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Breakfast links: What people want

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
No retail at Fairgrounds: Five days after opening retail has pulled out of the Fairgrounds near Nationals Park. Visitors are apparently more interested in beer than the clothing and jewelry sold by the retail vendors. (City Paper)

What would you build?: Polularize crowdsources residents' ideas for what businesses should open in changing neighborhoods. While it reaches more people than traditional processes, is it only reaching certain demographics? (WAMU)

MoCo BRT sleek, ambitious: BRT in Montgomery County should "be sleek and stylish" and include Wi-Fi, recommends an upcoming report. All 3 phases would cover 161.5 route miles and cost $1.83 billion to build. (Examiner)

Rent hard to control: As funds to support it run low, rent control might not be a practical long-term solution to the affordable housing crisis in DC. However, homeownership isn't necessarily the fix either. (WAMU)

Pay for school: Living near a good school costs a family more than $200,000 versus living elsewhere. That leaves the best schools to the most well-off families. But less restrictive zoning can narrow that cost difference. (Urban Turf)

Too much conflict and not enough: Is Kwame Brown deliberately seeking confrontation with Mayor Gray, opposing parts of the Mayor's supplemental budget just to get headlines? (Georgetown Dish) ... Are Tim Kaine and George Allen being too cautious when many Virginia voters are undecided? (NBC Washington)

Rush+ gets limelight: Metro publicizing the upcoming Rush+ service in a variety of ways, including videos, a website, and specially decorated rail cars. It hopes to avoid confusion when the switch happens on June 18. (TBD)

Less is more: Cities with the most highway miles per capita seem to be doing much worse than the ones with the fewest, but that doesn't stop some from calling highway building "economic development." (Streetsblog)

And...: Alex Trebek criticizes DC drivers who "block the box." (Politico) ... Alexandria releases design details for Route 1 BRT. (Arlandrian) ... A not-so-rapid BRT comes to Austin. (Daily Texan) ... Washington one-percenters "feel unfairly targeted." (Post)

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


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Hmm, let me see.

Cities with the least highway miles:

1. Chicago
2. Tampa/St.Pete – wouldn’t want too many octogenarians out on the road anyway.
3. Miami – surprising. No worries, MIA will rectify this as soon as they expand I-95 to 40 lanes (this was really once an idea).
4. NYC/Newark
5. Portland
6. Sacramento
7. Phoenix
8. LA
9. Philly
10. DC

Just looking at that list, I don't know if Tampa, Miami, Sacremento, Phoenix or Philly is doing "better".

I think a more effective argument is that we built a system of interstate highways -- paid for by gas tax among other things -- but it turned out to be more useful for commerce than personal transporation. And it also is a direct IV line for cheap Chinese crap -- much like the money we are spending on rail lines today.

by charlie on Apr 23, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

Thanks for the Limelight nod. - Rush fan.

by Jay on Apr 23, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

I don't know how the arrangement works with The Bullpen, but why doesn't each shipping container have a theme with different alcohol/food options. It has potential, but the way it was set up was left a lot to be desired.

by mike on Apr 23, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

I've been out of the loop for a year or so... any word yet on where they're thinking of situating bus depots? With a back-of-the-envelope calculation: phase 1, at an estimated 20 MPH average speed and 10 minute headways each direction, would require 46 buses for two-way operation. Expanding to the full system would require 98.

I left very similar comments on Streetsblog. I have doubt toward both lists: some good cities on the bad list; some bad cities on the good list.

by Bossi on Apr 23, 2012 9:23 am • linkreport

WRT fairgrounds...whose bright idea was that anyway and where has this sort of thing actually worked?

by HogWash on Apr 23, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

Agree w/ HogWash... the only clothing & trinkets I could see selling there, at the moment, would be if they were novelty items specifically oriented toward the baseball crowd. Essentially the guys pacing the street between the stadium and Metro station, albeit with a legit table instead of the curb by a lighting pole.

by Bossi on Apr 23, 2012 9:52 am • linkreport

I looked at the highway mile lists and saw two random lists. I hope nobody minds me posting a follow-up comment (I didn't see a way to link to it) from streetsblog.

