Greater Greater Washington

Afternoon links: Trouble brewing


Photo by Transportation for America on Flickr.
Food cart problems in Silver Spring: In the newest installment of mobile food vendors versus the world, a food cart's attempt to locate on Ellsworth Drive in downtown Silver Spring runs into jurisdictional issues with its permit. (TBD, Geoff H.)

States in trouble with USDOT: The canceled Hudson River Tunnel means NJ Transit owes $271 million to the FTA before penalties and interest. Meanwhile, Secretary LaHood has warned incoming governors in Wisconsin and Ohio that their high speed rail money cannot be spent on roads and highways. (Salon, Steven Yates)

GOP House will revisit HSR and TIGER projects: Under Republican leadership, the House will reevaluate all of the Obama Administration's discretionary grant programs, John Mica says. While high speed rail and TIGER II projects could risk recision, DC's TIGER I project is likely far enough along to be safe. (Reuters)

San Francisco has negative balance: Seems the San Francisco smart card fare media can go negative, like DC's SmartTrip, and there is no preventative measure besides fare inspection, which isn't present in all aspects of the transit system. (Streetsblog SF, JMM)

Sherman Avenue to get Complete treatment: DDOT will soon begin transforming Sherman Avenue NW, a wide drag strip through Columbia Heights, into a proper residential street, complete with bike lanes and a tree-studded median with an irrigation system. (Housing Complex, Eric Fidler)

Pavement to parks in San Francisco: San Franciscans restored a park to the middle of an asphalt neighborhood square. What streets in our area deserve a similar rehab? (Streetsblog SF, Eric Fidler)

Are bike lanes really safe?: Bike lanes are supposed to provide, safe, dedicated road space to cyclists, but do they really? In many cities, bike lane placement puts bike riders at risk of being "doored." (Streetsblog)

Free market traffic lights: Imagine if a driver pulled up at a red light could choose to pay to change the light to green. What would that mean for traffic flow and social relations? (3quarksdaily, Sam F)

And...: Matthew Yglesias rightly argues that restricting taxi cab competition will end up hurting the public. (Yglesias, Eric Fidler) ... What happens when a retail district's rent begins to rise too high? ... (Twitter) Older drivers are more a danger to themselves than to anyone else. (Frederick News-Post)

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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Will pedestrians be able to pay to get a walk signal?

by ah on Nov 10, 2010 3:24 pm • linkreport

I love that taxi drivers are simultaneously complaining about too much competition and rates that are too low. If the rates are too low, why are there so many taxis?

BTW, if you want to restrict entry in a more meaningful way, how about imposing higher minimum quality standards for the taxis themselves? Get rid of these hoopties and require cabs that are reasonably new.

by ah on Nov 10, 2010 3:26 pm • linkreport

The problem with DC's cabs is that we're stuck in the middle. We don't have the leverage to demand quality improvements like you could with a Medallion system (credit card payment, GPS tracking, for example), nor do we really benefit from all the added 'competition'.

I would happily avoid Medallions in exchange for requirements that cabs accept payment via plastic, that more of them be handicapped-accessible (thus enabling vouchers to potentially help stem some of the Metro-access problems), etc. Somehow, I don't think the cabbies would be in favor of those kinds of changes.

by Alex B. on Nov 10, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

Somewhat random, but has anyone ever done a study on street directions and alignments in DC? I have been thinking about this a lot recently and believe that by changing many bi-directional streets into one-way streets we can ease traffic flow, widen sidewalks, plant more trees, and add more bikelanes.

My proposal is as follows:

(1) Keep "state" streets and major arteries (like 16th street) as bi-directional. I also advocate permenantly removing parking from these streets to add bike lanes and widen sidewalks.
(2) Have all lettered streets (and names thereafter) consistently alternate directions East/West. Macomb NW, for example, feels too narrow to be 2-way. Likewise, M Street NW has overcrowded sidewalks -- why not create 1-way inbound traffic and use Water Street as Outbound (or vice versa)
(3) Have all numbered streets consistently alternate directions North/South.

In some parts of the city, these guidelines are already in place, but they are not consistent. Consistency is key to moving people and cars around the city.

I know this is overly simplified and I would love to talk to someone about this. I thought I would share this here because I figured someone on the site might have the wherewithal to do something about it!

by Nick J. on Nov 10, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

"I love that taxi drivers are simultaneously complaining about too much competition and rates that are too low. If the rates are too low, why are there so many taxis?"

Amen.

