Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Silver Line cause and effect


Photo by Nick Sherman on Flickr.
Will Silver bring blue?: 800 people per square mile is the density at which places switch from Republican to Democratic control. Loudoun has been a political battleground, but density due to the Silver Line could turn it Democratic. (Politico)

What can Green teach about Silver?: When the southern end of Metro's Green Line opened in 2001, a lack of cars led to overcrowding. Will this again be a problem when the Silver Line opens? Likely not. (Post)

Back to school for mixed use: Instead of getting a new mixed-use Safeway, it looks like Tenleytown will just get a bigger private school campus as the Georgetown Day School expands. (Post)

Virginia tells Uber to cease: Virginia's DMV has told rideshare services Uber and Lyft to stop operating. Despite past warnings, the companies continue selling rides, hoping to outlast the regulators. (Post)

EPA rule's impacts will vary: EPA's emissions reduction proposal would require Maryland and Virginia to reduce their carbon emissions by 37% and 38%. The District would be excluded as it has no operating power plants. (Vox)

A utility model for funding transit : With U.S. transit systems perennially broke, it is time to rethink their governance? Regulated utilities operate in a similar context but manage to stay profitable while providing decent service. (CityLab)

New bus adjusts to riders: A startup has begun operating a bus in Boston that adjusts its route to better serve riders. Initial rides have been faster than the T, but more expensive. (NYTimes)

Voters gain development veto power: Voters in San Francisco passed a referendum giving themselves a say in development along the waterfront. Although touted as a victory against developers, the result may be an ever higher cost of housing. (Post)

Seattle gives street space to kids: Through a new Play Streets program, the city is temporarily opening streets to non-car activities, such as school athletics. Several other cities have similar programs. (Streetsblog)

How the battle was won: A recent podcast tells the story of David Gunn's transformation of the NYC subway system. Criminalization of graffiti and obsessive cleaning of trains was necessary to tip the scales. (99% Invisible, thm)

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.

Matt Malinowski is a consultant advising government clients on improving the energy efficiency of consumer electronic products, but is interested in all aspects of sustainable infrastructure and community resilience. He lives with his wife in the Truxton Circle/Bates neighborhood of DC. 

Comments

Add a comment »

I'm not so down on the Tenleytown Safeway deal. Yes, the neighbors were obstinate pigs. But the current location of the lower school campus is not served by mass transit and it's hard to reach even by car.

by Crickey7 on Jun 6, 2014 9:15 am • linkreport

Silver might bring "blue" to the political climate, but actually, Silver will end up taking Blue away from the system.

by Ryan on Jun 6, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

The political balance is indeed at the core of some of the opposition to Silver Line expansion specifically and transit more generally (see, e.g. Atlanta).

There is some suggestion that GDS will seek to redevelop the car dealership into something that is a lasting revenue stream for the school. That would be a great place for a mixed-used development, even better than the Safeway footprint. And since it is right off of Wisconsin and near some fairly tall (by Ward 3 standards) buildings, many of the usual counterarguments can be dispatched with ease.

The biggest issue with the utility model for transit is that utilities are de facto monopolies. Transportation is a very different animal in that regard.

by Dizzy on Jun 6, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

I'm not comfortable equating density with party affiliation. It may be empirically true, but talking about urbanization this way inherently creates resistance from Republicans, and isn't even normatively/ideally a good thing. I think we should all prefer urban places with competitive party politics, not single party politics. This from a person with the dinosaur-like self-identity of a Rockefeller Republican but Democratic party registration.

by jnb on Jun 6, 2014 9:30 am • linkreport

in fact the steady shift of loudoun from Red to blue has mostly been about sprawly suburbs moving into a rural area, and a more ethnically diverse mix in the sprawly suburbs. Its not clear to me that the Silver Line will really effect that very much - the TOD areas will be small, and may not vote more blue than the county now does (though it may be a different kind of blue - more liberal on social issues) I think the fear expressed of SL driving political change in LoCo was misplaced. It would be more true if LoCo sprawl didn't have so many townhomes (but it does) and if asians living in LoCo SFH's voted as republican as GOP pundits think they should based on incomes and model minority stereotypes (but they don't.) Maybe if the GOP ever changes on immigration and identity politics. But that would cost them a lot of rural white working class votes in places other than LoCo.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 6, 2014 9:39 am • linkreport

