Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Ultra news


Image from Sinautec.
Ultra power for streetcars?: Today, an Arlington bus maker and its Chinese partner will demonstrate their system for using ultracapacitors to run electric transit vehicles without overhead wires. This is one technology that could let DC streetcars drop the catenary across key monumental viewsheds and run inside the L'Enfant City. (Technology Review, akg, Jaime)

Gabe speaks: There wasn't much in this interview that should be news to GGW readers, but DCmud interviewed Gabe Klein a few days ago. Klein talked generally about the city's plans to expand bike sharing, push for more TDM programs in development, and progress on streetcars.

Historic easements preserved: The U.S. Tax Court upheld tax deductions for "conservation easements," where property owners donate an easement to a preservation nonprofit in exchange for giving it veto power over external changes to the property. Those houses in historic areas with little round brass plaques use conservation easements, and at some time, an owner got a tax deduction for it. (DCmud)

I'm a minority: Fewer DC residents are married than any state. Other similar cities also have more married residents. Why? Education levels? Gay population? Race and class divide? Writers speculate. (Newsweek)

MPD agrees with Capital City complaint: Remember when the Capital City Diner guys were mugged, and said MPD didn't want to take a police report? Looks like that's absolutely true: MPD has "sustained" this complaint, "which means the complaint had merit and the officer has been dealt with as per department policies." (District Daily)

Developers want out of ag reserve requirements: Some developers are trying to overturn requirements that, before building Montgomery County, they purchase "Building Lot Terminations" (BLTs) from farmers who gave up their development rights in the County's Agricultural Reserve. (Examiner)

Would huge underground garages reduce traffic?: Cairo thinks so, and is planning to pedestrianize much of downtown by building large underground roadways and garages. This sounds like my grand concept for the city when I was about fifteen, i.e. neat-sounding but not actually a good idea in the real world. Matt Yglesias argues that congestion pricing is the real answer.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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In re: powering buses, if it's from China, I'm not sure I want it. A quick scan of the headlines reveals that a pro-democracy advocate has been sentenced t0 20 years in prison for "subverting state power", 43 people are missing after demonstrations in Xinjiang province, and last month several were killed as police fired into a demonstration of farmers protesting the confiscation of their lands for the building of a factory. Doing business with Chinese firms, all of which have a hefty government ownership percentage, only serves to prop up those who allow/encourage this behavior.

by ksu499 on Oct 21, 2009 8:49 am • linkreport

On the married couples, since most married couples move out of DC into Maryland and Virgina the numbers are probably skewed. If you looked at the Metro area and not the District it'd probably come out above average.

by jmauro on Oct 21, 2009 9:03 am • linkreport

So Cairo is building Crystal City in reverse. I don't think it will work.

by BeyondDC on Oct 21, 2009 9:12 am • linkreport

On the ultracapacitor -

Seems not quite ready for primetime. What if there is a traffic jam or the bus otherwise takes longer than normal to get from stop to stop? Does it run out of juice? Do passengers really want to ride a bus that has to stop and hang out at a stop every couple of miles?

by Josh S on Oct 21, 2009 9:13 am • linkreport

On the marriage rate -

Wouldn't it have something to do with the above average rate of coming and going in this city? For example, I have exactly one friend who moved here ten plus years ago when I did and is still here. Everyone else has moved here and already moved on...(maybe I'm bad at making friends....) So I just wonder if people figure that it's not best to be thinking about long-term mates when moving here out of college, or whatever....

by Josh S on Oct 21, 2009 9:18 am • linkreport

Josh S:

The answer is no. The capacitors are only discharging when the traction motor is under load. The placement of the recharging stops will likely be close enough to each other to compensate for various unforeseen contingency. I would hazard a guess the fully developed system will also have some kind of auxiliary power unit aboard in the even the capacitors discharged to the point the vehicle can't move.

by Sand Box John on Oct 21, 2009 9:46 am • linkreport

The bus charging system doesn't seem practical for DC. It seems that it would require the bus stopping for several minutes every mile or so. That is way too long and way too frequent.

I just think that with our air conditioning needs, we are not going to be able to avoid some sort of a catenary system.

by Reid on Oct 21, 2009 9:48 am • linkreport

I lived in Cairo for 18 months. I like Matt Yglesias a lot, but I think addressing Cairo's congestion problems is a bit outside of his bike lane in the road.

