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Breakfast links: More questions than answers

Image from LACMTA.
Should our Metro advertise?: LA's Metro boosted transit mode share from 22% to 36% with a few bus improvements and a really powerful advertising campaign. (CoolTown Studios)

"Human error," but whose?: So far, there's only scant information and speculation about yesterday's death of two track workers incident where four track workers killed two others. The Examiner and WTOP have various details, including procedures (sounding a horn, putting rubber mats over the tracks) that ought to have prevented this.

What would Jefferson say?: You can't take pictures at the Archives, and now you can't dance at the Jefferson Memorial either. Only being reverent and tranquil is legal. In other words, act like a tourist sheep (but don't take pictures), or get off the Mall. (DCist)

More walkability or the end of the world?: It's a little like Erik Bootsma's vision: A church three blocks from Silver Spring Metro and near the future Purple Line wants to build apartments on its parking lot to pay for a new church; some neighbors say the cars will "destroy the neighborhood." How about building it with less parking?

Is Fairfax really chicken or just a little bit?: Tysons planners are close to finalizing the plans for redevelopment for supervisor approval. The current draft would add 96,600 residents and 190,500 jobs, but still only about 2/3 the size from the original task force vision. There's a public meeting tonight and another February 11. (Fairfax Times)

Should MLK Ave get a Circulator?: DDOT is considering a Circulator east of the river. It would match another of the proposed streetcar lines, continuing the theme of Circulator routes being streetcar routes that haven't been built yet. (WBJ)

The biggest subway ever: A Harvard postdoc has created a subway-style map of the Milky Way. (via Notions Capital)

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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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Given the number of places one can dance other than the Jefferson Memorial, I'm not terribly troubled by asking people not to do it there, so that the vast majority of "tourist sheep" (or perhaps just normal people wishing to view the memorial in a relatively peaceful setting) are able to enjoy it on their terms.

Now, if they'd be *biking* through the Memorial and told to stop, I'd be outraged.

by ah on Jan 27, 2010 9:37 am • linkreport

NO METRO should NOT advertise. The PR hacks that edit the press releases need to be fired as is. Our revenue should go to fixing the capital deficit and thats it.

by Redline SOS on Jan 27, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

Oh, and to answer the question, Mr. Jefferson would probably say "Why the F* are you dancing on my memorial?"

by ah on Jan 27, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

Should Metro advertise?

In the grand scheme of things, yes - they should. Given the current budget pinch, however, I'm not sure they can pull that off.

Look at the Census, for example. There was a huge increase in response rates in 2000 over 1990 thanks to a large paid advertising campaign, rather than just the old reliance on free TV PSAs airing late at night. That response rate then means fewer people have to be hired to knock on doors, and it ends up saving money.

Same case can be made for transit - effective advertising leads to more riders, which means more farebox revenue...

by Alex B. on Jan 27, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

Sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and if it can be determined that Metro would increase revenue by more than it spends, then advertising would be a way of actually reducing Metro's deficit.

I guess the advertising should highlight improvements in bus service, since that's one area where increased public awareness could mean more riders.

Problem with advertising is that all the ads in the world won't work with workers getting killed, people jumping on the tracks, kids acting like punks in the stations and on the trains, and frequent delays. You can't sell a turd sandwich - even with the best ads - and too often that's what Metro is offering.

by Mike on Jan 27, 2010 10:03 am • linkreport

You know, there are a lot of empty ad spaces on trains at this point. That's free space that could be used...not the greatest outreach but use the resources we have that are not being utilized.

by Redline SOS on Jan 27, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

I went to the meeting in Silver Spring where they are proposing a 5 story apartment building with retail on the first floor with a planned Purple Line stop directly in front. You would have thought they where proposing the Empire State building. Some even said Montgomery County should consider restricting the amount of residents allowed to live in Silver Spring. I've often been accused for being nostalgic because I'm not a fan of glass and concrete buildings...wishing time was frozen in the 1970's, now that's nostangic!

by Thayer-D on Jan 27, 2010 10:10 am • linkreport

That Milky Way subway proposal is very poorly done. Two transfers to get from Sol to Cygnus? Three to get to Omega Centauri? Given how ridership falls off when there's more than one transfer, I expect people will just drive.

by cminus on Jan 27, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

@Redline SOS

Somehow, advertising to people already riding the trains doesn't strike me as the most effective way to boost ridership.

by Alex B. on Jan 27, 2010 10:16 am • linkreport

Metro does advertise. Suggesting that they not helps to reduce revenue. As Mike said, it's legitimate to spend advertising dollars in order to draw passengers producing more revenue than the cost of the ads.

