The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Make the point

Image from the New York Times.
The graph that moves backward: The NYT plots VMT against gas prices from 1956 to today. Unlike most graphs that space points in time evenly across an axis, this graph starts to "move backward" in recent years as VMT has declined.

Sarles should push harder, ride buses: Jim Graham, Chris Zimmerman, and others wonder if Sarles is being too deferential, such as revising the capital budget downward at Maryland's request without raising alarms. I noted that riders are hoping Sarles will really dig into some tough problems instead of just keeping the seat warm. (Post) ... Sarles regularly rides Metrorail, but has not yet ridden the bus or tried MetroAccess. (Examiner)

MA's bicycle Republican: A Republican running for state rep in Massachusetts touts how he uses his bicycle in a new ad that riffs off Senator Scott Brown's ad about driving around the state in his old truck. If only more Republicans who weren't in Massachusetts or DC praised rather than mocked bicycles. (Streetsblog Capitol Hill)

Construction pushes peds into street: A construction site in Downtown Silver Spring completely blocks off the sidewalk, and construction vehicles are pushing pedestrians even farther into busy Fenton Street. (Montgomery Sidewalks via JUTP)

War on grand staircases: The latest victim of "security theater" is visitors' experience entering the Supreme Court; the grand front entrance will be closed and visitors forced to enter in a side entrance. People can still exit in the front. Justices Breyer and Ginsburg wrote a "dissent" over the plan. (LA Times, Scotusblog) ... Update: The Post's Philip Kennicott eloquently criticized the decision. (Eric F.)

Sun rising on East Campus: The University of Maryland issued an RFP to start its ambitious East Campus development. This would be a great transit-oriented development, as long as University administration allows good transit to it. (Rethink College Park, Cavan) ... Speaking of UMD transit, the SGA is holding a student forum on the University's plans today at 4.

Iconic bus map?: Dara Lind argues that we need a more iconic bus map, like the rail map, possibly showing a high-frequency subset of bus routes. Such a map would put buses more firmly into riders' and visitors' minds. (Attackerman)

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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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It really is a shame that for security reasons our free access to our Nation's government, a hallmark of our way of life as Americans, is slowly being taken away. Might as well add "Equal Justice For All...After Security Check"

by Chris Boyle on May 4, 2010 9:19 am • linkreport

The Post ran an excellent essay criticizing the Court for shutting its front door:

"By a thousand reflexive cuts, architecture loses its power to mean anything. The loss to the citizens of the United States is enormous. We are becoming a nation of moles, timorous creatures who scurry through side and subterranean entrances. Soon, we will lose our basic architectural literacy. The emotional experience of entering a grand space has been reduced to a single feeling: impatience in the august presence of the magnetometer."

by Eric F. on May 4, 2010 9:31 am • linkreport

Eric: Good catch. I've added that into the link.

by David Alpert on May 4, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

It really is a shame that for security reasons our free access to our Nation's government, a hallmark of our way of life as Americans, is slowly being taken away

The terrorists have won.

by ah on May 4, 2010 9:35 am • linkreport

Interesting VMT vs. gas prices graphic.

Regarding the call for a "high frequency bus" map, here's an example from Metro Transit (Twin Cities area), in both HTML and PDF format. They define high-frequency as those routes where service is at least every 15 minutes (and often better) between 6am-7pm weekdays and 9am-6pm on Saturday, and includes the Hiawatha LRT line.

by Froggie on May 4, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

As mentioned on firedoglake, I'm working on code to filter bus routes by frequency (i.e., you tell it how many buses per hour you want, for any hour of the day), so you can define what you want and it will spit out a list of routes meeting your criteria.

It's complicated but the end product should be a KML file that can be displayed in Google Maps or Google Earth. (or handed over to @AJFroggie for publishing via GIS to PDF).

by Michael Perkins on May 4, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

Wow. The design of the NYT chart blows my mind. I only clicked on it because I had no idea what VMT stood for.

by aaa on May 4, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport

Kennicott's critique is one of the best things he's ever written, and one of the best attacks on security nihilism I've read.

by Neil Flanagan on May 4, 2010 9:57 am • linkreport

The NYT VMT chart really shows how much auto travel has been entrenched into our way of life. The fact that the VMT per capita has risen so much is amazing. We're making more trips in total, we've been making more of them by car (over the last 50 years), those trips have gotten longer as we've spread out and decentralized.

On the one hand, it's refreshing to see that price does have an impact. On the other, that chart shows just how entrenched our auto-orientation is. It's going to take a long time to ween ourselves off that kind of dependence.

by Alex B. on May 4, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

The Supreme Court decision is similar to one made by the National Archies years ago. Their entrance on Const Ave, for the exhibit space, is also closed, forcing guests to use side entrances below the steps. Ugh!

