Greater Greater Washington

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Breakfast links: Going up


Photo by Darren Hester on Flickr.
Fare hike and more: DCist summarizes the fare hike, the Examiner digs at the Board's three-hour "lunch" and the Post gets rider reactions plus a sidebar on what else you can buy with $5.45, the maximum fare including peak-of-the-peak charges. Also, the Board approved purchasing new railcars.

The magic of sharing data: Boston has embraced open data, now sharing bus locations in real time as well as schedules. At a recent meeting with software developers, one person built an app just during the lunch break, which soon became a phone app. And a real-time display in a Jamaica Plain ice cream shop is drawing more customers. (Marketplace, Sand Box John)

Metro PD bravery: 5 Metro police officers ran into a burning condo building near the Naylor Road station on April 9th and rescued several residents, including an elderly woman and a woman in a wheelchair. (via PoP)

Nobody uses them because they're not open: An ABC7 report on the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes says they're not getting a lot of cyclists. But they're not open yet! Tom Sherwood is more informed, and better informs. (WashCycle) ... Maybe the WUSA9 reporter was friends with this guy, who joked about fancy Georgetown stores closing because of financial reform, yet chose some that aren't open yet. (via GM)

DC drivers really are ignorant: GMAC surveyed drivers on their knowledge of rules of the road. It turns out many of us wouldn't be able to pass the drivers test today. DC is the second third-worst (behind NJ and just above NY); MD is 42nd 20th and VA is 40th 28th. (For the Portlandophiles: Oregon is 8th 2nd.) (via Streetsblog, Stephen Miller). Update: I originally had the 2008 rankings. Thanks to Steven Yates for the correction.

Rubber sidewalks?: DDOT is using rubber slabs instead of brick or concrete on some sidewalks, including on Rhode Island Avenue around North Capital. Rubber appears to be more durable and growing tree roots don't create tripping hazards as they do on concrete or brick. (WUSA9, Matthias)

Lord Jesus Christ hit in crosswalk: One Northampton, MA driver doesn't even stop for the Lord... or at least a pedestrian whose legal name is "Lord Jesus Christ." (WBZ)

Going without: Montgomery approves a budget with $203 million in cuts ... the Fairfax Planning Commission approved the Alcorn plan for Tysons ... 8 Post reporters tried to go without Internet access, but did anyone wonder if they'd miss stories? Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart weren't part of the experiment, though. (Post)

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David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Finally - proof that drivers in this region do indeed suck at driving.

by Alex B. on May 28, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

Why didn't they just raise minimum fares to $2 on bus and rail?

Why did they sneak off for a 3 hour lunch?

Why can't we fire them?

by Redline SOS on May 28, 2010 9:25 am • linkreport

Do DC, MD, VA do automatic renewals on drivers licenses? That seems like a mistake to me. At a minimum, why not require applicants to take a short refresher exam -- it could be online or mail-in to cut costs. The questions could focus on problem areas like poorly-understood laws and new rules (e.g. texting and driving).

by Gavin on May 28, 2010 9:30 am • linkreport

7000 Series Railcar Procurement

Originally Recommended:
• Base contract: 64 cars – Dulles Phase 1
• Option 4: 300 cars – Fleet Renewal (1000 Series)
• Unfunded
• Option 3: 100 cars – Mid-Life Rehabilitation (4000 Series)
• Option 1: 64 cars – Dulles Phase 2
• Option 2: 130 cars – Growth 75% Eight-Car Trains
• Option 5: 90 cars – Growth 100% Eight-Car Trains
748 Railcars

Procurement contract awarded:
• Base contract 128 cars – Dulles Phase I and II
• Option 1: 300 cars – Fleet Renewal (1000 Series)
428 Railcars

Nothing in the contract about the rehabilitation of the 4000 series cars.

Contract has options for the 220 cars that were in the original recommendation.

by Sand Box John on May 28, 2010 9:40 am • linkreport

I know you guys don't like paying more, but can you say "Gut reaction?"

If you have any better realistic proposals for closing the budget gap, I'm sure WMATA would love to hear from you.

by andrew on May 28, 2010 9:41 am • linkreport

Given that 1/3 of D.C. residents are functionally illiterate, the knowledge test questions don't come as a surprise.

In addition, it matters how the study was done. Did they ask in which state the individual is licensed or did they ask in which state the person lives? I know a whole lot of people who live in D.C. but have maintained their out-of-state licenses for a variety of reasons.

Finally, if this is one of those land line-only studies, then they're likely missing a good chunk of D.C. population.

by Adam L on May 28, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

@andrew:

I agree with you. The basic quick solutions reviewed boil down to: fair hikes, service cuts, or borrowing from future capital spending. The public decided that fair hikes were preferable to the other two. But while those are the only quick solutions that were available to close the budget gap, they are't the only solutions.

