Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Phones


Photo by ewilfong on Flickr.
Pay phones don't pay: Metro's has no service contract to fix its pay phones when they break down. Verizon used to pay Metro for the phones, but lately was losing $500,000 a year as usage dropped. (Examiner)

Another use for pay phones: One New Yorker is converting pay phone booths into miniature libraries. So far 2 phones are converted and the creator plans more, though theft has been a problem. (Atlantic Cities)

Get off the phone: An informal 5-minute survey of a Georgetown intersection found at least five drivers on cell phones in violation of DC law and putting pedestrians at risk. (Georgetown Metropolitan)

Forget you!: Following a heated exchange between Councilmembers Catania and Barry, the DC Council has enacted rules that prohibit "profane, indecent or abusive language" during public meetings. (Post)

Don't shut the door: Maryland lawmakers are considering giving health departments the power to allow open doors and windows in restaurants. Will this allow restaurants to better interact with the sidewalk and give more eyes on the street? (Gazette)

Second look at suburbs: A new MoMA exhibit ties suburbs to the foreclosure crisis, but Diana Lind argues that we need to "stop demonizing the suburbs" and think about how to improve, not abolish, suburbia. (Next American City)

And...: New York Ave is Metro's fastest growing station in terms of ridership. (Examiner) ... The Economist makes the case for Gov. O'Malley's proposed gas tax increases. ... Why does a Baltimore art school oppose bike lanes? (Baltimore Brew)

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 »

Is it weird that when I saw the words "Pay Phone", I thought it meant paying for stuff using my phone?

by MW on Feb 22, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

re:on cell phones while driving
I definately can agree with that article. I see drivers on cell phones all the time, talking on them or texting and checking messages. My estimate is that 1 out of every 2 drivers in DC is on the phone while driving. The other half checks their phones when they get to a stoplight.

by dc denizen on Feb 22, 2012 9:48 am • linkreport

What I don't understand about DC's cell phone law is that it is perfectly legal to drive and talk on your phone if you use a hands-free device. All the research on this topic indicates that using a hands-free device has no benefit to decreasing driver distraction or improving safety. It's the distraction caused by talking/listening to someone not in the car, not the single hand on the wheel, that's the problem.

by Falls Church on Feb 22, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

re: the Maryland gas tax - why institute a 6% sales tax and add another layer of complexity to tax collection? Just hike the current excise tax.

by boomer on Feb 22, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

re: Second look at the suburbs:

We need to stop demonizing the suburbs and start recognizing that we are all in this together. Is it better to annihilate suburbia or perfect it? Pragmatic solutions, like changing zoning to encourage density, more sustainable landscaping and agriculture, could be relatively easy to enact and would go a long way to improving the vitality of the suburbs

I think this misses the critique by a long shot. The problem of the suburbs is not that it's being demonized, and being "nicer" to the suburbs ain't going to redeem them.

The suburbs will be "fixed" when an overwhelming political majority of suburbanites buy into the "pragmatic solutions" the author listed. The question is whether that will happen or not. That someone somewhere made fun of Applebee's is irrelevant.

What stuns me, though, is the claim that things like zoning changes would be "relatively easy to enact". In the absence of democracy this is clearly the case. That's not the world we live in, though. Hell, DC has arguably one of the most liberal, pro-urban voting populations in the country, and implementing such changes here, in the heart of the city, are almost impossible.

(As an example, there's been an almost decade long struggle to allow a 2000 square foot day care facility to operate just north of Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill. There was angry resistance when neighbors found the newly opened Hill Center planned on allowing wedding receptions until midnight. The examples are endless).

