Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Who to hire?


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Gray picks public safety chiefs, Lanier to stay: Vince Gray revealed his picks to head the city's various public safety agencies. Cathy Lanier will stay on as MPD Chief, apparently to the dismay of some police officers. (WAMU, City Paper)

WMATA needs drivers: WMATA has a severe shortage of bus and train operators, with more than 200 vacancies including station managers. The result is a costly increase in overtime hours paid to current operators. (Post, Cavan)

Capital region commuters drive less, ride more: Washington area residents are shifting their commute choices, with fewer people driving and more taking public transit. The Post thinks this means "abandoning your car" and "sacrificing the suburban amenities" to live in more accessible neighborhoods. (Post, Stanton Park)

Housing harder to afford: The ACS also revealed that average income declined in many communities on the east side of the region, but rents and house prices rose, making housing increasingly less affordable. (Housing Complex)

Transit backlog thanks to ICC: Maryland's many transit projects are backlogged due to limited funds (Silver Spring, MD Patch) ... The article doesn't explicitly mention that the reason for the backlog is that all the funds got spent on the ICC.

MWAA will likely drop closest Dulles station proposal: At a board meeting yesterday the MWAA expressed hesitance about one of the above ground station proposal after a rendering showed the placement would obstruct the view of the front of the building. (WTOP, Sand Box John)

Adams Morgan hotel gets support: The Adams Morgan ANC voted to support a controversial tax break for a planned hotel replacing the First Church of Christ, Scientist (not the Brutalist one downtown) and the City Paper offices. Is it worth the cost? There are strong arguments this time that maybe it is. (Housing Complex)

Va. Beach light rail hits a snag: Hampton Roads Transit apparently hid the true cost overruns of their light rail project when communicating with Norfolk City Council, causing light-rail championing mayor Will Sessoms to put the brakes on the project. (WAVY-TV)

And...: The Central Liquor sign issue was not resolved at last night's HPRB meeting. The Board will take up the issue at the next meeting. (The Location, Kim Bender) ... The House Wednesday night passed a bill that allows DC to erect one statue in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. The 50 states each have two statues. (WTOP, Gavin) ... Baseball star Cliff Lee and his wife point to Philadelphia's transportation options as a reason he chose to re-sign with the Phillies. (the700level, CM)

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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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The headline reads MWAA will likely drop closest Dulles station proposal but the links imply the opposite -- that MWAA will drop the plans for an above-ground station, and instead prefer a closer station that's right underneath the airport.

by tom veil on Dec 17, 2010 9:15 am • linkreport

"suburban amenities" -- like what? The nearby gas station? All the "amenities" are a long car trip away -- that's what the suburbs are.

by Gavin on Dec 17, 2010 9:40 am • linkreport

The option under consideration was not the split level proposal I made, it is this one:

My version of the above has a lower profile:

by Sand Box John on Dec 17, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

In a region where a huge number of people get transit paid for, lots of people take transit. shocking!

by ChrisW on Dec 17, 2010 9:45 am • linkreport

The shift away from driving can be explained with 2 graps: nominal household income and nominal retail gas prices - both obtainable from the Census and EIA, respectively. The trends show over the past 2 decades, while median household income has increased 2.2% annually in MD, gas prices increased 6.8% annually . Overlaying these two plots shows that, for MD at least, the cost of gasoline as % of annual household take-home pay doubled from 2000 to now. Extrapolation of this trend show that absent drastic changes in vehicle fleet, by 2020 the median household will be spending about 13% of their take home income on gasoline. I think that this partially explains the increase in public transportation use. Will the invisible hand come in to play to drop gas prices? Perhaps, but demand is fungible and isn’t really dependent on how we in DC react to increasing prices. Bottom line: until something else comes around to shake things ups, the demand for public transportation will continue, as will the trend of moving to cities (particularly for renters – who can move much easier).

by Bryon on Dec 17, 2010 9:51 am • linkreport

@David Transit apparently hid the true cost overruns of their light rail project when communicating with Norfolk City Council, causing light-rail championing mayor Will Sessoms to put the brakes on the project.