1. The entire country relies almost exclusively on cash. Tax collectors walk up and down the streets collecting tax in cash. Benefits administrators hand out pensions in cash. I think I used a credit card maybe one time during my entire stay. Bank accounts are not widely held.

2. Cairo is a city of 14 million (some say 20) and has two traffic lights. those are both routinely ignored. Driving rules (I say rules, not laws) in Cairo are something that cannot be taught or imposed from the top down. Everything is eye contact and mores. It is the most chaotic driving environment I've ever seen. Need to go left? let me just turn my taxi perpendicular to 8 lanes of traffic and get you there! Dedicated bus lanes would never be respected; the police would never enforce it. Lots of people bike, but the sidewalks are ample.

An example: I was in a cab that turned down a 'one way' street in the proper direction. Soon, we encountered another cab that was driving against traffic. My driver and that driver got out of their cars, greeted each other, and talked about why they had run into each other. Someone brings out tea to the drivers, myself, and the other passenger. twenty minutes later after some intense debate, my driver does a three point turn and starts driving the other way. The kid climbs up the lamppost and reverses the arrow so that this street is now a one way street in the other direction. two weeks later, all of the cars have reversed their parking alignment.

3. Cars are really essential in this city. They are a huge source of income for so many people. It is not uncommon to see a small car bursting at the seams with mangoes from a farm, or with livestock. I find the idea of pedestrianizing downtown extremely laudable, but parking is essential for those who need to get their goods to market.

4. Everyone is a cab driver, and most make less than five dollars a day. Congestion pricing, if it could be implemented (it can't), would be ignored. bills would go unpaid. I mean, we're talking about 30 year old vehicles that still take leaded fuel and don't have floors.

5. Cairo has a fantastic underground subway with many centrally located stops. It is heavily utilized, reliable, and is extremely affordable. Parking garages outside of midan tahrir/zamalek would only increase usage.

Pedestrianizing downtown is really the way to go. Cairo has a track record of doing this; The Khan al khalili and old islamic districts have been 'pedestrianized' for 800 years. The American University in Cairo's old campus is already a major green space that could be opened up to the public. Advocating for congestion pricing in Cairo is premature at this point.

by JTS on Oct 21, 2009 9:55 am • linkreport

ksu499,
And it would break and you'd have to replace every 18-24 months.

by spookiness on Oct 21, 2009 10:34 am • linkreport

The Newsweek story on DC's marriage rate is interesting for a truth it dared to print: that the city is politically hypocritical.
D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic. Barack Obama received a whopping 92 percent of the vote last year; John Kerry received 89 percent in 2004; and Al Gore grabbed 85 percent of the vote.
But, the article rightly notes:
Anyone who's lived in D.C. is aware of the city's dirty secret: it essentially operates under an unwritten form of apartheid. In general, affluent, college-educated white folks with decent, steady incomes are clustered in the northwest quadrant. Their needs are serviced by a massive underclass, consisting largely of underprivileged immigrants, African-American, and Hispanics, that inhabits the remaining three quarters.
In many cases, DC makes Texas look like a bastion of liberalism.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 21, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

Claiming that DC operates under "an unwritten form of apartheid" and that "DC makes Texas look like a bastion of liberalism" sounds far-fetched and rather offensive. DC is a city with a lot of inequities among residents, certainly, but these claims are extreme.

by DC_Chica on Oct 21, 2009 11:05 am • linkreport

Nitpick on the white folks 'clustered in the NW quadrant.'

NW is, by far, the largest quadrant of the city. NW DC includes all or part of 6 of DC's 8 wards.

Point being, lots of stuff is clustered in NW. Pretty much all of Downtown is in NW.

Semantic differences aside, I don't want to gloss over the real racial divides within the city, but that description of DC's economic and social geography is horrendously oversimplified.

by Alex B. on Oct 21, 2009 11:13 am • linkreport

Oh come on folks. DC is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. Let's not pretend it isn't.

The comparison with Texas is cheap, and irrelevant. But that does not make DC less segregated.

by Jasper on Oct 21, 2009 11:20 am • linkreport

Sure, it sounds extreme but many of the facts are inconveniently extreme. We have the largest income gap of any American city. The wealthiest fifth of households make 30 times as much as the poorest fifth of households.

