Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: On MLK


Photo by E.L. Malvaney on Flickr.
No mixed-use next to St. E's?: NCPC staff say a Comprehensive Plan amendment for mixed-use development on MLK Avenue adjacent to St. Elizabeth's is "contrary to the federal interest" because of the historic wall and security needs for the DHS headquarters. (Housing Complex)

Other streets named MLK: Next Thursday the DC Public Library will screen a film called The State of MLK Street, examining the many roads named after the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Eight young filmmakers traveled to 13 cities across the country to document and discuss what they saw about Dr. King's legacy of social justice. (DCPL)

Road not designed to be at all walkable: Indian Head Highway, a major arterial road in Fort Washington, is so dangerous it has no sidewalk, and whoever killed a woman there likely thought he or she hit a deer. Wouldn't it be nice if Prince George's County prioritized making sure roads are safe for pedestrians? (WTOP)

DC owed $300M in traffic tickets: The District is owed more than $300 million in unpaid parking and driving tickets. The DMV had been planning to run an amnesty program to get more people to pay their delinquent tickets, but will have to "wait and see" whether Mayor Gray want to go ahead with the program. (Examiner)

Shaping the city in 2011: Roger Lewis's "New Year's resolutions for those shaping DC" include green building, preservation, multi-modal transportation, simpler zoning, and modifying the DC height limit. (Post)

Signs of a new mayor: With a new mayor, the first order of business is... putting his name on signs. While we urged Gray to forgo this unnecessary task, DC Water actually made a video of the "changing of the sign." (YouTube)

Biking faster than driving: A French study analyzed 11.6 million trips on Lyon's bike share system, finding that bike riding is appreciably faster than driving in their downtown. The city's planners may use bikesharing ride data to plan bike paths more efficiently. (The Infrastructurist)

Under the city: Steve Duncan is what you might call an urban spelunker. He has explored the underside of cities around the world but particularly enjoys New York City ungerground. (NPR, Matthias)

And...: It was finally confirmed that Tommy Wells will replace Jim Graham on the WMATA Board. (WTOP) ... China is instituting quotas on car ownership to curb ballooning traffic (Bloomberg, Steve S.) ... When Winston Churchill was hit by a car and its driver in Manhattan in 1931. (Andrew Sullivan)

WTOP's best and worst: Whatever AAA says: WTOP lists AAA's best and worst items of the year, which not surprisingly include every highway building or widening among the "best." But instead of writing much, the article just links to AAA's press release. Does WTOP need reporters any more or will they just become a newswire for AAA?

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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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While we're on random subjects, I came across this Marc Fisher Q&A in Metro this morning:

BIKE LNES, ETC.
Like you, I hope Mayor Gray can serve to bring together different parts of the city. However, as a bike rider who frequents some of the new, upscale restaurants Mayor Fenty was responsible for bringing to D.C., I would like to point out that our tax money is essential for paying for much of what Mayor Gray hopes to accomplish. Run us out of the city and its problems will increase, not diminish.

– January 03, 2011 10:58 AM Permalink
A.
MARC FISHER :
Well, sure, that relatively tiny bunch of D.C. residents who pay the vast majority of the taxes in the city may feel that they deserve some extra attention from the District government, but the people at the low end of the income scale feel that they have been spurned and neglected over the past 12 years and that they should be given a larger share of city resources.

The Post's Nikita Stewart did a fascinating and revealing piece last fall looking at the perception in virtually every neighborhood in the city that their Ward and their community was getting the short end of the stick. She did the numbers and found that the Fenty admin was pumping out spending to every ward in remarkably equal numbers. But the Fenty team did a miserable job of getting that message across, and so, most of the city continues to believe that it was shorted during his term. That's where the marketing aspect of any mayoralty becomes essential--you have to not only deliver the goods but hammer home to people that you've done so.

(http://live.washingtonpost.com/outlook:-.html)

This mischaracterizes the demographics of the city. It's common shorthand for regular folks to think of DC as a sea of poverty with a thin skim of wealth on top. That's just not the way things are. It's a (barely) majority black city, but given that the *median* household income is $80k, it most certainly is not a majority poor--or even working-class--one.

The fact that Fisher categorizes those who want middle-class amenities outside of the "vast majority" makes me think he's kind of lost touch with the current composition of DC. It's a delusion I'm (cautiously) optimistic the incoming Gray Administration doesn't share. If they do, Gray's defeat in 2014 will make Fenty's 2010 defeat look like a victory.