The idea that it will be relatively ease" to get existing suburban homeowners on board with such radically changes of policy is naive. Frankly, I'm stunned whenever a place like DC or Arlington manages to eke out a minor pro-urbanist victory. The cynic in me says meaningful change in the suburbs are orders of magnitude more difficult, and is contingent on outside factors like resource depletion. And there's a further argument to be made that a suburbs without the resources to maintain itself certainly hasn't got the resources to reinvent itself.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

Re: Cellphones

Is it any more or less dangerous for a driver to be distracted by talking to someone else in the car? Is talking on the phone more distracting than talking to someone in the passenger seat or the back of the car?

by sk on Feb 22, 2012 10:25 am • linkreport

@sk: Yes. A passenger has a vested interest in the safety of the driving, and will refrain from distracting the driver if the traffic gets dicey -- assuming that the passenger is old enough to appreciate such things. In the case of small children, the driver's has the added burden to ignore and/or manage the distraction; parents definitely understand that the lives of their kid(s) are on the line and respond accordingly. On the other hand, the person on the other end of the cell phone does not know what the traffic is like, and regardless, is not going to get injured if there is an accident.

by goldfish on Feb 22, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@sk

It's been found that talking to a person in the car is far less dangerous because people in the car subconsciously change their conversation behavior in reaction to the traffic conditions around the car.

Also it's been found that when you are talking on the phone a part of your brain is working to imagine the surroundings and environment the person on the other end of the line is in. That's also thought to be part of the distraction.

The studies have found that talking to someone in the car is not dangerous, but talking on the phone, whether hands-free or not, is very dangerous.

@Falls Church

The reason we haven't implemented a total ban is that people don't understand or refuse to understand that it's talking on the phone that is dangerous, period.

by MLD on Feb 22, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

I was just reminded but yesterday on tv during a commercial break there was a story about how both the MD. and VA. agreed to start talking about a new potomac bridge.

Re: the suburbs. Again, its not suburbs that should be demonized, it's sprawl. There is a difference despite the fact that suburbs and sprawl have mostly gone hand in hand for a long time.

by Canaan on Feb 22, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

@ oboe "Frankly, I'm stunned whenever a place like DC or Arlington manages to eke out a minor pro-urbanist victory. The cynic in me says meaningful change in the suburbs are orders of magnitude more difficult, and is contingent on outside factors like resource depletion. And there's a further argument to be made that a suburbs without the resources to maintain itself certainly hasn't got the resources to reinvent itself."

Arlington is only out of the category of "suburban" (to the extent it is) due to the large scale urbanist victories there.

in fact lots of suburban jurisdictions are making urbanist changes -in greater DC (excluding arlington and City of Alex as urban) we have them in Fairfax, in City of Falls Church, in MoCo, and even in PG (and even a tiny bit in Loudoun). Now, those are often only in select locations, or are balanced by antiurbanist decisions. But see, thats where the demonization blinds people - if you can accept that auto centric suburbia is going to continue to be the preferred way to live for many (possibly the majority) then the fact that only 5-10% say, of Fairfax, is going to end up walkable TOD may be an acceptable result.

As for demonization mattering to the political process, I think it does. I have participated in such discussions with fellow NoVans, and I think the more extreme viewpoints including have left people very defensive, and believing things about urbanism that give ammo the antiurbanists, and make their job of persuasion easier. These include the impressions that urbanists beleive A. that everyone should be carfree B. That no one should live in a SFH C. That everyplace on Greater Washington outside of the district is "bad" regardless of density, etc, etc.

Obviously there are larger, real issues that drive suburban politics, not just these discourse focused issues, and obviously there are things in the discourse on these issues that are unhelpful aside from extremist urbanism memes. But they are not trivial in their impact, IMO. And as someone who values urbanism, I find the distortion of urbanism involved in those memes particularly troubling. It makes a sophisticated vision of a reinvented metropolitan america sound like the ravings of naive hipsters.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 22, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

It reads like they hesitantly oppose the bike lanes simply because it will be removing two lanes of traffic. That doesn't seem unreasonable.

by selxic on Feb 22, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

I think the more extreme viewpoints including have left people very defensive, and believing things about urbanism that give ammo the antiurbanists, and make their job of persuasion easier.