Makes it sound like Will Sessoms is the mayor of Norfolk. He's actually mayor of adjoining Virginia Beach.

by Lance on Dec 17, 2010 9:53 am • linkreport

@Gavin - Greater personal space (e.g. your own front and back yard) is one, obviously. The greater privacy and quiet that comes with increased space (e.g. not having to listen to your neighbors in flagrante delicto nightly) and decreased density. Functioning public schools would be another big one.

Personally, most of those don't matter that much to me at the moment, which is why I live 2 minutes away from a Metro station and a major bus corridor. But it's silly to pretend that there's nothing about the suburbs that could possible be appealing to people.

by Dizzy on Dec 17, 2010 10:11 am • linkreport

@tom veil
Be that as it may. Have you seen what WMAA plans for the underground station? Said station would be similar to the underground half of the lower level at Fort Totten.

See page 24 Metrorail Project Update (4.04 MB PDF file).

In my opinion any station in subway at Dulles Airport should be an arched vault, preferably a coffered arch vault of the Harry Weese verity, first generation 22 coffer arch vault.

by Sand Box John on Dec 17, 2010 10:14 am • linkreport

@ ChrisW: In a region where a huge number of people get transit paid for, lots of people take transit. shocking!

In a region where a huge number of people get transit roads paid for, lots of people take transit roads. shocking!

Very generic statement dude.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

I read the Post's article yesterday and snickered at the "suburban amenities" bit too. The only one I can think of is that housing is cheaper....that's usually the reason people give for moving one hour away from their job. Seems more like a sacrifice to me.

by OX4 on Dec 17, 2010 10:25 am • linkreport

@Erik Weber: A minor statistical quibble, but what the ACS revealed is that median income declined in those places, not that average income declined. There is a difference between the two.

by rock_n_rent on Dec 17, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

@OX4: "....that's usually the reason people give for moving one hour away from their job. Seems more like a sacrifice to me."

That's a pretty broad generalization. My office is in Herndon and I live on Capitol Hill which results in an almost one-hour commute. I have a lot of coworkers who live in the suburbs and are only minutes from the office.

Don't fall into the assumption that every job in the region is in central DC.

by ChrisW on Dec 17, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

a rendering showed the placement would obstruct the view of the front of the building.

Isn't there now a big ugly parking lot obstructing the view of the airport? And in who's view would that metro station be anyway? Who goes to the airport to view the building? Can anybody, for instance, point to a (tourist) guide that recommends people to go see the view of the airport? Can't we consider a pretty metro station as part of the building?

So many questions, so few reasonable answers.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

a rendering showed the placement would obstruct the view of the front of the building.

Isn't there now a big ugly parking lot obstructing the view of the airport? And in who's view would that metro station be anyway? Who goes to the airport to view the building? Can anybody, for instance, point to a (tourist) guide that recommends people to go see the view of the airport? Reagan seems fine with a metro station and parking garage in front of it. Can't we consider a pretty metro station as part of the building?

So many questions, so few reasonable answers.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

Oops. Double post. Apologies. First one can go. As can this one.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

@Jasper; in MWAA's defense, I think they were also concerned about how construction of a station would disrupt passengers and not just the viewshed.

That being said, what is really ugly about Dulles is the parking lots right in front of the terminal. At least have the decency to deck them over, which would also provide some shade during the summer.

@Byron; interesting, but how can you take the increase in gasoline prices and then say it is a % of household income? That being said, there were some studies that showed that the people who live in new exurban colonies were paying a huge percentage of their income in gasoline, and a gas spike really did them in.

I strongly suspect $4 gas is coming back quickly. We had two years to get ready, and did almost nothing. It will be painful and interesting to see what the next price spike does.

by charlie on Dec 17, 2010 10:40 am • linkreport

A few things:

1) Those cushy union jobs must not be attractive as they sound! Still, I'm a bit surprised that they have so many vacancies given the economy. There's got to be more to that story.

