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Breakfast links: Stop the harassment

Photo by KCIvey on Flickr.
Metro PD harasses photographer: A Metro Transit Police officer detained a photographer for taking pictures from a public sidewalk in Alexandria. The officer and his supervisor then displayed ignorance of laws around showing ID and detention of citizens. (Pixiq)

DC Council considers bullying law: The Council is considering an anti-bullying law that is pitting gay rights and youth activists against the ACLU, who says the Council should be careful not to limit free speech, and DC Charter School representatives, who say schools should adopt tailored policies independently. (Post)

The plan changed, comprehensively: The DC Council approved amendments to the Comprehensive Plan with little fanfare, including provisions giving charter schools first dibs on vacant school buildings, allowing higher density in some industrial and low density areas and Poplar Point, and more. (Housing Complex)

Are parks a "public good"?: Responding to yesterday's NoMA post, Ryan Avent isn't so sure parks are a "public good" which wouldn't be adequately supplied without regulation. He argues that if people really wanted parks, then there would be more private parks, the way there are private gyms or golf courses, for example. (The Bellows)

Chesapeake Bay states wrestle with clean-up: The EPA is continuing to push Maryland, DC and Virginia to produce specific Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction plans. DC is still wrangling with federal agencies over stormwater treatment fees. (WAMU)

The latest anti-bike screed: "Local curmudgeon and bike hater" Gary Imhoff sees news that bike commuting has doubled to 2.2% as an argument against any bike infrastructure. TBD On Foot and WashCycle take apart the argument.

Melbourne bike share failing: While Montreal & London's Bixi based bike share programs are wildly successful, Melbourne's system, also from Bixi, has been a dud. The smaller number of bikes and stations is likely a contributing factor, but the biggest difference between the cities is Australia's mandatory bike helmet law. (This Big City)

Rich giving up the American dream: In another sign that the big house in the suburb is losing its former cachet, wealthy Americans are increasingly choosing to rent rather than buy. (CNBC, Ben Ross)

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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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As curmudgeonly as Imhoff is, he does make a good point in noting how incredibly few people use bicycles as their method of commuting. It's good to have actual statistics in this echo chamber.

by Fritz on Nov 30, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport


That may be true, but commute trips represent only a small percentage of total trips.

I can't find a handy link on COG's site, but the most recent Household Travel Survey from COG indicated that less than 20% of all trips in the region were commute trips.

Therefore, that 2.2% is only 2.2% of less than 20% of the total trips.

You're right, it's good to have the stats - but it's even better to make sure Imhoff is using them correctly and that they actually apply to his argument.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

I'm curious about the population breakdown of the 2.2% For instance, I would be surprised if residents of Wards 1&2 were that low. In areas where crime and lack of bicycle infrastructure are in place, I'd be surprised if it's that high. Same goes for Upper Northwest where distance from the downtown core becomes an issue.

Bicycle commuting may not be practical under all conditions -- I know that I choose to bike, take metro or drive each morning, all depending on the weather and how hungover I happen to be.

by RagingBoehner on Nov 30, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

Interesting rhetoric. So you defend bicycles by creating an even smaller number? The one thing we know is in the region, even more trips (Non-commuting) are by car. For DC/Arlington it might be higher, but once you throw in the big counties it will balance out even quicker.

That being said, I've noticed a lot of empty bike lanes recently.

So should they be "rush hour" only to promoting bike commuting. Or "nice-weather only" when more people are using them?

And to me the biggest goal should be to get kids to ride them to school. That would be killer, especially in the suburbs.

by charlie on Nov 30, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

I have absolutely no idea why Alpert and Avent don't seem to understand the value of a park in NoMA - and for Avent, parks in general. What Avent discusses in particular is the value of private parks, and that if a landowner wants them, they should just put up a fence and lock. That's true, and there are plenty of private parks in NoMA, current and planned, as landscaped roof decks and courtyards. But a public park is different – especially a central, urban park like Bryant Park in New York, Union Square in San Francisco, and numerous examples here in DC. A public amenity like this is a gathering space for residents, workers and visitors of this neighborhood and adjacent ones like Eckington and Near Northeast. This is essential for quality of life in urban, suburban and rural areas.