Then there's the Old Post Office - their magificent entrance on Penn Ave used to use all three sets of doors - now tourists have to figure out which door is unlocked, leading to an annoying metal detector.

Please, can we start getting rid of all these scanners? I am sick of it, and I doubt they make us much safer.

by Michael on May 4, 2010 10:08 am • linkreport

@ Michael Perkins - can you go into more detail about the bus project you're working on?

by Shipsa01 on May 4, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

Obviously the jurisprudence of the court will now change.

by MPC on May 4, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

Alex B: agree in general, but there's other factors to consider as well. For example, the number of women in the workforce today as compared to 40 years ago. Another example that I've observed anecdotally over the past 20 years: the number of parents who drive their kids to school vice having them take the bus (or bike/walk) appears much higher now than it used to be.

Ships: he's writing scripts to better parse information from the GTFS data (General Transit Feed Specification, the data that makes Google Transit work).

by Froggie on May 4, 2010 10:38 am • linkreport

I completely agree that we need a better Metrobus map and that such a map would lead to higher Metrobus ridership. But to claim that Metrobus is more reliable than Metrorail, as the post at firedoglake does, is beyond ridiculous. In addition, the post implies that unfamiliarity with routes is the main reason many people do not take Metrobus. It is a reason, but there are many reasons beyond unfamiliarity with routes that people who take Metrorail do not take Metrobus. For starters, Metrobus is much slower, much more unreliable and much more uncomfortable than Metrorail.

Take my commute as an example. From my house to downtown, I can take the D6 bus or any of the 30 buses that run on PA Ave, including the "express" 39 bus. Or, walking the same distance, I can go to either the Stadium-Armory or Potomac Avenue Metro Stations. 99.9 percent of the time, I choose the latter option. Not because I am unfamiliar with the bus system -- I know the Metrobus well. And not because I am racist. It is because even at its worst, Metrorail gets me downtown to work much more quickly, reliably and comfortably than any bus ever will.

Buses have a place -- I take the B2 bus down to H Street NE and back all the time (though even for that trip I prefer my bike) and I often take the 42,50's, S's or the Circulator from downtown to desinations north and west. However, a recent experience of mine says it all about Metrobus: I tried to take the bus home from Union Station, figuring it made more sense than backtracking to Metro Center and transferring. Mind you, this is a trip that gives me two Metrobus routes to choose from: the D6 and the 96. After waiting 30 minutes with a crowd whose demeanor told me this lack of service was a common experience, I gave up and walked 18 blocks. I think that experience says a lot about why many people do not take Metrobus. In my 16 years of regularly riding Metrorial, I have yet to have a similar experience on Metrorail but have had many such experiences with Metrobus.......

by rg on May 4, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

@Froggie One of the reasons kids get driven more to school now compared to 40 years ago is because of many local zoning regs that require schools, when they're new/renovated/rebuilt/replaced to be put on the edges of communities in card-dependent forms. This (car dependent forms) also has contributed to the increase in driving for trips <1 mi.

I think the loss of trolleys and trains in general has contributed to increases in VMT too but that's speculation. The zoning/built forms affecting schools and short trips I'm certain of.

by Bianchi on May 4, 2010 11:11 am • linkreport

"I think that experience says a lot about why many people do not take Metrobus. In my 16 years of regularly riding Metrorial, I have yet to have a similar experience on Metrorail but have had many such experiences with Metrobus......."

Yeah. Half the time this isn't even due to traffic disruptions, but rather rank incompetence from the drivers. On my regular commute, a particular bus that used to be reliable began to arrive 10-15 minutes late every single day. When the driver of that bus was rotated off the route after a couple of months, it magically began to arrive on time again!

NextBus for a short time made it possible to at least tell when delays were happening, but now driver use of NextBus is below 50%, making it useless.

It can't be low wages that cause this behavior, since Metrobus operators are amply compensated given the low-skill nature of their position. The cause of this poor-quality service is clear: the corporate culture at Metro (especially the bus division) is complete shit, with low standards and zero accountability among the rank and file.

by Phil on May 4, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

@Shipsa01: You're welcome to browse and download the latest code I've posted (I do a git push approximately daily when I get home) at

Features list:
Loads GTFS data in from distributed text files into Route, Stop, Trip and Pattern objects (this is kinda hard because there's a lot of variability in the data such as agencies being allowed to leave off arrival times for non-timepoint stops, and being allowed to include present but blank fields).

Writes GTFS data to databases (slowly!)

If you're good at Perl or MySql, Perl-GTFS is for you. Although I wrote the code in mostly database-agnostic DBI, so it should work with some other databases (like DBD::CSV).

