Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Back to school


Photo by Jirka Matousek on Flickr.
Welcome back: School began in DC and Maryland on Monday. DCPS enrollment has increased steadily since 2008, though charter school enrollment has increased at nearly 5 times the pace. (City Paper)

Catania against school reassignment: David Catania vows to delay implementation of school boundary changes until at least 2016. He argues that the plan moves students to lower performing schools without support for school improvement. (City Paper)

Silver linings: Ridership is down 6% on Fairfax Connector compared to last August. But Fairfax Metrorail boardings are up 28% and park-and-ride usage is up 15%, suggesting a shift toward the Silver line rather than a decline in public transit use. (Post)

Driverless in DC: Driverless cars are often touted as the future, but how does one handle DC-area streets? While some features could come to cars in a few years, a completely automated car is probably a decade or so away. (Post)

Tree removal tiff: Pepco wants to remove several 100-year-old trees from private properties in Potomac, citing an agreement made with the city in the 1950s. Residents are fighting it, but Pepco says it's necessary to maintain reliable service. (Gazette.net)

Tiny homes in DC: Proposed zoning regulations to limit camping in alleys threaten three tiny homes on trailers in Edgewood. The OP says concerns with sanitation led to the recommendation. (UrbanTurf)

Engaged renters: As home ownership declines, a survey in Philadelphia found that renters are more engaged in their communities than previously thought. Some city officials think the shift toward rentals is a sign of the city's increasing desirability. (Streetsblog)

Storage for the homeless: Vancouver and San Diego maintain storage units for the homeless. The units allow individuals to attend to needs, like medical appointments and job interviews, without the burden of protecting their possessions. (CityLab)

And...: Metro is adding five articulated buses per hour on the crowded 16th Street lines. (WAMU) ... DDOT funded signpost animal art that can be found around Capitol Hill. (Post) ... Dupont Circle residents with sound meters get the ABC board to limit one bar's music. (CityPaper)

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Kelli (Lafferty) Raboy works as a federal contractor on various projects in transportation planning and management. She loves all things cities, public transit, and rail. She lives in Navy Yard. 

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I was out at the McLean Metro bus stop yesterday afternoon to get some pics for work, and none of the Fairfax Connector buses that came in had more than one or two passengers on them. There was one string of three buses that had none at all. The Metro buses were just about as empty, as were the Mitre and Hilton shuttles. Meanwhile, the park-and-ride lot was doing good business, and Dolly Madison was choked with cars. The bike racks were completely full too.

I'd guess that many people are like me. They're happy to use Metro rail, but if you have to sit in suburban traffic in a bus, you'd just assume drive (or bike, as I was doing).

Perhaps if more bus routes eventually get dedicated lanes, as they're trying in Alexandria, the benefits to using a bus would become more apparent.

by DE on Aug 26, 2014 8:55 am • linkreport

Well, for something completely trivial, the Post has a nice gallery of Metrorail groundbreaking pennants. http://www.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2014/08/26/metros-pennants-way-predate-the-silver-line-which-is-a-month-old-already/

by FBJ on Aug 26, 2014 8:57 am • linkreport

Ridership is down 6% on Fairfax Connector

My bus, far away from the Silver line, gets more and more users.

I'd guess that many people are like me. They're happy to use Metro rail, but if you have to sit in suburban traffic in a bus, you'd just assume drive (or bike, as I was doing)

Or, a lot of people have not figured out the new bus routes around the Silver Line yet. Fairfax Connector does very little to inform riders, let alone potential riders about routes and schedules. Bus stops have no information on what lines come by, nor what the schedule is, nor where that line goes. Information at metro stops is shoddy at best. And the website is a sad, sad mess of Facebook and Google Maps integration that does not work well. Buses have no stop-announcements, and nextbus does not exist.

The main problem with the Connector is that everything is done on the cheap, despite the fact that Fairfax is one of the richest, and most populated counties around. Considering how little transit exists in Fairfax, its bus system should be its pride.

by Jasper on Aug 26, 2014 9:30 am • linkreport

FBJ, thanks for the link. Those pennants are fantastic.

by Birdie on Aug 26, 2014 9:37 am • linkreport

Pepco wants to go on people's properties up to 75 feet in and cut down their trees? This power company knows abuse of power.