However, I would be all for a medallion system if it prevented cabbies from renting out their taxis to unlicensed drivers. I got in one cab, the guy didn't know how to get to Massachusetts Avenue and then I noticed that he didn't have a license displayed. When I asked if he had a license, he replied that he didn't need one since it was his uncle's cab and he "only drove it sometimes". I got out.

by Adam L on Nov 10, 2010 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Adam - Not sure how a medallion will prevent that from happening. It's illegal either way and you just need enforcement.

by ah on Nov 10, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

What other streets in DC should be improved? I nominate 34th Street/Reno Road, which runs from Massachusetts Avenue to Western Avenue. The part between Cleveland Ave. and Fessenden St. especially could be made safer, calmer and more attractive.

South of Cleveland Ave. the road is two lanes with parking on one side. Traffic tends to go the speed limit. North of Cleveland Ave., there is no parking all the way to Fessenden, although the road is lined with residences, which have to find parking on side streets. Instead of parking on 34th/Reno, there is a bi-directional or channeled turn lane for several miles. Every side street, major or minor has its own turn lane. The turn lanes and the appearance of a wide median mean that traffic tends to go higher than the speed limit except during periods of congestion. It is worst between Tilden and Van Ness, where the road is four lanes and passing traffic jockeys for position before Van Ness. It is quite unsafe through Cleveland Park, where the sidewalks are narrow, without parking and in someplaces not even a tree box separating them from traffic lanes. In some places, street signs block parts of the sidewalk. At least one elementary school, John Eaton, is located very close to a fast moving traffic lane.

The solution is to eliminate the turn lane median, which gives the road a highway-type appearance and encourages speeding. It is somewhat incongruous that this road has a turn lane for several miles, when even major arterials in DC don't have one. Restore a lane of parking on one side, which would benefit the residents who live along the road and calm the traffic. (From Fessenden to Western, there is parking in place of a turn lane and the trffic is noticeably calmer.) An alternative to a parking lane might be a bicycle lane or a landscaped, tree-lined center strip, with room for wider sidwealks. Any of these alternatives would result would be a safer and more visually attractive street.

by Rick on Nov 10, 2010 4:23 pm • linkreport

I got in one cab, the guy didn't know how to get to Massachusetts Avenue and then I noticed that he didn't have a license displayed. When I asked if he had a license, he replied that he didn't need one since it was his uncle's cab and he "only drove it sometimes". I got out.

Great stuff. My personal favorite--and I see this pretty frequently--is a working taxicab with DC "dealer" plates.

It's pretty clear when it comes to the DC Taxicab Commission, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum.

by oboe on Nov 10, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

@Nick J. 1)I also advocate permenantly removing parking from these streets to add bike lanes and widen sidewalks.

Parking on the side of city streets is critical to giving pedestrians that 'safe' feel AND to reduce traffic noise for the pedestrians and the occupants/residents of adjacent buildings/houses.

Also, the idea of going alternating blocks one way is something that was tried (to a minor degree in some cities like DC and a larger degree in others) in the mid-20th century, and it's good for moving traffic, but not necessarily good for people living alongside these streets. And in a grid like DC's, many of these streets serve as both neighborhood and arterial streets. It's good to have 'some' one ways (as we have now) for that 'express' traffic, but why increase traffic speeds on all these streets?

by Lance on Nov 10, 2010 4:44 pm • linkreport

San Franciscans restored a park to the middle of an asphalt neighborhood square. What streets in our area deserve a similar rehab?

The answer to this is so obvious: everything between the Capitol Building and Union Station.

by tom veil on Nov 10, 2010 4:47 pm • linkreport

What streets in our area deserve a similar rehab? RE: asphalt to park? Check out the surface parking lot at 5060 40th Place in Hyattsville, ~half mi. from the metro stop. This surface lot is NEVER used- in fact the city keeps chains across the entry! (sorry I don't know how to link to google maps)

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=5060+40th+Place,+Hyattsville,+MD&sll=39.05066,-76.937164&sspn=0.007699,0.013754&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=5060+40th+Pl,+Hyattsville,+Prince+George's,+Maryland+20781&t=h&z=16

by Tina on Nov 10, 2010 5:12 pm • linkreport

I'd expect a comment on GGW to be a bit more data-driven then this. People actually study systems for taxis and the data all seems to point to the "open" system DC employs as leading to the worst outcomes. People get inferior service, lousy equipment, increased pressure to raise fares, and longer wait times. See http://www.schallerconsult.com/taxi/entrycontrol.pdf

More cabs basically means lots of really marginal businesses that don't invest anything in the business, which equals a lousy experience for the passenger. Does anyone prefer the taxi experience in DC to the one in NY?

