Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Groundhog Day


Image by @KevDC on Yfrog.
6 more weeks of... winter?: Puxutawney Phil's "long-lost cousin," Potomac Phil, had his own Groundhog Day celebration in Dupont Circle this morning. Organizers couldn't find a live groundhog (the Zoo has none), so they had to use a stuffed one, at least this year. (Post)

House transpo bill to markup: The House's bad transportation bill goes through markup today, and a few amendments could help. Advocacy groups are asking people to contact their representatives to support restoring bike and pedestrian funding. (Streetsblog, Bike League)

Metro finds more cracks: Metro has found cracked rails at an increasing rate over the past three years. Part of the reason is the age of the system, but they also have gotten better at finding them. (Examiner)

Not terribly deliberate speed: In DC and nationwide, segregation is in decline. But DC is desegregating slower than other cities, with large tracts that are entirely black or entirely white not seeing much integration. (City Paper)

Main drag a drag: College Park has the density to support many establishments but Route 1's lack of walkability severely limits businesses. Traffic calming and wider sidewalks could help make Route 1 a real main street. (Rethink College Park)

Food deserts not a huge issue?: A new survey shows that most urban families are satisfied with their access to food, but grocery prices and having time to cook were more pressing concerns. (WAMU)

Public safety and history collide: The Palisades firehouse needs larger vehicle doors, but that would significantly change the historic structure, which HPRB probably can't allow under preservation laws. The Mayor's Agent can. (Georgetown Dish)

Preservation group didn't stall Met Branch: Owners of the Silver Spring B&O Station were initially blamed for blocking the Metropolitan Branch Trail, but their executive director insists they support the trail. So what happened? (Silver Spring Trails)

And...: Competition may encourage embassies to go green. (City Paper) ... Walter Reed won't be the new home for the FBI. (City Paper) ... It's time for TIGER IV. (Streetsblog) ... The Bethesda Metro tunnel will get some art. (Patch)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Comments

Add a comment »

Well, at least WMATA isn't blaming the horrible cold weather this winter for the cracked rails anymore.

Food deserts was always a fad issue. Actually, I'd just call them cupcake deserts. That being said, food -- real food -- in poor urban areas does seem to COST more. Buying food at CVS, for instance, always seems more expensive than Safeway.

by charlie on Feb 2, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

WRT the desegregation article, I remember when those maps were first published and we compared DC (city and as a region) as a whole to other cities and the region at least was already a lot more integrated than others (especially midwest cities) all I have is the map itself to back me up. Maybe its that other cities had more ground to catch up on.

by X on Feb 2, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

The "food desert" discussion always seemed to me to be a clever meme given wide promotion by an unholy alliance of big government and big business types to justify tax exemptions, regulatory favors, and kickbacks (or their legal counterpart in post-public sector employment and lobbying opportunities).

Now, it may well be true that having more urban supermarkets and Walmarts is better for poorer urban residents by lowering prices and improving consistency and quality (I think we know it's better for wealthy professional Whole Foods-loving urban residents), but it's unfair to the bodegas, gas stations, and other small businesses not to have a level playing field.

by Arl Fan on Feb 2, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

If you actually click through to the report, it says that about 68% are satisfied with the availaibility of food, and 64% with the quality.

1. That still leaves over 30% who are not. To me that result is NOT inconsistent with the idea of food deserts being an issue. Certainly all the discussions of urban food deserts note that things vary considerably from city to city.

2. Suitable quality is self reported. How many people think sparse avaialability of fresh vegetables is okay? If you asked people if the walkability of their neighborhoods was okay, I bet lots of folks in objectively difficult to walk neighborhoods would say yes = including some obese people who seldom walk. Self reported satisfaction is important to know, but its not proof of causality or the lack thereof.

3. regarding corp motivation - ive seen lots of people in the local food/farmers market movement bemoaning food deserts as well - its not just, or even mainly, a chain store issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

RE: Route 1:

It's not just in College Park. I was driving home from my gym last night, and thinking somewhat idly about the fact that there's no easy way to walk across the street from the townhouses ACROSS Richmond Hwy. to the gym. It's kind of absurd, at this point, given the kind of development they've a.) put in along the highway and b.) have discussed putting in even more.