However, in my opinion, I think much of the advertising over the years has been poorly-conceived. Remember the railcar seats in a baseball stadium? It was, um, subtle is how I'd put it. Unsuck Metro recently exposed that Metrobus' "See how far we've come" campaign featured multiple replications of some bus drivers within one pictoral ad highlighting drivers who've driven mega miles safely. That wasn't just stupid, it was unnecessary.

Further, when Metro replaces paid advertisements with its own ads within its own system, um, how many riders are going to ride more because they see those ads? They're already riding.

Putting up a billboard in a suburb next to a heavily trafficked intersection with two gas stations next to each other ... there's the audience.

So, yes, I think Metro should advertise. But with effective ads and identification of audiences that ... aren't already riding.

by Dennis Jaffe on Jan 27, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

There is research that shows a lot of advertising has the effect of making people feel good about past consumption decisions, and therefore more likely to remain loyal to that brand. If you buy one kind of pasta sauce and then keep seeing ads, you feel like you made a good choice. So ads inside Metro could have that effect.

by David Alpert on Jan 27, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

Alex: regarding your comment about revenue, it's correct to a degree. If the increased ridership can be accommodated within already running trains and buses, then it definitely results in more farebox revenue. However, if the increased ridership requires running additional trains and buses to accommodate it, then you've just increased your operational costs and probably wiped out any increase in revenue you may have had.

The most pronounced effect would probably be having to run additional trains, followed by running additional buses. Since the vast bulk of a transit agency's operating costs deals with salaries and wages, I can't imagine adding 2 cars to an already-running train would incur a whole lot of additional cost. Some cost, yes, but not as much as having to run an additional full train.

by Froggie on Jan 27, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

It is interesting to see that a Circulator route is planned for Anacostia. One of the (stated) reasons a few people in Ward 3 oppose a streetcar route up Wisconsin Avenue is that they claim it would be redundant with service from the 30s-line buses. Many of the streetcar alignments, however, are planned for routes that now have Circulator bus service. Streetcars offer a cleaner, more comfortable, and potentially, a more reliable ride than even the Circulator buses offer. This will encourage more people to use transit who do not currently ride the bus (including the Circulator). Additionally, DDOT noted in 2009 that the 37-mile streetcar system will not be completed for at least 7-10 years. DCÂ’s streetcar system will likely not be completed until 2020. Buses, however, have a lifespan of approximately 12-15 years. By the time these buses are ready to be retired from service, DCÂ’s streetcar system will be nearing completion and can serve as a replacement for much of the Circulator and other bus service on these dedicated corridors.

For those who are interested in supporting a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route, I encourage you to join the Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on Facebook.

by Ben on Jan 27, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

@Alex B.

It does seem a bit counter intuitive. But advertising for MetroBus would probably have some decent returns. I think there are a lot of MetroRail riders that aren't very aware of where the bus system goes and whether it is useful to them.

Six car trains could have six different ads along the lines of: "The L1 bus has stops at X,Y, and Z Metro stops, and travels along Connecticut and then down to GW Circle".

by Brian S. on Jan 27, 2010 10:32 am • linkreport

"Next on WTOP, more WMATA woes as NTSB sets up a permanent office at WMATA HQ as service cuts and rate hikes loom. (cut to commercial), 'Get off 395 and hop on Metro safe, fast and fun!".

by RJ on Jan 27, 2010 10:32 am • linkreport

Froggie, revenue is simply money coming in. Increasing the paid-fare ridership always increases revenue.

You're right about costs, but that's not what I was saying. Furthermore, once we move beyond the narrow accounting of just the transit agency, the benefits to getting more people on transit are immense.

by Alex B. on Jan 27, 2010 10:35 am • linkreport

I’ve seen transit agencies that advertise for themselves on the inside of buses and trains. I’m not sure I see the effectiveness in that. I’m more curious about the effectiveness of advertising on the outside of buses. The cost would presumably be low (only the opportunity cost of other advertisements). I assume there is an accounting distinction between “foregone revenue” and “outflows” that could somehow be exploited?

by Rob on Jan 27, 2010 10:39 am • linkreport

I love the galaxy map.

