Greater Greater Washington

Morning links: Out of the road


Photo by Mark Stosberg on Flickr.
Bus tragedy: A small tour bus full of Pennsylvania parents and children careened over the edge of a fly-over and fell onto I-270. The driver was killed and several others injured. The passengers had spent the day at the National Zoo. (WTOP)

Keeping bike racks off Pennsylvania: Why are there no bike racks on America's Main Street? The National Park Service again, which even controls the sidewalks in front of the Wilson building. Racks would also require NCPC and CFA approval. (Housing Complex)

Vision on the SW Waterfront: The master plan for the Southwest Waterfront was unveiled last night at Arena Stage. The ambitious plans are impressive but may invoke resistance from neighborhood residents. (Southwest TLQTC, Housing Complex)

Opposing comes at a cost: DC will have to spend $400,000 as a result of opposing a homeless shelter on Georgia Avenue (Housing Complex) ... Meanwhile, the Manassas has to spend $70,000 to establish a policy against sex shops in most areas. (TBD)

Food trucks roll around for another article: The Post looks at food truck politics, including how far trucks have to stay away from brick-and-mortar competitors. (Post, Eric Fidler) ... Wasn't there a City Paper cover story on this just a week ago?

Fishing for tows: A towing company is aggressively towing in locations around Arlington. Is this predatory or just enforcing the law? (ARLnow)

Google the Shweeb: Google recently awarded $1 million to a recumbent bike monorail called the Shweeb, in the "Innovation in Public Transport" category of its Project 10100 grant program. TheCityFix calls the award "wasteful" and "less financially responsible" than promoting better bike and bus lane concepts. (Planetizen, TheCityFix, Eric Fidler)

And in Oregon...: Eugene has removed its downtown parking meters, implementing a two-hour time limit instead. (The Columbian, Michael P) ... A group in Portland offers to fill potholes on your street if you donate to charity. (Portland Tribune, Eric Fidler) ... GOOD has a video on Portand TriMet's efforts to make their data open. (YouTube, Ed B.)

Cities in focus: Tonight at EMBARQ, David is speaking on a panel about sustainable transportation practices in cities, along with Gabe Klein and NYC DOT's Jon Orcutt.

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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Just signed up to attend EMBARQ... if you see someone in flip-flops holding a camera, feel free to say "hi"

by Bossi on Sep 30, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport

So, presumably, the Park Service thinks bike racks on Pennsylvania Avenue are an eyesore that would detract from the beautiful streetscape, but the parking lot between the Capitol and 3rd Street, NE, doesn't? What idiot runs that agency? Is it the moron Bill Line that doesn't want anyone to know what land the NPS controls in the District?

by Stanton Park on Sep 30, 2010 10:53 am • linkreport

The NPS might not be anti-bike so much as they are anti-do- something. Their usual MO has been to sit on their hands and uphold the status quo, no matter how absurd the result.

On the other hand, the bike stop signs they have installed at all crosswalks near the Memorial Bridge might say something otherwise. This is the bridge area with the ignored 25 (or is it 35 mph?) speed limit where bikers and pedestrians must fear for their lives when trying to use a crosswalk. Those car commuters from Virginia are important people, after all.

by aaa on Sep 30, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

The NPS/NCPC/CFA triumvirate (joined at times by various other federal agencies) seems to prioritize preserving the status quo above all else, no matter how bad the status quo might be. Home rule reforms are needed.

by Gavin on Sep 30, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

The towing wars have been going on in Arlington for years, and it's a good idea never to park in the bank lot next to the Wendy's on Wilson Blvd if you're thinking of getting a burger. Even - or especially - if the bank is closed. The drive-in window is cheaper in the long run.

A couple of years ago, the owner of one of those towing companies died and the Washington Post did an obit that mentioned how disliked he and his company were.

Sure enough, people showed up at the funeral home to tell grieving family members how much they disliked the guy. As Louie B. Mayer said about the huge crowd at Harry Cohn's funeral, "give the people what they want, and they'll all come out."

