Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Rails and money


This will be the end of the streetcar line. Photo by whiteknuckled.
Speak for streetcars: Contact the DC Council to ask them to support streetcar funding. Phil Mendelson is opposing the H/Benning line because it "has no beginning and no end" even though it will if it gets money. (Streetcars 4 DC)

Metro money matters: WMATA will share the cost of new rail cars with the Dulles Rail project (Examiner) ... the Post summarizes the proposed MetroAccess cuts.

Indifferent employees: A passenger brought an abandoned bag to Metro employees, who were indifferent ... And at the end of her column, Petula Dvorak relates a story from a few years ago when employees brushed off a report of a person not moving and still on a train at the end of its run. (Post)

Why do people take transit?: Windsor, Ontario came up with a list (Green Life, Erik W) ... Or maybe it has to do with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. (Human Transit)

If it's AAA, it leads: Another WTOP story prominently features what AAA thinks about the redesign of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. However, Adam Tuss does ask WABA what they think, as well.

Not enough government in Maryland?: Do Montgomery and Prince George's counties get short shrift from the GSA in leasing federal office space? Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) thinks so. GSA says there's just less available space in Prince George's, but they lease much of it anyway. There certainly are plenty of underutilized Metro stations ripe for some federal facilities. (Gazette)

Flip him the smiley face: A new car toy allows a driver to display an emoticon or a little message (like "Sorry" or a middle finger) to the driver behind. Good idea or horrible? It could allow better communication than an ambiguous honk, but could also create another way to be distracted. (ThinkGeek.com, Dave Murphy)

And...: The District can't help you if your neighbor is ruining your party wall (Housing Complex) ... The Takoma Theatre is preserved (Housing Complex) ... A storage unit on H Street destroyed many of a person's belongings and didn't tell them (Frozen Tropics) ... What was the LeDroit Park Civic Association talking about in 1881? (Left for LeDroit)

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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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Phil Mendelson is opposing the H/Benning line because it "has no beginning and no end" even though it will if it gets money.

Wait, the way I understood the streetcar timeline, the initial plan to put a functioning line on Minnesota Ave, right? Then the next phase was H Street. But there was a massive upheaval planned for H Street, where the road was basically going to be stripped to the bed, and completely rebuilt.

Now someone actually showed some foresight (remarkably rare anywhere, but especially in this town) to put in some tracks while the street was being gutted and redone. Just thinking about this for two seconds, you realize there are going to be massive cost savings from putting the rails in now--even if it's another decade or two before streetcars are a reality--because otherwise, the whole streetscape would have to be torn up and rebuilt when the details were finalized. Wow! Someone was actually looking past their nose.

So in response, what do we get? Second-guessers talking about how, "The tracks are almost done, and they don't even know how they're going to power the streetcars, or where they're going to turn around!"

Well pardon my language, but...so the f*ck what? Are these rails going to "go bad" in the ground? Pass their expiration date?

Hell, even if the streetcars never come (which seems extremely unlikely, given the zeitgeist, and the momentum of the project) putting in the rails will have been a smart gamble. Even if streetcars never come to H Street, we'll have played the odds and lost.

Anyone care to hazard a guess at how much it cost to put rails on H Street over and above what it would have cost to simply complete the streetscape? What it would have cost to pay to tear everything up again in five years, adding in the economic impact on all the H Street businesses?

by oboe on May 25, 2010 9:32 am • linkreport

@ Car toy: Oh how often have I wished for that thing..... But it's a terrible idea, because it's yet another device that will caused distracted driving.

Plus, do we really need yet another way to express ourselves? Isn't speech, clothing, calling, texting, blogging, facebooking, and tweeting enough?

This thing will lead to accidents where someone drove off the road because he was texting a tweet about how he flipped someone else of using his car toy. Perhaps the thing needs an option to be tweeted immediately every time you use it.

by Jasper on May 25, 2010 9:45 am • linkreport

Mendo is opposing streetcars at this point because he's just doing the bidding of the Committee of 100. Their "uncluttered vistas" are more important than the quality of life of fellow Washingtonians. It's actually his doublespeak and support of NIMBY groups that "has no beginning and no end."

Just another reason why he's gotta go.

by Not fooled by Mendo on May 25, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

I once reported an unattended cooler at Bethesda to a Metro employee, who basically scolded me for bothering him. So I moved down the platform (away from the suspicious package) and boarded the first train that came.