Angie Schmitt, Urban booster, cyclist, editor of

I feel like I should respond to all this.

First of all, I'm sorry what we were trying to say here was misunderstood. We didn't set out to develop a list of the 10 crappiest cities and include Columbus, Ohio and Houston, Texas. We borrowed information from a blog (which is what this site is designed to do) and interpreted it.

One criticism I don't think is fair: this wasn't a lazy analysis. The lists just show highway miles per capita, which seems like a pretty fair measure of how many highways one city has compared to another. (If anyone has a better way, let me know). One thing I agree, is that correlation does not equal causation. Then there's the question of whether than even matters from a policy standpoint.

I know what you guys are really upset about is the headline, which my editor actually wrote and was a direct quote from the blogger. It was overly strong, I think those criticisms are fair.

But let's try to be objective for a second. Look at the first list, then look at the second. I think there is a pretty stark contrast and so did the blogger who developed the list -- a Houston resident that is concerned about his city. Not all the cities on the top list are in bad shape but quite a number are. Fully half, five out of ten, lost population in the last 10 years -- that is outside the norm for American cities.

There seems to be a lesson here for cities, that's all we we're trying to say.

I've been writing about cities for a long time and people tend to like articles that praise their cities, especially if their city is not typically praised. People tend to like articles that say "biking is good," in one way or another. We try to go deeper than that. I don't know if we can do that without saying negative things about different cities from time to time.

One thing I can say, is that I've never written something on this blog I thought was intellectually dishonest. I have the freedom to report things here much more objectively than I did when I was a newspaper reporter. We don't really need to distort the facts -- the evidence that our current transportation system is hurting us is so overwhelming, we don't need to. Sometimes what we find is sort of outside "mainstream" accepted wisdom or it might have political implications. But that is sort of our role, given the newness of this whole movement and the inevitable resistance to change.

Finally, if people were a little more specific about why types of articles offend them that we write, examples of rhetoric/etc., we'll definitely consider that in the future.

by selxic on Apr 23, 2012 9:56 am • linkreport


I certainly don't think it's intellectually dishonest, too lazy, etc... I just don't think proper correlation or causation can be drawn from it. I do think it's an interesting list, however, and I'd be curious to see it expanded to include a far-greater listing than just 10 from each end. If combined with other metrics it could make for a pretty entertaining spreadsheet where, perhaps, some more correlations could be drawn.

by Bossi on Apr 23, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

oops... missed your intro & thought you were the editor :)

by Bossi on Apr 23, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

@bossi; fair enough. I should have read the comments there a bit better.

Urbanism is not kultur-war.

by charlie on Apr 23, 2012 10:16 am • linkreport

I went to the fairgrounds for the first time friday. My friends and I enjoyed ourselves and did think that it lacked in a retail option (food options however...). Overall its a nice way to beat the initial rush to the metro station (we still had to wait 15 minutes each for both trains but thats another story)

by x on Apr 23, 2012 10:21 am • linkreport

God I love all these one-percenter articles.

Once you pay for the private school, and the car payments on two jaguars, and the million-dollar home, and the nanny, and the massive allowances and junk for your kids, you don't have that much left over! "You feel like regular middle-class people."

Oh wow, so once you do all those things that make your life about 50 times more comfortable than a family making $60K, you don't have that much left over for the frivolous stuff? The horror! It's just another example of keeping up with the Jones' - sure you're rich, but you don't feel Rockefeller rich.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2012 10:24 am • linkreport

wrt to BRT

actually one of the positives of BRT is how scaleable it is. Taking only the issue of shared vs exclusive lanes, you can start with a small stretch of exclusive lane and the rest of the route in shared lanes, and as you get more ridership, more density, more funding, you can extend the exclusive lanes. All-exclusive routes can share a facility with routes that mostly move on shared lanes (I think that is the plan for CCPY transitway). The only real downside is if the service is touted too much, compared to the actual time savings, and this brings transit generally into disrepute. Not sure if thats happening in Austin. In our region, where people have the example of metro rail, such issues at worst would bring BRT into disrepute. Looking at the plans for CCPY, I don' think it will bring BRT into disrepute - CCPY may even serve as a counterexample if MoCo BRT flops.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Apr 23, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

Living near a good school costs a family more than $200,000 versus living elsewhere. That leaves the best schools to the most well-off families. But less restrictive zoning can narrow that cost difference.