Also thought it was interesting that Fisher continued "the people at the low end of the income scale feel that they have been spurned and neglected over the past 12 years and that they should be given a larger share of city resources" whereas in reality "The Post's Nikita Stewart did a fascinating and revealing piece last fall looking at the perception in virtually every neighborhood in the city that their Ward and their community was getting the short end of the stick. She did the numbers and found that the Fenty admin was pumping out spending to every ward in remarkably equal numbers."

Bottom line: voters are fucking idiots resentment is *the* core driver of voting patterns, it's irrational, and therefore when it comes to crafting good public policy "the will of the voter" is the last thing we should care about.

by oboe on Jan 4, 2011 10:00 am • linkreport

"roads not designed to be walkable" -- That part of PG county is the exurbs, and urban approaches to pedestrian safety will not work. Exurban and rural roads will never be walkable.

It is very sorrowful about that poor woman killed on Indian head highway.

by goldfish on Jan 4, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

"China" is not restricting car ownership. Beijing City is limiting the number of new plates; however previous owners can get new ones. Shanghai has had a similar system for a while now.

by charlie on Jan 4, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

Yeah, out here in Accokeek and Fort Washington, there are no sidewalks. Most basic needs aren't in walking distance, so it's expected that everyone drives everywhere. The only hint of transit I have is the W19, which only really runs during rush. I think there was a W17 once, but it was discontinued because farebox recovery was too low.

by Mike on Jan 4, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

That part of PG county is the exurbs, and urban approaches to pedestrian safety will not work. Exurban and rural roads will never be walkable.

That kind of thinking is what produced Rockville Pike, University Boulevard in Langley Park, and the other dangerous streets of the urbanizing inner suburbs.

by Ben Ross on Jan 4, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

I wish there was "urban spelunking" in DC. However, considering the paranoia that results from standing on the sidewalk and taking a picture of a building, I would imagine the penalties for getting caught exploring things underground would be even more ridiculous. Although I guess I could always just say I'm a Metro employee looking for a pocket track to pee on...

by Teyo on Jan 4, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

@ goldfish: Exurban and rural roads will never be walkable.

If you just pave some land, and let cars roar over it, no. On the other hand, if you mandate side-walks, bike lanes, and traffic calming measures such as roundabouts, then those roads can become very walkable.

by Jasper on Jan 4, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

Regarding DHS one commenter over at the Washington City Paper pretty much hit it on the head.

Its a level 5 facility, what did anyone expect?

by freely on Jan 4, 2011 11:09 am • linkreport

It does seem fitting in a way, that the DHS management are being relocated to an insane asylum....

by andrew on Jan 4, 2011 11:18 am • linkreport

$300M in unpaid tickets?! With that kind of enforcement, it makes everyone who have paid their tickets seem like suckers.

by dand on Jan 4, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

I used to live in Gaithersburg, in a neighborhood that had sidewalks. I never got out of my car, even on quarter-mile trips, because I needed all 150 hp to get across the 10-lane highways. I moved to DC as soon as I was able.

"Walkable" means more than sidewalks. You need a place to walk to.

As cities no longer have outer walls, the transition to rural will have a gradient. I repeat: the exurbs will never be walkable. Pedestrian debacles such as Rockville Pike are made as the city grows without proper planning, when a neighborhood becomes suburban.

by goldfish on Jan 4, 2011 11:27 am • linkreport

@dand,

Without a doubt, they are out of District plates. Anyone who has their car plated in DC has at most 2 years to "not" pay a ticket (longest you can register your car before renewal), but as soon as you try to reup your registration, you have to pay the outstanding tickets.

The question is, how do we collect on non-registered DC cars when there is apparently no penalty for them not to pay?

by freely on Jan 4, 2011 11:28 am • linkreport

@freely: "Its a level 5 facility"

Meaning, what exactly? And justified by what data showing adjacent mixed-used development would cause what specific problems? DHS is great at making up ominous sounding designations (level 5 facility, threat level orange, etc) but never seems to define what they mean, the reason for their application at an given time/location, or why they necessitate a particular response. In the immortal words of Kent Brockman "The government has issued an orange alert which, once again, means nothing."

@andrew: +1

by Jacob on Jan 4, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

I wish there was "urban spelunking" in DC. However, considering the paranoia that results from standing on the sidewalk and taking a picture of a building, I would imagine the penalties for getting caught exploring things underground would be even more ridiculous.