2) Why is that Adams Morgan hotel going on a side-street? AdMo seems like a strange place to put a 5-star hotel. Also, consider that WCP is likely to be an extremely biased source on this issue, as they'd probably very much like to sell their building to Marriott at a premium. (Also, claims that it would "create the foot traffic Adams Morgan desperately needs" seem bizarre. Adams Morgan is *always* busy)

3) MWAA never seems concerned with practicality or costs. That said, if it's an underground (or partial underground) station, I do think that the 22-coffer arch design would be appropriate, as Dulles will be many people's first glimpse of the Metro system. If the platforms will be truly separate, I've always been more fond of the Wheaton/Forest Glen station layout, over the ones at Pentagon/Rosslyn.

by andrew on Dec 17, 2010 10:46 am • linkreport

Sand Box John: Thank you for the link! The WMAA is being much more bizarre than I could have imagined. Why not just put the station underneath the airport itself? Seems like they're making everyone walk a couple hundred feet, and expose themselves to the elements, for no good reason.

by tom veil on Dec 17, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

@ChrisW -- you're right. I actually meant to say "...give to me." i.e., most of my friends who have moved out of the Beltway have done so to buy a house, not for any explicit suburban amenities.

by OX4 on Dec 17, 2010 10:56 am • linkreport

Re: Adams Morgan Hotel.

Just to clarify... the hotel will not "replace" the church in the sense of destroying it. The hotel will utilize the church building to create an event facility, restuarants, and bars. The Developer is going to/has to preserve the integrity of the structure as part of the sales contract. The majority of the rooms will be built behind that structure and will consume the parking lots and the city paper building. All considered, a good deal for the city... preserve historic structure, eliminate parking lot, and build facility that creates revenues on the hotel tax, parking tax (garages) and food/beverage tax. The only thing the city isn't getting is the increased property taxes from 2014-2030.

by Joe. H on Dec 17, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

@sandbox; and now we enter Dulles airport like rats.

by charlie on Dec 17, 2010 11:03 am • linkreport

@andrew and charlie
Seems you and I think alike.

by Sand Box John on Dec 17, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

@Jasper,

I think this mantra of "car subsidies are far greater than transit subsidies" in the DC Metro pretty much are debunked at this point, especially on a per passenger mile, or on a straight flat percentage. Locally, its at least an even trade off, if not more slanted towards transit.

For example, Metro's yearly subsidy alone from MD, VA and DC to cover the farebox/expenditure differnetial now totals 500 million a year, every year, forever. Do Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, PG Counties and the District (jurisdictions that metro covers) collectively spend 500 million a year, every year on road maintenance or construction?

Of course we have massive roads projects.The 11th and 14th street bridges in DC (400 million over 4 years, or 100 million a year). The mixing bowl and Wilson Bridge (totaled 3 billion over 10 years or 300 million a year and is now finished), the ICC (2.5 billion over 7 years, but tolling is to pay for 60 %of it), but we also have massive transit projects as well, (7 billion over 10 years, 700 million a year for Silver Line). There are VRE and MARC subsidies too. We haven't touched the jurisidicational specific subsidies like the money DC spends on the Circulator, Fairfax and Arlington bus lines etc.

Considering the majority of DC metro commuters (66%)travel alone via car, I think the mass transit subsidies are getting their fair share, if not more. This isn't to say that mass transit isn't a valuable thing and that increasing access to it in a smart and legitimate way isn't valuable to the region as a whole, but "mass transit" is not the answer to every problem and but I think the tilting at windmills re subsidies, isn't helpful for the cause.

by freely on Dec 17, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea of an underground station at Dulles. I wouldn't have wanted to wait for a train on an outdoor platform this week, especially after getting off of a long flight. However, it really should be convenient to the terminal...

by andrew on Dec 17, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

Re suburban amenities: Most former urbanites I know decamped when they seriously compared the schools. Any real estate agent will tell you, schools drive housing prices. People unsatisfied with their local schools compare the cost of private school with the additional mortgage cost in a better neighborhood. If they can't afford either, their other choice is to move further out.

I am going to go out on a limb with an armchair analysis: that is why the charter schools are such a game changer. They make living in more affordable neighborhoods possible for those with kids. That is why neighborhoods such as Brookland have taken off.

by goldfish on Dec 17, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

@sandbox; personally I think the entire metro to Dulles is a massive waste of money. $7 billion?

