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Breakfast links: Feds and their water

Photo by wallyg on Flickr.
No old fountains means no new fountains: The Commission on Fine Arts frowned upon including some water features at the planned Museum of African-American Art and Culture because... the other museums don't have any. Thanks, commissioner and Philadelphia resident Witold Rybczynski. (Post)

Feds to pay for their wastewater: The Obama administration has agreed to pay the impervious area charge, levied to bring the sewer system in compliance with the Clean Water Act, for federal properties within the combined sewer area (any area built before 1900). (Infrastructurist, Eric Fidler)

Sewage spills into Potomac: Heavy rains caused 201,831 gallons of sewage to pour into the Potomac in southern Prince George's. The problem has been going on for years and some blame WSSC for not being prepared for National Harbor. (TBD, Eric Fidler)

Many Metro workers don't report problems: 60% of WMATA employees saw a safety problem in the past year. Of those employees, 30% didn't report it for fear of repercussions, not from managers but from coworkers. (Post, Eric Fidler)

Fighting over White Flint pay plan: Developers in the White Flint area are criticizing the proposed special tax district around the Metro station to support the new smart growth master plan, calling it crippling to growth and development. (Examiner)

A positive spin on real estate: As more people take up bicycling as a means of transportation, real estate developers and agents are taking notice. DC and Montgomery County will soon require bike parking in some new residential construction, and some real estate agents are finding a niche in selling in bike-friendly communities. (Post)

Capital Bikeshare ridership is in: CaBi recorded 4,171 trips since its inception on September 20 through the last day of the month. The Dupont station, the most popular, recorded 300 trips. (CommuterPageBlog, Eric Fidler)

Cardinal could run daily: Amtrak plans to run its New York-Chicago Cardinal Service daily, up from the current three a week. From DC, the plan will add more capacity to New York as well as more ways to reach central Virginia and beyond. (The Hook)

And...: Portland has another interesting example of collaborative consumption: tool libraries. (GOOD) ... 36.7% of U.S. households spend more than 30% of their pre-tax income on housing. (WSJ, Eric Fidler) ... While crime is pretty rare on transit systems today, it's worth remembering it wasn't always. (Second Avenue Sagas, Rob Pitingolo)

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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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Amtrak's Cardinal going daily will do nothing to travel between DC and New York - the train is discharge only from Alexandria to New York (meaning no new passengers can board) and receive only from New York to Alexandria (meaning you can't book a ticket from New York to Washington).

It will provide more reliable service into West Virginia and beyond, and provide a second option to Chicago (the scenery is also MUCH better on this route than the Capitol Limited).

by Ryan S on Oct 4, 2010 8:57 am • linkreport

Two obvious questions that are never addressed in these sewage-spill accounts:
1. Given stormwater and sanitary sewers have separate systems, why do heavy rains tax the pumping systems so badly? Is there no way to find the worst infiltration points?
2. Why is National Harbor's sewage going all the way down to Piscataway?

by Jim on Oct 4, 2010 9:09 am • linkreport

There is a water feature at the Native American museum.

by Roy on Oct 4, 2010 9:27 am • linkreport

Witold Rybczynski is normally a pretty sane presence on the commission. Just read any if his essays on Slate, he has a pretty open mind and isn't tied to any particular faddy ideas. I'm not sure I understand his objection to the fountains, but his Philly residence doesn't seem relevant.

by Reid on Oct 4, 2010 9:30 am • linkreport

This was the most interesting part of Kennicott's rebuke of Rybczynski:

The value of Gustafson's design, however, has more to do with how it will help change the edges of the Mall, which are rigid and linear and... boring. Two of the most refreshing spots on the Mall, today, are the water features at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, and the fountains at the nearby Botanical Garden. These little gardens break with the formality of the Mall, offer more varied vegetation than the grass and trees of Mall's main axis, and generally give people a chance to be in an inviting and enveloping marginal space rather than a rigid ceremonial landscape.

Rybczynski is right about many of the old-fashioned fountains and pools that define public space in Washington. But Gustafson is thinking of something else, something rather radical: Her rain garden is a little bit of naturalism surreptitiously introduced into an arid, imperial landscape.

