro, or have a close family memeber that does because I constantly see you push back on anyone who dares mention "Metro Pension Reform".

Surely you can agree that something is amiss when Metro spends 200K more per employ on its pension obligations than the average of that of the local jurisdictions (ffx/loudoun/arlington/montgomery/pg county etc)

Surely you can agree that needing to put a solid 50% of every revenue generating fare increase into funding the still underfunded pension is unsustainable?

by freely on Jan 13, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

@Freely, Reading comp is key. I said Metro's fiscal problems have to do with their unheard of labor and pension system. I didn't say anything about mismanaged operations.

You're right. I shouldn't have followed the lead of our everyday discussions and conflated the two.

No I don't work for metro nor know anyone who does. I believe you mischaracterize my positions. What I continually reject is the notion that the unions/pensions are the cause of what the overwhelming majority of us cite as our biggest complaints against metro. You haven't and will never hear anything from me arguing that the current structure of metro pensions shouldn't be changed.

What I am not in favor of is people being stiffed or entities marginalized for nefarious/political reasons. We saw this most recently in the 2008-2009 nationwide anti-teacher/union brouhaha.

by HogWash on Jan 13, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

Re: Purple Line, at risk of thinking outside the box, why don't they build the Purple line at 1,000mm gauge rather than standard gauge? It'll lower construction costs, equipment costs, operating costs and require fewer properties to be bought up.

It's not like they plan on connecting the Purple line to the rest of the DC Streetcar System, and for a suburban expansion, the 1,000mm gauge makes a lot more sense cost wise.

by elmothehobo on Jan 13, 2012 12:52 pm • linkreport


How would building narrow gauge save costs? It would increase costs by using non-standard equipment. You couldn't buy off the shelf rolling stock, you'd have to get custom designed stuff. It also wouldn't save much space, since the width of the rail cars doesn't necessarily change with the track gauge.

That idea won't solve any problems. In fact, it creates a ton of them.

by Alex B. on Jan 13, 2012 12:58 pm • linkreport

Skoda (and a number of other LRV OEMs) manufacture(s) 1,000mm gauge LRVs. It's off the shelf, it's used in Europe (God forbid). Besides, there are other cities that use nonstandard gauge vehicles - Bay Area, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Toronto, etc...

1,000mm gauge allows you use a smaller loading gauge (less ROW required).

It's cheaper to build narrow gauge in terms of ROW acquisition, marginally lower construction material costs, on top of it rolling stock is cheaper.

by elmothehobo on Jan 13, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

"adding more households than the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor,"

And if I use 10 apples instead of 5 oranges, I can build a bigger and better fruit basket, too. (particularly if I throw out the bad apples. And intermix some lemons in there as well)

by Kolohe on Jan 13, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

They might be able to hire a company to do a scope of work (fix escalators, etc.) but they most likely can't hire individual "contractor" employees.

Is that a union issue? Because the federal government hire individual, long-term contractor employees all the time. Not only does that save them on pensions, that way they change service providers or eliminate the positions altogether if needed.

The problem with WMATA pensions isn't that they are providing good benefits to their employees. That's commendable. Rather, a defined benefit pension turns WMATA into a financial institution, responsible for managing billions of dollars in assets and liabilities. Considering WMATA can't even get the escalators to work, they're in over their head with pensions. It's the financialization of our economy, and the only people who win with that are the bankers and their big fat bonuses.

by Falls Church on Jan 13, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church- You may be right that more development will occur along the silver line, but if you look at 4 green line stations in MD they all have massive potential. Anything that helps the East-West disparity of jobs will be good for the entire region.

by thump on Jan 13, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Go ask BART about how their experiments with non-standard-gauge tracks have worked out. I'm fairly certain they'd reverse that design decision in a heartbeat if they were given the opportunity.

The Purple Line will be on the "heavier" end of what's considered Light Rail, and isn't really suitable for meter-gauge tracks. Even though Portland's got a streetcar and the MAX Light Rail, both of which are technically standard-gauge LRT, the two systems are not interoperable, as MAX's vehicles are heavier, and have a larger loading gauge.

by andrew on Jan 13, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

Rather, a defined benefit pension turns WMATA into a financial institution, responsible for managing billions of dollars in assets and liabilities.

Shame on me for not googling this first, but I don't believe WMATA funds their pensions in that manner. They just pay as liabilities become due. I don't think they have pension plan assets that they try to manage to equal liabilities every period.

There's clearly a lot of discussion about WMATA retirement benefits here, a good reason for GGW to do an in-depth post on WMATA pensions and OPEBs.

by WRD on Jan 13, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

elmothehobo wrote:

Skoda (and a number of other LRV OEMs) manufacture(s) 1,000mm gauge LRVs. It's off the shelf, it's used in Europe (God forbid). Besides, there are other cities that use nonstandard gauge vehicles - Bay Area, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Toronto, etc...

1,000mm gauge allows you use a smaller loading gauge (less ROW required).

Though 1000mm gauge (3′ 3 3/8″) also means (based on what I have seen) a narrower rail vehicle than one built for standard gauge (1435mm = 4' 8 1/2"). Now wider vehicles can be used on narrower gauges, but it seems to me that wider vehicles would eliminate the reason for the narrower gauge in the first place.