I wrote the parser to be fully compliant with GTFS, and I've tested it with SFMTA, BART, Arlington and WMATA feeds, so if it doesn't work, let me know.

by Michael Perkins on May 4, 2010 11:24 am • linkreport

Bianchi: even in long-standing school districts where the schools have stayed in the same location for years, I've noticed this. Not to say that what you posted isn't happening. But my comments/observations were not based on your observation.

by Froggie on May 4, 2010 12:22 pm • linkreport

@ ah: The terrorists have won.

Right on dude. Terrorists have managed to change our lifestyle. This does not get said enough. So let me repeat that:

The terrorists have won.

by Jasper on May 4, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

It strikes me as a bit ironic that the people who just struck down our gun laws are afraid to let us walk into the front door, because we might have a gun.

by jcm on May 4, 2010 12:59 pm • linkreport

@ Froggie-not my observation. Studies on "why" the decline in walking/biking to school turned up zoning that makes schools unwalkable/unbikeable as a major contributor. Perhaps perception of road safety (other then irrational fear of kidnapping) contributed to the decline in schools that didn't get rplaced in a new location.

by Bianchi on May 4, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

@jcm, ironic indeed. Although it was probably a security chief who made the supreme cout decision and not the justices.

by Bianchi on May 4, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

Sarles got the job, and yet he has never taken a bus!?

Buses suck, and in some cities are generally just for poorer people. That probably has something to do with crappier service persisting on them. Fifteeen minute waits for trains are nothing compared to a bus that simply does not show up in a neighborhood far away from a Metro stop.

I have a question regarding the NextBus service, I don't understand the phenomenon of drivers not turning on their GPS (what lots of people tell me happens). Why is it not always on/ on as a default? This would make too much sense.
God forbid we use this information to make decisions regarding walking or continuing to wait for the bus.

Other barriers to taking the bus- other than non existent buses and general un reliability- are street traffic, uncomfortability (personally, I don't care, but I know some people ALWAYS have to have a seat), lack of knowledge of routes or schedules, etc...and heck, I bet you that there are people out there who simply won't take a bus because there are poor people on it.

I'm guessing that Sarles does not take the bus because he does not want to arrive at work late, sweaty from a crowded bus, and tired from standing up all the way. It's also probably a good thing that he is not particularly recognizable, because he might also have to endure a route full of people complaining about the horrible bus service.

by ed on May 4, 2010 1:10 pm • linkreport

"I have a question regarding the NextBus service, I don't understand the phenomenon of drivers not turning on their GPS (what lots of people tell me happens). Why is it not always on/ on as a default? This would make too much sense."

It is always on, but the operator has to input their route for NextBus to track the bus. They have to do this every time they turn around at the end of the route (which takes about 10 seconds.) Granted, it's easy to forget to do this, but good managers would work to make this process automatic or at least do spot checks to encourage drivers to remember.

by Phil on May 4, 2010 2:21 pm • linkreport

Why is "Downtown Silver Spring" capitalized? The only part of downtown Silver Spring (with a little "d") that is Downtown (with a capital "D") is the project along Ellsworth. That's it. The rest is simply downtown Silver Spring, like downtown DC and downtown Bethesda.

by Eric on May 4, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

I agree with the others who stated the deline in walking/biking to school has to do with zoning and car-centric infrastructure making it unsafe. When I was a freshman in high school I lived less than 2 miles from the new high school but was bused 10-15 miles away. It took another six years for the county to redraw the boundaries.

But I think an overlooked factor has to do with bullying. I hardly ever rode the bus from 8th grade on because the environment on the bus was so toxic and it was the path of least resistance for my parents to just drive me than to butt heads with the administration. That and I was so desperate to avoid the bus I was getting rides from my friend's 16-year-old brother until he backed over our mailbox.

by stacey2545 on May 4, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

Does Metro's General Manager not work for the Board? Isn't it his duty to make the best he can of what the Board gives him? To what degree is he allowed to expend Maryland's gift of resources on a lobbying effort to oppose Maryland's policies?

by Turnip on May 4, 2010 7:36 pm • linkreport

The General Manager works for the Board, not for the Chair or any of the jurisdictions in particular. If one jurisdiction desires to cut back on funding something like the capital program, the GM needs to male sire those changes are adequately vetted through the entire Board, not just the Chair or one jurisdiction's delegation. The JCC is a good medium for discussing these issues before it goes to committee and then the full Board.

by Michael Perkins on May 4, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

Maybe they should just add a new "undressing room" (or whatever it is you have to do to get in) in front of the Supreme Court. If they made it a giant glowing blue cube like this it might be kinda cool!

by Michael on May 6, 2010 7:16 pm • linkreport

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