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Breakfast links: New ways to live and move

Photo by jhembach on Flickr.
Uber takes a taxi: Uber introduced a new service to hail you a DC cab. It costs the standard taxi fare plus a 20% tip. (DCist)

Babe's gets the nod: DC's Zoning Commission last night unanimously approved "The Bond at Tenley," the often-controversial parking-free apartment building proposal on the former Babe's site in Tenleytown. (@Ward3Vision)

Bike to Obama: The best way to get to the inauguration may be on a bike. Some bike sharing stations were removed for the parade, but there will be temporary corrals near the Mall and temporary bike racks near 16th and K. (Post)

A national VMT tax?: Should we replace the federal gas tax with a VMT tax? A GAO report says it would reduce congestion and raise revenues, but implementation costs are high and it might discourage fuel-efficient cars. (Streetsblog)

Call them the Washington Deforesters: Every tree on the site of the Red/Pig/'Skins future training camp in Richmond was cut down despite an agreement to preserve as many trees as possible and plant a new tree for each one lost. It's not Dan Snyder's first escapade with deforestation. (WTVR, DCist)

Will school closings save money?: DC's plan to close 20 schools may barely save DC any money over the next school year, according to a report by DC Fiscal Policy Institute. The $10.4 million savings in staff costs will be nearly equaled by the estimated $10.2 million cost of closures and relocation. (Post)

An affordable little neighborhood: An affordable housing "pocket neighborhood" in Little Rock clusters 9 small single-family homes around a shared green space in a 1 acre infill development near downtown. Could this translate to the DC area? (Switchboard)

"Embarrassing" anti-dooring law?: Some people seem not to read past the title of Virginia's proposed anti-dooring bill, like one Norfolk columnist who calls it an "embarrassing" proposal which "epitomizes all that's wrong with Richmond" without mentioning the actual serious problems dooring poses. (Post)

And...: Justice Sotomayor chose U Street because it's "scruffy" like NYC's East Village. (DCist) ... Massachusetts considers taxing parking lots to fund transit. (Streetsblog) ... How about a Union Market-style "food destination" on Half Street in Near SE? (JDLand)

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Redskins trees: Sounds like the City of Richmond screwed up, not the Redskins organisation.

by RJ on Jan 15, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

Uber taxi seems like a good option. Good to have more choices for cabs, and potentially some quality control.

As for inauguration, based on my experience last time, walking will be the only viable transportation option anywhere near the Mall, and even walking will be a struggle at times.

by renegade09 on Jan 15, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

Re: School closings

$10.4 million in annual school staffing costs > $10.2 in one-time relocation expenses. Year on year it's still cheaper.

by Adam L on Jan 15, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

It should be noted, of course, that the 'Skins don't exactly have the best standing relationship with trees. In 2004, owner Dan Snyder snagged himself a better view of the Potomac River when he cut down 50,000 square feet of a federally protected forest between the his Potomac, Md. estate and the C&O Canal. Although Snyder was cleared of any wrongdoing, an Interior Department inspector general's report two years later charged a high-ranking National Park Service official with helping Snyder obtain easy permission to cut down 130 mature trees.

I'm sure everyone involved was appropriately punished--just like that MIT hacker. Money really does talk, doesn't it?

Anyway, if Pigskins fans are curious why their team seems to keep drawing he short-straw, it's simple karma: the team owner is Satan.

by oboe on Jan 15, 2013 9:25 am • linkreport

Richmond is a bunch of hacks over this Redskins thing. They are talking about all the economic development it will bring. At least when you poach a business from another state, you can argue there are new jobs. This is simply poaching jobs from Loudoun to Richmond, and giving Snyder a 10 million subsidy while you're at it. Great job guys.

Regarding the school closings, weak article, so they are break-even in year one. Year 2 we save money, and the idea is to get more efficient long-term, and get these kids in a place where those efficiencies can result in a better learning environment, ie librarians, which are impossible in a school of 250.

by Kyle-W on Jan 15, 2013 9:25 am • linkreport

Good to see they made the right choice about the former Babe's site. It is a block from the Metro. Can't say I'm sorry to see that Babe's is closed either. While they are at it, I never saw anyone use the parcel just off Tenley Circle for anything. If it's supposed to be a public park, it's an awful one.

by Alan B. on Jan 15, 2013 9:31 am • linkreport

$10.4 million in annual school staffing costs > $10.2 in one-time relocation expenses. Year on year it's still cheaper.

