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


Afternoon links: Seen through a lens

Photo by hunnnterrr on Flickr.
New cameras coming: DC is close to launching a variety of new traffic cameras that will catch failing to stop at stop signs, blocking the box, or failing to yield to pedestrians. They will also be more mobile, so police can move them to high-danger areas. (TBD On Foot) ... I'm sure Lon Anderson is already cranking out the angry press releases.

Visting a better transit system: A blogger visits another transit system and marvels at the "excellent and highly-legible signage," clean trains and attractive architecture. The blogger was from San Francisco and they were visiting, and envying, our excellent Washington Metro. (SFist)

CaBi: Try it, you'll like it: A man describes how, since introducing his 67 year-old father to Capital Bikeshare, his father continues to use it for all of his errands. The man hadn't ridden a bike in 37 years. (Bikes For The Rest Of Us)

Loh more open on Purple Line: New UMD President Wallace Loh wants to make the Purple Line happen, unlike his predecessor Dan Mote who fought it tooth and nail. He's open to the Campus Drive alignment Mote resisted, but hasn't taken a firm stance yet. (The Diamondback, Cavan)

Can you do better for Ike?: Not satisfied with Frank Gehry's proposals for the Eisenhower Memorial, the National Civic Art Society is organizing a competition "to create a counterproposal" for the memorial.

Hine gets smaller, loses Shakespeare and Tiger: The planned redevelopment of Hine Elementary School on Capitol Hill has been scaled back by more than 10% and has lost key partners the Tiger Woods Foundation, the Shakespeare Theater Company and IRD. It will have less office space and more residences. (EMMCA, David C)

Move the region forward through meetings: Want to shape the region's future, if indirectly? The Region Forward coalition is looking for representatives from organizations and communities to work alongside local officials.

McCain doesn't want you to bike to the airport: What's with John McCain's vendetta against bicycling? Now he's inserted a provision in the FAA reauthorization to prohibit airports spending any of the money they get from passenger fees for bike parking, even though it would be a tiny piece of an airport's huge budget. (Streetsblog Network)

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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New Cameras:
I'm kind of intrigued that it will catch people blocking the box, which I think is one of the bigger unaddressed car problems in this city (and I rarely drive). It just surprises me how many people do it.

SFist piece:
I guess there are two things you can take from this. Either it's a grass is always greener thing, or maybe we don't really appreciate how good we have it (or perhaps some combination of the two).

Anyone have any idea what he is thinking? It has to be such a small issue to spend any political capital on. What is the constituency that would even lobby for this? Is there someone out there happy that the scourge of the throngs of people biking (or wanting to bike) to the airport has been halted?

by Steven Yates on Feb 2, 2011 4:19 pm • linkreport

Re: The new DC cameras - Agreed very much on monitoring stop signs and I would love to see these put to work at "No Right Turn On Red" intersections as well. I've witnessed a number of near-misses as some drivers making right turns barely tap the brakes.

by TJ on Feb 2, 2011 4:27 pm • linkreport

Speed and red light cameras are pretty clear cut. One could argue the same thing with blocking the box. Stopping for stop signs is a bit less so...I or you or the other person could be stopped, yet the gear could still register a positive forward speed. Cameras for failing to yield to pedestrians, unless they plan on having a badged officer reviewing EVERY VIDEO, is pointless IMO...there are far too many subjective variables involved with whether a driver is truly failing to yield to a pedestrian, let alone the occasional cases where the pedestrian darts out without seeing if the vehicle could stop in time (illegal on the pedestrian's part).

by Froggie on Feb 2, 2011 4:32 pm • linkreport

My guess I'd that McCain read the Quiet American and the only lesson he got was that bikes can be turned into bombs.

by TM on Feb 2, 2011 4:36 pm • linkreport

On new cameras I dislike the entire program (it's way too big brother-ish). However, for stop signs I could care less (always make a full stop). I'm not really sure how this will work for stopping for pedestrians from a legal and engineering stand point.

I have to say that I adamantly oppose the idea of putting them up for blocking the box. I take great pains not to get stuck in an intersection but it does happen and is sometimes unavoidable. Just the other day I got stuck when someone swung their car into my lane at the last second and I couldn't move forward. There are just too many case by case examples for this to be a situation where people are branded guilty until proven innocent.

by DC Driver on Feb 2, 2011 4:36 pm • linkreport

Years ago I was visiting a friend in NYC when I first noticed that few to no people were blocking the box like they do in DC. I asked my friend how NYC trained the drivers so. His response was "tickets. LOTS of tickets."