A big part of the reason that these schools are considered good is precisely that they are full of children from well-off families, who have all the advantages and cultural capital that follows from that. It's a lot easier to teach privileged kids, especially if the primary gauge of how we'll you're doing as a teacher is the kids' standardized test scores.

From the perspective of the families that send their kids to these schools, upzoning (or busing or redistricting or what have you) so that less well-off children can attend those schools will necessarily dilute the quality of the schools. Thus - vigorous NIMBYism.

by Dizzy on Apr 23, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

re: Alex Trebek:

Good to see the excellent journalism we've come to expect from Politico.

The headline reads: "Alex Trebek keeps D.C. visit nonpartisan"

And the lede?

Legendary game-show host Alex Trebek hasn’t made up his mind who will be getting his vote this fall, but he puts forth solidly conservative themes when talking politics.
“People [are] relying too much on the government,” the “Jeopardy” star said over the weekend while holding forth with the press during a day of taping in Washington.

Yup. Nothing partisan here.

I'll refrain from commenting on a man whose gotten wealthy by delivering a facsimile of knowledge to the great Middle Mind of American TV watchers. He's made a career of answering trivial questions the answers to which he has *literally* been handed.

A true Conservative hero.

by oboe on Apr 23, 2012 10:59 am • linkreport

I recall Trebek donating and hosting Republicans. I'm not surprised he would call himself an Independent though. How long has he been a citizen? I can't believe he has been without a mustache for 11 years. Where has time gone? I got more from this DC related Trebek article than anything on Politico though.

by selxic on Apr 23, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport


To be fair, there's a strong critique to be made from the left that all sorts of interest groups and corporations (farmers, defense contractors, certain investment banks and other financial institutions, perhaps even construction companies specializing in highways...) are relying too much on government.

The Ontario-born Mr. Trebek strikes me as likely being a middle-of-the-road Tory. I'll take him for $2000 over the likes of McConnell and Boehner.

by Dizzy on Apr 23, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

Alex Trebek nonpartisan? Yeah ok, and neither is Michele Malkin.

He says that he's ok w/being taxed as long as the money is going towards reducing the debt but not towards financing new programs. And what "new" programs is he referring to? Those w/in the defense industry? Oh no, just "entitlement" programs.

And to think the Politico wrote that headline with a straight face.

by HogWash on Apr 23, 2012 11:16 am • linkreport

Dunno. I suppose you could fairly label a "European-style Conservative" as non-partisan in the US, since there really isn't a party that aligns with that ideology. Alex Trebek wasn't a citizen til 1998, so it kind of makes sense that he's not clearly aligned to one party or the other, even though he happens to agree with a number of Republican talking points.

In all honesty, the Democrats probably share more in common with the Tories right now than the Republicans do...

by andrew on Apr 23, 2012 11:52 am • linkreport

Polularize crowdsources residents' ideas for what businesses should open in changing neighborhoods. While it reaches more people than traditional processes, is it only reaching certain demographics?

It probably reaches only those demographics who use the internet, which are precisely the demographics who have enough money to have an actual stake in what businesses will appear in those neighborhoods.

by JustMe on Apr 23, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

@Mike: "It has potential, but the way it was set up was left a lot to be desired."

That's because Georgetown Events is terrible. They're the same jackelopes who demolished the National Building Museum a few years ago and, back when they were still "Georgetown's Hottest Parties," did the same thing to the City Tavern Club.

