The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Breakfast links: Suggestions paying off

Photo by Ms. Tina on Flickr.
Metro going express around single tracking: Apparently Metro has started strategically sending some trains on express routes (2nd letter) to avoid significant bottlenecks when single-tracking situations arise. We recommended this approach back in 2009. (Dr. Gridlock)

New building skirts parking requirements: Donatelli Development has skirted the minimum parking requirements for a new residential building in Columbia Heights by billing it as an extension of the existing Highland Park development next door. (DCmud)

Carpooling is in decline: Despite offering the most immediate remedy for increasing capacity of highways, car pools have been in steady decline since the 1970s. Despite the incentives of HOV lanes, carpooling has dropped in the DC area due to the decentralization of employers and higher telework rates. (NY Times)

VA legislator wants no more red light cameras: Virginia Delegate Scott Lingamfelter of Woodbridge has introduced a bill that would prevent any more red-light cameras from being installed after July of this year. He cites cameras not having been widely deployed as proof of their ineffectiveness. (WTOP)

Pepco continues to disappoint: When last week's storm started wreaking havoc on residents' power, Pepco didn't call for reinforcements until hours after other area utilities did to help restore service to stricken areas. Governor O'Malley wants state authorities to be able to fine utilities for poor performance. (WAMU, WTOP)

Clean snow off your car!: Virginia considered a bill that would impose a fine on drivers who don't clean the snow off the roof of their cars, but has instead asked VDOT to develop a campaign encouraging drivers to do it voluntarily. (WTOP)

Road salt turns into river salt: All that salt area DOTs put down in advance of snow or predicted snow is, not surprisingly, not good for the rivers. An environmentally safer alternative is significantly more expensive. (City Paper)

And...: Sekou Biddle affirmed his support for streetcars at a Happy Hour last week on H Street. (Streetcars 4 DC) ... Political unrest in the Middle East may soon make your daily drive a little more expensive. (WTOP) ... Portlandia has a send-up of the Oregon city's more militant bike riders. Will cyclists have a sense of humor about it? (My Damn Channel)

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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I used to give Pepco a lot of slack, power outages are a normal part of any major storm, but storm after storm Pepco leads the area in outages. My power was only out for 12 hours, but I know many people who were out until Saturday. This is a major disruption, even schools had to close on Friday due to outages.

Pepco needs to be held accountable.

by Matt R on Jan 31, 2011 8:53 am • linkreport

+1 for byapssing stations for better speed and crowd control

by aaa on Jan 31, 2011 8:59 am • linkreport

DOTs and landowners around here use WAY too much salt. I grew up in Pennsylvania and went to college in Massachusetts, and I've never seen so much salt.

People here seem to think that salt is a viable alternative to plowing/shoveling. Snow? Salt. Sleet? Salt. Slush? Salt. Cold rain? Salt. No, salt is for ice. You put salt on ice, so that it mixes with the ice. The new, salty ice has a much lower freezing point, so it melts.

Salt is also not, primarily, designed to increase traction; that's just a nice side effect.

by Tim on Jan 31, 2011 9:12 am • linkreport

I can't believe the number of lazy slugs I see out on the roads who apparently can't be bothered to remove the snow/ice from their vehicles.

If something flies off your car and strikes another vehicle - you're responsible, plain and simple.

by Josh C. on Jan 31, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

Agree with Tim. Furthermore, it really doesn't do much to increase traction. That's why more northern climes use a sand/salt mix...the sand adds traction.

by Froggie on Jan 31, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

Kudos' to Metro for showing flexibility and utilizing the single track express train solution.

Would it help that when such operations are being conducted that both trains and arrival boards alter their display to show what the next station being serviced is?

For example, using the letter writer's example, the first train in the 3 train convoy at Van Ness would change it signage from a constant display of Glenmont to a *FLASHING* display of Farragut North.

If the second train's next station was Dupont then both it and the arrival board would flash that.

Finally the third train, since it was servicing all stations, would continue with it's normal display.

by JeffB on Jan 31, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

Why does no one have chains? I grew up in Oregon, and the assumption was that roads wouldn't be plowed (or in the cases of the mountains couldn't be plowed quick enough to keep up with the snow) so everyone had chains they kept in their cars. That solves your traction issue.

by nathaniel on Jan 31, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

I've seen more salt on the roads here than anyplace up north. I almost slide out of an intersection because the entire road surface was covered in salt.