The extensive streetcar system in Helsinki, Finland is 1000mm gauge, even though the Metro there is 1524mm (5', Russian gauge), like the Finnish railroads.

Most of the fleet is made up of articulated Valmet/Strömberg units built in the 1970's and 1980's, but they also have some Düwags imported used from Germany. They also have some fairly new low-floor Variotrams built by Bombardier, but there have been persistent technical problems with the Variotrams.

Stockholm, Sweden has a suburban rail line (electrified, like most of Sweden's rail network) that uses 891mm (2' 11 1/10"), though the EMUs that run on this line are not especially narrow in terms of interior seating layout (though they are much narrower than the regional rail EMUs that run on Stockholm's standard-gauge lines).

It's cheaper to build narrow gauge in terms of ROW acquisition, marginally lower construction material costs, on top of it rolling stock is cheaper.

I am not entirely convinced of the above. Seems to me that the most-compelling reason for narrower gauge is to save space on the street because the real estate taken by the tracks is less.

Helsinki's streetcar system also features (in my opinion) excellent streetcar stops in the middle of the street. They are barrier-separated from rubber-tired traffic (with marked and often signal-protected crosswalks to the sidewalk at one or both ends, and with few exceptions, rubber-tired traffic may not use the parts of the streets set-aside for streetcars.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 13, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

I'm not convinced that using non-standard gauge would save any costs at all. A smaller loading gauge would only save a couple of feet. That's not going to be the difference between saving someone's house versus having to use eminent domain.

There's absolutely no reason to move away from standard gauge. Furthermore, there are examples of light rail and streetcars sharing tracks in several US cities. The principle advantage is in the opportunity to share heavy maintenance facilities.

by Alex B. on Jan 13, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

@Thump -- Yeah, it's a mystery why MD isn't doing more with their PG county metro stations. Given U-MD's fantastic Comp Sci/Engineering programs, you'd think College Park could be turned into Palo Alto (ok, maybe that's a stretch). Instead, UMD's best and brightest end up working or starting businesses along 270 or Tysons.

Once again, MD ranked #1 in the nation for public schools. They really need to leverage the resulting human assets better.

That said, the Green Line Study seems to be making the classic mistake of extrapolating the past into the future. Just because the Green Line has been the economic engine in the past decade, doesn't mean it will continue that way for the next couple of decades.

by Falls Church on Jan 13, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

RE: Crime

A recent Atlantic Cities article delved into a correlation between lower crime rates along with continual decreases in the popularity of crack as well as the subsequent free-fall of prices, cutting the risk-incentive for the associated violence that plagued the 80's.


RE: Purple Line

For those who haven't been to some of the public meetings, it's worth remembering that a decent share of property owners *want* to be bought out.

by Bossi on Jan 13, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Most of the pension "discussion" comes from people who want to gut pension plans, kindof like Bain Capital would if they ran Metro (just before they run it into the ground). I would imagine that most of them couldn't change their own oil and make their money doing something whose social purpose is questionable.

by Rich on Jan 13, 2012 8:21 pm • linkreport

What's the "social purpose" of sleeping on the job, failing to make needed repairs, punching anti-crime mascots in the face, and protecting Metro employees who do those things? Metro's inability to fire bad workers must be jacking up their labor costs. I'm sure there'd be more riders and thus more fare money if parts weren't falling off the trains and the constant service disruptions were handled with something approaching competence.

by jakeod on Jan 13, 2012 8:53 pm • linkreport

"Yeah, it's a mystery why MD isn't doing more with their PG county metro stations"

That Prince George's County is, of those with with a Metrorail presence, easily the most corrupt jurisdiction for the last dozen or so years probably has a lot to do with it.

by Kolohe on Jan 13, 2012 9:35 pm • linkreport

Every time the homicide rate goes up or down, we all cast about for causes. The usual suspects, the economy, policing, and number of prisoners, do not work out. The changes are usually national, while policing and prison policies differ over the country. Crime rates were low in the Depression, are low now, in our deep recession and were high during the prosperous 80's.

The historian David Hackett Fischer, in his book "The Great Wave" using over 700 years of British records shows that the homicide rate and inflation are closely correlated. High inflation, high crime, low inflation low crime. It certainly holds for the examples above. Fisher himself concedes that correlation is not causation, but it rules out the usual explanations.

by Interguru on Jan 14, 2012 9:48 am • linkreport

I would like to warn people that Washington D.C. can be quite a tricky place:

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 19, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

@Douglas Willinger:

You've clearly spent a lot of time and thought on this, and there's a lot to mull over on your site, but it always gives me the chills looking at the various interstate proposals, as though some hideous alternate history was avoided. Makes me feel like I'm looking at some 19th century medical curiousity museum or something.

by oboe on Jan 19, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

That the reasonable 1962 and 1966 plans were confused with the UNreasonable 1964 plan, with so much emotion and so little anylysis of what was happening was a botching of a plan of a recently assassinated U.S. President, should give any normal person chills.

Likewise with all of the 'activism' that decided that effectively cancelling B&O-PEPCO I-95 in July 1973 meant that everything would simply be Ok and thus we no longer had to protest.

by Douglas Willinger on Jan 19, 2012 5:33 pm • linkreport

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