The neighborhood could be awesome, but bringing in Brogan and Reed was bound to lead to one place: FailVille. As it is, the place just feels like a creepy, loud, industrial Road Warrior ghetto designed to suck your money before the game.

by Jeff on Apr 23, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

Re: Highway miles per capita

The conclusion I draw from those two lists is that highway miles per capita (and likely transportation policy in general) is not a primary driving factor in the success or failure of cities. Also, I don't think I'd consider any of the following to be "decyaing or soon to decay" cities

Houston - 7.3%
Columbus - 7.1%
San Antonio - 6.9%
Pitt - 7.3%
Dallas - 7.9%

National unemployment rate - 8.2%

I also wouldn't consider these cities in great economic health either:

Chicago - 9.8%
Tampa - 9.8%
Miami - 10.7%
NYC - 9.7%
Sacremento - 13.7%
LA - 13.3
Philly - 10.7%
DC - 9.9%

by Falls Church on Apr 23, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

Interesting stats, however definitely seems to be cherrypicking. What is the unemployment in the other 5 cities at the top of the list? I also notice you left out Portland and Phoenix, though not sure Phoenix would help the bottom of the list out at all.

In addition, in DC, well over half of the unemployed live EOTR (W7=17% and W8=26% unemployed) so that kind of skews it a bit as well. In Columbus (the other city I am familiar with as I lived there for a year for grad school) no one actually lives downtown. In addition, sure there are jobs, it is one of the biggest call center locations in the country. Tons of $12/hour jobs.

Still, interesting analysis. Would have liked to see Cleveland and Jacksonville included in the top half. Would have balanced it out significantly.

by Kyle W on Apr 23, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

@Kyle W

Good point. I was being lazy and cherry picking. Here's the full list. Still doesn't look good for the bottom list:

Kansas City -- 8.4%
St. Loius -- 10.2
Houston - 7.3%
Columbus - 7.1%
San Antonio - 6.9%
Jacksonville - 9.0
Providence 13.5
Pitt - 7.3%
Baltimore - 10.3
Dallas - 7.9%

National unemployment rate - 8.2%

Chicago - 9.8%
Tampa - 9.8%
Miami - 10.7%
NYC - 9.7%
Portland - 8.5
Sacremento - 13.7%
Phoenix - 8.2
LA - 13.3
Philly - 10.7%
DC - 9.9%

by Falls Church on Apr 23, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

Forgot Cleveland in the top list -- 10.3%

by Falls Church on Apr 23, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

On the MoCo BRT: I have no idea what other bus or rail systems cost to operate, but $1.1 million per mile every year for a bus system seems obscenely high. Prohibitively so. I haven't done the math, but I wonder if that would be cost-effective. Maybe I'm naive, or uninformed about the costs of other public transit, but I think thse numbers will scare off the County Council.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Apr 23, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Sorry GGW, the actual data completely blow up Streetsblog’s thesis. If the Streetsblog comparison shows anything, it is exactly the opposite of what it purports to show! The average unemployment rate for the 10 metros with the fewest highway miles is 9.0% (9.4 if you take out Washington’s artificially low unemployment rate). The average unemployment rate for the 11 metros with the most highway miles is 8.0 (7.6 if you take out the outlier, Providence). I won’t claim more highways equal more jobs, but there does seem to be a pattern, just the opposite of the one Streetsblog and GGW claims.


1. Kansas City – 7.7
2. St Louis – 8.9
3. Houston – 7.2
4. Cleveland – 8.1
5. Columbus – 6.8
6. San Antonio – 6.8
7. Jacksonville – 8.8
8. Providence – 12.0
9. Pittsburgh – 7.6
10. Baltimore – 7.5
11. DFW – 7.1

1. Chicago – 9.0
2. Tampa/St.Pete – 9.4
3. Miami – 9.0
4. NYC/Newark – 9.3
5. Portland – 8.6
6. Sacramento – 11.4
7. Phoenix – 7.8
8. LA – 11.1
9. Philly – 8.8
10. DC – 5.8

by Ron on Apr 23, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

FYI -- the difference between Ron's number and my numbers (both from BLS) is that Ron is including the entire MSA while I'm only including the city proper. But, both lists point to the same conclusion -- if there's any relationship between highway miles and unemployment, it's more highway miles equals lower unemployment.

by Falls Church on Apr 23, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

On highway miles -- if that is a study of actual highway miles within actual city limits, of course, that's not going to produce development. That's taking a considerable amount of land out of the economy. That's not a useful measure, though, of a highway's value. Highways serve a purpose in bringing people from great distances, where walking is impossible and a slow-moving bus system is stifling in terms of time-consumed. Where highways move people fairly quickly, they can be especially useful (so long as they're not as empty as the ICC).