I read this report (last week?) and thought it was pretty disingenuous the first time around. Par for the course from DCFPI...

by oboe on Jan 15, 2013 9:32 am • linkreport

BTW, I just refinanced my house, dropping my rate from 4.8% to 3.5%. My first month's savings was only $200, but the *cost* of the refi in the first month was over $1000.

Clearly a terrible idea.

by oboe on Jan 15, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

Mary Levy has never ever supported any school closings under any conditions. That was true in 2008/9 and in every other instance. If you set up a biased comparison, you can report the results that you want. DCFPI has done no favors for its reputation with this biased, short sighted analyses.

by Tom M on Jan 15, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

I've always taken "medium" distance trips with Uber, and the price differential between standard cabs and Uber was almost exactly 20%.

Why would I pay the exact same to ride in some 15 year old jalopy that hasn't seen an oil change or an alignment since the day it came off the assembly line, versus some super comfortable late model sedan, with a bottle of water and a paper available for me?

I've lived in the city for a number of years, and taken hundreds of taxis over that time, and can count on one hand the number of times it was a normal decent experience. Conversly, so far all my Uber rides have been that way. Unless Uber is vetting the hell out of the cabbies they allow into their system, there is no way I am paying Uber prices for a standard DC cab experience.

by Uber on Jan 15, 2013 9:44 am • linkreport

Money really does talk, doesn't it?

And power too. Ask Bill Clinton.

the team owner is Satan.

Is this where are now? Calling someone Satan? Really? Well alrighty then! Good to know.

Biking to inauguration? Good look w/that as you will still endure the same number of streets closed surrounding the mall. I'm interested in how the whole Food Truck thing is going to work out. I'm sure I won't go anywhere near one.

I like the new Uber option. I always tip my driver so the 20% tip is no problem...since it's even less than what I normally tip anyway.

OMG..a Union Market in SE would be a great idea. Something needs to happen w/that eyesore and this is superkewl!

Glad the over the top Tenley debate is finally done.

by HogWash on Jan 15, 2013 9:44 am • linkreport

Dooring Column: Wow, that author is clueless. How do you get a job writing columns when you apparently can't even read the bill or the author's explanation and instead base an entire column on a commercial you saw once and your vague notion of the "nanny state".

VMT: it might be more efficient but its still simpler to just simply raise the gas tax (and tax carbon as well).

Re: Little rock affordable housing: The design is nice but I have trouble figuring out where you'd put it near transit in DC except on a very special circumstance where the land should more likely be used for a higher density. So no, I don't believe this would translate to DC very well.

by drumz on Jan 15, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

How do you get a job writing columns when you apparently can't even read the bill or the author's explanation and instead base an entire column on a commercial you saw once and your vague notion of the "nanny state".

by oboe on Jan 15, 2013 10:00 am • linkreport

Wow, DCFPI should be embarrassed to put their name on that report. So much bogus data analysis I don't even know where to begin. But on their three bullet points:
Smaller DCPS schools are only slightly more costly than larger schools.
The DCFPI analysis compares schools under the enrollment targets with those over the enrollment targets and determines that the smaller schools don't cost much more. But that's the wrong comparison to make, since DCPS isn't proposing closing all schools under the enrollment target, only some schools. They do not make the case that these schools designated for closure do not cost more than other schools. And actually, if you do the math out using the numbers in the DCFPI report, the per-year savings of $10 million spread out over <11,000 students at closing/receiving schools comes to ~$950 per student per year, a savings of over 10% (around 5% if you count the enrollment drop).

Cost savings from closing and consolidating schools may not be substantial.
Already covered, the comparison of one year of costs to one year of savings is inaccurate, and as noted above there is a cost savings per student of 5-10%.