As for advertising, the various TDM agencies (Commuter Connections, Arlington Car-Free Diet, etc) already do it. Just because it's not coming from WMATA doesn't mean it isn't happening.

by BeyondDC on Jan 27, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

re: church in SS, Given that the proposed number of parking spaces (140) is less than the number of units (180) - how much less parking do you propose that they build? I've tried living in downtown Silver Spring without a car and it's doable as long as you have access to a ZipCar, but some people will want to have their own car for commuting purposes or b/c they need access to stores not found in the immediate area.

by grumpy on Jan 27, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

@David: "Yesterday's death of two track workers"?

You mean the latest Metro accident where a Metro driver KILLED the two workers, right?

Wanted to make sure you follow your own personal style guide when it comes to properly explaining pedestrian deaths.

by Fritz on Jan 27, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

I don't think Metro spending money on advertising is good idea. First off, Metro is an advertisement in itself. Everyone in the DC area has seen Metro trains, stations, and buses; it's not like people are unaware of what it is, what it does, or where it goes. In fact, there's no better advertisement than an orange line train zipping by traffic-clogged 66 or a red line train passing overhead stopped cars on 495.

However, when Metro has near-weekly mishaps, accidents, or deaths no amount of advertising is going to raise their public profile. I'm waiting for the day that I see a Metro ad on the same page as article about yet another mishap so that I can submit it to FailBlog.

And going off David comment about brand reinforcement, what happens when you don't like the pasta sauce you bought? I would harbor extra resentment if I saw an advertisement about how wonderful Metro is on the side of train that just broke down.

by Adam L on Jan 27, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

Still saying that what happened on the red line yesterday was a "death" of two track workers. It's pretty clear at this point that it was caused by humans, so shouldn't it be that the equipment operator "killed" the track workers?

by Tim on Jan 27, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

why not some decent public art in the Metro stations?

they look preety darned barren to me.

As for the church and apartment haus in silver spring - what are these NIMBYs all upset about?
They should encourage this kind of development.

Very sad about the Metro employees. I always wonder about the good folks who work on roads and for the railroads. It is not easy work and it can be dangerous.

by w on Jan 27, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

grumpy: Not every development has to cater to every type of person. Residents are concerned that Silver Spring can't absorb more cars. One solution would be to say, okay, we'll put in housing, but people who want to drive a lot shouldn't be the ones to live in this particular building. People who want to use Zipcar to supplement transit use and walking can live here.

That will bring down the value of the property, but would also keep the prices lower for the housing, potentially making it more affordable for some people.

There's plenty of demand elsewhere in the region for housing near transit that doesn't come with parking. This could fill some of that demand even if it doesn't fill everyone's demand, just like there's some demand for basic flip phones even though some people want the iPhone.

by David Alpert on Jan 27, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

why not some decent public art in the Metro stations? They look preety darned barren to me.

This is how a *real* open and democratic society treats *their* metro stations.

The only thing preventing us from achieving the same level of aesthetic development is the macho, thrill-seeking culture of self-abnegation pursued by all the fascistic, athletic Metro commuters with their fancy high-performance shoes.

by oboe on Jan 27, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

as for taking photos in the Archives- this is perfectly understandable from a conservation standpoint.
These documents are both fragile and extremely valuable- they have every reason to take these measures. There is always a fine line between conservation and exhibition.

The dancing thing- I don't really care about this. As it is- DC has far too many stiff collared uptight idiots who are all self important temps running around acting like schoolmarms and Puritanical paranoids. These newbies who come here every 2-4 years make Salt Lake City Mormons look positively flamboyant. And it doesn't matter what political persuasion they claim to follow. Just stand by a Metro entrance at rush hour and watch all of the clones dressed in black and men with out any hats on no matter how cold it is- I ALWAYS get a big laugh out of these political / suit drones.
We can always use a little flair and vibrancy here in DC.
We should be acting more like this nations cultural as well as political Capitol. Fun is always a great thing when no one gets hurt .

by w on Jan 27, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

With all this talk about extending Circulator service lately, you would think the city might work to enhance service on the Union Station-Capitol Hill-Navy Yard line to cover more than commuters from 7am to 7pm on weekdays (oh yeah and Nationals home game days...)

I emailed Councilman Wells about this issue a while back and he said that the city was waiting for ridership figures before making any conclusions about extended service. However, it has struck me as odd that the main commercial corridor on the Hill, down Pennsylvania SE and on 8th street, has no direct public transit connection to Union Station past 7pm or on the weekend.

by Kevin H on Jan 27, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

@Brian S.

I think there are a lot of MetroRail riders that aren't very aware of where the bus system goes and whether it is useful to them.

This is very true. Or if they do know where it goes, they don't know how often it runs, and looking up bus maps and timetables on the WMATA Web site is an effort that most people don't want to bother making.