(perhaps proving, as monkeyerotica often says, that everything is better in NYC. haha!)

Over time, I've come to agree that the only way to train drivers to not block the box is to issue a lot of tickets. Over time, they'll learn and less tickets will be issued.

by Walker on Feb 2, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

Is there really a demand to bike to airports? It seems that it is a non-issue, especially since most airports are not located close-in to cities.

Yes, i know there are airports close in to some cities. it is a general comment on the practicality of biking to an airport while trying to bring luggage.

by Al on Feb 2, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport


I suppose given a trip where you could fit everything in a backpack, and a decent biking route were available maybe one could bike to the airport. But the article indicated biking would be a more viable option for workers.

But I think you are right that we are talking about fairly small numbers, which kind of makes even more odd to go after.

by Steven Yates on Feb 2, 2011 5:03 pm • linkreport

Several years ago DC did some extra ticketing of people blocking the box (and put up some easy-to-ignore "don't block the box" signs at major intersections along K Street), but seems like not much in the way of ticketing has been done since then.

by Mike B on Feb 2, 2011 5:04 pm • linkreport

@Al - how about the hundreds of people who work there everyday?

by Tina on Feb 2, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

@Al - I fly all the time with little more than a backpack (and so do lots of fellow frequent travelers). I've ridden to DCA from my house (roughly the same amount of time as taking Metro, but I've got a guaranteed seat :)). But yes, most of the bikes in the racks there probably belong to workers.

by MB on Feb 2, 2011 5:07 pm • linkreport

I see the "who would bike to take a flight, ha ha??" comment every time the issue of airport bike parking comes up, and it just underscores how invisible all the airport employees are to travelers. It's sad.

DC is lucky to have Metro to DCA, but most airports have horrible, infrequent transit service, and biking could be a great alternative by comparison.

by Erica on Feb 2, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

Reason #25234245 to avoid DC.

by Dave23 on Feb 2, 2011 6:22 pm • linkreport

I also don't think enforcement of blocking the box by camera is a good idea. If they want to try some actual traffic enforcement with flesh and blood officers, by all means. But I have been in a few rare situations over time where I was partially stuck in the box and I'd had no reasonable way of predicting it, as have most DC drivers I would imagine. Given the inefficiency of DC's ticket appeals process and the number of potential appeals such a system will generate, I'm not even sure this would pay for itself.

by Nate on Feb 2, 2011 7:16 pm • linkreport

McCain is afraid of all those bicycle terrorists.

Re. the Ike Memorial, I think the National Civic Art Society needs to surf around some Minecraft servers. I'm sure they'll find something good.

by OX4 on Feb 2, 2011 7:44 pm • linkreport

Re: the SF piece

We really do have it pretty good, thanks to the feds dumping a lot of money into Metro's construction (taking care of their workers). And pretty sensible routing, and stop spacing, and whatnot.

We could have gotten BART's non-standard gauge and regional-rail design.

Or we could have MARTA, which is struggling due to jurisdictions not wanting it, and a reputation of being for the poor.

Metro needs much better management, governance, and safety, but we got the lines right (the compromise between subway and regional rail I think was balanced appropriately for the region's needs), and now it's a product most jurisdictions want and embrace.

by EJ on Feb 2, 2011 8:32 pm • linkreport

Blocking the box probably causes a huge amount of traffic. I think using cameras to cite people is a great idea.

As for those concerned that "it was unavoidable"....well, there is an easy way to review that. I'm not sure how the DC cameras operate (never have gotten a ticket) but I know in other regions, they mail you a photo of your car, with the plate visible, and give you a code to access a video online showing your violation (10 seconds or so of video). So in the extremely rare case where someone swings their way into your lane, you have video evidence to contest it.

Of course most "unavoidable" situations are extremely avoidable.

As for the pedestrians one....well, Id like to see how the technology works. The idea sounds suspect, but if we can send people to the moon, I'm sure there's a way to accurately detect a crosswalk violation. Perhaps it will only work if a person is in the right lane crossing, and someone in the left lane doesnt stop?

by JJJJJ on Feb 3, 2011 12:12 am • linkreport

Fantastic news! I think some of the talk about "big brother" is a bit overblown. ("Damn Big Brother, with his minions of the MPD standing around, watching our every move--and arresting us if we break into someone's house, or stab someone! It's like 1984, I tell ya!")

Personally, I couldn't care less about "blocking the box" since I'm rarely driving downtown during rush-hour, and generally it's drivers screwing themselves over.

