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Breakfast links: Shoveling out news

Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.
Plowing priorities kill pedestrian: A 77-year-old man was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Anne Arundel County. Police say he was "walking in the roadway because plowed snow prevented him from using the sidewalk or the shoulder." Will the state's road safety head say it's the pedestrian's fault? (Baltimore Sun)

Throw a snowball, get throat cut: One Prince William County man threw a snowball at another, who was shoveling. A fight ensued, and the shoverler ended up slitting the snowball-thrower's throat with a box cutter. (TBD)

During the snow...: Residents in small-scale walkable areas like Alexandria's Del Ray bond at the local coffeeshop when a major storm disrupts everyday life (WAMU) ... One driver recounts a hellish afternoon commute (WTOP) ... Dupont Circle hosted another major snowball fight. (Borderstan)

Sarles explains snow service decision: WMATA chose to end Metrobus service during Wednesday night's storm around 7pm when 70 buses were already stuck in snow, giving riders a 2.5 hour warning. Many riders' commutes didn't actually end at 9:30, though, some continuing for hours. (TBD)

Sarles official, finalizes contract: The WMATA Board officially appointed Richard Sarles as permanent General Manager and CEO yesterday, and are finalizing the contract under which he will be paid $350,000 a year. (WTOP) ... It turns out WMATA had almost selected another candidate when Sarles asked to be considered. (WAMU)

Two very different House Republicans: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego), one of the new members of the House Transportation Committee, thinks building highways is in the Constitution but transit has to pay for itself. Meanwhile, another new member, Richard Hanna (R-Upstate NY) thinks Portland is doing some good things and even likes its growth boundary. (Streetsblog Capitol Hill)

Roads in urban areas safer: NHTSA data shows that urban roads are safer because traffic travels at lower speeds. Washington, DC has the least dangerous streets in terms of road deaths per 100,000 residents, with only 4.8 in 2009. (USA Today, Rob Pitingolo)

London neighborhood council "bans" cycling on path: The neighborhood council in Lambeth, London has placed "No Cycling" signs on a wide path on the south bank of the Thames, though by law cycling is actually allowed. A safety officer asked a woman to dismount her tricycle despite her limited mobility without it. (London Cycling)

And...: The Federal Protective Service has reminded officers that it really is legal to photograph the outsides of federal facilities (NYT) ... Arlington's central library in Ballston will be getting solar panels on its roof (TBD) ... Matter-of-right zoning has overcome religious bigotry in California for an Islamic center. (Post) ... Someone created a fake Twitter account for Mayor Vince Gray.

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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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Building highways is in the Constitution.

Article I, Section 8.
To establish post offices and post roads;

One can argue what constitutes a post road but there it is plan as day.

During most of the history of the United States the federal funding of the construction of road was done through the Bureau of Public Roads within the Department of Interior.

by Sand Box John on Jan 28, 2011 8:57 am • linkreport

"small scale walkable" Del Ray has a lot of lazy homeowners who don't shovel their walks. Hey stay-at-home moms, aging hippy dads with trust funds, get out there and clear that stuff.

by spookiness on Jan 28, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

"Will the state's road safety head say it's the pedestrian's fault?"

Walking in the street at 2:36 a.m. in the morning, only hours after a significant snow storm and the snow has yet been effectively cleared; so yes they will.

by RJ on Jan 28, 2011 9:05 am • linkreport

Pretty excited to be the first on my block to get a shipping address on the Interstate!!

by Denny on Jan 28, 2011 9:19 am • linkreport

I wonder if Congressman Hunter thinks that airports should have to pay for themselves. After all, like post roads they aren't mentioned by name in the Constitution either.

by Kate on Jan 28, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

Yes, as RJ said.

And if you look at streetview, there are no sidewalks, so this wasn't a "plowing priority" issue. There are no sidewalks to plow. It was the issue of someone walking in the middle of the street at 2:30 in the morning after a major snow storm.

