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Breakfast links: Heroes and scofflaws

Photo by M.V. Jantzen.
Leon Swain the hero: Leon Swain was the guy who came down hard on a taxi driver when he refused to take me to Southwest DC. It's also come out that he triggered the taxi bribery probe, going immediately to the authorities after someone tried to bribe him. (City Paper)

The ticket collectors: 7 Maryland drivers accumulated over 30 automated speeding tickets in a 24-month period, according to data from the Maryland government. 1,667 people got over 10. On the other end of the scale, over two-thirds of vehicles that got tickets only got a single one. (Baltimore Sun Getting There)

Bicyclist killed because he was riding in the road?: A driver hit and killed a cyclist near Hollywood, St. Mary's County, in Southern Maryland. In their preliminary statement, authorities actually blame the bicyclist for "traveling in the main roadway, rather than on the shoulder." WashCycle notes that it's indeed illegal to ride in the road when there's a shoulder in St. Mary's County, but riding in the road is the safer behavior; really, the cyclist died because the driver didn't see him. The article's lede also goes through the usual linguistic contortions including the phantom driverless car and use of passive voice. (Post, Ward 1 Guy)

Sustainable transportation program is not sustainable: Maryland has a "Sustainable Transportation Corridor" program to encourage intergovernmental cooperation on transportation. But MDOT has not been enthusiastic about calls to make Wisconsin Avenue and Rockville Pike one of those corridors through Bethesda and Rockville, as Councilmember Roger Berliner has been pushing. New MDOT chief Beverly Beverley Swaim-Staley told Friends of White Flint they were developing yet another type of corridor study, a "green corridor," but there's no money available to study anything. (FLOG)

Down from the summit on texting: Ashley Halsey summarizes last week's distracted driving summit. While everyone agrees that texting and driving don't mix, there hasn't been a consistent strategy implemented to cut down on this dangerous practice. Many public officials are looking to enact penalties, similar to previous drunk driving and seatbelt campaigns. (Post, Cavan)

Automated announcements?: Cambro's Corner notes the bad quality of announcements in Metrorail, largely thanks to bad quality speakers. Metro's next generation rail cars are indeed supposed to have automated announcements. (Tony)

Watch for falling gas: AAA predicts that gas prices will continue to fall. There are a few places in the South that are already experiencing prices under $2 a gallon. Due to the larger economic situation, VMT will probably not rise, however. (Post, Cavan)

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I suppose it would be contrary to all the laws and premises of the speed camera programs, but shouldn't someone really call up those 7, and maybe even some of the 1600+ and ask them "what the F?"

by ah on Oct 6, 2009 9:29 am • linkreport

It's Beverley [Swaim-Staley].

by JB on Oct 6, 2009 9:30 am • linkreport

Station displays and prerecorded announcements in trains will be a welcome improvement.

by Gavin Baker on Oct 6, 2009 9:30 am • linkreport

Another pedestrian was hit by a bus yesterday in Trinidad.

by Jazzy on Oct 6, 2009 9:38 am • linkreport

MD law does not require you to ride in the shoulder, only as far as safe and practicable. If the shoulder is narrow and potholed (as apparently it is in that area), or if you are turning left, you do not need to ride in it.

The cyclist was riding at 8am, away from the sun, on a clear day. What was the driver doing that she didnt see him?

by SJE on Oct 6, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport

I don't think Metro's speaker quality is the issue. You can hear "step back, doors closing" as clear as a bell, but the personalized announcements are the jumbled ones - implying that the issue is with the recording source or device.

Anyway, I kinda like the character that the operator announcements give the system, but automated audio will be a big improvement for the casual user.

In-train visual announcements of which station is next already happens with the cars with LED displays inside - the key is, however, that you have to have a railcar with that capability leading the train for it to work throughout the train.

by Alex B. on Oct 6, 2009 9:49 am • linkreport

"The cyclist was riding at 8am, away from the sun, on a clear day. What was the driver doing that she didnt see him?"

Obviously, only the driver knows. But it's a fair bet he/she was texting, talking, driving way too fast, or some combination thereof.

But this brings up a larger issue that should be fixed over many years, if politically possible.

Part of the reason so many drivers hit or kill cyclists is that it's too easy to get a driver's license. In most states, if you haven't had a lot of moving violations, you needn't retake the test, ever.

Given how loath cops are to ticket some infractions (like killing people in crosswalks or on bikes), that's ridiculous. I think everyone should have to retake the test at least every 2 years--every year for those over 65.

Of course, it'll never happen.

