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Breakfast links: More Metro information

Photo by afagen on Flickr.
DST closing explained: Metro is blaming its early daylight savings time shutdown on a mistake made in the control center. Richard Sarles said, "the person will never ever make that mistake again." (Examiner)

New screens come to Metro stations: Those LCD screens you may have seen acting as clocks in certain Metro stations will soon show service information like delays and elevator outages. (Examiner)

WMATA Board ethics: A review of WMATA Board ethics found that Jim Graham violated ethics rules and made several ethics reform recommendations. But some think more reforms are premature after debating such issues a little over a year ago. (Post)

Check Ward 1 parking signs: Some Ward 1 neighborhoods will see more restrictive parking rules starting tomorrow which will reserve one side of the street for residents only. (Post)

Better to drive?: Freakonomics economist Stephen Dubner makes the flawed claim that it's better for the environment to drive than it is to take public transit and that public transit can't work places like Cleveland. (Streetsblog)

Arlington leads the way on bikes: Arlington has been serious about bicycle infrastructure for a few years and is now a model for cities across Virginia looking to increase bicycle use. (Bacon's Rebellion)

Local leaders like bikes: Local leaders like mayors and county executives support bicycle infrastructure even though their representatives in Congress don't. (Roll Call)

And...: Take a sneak peak inside DC's Wal-Marts. (Post) ... Gaithersburg might get Capital Bikeshare in 2013. (Patch) ... The Beltway's HOT lanes open tomorrow. (Post) ... The Nats Park area might get an upscale movie theater. (JDLand)

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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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"the person will never ever make that mistake again."
This line encapsulates the difference in quality between American and European transit workers. Something like this simply wouldn't happen in Europe, and if it did, the employee would be out the door. Unfortunately in the U.S., our transit unions protect the dummies. Mostly because they're run by dummies.

by gob on Nov 16, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

The Metro clock/LCD was working last night at 10pm at the Smithsonian Independence Avenue entrance.

by tour guide on Nov 16, 2012 9:24 am • linkreport

Oh come on, it's hardly a union problem, transit in Europe is heavily unionized. This is a management issue, not a union issue. How is it possible that the system closed when every worker on the ground must have known that the trains were supposed to run late? Surely the staff must have pointed this out to senior management?? If whoever was in charge that night insisted that the trains stopped despite his workers telling him that they should keep running, then he's got to go. And if the staff on the ground weren't screaming that a massive error was being committed, then metro has a serious communication issue, which needs to be addressed. Either way, Sarles seems to be in denial that this episode is symptomatic of a dysfunctional organization that cannot be entrusted with running a major transit system.

by renegade09 on Nov 16, 2012 9:29 am • linkreport

So basically Dubner's argument is that an empty bus (save the driver) is less efficient than a SOV?


by drumz on Nov 16, 2012 9:34 am • linkreport

"never ever make that mistake again" sounds to me that someone is getting thrown out the door, and rightfully so. Of course, since this is Metro, I'm sure that person will just get a slap on the wrist.

by Justin..... on Nov 16, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

Regarding new movie theater in near SE: it sounds like the developer, Forest City Washington, is planning to sink tons of money into this venture. You have to respect that. While at this stage nearly projects look promising, I think there is a lot of neighborhood goodwill and pent-up demand for a nearby theater. (The nearest theater is not close.) Plus, as 40,000 people come to the baseball stadium two blocks away 81 times a year, the location looks like a no-brainer for strong profitability.

I would like this to succeed, and see everybody at there at the movies.

by goldfish on Nov 16, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

RE: Metro DST closing f-up

Really, that's all the explanation we get? One person made a mistake? Like there's an "off" switch you use and Metro just turns off?

How about some actual information about what went wrong and how come nobody questioned it or was listened to if they did? The refusal of Metro to look at root causes of their issues hampers the agency every day.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2012 9:43 am • linkreport

Re: Metro DST

A well designed system doesn't rely on a single human controller to be infallible. Of course people make mistakes, and that's why you don't create systems with a single point of failure when they need to be reliable. We don't unleash a nuclear weapon and then say "ooops! there was a communication error with the guy in charge of the button. It will never happen again!".