I've never again reported a suspicious anything on Metro. I'd really hate to cause a Metro employee to do something strenuous, like call the transit police.

by Matt Johnson on May 25, 2010 10:03 am • linkreport

I often had pondered something to flash an apology for when I did something on the road that was my fault. I figure now if some guy is going to think I'm an a-hole then so be it. I think its a bad idea if it lets you signal a middle finger or something. That's just asking for trouble. Just do it yourself if you're that inclined to.

by Canaan on May 25, 2010 10:28 am • linkreport

I also have in the past wished for a flash message. But it would be a terrible, terrible idea. Besides being distracting, it seems like it's made to cause road rage.

by Reid on May 25, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

@Matt: Kick it onto the tracks? Will that make them pay attention?

by Michael Perkins on May 25, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport

Part of Mendo's opposition is also related to some $22M in contracts having been awarded for the H Street streetcar line, and none of them having been submitted to Council approval, as required by law.

As for the concept that even if streetcars never arrive, putting in the tracks was a smart use of several tens of millions of dollars....well, hard to know how to react to that, other than I hope that's not the general logic of other city planners.

Has anyone measured the streetcars the city purchased to make sure they actually fit on the streetcar tracks? Given DDOT's problems with measuring the Penn Ave bike lanes, it's really not a silly question.

by Fritz on May 25, 2010 12:19 pm • linkreport

@Fritz

Ever hear of standard gauge?

by Matthias on May 25, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

@Matthias,

Considering DDOT spent ~$1 million dollars installing Bike Lanes that are now indefinetly delayed on PA Avenue without sending some guy out there with a measuing tape first, the question isn't that far off base.

And narrow gauge is used pretty extensively in Europe for street cars/trams, including the Czech Republic where we got our streetcars.

DDOT has been sort of a running joke the last few years. It's a pretty relevant question.

by nookie on May 25, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

Talked to Scott Kubly (DDOT), who confirmed that the tracks and cars are Standard Gauge.

by Michael Perkins on May 25, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

Well, that's a relief!

At least the streetcars can go on the tracks.

We don't know where they will start or end or how they will be powered or how they will be paid for, but at least they will fit on the tracks!

by Fritz on May 25, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

We know all of those things: where they will start and end (Oklahoma Ave and Union Station, for the first segment); how they will be powered (overhead wires on H Street, hybrid elsewhere, once the DC Council overturns the overhead wire law; and how they will be paid for (capital money that isn't going to WMATA because of the FTA's slowness, plus other stuff cobbled together).

by David Alpert on May 25, 2010 2:10 pm • linkreport

Speaking of destroyed vistas in DC, I recently noticed that the beginning of Canal Rd has half overhanging street lights. Oh, the horror! I can't see the clouds anymore. Aaahahh!!!


View Larger Map

by Jasper on May 25, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

"once the DC Council overturns the overhead wire law"...I still don't see why it has to be done away with altogether.

If this is such a priority project, why does the DC Council have to dismiss the law altogether? Couldn't they just get an exemption just for streetcars? Or, if they are serious about implementing truly wireless technology in the future, why not build in a 10-year expiration of the exemption?

Why does the ENTIRETY of GOOD DEVELOPMENT POLICY have to be thrown out the window in the name of rushed transit improvement?

I'm surprised that on a site of forward-thinking developers that there is such a blatant LACK of foresight or are willing to be blinded by shiny newness without anticipating future collateral damage. I'm really really disappointed.

by SDJ on May 25, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

Does the C100 object to these freeway signs overhead?


View Larger Map

by Steve S on May 25, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

@David:

So it will end at Union Station if DDOT can figure out the whole Hopscotch Bridge thing, right?

And it will be powered by overhead lines if the DC Council actually has the authority to amend the relevant congressional statute, right?

And will the capital money be used for the ongoing operating and maintenance costs, especially if DDOT wants to offer free rides for portions of the line?

And what of Mendo's complaints that DDOT has simply ignored DC law about Council approval of contracts over $1M?

by Fritz on May 25, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

@Steve S Does the C100 object to these freeway signs overhead?

Of course it does. And your point?

You do realize that it was the Committee of 100 that organized (and paid for) the opposition to the many miles of interstate highway that were supposed to be constructed in DC? One 'inner beltway' would have replaced Florida Avenue by running along where T Street (still) stands today ... with the feeder and exit 'ramps' being 15th and 17th Streets that were made one way (and 15th St widened) for the sole purpose of bringing suburban commuters into and out of DC. And the Three Sisters Bridge would have been large large interstate bridge dwarfing the TR Bridge (I-66) and connecting another inner beltway that would have replaced (I think) Constitution Ave. among other places. Not to mention the I-95 leg north of the Potomac (which would have connected to the I-95 leg south of the Potomac which in the 90s got renamed I-395 because their was no chance that it would ever be continued through DC to reach the Beltway ... and the eastern half of I-495 got renamed I-95 as a consolation to those who insisted on an I-95 that stretched from Maine to Florida ... just not 'through' DC.)