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Feb 2, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

As a food snob, even I recognise that "food deserts" is a middle-class first world issue. Access to organic food is the least of their worries.

by jinushaun on Feb 2, 2012 9:52 am • linkreport

If you actually click through to the report, it says that about 68% are satisfied with the availaibility of food, and 64% with the quality.

Very good point.

On the flip-side, self-reporting is always somewhat unreliable. There was recently an article on the opening of the new Aldi at the intersection of H St, Maryland, Bladensburg, and Benning. Several local residents were quoted as saying they were relieved that they finally had access to a grocery store, and that they wouldn't have to drive out to PG County every week.

There's been a Safeway there for decades, there's one a half mile north on 14th, a Murray's to the West on H Street, a weekly farmer's market, and the wholesale district just west of Galludet.

Lack of access to a Costco (or Wegmann's) within walking distance isn't a "food desert".

by oboe on Feb 2, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

@jinushaun,

As a food snob, even I recognise that "food deserts" is a middle-class first-world issue.

I think you might be unclear on what "food desert" means. If you have no access to produce, and have to do all your shopping at the 7-11, that's a problem. And it ain't a middle-class one.

You're right it's a first-world one, though. But so what?

by oboe on Feb 2, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

Oboe,

I have to question whether you have ever known the wonder that is Wegman's. Walking distance access to one should be enshrined in the Constitution.

Go. Now. Run as fast as you can (or, sadly, drive...) and go visit one! Your life will never be the same again.

:-)

by Apple Lover on Feb 2, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

Well, at least WMATA isn't blaming the horrible cold weather this winter for the cracked rails anymore.

Actually, it's a legitimate reason, and the current weather pattern might actually be worse. Cold weather doesn't necessarily crack rails; large temperature fluctuations do. Same thing as placing a hot plate on a cold surface.

If we keep swinging between 70 and 30 degrees over 12 hour intervals, the rails are going to keep cracking. Metal fatigue occurs due to the repeated expansion and contraction of the metal; because a single piece of continuously-welded rail can be several miles long, the stresses due to thermal expansion are multiplied further (not to mention the combination of hot train + cold rails).

I'm not an expert in this field, so I can't comment much further than that. Perhaps there are steps that WMATA could be taking to mitigate the incidence of cracked rails (some sort of expansion joints; different rail fasteners).

However, age and weather both appear to play a part here.

by andrew on Feb 2, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

There's been a Safeway there for decades

Have you ever been to that Safeway?

"No other options" is literally the only reason I could think of for its continued existence. It makes the Rhode Island Giant look like a Wegman's (aside: To Giant's credit, they seem to have cleaned up that store a bit).

It's poorly lit, filthy, poorly stocked with suspiciously old products, isn't even particularly cheap, and has always been severely understaffed whenever I've shopped there (one register open and a line running to the back of the store the last time I was there). To their credit, the employees are actually pretty nice.

The fact that Aldi, a store that categorically targets the absolute lowest rung of the ladder happens to excel at all of these categories should be an embarrassment to Safeway. I simply can't imagine that store staying in business for much longer, now that so many better alternatives exist.

Murry's is a different problem. It's a business that preys on the poor, and derives its business model from the fact that it has no competition among its customer base. I don't think a single tear will be shed when they close their doors.

by andrew on Feb 2, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

I have to question whether you have ever known the wonder that is Wegman's. Walking distance access to one should be enshrined in the Constitution.

Sure, but it's a bit like wanting to live in walking distance to Six Flags: a Wegman's every six blocks is a scary thought. Only a lucky few can live less than six blocks from a Wegman's, but "lucky" is realative, given that a Wegman's is contingent on a particular environment. Namely a massive arterial roadway and acres of ample parking.