We've discussed this before about plans for the Washington Monument grounds. I think those grounds should remain open, but there is a ton of space along the edges that could be vastly improved. The interface between the Mall and the city around it (hell, even between the Mall and the Federal Triangle) is nothing special. There are areas large and small that could be naturalized in some way, creating both more interesting places and perhaps even adding to the ecology of the area.

by Alex B. on Oct 4, 2010 9:33 am • linkreport

Good to see CaBi doing so well in such a short time.

by Anon on Oct 4, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport

@Reid: Witold's residence is relevant because it shows that he maybe out of touch with what local residents want; more inviting public spaces around and on The Mall.

I think his objection is that other museums don't have a huge body of water surrounding them so it will look odd if one does. I disagree. It will break up the linear look that runs along the museums.

by Jeff on Oct 4, 2010 10:15 am • linkreport

Is there any information on what the proposed fountain actually looks like? If it's a to-scale Victoria Falls taking up the entire side of the building... I'd think it'd look awesome, but I'd wager a good portion of people would agree it might be a bit out of place. But if it's a somewhat more modest fountain or some other water feature already typical of many buildings in the area, then I absolutely agree that it'd be a welcome addition to the Mall.

by Bossi on Oct 4, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

saying capitol bikeshare is a success because it is matching the usage numbers of its predecessor is rather like saying the your new car only breaks down at the same frequency as your old junker.

by charlie on Oct 4, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

It's matching the usage numbers of its predecessor after two weeks and with the system only 50% complete. I don't see how that can be regarded as anything but a success.

by Phil on Oct 4, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

@charlie, the system is only two weeks old. having the same usage rate per bike already, compared to a system that had been installed for years, is a good sign.

As more people notice the system being used, and more stations get installed, the usage rates should continue to increase.

by Michael Perkins on Oct 4, 2010 10:49 am • linkreport

Oops, what Phil said. :)

by Michael Perkins on Oct 4, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

And really we won't be able to tell the success or failure of CaBi until its been online for at least a year.

by Anon on Oct 4, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

@Phil; It is way too early to judge whether it will be a success. Benchmarking against known failures, however, is a piss poor rhetorical technique.

The GF and I did about 32 rides on Saturday. Mostly trouble free. One station wouldn't accept a credit card, one broken bike, and one station that wouldn't take a bike back.

The good thing is a day memberships gives you two bikes, much better to explore. Until they build out the stations, they need to get you more than 30 minutes. We spent 40 minutes looking for a new station to drop off downtown -- the iphone app after that was a help.

by charlie on Oct 4, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

How that can be considered a reasonable objection to a water feature is beyond me. There is plenty of water on or around the mall. The Reflecting Pool, the WWII memorial fountains, the pool by the Capital building, the fountains between the East and West wings of the National Gallery of Art, the American Indian Museum has plenty of great water features around it, the fountain in the Sculpture Gardens, the Tidal basin, the big pond in the Constitutional Gardens, the Potomac River, and probably some other things. WTF?!? I now have a much lower opinion of Witold.

by NikolasM on Oct 4, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

Does anyone know how public roads and sidewalks are treated under the Impervious Surfaces Charge plan? It seems that streets contribute the lion's share of impervious surfaces, and that things such as rain gardens could go a long way to helping the problem.

by Matt Malinowski on Oct 4, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

Tool libraries seem like a good idea in urban environments, where lots of people to share and little space to store produce efficiencies. Tech can make this sharing more efficient, as it has for carsharing and bikesharing.

by Gavin on Oct 4, 2010 12:00 pm • linkreport

CaBi usage will increase a ton as soon as they finish installing the downtown stations. The McPherson Sq. rack was full all weekend, so no one could easily ride to destinations there. I would have taken it to the Turkish Festival, but there was no chance of finding two spots at that rack. I did take two away and ride home, however.

I wish we knew what the holdup was to the downtown racks. Do they have to remove the Smartbike racks first?

I rode the bikes 4 times this weekend and got questions about the system each time. I think it'll be quite popular. The bikes themselves are tanks compared to the old Smartbikes, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The seats need work too. They all seem to slope forward quite a bit. Other than that, I'm happy with CaBi so far.

by jyindc on Oct 4, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

To add to my comment above, I'm hoping CaBi will start doing a better job redistributing the bikes around the racks once they're all up and running. Smartbike did a great job doing that (on an admittedly smaller system plan), but some CaBi racks go almost all day (and, even worse, all weekend) without an empty spot available to use.

