Greater Greater Washington

Dinner links: Suburban mentality lives as some suburbs die


Photo by respres.
War protestors for hard-to-find parking: Many San Francisco business and residents are fighting extended meter hours, disregarding the fact that available street parking is too difficult to find during many of those hours. Even the antiwar A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition opposes it as hurting the working class; CC Puede asks, where was A.N.S.W.E.R. when Muni was raising fares? (Streetsblog SF)

Is Jack Evans too car-centric?: DC Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) spoke with Mount Vernon Square residents about the K Street Transitway. Si Kailian heard a "suburban mentality," focused primarily on private cars (Evans drives downtown from his home in Georgetown) rather than the other modes which are particularly popular Ward 2, one of DC's densest and closest to jobs. (Life in Mt. Vernon Square, Geoff H.)

Washington's exurbs crumbling: Foreclosures are hitting outer parts of the region particularly hard, like Woodbridge, Va. and Upper Marlboro, Md. The Examiner quotes Christopher Leinberger explaining that we've just overbuilt exurban single-family homes. And this real estate is becoming a magnet for con artists. (Examiner)

What would make you stay in Detroit?: I Will Stay If... asks Detroit residents to post a picture saying what would make them stay in what may be the nation's most economically troubled city. The most popular items surround transit, schools, and better government. (GlueSpace, Evan)

It could be a lot worse: Metro's budget is forcing some serious tradeoffs, but at least we're not Cleveland, whose transit ridership hit its lowest ever. Rob Pitingolo builds a statistical model that shows that ridership closely correlates with fares, gas prices, the population of the area, and the unemployment rate. (Brewed Fresh Daily)

SmartBenefits will get "bins": SmartBenefits will soon separate pre-tax transit and parking money as required by the IRS. Commuters can elect to set aside some money for transit and some for parking which includes at Metro stations; formerly, if they did both, nothing would stop them from using parking money for transit or vice versa. SmarTrip machines won't be able to tell you the split, however, just the total. And now, unused benefits will revert to the employer.

Not the Department of Highways: A suburban Atlanta Republican state representative hopes to merge MARTA into the state DOT. It's part of his vision for transforming the DOT from "a Department of Highways" into a "meaningful Department of Transportation." He writes, "No great city in our country (New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco) relies only on highways. We either seize the initiative now or in the not too distant future explain to our children why Atlanta is no longer the Capitol of the South." (AJC)

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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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Another issue with new "smart benefit." WMATA is still working on a way to automatically replenish your personal stored benefits by linking it to a credit card.

This will be an issue, for example, if you have transit benefits on your card (it won't tell you the split--just the total) and run out of personal stored benefits and try to exit a parking lot--you'll have to head back to to a machine and add value.

If WMATA is able to implement this feature in a timely way, you would be able to set your card to automatically replenish your personal benefits by an amount you choose when you run low and wouldn't have the issue of not being able to get out of a parking lot without having to return to the station. As of yesterday, WMATA does not have a way to do this.

Please take it easy on the station managers, they'll have to implement this less than perfect system that they did not design nor have input into.

by kreeggo on Oct 22, 2009 5:06 pm • linkreport

I was just in Atlanta and was shocked by the huge amount of highways, and the fact that (at least over the weekend) white people don't really ride the MARTA. I hope GDOT and racial politics doesn't try to water down transit if this happens.

by Joshua Davis on Oct 22, 2009 5:06 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain to me WT*F* *my* money is not *mine* anymore if I don't put it on a smartrip card quickly? Why can't *I* just get it back?

To me this is just a perverted incentive to everybody involved in handling *my* money to be as hostile as possible in the hope that I will forget and they get *my* money.

Same thing happens to *my* pre-tax health care savings money.

by Jasper on Oct 22, 2009 5:11 pm • linkreport

The Smartrip change has "mess" written all over it.

One problem I see already is that my employer has you do the average number of days worked each month, 21, even though some months one works more and others less. Of course it balances out during the year, so it's fair. But under the scenario one really should put in the max possible number of work days in a month and then forfeit back the overage since you can't carry over the low-workday months (hello February) to the high workday months.

by ah on Oct 22, 2009 5:14 pm • linkreport

The boarded-up house in the picture in the Examiner article doesn't look to me like a McMansion-turning-into-exurban-slum. It looks to me like a hundred-year-old farm house.

by Miriam on Oct 22, 2009 5:29 pm • linkreport

ah, that's my issue with this. The feds have us do 20 days, if I recall correctly, four weeks a month and five days. Not nearly enough most months. But with some vacation time, sick days, and the few times that things like doctor's visits have me work from home - it all works out over the course of a year. But a month? No way!!!

by Tim Fry on Oct 22, 2009 5:52 pm • linkreport

Why does the IRS require separate "bins"? Isn't all of the money treated the same, tax-wise?

by Tim on Oct 22, 2009 5:57 pm • linkreport

MARTA= Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.