I'm charmed by the Tiny House movement, and support ideas that especially on one's own property somebody ought to be able to build smaller homes to allow more trees around them (not so much so there'd be future Tiny House Parks.) But concerns about sewage are legit. There probably are some working options for waste that don't require hookup, just like there is solar power for electricity. I think if somebody can provide proof of having these, that objection fades.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 9:42 am • linkreport

Tiny houses with no indoor plumbing. Sounds awesome! Can't imagine why anyone would have any concerns with this setup.

by Lurker on Aug 26, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

Catania is struggling to raise cash, so he must cater to the wealthy DeeCee residents who live near good schools and don't want their boundaries messed with. The rich (largely white et al) folks are as much to blame for the status quo as the poor (largely black et al) folks who don't properly read to or discipline their own children and blame the school system for their children's failures. Most of these folks identify as so called "liberal democrats" who supposedly care about the poor (the GOPers et al wisely send their kids to charters and private schools).

by Selena on Aug 26, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

I agree with @Jasper. One of the original justifications for creating the Fairfax Connector was that MetroBus was too expensive. Today, they have the same fares - the big difference is that the service sucks. MetroBus is 10x easier to use. It's practically criminal that Fairfax Connector doesn't use NextBus in 2014. I think WMATA rolled it out in 2002! If Fairfax Connector can't match MetroBus service at the same fare, the county should get out of the bus business and turn the routes back over to WMATA.

by Chris Poch on Aug 26, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

@Jasper - amen. I understand that the Connector serves an immense region, so I cut them some slack...but the issues you identify are a huge disincentive to use the system. Lack of maps/route timetables at stops, spotty website, no stop announcements, and no Next Bus-type feature don't draw people to the system. If you tell Google Maps you want to get from A to B, it has no idea the Connector is an option because that data is not in Google's database.

All of that said, Connector is getting Next Bus over the next 2 years and I believe that would allow it to also announce stops because the buses will know where they are located.

by JDC on Aug 26, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

The wealthy DC residents who live near desirable schools aren't having their boundaries messed with. It's the somewhat less wealthy residents in places like Crestwood who don't actually live near desirable schools but were districted to desirable schools for historical reasons that are upset about having their boundaries changed.

by alexandrian on Aug 26, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

The tiny house advocates have really good marketing. I hear about it constantly. It's a niche solution. That doesn't mean we should ban them just because they're different but ultimately they're not the ultimate solution to affordability.

by drumz on Aug 26, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

drumz I'm not sure they're meant to be an ultimate solution to affordability. They seem to be more presentations regarding sustainability, etc. (Presenting a viewpoint in a radical way that nice homes do not have to be McMansion-sized and require huge amounts of building waste disposal and clear-cuts.)
"Affordability" is kind of a odd goal anyway, since if someone has enough money to afford a home, probably many can find one, but may not find it in Manhattan or Georgetown.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 10:19 am • linkreport

Lurker - IA, but if fracking corporations, etc. get their way, much more of the country will be requiring bottled water, because their wells will be spoiled.
But that aside, I also think there's perhaps too many risks with not requiring a water hookup. I question the requirements for home approval being made by square footage if people are allowed to rent spaces in buildings that are that small.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

The tiny houses are in Stronghold, not Edgewood.

Thanks!

by Stronghold_Rez on Aug 26, 2014 10:39 am • linkreport

@Selena

This is not about catering to the wealthy DC residents, as most of them send their kids to private schools. This is about Catania trying to get headlines by appearing to go against the status quo.

by Brett on Aug 26, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

The people most upset with the boundary changes seem to be Ward 7 parents, who are losing access to Eastern High School and will now be in the Woodson boundary. Those parents are decidedly not white and (largely) not affluent. They feel like EotR families have just been told "None shall pass" at the bridge.

Some of it is moot, though. The recommendation says that third graders can continue in their current feeder pattern all the way through high school (which seems crazy to me), and siblings of those kids already in third grade and above can also continue in the existing feeder pattern (doubly crazy!). It's entirely possible that a kid born tomorrow and lives in, say, Southwest, will be able to attend Wilson HS because they have an older sibling. I could see allowing children to finish out in the school they are at--letting that third grader finish at her current elementary school but then go to the middle school assigned to her neighborhood--but potentially 18 more years of schools having wonky feeder patterns for specific kids?

by Birdie on Aug 26, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

I don't live in the area affected, but I support the choice of parents to protect their children's educations. I think it hypocritical to criticize those angry at boundary changes and criticize lack of parental involvement/apathy.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

We have been hammering Fairfax Connector and the county on their bus plan in Tysons. They have diluted what they promised. Originally the circulator routes for Tysons were going to be 4 in number.

Now they are 3.

That might sound like a small shift, but in order to get the pretty service access from a 20000' level to prove they are covering all of Tysons, they have created several serpentine routes through North Tysons (the largest population center of Tysons, and the portion most reliant on buses).