But it seems as if the station placement is about building a tunnel at Dulles, rather than customer preferences. Rather funny they couldn't find the money to make a tunnel in Tysons, where it would make a difference, but want to build one under Dulles airport, where it isn't important. I think we are getting the worst possible choices in both cases.

by charlie on Dec 17, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Andrew, if you think driving a Metro bus is a "cushy" job, I suggest that you try it!

by Fred on Dec 17, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

Many people may get transit subsidies from their employers but it is still less than their employers often pay for a parking space. Give me what my employer pays other workers for a parking space and keep the transit subsidies. I would make a fortune.

by Curious George on Dec 17, 2010 11:26 am • linkreport

@Curious George, I'm not an expert on this, but I know for certain at Commerce every employee can get transit subsidy, but only SES are eligible for parking. At another smaller agency, you can pay for parking—no free parking unless you're in a carpool.

by ChrisW on Dec 17, 2010 11:33 am • linkreport

Curious George: Does your employer provide a higher transit subsidy for parking than for mass transit? If so have you discussed this disparate practice with HR to find out why? Or is your point simply that non-wage benefits in general subsidize those who choose to use them at the expense of those who do not?

The original point by ChrisW seemed to be value neutral: a city where employers cover the transit fare will have more people using transit than a city where employers do not do so. That was the purpose of the transit subsidy, so the original point by ChrisW implies that the subsidy is working as intended.

It might be worth mentioning that there are two reasonable ways to look at this transportation subsidy:

  • Assume that people have a given job and choose where to live based partly on transportation costs, and then transit subsidies, parking subsidies, and the moonlighters tax deduction for interjob commuting all seem to encourate people to commute longer distances.

  • Assume that you live where you live, then commuting is a cost of producing income and all of it should logically tax deductible. That fact that most commuting costs are not tax-deductible means that those with longer commutes must pay a higher effective tax rate than those with little of not commuting cost.

by JimT on Dec 17, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport

@Fred I was more referring to the rhetoric being tossed around these forums that Metro bus drivers are unskilled and overpaid.

I do not agree with that assessment one iota, and my comment was intended to underscore that view, as there would be fierce competition for the jobs if they were as cushy and overcompensated as people make them out to be.

(However, nevertheless, virtually nobody has a significant number of vacancies at any pay or skill level these days. I still find it curious that Metro might be one of the only organizations in the country that's facing a severe labor shortage. Extensive overtime for bus/train drivers should be illegal, just as it is for pilots and FRA-regulated train drivers)

by andrew on Dec 17, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

I was referring specifically to when the max transit benefit for my employer was $60 but it cost them roughly $100 a month to rent a parking pass in our building. This was not for a government agency.

As far as getting equity for benefits from HR at the time the &60 limit was what they were willing to pay. It may have been tax deductible for them. Regardless they paid a lot more for a parking space.

And good luck getting HR to provide equity.

I would be more than happy to give up my transit subsidy if others gave up their parking subsidy. I personally have no choice but to use public transit but I would take a parking pass out of sheer spite if it cost the company more.

by Curious George on Dec 17, 2010 1:18 pm • linkreport

Dizzy, noise has nothing to do with urban or suburban living. It has to do with the quality of construction.

If you live in a crappy american-made timberbox apartment, then yes, you can hear every neighbor, every door opening and closing, and every cough. The guy upstairs moving his chair sounds like a truck. It sucks.

But if you live in a well made cement building with proper insulation, than noise is not an issue at all. I've lived in well made apartment buildings, and they were quieter than a suburban home.

Another design choice is that in America, our apartment buildings are designs liked projects and not homes. I've seen some buildings that are 6 floors with 500 apartments. What the hell? Most apartment buildings in Brazil (for example) have at most 2 apartments per floor. In many cases just one apartment per floor, and the luxury buildings have 2 floors per apartment. That makes the experience much more private.

As for amenities, that's another construction choice, not a given. Let me show you suburban homes built in the last decade, they have backyards smaller than some apartment balconies. Meanwhile, I can show you an apartment building with a pool, tennis court, koi pond and a relaxing garden.

by JJJJJ on Dec 17, 2010 1:26 pm • linkreport

@ charlie: in MWAA's defense, I think they were also concerned about how construction of a station would disrupt passengers and not just the viewshed.