Making it worse is that 200 hp is now considered moderately powerful. And sitting up high in an SUV, it seems like you're going slower than you really are. (Remember how fast it feels in a go-kart at 30 mph?)

If the government really wanted to cut traffic deaths, it would set a height limit on non-commercial vehicles, put in a federal ban on texting and phoning while driving, restrict horsepower in cars without a manual transmission (because if you can drive stick, you're more likely to be focusing enough on driving), and make everyone pass a rigorous driving test periodically.

by JB on Oct 6, 2009 9:59 am • linkreport

I'm not sure regular retesting is practical. The DMV is already nightmarish enough. But more difficult initial licensing tests (ideally making everyone pass on a manual transmission, for example), longer learners permit durations, and something like the UK's triennial relicensing requirement for seniors >70 are all things I'd be in favor of.

by Nate on Oct 6, 2009 10:11 am • linkreport

Swain for Ward 8 Councilmember?

by Reid on Oct 6, 2009 10:18 am • linkreport

JB: part of the reason drivers hit and kill cyclists and pedestrians is that there is little to no enforcement of traffic laws. If drivers were ticketed for failing to yield at a cross walk, following too close etc, then the drivers would be more careful. My natural urge to speed seems to have been better controlled by all the speed cameras I see around.

by SJE on Oct 6, 2009 10:25 am • linkreport

@JB, I agree, people do need to be re-tested at some interval. But more like 5 years.

@Nate: why exactly would you force people to pass a test on a manual? I fail to see how this will improve safety, since I drive an automatic. Wouldn't this also force everyone to find a manual car to at least practice on and test in?

by rdhd on Oct 6, 2009 10:46 am • linkreport

While I understand the rationale for testing older people, will testing everyone really help?

I doubt that most of these accidents are caused by truly incompetent drivers. They're caused by drivers who don't care enough to drive safely. But if they had a DMV rep in the car you know they wouldn't be on the cell phone, texting, putting on makeup, drinking coffee, speeding, failing to signal, and running through yellow and red lights. Those are not hard habits to break, they're ones people don't care to break.

(old people are different--if they can't see the sign or react timely, that's a different problem, but not one I suspect is a big deal for a 40y.o.)

by ah on Oct 6, 2009 11:17 am • linkreport

The quality of all announcements in metro is abominable. However, things are improving. In a number of stations, there is a new sound system. The sounds quality in those stations is now "terrible but understandable" which is up from "KGGTSTSTEOIUTPBMMM".

I apologize for not being able to mention which stations have improved. In general, the information they broadcast/babble is to useless, that I ignore it anyway. But I have noticed recently that occasionally, I can actually understand what they say.

As for the speakers in the trains, they are not terrible. It's just that a lot of the crew refuse to pronounce their messages in clear speech. A bit of training might do miracles there. I guess they have to repeat those messages so often they get bored. But tourists have no clue what it all means.

by Jasper on Oct 6, 2009 12:01 pm • linkreport

a) everyone SHOULD know how to drive a manual, if you can drive a manual, you can drive an automatic, the reverse is not even remotely true
b) because learning to drive a manual forces you to think a lot more about how the vehicle operates

Yes, that would force everyone to find a manual to learn on. God forbid we all go back to getting better gas mileage and using our hands for, I don't know... driving... when driving.

by Nate on Oct 6, 2009 12:10 pm • linkreport

One of the most annoying things that I've experienced was during late night track work. I was waiting for a train, and the station manager was attempting to make an announcement that said train was going to be the last of the night. The problem was that one of the automated "excuse me, is that your bag?" messages was playing simultaneously. Add in the station echoes and a crowded platform, and it was impossible to discern what either message was saying.

Oh, and if they actually put that "America's Metro" logo on the trains, someone from WMATA should be fired.

by Alex B. on Oct 6, 2009 12:22 pm • linkreport

But Nate, I do use my hands to drive. They're both on the steering wheel. I would contend that my two hands on the wheel are better than your one. Your argument presumes that those who drive manual don't also try to text or eat a burger, yet those of us driving automatics do.

As to your first argument (a), if being able to drive a stick served some public good then I'd agree with you. But it doesn't. I don't NEED to know how to drive a manual, because auto manfacturers make automatics. I haven't driven a stick in 20+ years and I've not needed to.

And, frankly, I'm not sure why I need to know how the car operates. I actually don't care about the inner-workings of a car. I should just know how to operate the car safely.

by rdhd on Oct 6, 2009 12:25 pm • linkreport

I'm a manual driver, but I fail to see how testing on a manual does much of anything other than testing that you know how. Are we going to force the 90% of drivers with automatics to turn in their cars? If not, then they're going to go back to their "uninvolved" driving right away.