But the promise of photo enforcement of pedestrian ROW has the promise of totally changing the dynamics of shared public space. The sooner the better.

One other thing implied but not spelled out by the TBD piece is that the new technology may allow speed cameras to be installed in many residential areas where the existing systems can not cover. One of the reasons speed cameras are mostly placed on roads like NY Ave and North Capitol Street rather than neighborhood streets is due to technical constraints. Traditional fixed cameras and car mounted cameras need unobstructed sight-lines. Neighbors have been asking for speed cameras on Capitol Hill commuter routes like East Capitol, C Street, Constitution, Independence, and 17th Street for years now. Hopefully this will be a solution.

The idea of putting one of these every other block on every east-west route into the city makes me want to jump in the air and click my heels together.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 12:27 am • linkreport

Red light and stop sign cameras are okay, since those will actually influence pedestrian safety. Speed cameras not so much.

by aaa on Feb 3, 2011 8:11 am • linkreport

My main point is that a majority of airports are in the middle of nowhere and bike parking is a moot point, whether for travelers or workers. how many airports are really bike accessible?

Either way, it is a waste of time to even put effort into fighting McCains proposals since there are other more important and easier issues to put time and effort into.

by Al on Feb 3, 2011 8:34 am • linkreport

The ever-increasing number of cameras for revenue raising, er...I mean for increased safety, will lead to a backlash. Especially if we see some Congressmembers start getting ticketed.

I'm all in favor of the NYC model of "blocking the box" enforcement: actual traffic officers on site, issuing heavy fines, and putting a few points on drivers' licenses. That sends a much better message. But, alas!, it's not the kind of free money as the camera systems.

by Fritz on Feb 3, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

TJ's point (second comment in this thread) made me think again about turning on red.

Turning on red is becoming more and more of a problem everywhere as more and more people ignore the fundamental principles that (a) you have to stop first and (b) you still have a RED LIGHT, meaning you have to yield to all the other people who have either green lights or walk signals. I love to drive (maybe not so much in heavy traffic) and I recognize that eliminating turning on red would make trips take a lot longer and possibly contribute to air pollution due to idling vehicles. But I've been wondering for a while if it's time to rethink the general North American rule (outside of New York City and Montreal) that turning on red is to be presumed to be allowed wherever there's no sign restricting it. (In New York, turning on red is allowed only where there IS a sign ALLOWING it, and in Montreal it's not allowed at all.) It seems to me that rethinking turning on red would be a better first step than cameras.

For starters, it might make a lot of sense to restrict turning on red in high-pedestrian areas during high-pedestrian hours--for instance, near Metro Center and the Verizon Center you might impose a "No Turn on Red" from 7 AM to 7 PM. During the night, when there are few pedestrians out and less traffic in general, it's less of a problem.

Another example of a problem I've seen is conflicts between turning traffic. Normally people making a U-turn have to yield to everyone else. But if they have a green arrow, they're entitled to the right of way over people turning on red--because those people have a red light, they have to yield. In every instance where this conflict arises, however, there are constant near-misses due to people thinking they have the "right" to turn on red. You don't. You never have the "right" to turn on red if there is another person (car, pedestrian, cyclist) to whom you are required to yield. (An example of this situation occurs at the corner of Van Dorn and Edsall in Alexandria, where northbound Van Dorn has a lot of cars making U-turns to reach the McDonald's on the southbound side.) It seems to me that those sorts of intersections are ripe locations for either a "No Turn on Red" or for a sign that would say "Right on Red Yield to U-Turns."

In many ways it's a breakdown of driver training or of a general attitude that people don't care, and I wonder if it might make sense to make people re-take the knowledge test every other time they have to renew their driver's licenses. It's not a bad idea, as after all laws change, as do safety principles. The stuff you may have learned in 1970 about pumping your brakes if you start to skid isn't applicable if you now have a car with antilock brakes, but a lot of people get licensed once and then never have to update their knowledge.

(BTW, the reason I say "turning on red" instead of "right on red" is in recognition that in the majority of North American jurisdictions--except for DC and North Carolina--you are also permitted to turn left on red, provided you are turning from a one-way street onto another one-way street. Most people seem not to know that you can do this, and there are far fewer of that kind of intersection than there are right-on-red scenarios, so left-on-red is a lot less of a problem in general. But I didn't want to limit my comments solely to right-on-red.)

by Rich on Feb 3, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

The box blocking problem is partly due to the width of a lot of DC streets. Its impossible to predict conditions so far in advance, and situations can change instantly. It happens and when it does theres rarely anything you can do. You can't back up, and you cant' go around, so sometimes you just get stuck. Its not always a willfull act.

by spookiness on Feb 3, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

Something else on box-blocking: In New York and in the UK, the "box" really is a "box" (in the UK, they call them "box junctions")--the restricted area is clearly shown on the pavement with cross-hatching that is white in New York or yellow in the UK. There's no ambiguity as to the area where you cannot stop, and the rule is strict liability--if there is any possibility that you will not clear the box before the light turns, you must not enter the box, and if you do and you fail to clear, you get a ticket, regardless of whether you couldn't "predict" what would happen. Essentially, the rule is "when in doubt, stop."