And no, I've never had my car towed in Arlington.

by Mike S. on Sep 30, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

The Giant in the Silver Spring CBD is a towing gripe of my own... I got towed there once despite being a customer, necessitating that I hitchhike up to Rockville. Granted, I love hitchhiking... just never had to do it in the area where I live and work.

by Bossi on Sep 30, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

I think the problem with advanced towing, and privatizing enforcement like that, it is hard to create a business model that doesn't involve some degree of fraud (overcharges, refusing ATM, storage fees).

That is what killed Frank's Towing, in the end.

They also refuse to take the legal drop fee ($25) if you catch them in the act.

Advanced Auto Towing had a habit of towing owners cars from legal -- rather, their own -- parking spaces.

by charlie on Sep 30, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

I'm not really sure what "predatory towing" is supposed to mean. Advanced Towing is just doing what they're paid to do, which is to keep illegally parked cars out of lots. I'd have thought you'd blame the organizations hiring the towing company instead of the actual towing company.

by OX4 on Sep 30, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport

Predatory towing is when

1) when towing is privatized
2) when the tow companies place drivers at known parking lots and then tow immediately
3) and before anyone (parking lot owner) complains

As I said, I have no problems with the idea, but in practice the towing companies engages in some illegal behavior (charges over the county code, refuses payment, tows legally parked cars for profit).

The long term answer is the make the property owner liable for damages to vehicles from towing -- say a flat fee for $2500 -- but that would tend to make the business model even more broken.

by charlie on Sep 30, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

There is no such thing as "predatory towing". You see a sign, the sign says, "No Parking Under Such-and-Such Conditions." You ignore the sign. Someone tows your car.

You can file this one with "predatory speed- and red-light running cameras".

If you want to argue that legally parked cars are being towed, you should do it. But if you're going to define "the towing of illegally parked cars in too efficient a manner" as predatory, prepare to be hooted at.

by oboe on Sep 30, 2010 12:49 pm • linkreport

@oboe - the people that are arguing that this is "predatory" are the same people that are *pro* speed and red light cameras.

by PFJ on Sep 30, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

Predatory towing is where the vehicle owner has been deceived into parking in a prohibited area (such as contradictory signing) &/or where the tow operator removes a vehicle in violation of the established regulations.

So long as the tow operator is acting within clearly established regulations, then they're just doing their job. One's gripe is therefore not necessarily with the tow operator; rather it's with the property owner who retained the services of the towing company.

As far as things goes in Virginia, I really have no idea which way it is. From the ARL Now post, it makes it sound like the towers are just doing their job; but again I can't say for sure without actually observing it myself.

Of the four times I've ever been towed: two (in State College, PA) were blatantly me parking where I shouldn't be. It was annoying to have to chase down my car, but it was also my fault so I paid the fine without objection. The people I dealt with were nice through the whole process.

The other two times was my aforementioned issue in Silver Spring (to which the property owner has yet to respond despite numerous attempts over the past two years) and also again up in State College. With that one: I was towed out of my own assigned space at my apartment, damaging my rear axle & tires because they used the wrong type of truck on my car. With that, I successfully pressed charges against the company for vehicle theft, sued for damages & settled out of court for exactly the amount I'd sued for, and convinced every apartment community on the entire northern half of State College to stop doing business with them ... I don't get angry; I get vengeful :)

There are good companies and there are bad companies, though by and large my opinion (I emphasise *opinion*) is that most are honest companies; they just happen to be in an industry that almost inherently has unhappy customers. ...Except for when you're stranded on the side of the road, in which case those same companies become saviors. I can at least say that I have yet to meet an actual *operator* that hasn't been a nice person, though the folks back in their offices have sometimes left something to be desired.

by Bossi on Sep 30, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

"Eugene has removed its downtown parking meters, implementing a two-hour time limit instead."

Ah the irony. And a local bicycle salesman of all people says he can't wait!!

Somewhere in Eugene, a disciple of Shoup is crying.

by Jamie on Sep 30, 2010 1:37 pm • linkreport

@Bossi; as I said, the issue is the business model breaks down in real life, and regulations aren't followed. Much like bounty hunters, except we don't think illegal parkers are the same things as escaped criminals.