There's a problem of distraction. And it may be that automatics make distractions even easier to use (a lot easier to text without a hand on the stickshift). But the solution to that is not to force on drivers a transmission that is in many instances less useful (less fun, too).

by ah on Oct 6, 2009 12:43 pm • linkreport

Re: Automated Announcements - Recorded announcements are going to get old fast. Improving comprehension is important, but surely that can be accomplished by improving the audio equipment. The doors opening/doors closing announcements already grate on the ears during a long ride; additional recordings will do the same unless they are changed often. I enjoy the character that individual operators bring to their announcements and rarely have difficulty understanding them (although that may be due to my familiarity with the system). And didn't Metro forgo recordings in the first place to keep train operators engaged in their jobs? Contrary to Cambro's Corner conclusion, with ATO and prerecorded announcements, it will become much easier for operators to zone out.

by Matthias on Oct 6, 2009 12:46 pm • linkreport

SJE: I completely agree with you on lax enforcement and, like you, consciously drive slower where there are cameras (e.g., MacArthur, Western Ave). Ever try to drive 55 on the Beltway or GWM Parkway? A well-publicized reversion to actual enforcement of speed limits (via cameras and, on the freeway, unmarked cop cars) and other traffic laws would be a great thing.

Nate: I'm sure the DMV is nightmarish in DC, but I think reforming the licensing process would be an attainable goal. In VA, it's fairly efficient, if you can believe that.

RDHD: I used to drive a stick shift; you do end up focusing a lot more (one reason being that if you stop while in anything but neutral, the engine dies). It also gets you out of the habit of riding the brakes every time you want to slow down, instead of just raising your right foot off the throttle a few seconds. But it was a PITA on the Beltway!

License testing every 5 years is a bit timid to my ears, but it would be a good start.

by JB on Oct 6, 2009 12:50 pm • linkreport

If drivers haven't had a ticket or accident, I don't see a strong case for re-testing them or making them take a new class, in general. The three exceptions I can think of are: changed health conditions of the driver, new laws, and specific concerns. So I don't see the point in making every driver prove every 5 years that they know how to do a three-point turn. But I would see a point in checking that drivers are still physically/mentally sound to be driving, making sure drivers are aware of new laws (e.g. texting while driving), and using testing as a tool to educate about specific issues of concern (e.g. pedestrian safety, drunk driving). I don't think it's too much to ask people to take a test focusing on those areas once or twice a decade in exchange for the privilege of operating a thousand-pound, potentially deadly machine on public roads.

by Gavin Baker on Oct 6, 2009 1:02 pm • linkreport

Driving tests: when I moved from Melbourne, FL to Huntsville, AL, I had to go to the DMV office for an Alabama driver's license. According to AL law, there is a written test and a road test. After taking the written test, I took my test sheet and card to the state trooper who was scoring the test. He wrote my test scores and checked "pass" on one side of the card, flipped the card over to the road test scoring, drew a diagonal line across the card, wrote "OK" and initialed it. I said "Ah, no road test". The trooper looked at me, flipped the card over to the side with my address, looked at it, looked back at me and said "Well, y'all got down here from Madison in one piece, didn't you?"

by ksu499 on Oct 6, 2009 1:17 pm • linkreport

of course what everyone is missing out on the Southern Maryland bicycle death is what is most obvious- that is- if a dedicated and separated bike track were made available the necessity of cycling in a road with dangerous traffic would not be necessary. Of course- in this country we actually have cyclists who think cycling in the roads with cars and trucks is "safe".

I guess that texting, drinking,shaving, doing one's nails, and reading while driving is also safe. It seems to have had a similar controversial track record- that is - complete MORONS trying to justify these crazy and dangerous behaviors to everyone's detriment.

by w on Oct 6, 2009 1:54 pm • linkreport

@Matthias: Many of the buses already have automated recordings, and I donÂ’t find them annoying at all. They are very well done and easy to tune out. I canÂ’t really say the same for the doors opening/closing announcement, there is something annoying about the way it sounds. I think if the recordings are done right they will be a big improvement and can be made unobtrusive. Leaving it to the operators on the other hand will just leave an inconsistent mess. I can only remember one trip IÂ’ve made recently where I could understand the station announcements. Most of the time IÂ’ll be lucky to understand one announcement during my entire trip. I find that the problem is usually not in clarity, but in volume. The operators are usually just too quite. ThatÂ’s the beauty of a recorded message though, you can get the volume right on each train without the operator having to worry about being too loud on one train and then too quite on the next.

by James on Oct 6, 2009 9:48 pm • linkreport

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