The routes now take as long to get from North Tysons to metro, as it does just walking. This is not lost on residents who have told me that they refuse to take the bus because it is a waste of time for them, they can walk it faster, let alone bike it.

So whats the point if thats the case? My fear being instead of correcting the issue, they will say, "demand isn't here lets cut it".

I have brought this up to officials at Fairfax Connector as well as community leaders, but everyone keeps saying, lets wait and see. But this isn't an issue of wait and see, this is a time saving issue where the bus will never be better than walking except for a remote population who has access issues.

423 is a complete waste of a bus. Should not serpentine, should not run 1 way loop, its a primer in what not to do in bus routing if you want people to take bus. Park Run has been completely stripped of routes, it is a direct path to metro

by Navid Roshan on Aug 26, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

Also note that the bus line in Tysons only costs 50cents because of a special tax levied on all properties including us residents...

We are paying the amount that they said would be needed for 4 routes in new taxes, yet we only get 3, and only 1 on weekends/night.

Complete and utter bait and switch

by Navid Roshan on Aug 26, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

OMG, a shanty town near me. Move on, gypsies.

by NE John on Aug 26, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

Navid Roshan Only one on weekends? But people don't like going to Tysons on weekends - says nobody. Sorry you got ripped off.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

@Navid

While the County ought to provide the buses they promised, I'm thinking the longer term solution is getting the crosswalks and other infrastructure installed so people can walk and bike better. Given traffic, it will be easier to get people to walk/bike than use the bus but as you're too well aware, the infrastructure is sorely lacking.

How about using some of that special tax money to move up the timetable for bikeshare? Biking seems to be unexpectedly popular along the Silver Line and let's capitalize on that.

by Falls Church on Aug 26, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Re: Tiny Homes / Boneyard Studios

I live in Edgewood (not in Stronghold, where the houses are actually located) and I have toured the homes and seen them a number of times. They are unquestionably an enormous improvement to what existed in the alley lot before they were built and it is an absolute shame that DC government is not only failing to support them but actively trying to make them illegal. (But, this is a story heard many times before in DC ... )

Anyone who lives in a rowhouse neighborhood in DC will likely be familiar with those small plots of land in the alleys, usually filled with junked/stolen cars, garbage, mud and standing water, orphaned grocery store carts, sometimes drugs or other undesirable behavior, etc., etc. Boneyard Studios acquired such a parcel in Stronghold, cleaned it up, landscaped it, and used it to effectively demonstrate one clever approach to providing more affordable housing options inside the District. The Minim House (Mr. Levy's house) is said to cost just a little over $30k. That is affordable by anyone's standard.

Tiny homes are of course not the sole answer to affordability problems in the District and are not well suited for families, but they are - or rather should be - one important tool among many in the toolbox. I would love to see the dump behind my house transformed into a tiny home community. I would welcome it with open arms. The neighbors in Stronghold are using concerns about sanitation - a relatively quick fix in the grand scheme of things, just put in a water line - as a way to strike back at Boneyard Studios for removing excess parking spaces they had been using illegally for years (and sometimes storing stolen vehicles in). Those who oppose ADUs, tiny homes in alley lots, etc. are putting their specific aesthetic tastes - which are in fact dubious and not shared by large numbers of other DC residents, not least those people who may like to live in such a dwelling one day - over the need to provide additional housing. I think that is unconscionable.

by ndw_dc on Aug 26, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

For all those balking at Catania:

http://dcist.com/2014/08/bowser_catania_oppose_school_bounda.php

by Adam L on Aug 26, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

All posturing by both candidates. At this point, undoing the boundary changes is going to be as big of a headache as letting them go through.

by MLD on Aug 26, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church, why do we have to choose one over the other. The County has already said, with the tax district and money on hand, that funds arent the issue. Its a matter of a perceived future need, and saving up money for projects that many object to like Route 7 widening, like DTR ramps, instead of smaller projects now.

In terms of walkability, obviously Im a huge proponent, but the densely populated region of North Tysons is outside of the 1/2 mile zone, a large portion of the population would benefit from better bus service if it was direct.

However the county has all but cut every service to the perfectly fine Westpark Transit center (went from 7 buses to just 1 on a very infrequent schedule) as well as diluting previous routes through north Tysons which were direct into this serpentine one way loop which defeats time savings.

They could realign the things they have funded today to make it better, but they are more worried about image (coverage from a 20000' level) than actually making a working system. Thats the big problem in terms of the bus. 422, 423, 424 are unworkable. They are pointless at this time for thousands of existing residents in North Tysons.

by Navid Roshan on Aug 26, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

If tree cutting easement really is not on the land titles as the owners' lawyers claim, then PEOCO is out of luck. Whatever deal PEPCO made with the developer is between Pepco and the developer, if it was not recorded on the deed.