In a city that is 35% white, only 7% of DCPS students are white. Despite the city's wealth that could be redirected to improving schools, we have one of the worst performing public schools systems in America.

With the exception of Brookland by Catholic University, the white population outside of Northwest is astonishingly low.

This segregation or "apartness" ('apartheid' in Afrikaans) is undeniable by many (though not all) meaningful measures and is something that such a liberal city should be ashamed of.

We shouldn't sweep it under the rug just because it belies our political leanings.

Of course, as usual, we'll pass a plastic bag tax or same-sex marriage laws and pat ourselves on the back while ignoring the other social disgraces of our city.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 21, 2009 11:24 am • linkreport

Every single city in this country is highly, highly segregated. There is more integration here than many cities. White professionals here have often have few qualms about moving into a primarily African American neighborhood. Of the cities I've lived, this is a bit of a rarity.

by SG on Oct 21, 2009 11:25 am • linkreport

Again, Captiol Dome, no one is saying DC doesn't segregate by race to a great degree.

However, using loaded, hyperbolic terms doesn't help your case. Apartheid does not just mean apartness, it refers to a very specific legal, economic, and social construct which simply does not exist in DC.

Likewise, with schools - I can't think of a single person who doesn't want to fix DC's schools - yet simply looking at the wealth of some residents and saying "things should be better" isn't a solution. We also know that simply throwing money at the problem isn't a solution, either.

I'm certainly not trying to 'sweep it under the rug.' However, I don't appreciate blowing things out of proportion, and I really don't appreciate inaccuracies, such as some mentioned in that piece.

by Alex B. on Oct 21, 2009 11:47 am • linkreport

I like the transplants to the region who try to be ultra-sensitive about the race issue.

It's very funny to see progressive liberals do verbal tip-toeing to avoid saying something which would be against their stripes, like about how the AIDS rate may be high in DC, but it's most due to the black population.

by MPC on Oct 21, 2009 11:51 am • linkreport

With the exception of Brookland by Catholic University, the white population outside of Northwest is astonishingly low.

-Capitol Hill? Ballpark District/Whatever it is called? H Street?

by JBE on Oct 21, 2009 12:02 pm • linkreport

Despite the city's wealth that could be redirected to improving schools
Per pupil expenditures by DCPS are already among the highest in the US.

Moreover the article in question seemed to ignore the social services (funded by the taxes paid by working people) for the benefit of those who can't or don't want to work.

by Steve on Oct 21, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

The segregation is problematic, but the rich blacks have their own parts of the city as well, although that is changing with white gentrification.

by цarьchitect on Oct 21, 2009 12:20 pm • linkreport

The key point is that there is a very stark difference between de jure segregation and de facto segregation. Apartheid implies de jure segregation. We simply don't have that here. Do we have concentrated areas of poverty? Yes. Do you have some magic bullet answer for solving that? Doubt it.

Besides, it's not constructive to consider the District alone when considering the settlement patterns of the city. If you want to compare different cities' relative integration, it's only worthwhile to do that by considering the entire metropolitan area.

Yes the Washington metropolitan area has a favored quarter, but so does just about every city. When you pan out enough, I doubt we're much more segregated than most metropolitan areas.

by Reid on Oct 21, 2009 12:28 pm • linkreport

Someone at Newsweek needs to understand what apartheid is. It was *legally enforced* segregation (voting, living, marriage, etc.). DC quite clearly does not have that.

Yes, there is segregation, which results primarily from economic disparities that have the effect of (relatively) few minorities, many of whom are poor, being able to afford to live in very expensive areas of the city. That's not terribly different from many large metropolitan areas, though. Is it worse in DC? Perhaps. But it's a matter of degree and a world apart from what South Africa was doing for half a century.

by ah on Oct 21, 2009 12:29 pm • linkreport

I concede that I forgot the enclaves of Capitol Hill and the new buildings by the Ballpark, but that doesn't compensate for the vast majority of Northeast and Southeast which are demographically lopsided. And what about the large sections of the city to the south and east of the Anacostia?

"I can't think of a single person who doesn't want to fix DC's schools - yet simply looking at the wealth of some residents and saying 'things should be better' isn't a solution."