They have to take this as a wake-up call to review their internal procedures: hiring, payroll, maintenance, etc etc etc. Hopefully they realize that and don't just resort to fare hikes or service cuts every year from now on. That requires a lot more work of course, and I certainly am not knowledgeable enough about the system to so.

by Brian S on May 28, 2010 10:03 am • linkreport

The GMAC study you have is two years old. Examiner/DCist have MD at 20th and VA at 28th. DC is 49th ahead of NY and NJ.

by Steven Yates on May 28, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

Really?

In all seriousness, I really thought D.C. / Maryland drivers would be the absolute worst in the nation.

I'm surprised to see NJ and NY so close in the rankings... My driving experiences up there have been much more pleasant than my normal trips around this area.

by Josh C. on May 28, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

Fail on the GMAC study.

Drivers on the east coast less smart than drivers in Nebraska and Wyoming? Who knew? Do they even have traffic lights out there? GMAC Insurance is promoting a nationwide test for drivers, which is a pretty stupid idea. As they study notes, by the time you hit 35 you're a pretty good driver.

Euro-philes will ask for stricter licensing rules on 18 year olds. Whatever. In this area is means more young black men/hispanics driving around w/o a license. We are not Europe. As a a side note, I suspect the very high youth unemployment rates in Europe are very tied into the high price of cars and strict licensing requirements. Spain, for instance, has something like a 2000 part exam which looks much harder than the bar exam. If you can't drive in your 20s it is harder to move to places to get work.

Finally, if you want safety import another Euro rule: mandatory safety testing. A real testing, not what they do in VA or DC. We are talking MOT or TUV. Or people who drive around with bad axles (looking at you, dave) should be subject to prison if they get into an accident.

by charlie on May 28, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

I just noticed that the article says that the study asked participants to answer questions based on the knowledge tests in each state. So, I went to the DC DMV's website to check out the sample driver's test questions... https://public.dmv.washingtondc.gov/scripts/ds/sample_test.asp?id=DriverTest

3 of the 5 questions have absolutely nothing to do with the actual operation of a motor vehicle. Did you know that D.C. only gives you 5 days to notify DMV of an address change? Holy shit. It might take someone 5 days just to figure out how to go about notifying them.

Further, as someone who is licensed but has never owned a car (which I do not believe is a requirement for getting a license), I had no idea that you must immediately surrender your license plates if the insurance lapses on the vehicle.

That said, if these are the questions the study asked of D.C. drivers, then I am now fairly sure why residents had such a dismal score.

by Adam L on May 28, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

Most studies I've seen indicate we are the worst drivers in the nation. This GMAC study follows the usual flawed comparison of DC to states. Allstate did a study last year comparing 193 cities [with populations over 100,000] and of course DC came in dead last at #193. No surprise since we have no real driver training, next to no enforcement and a lot of really dickish me-first attitudes.

Allstate study [PDF]: http://allstatenewsroom.com/documents/425;download?src=L2NhdGVnb3JpZXMvNi9yZWxlYXNlcy80NTI5%0A

by ontarioroader on May 28, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

@Brian S

Oh, absolutely. I have no doubt that, under the correct leadership, Metro could improve the efficiency of its operation.

However, broad hand-waving gestures such as "Cut Wages," and "Use non-union labor" are counterproductive, as lingering public resistance to wage increases for transit workers has given rise to stronger unions, unsustainable pension schemes, and an expensive and dangerous overtime system. To save money, we might have to give raises to some workers.

I also have zero opposition to paying the GM a 6-digit salary if he's able to successfully reform the agency, as they'll save far more money in the long-term.

by andrew on May 28, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

Drivers on the east coast less smart than drivers in Nebraska and Wyoming? Who knew? Do they even have traffic lights out there?

Yes. Electricity and indoor plumbing, too.

by Miriam on May 28, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

I question the answers to some of that quiz. I don't believe it is ever legal to pass on the right. Everyone does it, but I was taught that it is always illegal.

by smax on May 28, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport

I know it's off the main topic, but the Georgetown-stores-closed article is clearly parody. He's pointing out tongue in cheek that he financial services overhaul did not in fact create major problems for businesses despite the claims of lobbyists.

by ah on May 28, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

@Adam L

I got the same questions wrong. They have nothing to do with driving, and to be honest if both of those things happened you could easly look up what to do next. Whever as things can not be looked up while your actualy driving.

by Matt R on May 28, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

Section 46.2-841 of the Virginia Code specifically allows passing on the right if you have more than one lane.