On the other hand, this would not be the first time a lawyer claimed its not on the title when in fact, it is.

by JimT on Aug 26, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

@ndw_dc - While the landscaped area is definitely better than what used to be in that alley lot, but the DC gov't isn't trying to make those tiny houses illegal; they were never legal to begin with! The houses never complied with zoning or building code regulations. They are definitely a neat concept, but it's not like toilet-free homes are going to be the wave of the future.

I would also question the assertion that either these kinds of tiny houses or backyard ADUs are really all that popular with the majority of DC residents. My own anecdotal view: the majority of residents have no idea what either tiny houses or ADUs are; the minority who do are split generally evenly in supporting them or opposing them.

by Lurker on Aug 26, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

@Navid

If it's not a matter of funding then it's a matter of prioritization. I'd like to see the highest impact things prioritized first and ideally, priorities should be adjusted to reflect demand. Bikeshare wasn't prioritized to be part of the initial rollout because no one thought people would bike in Tysons until the infrastructure improved. The full bike racks at the SL stations should cause that assumption to be re-evaluated and the priority changed.

Similarly, I think the emphasis on the Circulator buses was due to an assumption that people are too lazy to walk. We should still get the buses that were promised but I think the walking assumption needs to be re-evaluated and priorities should be adjusted accordingly.

That said, ideally, everything would be done simultaneously and we shouldn't have to prioritize since funding isn't a constraint. I guess the constraint is political will.

by Falls Church on Aug 26, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@Lukrer

Your objections are really not substantive to me. However difficult and political it may be, the building and zoning codes can be changed and where tiny homes on reclaimed alley lots are feasible they should be legal.

Similarly, to say that these homes aren't feasible now because they don't have water hook-ups is missing the forest for the trees. Compared to the immense benefits of reclaiming polluted and dangerous alley lots and, more importantly, in the process providing affordable housing options, a new water hookup is absolutely trivial. This could be someone's home. Instead of living on the street, or suffering the horrors of DC General, someone could be living in one of these houses.

How the hypothetical majority of consumers views tiny homes is also entirely immaterial to whether they should be allowed on alley lots. Absolutely no one is proposing to make vast tracts of purely tiny homes communities made to house hundreds or thousands of people. This is a very niche, infill project that could be done on a case by case basis. If someone needs a place to live but can't afford one, they should be given the option. You are right that not 100% of the homeless population or even the underpaid intern/young professional population would want to live in a tiny home. However, the number that would love to live in a tiny home is much greater than the likely supply of such homes that could be built.

Opposition to ADUs and alley dwellings equates to keeping people on the streets or in an economically precarious position where they needn't be. These homes certainly won't entirely solve the housing problem, but they will help. Even a small number of new housing units is a self-apparent good.

by ndw_dc on Aug 26, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

"Metro is adding five articulated buses per hour on the crowded 16th Street lines"
Wow, how is that even possible? Five new buses per hour is 120 buses per day. A couple of weeks of that and we will have thousands of articulated buses! It will be bus gridlock. Buses riding other buses to get to work.

by Mike on Aug 26, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

@ndw-dc: I think one of the biggest objections to tiny houses & backyard ADUs is that DC - and many other cities - had decades of negative experiences with flophouses, tenements, and other precursors to today's tiny house niche. As a result, cities changed their laws - whether zoning, health, or building - to prevent them from coming back.

I disagree that hooking up tiny houses to water mains is merely trivial. If you've ever dealt with WASA/DC Water and tried to connect to a water main, you quickly learn that the process is neither quick nor cheap.

While I appreciate the rhetoric that every unbuilt tiny house represents one homeless person on the street, that remains simply rhetoric. Homelessness will not be solved by tiny houses. Nor will people want to live near tiny houses that are, essentially, homeless camps.

I'm sort of baffled as to how the views of the majority of residents are immaterial on this subject, yet somehow zoning, building, health and safety codes can be changed to allow tiny houses. Unless I missed a step the How a Bill Becomes a Law cartoon, strongly unpopular proposals generally don't make it very far in the democratic process.

Alas, perhaps such concerns are nonsubstantive as well.

by Lurker on Aug 26, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

@Lurker

A person with a home is no longer homeless.

by ndw_dc on Aug 26, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

Sorry, off-topic, but incinerating toilet!!! http://www.incinolet.com/index.htm

by Thad on Aug 26, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

Thad Thank you for that link! I think many of the Tiny House folks are demoing sustainability. (Which may make them political targets - sometimes on purpose, I'm sure. IA about water hookups being important for sanitation, but also think what they could potentially put together for a small space is a lot nicer & sustainable than stacked storage containers, for example. Or yes, they do got good PR. )

About more water savings - I heard these http://greenbuildingelements.com/2008/09/28/super-effficient-water-saving-shower/
were being required in places in Australia where there's extreme drought (then extreme flooding) to save water during the drought times. Basically, it goes by the theory that many people spend most of their time in a shower just warming up or enjoying the experience rather than actually washing, so this runs the clean water again over somebody for as long as they want, without waste.