This will definitely limit acceptance of the system if one can't be assured of a drop off point near a destination. I'm still confident they'll figure it all out, though.

by jyindc on Oct 4, 2010 1:03 pm • linkreport

I'd agree the bike gets some interest, and I see a lot of people poking around the stations.

Might I suggest hiring some booth babes to stand around stations during peak hours and answer questions. Or get them to ride around DC. That will defintely generate some interest.....

on a more serious note, I found the explanations and instructions on the stations somewhat confusing for first time users. Perhaps that is by design - clearly they want you to sign up yearly.

Does anyone have any data on how much the Montreal system is used?

by charlie on Oct 4, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

I would have more sympathy for Gustafson if the water feature she designed for the Portrait Gallery actually functioned. The feature, four scrims of water on the floor stretching across the entire space, really made the Kogod Courtyard special when it first opened, and I made it a point to take friends there whenever possible.

However, in the many times I've been to that museum in the past year and a half or so, the feature has always been dry as a bone. Without the water feature, the space feels more cavernous and cold (though it's still a delight, mind you). The resonance of the space, the light, the activity, all have been made less effective by having a space designed for a water feature that is not functioning.

The Portrait Gallery still advertises the water feature on its website, and the only mention of its being deactivated is on the American Art museum FAQ, which says only that it is inactive for repairs which are scheduled to begin in 2011. The courtyard was just opened in autumn of 2008! Why should it need major repairs already?

Does anybody know what went wrong?

by taylor.nmt on Oct 4, 2010 2:51 pm • linkreport

C'mon people - Look in your own back yard! Mt. Rainier MD has had a "tool library" for a long time:

Hyattsville has had community building supplies for a long time:

by Tina on Oct 4, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

Given stormwater and sanitary sewers have separate systems

Actually, that's the problem. They don't

And it's a much more common problem than you'd think -- most cities on the east coast were built this way.

by andrew on Oct 4, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

I always assumed that water feature in the Portrait Gallery was shut off because of liability reasons.

Don't get me wrong, I like it a lot - but every time I was in there, some little kid would get very excited to step in the water. Next thing you know, that kid has fallen and hit their head.

by Alex B. on Oct 4, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

Since some posters object to comparing the new bike system to smartbike, lets compare to other systems.

The standard in the bike sharing world is to expect 6 rides a day, per bike by the end of year 1.

That should increase to 10 or more by year 3. Highly successful systems get closer to 14 rides a day per bike.

So 10 days of data is not enough to say if it's good or bad. And there's a pile of reasons.

1)Installation isn't complete, only 50% of stations. You dont criticize Metro for ridership numbers on a day half the system is closed for repairs.
2)Membership is still growing (not everyone is aware of the system). As more stations pop up + people see them, awareness grows.
3)It's not prime season (less tourist rides)

I think you need 3 entire months to be able to know if it's looking good or if the operators should be worried. Taking into account, of course, that winter will see lower ridership than summer.

by JJJ on Oct 4, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

I remember shortly after the courtyard opened, and the water feature turned off for a while, they dug up the floor in one corner, and said they were working on it, so I think it's technical issues.

I wouldn't think the liability issues would be that bad. The Columbia Heights plaza has a water feature that is always jam packed with children playing, and I haven't heard of anyone being seriously hurt.

Also, the stone used in the Portrait Gallery is of a texture that maintains traction when wet. It's very well designed, and beautiful, if only it didn't cease functioning only months after activation.

by taylor.nmt on Oct 4, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

I never heard back from the Portrait Gallery formally when I asked, but according to the people I talked to when I was there, the fountain leaked and was causing some damage. Until funding could be found for repairs it would stay closed.

As far as I know, there were no liability issues. Or at least no one mentioned them to me, which may very well not be the same thing. It would be a pretty big lawyer fail if they built the thing and then closed it do to liability, right? Presumably they would have seen that coming if it was an issue.

by TimK on Oct 4, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

A more legitimate criticism of water features is that if they can't design them to not be maintenance headaches, don't build 'em. FDR Memorial rarely has all their fountains working, NMAI has had issues, Pershing Park's skating rink/water feature is more or less permanently closed, etc. I love a working fountain, but we seem to have a lot of broken ones, which detract from the designers intended effect.

by TimK on Oct 4, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

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