There are many management techniques that could be used to make human systems more reliable. A simple technique is to have a checklist that controllers use to help them shutdown the system. On that checklist would be a double check against an authoritative source of the time Metro is supposed to close down that day. Late closings happen all the time due to concerts, baseball games, etc.

by Falls Church on Nov 16, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

@goldfish, there's a movie theater close to the Ballpark/Navy Yard/Yards/Near SE (I'm not really clear on what we're calling ourselves this week). While the Regal at Gallery Place is hardly my first choice of theaters, it is only a 10 minute metro ride.

That said, I'm rather excited as the pospect of the new theater because it's not your standard multiplex.

by Birdie on Nov 16, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

I'm very excited about the possibility of a movie theatre in near SE and I think it would do great there. Coming from the Hill East area, it's a pain to get to the Chinatown theaters either by car or transit. Usually, I'll just go to Potomac Yards for the ease.

by I. Rex on Nov 16, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

drumz: So basically Dubner's argument is that an empty bus (save the driver) is less efficient than a SOV?


Since it's a Freakonomics guy you'll be hearing it forever now too.

by iaom on Nov 16, 2012 10:13 am • linkreport

So let’s say you’re an average, environmentally-concerned Joe, and you take this segment to literally mean that you should, in fact, drive your car to “save the earth.” How would that affect the environment? Well, the decision to take transit would consume essentially no additional energy — you would be using the system that’s at your disposal.

While I don't agree with the Freakonomics guy, the above from Streetsblog is intellectually dishonest as well. You can't add unlimited numbers of passengers to transit without increasing capacity. In fact, at peak times on many legs of transit, we're already at capacity, so you can't add any passengers without adding capacity.

I'm sure there's some better utilization of buses that goes on in larger transit systems but probably not that much. How many more passengers does the average bus in DC carry vs. the average bus in say Baltimore? Probably not that much more even though many more people ride the bus in DC.

by Falls Church on Nov 16, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

Since it's a Freakonomics guy you'll be hearing it forever now too.
Especially annoying since Dubner is just a journalist with no economics training who happened to luck into helping Levitt write his first book. You have to give it to him for one thing, though: he has done an amazing job of self-promotion to turn that luck into fame.

But I still don't want to hear him talking about economics.

by Gray on Nov 16, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

But increasing capacity for transit is still better than increasing capacity for cars.

Dubner was basically saying that underused transit isn't that efficient. I don't think anyone disagrees on that matter. His answer was basically switch to a car whereas you'd think that a more sensible solution would be to figure out how to make said transit more used.

And that's if you're talking about 1 bus line rather than a network.

by drumz on Nov 16, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

to add,

And this is just talking about the relative environmental impact rather than other things that a transit agency has to consider like access or their overall budget.

by drumz on Nov 16, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

"You can't add unlimited numbers of passengers to transit without increasing capacity. In fact, at peak times on many legs of transit, we're already at capacity, so you can't add any passengers without adding capacity."

true, but such lines already have far higher than average ridership. The averages are dominated by places like where I live in Fairfax county, where a local bus runs once an hour, not to shift riders from SOVs, but to provide basic mobility to those who for whatever reason have no car, have no license, or are physically incapable of driving. That basic mobility cannot be provided at much lower frequencies.

I don't think Streetsblog was addressing situations like Metro Center at peak of peak, or the Lexington Avenue line in NYC - because the notion that autos would be a greener solution in such places is so patently absurd (and even the guy quoted by freakonomics admitted NYC subway is a monster of efficiency). It was addressing routine local bus service. In almost all such cases Streetsblog is right, or 99% right - there is either ZERO incremental frequency due to one rider, or few riders - OR an increase in ridership will lead to SOME increase in frequency, but far better service, and an upward spiral of higher ridership and more efficiency, and more bike/ped usage, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 16, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