Thought that was pretty wild. Since it requires some changes under the shower structure, people don't currently know how to install them here. (Plus this area isn't generally facing drought which means there's no motivation for changing, and others may think the Colorado River is without limit.)

This is another concept - saving the water that is wasted waiting for the shower to warm up.
http://watersavingshowers.com.au/

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

@Lurker

History of tenements:

This may have been the case 100 years ago but current day opposition has almost nothing to do with tenements. The opposition in Stronghold specifically comes from the loss of free illegal parking, and city wide opposition likely comes from those with almost a purely aesthetic critique. I personally find this hard to believe, considering the architectural merit of the homes (Minim House especially) and that the current conditions of many of these alley lots are horrendous. If you live near a decrepit alley lot and visit Boneyard Studios, you will be amazed at the improvement. It is not as nice as Crispus Attucks Park in Bloomingdale, but they had far less land to work with and Crispus Attucks is admittedly the gold standard in DC for alley reclamation as it were.

Additionally, the quality of the tiny home construction is quite high and is certainly comparable to many of the micro-unit developments going up in other parts of the city (Blagden Alley, etc.). At one time, a small housing unit (~300 sf ft or less) was likely substandard. But if designed for an efficient use of space, light and with quality finishes, there is essentially no comparison. Because of the wise use of space, the Minim House feels as spacious as any studio apartment with 200-300 more sq ft (but thousands of dollars more expensive).

Water:

The water issue is trivial ... relative to the immense value of providing new housing! No one ever said putting in a new water line would be "easy," merely that whatever expense is entailed pales in comparison to the value created by the home. Especially when the homes in question are of good quality construction but extremely cheap by DC standards (~$30,000 per house).

Homelessness:

There is nothing purely rhetorical about providing a home for someone. That person exists, and has a soul and a right to housing just like everyone else. As I mentioned twice previously, absolutely no one is under the impression that tiny homes or ADUs will solve homelessness. It is obvious that much, much, much more needs to be done. But if you build 10 tiny homes, you will have provided the option for 10 people to move from the street to a home. If you do not build the homes, you will have provided zero homes, with those 10 people remaining on the street or DC General. Even one additional home is better than none. The alternative is to forbid the possibility that such a housing option should exist, and to continue to use the land essentially as a dump. Who benefits from a dump or junkyard in their backyard?

This is like saying: We shouldn't invest in Capitol Bikeshare because bikesare by itself won't eliminate greenhouse gas emissions or eliminate traffic jams. The point of bikeshare is not in and of itself to solve these problems entirely, but to help contribute to a wide set of options that in aggregate help to address the problems. Similarly, tiny homes can be but one of a large array of options for helping to address homelessness and housing affordability in the District.

Majority Opinion:

I meant that it is immaterial if a majority of people would prefer not to live in a tiny house. A tiny house is not meant for a majority of people; it is meant for a 1-2 person household maximum who are quite content with living a minimalist or paired down lifestyle (meaning: you don't have a lot of useless crap as does the typical American).

The appropriate analogy would be to forbid studio apartments and require all housing units to be SFHs because that's what a majority of the public prefers. There are different product types that appeal to different market segments. Why should your neighbor get to veto the very existence of a housing product type that suits your needs? Do you get to veto the existence of his SFH because it doesn't support your needs? Another way to look at this is: why do the options that support the needs of the poor and the low income always get ruled out as undesirable?

by ndw_dc on Aug 26, 2014 4:50 pm • linkreport

I love the Tiny House movement's push for sustainability goals- reducing waste and energy use & often reusing building products to make small, beautifully crafted buildings.
It doesn't hurt they're just cute and a bit irresistable - like a petit four.

by asffa on Aug 26, 2014 8:59 pm • linkreport

This is good discussion on what is happening in Tysons. It looks like the county and the metro rail planners seem to have underestimated biking and walking demand based on bike and pedestrian access near the new Tysons stations. As for the bus routes, I know someone at WMATA who said that Connector staff changes may be what caused the route plan change from 4 to 3 routes and that the only planning person over there right now used to work at WMATA.

by twoway on Aug 26, 2014 11:16 pm • linkreport

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