That's why the quest of a DC Wegman's seems so Quixotic. You can't have more than a non-trivial number of folks living close to a Wegman's; the most you can hope for is a relatively short drive. But many DC residents already live within a short drive to a Wegman's. Google says it's 17 min from Capitol Hill to the one in Lanham, for example. Unless you actually live in Lanham, that's as good as anyone else has it.

(The first (and last) time I visited a Wegman's I thought it was fantastic. Of course, that was balanced by the fact that I was in Dale City, which is horrible. Maybe I'll try Lanham on Friday or this weekend.)

by oboe on Feb 2, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

The food desert push is a cause looking for data to back up the millions spent in donations. It was evident from the original food desert maps and scientific criteria that the leadership lacked any significant expertise and that the movement was being organized by 3rd tier sociologists and 4th tier activists.

It reminds me of the person who complained about gentrification but then said they bought a bigger house for the same money in PG.

by ahk on Feb 2, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

Conditions on Rt. 1 for pedestrians or bicyclist are abysmal. Mt. Rainier for years has been lobbying for some type of traffic calming measures. We got the roundabout, but the real problem(s) are the approaches to the roundabout. Too wide lanes, long flat stretches with wide-open sight-lines. SHA continues to be absolutely tone-deaf on the issue. Chuck Marohn from strongtowns.org wrote on Monday that "The single piece of public infrastructure doing the most damage to the value of the neighborhood we are studying is the state highway. Its design is sucking the value out of the entire place. Like most highways, the design through this urban neighborhood is indistinguishable from the design used on the open road outside of town. This helps the engineers at the DOT to theoretically meet their mandate -- move as many cars as possible as quickly as possible -- but does little to create a platform for creating, let alone retaining, real financial value."
We see this from Mt. Rainier up through College Park. We see the same thing on the DC side of the border when it turns into 6 lanes. The portion of the road (not a street) that Friends of RIA are concerned about isn't going to get better unless traffic is calmed there. There is no need for 3 lanes in each direction..especially when there are several choke points inbound where traffic must get into two lanes anyway b/c of turning traffic (I'm thinking specifically of FL Ave just off the top of my head).

by thump on Feb 2, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

For good or ill the new Walmarts opening across the less affluent parts of DC will eliminate most or all of the food desert issue as they will contain food stores as well.

by SoMuchForSubtlety on Feb 2, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

As an upstate NY'er originally, I think I took Wegman's for granted. It's nice to have one fairly close now.
@oboe-The Wegmans in Lanham is quite nice.

by thump on Feb 2, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

"Food Deserts" is the kind of hyperbole that causes people to dismiss an actual problem. No, it's not like there's literally no food available to buy within walking distance. But, the lack of quality food options is certainly holding back the integration of well-to-do, middle class, and poor in the more affordable parts of the city.

Part of the problem is that not all Safeways/Giants are created equal. For example, if the Rhode Island Giant was anything like the 5th/K Safeway (or what the 9th/O Giant will be), Brentwood/Edgewood/Eckington would be a much better place to live.

And, while this is more of an inconvenience rather than issue of life/death, the lines are just way too long at many DC groceries. I've literally seen the line at Trader Joe's wrap all the way through the store and out the door. Don't even think about getting groceries at the Columbia Heights Giant on a Sunday.

So, helping more grocery stores open in DC (maybe by cutting down on the ridiculous amount of red tape required to open a business in DC) would definitely be a good thing, regardless of whether "food deserts" really exist.

by Falls Church on Feb 2, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

but "lucky" is realative, given that a Wegman's is contingent on a particular environment. Namely a massive arterial roadway and acres of ample parking.

I'm sure Wegmans can come up with an urban format. They're not going to cede the entire urban middle tier market to Harris Teeter.

by Falls Church on Feb 2, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

""Food Deserts" is the kind of hyperbole that causes people to dismiss an actual problem. No, it's not like there's literally no food available to buy within walking distance. "

also its possible to walk even in "nonwalkable" neighborhoods.

Obviously those words are not meant literally.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

Not only is the data self reported, it is subjective.