I hope the guy who hit him is found and the book thrown at him, but the guy who was hit is just as culpable.

by freely on Jan 28, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

The Postal Clause has been interpreted, through legislation and judicial decisions, to be pretty expansive and allow the federal government to build pretty much anything transportation related. For example, a 19th-century law designated all present and future railroads as "post roads," so that the government could regulate them and, eventually, build and maintain them.

So if it's that expansive, I think you could include bike infrastructure under that. (Although I still believe that bike infrastructure, since it is almost always serves an exclusively local purpose, should be funded locally, not federally.)

Also, the teabaggers should be up in arms about federal transportation policy and funding. Under strict readings of the Postal Clause and the Commerce Clause, most of what the federal government does in transportation in unconstitutional. Why aren't they complaining?

by Tim on Jan 28, 2011 9:37 am • linkreport

Regarding Del Ray, the biggest problem is the City. The storefronts and most of the sidewalks are cleared. The bus stop across the street from St. Elmo's is a sheet of ice.

The second biggest problem is the folks with the corner lots. For some reason they don't feel the need to clear their entire sidewalk.

by movement on Jan 28, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

Post roads are road that are used to convey mail between post offices. That is what was meant in the constitution.

Using your logic, every road that is used to access a mailing address could be funded through the federal government. That would mean 100 percent of the non controlled access highway in this country.

Most of us know that most of the road mileage as originally built in this country were not built with federal funds.

Most of the road milage as originally built in all of those subdivision scattered across the country were payed for through revenues generated from the sales of the properties in those subdivision.

by Sand Box John on Jan 28, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

@Tim the tea party folks ARE complaining about funding transportation. Did you see the Rand Paul plan?

They want to tie road funding to gas tax receipts and eliminate the subsidy for Amtrak.

by movement on Jan 28, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

@Sand Box John:

Per your link, the Bureau of Public Roads was never in the Department of Interior (Dept. of Agriculture 1893-1939, Federal Works Agency 1939-1949, Dept. of Commerce 1949-1966, Dept. of Transportation 1966-1970; replaced by Federal Highway Administration in 1970).

More importantly, there was no federal funding of highway construction until Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916. Before then, Bureau of Public Roads (known variously as the Office of Road Inquiry, Office of Public Road Inquiries, Office of Public Roads, and Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering) acted as an advocacy organization to direct and coordinate state (rather than federal) construction of rural roads. No connection as such with "post roads" and thus with dubious Constitutional authority.

In the early 20th century there was a vigorous Post Office Department, with a cabinet-level Postmaster General; if road construction were following the Constitutional authorization of "post roads", it would appear the appropriations should have gone through that department, rather than the Dept. of Agriculture (note that funding for Rural Free Delivery, which often required the upgrading of local roads for mail delivery, went through the Post Office Department).

See Bruce E. Seely's _Building the American Highway System: Engineers as Policy Makers_ (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987) for a comprehensive history of the Bureau of Public Roads and its advocacy functions.

by rock_n_rent on Jan 28, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

Arlington is blowing 300k on solar panels for a library whose hours have been cut back due to funding.

Chris Zimmerman = FAIL

by TGEoA on Jan 28, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

Wait - you regularly post here inveighing about "vehicles" that don't kill people, but rather drivers that do. But now, "plowing priorities" can kill people? What's next "gasoline tax kills pedestrians" because the gas tax pays for roads that pedestrians may walk on and drivers then don't avoid because they're careless?

by ah on Jan 28, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

@TGEOA: "The panels, expected to cost about $300,000, are being paid for with federal grant money awarded to Arlington in the stimulus package."

Until federal grant money can pay for keeping libraries open longer hours, I'd hold off on the Zimmerman = fail. It's a different source of money.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 28, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

I thought the interstates were for national security, now they're for the post office?

Which is it?

by Michael Perkins on Jan 28, 2011 9:57 am • linkreport

Many bike paths get money from TE funds which specifically allows for the purchase of abandoned rail lines, and the "banking" of these rail lines as trails for later re-use. So that part is definitely a federal function under the post clause.

