Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Take a seat


Image from freshome.
Couches the next subway ads?: Going beyond the run-of-the-mill wall ads, IKEA furnished several Parisian subway stations. With Metro's ample platform space and increasingly long, unpredictable waits, perhaps a similar campaign in DC could bring in some needed cash? (freshome)

Thomas, the parking scofflaw: Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (ward 5) got his car booted after failing to pay four tickets, including one for blocking rush hour lane and one for blocking a bus stop. His response: he isn't supposed to have to pay them. That's not because he's innocent, mind you, just because the Council decided they shouldn't have to follow parking laws. Kwame Brown (at-large) also got a ticket recently, but paid the fine. (Examiner)

Bike lanes: Inviting backlash? Triathlete-related?: After talking up his bicycle bona fides, Harry Jaffe isn't so sure about new bike lanes because they might "tempt a backlash." WashCycle disagrees. Jaffe also overplays the role of Fenty's cycling in this whole endeavor. (Examiner, TheWashCycle)

Bag fee cuts bags in half: A WAMU report on the status of the MD bag fee notes that Safeway reports bag usage dropped by half.

I saw the sign: Bad signs can cause or prevent crashes, make cities more or less hospitable, and more. Slate looks at the impact of signs on our lives in a great six-part series. (Stephen Miller)

Three-mile crosswalk: One British senior citizen can't cross her road, which is very busy and has no pedestrian crossing; she has to take a bus three miles to cross, then another bus three miles back to go to stores across the street. (How We Drive, Matt')

And...: There's a new Web site for basement landlords DCRA created after a Prince of Petworth discussion ... there was a violent crash involving a Metrobus and two cars where "one person was ejected from a vehicle and one car is in the woods" ... Jim Graham may try to reinstate auto safety inspections. (DCist, Examiner)

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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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Interesting. What other laws are District council members exempt from? This could get pretty lucrative.

by ksu499 on Mar 15, 2010 9:35 am • linkreport

Unless I saw Ikea installing those sofas there's no way I'd sit anywhere near one. Five minutes in Metro? It will be soaked with cola and grease from fries, infected with TB, swine flu, and loathsome diseases, and filled with crumpled copies of the Express.

by ah on Mar 15, 2010 9:46 am • linkreport

@ksu499- I believe they are exempt from pretty much all ethics and conflict-of-interest laws as well.

by ah on Mar 15, 2010 9:53 am • linkreport

Am I the only person surprised to see someone use the prhase "ample platform space" to describe Metro?

by Lucre on Mar 15, 2010 9:55 am • linkreport

Love the Ikea idea- to be used at the less frequented stops of course! And coated with a thick plastic covering, of course!

by T. Aloisi on Mar 15, 2010 9:57 am • linkreport

I'd let Ikea, or any other furniture company, do it for free. If we gave an advertising agency free reign, they would end up spending more money on cleaning up stations than WMATA ever could.

by tom veil on Mar 15, 2010 10:01 am • linkreport

How many DC residents know that the Council voted to exempt themselves from parking regulations in 2002? I couldn't vote for any Council candidate who thinks he should be able to exempt himself from city ordinances that everyone else subject to.

by ksu499 on Mar 15, 2010 10:18 am • linkreport

@ Road signs: VA and DC could improve their road signage so much. In DC it's mostly absent, while in VA it's just not intuitive. MD is much better. From what I've seen OH and WV are way better.

I do not know what the underlying rules and psychology are, but I would strongly like to suggest VDOT to copy the signage rules that either WV or OH have.

One thing that really bothers me in VA is the many lanes that quite suddenly "must turn right" and then disappear.

by Jasper on Mar 15, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

That car inspection issue is interesting, particularly since it's being pushed by the inspectors themselves. Are they lobbying for more hours? Or are they genuinely concerned about the state of cars?

I'd probably lean more to the former than the latter. I always thought that there was a significant disparity of treatment under the old inspection regime. I'd see cars get approved that had no business being passed, where I got hung up for minor infractions (some of which I don't think were even infractions at all, such as the tint of back seat windows).