This idea that the landowners in NoMA in particular should be taxed *more* if they want a park is ridiculous. There is a massive amount of new revenue from higher property tax, as well as new retail receipts and income tax from the thousands of new workers and residents. Why should all of this tax revenue leave the neighborhood and go into other neighborhoods instead? Some should be reinvested in the community. All landowners in the BID already pay an additional tax for basic services, including daily street and sidewalk cleaning, public safety enhancements, treebox repairs and upgrades, public art, etc.

Frankly, if the District had paid millions of dollars for a prime piece of land on First Street 10 years ago for a future park space it would have been a much worse use of limited funds. There wouldn't have been the additional development-spurred revenue to pay for it, and the park wouldn't have been needed for years. Plus, when NoMA was first envisioned, nobody imagined that it would be so successful as a mixed-use area... less than ten years ago, it was starting to become a hub for giant, street-life killing data centers instead. The need for a park in this area is articulated in the Council-approved plans for NoMA, and Wells' bill is an important step to implement those plans.

by Tony G on Nov 30, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

Tony G: I have absolutely no idea why Alpert and Avent don't seem to understand the value of a park in NoMA.

I wrote a whole article about how we need a park in NoMA.

by David Alpert on Nov 30, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

No private parks? One could say that the entire culture of suburban single-family homes was built around the idea of a private park. We call it a yard instead of a park.

by David on Nov 30, 2010 10:43 am • linkreport

@David Alpert

True, but you also wrote this:

All landowners in NoMA already have raised their taxes above the baseline level through their BID taxes. Should the BID rate just be raised higher for this? Why should only those landowners pay, especially since they already pay higher property taxes as the neighborhood is developing? Plus, this would mean that those owners pay extra, while none of the surrounding landowners have to pay anything at all.

As properties develop, the BID will have more money each year for their activities. And this will be enough for them to contribute to programming and maintenance of the park. But the amount of money required for purchasing a large enough parcel is far, far more than the BID tax raises.

by Tony G on Nov 30, 2010 10:59 am • linkreport

Oops, forgot the quote:

The NoMA BID and local developers support the plan, but perhaps they should also support increasing their tax rates a bit, at least in the future for a number of years, since they will benefit from the park and can sell units for more money (which will also generate more property tax).

by Tony G on Nov 30, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

Saw last night that DDOT is striping bike lanes on 11th SE south of PA Ave. And the Council approved a comp plan with more density. Yet more losses for Imhoff, the Cmte of 100 and the rest of the "real stakeholders!" I think Gary needs to keep keep on writing his reactionary screeds in the mail. They are so effective. Must be the high quality graphics on that site.......

by rg on Nov 30, 2010 11:01 am • linkreport

Using that same logic there aren't many private roads so there must not be much demand for roads.

by Joshua Davis on Nov 30, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

"In another sign that the big house in the suburb is losing its former cachet, wealthy Americans are increasingly choosing to rent rather than buy."

According to that story, what's losing cachet is *owning* a big house in the suburbs. This is a story about wealth management, not city v. suburbs. Virtually all the anecdotes are about rich people selling homes where they live so they can rent where they live. That includes a rich guy selling his NYC apartment so he can rent a NYC apartment. Meanwhile, the story continues, Marin County activity includes a firm handling "a rental house with an 8-car garage for $12,500 a month. Another 6,500-square-foot, five-bedroom home is renting for $11,900."

There's one anecdote about someone who sold a suburban Chicago home to rent in the city.

On another topic, I'm pro-biking but Imhoff had one stat that's an eye-opener in the interesting-if-true department: "in metropolitan DC more people already carpool than use all forms of mass transit (15.8 percent versus 13.7 percent." Had no idea.

by Christopher Fotos on Nov 30, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

One could say that the entire culture of suburban single-family homes was built around the idea of a private park. We call it a yard instead of a park.

I agree. The notion that parks aren't a public amenity by pointing to the supposed abscence of private parks is absurd. Has Avent ever admired a flower garden in a tiny rowhouse yard? Thats a private park. Has Avent ever been to Rock Creek Park? The National Mall? Any of the monuments? Dupont Circle? Great Falls (VA or MD)? Amenties like these would not exist if they had to be created privately because the taxes on privately owned land would prohibit it.

Also, there once was a tradition of land developers and wealthy citizens (corportate/private) gifting the community with land for a park. That is, taking private land and making it public. That is not the same as a private park. My home town has several parks like this named for the benefactor. There's a reason why this act garners so much good will from the community towards the gifter - because land for parks is valued.