I read a great account years ago of the battle to rid the NYC subway cars of graffiti. I believe it was in a popular urban planning book (the title escapes me). But the program started with a single "clean train" car and they watched it closely - as soon as there was graffiti on it, they removed it from service, cleaned the graffiti and returned it to service. Over time they expanded it to two cars, then three, etc. The graffiti vandals quickly learned to not target the "clean cars" as their work would not be seen. As the pool of clean cars expanded, the amount of graffiti decreased as people gave up defacing the cars.

by Subway on Jun 6, 2014 10:06 am • linkreport

@Subway
I was at the Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn this past weekend and they had cars from all different periods of NYC subway history, including BRT, IRT, wood, steel, etc. sitting on a decommissioned platform in an old station. But the one car they didn't have was a graffiti covered car from the 70s & 80s. Everyone we were with, growing up in the 80s NYC wanted to see one. They did too good of a job and none exists anymore in good enough condition to wheel into museum.

by dc denizen on Jun 6, 2014 10:11 am • linkreport

@jnb

I'm not comfortable equating density with party affiliation. It may be empirically true, but talking about urbanization this way inherently creates resistance from Republicans, and isn't even normatively/ideally a good thing.

That's when you start talking about Utah and all the great transit they're building there, while hoping the Republican you're talking to doesn't realize that SLC votes Dem.

@AWITC

Hard to tell. Even if the TOD is small, the population density could be enough to swing some districts/elections. Plus, it is understood that it would only be the beginning - once you have TOD in one place, you'll start having denser development radiating out from it, and density is broadly antithetical to the modern GOP value system.

I cannot track down the article at the moment, but I recall a GOP politician (I think around Merrifield?) expressing fear that greater density around the Orange Line would lead to more Democrats. And he ain't wrong.

For a more nuanced and somewhat different take, you can read self-described urbanist NoVa conservative James Bacon: http://www.baconsrebellion.com/2014/04/the-political-economy-of-sprawl.html

by Dizzy on Jun 6, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

the only competitive politics I want to see is between democrats and socialists.

by Redline SOS on Jun 6, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

"Hard to tell. Even if the TOD is small, the population density could be enough to swing some districts/elections. "

sure, some specific small districts. I was addressing the county wide balance.

"Plus, it is understood that it would only be the beginning - once you have TOD in one place, you'll start having denser development radiating out from it, and density is broadly antithetical to the modern GOP value system."

I don't think that radiating will happen. FFX cty has been pretty firm about preserving existing suburban form in between target density zones (see for example Pimmit Hills, Dunn Loring (the SFH area north of the metro) etc. And I think the resistance to changing zoning outside the designated in TOD areas in LoCo will be at least as strong. So I'm not sure who that radiating phenom is understood by - but whoever it is, they are not correct.

"I cannot track down the article at the moment, but I recall a GOP politician (I think around Merrifield?) expressing fear that greater density around the Orange Line would lead to more Democrats. And he ain't wrong."

The SFH's in Merrifield may be, indeed probably are, more inhabited by and older and white demographic than in eastern LoCo. Anyway, I do not think the Orange line density has had a significant impact on the politics of FFX county as a whole. Which again, has moved from red to blue as the county has become more racially diverse (and also as the GOP has moved from the concerns of mainstream suburbanites to identity politics, and to a hostility to the federal work force that does not play so well in NoVa) There is, I think, a GOP kulturkamp fantasy (played into by folks like Kotkin) that Asian suburbanites are republicans (because MERIT! because AMERICAN DREAM! because FAMILY VALUES! because QUOTAS!) and that the Dem vote is affluent white hipsters. But thats an illusion, AFAICT, at least in NoVa. The Asian vote leans Dem, because the Dems simply arent far enough left to alienate middle class asians on economic interests (and there are plenty of working class a nd lower middle class asians) and because the GOP identity politics doesnt appeal to them, or even alienates them. While the white hipster vote is not as solidly Dem as some think, but includes a number of socially liberal libertarians (esp in the tech corridor)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 6, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

A utility model for funding transit

That article is crap. It sounds all nice and balanced, but still only looks at transit as a system that needs to be profitable. Transit, like roads and airports should not be seen as a system that needs to pay for itself. Transit should be seen as an efficient way to move people around. Just like roads and airports.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

It sounds all nice and balanced, but still only looks at transit as a system that needs to be profitable.

It doesn't, actually.

Read it again, and you'll note that the governance and operating models are slightly different. There's a difference in operating transit like a utility; and subsidizing fares. Levinson brings up Paris, where they do indeed operate transit like a utility, but they also subsidize the fares.

I would've emphasized this difference more forcefully, but the utility lens is certainly a good way to look at the provision of transit.