By way of a comparison: gay people have been struggling for marriage equality for decades now. Many cultural conservatives are very angry about this, and feel their way of life is under assault. It's a difficult thing to persuade them. Frequently, you'll see footage of some gay pride parade somewhere, which is repeated on a loop for the express purpose of stoking this outrage.

Do gay pride parades make arguing for gay marriage more difficult? Of course. But that's not the fundamental problem.

Same goes for environmentalism: if it weren't for that guy with dreadlocks on that college campus somewhere in the midwest who goes on about Gaia, would folks like George Will have signed on to "cap and trade" by now?

If no one ever said anything mean about suburban cul-de-sacs on GGW, do you think the Randall O'Toole's of the world would cease talking about shadowy urbanists trying to take away your car? Or UN initiatives that threaten our freedom? After all, that's where your average "man on the street" gets such nonsense, not because they read some urbanist gadfly in the comments section of an obscure blog somewhere.

C'mon. Municipalities are trying to retrofit to urbanism because the experts feel they don't have a choice, long-term. But industries (and that includes conservative political parties) that benefit from suburban sprawl will fight with every fiber of their being to prevent that from happening. Do you really think the Rush Limbaughs of the world are going to find TOD religion if the David Alperts of the world start praising ample parking?

Sure there are individuals with essentially zero influence who bad-mouth suburbia, and that may register with the very, very few people who read GGW, but in the larger debate, they're hardly even background noise.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 11:47 am • linkreport

@oboe

Im not concerned about randall otoole and Rush limbaugh - Im concerned about my neighbors in Fairfax county. And yes, they do hear the memes floating around - GGW may have a small audience, but they see this stuff in City Data, in City Paper, etc, etc.

WRT to gay pride parades - presumably they help individuals finding their identities. I presume urbanists have no such needs, as a general rule.

And yeah, I would suggest that over the top environmentalism ("industry must die" types) DO impact the conversation on cap and trade.

yes, there are powerful lobbies against the kinds of changes a place like FFX needs. There are ALSO powerful lobbies for, including owners of land that is suitable for high density development. When those powerful forces clash, the inclinations of the citizenry can matter. And yes, the belief by some folks who dont listen to Rush that urbanism is about demonizing their way of life, is an obstacle.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 22, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

I wish some way could be kept to maintain the pay phones in Metrorail stations. Recently, the Metro train I was riding was held at a station for about 20 minutes, then offloaded, because of a disruption down the line at a transfer station and the resultant single-tracking. We then waited for about 10 minutes before another train arrived, which itself went one stop and held at the next station for about 15 minutes. I tried to call my family to let them know I would be later than usual, but it was nearly impossible to get a cell signal, and when I did, the signal was so weak that a conversation was nearly impossible. And, of course, the pay phones in the station were all missing. The wireless commons has only so much bandwidth, and there ought to be a reliable fall-back for it.

by thm on Feb 22, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

Re: fixing the suburbs

The author's jimmies seem to be particularly rustled at the thought of replacing cul-de-secs with a cold, urban grid. "The winding cul-de-sac roads are then met with a grid form. This disrespect for the rhythms of a suburban lifestyle...". We do not need a grid of streets to fix the suburbs, or so he argues.

Actually, you kinda do. IMO, the cul-de-sacs are part of the core of the problem. A landscape that is very permeable for walkers and cyclists is essential. A grid of streets makes it much easier/faster to walk from one place to another. A grid of streets is easier to mentally map. The author doesn't really understand what makes the city different than the burbs.

by Amber on Feb 22, 2012 12:14 pm • linkreport

@selxic -- it reads like the MICA president opposes the bike lanes because of inconvenience to drivers (removing 1-2 lanes of traffic), but that he's attempted to sell the opposition as a concern for pedestrian safety.

by Jacques on Feb 22, 2012 12:20 pm • linkreport

@oboe - Municipalities are trying to retrofit to urbanism because the experts feel they don't have a choice, long-term.