But my point is that if liberal Washingtonians were to put their money where their mouths are, the school problem would have been resolved a very long time ago. The fact that our schools persistently fail over decades shows that though Washingtonians are eager to espouse liberal talking points (help for the poor, racial integration, increased public services), when it comes to things that matter in the community, i.e. actually providing a decent free education to all children, we happily change the subject or say that it's somebody else's responsibility and problem, thus contradicting a liberal/progressive communitarian worldview.

I suspect that the reason that we see little meaningful educational improvement in the city is due to the fact that the progressive elites who live in the city think of the schools as bad, but as a problem for somebody else to suffer (the "somebody else" being overwhelmingly poor children of color). When these privileged progressives have children, they won't lift a finger to improve the schools, they'll just move to MoCo or Arlington or Fairfax, and cast a vote for Obama to soothe their consciences.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 21, 2009 12:30 pm • linkreport

Much of the District's settlement patterns are vestiges of legal red-lining. Certainly we don't live under a legal system of apartheid, but we certainly don't live in an integrated city either. The boundaries of class and privilege in DC disturbingly tend to coincide with racial lines, too.

Furthermore, this is a fine example of how we change the subject in this city: we explain away our segregation by saying that our city is largely segregated by fact, not by law. However, whether or not it's by law or by fact is cold comfort to the children attending schools with unqualified teachers, broken boilers and pervasive discipline problems. Congress even removed, with Del. Norton's support, a program to give poor children vouchers to attend private schools that happen to be much more racially integrated than city schools.

A liberal mindset would compel one to demand that society (either privately or through government) compensate for historical and contemporary injustices, but in the District we just look the other way and say, "well, at least it's not de jure."

by Capitol Dome on Oct 21, 2009 1:01 pm • linkreport

You could say the same for Dallas. If you look at Dallas as a clock, from 11 to 2 is where white people live. The southern half is black and latino live everywhere else.

by NikolasM on Oct 21, 2009 1:15 pm • linkreport

Capitol Dome, you make it sound like fixing DC's schools is a matter of resources, and that's it.

All of the research, however, tends to show that academic performance is influenced very little by teachers or schools, but rather by parents and family environments. Poverty, family structure, etc - these are all bigger parts of the problem than school budgets.

That's not to say that DCPS and other urban school districts can't improve - they certainly can. What is clear, however, is that the problems are far more deep seated than you lead on.

Getting back to the original point, playing fast and loose with the language here doesn't help your case - not in my book, anyway.

by Alex B. on Oct 21, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

Reid and ah hit the nail on the head. It's de facto segregation, not apartheid. There's still segregation and things need to get better, but apartheid is the wrong word to describe the situation. I went to college and have a job, but I'm a minority. No one said to me that I have live in a certain area of DC. I can live wherever I want and I have access to the same services that most people have access to.

The wrong use of the word does piss me off. While there are problems, people read stories like that and end up with the wrong idea and no matter how much progress this city has made, everyone will focus on the issues that most predominantly black cities face.

by Vik on Oct 21, 2009 1:38 pm • linkreport

"A liberal mindset would compel one to demand that society (either privately or through government) compensate for historical and contemporary injustices, but in the District we just look the other way and say, "well, at least it's not de jure."

It's funny that you say this Capitol Dome, b/c it seems like the opposite of a liberal mindset would lead one to say "well, at least it's not de jure." That's akin to saying, there are inequalities but it's the free-market.

There's a lot more that needs to be done at the gov't level and within the community, we do need better efforts. Using certain kinds of rhetoric, however, is unproductive.

by Vik on Oct 21, 2009 1:47 pm • linkreport

Exactly, Vik, my point is that though we in Washington vote Democrat overwhelmingly, we run our city like Grover Norquists. When people in other cities congratulate me for living in a city that consistently votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, I remind them that our voting patterns are largely a façade disguising some very serious unresolved social problems--- problems that we do very little about. Our hypocrisy in DC is between our professed politics and our actual governing priorities.

I don't deny that better management of the schools and compensation for social disadvantages is a good step to yielding better results, but both management and funding are consequences of the political system and of our citizens' supposedly liberal political priorities.
If city residents really cared about closing achievement gaps and compensating for historical and current disadvantages, we would have long ago demanded that schools require teachers to be qualified, that schools enforce discipline policies, that schools ensure functional school buildings, and that schools mandate year-round and extended-day schooling (which is costly). More generally, we would have long ago demanded and ensured that the system compensate for every social and economic disadvantage of every student--- a very liberal ideal.