But that said, the dynamic of the inspectors trying to take a holiday to testify, and getting denied, is pretty fascinating.

by Reid on Mar 15, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

Couple of points on the bag fee tax:

Safeway says "anecdotal" evidence is bag use is down by half.

In the absence of any real data, I'll just point out the irony: clearly there are enough cheap people out there who want to save 25 cents or so on a quick shopping trip. And remember, reducing bag use wasn't part of the bill. Reserving that money to pay for cleanup on the anacostia is. The bags aren't coming from DC -- they are coming in from Maryland.

So my final prediction is we'll see a lot less money coming in at the end of the year than predicted under the bill.

In terms of inspections, the VA inspection is a joke. I've heard the MD inspection is better. Never done the DC one, but given the overall reputation of DMV and related entities, I'd have to assume it is a joke.

I also haven't seen an increase of broken down vehicles yet.

by charlie on Mar 15, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

Reducing bag use was absolutely part of the bill. It was to make a cleaner river in two ways: one, to raise money to clean it up, and two, to reduce the trash that goes into it. The bill's sponsors clearly stated that they'd be overjoyed if the fee raised no revenue because the bags weren't being used at all.

by David Alpert on Mar 15, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

Charlie, the purpose of the bill was indeed to reduce bag usage. Here's Fenty, for example:

"Under this new law, the simple steps we take every day will result in a healthier Anacostia River," Fenty said in a statement. "Disposable bags are a menace to our waterways, and dramatically cutting down on their use will have a measurable impact almost immediately."

And here's Wells:

The D.C. Department of the Environment conducted a study "to determine the primary sources of trash in the river. Forty-seven percent was found to be plastic bags in the creeks and tributaries and 21 percent in the main stem of the river. I decided to research legislative efforts to stem the use of plastic bags"

by jcm on Mar 15, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

@ Reid - Interesting points. I have a strong assumption that DC government employees are pretty self-serving, but if they're actually proposing to take annual leave maybe they're showing some degree of professional responsibility.

Right now the inspection regime in DC is silly--you still have to go in every two years for the emissions inspection, which is federal law. And you still have to get out of the car, even though the test takes about 30 seconds if you have newer car with OBD--they just plug in a computer to see if there are any adverse codes. So, yeah, there's going to be a lot less work.

Anyway, DC should reinstate safety inspections but (a) delete the really silly safety violations and retain the basics: do brakes work, do lights work, does horn work, adequate tread depth on tires or (b) exempt cars that are less than, say, 6 years old from a fuller inspection.

by ah on Mar 15, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

Re: Bike Lanes, even people who hate bikes should be in support of separated bike lanes. Tony Kornheiser should know that giving bikes dedicated space gets them out of his way.

Re: Signs, I know that in NYC where they often have 3 or 4 subway entrances it'd be nice for a particular entrance to note which direction I'll be facing when I come out. It seems like every time I guess at my cardinal direction and picked the wrong way and have to walk back an extra block or two to get back to where I was going.

by Canaan Merchant on Mar 15, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

@JCM:

A couple points to clarify:

What are they measuring -- volume of trash picked up? As I said, from that same study, the "creeks and tributaries" aren't in DC -- they are in Maryland.

The real environmental problem with the bags in DC is they are getting into the sewer system and blocking up the pipes. That causes flooding and other problems. Will reducing the number of plastic bags help with that -- absolutely. Will it reduce trash in the river -- not much at all.

@David_Alpert; I'm not going to argue legislative intent with you. The bag fee tax is a passionate issue, and usually when people get passionate they don't have any facts to use. I do find it funny that newspaper bags are exempted, because at least in NW that is usually what I find in the street.

by charlie on Mar 15, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

DC and NoVA should be poster children for how *not* to design roads and signs.

A few points:
* One-way streets are *horribly* marked. Some aren't marked at all. Some 2-way streets aren't wide enough for bidirectional traffic. I got clipped by a fire truck in Columbia heights a few weeks ago. Terrifying.

* Any "conditional" no-left-turn signs should be of the electric variety. I shouldn't have to come to a stop in the left lane, squint to read the tiny sign, and check my clock whenever I want to turn left downtown.