I think this would be most immediately effective for the 5A to Dulles and the B30 to BWI. Even a simple set of ads giving the fare, how often they run (especially mentioning when the first and last buses leave), where to connect, and other really basic information might encourage tourist and local ridership on these very specific lines. If these ads are out there, I've never seen them.

I seem to recall seeing a few very simple ads promoting 'take Metrobus to Tysons!' during this past holiday season, but the ads gave next to no information about how often the buses ran or where one could catch them. Yes, I know Metrobuses go to Tysons, but if I don't have any more information than that then I have little incentive to go looking for it.

by sg on Jan 27, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

Two quick things:
1) I hear Metro ads on ESPN Radio all the time. It's a super irritating ad, but I've heard it so many times I could almost quote the entire thing verbatim probably.

2)Agree with fellow commenters that if you're going to say drivers killed pedestrians, you need to say train operators killed the workers, too.

by Nate on Jan 27, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

“We should be acting more like this nations cultural as well as political Capitol”

Agreed, tomorrow I am wearing jorts and an ironic 80Â’s tee shirt, while reading US magazine with an additional 50lbs hanging over my belt.

and whats up with you and hats?

by RJ on Jan 27, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

You're right about the language thing over the track workers. Yesterday we didn't know if the piece of equipment was being operated by other humans, but now it looks like it was, so it's reasonable to say four track workers killed two others.

by David Alpert on Jan 27, 2010 11:54 am • linkreport

@Kevin H: If the Union Station-Navy Yard Circulator was meant to succeed, they'd have kept some night/weekend service outside of Nats game days when they took over the route rather than pruning it down as they did. Though the ridership for the year the N22 ran all but overnights wasn't that high, the ridership at least as there.

Anyone know why that route got the prune-down while the Adams Morgan-U Street route has too much service some times of day?

by Jason on Jan 27, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

@w Men Without Hats:">

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 27, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport


Well put :-P

by Teo on Jan 27, 2010 11:57 am • linkreport

I heard an ad for MetroBus on the radio in the barber shop the other week. And Metro does advertise for itself inside its own stations and buses: highlighting route improvements, the "million miles driven without an accident" ads, etc.

Obviously, whether it's net valuable is a question to be answered with data rather than hunches. But my hunch is that targeted advertising probably helps retain, and maybe even grow, ridership and brand loyalty (including political support for funding).

by Gavin Baker on Jan 27, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

Somebody mentioned PSAs. I wonder if the local transit agencies or commuter agencies would be eligible for free air time on local broadcasters. It wouldn't replace the role of paid advertising, but it might be a cheap addition.

I also wonder how much online advertising Metro does. Geo- and keyword-targeted Google ads seem like they could be very effective. (Of course, being on Google Transit would be a big free advertisement.) Or audio spots on a service like Pandora, targeted to users in the metro area.

by Gavin Baker on Jan 27, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

And going off David comment about brand reinforcement, what happens when you don't like the pasta sauce you bought? I would harbor extra resentment if I saw an advertisement about how wonderful Metro is on the side of train that just broke down.

I think Cleveland's transit agency experienced this. After APTA gave them the 'best transit system in North America' designation in 2007, they proudly plastered the award on every bus and train in the system. Of course, nobody was fooled; even the biggest transit boosters in the city knew the system is far from the best in North America. If anything, it made the agency look cocky and out-of-touch with reality.

by Rob on Jan 27, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

The Archives photography ban and the Jefferson dancing ban both stem from legimate concerns, but cross the line past reasonable measures. A photography ban is too blunt; since the concern is about idiots setting off their flash, why not have a way for folks to sign a statement of agreement so they can wear a badge for their visit so guards know they've aware of the no-flash restrictions? The Archives already plans to allow media to use cameras; but today we all can contribute to "the media."

Silent dancing doesn't strike me as disrespectful, and I don't see how they could disrupt access unless they were square dancing around the statue. I think we should err on the side of being too forgiving about potentially inappropriate behavior. No one was being harmed, no one was being threatened, no one was being obstructed. There was no need for an arrest.