For Maryland, it's Section 21-304.

Minnesota's is Section 169.18, Subdivision 4.

In all three cases, the language is fairly similar.

by Froggie on May 28, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

@ charlie: Euro-philes will ask for stricter licensing rules on 18 year olds. Whatever. In this area is means more young black men/hispanics driving around w/o a license. We are not Europe. As a a side note, I suspect the very high youth unemployment rates in Europe are very tied into the high price of cars and strict licensing requirements.

And in Europe, there are no blacks/immigrants that have a hard time with language? Most youngsters in Europe do have a driver's license, by the way. Just at 18 in stead of 15/6. And getting s cheap (old) car is as easy as here. Only new cars are expensive. Old cars are cheap anywhere.

Furthermore, I could not find recent numbers on EU youth unemployment. But the EU regular unemployment numbers are very comparable to those in the US.

http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-29012010-AP/EN/3-29012010-AP-EN.PDF
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_European_Union

Unemployment goes from 4% in the NL to 23% in Latvia. The difference is that if you look at EU states with >10% unemployment, all except Ireland were a dictatorship 30 years ago. Kinda different from say, MI, CA, FL and DC.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_unemployment_rate

Yes, cars and gas are expensive in Europe. But citizens get something back for that tax money: Decent transit. Even in Spain. Both Madrid and Barcelona have way better transit systems than Washington DC.

In short: your suspicions are baseless and disrespectful. I challenge you to back them up. You can't find numbers that show that AZ gets more illegal immigration than Spain. Or the FL keys more than FL. You can't show that high car prices are related to youth unemployment.

If you have an argument to be made, bring it on. But unfounded suspicions get nobody anywhere.

by Jasper on May 28, 2010 12:31 pm • linkreport

Oh, jaspy, I have so missed arguing with you. For a while there we were agreeing too much.

Used cars are most expensive in most parts of Europe b/c of stricter safety inspections. And that is not to mention insurance, fees, parking, etc. And gasoline? Repair costs? Seriously, you don't want to argue it is more expensive to own a car in Europe than it is in the US?

Of course European cities have better transit options. But they aren't where they jobs are. They are expensive, people who rather live there, but the jobs are usually out in the countryside. Or smaller cities. And even, shudder, the suburbs. And you need a car to get there. Transit scales well with density, but not with area.

In terms of youth unemployment, well, it is a disaster. 16-17 historically in most of Europe, in Spain it is closer to 40%.

http://blog.euromonitor.com/2010/05/regional-focus-youth-unemployment-remains-high-in-western-europe.html

Spain has far more illegal immigrants than Arizona by head count -- it is far larger, after all. Percentage wise, still true. Spain did a huge amnesty program a few years ago. Also, you have the immigrants coming in from the americas to factor. Some are legal -- spanish origin -- and they might blend in better than africans and arabs. Last time I checked unemployment of Pakistanis in Barcelona was 70%, FYI. Most are low-end criminals.

Cheap cars = mobility = easier access to jobs. It is easy. I'm not saying there aren't problems with cars, but you would think a modern European immigrant woud understand a more flexible and mobile labor force means more employment.

You might not be aware of that being Dutch and all. Netherlands is very different than rest of euro-land in a lot of ways.

by charlie on May 28, 2010 12:58 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: For a while there we were agreeing too much.

Agreed :-p

Seriously, you don't want to argue it is more expensive to own a car in Europe than it is in the US?

Absolutely not. I am arguing that you have no proof that high car pricing is related to high youth unemployment. You still don't. I strongly doubt it exists. In fact, I strongly doubt there is any relation between expensive car ownership in Europe and any significant negative economic effect.

the jobs are usually out in the countryside. Or smaller cities. And even, shudder, the suburbs. And you need a car to get there.

No, they don't. Plenty o' buses for the poor Spanish, Italians, Portuguese and Greeks. Even on the countryside. And the really poor ones ride in little vans.

In terms of youth unemployment, well, it is a disaster. 16-17 historically in most of Europe, in Spain it is closer to 40%.

And how's that different from the US? Nationwide it's 26% here.
http://inteldaily.com/2010/02/us-youth-unemployment-soars/

Locally, I don't see an issue with getting the poor unemployed from DC SE to any job in this area. You can get anywhere by transit. Only the folks in PG county are out of luck. But then again, they live in PG county.

Cheap cars = mobility = easier access to jobs.
Cheap cars transit = mobility = easier access to jobs.

you would think a modern European immigrant woud understand a more flexible and mobile labor force means more employment.

Yep. And that's why the Eastern Europeans have moved west quite a bit over the last decade. Ryanair's success is partially the proof of that. They cheaply shuttle(d) Poles and Estonians to and from Ireland and the UK.