You must have missed this gruesome tale:

http://twitter.com/mikedebonis/status/20584667488976897

by oboe on Jan 4, 2011 11:32 am • linkreport

I repeat: the exurbs will never be walkable. Pedestrian debacles such as Rockville Pike are made as the city grows without proper planning, when a neighborhood becomes suburban.

I disagree. The majority of exurbia will remain generally unwalkable. Clusters around transit centers, and large parts of old growth suburbs my be redeemed somewhat, though.
Even the more desolate areas of the suburbs can be made to be more rideable, though. (You can ride into town on a bike in under an hour from Viers Mill and Aspen Hill Road via a combination of bike path, neighborhood streets, and Beach Drive.)

Of course, it will never be able to achieve the level of the urban core, which is why "shorting the 'burbs" (i.e. buying housing in the city) has been such a profitable investment strategy over the last decade or so.

by oboe on Jan 4, 2011 11:38 am • linkreport

@ Jacob,

A level 5 facility is the highest classification given to the security requirements of a government facility.

The Pentagon, CIA, NSA are all level 5 facilities. DHS said from day one ~3 years ago when this project got traction that it would be a level 5 facility.

Now people can agree to disagree whether or not DHS headquarters "needs" to be a level 5 or not, but anyone who thinks that the feds are going to build a brand new whiz bang headquarters for their newest government agency whose name happens to be "Homeland Security" and not make it a virtual fortress the likes of the Pentagon, then you really had your head in the sand. This project was never going to incorporate mixed-use, just like there is no way that the Pentagon would allow a development on their bountiful greenspace surrounding their facility.

by freely on Jan 4, 2011 11:47 am • linkreport

@Freely

You're not listening to what the Comp Plan amendment says - it does not talk at all about changing the nature of the DHS HQ away from a level 5 security level, nor does it say anything about opening up the entire campus to mixed use development - it only talks about a narrow strip of land along MLK Ave being mixed use.

Since MLK Ave is the primary point of reference between the neighborhood and St E's, that small portion of the overall site is exactly where mixed use development should be in order to maximize the potential for making this DHS investment beneficial to the surrounding area, rather than a drag on it.

They can still make it a virtual fortress. This amendment just asks to move the fence back 200 feet.

by Alex B. on Jan 4, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

@oboe

Thanks for the link! I feel like if the photographer had been caught and didn't have "valuable information" to provide, the story would have ended differently for him. Nevertheless, it's good to know that at least some of the law enforcement in this city is able to use logic.

@freely

The Pentagon essentially has a mall inside it which, while accessible only to people with access to the Pentagon itself, provides many amenities that I don't believe CIA, NSA, or DHS will have. Furthermore, the Pentagon has a transit center a few feet away from its entrance, a bike trail alongside it, and a park and marina across the street/creek from it. The CIA and NSA headquarters are both outside of urban areas so having them be isolated isn't so bad. Expecting the same from a facility built within city limits is absurd.

by Teyo on Jan 4, 2011 11:57 am • linkreport

@oboe

Where did you get the number that median household income is $80K? According to the ACS it's $56K. Nearly 25% of households have an income under $25K.

I don't disagree with the rest of what you wrote, but the middle income brackets are definitely more shallow than in the metro area as a whole. Incomes of $200K and above are almost the same % of the population in DC and the metro area. Incomes below $50K and between $75K and $100K are represented much higher and lower (respectively) in DC.

by MLD on Jan 4, 2011 12:31 pm • linkreport

@ Alex. B

It's more complicated than "moving the fence back 200 feet". First, it's not a fence, it's a masonry wall that dates back to the early days of the campus. And there are a historic buildings within within that 200-foot area that would have to be torn down. You may not care about historic preservation but tearing all that stuff down would dramatically change the character of the campus, and a lot of people would have a problem with that.

by ktriarch on Jan 4, 2011 12:33 pm • linkreport

@ktriarch

I never said that building mixed use there would be without challenges, just that 200' of mixed use isn't inherently incompatible with a high security facility.

And yes, there would be historic preservation challenges. I also never suggested that redevelopment would require demolishing those buildings, either. However, preservation of a wall that acts as a barrier to any kind of urban development or use of a property isn't exactly the kind of preservation that I can get behind. Where's the benefit to the community in that? Why should I support preserving a wall for the sake of having an old wall?

by Alex B. on Jan 4, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

Also, having the Comp Plan zone the area for mixed-use doesn't mean it has to be. Most properties are not built to the maximum of what zoning allows. DHS will still own it and could certainly not build anything there.

by David Alpert on Jan 4, 2011 12:45 pm • linkreport

@ goldfish: "Walkable" means more than sidewalks. You need a place to walk to.