* Downtown traffic signals need to be revamped. They're too small and dim, particularly in the rain.

* Detours/construction should use those giant electronic signs that highway crews use for construction. There have been several deaths around the new Brentwood Parkway bridge over NY Ave, likely as a result of the fact that the detour signage around that area is tiny and confusing, forcing virtually all drivers to make the illegal left at that intersection.

* There's virtually no signage around the K St service road over Washington Circle (when should I get on it, and how do I get off of it?)

by schmod on Mar 15, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

@ charlie, newspaper bags are exempt and that's what you see littering the street most often...hmm, I wonder how we could reduce litter from the disposable plastic bags on newspapers...

by Bianchi on Mar 15, 2010 12:02 pm • linkreport

I can't tell you how much I appreciated MD's signage once I left for Portland last year. Horrible! Ramps are given little advance warning until literally AFTER the turnoff. Highway exits that tell you vague destinations instead of telling you the STREET the exit leads to. Street signs are not reflective and impossible to see at night, not to mention ONE-SIDED in downtown and Pearl District (the side facing the intersection). It is impossible for someone unfamiliar with the area to get around without having to backtrack because of awful signage.

by Reza on Mar 15, 2010 12:15 pm • linkreport

@charlie If you read the study (PDF link), you can see exactly what they measured, as well as just how much of the watershed is in DC.

I'm not sure why you're claiming we can't argue legislative intent. I quoted the guy who sponsored the bill and the guy who signed it into law explaining exactly what the purpose is. What is left to argue?

by jcm on Mar 15, 2010 1:13 pm • linkreport

Re: seperate parking laws for coucil members

I was reading a presidential history book. In the section on President Grant it mentioned how he really liked to tool around fast on horseback, or even sometimes in a carriage. One time he was zooming around the capital when he was stopped by a policeman. Once the policeman recognized him he was going to let him go but President Grant insisted, "No, do your duty" and so his carriage was confiscated and he walked back to the White House. That's playing by the rules I suppose.

by Scott KC on Mar 15, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: The bag fee tax is a passionate issue, and usually when people get passionate they don't have any facts to use.

This either means that you're admitting that you've lost the argument because your opponent knows more and has better arguments than you, or, that you are so passionate that you don't have any facts to use.

by Jasper on Mar 15, 2010 2:45 pm • linkreport

@Scott KC: Hard to make people sit still long enough for red light cameras back then, I suppose. Hold on while I recock the shutter, set the aperture, focus on the ground glass, insert the film holder . . .

You'll get your ticket by daguerrotype in a few months.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 15, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

FYI on the Council exemption from parking citations:

This was something that Carol Schwartz pushed, and from my recollection it began as an attempt to end the exemption that Congress voted itself prior to Home Rule from parking citations incurred during official business. Congress was having none of it, of course, and told Schwartz not to waste her time attacking a provision that was so critical to the smooth functioning of the legislature. Schwartz tacked the Council onto the Congressional exemption instead, figuring what was good for the goose was good for the gander.

The exemption should only apply to "official" business, although Kwame Brown's recent ticket may mark the first time anyone covered by the exemption has ever publicly conceded that not every single thing they do constitutes official business. Councilmembers understandably get more flak for abusing this provision, because as a rule members of Congress try to avoid visiting any part of the city where they're not receiving large campaign contributions, but like a lot of bad laws afflicting the city the original genesis lies with Congress.

by cminus on Mar 15, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

@jaspar; the argument you're trying to make is of the formula "if you don't have the law, argue the facts; if you don't have the facts argue the law". The reality is the bag fee tax is a minor issue, and it is a done deal. I just get amused when advocates for it mislead the public on what it is for, and then don't admit that it painful enough for enough DC consumers that bag use is dropping. Little gestures like this take away from more serious environmental fees -- such as a bottle deposit or tax on gasoline.

@bianici; you will never get a bag tax on newspaper bags because the companies that run them are all called the Washington Post and Washington Examiner.