We've got major problems with understanding how to plow, remove snow, etc. Having contractors do with with pickup trucks isn't helping.

chains are NOT the answer either. They really destroy roads. I do put snow tires on and everyone around here makes fun of me.

by charlie on Jan 31, 2011 9:42 am • linkreport

@ Salt + plowing: Someone dumped about an inch of salt on the sidewalk of Key Bridge. Overkill, sure. Too late? Yeah. But if it gets messy today, it might be helpful.

by Jasper on Jan 31, 2011 9:42 am • linkreport

RE: no more red light cameras -

I have some questions for Lingamfelter or really anyone who knows the answer, as I don't.
1) Aren't red light cameras a nice source of revenue for the gov't (ticket generation without the need for a police officer)?
2) Lingamfelter suggests that, instead of having red light cameras, we should be extending the yellow light for a few seconds. Does that make sense? The way I picture it, that messes with people's sense of the yellow light, which could lead to more accidents (think, a Virginian who is used to 6-second yellow lights is more likely to try to beat a red light in DC, where yellow lights might only be 3 seconds). My point is moot if yellow lights are not uniform in their period, though. Are they? Maybe I've been gauging yellow lights all my life without knowing it.

by Andrew on Jan 31, 2011 9:43 am • linkreport

I laughed at the Portlandia skit. One should keep a sense of humor about themselves and knowing what I know about Fred Armisen, he's not doing it out of spite but good natured ribbing anyway.

by Canaan on Jan 31, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

@ Scott Lingamfelter / Red light camera bill: You gotta love freedom-loving Republicans that make laws to limit local democracy. The cognitive dissonance makes me dizzy.

Let's look at Scott's website for some more dissonance:


* Insisting on fiscal responsibility including keeping taxes low and spending under control

How is this helped by limiting the amount of fines a government can levy?

* Protecting human life and ... * Promoting public safety

But not by ticketing law-breakers.

* Preserving local control for our local governments...

By telling them from the state level what to do...

... to effect smart growth policies that balance the need to strengthen our economy with quality of life and adequate facilities to sustain them.


by Jasper on Jan 31, 2011 9:51 am • linkreport

@JeffB I believe that'd be possible with a software update, although any trainsets with 1000 or 4000-series cars in them would not work under such a system, as they do not have arrival displays.

I think that the in-station displays should show something to the extent of "Express," as it's really irrelevant where the train's destination is if it's just going to blow through the station.

Also, last year I saw plenty of cars with chains after the big snowstorm. In particular, almost every cop car had them. These seemed to do an inordinate amount of damage to the roads.

by andrew on Jan 31, 2011 9:53 am • linkreport

Kudos to DDOT for plowing the cycle track on 15th!

Pennsylvania bike lanes were used as a holding place for the snow plowed off the car lanes. Not sure that was a great idea. What's wrong with using the right curb? I don't mind cycling (8-10 mph) in the car lanes if I have to, but it seems like the city places a very, very, very low priority on the Pennsylvania Ave. bike lanes. They park all kinds of vehicles there, place signs there, dump snow there, and even dump horse feces there.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 31, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport

re: carpooling

I'm surprised that article didn't mention, as a deterrent of carpooling, (1) the multiple destinations people need/want the freedom to have... stopping by the store on the way home, pickup up a kid from daycare, going out for fun.

(2) that mobile electronic communication increases possibilities for spontaneity... like getting a last-minute text from a friend and meeting up.

(3) Lastly, I've anecdotally noticed high variability in work schedules that would be completely incompatible with carpooling.

Carpooling is clearly not the future... or not a future people will choose without severe economic pain to "encourage" it. If only there were more compact multi-use development and multimodal transportation infrastructure...

by Tim H on Jan 31, 2011 10:39 am • linkreport

Re: Salt

Yes, DOTs in this region use a lot of salt. Part of that is due to the nature of the weather here, however. When you get rain and snow mixing together, salt and other pre-treatments will wash away.

The bigger problem I see is residential folks who think salting their sidewalk is a replacement for shoveling - it is not.

Regarding chains - chains are overkill in the city. They also do horrendous damage to the roads. Chains are really only needed in truly mountainous areas.

Instead, a little discretion would go a long way. If you have a rear-wheel drive car, for instance - don't drive it in the snow. Same thing if your car has very low ground clearance, or if your tires stink.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

@ Tim H: Carpooling is clearly not the future... or not a future people will choose without severe economic pain to "encourage" it. If only there were more compact multi-use development and multimodal transportation infrastructure...

I guess you never come by any slug lines.

by Jasper on Jan 31, 2011 11:21 am • linkreport

VA and all other states really need to put teeth into a law that requires people to wipe all caked on snow off a car before driving. Also trucks. Dodging ice sheets that sky into the air from a vehicle moving at high speed is ridiculously dangerous.

by NikolasM on Jan 31, 2011 11:22 am • linkreport

Apparently I'm the only other person in the region besides charlie to use snow tires. I don't have them now because I don't drive much, but in the past I had them- and they rock. Nokian, from Finland. A little bit of overkill for DC-region, but worth it.

by spookiness on Jan 31, 2011 11:23 am • linkreport

I agree that there is overuse of salt here. But I have to say, just coming back from a weekend in Pittsburgh, there was salt all over the sidewalks there, so perhaps other cities are guilty of this as well.

by DCster on Jan 31, 2011 11:33 am • linkreport

charlie/spookiness: I have nothing against snow tires. I just don't think we get enough snow here to make the expenditure worthwhile.