What maybe you truely don't understand is that you're being 'played' as a patsy by DDOT and other agencies who are more than happy to be able to point to you and say 'see we're doing what the people want', when what they're really doing is what they want. Re-read what Fritz (and others) so adequately expressed above. You're being played.

by Lance on May 25, 2010 10:06 pm • linkreport

@Fritz:

As for the concept that even if streetcars never arrive, putting in the tracks was a smart use of several tens of millions of dollars....well, hard to know how to react to that, other than I hope that's not the general logic of other city planners.

Wait, are you quoting "several tens of millions of dollars" for the entire project, or just the cost of adding rails to the massive project underway? I'm curious where you're getting your numbers, but since you've obviously got access to them, I'll ask you, what was the cost of tearing everything out and re-installing the tracks in 2-3 years going to be?

by oboe on May 25, 2010 10:12 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, Perhaps you've already thought of this ... and perhaps you haven't ... But what happens when DDOT gets told by the Feds that they can only have the streetcar if it is not powered by overhead wires ... and the obvious choice becomes ... well, to dig out this rails and install a below ground system of rails/power supply? Would you agree then that the incremental cost of adding rails to the existing road project was wasted money? And that the extra money it'll cost to tear out existing rail is also more 'money down the drain'?

by Lance on May 25, 2010 10:55 pm • linkreport

@ Oboe, Bottom line is that lack of planning costs money in the end. It's not efficient. It might work in private industry endevours where you can just get more investors to invest while you play around with it to find out the 'best' solution. But in government where all this is taxpayer funded, this is not do-able. Taxpayers don't want to see their hard earned dollars going down the drain ... as has happened with the $1M spent on the Penn. Ave. bike lanes that will now need to be re-done. Imagine all the new teachers we could have hired with that million dollars. Or the homes we could have provided the homeless. Or the property tax relief we might have offered our fix income crowd (read: retired) if we hadn't wasted that million dollars on doing something before it was adequately planned (i.e., the Penn. Ave. bike lanes).

by Lance on May 25, 2010 11:00 pm • linkreport

I once reported an unattended cooler at Bethesda to a Metro employee

i can't remember a case of a 'suspicious object' that turned out to be, you know, suspicious. can anyone? don't let the federales turn our country into Israel, or our airports, or...(gulp)...Arizona. if you see that someone forgot their cooler, or their whatever, pick it up and give it to the station agent. if they don't want to take it, set it down next to the agent's booth. if it's as harmless as they think it is, then it'll stay there until someone comes to pick it up. and, of course, it will be harmless, because it's always harmless. if there ever was a case of a non-harmless lunchpail that someone left behind, it would still not account for the incredible harm we're doing to society by using this scaremongering tactic to keep people off of transit. we need to try to be rational when doing our everyday risk analysis.

as for streetcars, laying tracks even without the train cars is a great idea. it's part of the patented and proven and copyright-protected and trademarked Double Whammy strategy -- and that means putting down tracks as quickly as GM tore them up. Whatever GM did, we have to do the exact opposite. pretty sure Charlotte did the same for parts of their Lynx light rail line (too lazy to look up an article).

by Peter Smith on May 26, 2010 4:19 am • linkreport

@peter smith: Uh, besides that suv in times square that was smoking and contained a bomb, you mean?

by Michael Perkins on May 26, 2010 5:56 am • linkreport

@ Lance: And your point? ... You do realize that it was the Committee of 100 that organized (and paid for) the opposition to the many miles of interstate highway that were supposed to be constructed in DC?

The point is that C100 has been largely ineffective in reaching its goals. Let's see:

* I-66: Goes straight into DC, destroying half of Foggy Bottom.
* I-395: Goes straight into DC, destroying most of SW and part of NW.
* I-295/DC-295: Straight through Eastern DC.
* I-495/WW bridge: Part of the drawbridge is DC's.
* SW/SE-Freeway/I-695 (unsigned): Big nasty highway.
* GW parkway: Straight through the (unmarked) DC part of the Arlington Cemetery.
* US-50/NY Ave/I-595 (unsigned): Looks like a highway to me.
* Whitehurst freeway: The one time I agree that something has destroyed views in DC.
* GW parkway: Straight through the DC part of the Arlington Cemetery.
* Clara Barton parkway: Hoppa many more miles of freeway in the District.