@JCM; if you're looking at legislative intent, you don't look at what Fenty is saying when he signs the bill -- he is not a legislator. Can you look at what council is issuing as press releases? Look to the language? Sure. That is a huge exercise and you'll just find at the bottom of the hole a mirror looking back at you.

In terms of the study you quoted, I'd suggest you look at a bigger map of the Rivershed -- and not just the river shed in DC.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anacostiamap.png

Is it unfair that DC has to clean up Maryland's mess. Yes. Taxing DC consumers, however, isn't going to stop those bags from coming in from Maryland.

by charlie on Mar 15, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

charlie,

Obviously, you're not listening to what Jasper, David, JCM and others are saying but let's see if this gets through.

The stated reason why the bag tax was passed was for cleaning up litter on the Anacostia, of which up 47% in the tributaries (such as Watts Branch, in DC not MD) is plastic bags. Here is Tommy Wells quote from his press release (http://www.tommywells.org/content/view/696/2/):

"This landmark law brings the District of Columbia to the forefront addressing pollution caused by disposable bags and takes much needed action to clean the Anacostia River"

Wells, and his chief of staff Charles Allen have been repeatedly on the record before, during, and after the bill that if the bill brought in zero dollars they would consider it a success.

I don't know if Wells and Allen are meeting late at night in a secret ceremony in hooded robes to plot out a sinister ulterior motive for the bag bill, but the stated reason was and is to reduce the consumption of plastic bags.

What do you think the legislative intent was? Do you have any quotes to back it up?

I'd be great if MD takes responsibility for their portion as well, but that doesn't relieve DC of its job.

by TimK on Mar 15, 2010 4:12 pm • linkreport

@ schmod

You forgot 2 one-way streets that intersect each other; I was somewhere downtown and we almost had an accident because both sides of the street have signs that point the other way as being one way and noticed one before the other.

Streets are designed not for the shortest route possible actually this is for sidewalks & paths also.

There are street detours that allow no way for the pedestrian walking to use them.

Some blocks are less than 50 feet long they should never have been built.

Signs contradicting other signs; this is all over the area.

Width of streets/sidewalks.

To many signs on one pole.

Diagonal signs at intersections where there is no road thats diagonal; so you can not tell which street the sign is for.

by kk on Mar 15, 2010 4:27 pm • linkreport

Was it last summer, or the summer before, when Vincent Gray went off on a US Park Police officer who tried to ticket his car...while he was playing in a softball game!

Official business indeed!

by urbaner on Mar 15, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

I loved Harry Thomas' anger about being ticketed for repeatedly parking illegally. It shows his arrogance and disregard for the law's applicability to a select few.

And I love his conspiracy theory that it's really the Mayor that's issuing him tickets. Apparently the Mayor has powerful mind control machines that force Thomas to park illegally. Then again, given Thomas' intellect, it really wouldn't need to be that powerful a machine. Two AAA batteries would probably power it up sufficiently.

by Fritz on Mar 15, 2010 5:21 pm • linkreport

@ charlie, TimK: Just to clarify, I was not arguing either way on the bag tax. I was just amused that charlie claimed he could not argue with David because David was so passionate that he might not have his facts straight. To me, that's a backwards way of admitting defeat. You can't have if both ways. either David knows what he's talking about and has his facts straight, or he doesn't know what he's talking about. If charie was admitting he did not know what he was talking about, then why did he argue at all? If David did not have his facts straight, then why not expose him?

I have given me opinion on the bag fee before. It's a silly means to an good cause. Yes, a lot of the water comes from MD, but you gotta start somewhere. And MD is actually looking at it now. So goal achieved.

In the Netherlands, they have reduced bag usage enormously just by making store clerks ask clients if they need a bag. Most people find that they do for smaller items.

Supermarkets never gave free bags. The Dutch are too cheap for that. Most Dutch folks have always had their own bags. My grandmother had them, my mom does, and I did when I lived there. Better bags than I can find here, I might add.

Supermarkets have increased the quality of the bags they sell, so they can be re-used more often, and now they cost a symbolic euro a piece.