The slug for the article in the opening post talks about a utility model for funding transit, and that isn't entirely accurate - this isn't about funding, but about operations and governance. It's more about structure.

by Alex B. on Jun 6, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

I would be surprised if Loudoun didnt add upwards of 200,000 people over the next 20 years. Fairfax added about 400,000 between 1980 and 2000 and is largely "built out" at this point. Heck, Loudoun already voted D in the last presidential election.

by BTA on Jun 6, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

Re: EPA regs, the Capitol Power Plant doesn't count because it just produces steam? It certainly burns coal and it has no scrubbers.

by Sally M. on Jun 6, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

An increasing politicization of mass transit is beyond ugly, but the real issue is the fossil fuel interest versus climate change. Until this country embraces climate change as the existential threat it is, real progress on mass transit will be hard to achieve. I would add that battery efficient vehicles, say 500 mile ranges, is probably reachable as well, if the U.S. wasn't retreating on its R&D investment.

by kob on Jun 6, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

Crikey, had the same thoughts on the Safeway deal. Having all campuses consolidated in Tenely could be a limited transit win. Now that parents can drop off their young kids and hop on Metro maybe someone will decide not to drive.

by BTA on Jun 6, 2014 11:40 am • linkreport

Sally M, that's correct. The regs are for Electrical Generation Units (EGU) and the Capitol Power Plant doesn't make electricity. Maybe EPA will get around to regulation facilities like this later? It was a real disservice to DC when Mitch McConnell and Robert Byrd blocked a proposal to use cleaner fuel.

Still, progress eventually comes. In 2009, the CPP switched to mostly natural gas, and last year they got permits to install co-generation which will further reduce emissions.

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/06/14/2157261/capitol-power-plant-becoming-cogeneration-plant-quitting-coal/

by David C on Jun 6, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

I love his thinking and it can be instructive in the way we fund infrastructure. However, the biggest problem with Levinson's proposal is this bit of fine print:

An independent transit utility can raise fares, with the approval of a public utilities commission, so that average farebox recovery approaches and eventually exceeds 100 percent. This should be accompanied by full cost pricing for competing transportation modes — in other words, higher gas taxes or road fares. Low-income users should get a direct subsidy from the public, not from the transit utility.

We are very very far away from a place where roads can be accurately priced according to emissions and other negative external costs involved, and this pricing would be absolutely critical to achieving his vision. Accurate road pricing is probably the single most effective means to achieve many transportation and land use goals, but it's also something that is almost completely untenable from a current policymaking perspective.

by Jonathan P on Jun 6, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B:t doesn't, actually.

Read it again, and you'll note that the governance and operating models are slightly different. There's a difference in operating transit like a utility

Well, ok. The call for running it as a utility is good. However, the part where is call for privatizing that utility is not good.

The article correctly points out that that's popular in Europe. The model sounds good, but the actual outcome is a mess.

Go ask the Brits how they like their split-up privatized rail system. Or go ask the Dutch how they like their privatized monopoly-rail provider (owned 100% by the government). Go ask the Dutch how they like seeing their bus system being auctioned off every few years to a new provider. Sounds ok, until you see the massive corruption (even in the Netherlands!) around those contracts, and the weak government leaders caving into demands of bidders to scrap unprofitable lines. Ask the transit operators how they like to see their salaries and benefits being used as a bargaining chip during negotiations, while profit margins for foreign conglomerates are being written into contracts. Ask transit riders how they like it when over the weekend a new bus provider takes over the entire regional bus network, brings in new (old, crappy, used - cost had to be low) buses with new drivers that don't know where the routes go.

Running transit like a utility is a good idea, but only if the utility is run by the (local) government.

In other words, would you like to see a company with a track record like PEPCO make a bid for running WMATA?

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

Three cheers for the GDS deal. The last thing upper NW needs is another Nouveau-Clarendon-cum-Cathedral Commons. More generic meh. A lot of folks who thought Cathedral Commons would be a good idea look at the actual "super-sized self" taking shape along two blocks and think it will chain retail destination misfit to its surrounding area, rather than the neighborhood-oriented shopping center than its promoters promised. Who needs more of the same just up the road??

by Jack on Jun 6, 2014 3:25 pm • linkreport

The people who will live in it, therefore, the entire city.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 6, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

i wonder if anyone has investigated Gunn's tenure at Metro and what kind of deferred maintenance went on that ultimately may have contributed to the need for "rebuilding".

by Rich on Jun 6, 2014 4:05 pm • linkreport

The closure of Martens Volvo will be a major milestone in Washington DC automotive history - that is the very last new car dealer in the city. Or perhaps I should say "new internal-combustion-engine-car dealer in the city", since there is a Tesla dealer at 1050 K Street NW.