In the DC area, the "box" is not defined in this manner. People who live in cities understand the concept, but apparently a lot of people don't. I recall suggesting to VDOT once that they use the painted box at key intersections and they refused, claiming that it's not specifically allowed by the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Dumb.

What really bugs the hell out of me--well, it's one of many things that do that!--is when I stop at the line to avoid blocking an intersection and some asshole in the next lane decides to cut into my lane and block the intersection. I didn't stop to leave room for assholes, I stopped because you're not supposed to block the box.

by Rich on Feb 3, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

The BART piece is particularly funny to me since I just visited SF and came home thinking that BART was better. Although I did note that their signage is, indeed, WAY worse. Half the time, you'd arrive in a station and have no idea which one it was. (Fortunately, I grew up there, so I didn't get off at the wrong stop.)

I guess it's a case of "the grass is always greener."

Of course, although it is very tempting to compare the two given their many similarities, there are also some very obvious differences that make comparison difficult. BART has a grand total of eight stations in the city itself. These are all concentrated in the south and the east. Complaining about lack of neighborhood coverage in DC seems petty in comparison. (Yes, SF has MUNI rail, which opens things up - a lot.)

by Josh S on Feb 3, 2011 1:44 pm • linkreport


Red light and stop sign cameras are okay, since those will actually influence pedestrian safety.

Wait, so you're saying speeding in residential neighborhoods has no effect on pedestrian safety?

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

I'm all in favor of the NYC model of "blocking the box" enforcement: actual traffic officers on site, issuing heavy fines, and putting a few points on drivers' licenses. That sends a much better message. But, alas!, it's not the kind of free money as the camera systems.

Well, yes. Of course, most scofflaw drivers support this kind of enforcement. That's because it's so prohibitively expensive that local jurisdictions can only really break it out once in a blue moon.

The problem with camera systems isn't the money, per se, since drivers can choose to obey the laws. It's that they're inexpensive enough to actually be effective. You set them up everywhere, and suddenly folks stop running red lights, speeding, and blowing through crosswalks. Drivers don't like that because they like doing all these things--otherwise they wouldn't.

by oboe on Feb 3, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

Rich, contrary to popular american belief, north america is not just canada and the usa. RTOR is illegal in most north american countries.

by JJJJJ on Feb 3, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

That depends on how you define "North America." I agree that Mexico is clearly part of North America. The rest of the region south of Mexico to and including Panama is generally considered to be a separate region (namely, Central America), though if you want to observe a strict North America/South America distinction you would then call them "North America." Likewise, the Caribbean islands are generally treated separately from North America. It's one reason why the soccer confederation has such an unwieldy name, CONCACAF, which stands for "Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football."

Treating "North America" as the US, Canada, and Mexico, then, turning on red is indeed LEGAL in the majority of locations within that area (recognizing that in Mexico the rule is similar to New York City's, where you can turn on red if you see the sign with the arrow that says "Continua con precaucion").

by Rich on Feb 3, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

North america means panama to greenland, with everything in between, including bermuda.

Yes, there are subregions, but saying that makes it different is like saying "america" doesnt include new england because it has a distinct name.

North America includes central america and the Caribbean
in the way that
USA incldues new england, pacific west, est.

by JJJJJ on Feb 3, 2011 10:56 pm • linkreport

Well, JJJJJ, you are entitled to your OPINION. Some people in the rest of the world consider both North and South America an entire single continent. Doesn't make them correct.

by Rich on Feb 4, 2011 5:34 pm • linkreport

While I'm pro-cyclists and pro-walking... I do hope the cameras not only catch cars that run through red lights -- but also catch cyclists that do the same. There have been times in my morning and evening commute on foot to the Metro where I've witnessed cyclists plow through a red light into a crowd of people walking on foot through a cross walk. Cyclists need to realize they also have to yield to folks on foot.

by Walker on Feb 9, 2011 7:40 pm • linkreport

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