Down there, white people are rich enough to drive cars, but black people aren't. That's the simple, if uncomfortable, truth.

by MPC on Oct 22, 2009 6:03 pm • linkreport

I'd love to see the cities and counties that MARTA goes through come up with some arbitrary tax for driving in their areas. Maybe that could get the white people to take transit, lol.

Maybe if the Atlanta area finally gets commuter rail (Georgia Rail Passenger Program/Georgia Brain Train), they'll take that instead.

Proposed maps:

- http://tpb.ga.gov/Documents/TPBProposedProjectsbyTypeProj_ESize07-6-07.pdf
- http://wwwb.dot.ga.gov/dot/plan-prog/intermodal/rail/Reports/Rpt/images/lines12.jpg
- http://media.photobucket.com/image/atlanta%20ga%20commuter%20rail/e_thomasus/Transit/atlantacommuterrail.gif

by Zac on Oct 22, 2009 6:38 pm • linkreport

Wow, that was not the quote I was expecting to see after "suburban Atlanta Republican".

by Lucre on Oct 22, 2009 8:40 pm • linkreport

Detroit committed suicide by imposing a nonreciprocal commuter tax. (So has Philadelphia.) Jobs outside Detroit pay more than those inside, so jobs fled to the suburbs. When the jobs fled, residents fled, too. I think, at this point, the only alternative Detroit has is to disincorporate. Then, its problems become those of Wayne County. People who might be dismissive of poor blacks will suddenly have to take them seriously.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 22, 2009 9:45 pm • linkreport

MARTA= Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.

Georgia has a law (it may be in its constitution) that gas taxes can only pay for highways. So, mass transit is funded by sales taxes. White-dominated suburbs to the south of Atlanta refuse to raise sales taxes to prevent the inflow of blacks, never mind that they would be coming to work. So, MARTA's southern terminus for the forseeable future is the airport.

Personally, I've used MARTA between the airport and downtown. It's faster than a taxi, especially during rush hour. The downtown stops are very convenient to the hotels I've stayed at.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 22, 2009 9:51 pm • linkreport

The only white people who use Marta are out-of-towners and people who've lived in actual cities. It's not well managed, but it will get worse if it becomes a creature of the state, which will lead to it being starved further. Regardless of party, there's little in the way of "good government" or creative thinking in Georgia politics, and the ATL area jurisdictions are heavily in the pocket of real estate development interests. There's recognition that the road system is antiquated (not to mention poorly engineered), but things have hit a wall in terms of financing anything new. Atlanta is a monument to unsustainable growth--lots of dying malls, a water shortage, etc. The back to the city movement of people is threatened by the city's rocky finances. Also, it's a place where most walking neighborhoods have little to walk to besides overpriced mediocre restaurants.

by Rich on Oct 23, 2009 12:13 am • linkreport

What difference is it who uses the public transportation? It's still the public. If it where an all white society, they'd still split themselves up (see pre-WWII England). If Atlanta or any other jurisdiction want to pave over their centers and continue pushing out, let them. Their fate will be the same as the outer suburbs here, slums of the future. There is no such thing as a free market, just more or less transparent.

by Theyer-D on Oct 23, 2009 6:57 am • linkreport

I know Fran Millar and Fran has always been very forward-thinking. Fran's biggest hurdle will be the rural-urban divide in Georgia (it's basically metro Atlanta vs. the rest of the state) and rural state legislators behave as they barely tolerate Atlanta and it's liberal thinking in return for the economic benefits it drives to the rest of the state. Even if Fran's plan is passed, from that point forward it will be a fight to properly fund MARTA as rural legislators will continue to steer funds to roads in their rural districts. There are some beautiful highways in southern Georgia with hardly any traffic on them.

by ksu499 on Oct 23, 2009 9:02 am • linkreport

Can you clarify the SmartBenefits reverting to employer issue.

Currently, once I download my benefits to my card - they are mine to keep. So if I take a vacation in February I can still use the metro fare I haven't spent while away from DC in March.

Under the new system, if I don't use all of my benefits in February do those benefits now revert back to the employer?

Also, under my employer's current rules, I can only change my benefits amount twice a year. It seems like commuters would need a lot more flexability if we have to match each month's amount to each month's usage (e.g. to account for time off).