If MWAA ever worried about passenger disruption the C & D terminals on Dulles would have been raised and rebuilt many years ago.

what is really ugly about Dulles is the parking lots right in front of the terminal.

Agreed.

Rather funny they couldn't find the money to make a tunnel in Tysons, where it would make a difference, but want to build one under Dulles airport, where it isn't important.

It is important at Dulles. Just as it is in Tysons. Same reasons. But then again, an open air platform is nicely in line with the general poor first impression that Dulles gives our visitors anyway.

@ freely: Do Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, PG Counties and the District (jurisdictions that metro covers) collectively spend 500 million a year, every year on road maintenance or construction?

Easily, although I don't have the numbers at hand. Arlington has control over all the state routes in the county, and Fairfax is considering to take them over, because VDOT simply is not doing a good enough job. You're mentioning all the big projects, but ignoring all the regular maintenance of all the county roads.

Considering the majority of DC metro commuters (66%)travel alone via car, I think the mass transit subsidies are getting their fair share, if not more.

Does anybody have the full numbers on this? Might be difficult though. We probably disagree on this. Perhaps we can agree that there is too little money for both roads and transit.

@ goldfish: Any real estate agent will tell you, schools drive housing prices. People unsatisfied with their local schools compare the cost of private school with the additional mortgage cost in a better neighborhood. If they can't afford either, their other choice is to move further out.

Anecdotal evidence: I had this conversation yesterday with someone who lives on Capitol Hill. They love living there, have a great home, but fear the cost of private school and refuse to destroy the future of their children by punishing them with the DC school system.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 1:34 pm • linkreport

@Jasper,

VDOT Northern Virginia District (Loudoun, PW, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria) Budget 354 million (2009).
Mont Co DOT (2010) - 41 mil
PG Co Dot (2010)- 32 mil
Arlington Dot(2010) - 21 mil
DDOT - 102 mil(2010)

Total yearly DOT spending for all the jurisdictions Metro Services, including two it doesn't and we have 550 million. Thats assuming ofc course that every last dollar spent by all the above DOT's is spend on a road project, which obviously it isn't. PG's department is a combined DOT and Public Works (trash and sewage treatment).

Pretty dang even...

by freely on Dec 17, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

Is it strange that Metro gets train drivers by promoting them out of a bus?

At least it explains why the train drivers steer with the throttle.

by Turnip on Dec 17, 2010 7:17 pm • linkreport

I am flying to Madrid for the holidays. Once in Madrid airport I will take the subway train that will take me to downtown Madrid for 2euros.
I wish I could get that when I fly in/out of Dulles.

Someday DC will become the great city it deserves!!

http://www.metromadrid.es/en/index.html

by Mar on Dec 17, 2010 9:54 pm • linkreport

@charlie
The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project is apt name for the project. The whole project is not about bring metrorail to Dulles Airport. It is about serving the entire Dulles corridor. In the big schema of things the airport itself will generate a small fraction of the boarding on the line. Building a station that serves the airport is a minor detour from the overall alignment that is primarily for the purpose of serving daily commuters that live and work in the corridor. Hell, if the detour through Tysons Corner had not been in the plan the whole proposal would have been shot down early on.

As stated in the WTOP article by Mame Reiley "We are making a decision that will impact this region for the next 100 years, Sometimes, it is cheaper to do things right the first time". Or as I like to say "It takes longer and costs more to do something in hurry and end up getting wrong then taking your time and doing it right".

by Sand Box John on Dec 17, 2010 10:14 pm • linkreport

Jasper,

I live on Capitol Hill and my kid goes to a public school. I'm pretty sure I'm not destroying her future or punishing her.

by TimK on Dec 17, 2010 10:33 pm • linkreport

Freely's numbers are bogus. Here are some facts about Montgomery County.

$41 is the MoCO DOT operating budget. The capital budget, which includes road maintenance, is separate and much bigger. And these numbers don't include the enormous amounts of money that Montgomery County extracts from developers in the form of required road construction, required parking, etc. Most local streets in Montgomery County are built by the developers, under county requirements. The construction costs are hidden when you look at the budget. And of course, there are the costs of policing the highways (Metro's police are in its budget) etc.

by Ben Ross on Dec 18, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

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