Consolidated schools may not be better resourced than they are now.
Student-teacher ratios will not significantly change, DCFPI's data bears this out. And, because schools will be larger there will be more opportunity to fund things like librarians, art teachers, etc. that the DCFPI report rightly points out are not as available in smaller schools.

by MLD on Jan 15, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

The Rosemont Park neighborhood in Alexandria where I used to live was full of small, single-family houses on 1/10-acre lots a short walk from Metro. But as drumz points out, no one would ever build anything like that near transit anymore.

by jimble on Jan 15, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

oboe +10,000

by Dizzy on Jan 15, 2013 10:54 am • linkreport

Also, do we want to set an over/under on years of litigation that will keep the Babe's development in limbo? I'm going with 3 and a half.

by Dizzy on Jan 15, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

The Vehicle-Miles Traveled fee is NOT a tax: it's a fee being charged to pay for a resource people are using. Distinguishing between a user fee and a tax is not merely semantic: it is a crucial difference and one that should be repeatedly made to make sure pro-market people (of which I am one) don't immediately shut it off. Remember, the right (and even Grover Norquist) came to accept hot lanes and variable tolls and sensible ways to alleviate congestion: a VMT should be supported by the ardent environmententalists as well as hard core market conservatives.

by Bob Paulson on Jan 15, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

@MPerkins, yeah I thought that was a story worth mentioning as well...that's until I actually read it. Essentially, a constituent asked his CM to intervene. They were given a second chance...and now failed. Doubtful any more intervention will occur.

by HogWash on Jan 15, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport


That's all well and good, but I think much of the opposition to VMT fees is more pragmatic than that.

Implementing a VMT fee will have some large costs. Raising the gas tax has almost no cost - the mechanism to collect that excise tax is already in place.

The concept of a VMT fee is great, but no one ever gets around to specifics. And the idea that raising the gas tax is so politically toxic that somehow replacing that with the burden of a VMT fee changes the toxicity is just odd.

by Alex B. on Jan 15, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

How DO you implement VMT tax? Annual inspections where they read your odometer? What if you leave the state? What if you sell your car? Seems very unwieldy. Also, maybe just a climate change nut but shouldn't we be erring on the side of fuel efficiency if we need to err?

by Alan B. on Jan 15, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

"Annual inspections where they read your odometer? What if you leave the state? What if you sell your car? Seems very unwieldy"

I think the discussion is of a national VMT tax. State by state breakdown would be difficult. As for selling your car, they could inspect and charge you when you transferred title, or you and the purchaser could settle on terms privately.

The real difference vs a gas tax (aside from paranoia) is the impact on vehicles with different MPG. Ideally, as I think someone here said the other day, you would have three different charges/taxes/fees. A VMT fee for your general use of/impact on the roads. Tolls and related congestion charges for your congestion impact on particularly congested routes at peak. And a carbon tax, on fuels based on their GHGs. to cover pollution externalities (since we also have non GHG "criteria" pollutants, it would have to cover those too, and maybe be called something else)

Arguably its simpler to integrate the VMT and carbon/pollution taxes - but it makes setting the right level for each purpose confusing, and arguably confuses people about the rationale for each

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 15, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

There was an article not too long ago that discussed how VMT could be through insurance companies that install a GPS transponder and give you a discount for infrequent driving. I think Geico, among others, have such a program ("Pay As You Go"). Apparently people don't mind a company keeping track of where you drive as much as they would the government so the government could simply obtain general travel information (x miles in y county/state) about a customer and bill them accordingly. And then the insurance company makes you pay a rate more in accordance with your driving/parking habits. Two birds, one stone.

by 7r3y3r on Jan 15, 2013 5:51 pm • linkreport

*could be implemented through insurance companies*

by 7r3y3r on Jan 15, 2013 5:52 pm • linkreport

The VMT can be implemented merely by reporting milage on your tax return, and at sale of the car. We already require you to be honest with reporting income and deductions, and can expect to be audited if the numbers look off. If you live in the boondocks and work in DC, a very low mileage report would arouse suspicion.