I have lots of questions and Metro's powerpoint doesn't provide a lot of answers.

by Patrick on Oct 23, 2009 10:14 am • linkreport

The only white people who use Marta are out-of-towners and people who've lived in actual cities.

I'd say that's probably the second-worst burn Atlanta's ever received.

As far as the first link: Oh, ANSWER, why must you co-opt everything? I'm wondering how long it's going to take them to try to change the subject to Gaza; they always do.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 23, 2009 10:22 am • linkreport

Patrick, I think you have the gist of it, or at least the problem I forsee.

I assume that the IRS figured out that a lot of employees were receiving benefits that they weren't using, at least not for transit in connection with work, so this "forces" the benefits to be used for work, certification to the employer notwithstanding.

But your point (and Tim Fry's) highlights the problem. Most employer benefit claims aren't very flexible and are generally designed to balance out over a period longer than one month. But the IRS rules, or Metro's implementation of them, don't provide for that flexibility.

What's particularly odd is that the WMATA presentation seems to encourage employers to set systems up to avoid refunds. But that's exactly the opposite of what will happen. Give the rules, everyone should claim the maximum theoretical benefit for each month (probably 23 days*round trip fare), and then let any overage return to the employer, which means in any month where there are less than 23 work days.

Of course, that means you're likely to use the benefits improperly because if you take metro for a personal trip, until you use your benefits fully it comes out of the employer "bucket". So in Feb. when there aren't 23 work days, you might use all 23 days of fares before dipping into your personal bucket. That's simply worse than now where, if you're honest, you get benefits equal to your annual fares over the course of a year. If you use smarttrip for personal trips you're going to have to add your own funds to cover the personal trips.

by ah on Oct 23, 2009 10:23 am • linkreport

Patrick, I think you have the gist of it, or at least the problem I forsee.

I assume that the IRS figured out that a lot of employees were receiving benefits that they weren't using, at least not for transit in connection with work, so this "forces" the benefits to be used for work, certification to the employer notwithstanding.

But your point (and Tim Fry's) highlights the problem. Most employer benefit claims aren't very flexible and are generally designed to balance out over a period longer than one month. But the IRS rules, or Metro's implementation of them, don't provide for that flexibility.

What's particularly odd is that the WMATA presentation seems to encourage employers to set systems up to avoid refunds. But that's exactly the opposite of what will happen. Give the rules, everyone should claim the maximum theoretical benefit for each month (probably 23 days*round trip fare), and then let any overage return to the employer, which means in any month where there are less than 23 work days.

Of course, that means you're likely to use the benefits improperly because if you take metro for a personal trip, until you use your benefits fully it comes out of the employer "bucket". So in Feb. when there aren't 23 work days, you might use all 23 days of fares before dipping into your personal bucket. That's simply worse than now where, if you're honest, you get benefits equal to your annual fares over the course of a year. If you use smarttrip for personal trips you're going to have to add your own funds to cover the personal trips.

by ah on Oct 23, 2009 10:24 am • linkreport

J.D.: Now THAT was the second worst burn Atlanta's ever had. Nicely done.

by EG on Oct 23, 2009 10:33 am • linkreport

David, what's with all the typos/grammar goofs this time around? "wincludes"? "Si Kailian hear" (heard or hears?)?

by Moose on Oct 23, 2009 10:47 am • linkreport

Sorry, I did these late at night and somewhat in a hurry since I was in NYC and wasn't working on the blog all day.

by David Alpert on Oct 23, 2009 10:53 am • linkreport

Actually, MARTA is quite heavily used, at least during the week, by commuters. As an AT&T employee, I rode it daily for 4 years and the trains coming from the northern suburbs were crowded. The Southern Company (or maybe it was Georgia Pacific, I don't remember) decided it was cheaper to increase their employee MARTA subsidy than it was to build a new parking garage at their HQ facilities, and BellSouth built its own parking garages at the outer terminus stations (except for the airport).

by ksu499 on Oct 23, 2009 1:22 pm • linkreport

If "exurbs" are crumbling, why have median home prices in Loudoun risen 6.88% year-over-year? Why should we invest in metro to Ashburn? Why should we extend VRE to Spotsylvania if these places are so doomed?

You really need to adjust the editorial filter you put on these links.

by David on Oct 24, 2009 9:54 am • linkreport

You're one to talk about "editorial filter", David, given that the first entry on your blog is a completely nonsensical strawman talking about Kunstler (of all people) and "people who don't want to hear their neighbors arguing above the ceiling". Or whatever.

The difference between Loudoun and Woodbridge is that there are jobs in Loudoun, at least for the moment.

by J.D. Hammond on Oct 24, 2009 3:59 pm • linkreport

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