A useful comparison would take into account suburban population and suburban highway miles in calculating the economic activity of a greater metropolitan area. I'm not prejudging what the outcome of that would be, but if this study doesn't do that, then it's really just putting numbers to the obvious, rather than offering real insight.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Apr 23, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

several of the high UE cities are fast growing sunbelt cities that many of us would think of as highway oriented, but that probably have fewer miles of highways per capita just cause they have grown so fast lately, at a time when infrastructure spending in general has been constrained. Those are also often cities hard hit by the RE bubble. If you did transit infra per capita, or even say water infra per capita, youd get similar results I bet. Mostly it shows that fast growing sunbelt cities were hard hit, but Texas not so much.

Thats why correlations outside a fully specified model are not particularly useful

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 23, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

The Trebek nonpartisan angle has made the heretofore unimaginable a reality - Oboe and HogWash agree on something. Will wonders never cease?

by dcd on Apr 23, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Kyle makes some interesting observation about whether the unemployment rate is the appropriate basis of comparison. Should it be dollars generated or the percentage of people employed? $12.00 an hour jobs aren't great, but they are jobs.

On the other hand, I recall reading a diary on DailyKos a few months ago, when gas prices started to rise, from a guy who woke up one morning and realized he couldn't afford to go to his job, which was like a 45 min. or hour's drive, because he didn't have the money for the gas. Can't recall what his job was, but it was minimum skill and not much money. Highways make it possible to go those long distances, but the rising cost of gas may mean spending $20 or $30 (or more) a day on gas, particularly if you're driving a gas-guzzler. That's an economic suck.

So, maybe the number of jobs shouldn't be the measure -- or, maybe not the only measure. In New York, the wealthiest typically don't use the highways when commuting, because they either live centrally or they take commuter rail from bedroom communities. If the highways serve lower classes, helping them get to work, they probably do serve a highly useful purpose -- and, probably at less expense than building a more extensive rail network.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Apr 23, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport


Very good point. Regarding those $12/hour, my wife was actually working in HR at a call center, hiring these people, and she had a lot of employees who were driving for 45+ miles away to get to work. $12/ hour doesn't go that far when you work your first and last hour every day to get to and home from work.

That is what these highways give us. They could drive the 45 miles in 45 minutes, but you are still using 4+ gallons of gas a day.

by Kyle W on Apr 23, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

RE: Highway lane miles per capita

The unifying characteristic of most of the 11 cities with the highest lane miles/capita is that they are older cities who had huge swaths bulldozed to put in highways. Then lots of them saw decaying population with manufacturing collapses. That's 7 of 11. Three of them are in Texas - that might be a connection. Perhaps their sprawl is slightly older than other sun belt cities so they have built up highway infrastructure. No clue on Jacksonville.

The list of the 10 with the lowest lane-miles per capita has less rhyme or reason to it. But looking at the numbers, overall these cities have a density 66% greater than the bottom 10.

by MLD on Apr 23, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

Re: Trebek

First of all, just because a public figure registered with a party doesn't mean everything they do is necessarily partisan. Also:

“I don’t know who I will vote for. I’m an independent, one of the vast gray mass in the middle."

That doesn't really strike me as rabid Republicanism.

by jakeod on Apr 23, 2012 7:15 pm • linkreport

The cities with the low unemployment rate are cities with low wages, and vice-versa. Compare Miami to Jacksonville, for example: Miami is quite expensive; Jacksonville is within the "minimum wage" part of Florida. Also Texas, which has very low labor costs.

I think the correlation is that the lack of highway miles drives up real estate costs, which drive away low pay jobs, which are an oasis of employment when the economy turns bad.

Just came back from San Antonio btw, which is astonishing. Huge: 2.1 million people, and when I asked around, most said the growth was because both land and labor was cheap. It also has a functioning downtown with walkable neighborhoods, that was not bulldozed away by highways.

by goldfish on Apr 26, 2012 8:26 am • linkreport

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