Factually, I-95 through DC has been built. It's just never been named and signed I-95. And annoyingly, depending on which route you care about, it's missing a stretch from the end of I-395 to the beginning of I-595 (NY Ave/US-50) or the connection from I-395N to I/DC-295N.

So, in conclusion. C100 has not accomplished a whole lot on the front of stopping highways. Apparently, one of the things they pride themselves on. [I am unsure of is whether I should be happy or unhappy about this, as I usually disagree with the C100.]

All in all, there is no reason for the existence of C100. It's an ineffective, undemocratic, introspective and paternalistic organization of NO.

by Jasper on May 26, 2010 9:16 am • linkreport

@Lance,

But what happens when DDOT gets told by the Feds that they can only have the streetcar if it is not powered by overhead wires ... and the obvious choice becomes ... well, to dig out this rails and install a below ground system of rails/power supply? Would you agree then that the incremental cost of adding rails to the existing road project was wasted money? And that the extra money it'll cost to tear out existing rail is also more 'money down the drain'?

I don't know, because I don't know a) the cost of ripping out a newly constructed H Street corridor to lay rails and underground power; b) the cost of adding rail to the ongoing streetscaping project minus the cost of the total streetscaping project; c) the cost to retrofit subterranean power to an existing set of streetcar rails; and d) the odds that, even if the wire-ban within the L'Enfant city were to be upheld, we'd be forced into a below-ground system as opposed to a hybrid/battery assist.

Do you?

Anyway, this idea that government should be *less* like private industry in intelligently hedging against forseeable risks seems to run counter to a lot of good-government thinking over the last several decades. While the Penn Ave decision was pretty obviously a cock-up, it didn't come about because DDOT wanted to take advantage of cost-savings by piggybacking on an existing project. There wasn't anything to be gained by expediting bike lanes on Penn Ave; in the case of laying rail on H Street, there clearly is. The two situations are only superficially comparable.

Just to reiterate: if my local government wants to play, say, 80% (or 70%, or 60%) odds to parlay a $1 million dollar expense into $10 million dollars savings, then, Hell yes, I want them to do that. As often as such situations present themselves, actually.

Now you may argue that the odds that the eventual streetcar deployed on H Street are much, much lower than that. I haven't seen any evidence to that effect, but that's a different argument...

by oboe on May 26, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

@peter smith: Uh, besides that suv in times square that was smoking and contained a bomb, you mean?

the suv _was_ suspicious, in part because it was, you know, smoking. the next time you see an abandoned lunchpail with a smoking ham sandwich, you have my permission to investigate.

second, the suv did not contain a bomb -- it contained a whole bunch of non-explosive fertilizer, and could never have detonated. rick factor: zero.

this is simple rational risk analysis we're talking about -- we can't completely eliminate risk, but we can manage it.

a WSJ has restated the obvious:

It might be unrealistic to expect the average citizen to have a nuanced grasp of statistically based risk analysis, but there is nothing nuanced about two basic facts:

(1) America is a country of 310 million people, in which thousands of horrible things happen every single day; and

(2) The chances that one of those horrible things will be that you're subjected to a terrorist attack can, for all practical purposes, be calculated as zero.

The entire article is worth a read -- there are some great quotes -- and even some car stuff:

Or consider traffic accidents. All sorts of measures could be taken to reduce the current rate of automotive carnage from 120 fatalities a day—from lowering speed limits, to requiring mechanisms that make it impossible to start a car while drunk, to even more restrictive measures. Some of these measures may well be worth taking. But the point is that at present we seem to consider 43,000 traffic deaths per year an acceptable cost to pay for driving big fast cars.

we need to differentiate between authorities/officials who have a keen interest in keeping us scared (e.g. the entire Pentagon budget depends on the virtually nonexistent 'risk of terrorism'), and our best interests as citizens. what all those people in suits and uniforms say is one thing -- it's up to us as citizens to decide if we want to fall into their trap. redirecting just 1% of the Pentagon budget could build new and improved transit service all over the US. i'm sure similar comparisons could be made for the 'guns vs. butter' argument in every region of the US, too -- including Greater Greater Washington. point being, there are real consequences to buying into the insecurity game.

by Peter Smith on May 26, 2010 1:29 pm • linkreport

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