The concern about fuel efficient cars is overblown. The VMT can be adjusted for vehicle weight, and besides, VMT is covering road usage, which is the same for a given weight. Finally, if you want to encourage fuel efficiency, a general carbon tax is far simpler and efficient that the myriad of tax schemes we already have.

by SJE on Jan 15, 2013 7:00 pm • linkreport

While it might be more of a challenge in states/areas without inspections, I do recall my vehicle's mileage being recorded when it was inspected in DC. Sure, that was only every 2 years, but the program could be set up to accomodate inspection or registration systems that require less-than-annual reporting. There are numerous options out there, it's just a matter of striking the right balance between reporting burden, vehicle weight, and honesty. Some options are arduous and expensive and others could be pretty streamlined.

If Dan Snyder isn't satan incarnate, he's his younger brother with adequacy issues. Both of these situations reek of payoffs.

I'd like to see people's responses if drivers were haphazardly throwing their car doors open into the path of motor vehicles. I can picture it now...the parked driver demanding the moving driver be charged for not avoiding their door, and the parked driver's insurance company refusing to pay out since the moving driver was negligent. Yeah, it's the same thing if you throw your door open into a bike lane without looking. It could even happen that way in areas with bike lanes, since, in some instances, it's legal for a car to drive into the bike lane. Oh, except for the fact that throwing a car door open into the bike lane could KILL SOMEONE.

by Ms. D on Jan 15, 2013 9:56 pm • linkreport

There are huge technical challenges with the VMT thing. Here's one: I license my car in DC, but then drive it to Virginia and Maryland (among many other states). Since this is supposed to be a use fee to support DC streets and other transportation infrastructure, how can DC tax me for driving in Virginia?

I suppose if it were implemented nationally that could be accounted for, except when I go to Canada. Long story short: it ain't never gonna work, but somehow people keep bringing it up.

by goldfish on Jan 16, 2013 1:53 am • linkreport

There are huge technical challenges with the VMT thing. Here's one: I license my car in DC, but then drive it to Virginia and Maryland (among many other states). Since this is supposed to be a use fee to support DC streets and other transportation infrastructure, how can DC tax me for driving in Virginia?

Well, that's not isolated to a VMT fee. That happens right now. I can buy a tank of gas in DC and immediately drive to VA or MD and drive that whole tank in someplace other than DC (or vice versa). At any given time, two-thirds of the cars on DC streets do not have DC tags.

So, unless we had a national system, there would always be border effects - just like there are now. There are lots of logistical hurdles to doing this, but I don't think this is one.

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

Honestly I think the focus on cool GPS tech and the like for a VMT fee is what's going to hurt it. It might be more feasible just to implement some kind of odometer check, charge X cents per mile and then distribute the money to states based on a VMT estimation formula.

by MLD on Jan 16, 2013 9:27 am • linkreport

Alex B: The tax on the fuel is justified for road use but not directly connected motor vehicle use. There is a difference from the VMT: you buy some gas and you can do with it as you see fit. Gasoline has many other uses besides a motor vehicle fuel, for example: I have used gasoline to fuel my camping stove, to power my chain saw, to mow my grass, as a solvent to clean parts, to clean paint brushes from oil-based paint, and to light my charcoal grill.

OTOH, the VMT tax directly proportional to how much a car is driven. If cars are registered in DC and the VMT tax is paid there, but driven Virginia, Virginia can and should sue DC for the amount collected for the number of miles such cars in Virginia.

by goldfish on Jan 16, 2013 9:35 am • linkreport

MLD: we are talking billions of dollars, and thousands per car. The odometer is meant to track how much a car is driven for maintenance and when it is sold, but it is not intended to collect tax and it is not accurate enough for that.

That kind of money provides the motivation to manipulate, skim, and cheat. A very easy thing to do, for example, is to install larger tires: presto! you've just trimmed 10% off your VMT tax.

by goldfish on Jan 16, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

The canada problem isnt much of a problem - they could read your odometer when you crossed the border, and give you a credit.

Im not sure about the odometer fixing issues, but I think theres a pretty big literature now addressing that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 16, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

The odometer is not intended to collect tax. It is not reliable or accurate. As it is always in possession of the operator, it is wide open to hacks. On almost all cars these days it is a display controlled by the computer. Reprogram that computer (you can buy one at Pep boys for like $50) and you can make that display show what you want, any time you want.

by goldfish on Jan 16, 2013 9:57 am • linkreport

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