The Netherlands has some of the highest recycle fees on bottles (€0.25 per soda bottle, €0.10 per beer bottle). All soda and beer bottles are returned, cleaned and refilled. Beer comes in plastic crates that get recycled as well (€1.50 per crate on top of the bottle fees). One of the reasons why Grolsch has tried a few times to get rid of its famous flip-top bottles is because they are so hard to clean.

It caused quite some stir when other EU countries complained that the Dutch recycled bottles were used to protect the local market. The system has been in place forever as far as I know. It has always surprised me that other countries haven't copied the system. Perhaps there are hidden disadvantages that I am unaware of.

by Jasper on Mar 16, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

I toured a dutch rebottling plant (Brouwerij de Koninck) in Antwerpen. Really cool operation. Dirty bottles were loaded on conveyor by robots, washed and steamed for sanitation, then filled, capped, labeled and loaded into the reusable boxes by robots. The line processed about a case per second, if I remember correctly, and the processing time was about two minutes.

It helps that the dutch beer bottle is standardized. Recycling glass by melting and reforming is probably little better than making new glass. Washing and relabeling bottles is probably dirt cheap compared to making new bottles.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 16, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

Note: Touring a brewery when you have a hangover is not recommended.
Note: Trying to keep up with the Dutch in drinking is not recommended without training.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 16, 2010 11:17 am • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins: Hoho, Antwerpen is in Belgium. de Koninck is a bad version of Palm (now finally available in your favorite DC (but not VA) Wholefoods. The Belgians decided to leave us in 1830. They still haven't figured out who they are and more importantly, what they want to speak. They do have a very similar recycling system though. Antwerpen is a cool place (except that 1/3 of the place votes for the racist Vlaams Belang). Just across the border of where my parents live.

Beer bottles are standardized, but soda bottles are nicely sorted by brand.

I am not sure about the whole cost structure of the system. Obviously, it is very expensive to get the whole thing started. Wiki tells me it's a remnant of milkmen wanting their glass milk bottles back. By now, it's a given.

When they went from glass to PET bottles, there was some talk of taking the system down. The recyclable bottles are way thicker than "regular" bottles as found everywhere else. Bottlers aren't very happy with it. It is a lot of work and that takes time. On the other hand, sorting bottles is done by supermarket personnel on minimum wage and the crates go back on delivery trucks, so it's not a massive cost.

In a country full of cheapies like Holland, the system does work.

by Jasper on Mar 16, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport

One-way streets are *horribly* marked. Some aren't marked at all. Some 2-way streets aren't wide enough for bidirectional traffic. I got clipped by a fire truck in Columbia heights a few weeks ago. Terrifying.

I can always tell someone driving in from the suburbs: they seem incapable of navigating a street that's any less than three car widths. City drivers have a similar problem parking in giant surface lots where you need to pull in nose-first.

(My apologies if you're a DC resident with poor driving skills.)

by oboe on Mar 16, 2010 11:57 am • linkreport

@Jasper: My bad, it was on a bike tour that went from Brussels to Amsterdam. I forgot where along the tour we crossed the border. Obviously it was north of Antwerpen. We also visited Ramsdonk, Willemstad, Vianen, 'S Hertogenbosch (sp?) and Amsterdam. Probably some other towns too but I can't remember them right now.

Most of the ride was along barely-used country roads as well as paths that went along the dijks.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 16, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

@ MP: Kudos to you. You do not need to apologize. You would barely have noticed the border. It hasn't been there since the 60s. The early EEC was modeled after the internal borderless market in the Benelux. And if you came through Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog, then there is no excuse you're confused.

I have biked a lot but never from Brussel to Amsterdam. That's kinda far. Lotsa breweries along the route though ;-) Heineken has one in Den Bosch. Dommelsch is in Eindhoven, and if you came by Breda you could have visited the Oranjeboom brewery. And just to the east of Brussels is the Leuven which has Inbev HQ. Inbev being the guys that now own Budweiser. But those all are crap beers. The true goodness is in all the tiny breweries.

We're getting very off-topic here.

by Jasper on Mar 16, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

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