Does anyone know if the Georgetown Day School proposal includes closing 42nd Street between Wisconsin Avenue and Chesapeake Street?

by Frank IBC on Jun 6, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

WMATA has had lack of rolling stock sense the Yellow line opened from National Airport to Huntington back on 12 17 1983. At that time WMATA only had the 300 1000 series cars to provide service on a roughly 38 mile 4 line system. The first of the 2000 series cars had not passed acceptances testing.

Those of us that can remember, WMATA's original plan was to operate the Blue line between Addison Road and Huntington and the Yellow Line between Greenbelt and Springfield - Franconia. WMATA came to the conclusion that they could open the segment from National Airport to Huntington by redeploying the limited rolling stock and extending the Yellow line instead of extending the Blue line.

It should be noted that the segment from National Airport to Huntington was ready to open nearly a year before it actually opened. it only opened on 12 17 1983 when somebody came up with idea of redeploying rolling and opening as an extension of the Yellow line.

by Sand Box John on Jun 6, 2014 11:38 pm • linkreport

the TOD areas will be small, and may not vote more blue than the county now does

The TOD areas will almost certainly vote more blue than the less dense areas. That may be because more liberal people move there or the existing people become more liberal.

The reason is simple - Republican limited government ideaology is simply unworkable in dense places. Even the most diehard libertarian recognizes the need for a condo association to govern a building, and then you're on the slippery slope of understanding the importance of government/governance. If you try governing a dense place using the same ideological principles as a rural place, you'll have chaos.

There was a great bit on Colbert the other day about some crazy gun guy who set up a shooting range in his backyard in a dense neighborhood of what looked like 1/8 acre lots. This was all legal under Florida state law but his conservative seeming neighbors were livid about the situation. All of a sudden draconian second amendment rights weren't looking so great for their quality of life and certainly not their property values. That's a case study of how density changes people's minds about ideaology.

by Falls Church on Jun 7, 2014 12:00 am • linkreport

@ Jasper :

"Would you like to see a company with a track record like PEPCO make a bid for running WMATA?"

Ironically, PEPCO was created from the power generation and distribution assets of Capital Traction, which ultimately became DC Transit, the precursor of Metro.

by Frank IBC on Jun 7, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

@ Frank IBC: Wow, the things I don't know.

@ Falls Church:Even the most diehard libertarian recognizes the need for a condo association to govern a building

To me, the innocent immigrant, condo associations and HAOs are at the same time a complete denial and a complete confirmation of Republican world views. That fact that you need these associations is the direct result of the fact that people are not responsible enough to keep their own self-interest (property value) at heart and maintain their property accordingly. However, most associations do confirm the fact that if you give (elected) people a bit of power, they will use that power to regulate every single bit of your life and take away your freedom (to use white trash bags, more than 8 colors of paint, etc etc).

Personally, I find it highly ironic that freedom-loving Americans cherish the freedom to subject themselves to these near communist forms of "self"-government.

There was a great bit on Colbert the other day about some crazy gun guy who set up a shooting range in his backyard in a dense neighborhood of what looked like 1/8 acre lots. This was all legal under Florida state law but his conservative seeming neighbors were livid about the situation.

Conservative seeming? I thought it was a law in Florida that all hippies must live in the Keys?

All of a sudden draconian second amendment rights weren't looking so great for their quality of life and certainly not their property values.

Well, it's the whole fallacy of gun rights. It sounds great to have a gun to protect yourself. The NRA however never talks about the fact that if you can get a gun, everybody else can too! Jon Stewart was right on the money this week pointing out how open-carry rights are rather in conflict with stand-your-ground laws that allow one to shoot when feeling threatened.

Or, to cite Chris Rock:
Don't go to parties with metal detectors
Sure, it feels safe inside...
But what about all those n!gg@s waitin' outside with guns?...
They know you ain't got one!

by Jasper on Jun 7, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

Sorry, my previous post was wrong. The company from which PEPCO spawned was the other streetcar company, Washington Traction and Electric Company. They merged with Capital Traction to form Capital Transit (which later became DC Transit) in 1935, and at that time, PEPCO was spun off.

by Frank IBC on Jun 7, 2014 5:37 pm • linkreport

Well, I suppose that if subways and density turn neighborhoods from conservative to liberal, and liberals are convinced that conservatives are horrible and must be extirpated, this explains why liberals have such a religious fervor for insanely costly heavy rail transit.