In a similar vein, an NGA guard forced a visitor to remove a pro-life pin from her lapel. see "Security Guard by Day, Constitutional Scholar by Night"

by michael on Jan 27, 2010 1:01 pm • linkreport

I once had a loud, ribald and detailed conversation about TJ's lack of nads, as depicted in the Jeff Mem. sculpture. It was 3am and no other visitors were there. It was also pre 9/11. The Park Ranger, who was obscured behind a pillar, clearly heard the whole discussion. We were embarressed but he didn't repremand us. Was that less disrespectful then dancing?

by Bianchi on Jan 27, 2010 1:20 pm • linkreport

One more comment about Archives' impending photography ban: they say that in the event someone takes a photo, they will be escorted out of the building. Since the policy is designed to protect documents from bright lights, and not in fact because photography is evil, why escort out someone who takes a non-flash photo? Can you imagine being escorted out for taking a non-flash photo? No harm was done, except to our civil liberties.

Furthermore, in the Archives states "We estimate
50,000 flash discharges in the Rotunda annually under present rules." They're open about 302 days each year, making that 166 inadvertant flashes per day, about one flash every few minutes. I find that hard to believe.

Another troubling issue is their decision that "Photography will be prohibited in ALL exhibit areas" - so they're not just trying to protect the most fragile documents; it's just a blanket ban.

This proposed action is way out of line with the need to protect our core documents from unnecessary light.

And finally, an extreme proposal like this needs a bit of scientific study to see exactly how much damage a flash bulb can do, from what distance, and how damage accumulates.

by michael on Jan 27, 2010 2:06 pm • linkreport

We need to kick the national park service out of taking care of the monuments and substitute a new & revived Vestal Virgin caste- then we can have some serious dancing and entertainment in our national memorials here in DC.

They are desigend to look like Roman temples, after all- aren't they???

by w on Jan 27, 2010 2:21 pm • linkreport


Have you ever been in the archives' rotunda when it's full of tourists? I am not surprised at all of an average of about one flash ever 3 minutes.

by MLD on Jan 27, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

Given WMATA's current financial situation advertising should be a fiscal decision, not a political or ideological one. If it can be expected that more advertising will result in a net profit (i.e. increase in revenue > cost of advertising + cost of serving additional riders drawn by advertising) they should advertise. Otherwise, they should not.

by Jacob on Jan 27, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

"If the Union Station-Navy Yard Circulator was meant to succeed, they'd have kept some night/weekend service outside of Nats game days when they took over the route rather than pruning it down as they did. Though the ridership for the year the N22 ran all but overnights wasn't that high, the ridership at least as there."

Thats a great point an another would be why is there no easy accessible stop outside of Union Station Parking Garage somewhere.

With the N22 it stopped where the Metrobus's did Mass & 1st street and the Circulator to Georgetown currently has a stop where Metrobus's also stop Mass & North Cap.

With the current Navy Yard Circulator you either have to walk down to Louisiana Ave & North Capitol or up to the Parking Garage neither of which is close if your transferring from a Metrobus or the Georgetown Circulator and dont want to waste the time going to the garage.

Why not send it out the back of the garage down H street Bridge and then making a left on North Capitol so that it could have a stop where the N22 had one.

When the buses leave the garage they are empty which means no one wants to walk up there, so why not just move the f**king bus stop

I guarantee that if the bus stopped at Mass & 1st Street where the 96,D6,D8 & Georgetown Circulator currently stop at and where the n22 used to stop at it would get more riders who don't want to walk to Louisiana Ave or take all those escalators up to the garage.

by kk on Jan 27, 2010 11:45 pm • linkreport

I consider dancing on someones memorial the same as dancing on there grave; its an offense to the person your honoring unless they were involved in dancing.

by kk on Jan 27, 2010 11:48 pm • linkreport

I consider dancing on someones memorial the same as dancing on there grave; its an offense to the person your honoring unless they were involved in dancing.

I think the dancers' argument would be that exercising your freedom of expression at someone's public memorial is not an offense to the person you're honoring if they were uniquely associated with freedom of expression in America.

Of course, to me, dancing seems like a lame form of quasi-political self-expression, but then, I'm not much of a dancer.

by oboe on Jan 28, 2010 9:49 am • linkreport

Couple of other thoughts: the ruling seemed to hinge on the fact that the Jefferson Memorial is not a "public space", which to me seems pretty perverse (Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm sure that technically it is non-public property, owned by NPS).

Secondly, this is the best comment about Jefferson ever (dredged from the DCist comments):

Candidate Jefferson would've thundered against the ruling and published anonymous pamphlets demonizing the judge and heralding the dancers. President Jefferson would've charged the dancers with treason for plotting against the U.S. and had them hanged.

Tee hee.

by oboe on Jan 28, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

Metro already does advertise... as a PR move to make it look like they're safety focused. That campaign is entirely reactionary and isn't intended to lure any discretionary riders, like LACMTA did.

by John on Jan 28, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

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