DC has about half the number of cabs as NY, despite having about 1/20th the population.

by micarr on Nov 10, 2010 5:33 pm • linkreport

It is worst between Tilden and Van Ness, where the road is four lanes and passing traffic jockeys for position before Van Ness.
The only jockeying is to move into the left-turn only lane, which is necessary at Van ness because of the high volume going from Tilden to Van Ness.

by ah on Nov 10, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport

@ Nick J.

Here are some more

No One-way streets intersecting each other : they may have fixed this but there was a spot downtown where two one way streets intersected about 20 years ago.

No One-way streets turning into Two-way streets and back to One-way streets : M Street NW/NE they need to make it either or not both

One thing I would love but know will never happen is

No streets should be broken apart for more than 1 mile. If the street is broken up for more than one mile by water, park, railroad etc and there is no visible link between the two they should have seperate names.

This happens all over Northeast and in Southeast east of the Anacostia you can never get to some places if you follow the block numbers and street names because you wont find them.

Many streets east of the Anacostia start at the 4000 block but when you cross the Anacostia you are at the 2000 block.

North Capitol is an example where ends at New Hampshire Ave and Blair RD appears and then picks up again about 1/2 mile with no signage to know where it is if you would think it would be straight nope.

Central Ave it runs from the DC line in Capitol Hgts Maryland to Benning RD NE and then again 4 miles away near Ft Lincoln.

by kk on Nov 10, 2010 6:50 pm • linkreport

What streets in our area deserve a similar rehab?

Pennsylvania Ave NW between 3rd st and the Capitol. For this iconic stretch of "America's Main Street", the architect of the capitol has chosen to go with the enormous surface parking lot approach. Booo!

by will on Nov 10, 2010 7:00 pm • linkreport

why not create 1-way inbound traffic and use Water Street as Outbound (or vice versa)

i'm def against 1-way streets. they're great for moving tons of automobiles through an area as quickly as possible, but they're bad for everyone and everything else. check out this video for a sample of some of the objections many folks have to one-way streets. there are a few cities/towns in the world that still convert two-way streets to one-way for the advantage of cars/drivers/motorists, but most developed countries/cities, in my experience, are going the other way, and consider ever have moved away from two-way streets to one-way streets a mistake.

Parking on the side of city streets is critical to giving pedestrians that 'safe' feel AND to reduce traffic noise for the pedestrians and the occupants/residents of adjacent buildings/houses.

I'd say street parking is one way of giving pedestrians that 'safe' feeling, but it's far from ideal -- it's difficult to get rid of cars when they're needed to line the streets to protect us from...other cars. Another way is planters -- they're all over DC, mostly on sidewalks, but they can be put in the existing roadway without a problem. the reduction in the number and speed of cars will drastically reduce noise. the introduction of massive amounts of bikes will add almost zero noise. done and done. if you don't like planters, you can use jersey barriers, small raised medians (curbs), etc. -- lots of simple stuff.

People get inferior service, lousy equipment, increased pressure to raise fares, and longer wait times.

i was kinda thinkin the same thing. i didn't realize DC taxis didn't have medallions. so, like anyone can jump in a car, fill out some documents, take some tests and background checks, and then they're driving? pretty cool. but it seems like it might not be awesome for taxi customers. reading about folks' cab experiences here on GGW makes me think the current, non-medallion system is far from ideal. other than that, if someone says "Don't regulate!", they are not to be taken seriously. our lives are better because of regulation - it is always a reasonable consideration. Taxi medallions might not be the best way to improve taxi service, but the "don't limit competition" argument is nonsensical -- it's already limited -- the key is finding the right balance between regulation and human agency so that we can achieve the best possible outcome -- i.e. ideally, excellent taxi service.

by Peter Smith on Nov 10, 2010 7:33 pm • linkreport

Matthew Yglesias rightly argues that restricting taxi cab competition will end up hurting the public.

Let me guess, you hate the minimum wage, too?

by David desJardins on Nov 10, 2010 8:24 pm • linkreport

Guessing none of you remember Sandra Seegers. A little sledgehammer of truth to the heads of many people. I mean she can be crazy but she's usually right.

Whatever system is up, don't go for whatever cluster San Francisco has. Finding a cab there is like looking for a virgin in a brothel.

by copperred on Nov 11, 2010 1:12 am • linkreport

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