The other major source of trails money is the Recreational Trails Program. It gets it's money from an estimate of the amount of gas tax collected from non-road use (ATVs, boats, jet skis, snow machines, etc...). While this may not be covered by the coastal clause, certainly the federal government has a role in recreation facilities - as evidenced by the Parks Service's recreational areas. Unless the tea party would like the federal government to turn those over to the state governments. In which case they should also return the non-road gas tax revenue back to states.

But it's really just a bunch of simplified talking points for some complicated issues.

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 10:01 am • linkreport

I meant postal clause not coastal...

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

DC's highways have a criminal speed limit of 45MPH and either fixed cameras and/or mobile police car cameras.

The road is clearly designed for much faster than that, and many people travel way above the limit. The few times I'm on either 395 or 295 I travel at 45 MPH and am nearly killed due to the speed differential. Many times I have to slow down because I immediately don't realize how "fast" I am going because the road is clearly built for higher speeds.

by SpdLmtLow on Jan 28, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport

Tim I still believe that bike infrastructure, since it is almost always serves an exclusively local purpose, should be funded locally, not federally. What about roads that serve an exclusively local purpose. What about using federal funds on a road like Glebe Road? Or on a state highway? Should that be funded locally, not federally? Where is your dividing line?

And what about trails like the CCT, Met branch or Mt Vernon that cross state lines?

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 10:13 am • linkreport


Out of all the buildings they could have slapped solar panels on, they had to do it to the jewel of the county, the Central Library. The irony is disgusting considering the County Board is sticking it to library users and spending money on things like the useless Artisphere and water parks for dogs.

Zimmie has proved time and time again anything he touches turns to shit. Look at his tenure on Metro.

by TGEoA on Jan 28, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

"The Postal Clause has been interpreted, through legislation and judicial decisions, to be pretty expansive and allow the federal government to build pretty much anything transportation related."

I'm fine with that, but something tells me Hunter and the Tea Partiers probably consider themselves strict constructionists, so they'd have to go by what the words actually say, rather than what the could mean. Though in that case, I'm not sure "post roads" would cover 10-lane highways.

by Mike B on Jan 28, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

@ SpdLmtLow: The few times I'm on either 395 or 295 I travel at 45 MPH and am nearly killed due to the speed differential.

If you think driving >45 on I-395 and I/DC-295 *in DC* is safe, then you do not care much about your suspension. I-395 and I-295 in MD and VA are properly maintained and have higher speed limits. In DC, the roads narrow and are terribly maintained, especially the joint from bridges and fly-overs to normal road.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

@Micheal Perkins -- The legislative history of the interstate highway system indicates a national defense purpose. (See

I've also understood that economic development and similar things was "the real purpose" and that tacking something in to a defense bill was a good way to get funding.

However, as Tim pointed out lots of federal transportation involvements been pegged to the postal clause. I suspect someone could have made an interstate commerce argument as well.

Hunter seems to be taking a very limited strict constructionist view. That's why I wonder how he feels about airports.

by Kate on Jan 28, 2011 10:40 am • linkreport

Sorry, that is bunk. 295/395 might be bumpy, but they can easily support 55MPH unless you are driving a jalopy.

by movement on Jan 28, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

@ movement: but they can easily support 55MPH unless you are driving a jalopy.

Of course they do. If they had been maintained properly. Pretty much every road is designed for speeds 10 over the actual speed limit.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

@Kate; a large percentage of FAA money is based on fees from airlines. Much like TSA.

by charlie on Jan 28, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

My bad, was working from faulty memory.

by Sand Box John on Jan 28, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

No, I mean today, with today's maintenance. If they were maintained properly they could support 65MPH.

The 45MPH limit is artificially and pointlessly low and the only reason they are there is to enable collection of fines. It has nothing to do with traffic safety.

by movement on Jan 28, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

@Spooky & Movement
The number to call in Alexandria to report people who do not shovel their sidewalks is 703-746-4035. The website lists the wrong number.

I spoke with them this morning to report several houses which *never* shovel their sidewalk. As usual, I expect the city to do nothing. I have called the city in the past about these houses and the usual response is that nothing happens.

While speaking with the city employee who answered the phone, she mentioned that this morning two seniors fell and were injured in Del Ray because of icy sidewalks.