Brief history of Arlington and Frank's:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/30/AR2005113002160.html

by charlie on Sep 30, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

Bike parking on the sides and back of the Wilson Building overflows in part to the lack of bike parking at the Reagon Building 14th street entrance. I've seen Wilson building employees park inside the Wilson building under the stairwell. Also motorcycles and scooters ignore the "No motorized vehicles" signs ... often taking space that could have been used by two bikes.

by Tour guide on Sep 30, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: I also saw that Augusta, GA was going to ask its downtown BID to start enforcing the two hour parking limit themselves. The reaction from some of the businesses was that they'd rather not, because then their employees would have to find someplace else to park.

by Michael Perkins on Sep 30, 2010 3:23 pm • linkreport

@Jamie: It's great, I just saw something that they're trying to raise the money to do something about downtown parking in Augusta by setting a quota for the number of fines that have to be written per year.

They've already rejected meters as too expensive. Instead, they'd rather hit 15,000 of their potential customers per year with $25 "over time limit" tickets.

Which do you think pisses off your potential customers more? That or $0.75 an hour for parking meters?

by Michael Perkins on Sep 30, 2010 3:30 pm • linkreport

I'm late to the game on this one, but I do know a little something about predatory towing in PG County as I spent some time trying to get the law changed there (some of which was adopted). A law did pass that made things better, but the tow truck lobby is scary powerful.

This may be the first time I disagree with oboe, but there is predatory towing.

The original law in PG County was written to allow for towing off of private parking if it was a nuisance and laid out a process for defining a nuisance. One step in this process was that the owner or agent had to sign a towslip to have the car towed. Most places (apartment complexes and large parking lots) would get around this by making the tow truck operator they licensed (for a fee paid to the lot operator) an agent. Thus the person towing and the person complaining about the nuisance were one in the same. Cars were routinely towed from mostly empty lots. Thus the spirit - and possibly the letter - of the law was being violated in that the cars were not a nuisance and were not signed by an actual agent as one. Would the tow truck drivers be allowed to rent out an apartment? I think not.

The process got uglier once the car was towed. Cars were often mis-towed. There was no maximum fee in PG County at the time (since fixed). The posted phone numbers were not staffed after closing time, and the answering machine was a generic "the party you've tried to reach is not available" message(since fixed). The tow locations were hard to get to. They only accepted cash (since fixed). They stayed open the minimum number of hours. The whole thing was designed to be a car trap. They charged $25 a day - downtown parking rates - for car storage so they wanted to keep your car on the lot for as long as possible. They preyed on the poor since they would have the most trouble coming up with the cash and the hardest time getting out to nowheresville. One company was shipping cars to the Eastern Shore before they were told they had to tow to a place in the same county.

And they charged $25 a day, but a day to them was not 24 hours. If your car was towed at 11am and picked up at 8am the next day, that was two days (since fixed).

There was and still is a separate hearing (not a court because there is no judge) where the tow truck operators have to show cause for why they towed the car (since the burden was on them). Almost no one asks for one of these hearings because it's in the middle of a work day - another good reason to prey on the working poor - but when people do, they frequently win and could more often if they knew the law. Not that it matters as the companies routinely failed to pay even after they lost a show cause hearing (the decision is non-binding and one has to go to small claims court to force a settlement). In my experience 95% of all tows in PGC were done in violation of the law. The county doesn't keep track of which companies fail to show cause to see who's being abusive, and it is almost impossible to lose a license. In the one case I know of for a company that did, they changed the name of the company and repainted the trucks and were able to get one for the same people at the same site.

One woman had a story of having her car towed and needing $200 to get it back. But she had trouble coming up with the money. The price kept going up. And she couldn't get to work. Eventually she lost her job and her car (the tow truck people sold it after 30 days). And the kicker is that she still owed them money as the revenue from selling the car couldn't cover the cost of the tow and 30 days of storage.

Rarely have I dropped the word evil and meant it. But there are large elements of the tow truck industry in Maryland that are pure evil. I have no reason to believe that Virginia is any better.

And I haven't even gotten to the beltway scam. I better quit. I feel the anger seething.

by David C on Oct 19, 2010 12:27 am • linkreport

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