In my home state there is a private non-profit that, through donations, buys undeveloped contiguous land and grants public access to trails etc. in exchange for being exempt from property taxes by the state and local govt's. (The Little Traverse Consevancy). Again, taking private land and making a public amenity.

by Tina on Nov 30, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

@Christopher Fotos:

On another topic, I'm pro-biking but Imhoff had one stat that's an eye-opener in the interesting-if-true department: "in metropolitan DC more people already carpool than use all forms of mass transit (15.8 percent versus 13.7 percent." Had no idea.

Two major problems with Imhoff's facts - one, he's using the entire MSA, and two, he's using really old data.

Keep in mind he's talking about the entire Metropolitan Statistical Area - an area that includes places like Jefferson County, West Virginia and plenty of other areas where there is no transit to speak of.

That statistic is undoubtedly true, but that doesn't tell you much about DC's transportation issues.

The other interesting thing is that, for some reason, Imhoff links to data from the 1990 Census - data that's nearly 20 years old.

When you look at the 2009 American Community Survey for the DC MSA, the data shows that more people use transit in that same region (14.1%) than carpooled (10.6%). Carpooling is decreasing in mode share while transit is increasing. Considering how much of the region's growth has happened in outlying areas in the past 20 years, that's not exactly helping Imhoff's argument.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

Alex touched on this earlier, but per the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (Table 5 on pg 29/135), work and work-related trips are only about 20% (give or take a couple percentage points) of all trips.

by Froggie on Nov 30, 2010 12:08 pm • linkreport

I love the argument made in "Who Wants a Park" by Ryan Avent.

1) A public good is is something that the market will under-provide
2) An example of a public good is National Defense
3) Are neighborhood parks like defense? Not necessarily.

by OX4 on Nov 30, 2010 12:37 pm • linkreport

Maybe bike use is 2.2% because bike infrastructure is tiny, most roads are hostile environments for new bicyclists, and many riders are afraid to ride for safety reasons.

2.2% is not huge, but let's keep it in perspective of the massive amount of capacity we have built for autos. The District has 3,500 lane-miles for autos alone, and the region (MWCOG modeled area) has close to 20,000. And yet there's a huge fight over reallocating just a tiny slice of that capacity for a mode we're trying to encourage.

We shouldn't allocate infrastructure and resources based on current use - we should allocate according to the kind of future we want.

Bike use today may be relatively low, but that's an invalid argument for giving up on encouraging it for the future.

by Just161 on Nov 30, 2010 1:12 pm • linkreport

2.2% is small for dedicated bike commuters. The number ignores the large number of occassional commuters (e.g. I rode yesterday, drove today).

The conclusion also notes only the money spent on bikes, but ignores the billions spent on car infrastructure in the Washington region over the decades. Suburban MD and VA would not have occurred without the billions spent on this infrastructure. Even if we only look at spending in DC during the pro-bike Fenty administration, bikes are only a fraction of spending on roads.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam moved from car-centric to bikes over decades through investment in bike infrastructure. Copenhagen now has to build bike expressways because the bike traffic is so bad. Its not some strange difference between America and the rest of the world, merely a consequence of incentives.

by SJE on Nov 30, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

@Joshua Davis: Actually, there is a very good argument that if users had to pay for roads directly, there wouldn't be anywhere near as many.

by John on Nov 30, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

@John - I think that's the point, unless you are asserting that roads are not a public amenity.

by Tina on Nov 30, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport

I am soooo sick of this ignorant harassment of photographers. One stupid cop is bad enough... two bad cops is insane. Shouldn't understanding the law be a prereq for being in law enforcement? This needs to be addressed at the highest levels. Otherwise we will become a police state.

by M.V. Jantzen on Nov 30, 2010 9:40 pm • linkreport

I have not read much of Avent's other work, however I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that he is not an equity planning or Smartgrowth advocate. This issue boils down to goals, values, and interrelationships. If all public spaces were private, how many working-class people would be able to use them? If going to the park came with an admission fee, would suburbanites move to an urban village? If not, how would this impact economic development and transit? I know that Fonzie would give the privatization of parks a “thumbs down”. Enjoy your weekend all!

by Scotty McP on Dec 17, 2010 5:39 pm • linkreport

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