Do you mean in terms of the long view on sustainability wrt enegry and health? B/c I think part of the short term motivation for the retro-fit is economic factors; e.g. demand, attracting/retaining people by providing what the "market" indicates people want, etc.

by Tina on Feb 22, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

The cost to use a payphone should be raised to cover 100% of expenses. that would be about $10 per minute, which is fine, because of the few, if any, times anyone ever actually has to use one.

Ah, but what about the immigrants...that is the excuse the council always comes up with. Ever hear of pre-paid cell phones and calling cards?

by dcdriver on Feb 22, 2012 12:47 pm • linkreport

@AWalker, But see, thats where the demonization blinds people...and I think the more extreme viewpoints including have left people very defensive, and believing things about urbanism that give ammo the antiurbanists, and make their job of persuasion easier. These include the impressions that urbanists beleive A. that everyone should be carfree B. That no one should live in a SFH C. That everyplace on Greater Washington outside of the district is "bad" regardless of density, etc, etc....I find the distortion of urbanism involved in those memes particularly troubling. It makes a sophisticated vision of a reinvented metropolitan america sound like the ravings of naive hipsters.

Well you've surely said a mouthful here and it is as reasonable and objective and nonconfrontational as they come. The problem is, you'll still have people defending (maybe naturally) the idea that "well that's not us, we're just trying to better xyz."

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard similar sentiments shared by DC residents who don't consider themselves "urbanists" but do rely on their cars and in cases, transit.

by HogWash on Feb 22, 2012 12:57 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

Do you mean in terms of the long view on sustainability wrt enegry and health? B/c I think part of the short term motivation for the retro-fit is economic factors; e.g. demand, attracting/retaining people by providing what the "market" indicates people want, etc.

No, absolutely. You make a good point about what's driving the short-term urgency. I was thinking in terms of "what happens if the deadlock can't be broken". Eventually that which can't be sustained comes to an end.

What we have now is a deadlock between market forces (and owners of developable property as AWalker pointed out) on the one hand, and existing owners (call them NIMBYs at the risk of starting a fight). Of course, the property owners are few, and potential residents don't necessarily get a vote. So obviously the influence of existing owners is large.

Anyway, I think you see the defenders of the status quo harnessing the power of the culture war. That's why, in my opinion, it makes little sense to say, "I don't care what [the WSJ editorial page] says, I care what my neighbors think." The debate is informed (and distorted) by the big outlets. Not to be too cynical, but your neighbors thing what the WSJ/WaPo editorial page tells them to. And that goes for the city as well as the suburbs.

As far as ambient city-mouse/country-mouse trash-talking goes ("they insulted Franconia in the City Paper!"), I doubt we'll ever be completely free of that. My guess is that cultural trends (and hopefully not decreasing quality of life) will be what drives the transformation of these "urbanizing nodes" in the suburbs.

by oboe on Feb 22, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

Municipalities are trying to retrofit to urbanism because the experts feel they don't have a choice, long-term.

I think the disconnect between the urbanists and many suburbanites is in the intensity of belief. Plenty of suburbanites think that a transformation to a more urban form would be good but think it's way off-base to say that without such a transformation, the burbs will fail. It would be similar to saying that DC cannot be successful or sustainable without radical change in its public education system. Obviously, it would be great if DC schools got a lot better but I don't see another collapse happening for DC anytime soon, with or without better schools.

It's also like saying that DC can never be successful without better governance. Frankly, some people in DC would find it insulting if you said that DC can never be successful with certain CMs as part of the Council (just like some suburbanites find some things that urbanists say to be condescending). In fact, there are many people who would have been insulted if you said that about Harry Thomas up until the day he was arrested. Once again, clearly DC would benefit from better CMs but there will be no collapse even with continued bumbling along with the current crop of CMs.

by Falls Church on Feb 22, 2012 5:53 pm • 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