My dog disagrees. She loves to just walk around a bit. And at some point she wants to go home again to have a nap. Most joggers will agree with my dog. So do many kids.

Or to put it differently: Home is a place to walk to.

As cities no longer have outer walls, the transition to rural will have a gradient. I repeat: the exurbs will never be walkable.

Untrue. Many are pretty walkable, as long as you stay in your neighborhood. It's lacking connections, mostly at big road intersections, that make places unwalkable. Oddest of all is that especially strip-malls are very unwalkable.

by Jasper on Jan 4, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

RE: Parking Tickets

It'd be interesting to know the breakdown on those parking tickets. How many are more than 5 years old? How many are not going to be paid ever (diplomat plates, police, gov't vehicles)?

Still pretty sad though.

by MLD on Jan 4, 2011 1:08 pm • linkreport

"The question is, how do we collect on non-registered DC cars when there is apparently no penalty for them not to pay?"

If they're moving violations and the tickets are written to people in DC/MD/VA, then you have 60 days to pay before the District suspends your license. I know for a fact (because I've locked people up for this) that the District will contact MD and VA DMVs and have your license suspended in that state. If you're suspended in any state, you're considered not to have a license in DC and you're subject to arrest.

As for parking tickets, IIRC, your tags can be suspended. Suspended tags are the equivalent of operating an unregistered automobile, another arrestable offense in D.C.. The DC DMV will also refused to renew your tags, which means you'll be operating an unregistered vehicle.

One thing to consider when trying to collect the ticket money is that the people who rack up tickets, especially movers, are awful drivers and poor as hell and have no intention of paying their tickets. They don't pay their tickets because the only punishment is suspension of their license and the likelihood of getting caught driving on a suspended license is low. Even after being caught and arrested for operating after suspension, the odds are that you're not going to do any time in D.C. Jail for it because the District can't afford it.

by Boomhauer on Jan 4, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport

Where did you get the number that median household income is $80K? According to the ACS it's $56K. Nearly 25% of households have an income under $25K.

Woah. Sorry, of course, you're right. I'm totally losing it.
Post holiday hangover...

by oboe on Jan 4, 2011 5:04 pm • linkreport

>> Where did you get the number that median household income is $80K? According to the ACS it's $56K. Nearly 25% of households have an income under $25K.

Does that include unemployed and retirees?

by Paul S on Jan 4, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Boomhauer, that $300 million is unearned money that doesn't belong to the district. I can understand if someone did some sort of actual harm, like crashing their car, requiring an ambulance, destroying city property, etc. But someone getting a ticket for running a stop sign? How does that money now belong to the city, and what right do you have to arrest people for not paying for a non-crime? How are most moving and parking violations criminal offenses anyway? How is it not a civil matter in which a citizen feels violated can file a suit against a motorist?

DC is the absolute worst when it comes to imposing themselves on people, stealing their money for victimless "crimes" like not stopping at a stop sign with no other cars at the intersection, or not wearing a seat belt which cops don't do anyway.

I'm not talking about actual crashes or harm. I'm talking about when there was no harm. In fact the more dangerous thing is when a cop pulls someone over and blocks a whole lane of traffic. Not only are you clogging up traffic for no good reason, you're also punishing someone for doing nothing. You're basically extorting money out of them with the threat of force for a nothing, just air, not even that. When there's no tangible crime committed, I don't see how anyone can be justified at threatening to ruin someone's life over doing essentially nothing.

by Outlaw tickets on Jan 5, 2011 5:33 am • linkreport

Good stuff from "Outlaw tickets". That sort of mentality is exactly why we need to strengthen the relatively modest enforcement efforts DC makes. Let's double the number of praking enforcement officers, start impounding more cars, and if they don't pay, maybe pass legislation to allow for seizure of the property.

That way there's no "threatening to ruin someone's life." Just civil forfeiture of the vehicle they're too irresponsible to be allowed to operate within the city boundaries.

The idea that DC is too draconian is just silly. You should spend some time in NYC or Chicago.

by oboe on Jan 5, 2011 10:19 am • linkreport

Re: Steve Duncan. The NPR report doesn't say this, but Mr. Duncan is a native of Cheverly, MD. Unfortunately, he's done most of his urban spelunking in New York instead of here in the D.C. area. Too much security, perhaps?

by Patrick Wojahn on Jan 5, 2011 12:40 pm • linkreport

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