Now Vermont, on the other hand...

by Froggie on Jan 31, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Virginia should fine drivers for not clearing their cars. I drive a CR-V and can clear my roof. Would it kill the driver of a Camry to push the snow off. I've seen big sheets of ice and snow coming off the top of many a car, most of them lower models.

Last time Richmond tried to take away our red light cameras, we here in Northern Virginia pitched fits. People run MANY fewer red lights since they were implemented, we want to keep them. Lingamfelter is out of touch with his constituents, IMHO.

by dcseain on Jan 31, 2011 1:16 pm • linkreport

Re: carpooling

One thing the article didn't mention was the increase in dual career couples and changing gender roles. Back in the 60s and 70s my grandfather and his co-workers carpooled so most of their wives could have the car to do the shopping, drive the kids around, do volunteer work and the like. They didn't need any flexibility to stop at the store or pick the kids up from daycare. They also never needed to leave during the day take a kid to the doctor or go to a school play. I don't know anyone whose life works that way anymore.

My agency used to have a really strong carpool culture, but its erroded over time. Partly, I think because most younger employees like flexibility and have arranged their lives to use transit rather than get locked into a rigid carpool schedule.

by Kate on Jan 31, 2011 1:24 pm • linkreport

Erik, why would you phrase the link to the Donatelli article to make it sound like taking advantage of an existing parking garage is a bad thing? That little debacle known as the DC USA parking garage is an example of why minimum parking standards are a negative, not a positive, especially in areas like Columbia Heights, a block from a Metro station.

by Arnold on Jan 31, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport


Yellow light timing isn't random and should not be tinkered with. This lawmaker probably also subscribes to the false idea that when a camera is put in, the yellow timing is shortened to catch more people. Thats bull.

The length of yellows is decided by a simple formula: Speed limit on the road and width of intersection. Some exceptions are made for intersections with unique geographies, but it's usually cut and dry.

So a tiny road might have a yellow that lasts 3 seconds, and a big highway road one that lasts 6 seconds....but the driver always knows what to expect because of their speed.

"Playing" with the timing is idiotic.

by JJJJJ on Jan 31, 2011 4:07 pm • linkreport

@Arnold I don't think I made it sound like a bad thing. If I did, that certainly wasn't the intent. I'm glad to see a developer willing to figure out ways to reduce parking spaces in their buildings.

by Erik Weber on Jan 31, 2011 4:20 pm • linkreport

Re: snow tires

Many higher performance cars now come with summer tires which start to lose traction at temperatures below 45 degrees and are downright dangerous in snow or ice. Last week I was shocked how many people I saw either stuck and spinning their wheels or sliding all over the road on summer tires.

If you have front or all wheel drive, good all-season tires and the option not to drive on the few days a year when the roads are really bad snow tires probably are an unnecessary expense but I'm always surprised by how many people really need snow tires and don't have them.

by Jacob on Jan 31, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport


Yes, investing in snow tires here in DC probably isn't worth it. Investing in good all-season tires, however, is well worth it.

Discretion is the better part of valor. High performance tires on a rear-wheel drive car in the snow is just a recipe for disaster. If you're a driver with that kind of car, just don't drive. Nothing good will come of it.

Likewise, people need a better understanding of the basic rules of physics. When it comes down to it, the only thing that controls your car is the 4 points of contact between the tires and the road. Four Wheel Drive does not give you more control, nor does it slow you down faster.

by Alex B. on Jan 31, 2011 5:19 pm • linkreport

@AlexB; agreed on the 4WD issue, which most people don't understand.

With snow tires, ever since the Germans mandated the "snowflake" signal, there have been a lot of high performance snow tires on the market. Jacob is wrong: below 45 degrees even all-season tires get harder and don't grip as much. On my tires, I can roll about 2x as long down a slope in the winter vs. the summer in the same tires. Throw in the benefits of double mileage, backups, easy rotations and out of town travel, you can make the case for snow tires.

Unfortunately, there isn't much of an infrastructure here to support them (dealers and places to store tires)

by charlie on Jan 31, 2011 5:28 pm • linkreport

For those of you who missed it:

by Lance on Jan 31, 2011 6:41 pm • linkreport

@Erik Ok, maybe it's just me. It sounded like they were doing something conniving. I hope the zoning rewrite will get rid of parking minimums, at least in certain locations.

by Arnold on Jan 31, 2011 7:00 pm • linkreport

Re streetcars, I know many readers of this blog have issues with some of Lance's posts (me included), and I'm not concerned with some things (such as overhead lines) that C100 is concerned with for the streetcars - but funding is a real issue. The current transit system is falling apart and is massively underfunded - it's unacceptable for DC not to have a credible plan for funding the construction, operation and long-term maintenance of the streetcar system, before work on any more lines is undertaken.

by Arnold on Jan 31, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

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