I'm not happy with my safeway, although it is withing 5 minutes of walking.

by charlie on Feb 2, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

This:
Part of the problem is that not all Safeways/Giants are created equal.

Is spot on. Petworth Safeway anyone? Nobody should have to shop there. And this directly leads to problem #2:
And, while this is more of an inconvenience rather than issue of life/death, the lines are just way too long at many DC groceries.

This is the case at the Columbia Heights Giant and other stores near underserved areas because EVERYONE goes to the nearest decent grocery store. Head north from that store and where is the first decent grocery you hit? Other than the YES Organic Market (which doesn't exactly cater to everyone) it's miles away. And the Columbia Heights Giant isn't even that great; it's good for an urban store but the produce is often aging/not nice.

There is a gap to be filled with the kind of store that offers a wide range of bulk non-perishables at reasonable prices like Giant so families will shop there AND also offers good quality produce (not organic) like Whole Foods or Harris Teeter.

by MLD on Feb 2, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

@FC, No, it's not like there's literally no food available to buy within walking distance. But, the lack of quality food options is certainly holding back the integration of well-to-do, middle class, and poor in the more affordable parts of the city.

There's some truth here. Prior to the Giant opening back in '07 (I think), the closest supermarkets to me was the Safeway..a 25min walk and the Giant in Eastover..at least an hour. There was an all-purpose mom/pop shop @Alabama and Stanton whose selection of "foods" wasn't suitable for humans with a stomach and a pulse. Horrid. The new Giant is a lifesaver as a neighborhood grocer even though I still make my TJ's and HTeeter runs.

@Oboe, my god! You HAFTA go to Wegman's. It's as all-encompassing as it gets...a real experience indeed. They even provide you with superridiculouscostcosized baskets so you can spend more money than you planned.

by HogWash on Feb 2, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

We're not talking about "access to organic food" for middle class people. In impoverished parts of the country, urban and rural, there are places where it's hard to buy fresh food at affordable prices. There might be gas stations and bodegas, but too often those establishments don't offer vegetables, or they're too expensive.

The USDA, at least, defines a food desert as a low-income area where a third or more of the residents live more than a mile from a grocery store. (In rural areas, the distance rises to ten miles.)

http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/about.html

by David R. on Feb 2, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

Those "fourth-rate activists" working on food deserts seem to include people at DC Central Kitchen.

http://is.gd/WzQHUQ

Stop and think about what it means to do most of your shopping in a gas station or a convenience store. Maybe even walk down to the store and take a look around, and notice the prices.

by David R. on Feb 2, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

@Falls Church:

I'm sure Wegmans can come up with an urban format. They're not going to cede the entire urban middle tier market to Harris Teeter.

Sure, but the philosophical question is: Is a "pocket-sized" Wegman's still a Wegman's? I thought the big draw was that they're the size of a small midwestern town.

Like HogWash says, "It's as all-encompassing as it gets...a real experience indeed. They even provide you with superridiculouscostcosized baskets so you can spend more money than you planned."

by oboe on Feb 2, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

@oboe-but, for someone who lives in Capital Hill, I excpect getting to and back from Wegmans will be an aesthetic nightmare. You will have your choice of residence firmly reestablished in your mind.

by Tina on Feb 2, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

Well, yes there is that. I've been working in Tysons this month, though, so I'm slowly building my tolerance. Anyway, we've already got a micro-Wegman's on Capitol Hill in P&C Market. ;)

by oboe on Feb 2, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

They should have used a gerbil. Those are abundant in Dupont Circle.

by Richard Gere on Feb 2, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

Does any of this readership have information about how other older East Coast central cities are handling size requirements for fire trucks cited in the linked story: emission control systems and the like that are making trucks wider so they no longer can operate, safely at least, in exits less than 12 feet wide? I am guessing that older seaports on the East from Georgia to Maine have older fire stations -- with or without historic protections -- where there are doors that are much narrower than 12 feet. I have heard, but have no data, that NYC is still ordering and receiving trucks that can operate there, because they are slightly narrower.

by Lindsley Williams on Feb 3, 2012 6:10 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or