We know that the bit about cost-efficiency and exhaust are canards. I'll let Randall O'Toole explain the numbers, as he does in a great piece about the DC transit plan: http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=9112

"Americans spend about a trillion dollars a year buying, maintaining, operating, and insuring cars and subsidizing highways, in exchange for which they travel about 4 trillion passenger miles per year for an average total cost of 25 cents per passenger mile (about 24 cents of which is paid by users and 1 cent of which is subsidies). In contrast, Washington’s transit system (for the urban area, not just the district) moved people about 2.5 billion passenger miles in 2012 at a cost of $3 billion, or $1.20 per passenger mile (only 34 cents of which was captured in fares).

"Meanwhile, the average car and light truck on the road in 2012 got about 20.7 miles per gallon, meaning (at the average occupancy of about 1.6 people per car) it emitted about 268 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile. In contrast, Washington’s transit system emitted an average of 285 grams per passenger mile, partly because nearly all of the electricity used to power the MetroRail system comes from burning fossil fuels."

So it makes sense that an enthusiasm to blow $5 billion on one rail line has other motivations. Ideological warfare seems sufficient explanation.

by I Also 95 on Jun 8, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

There are so many things wrong with O'Toole's analysis, but I'll just note a few and see if I Also 95 will address them.

1. While he addresses some of the costs of driving, he ignores many others like air pollution, water pollution, deaths and injuries, etc.. which means he ignores about 43 cents worth of subsidies per passenger mile. Furthermore, his paper he cites is from 2007, and the subsidy for roads has increased much since then, with regular infusions from the budget needed to support the Highway Trust Fund.

2. He's comparing all driving to all transit. But transit exists to serve primarily rush hour transportation in dense urban areas - a.k.a. the most expensive type of transportation. The alternative of not providing transit and trying to build out the road system in is much higher than the average cost of building an equivalent amount of road in America. The average mile of road in the US is probably rural highway. He should compare the cost of rush-hour urban driving to rush-hour urban transit.

3. The DC transit system also has to absorb the cost of paratransit. This is even MORE expensive than rush-hour transportation, and it makes DC's average transit cost much higher. This is a good program and one we should provide, but counting it into the "DC Transit average pm" cost is disingenuous. Getting rid of rail won't change how we provide it or expensive it is.

4. He's using average car occupancy to lower the emissions and cost per passenger mile. But again, that's not accurate for urban rush-hour commuting. The average occupancy for cars is about 2 per car. But for rush hour commuters, it is just barely above 1. And once that is taken into account, cars become much dirtier.

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2010/04/22/new-report-tracks-urban-transit-emissions-where-does-your-city-rank/

5. "The Washington MetroRail system, which is stuck using 1970s technology for the foreseeable future, cannot possibly hope to compete." is just not true. While he's willing to point out that cars are becoming cleaner, he fails to note that MetroRail is getting cleaner and so is the electrical grid on which it relies. And buses are not stuck using any type of technology, in fact DC is changing it's fleet over from Diesel to CNG right now.

6. O'Toole ignores the cost of driving time. Driving one's car limits the other things one can do during that time. Like read. Or make phone calls. Or sleep. Even when transit trips take longer, the value of that time to the traveler goes up. O'Toole leaves that out because it would destroy his case.

There's more. But that's a pretty good start.

by David C on Jun 8, 2014 10:41 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] it's difficult for people to maintain "their" property as rugged individualists when "their" property is a nonspecific fraction of an exterior wall.

by Mike on Jun 9, 2014 7:42 am • linkreport

David c,

Also,
1: the simultaneous arguments for and against charging for congestion (which he ultimately dismisses because of a "govt can't do anything right" argument.

2: pointing out that DCs pop. Was higher in 1970 and saying congestion wasn't an issue (no proof of this btw) while ignoring that the populations of neighboring jurisdictions has soared into the millions.

by Drumz on Jun 9, 2014 9:09 am • linkreport

@dc denizen re: 70's-80's NYC subway car: That is REALLY a shame! That graffiti helped spawn a whole sub-genre in fine art history.

by Tina on Jun 9, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

Oh lord, was just waiting for a Kotkin or O'Toole reference. Is there like, a handy primer to debunking their bullshit we can keep around this site?

by LowHeadways on Jun 10, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

experience with condo associations and urban public goods issues may make people marginally more liberal, but I doubt it has as much impact as income and ethnicity. Affluent whites in Loudoun TOD are probably going to vote more liberally than affluent whites in cascade SFH's (because of differences in age and family status more than from density), about as liberal as asians living in Ashburn SFHs, and probably a tad less liberal than hispanics living in older THs and low rise apts in Sterling.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 10, 2014 2:03 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