Sadly, until the City of Alexandria takes pedestrian mobility seriously, I doubt anything will happen.

by EZ on Jan 28, 2011 12:01 pm • linkreport

@charlie: The argument (which I completely disagree with, just to get that out there) is that the federal government shouldn't even be establishing or running the program, not that they shouldn't use general treasury funds for it.

@Michael Perkins: You're right about the defense thing. But it's still something that isn't an enumerated right given to Congress. The constitution says Congress can establish an army and a navy (notice: no air force!), but if I were a teabagger, it'd be pretty easy to argue that a huge expanse of millions of lane-miles of free-to-use roads are for defense (of course, teabaggers love the military, so that probably wouldn't happen).

@movement: Color me surprised; it's Rand Paul. But collecting and distributing fees is still establishing and operating a program, and I'd argue that if you can't establish it, it doesn't matter where the money comes from.

@David C: I had this discussion yesterday on another comment thread. Roads that serve an exclusively local purpose probably shouldn't get federal funding either. In my hometown, a rural intersection was recently upgraded with federal money. Why should someone living in downtown Los Angeles fund that? It's hard to draw a diving line, yes, but sometimes it's pretty clear. Those trails you mentioned should be funded by the jurisdictions that they serve, not the federal government.

by Tim on Jan 28, 2011 12:28 pm • linkreport

Thankfully the tea party is exhibiting at least a semblance of pragmatism. If you were to ask Ron Paul, he'd probably tell you that the federal government shouldn't be involved in road construction at all, although transportation doesn't seem to be an important part of his platform one way or the other. Rand Paul simply put forth a plan that would cut $500B from this year's spending in a way consistent with his ideology. The plan ranges from aggressive to reckless but it is at least a reasonable starting point for discussion of where we should be cutting spending.

by movement on Jan 28, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

@ Tim:In my hometown, a rural intersection was recently upgraded with federal money. Why should someone living in downtown Los Angeles fund that?

It's not that simple. Is there perhaps a movie related business on that road that Hollywood benefits from? Is the intersection near a supermarket that sells CA agricultural products? Is there a theater that need to get movies from LA?

Who should pay for the upgrades of I-95 near DC? We, or all the snowbirds that drive over it?

Good infrastructure is essential for a smoothly running economy. However, it is very difficult to split the cost of infrastructure out to users.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

Tim, so even if a trail is interstate, it shouldn't be funded by the federal government, but roads that are interstate should? That seems like an arbitrary distinction to me.

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

I wonder if the guy killed in Anne Arundel Co. was walking with or against traffic. I saw a number of people walking in the roadway on Wednesday night and virtually all of them were walking with their backs to traffic which means they probably had no idea when a vehicle was coming up behind them.

by ksu499 on Jan 28, 2011 1:50 pm • linkreport

I like WTOP's fantasy map of places you could drive from DC in the time it took our car commuters to get home on Wednesday. I know someone who was stuck on a Metrobus for 8 hours.

However, I don't think the experiences ranks up there with "hell." Tiring, frustrating, maybe a little frightening at times, but local media are overusing, and I think misusing the term "hell" to get more clicks and sell more papers.

by TJ on Jan 28, 2011 4:29 pm • linkreport

TJ, I agree. Hell refers to a very specific location and it should only be use to describe that location. We're both thinking of Plano, TX right?

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 6:34 pm • linkreport

Is there any update on the woman who was hit by a driver/car down by the watergate? I have only been able to find the WTOP story on it, and nothing else.

by Jazzy on Jan 28, 2011 8:20 pm • linkreport

@ TJ: I like WTOP's fantasy map of places you could drive from DC in the time it took our car commuters to get home on Wednesday.


by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 9:25 pm • linkreport

@ David C: I was thinking of my hometown in MT, actually. But Plano's a close second from what I've heard, followed by Nacogdoches.

@ Jasper: Sorry, the graphic was in one of the WTOP links above and I assumed it was more obvious than it actually was:

by TJ on Jan 30, 2011 8:31 am • linkreport

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