Re: Dubner

Dubner is NOT an economist. He's a writer who once co-authored a book with an actual economist. He does not have any training or background in public policy analysis or economics. His blog posts often reflect this.

by Joe on Nov 16, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

What's going on outside the Georgia Ave. WalMart? Are those streetcar tracks in the sidewalk?

by Lucre on Nov 16, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

The issue with the "buses aren't cleaner" argument isn't just that getting on transit doesn't add any GHG (because transit already exists). They make several even bigger assumptions/arguments that have problems:

1. They assume that any transit trips replaced with driving trips would take place in an auto at average occupancy: 1.6 persons. But transit trips are far more likely to be work trips than your average auto trip: 20% of auto trips are work trips, 60% of transit trips are work trips. The average work auto trip has an occupancy of 1.1 persons. So any transit trips shifted to driving for this comparison would likely be at a lower occupancy than 1.6 persons.

2. They assume that transit trips and driving trips cover equal distances, and they don't. This is because of the land use impacts of transit - transit served areas have destinations that are closer together and this means trips will be shorter. Research that has looked at this effect has concluded that it makes transit trips anywhere from 1/4 to 1/7 the distance of auto trips. And it applies even in places without high capacity rail like a subway.

3. They also ignore the fact that the occupancy of transit is dragged down by the fact that transit agencies provide a lot of social service coverage for people who cannot afford to own a car. These routes are often less efficient (because they wind in and out of neighborhoods) and lower ridership.

I also have a problem with the idea that the environmental implications of transit are "a major rationale" for transit use. It's not and it never has been. The main point of transit from the beginning has been to move people more efficiently in terms of space, not in terms of environmental resources used.

They do make a good point that focusing on policies that price driving correctly is a huge way to get people to use transit.

by MLD on Nov 16, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

Agree with all the points made above pointing out problems with the freakonmoics case. I was just pointing out that the simplistic argument made by streetsblog using the "average joe" as a hypothetical, was problematic as well. Two wrongs don't make a right.

by Falls Church on Nov 16, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

The averages are dominated by places like where I live in Fairfax county, where a local bus runs once an hour, not to shift riders from SOVs, but to provide basic mobility to those who for whatever reason have no car, have no license, or are physically incapable of driving

I'm pretty sure that doesn't describe the "average bus-riding joe" who reads streetsblog.

by Falls Church on Nov 16, 2012 12:02 pm • linkreport

I think streetsblog was speculating on the average joe who might be listening to the freakonomics guy. It was the freakonomics guy who suggested that using the AVERAGE transit bus ridership, not streetsblog. I personally think it makes more sense to look at specific real world decisions - whether its a pesonal mode choice decision, or a municipal investment decision. But the average fuel meme implies a personal decision in an average situation - and therefore Streetsblog's response was the right one to make. It was NOT a second wrong - it made clear that for the personal decision maker, the fixed cost element of transit is relevant (that is ONE aspect of the average vs marginal cost issue that freako neglects). It may not be 100% correct, but I dont think we expect that of a blog post making a quick response to a 99% WRONG assertion, made thoughtfully and deliberately in a medium like Marketplace with much higher clout than streetsblog.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 16, 2012 12:18 pm • linkreport

btw, who do you think the average environmentally conscious joe is? Where do they live? what are their transit choices?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 16, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

who do you think the average environmentally conscious joe is? Where do they live? what are their transit choices?

The average environmentally conscious Joe, or "green" in political parlance, would typically be liberal, urban, and skew young. I'd also speculate that they would be more educated and wealthier than average.

While some may say that this is a tenuous relationship, I know that the highest concentration of returned peace corp participants is in the 20010 zip code (Columbia Heights). I'd say there's probably a pretty high correlation between Peace Corp participation and environmentalism.

by Falls Church on Nov 16, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

It's a good thing that Cinderella didn't have to worry about Daylight Savings vs. Standard Time.

by Frank IBC on Nov 17, 2012 12:39 am • linkreport

If Dubner were an economist, I wager he would understand marginal cost/benefit, unless someone were paying him not to.

by Matt C on Nov 17, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

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