We have the money and with our overwhelming Democratic majority, we should have the political appetite to do this, but we don't. I hold that this failure of leadership is largely due to the fact that our city's ruling liberal elite has separated itself geographically (by neighborhood) and socially (through job sites and school enrollment) from the poor and disadvantaged--- even Mayor Fenty pulled strings to get his sons into a selective public school that's not in his neighborhood.

It's easy to argue about the degree to which our class and racial divide is similar and dissimilar to South Africa's old apartheid system. Either way, the point was driven home when I had to explain to a European visitor why certain people live in certain places in DC and why many professionals will not send their children to DCPS. We take it for granted, but I actually felt embarrassed.

Whether by law or by fact, there is no doubt that we have a serious and systemic problem (similar in many ways to a regime of legal segregation) that has lasted generations and which it seems that few citizens care to resolve.

by Capitol Dome on Oct 21, 2009 2:03 pm • linkreport

I thought the idea behind a battery-powered streetcar was to get it through the L'enfant core area of DC where overhead wires are banned, but the rest of the city would have either overhead wires or underground power. The car wouldn't be using the battery the entire time it was operating.

by monkeyrotica on Oct 22, 2009 7:50 am • linkreport

if liberal Washingtonians were to put their money where their mouths are, the school problem would have been resolved a very long time ago.

As has been pointed out above, the District's per-pupil expenditures are very high. We do put our money where our mouths are, but it hasn't worked.

We can't blame the poor performance of the schools on lack of funding, nor can we wholly blame it on the social ills affecting so much of the student body. When you normalize for student income, most urban school districts do about as well as the national average, but DCPS is a prominent exception -- it still does much worse.

The problem with the schools isn't one that can be solved by throwing money at it; if it were we'd have fixed it by now. If you wanted to argue that wealthy people in this city substitute paying a healthy chunk of taxes for personal involvement in the school system, and that their personal involvement would make a difference, you might have a point. But there you're getting into a serious coordination problem -- if I send my (entirely hypothetical) kids to DCPS, and they're the only kids in the entire school whose parents are involved in the school's health, they're doomed to a shoddy education no matter how involved I am. You need a critical mass of people to make a difference, and you have no way of knowing whether other parents will join that critical mass.

(FYI: Census information for my neighborhood -- not in Northwest, not on Capitol Hill, nowhere near Brookland -- says 65% black, 25% white, 5% Latino, 5% Asian and other. Not exactly a rainbow of integration, but not consistent with claims of bright-line racial segregation either.)

by cminus on Oct 22, 2009 5:48 pm • linkreport

Ultracapacitors simply do not have enough energy density to be used in an environment like Washington. In a few years, improvements to LiFePO4 batteries (not the troublesome Li-Cobalt chemistry) should permit ultracapacitor-like charging rates (power density) while storing far more energy for a given weight (energy density). This technology could make diesel buses obsolete for many urban and suburban runs. All that is needed is strategically-placed charging stations and a buffered power system that can respond easily to surges.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 22, 2009 9:37 pm • linkreport

DC's charter schools produce better results at a lower cost. The reason is that they have to compete with each other. The simplest fix for DCPS is to convert every school to a charter, as was done in East Harlem.

A lot of the poor results seen in DCPS is due to learned helplessness. Parents have no choices, or act as though they don't, so they don't put any effort into their children's education. Give them choices and the learned helplessness will disappear. That alone will boost achievement. Locus of control is also involved. Again, choice helps create internal locus of control, which leads people to take active roles in their lives rather than accept what life gives them. I think DC's Republicans could do well with this kind of argument.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 22, 2009 9:41 pm • linkreport

the quandrant designation is completely useless. As others have stated, it overstates the numbers outside of NW, which has the greatest density. SW has the fewest by far and ocupies much less geographically. And economic factors vary signicant in SE & NE, largely depending on which side of the river you're addressing.

But overall -- Apartheid goes way beyond any economic or social disparity. Connolly might as well toss in DC's high "genocide rate" while she's at it.

by B on Oct 23, 2009 2:36 pm • linkreport

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