Remember Manuel from Fawlty Towers? He was what the Polish plumber is now.

Cheap cars transit planes = mobility = easier access to jobs.

You might not be aware of that being Dutch and all.

Actually I am. Been around in Europe. Have seen the differences. In fact, I've been paid to do a study on the effects of Spain entering the EEC in the early 80s. It was a fantastic way to stabilize their frail new democracy and has brought immense wealth to a lot of poor and previously oppressed people. The things that happened in the 80s to Spain (and Portugal and Greece) are now happening in the "new" eastern European countries.

In Europe, we were happy when the fence between the rich west and the poor east was torn down (thanks to Gorby, Reagan, a misinformed German border patrol dude and a quick call from Kohl to Bush-I, who wasn't paying attention. I'll even throw Clinton in for taking out the Chinese embassy in Belgrade). We provided an opportunity for millions of people to a better life. We legalized millions of illegal laborers by including them in our democracy. We stabilized their democracies. And all of that with minimal bloodshed.

For all the bitching about Europe (and it deserves plenty of bitching), it has and continues to achieve its goal of providing peace, stability and freedom to hundreds of millions of people. On a massive scale. It didn't go very smoothly, and the hiccups are plenty. But Europe is safer, wealthier, more democratic and considerately more peaceful than 50, 30 and even 10 years ago.

How's that spreading democracy thing going for the US?

Netherlands is very different than rest of euro-land in a lot of ways.

True. Our biggest issue seems to be that Harry Potter, our prime-minister, tells a journalist that "she looks so sweet" when repeatedly asked the same question during an election debate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4-0oRHqKWY

How did we get here?

by Jasper on May 28, 2010 1:55 pm • linkreport

@jaspar; we are way off topic now, so I am just going to leave you with one final aside:

"How's that spreading democracy thing going for the US?"

Pretty well. Germany, Italy, Japan. Not to mention Norway, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Denmark. You can say thank you on Monday.

I will be.

by charlie on May 28, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

That GMAC survey is meaningless. First, the difference between the best and worst in the entire country is 12%. Right.

Second, I just took the test myself. Try to answer this one:

You may pass on the right of another vehicle when:
A. When traveling on a multi-lane highway carrying two or more lanes of traffic in the same direction
B. The other vehicle is making or about to make a left turn, when a lane is provided to pass on the right
C. Both answers are correct

It's C. But not really, since state laws differ. Then how about this one?

9. When making right or left turns, a driver should signal _______ before the turn?

Answer: 100 feet. I got it right just by assuming the longest of the three choices was right. Though as usual, this depends on the state. In Illinois, it is 200 feet sometimes.

Or this one?

You drive defensively when you:
A. Always put one car length between you and the car ahead
B. Look only at the car in front of you while driving
C. Keep your eyes moving to look for possible hazards

Umm... none of the above? Actually it's C. But that's not at all how I would describe it.

Then there's this one:

18. When you approach a traffic signal displaying a steady yellow light, you must:
A. Go through the intersection before it turns red
B. Stop if it is safe to do so
C. Be prepared to stop
D. Slow down and proceed with caution

Well, in DC, running through a yellow light of any kind is illegal... so people in DC who actually know that, don't really have a correct answer, which is "slam on your brakes immediately if you want to avoid technically breaking the law."

by Jamie on May 28, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

Clearly this was not the most "interesting" breakfast link, but RE: Penn bike lanes, I have been using the "closed" lanes daily and they make my commute an absolute dream.

by TD on May 29, 2010 11:28 pm • linkreport

I should mention that Northampton, MA has a ton of Pedestrian Scrambles (aka. Barnes Dance). It's a huge college town with 5 colleges, and hardly anyone brings their car, so basically everyone walks or rides a bike or bus, unless they are frat guys/gals from U-Mass (usually also drunk & on the phone)

by Lee on Jun 1, 2010 8:29 am • linkreport

As someone who lived in Northampton for 5 years, I have to tell you that the only suprising thing about the story was that a pedestrian was hit there. Not his name or anything. Nope. Northampton is crazy person central (in the harmless crazy person kind of way--more of a pluthera of "local characters"). But in my experience there, people practically slam on the brakes when there's a pedestrian who looks as if they might be thinking of entering the crosswalk.

And yep, big college town....sort of. Only Smith is in Northampton. UMass and Amherst are both in Amherst (9 miles away) and Mount Holyoke is in South Hadley (9 miles in a slightly different direction) and Hampshire is.....kind of in the middle. And "big college town" by New England standards--that is....the place is basically Old Town Alexandria with detached houses instead of townhouses.

by Catherine on Jun 1, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

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