Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Steven Yates

Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Breakfast links: Cross safely


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
75 years of pedestrian signals: DC got its first pedestrian signal 75 years ago at 13th and Pennsylvania NW. Since then, pedestrian signals have seen innovations like countdown timers, leading pedestrian intervals, and HAWK signals. (Express)

Mostly pedestrian's fault?: Baltimore County police say that pedestrians are at fault 80% of the time when they get hit. Police are now running an awareness campaign after a high number of pedestrian fatalities, but will the county reexamine its road designs? (WBAL)

Fast track for Bi-County?: Governor McAuliffe is apparently likely to push forward with the Bi-County Parkway from Prince William to Loudoun. McAuliffe says it's important to boost demand at Dulles, but is cargo at Dulles really the top priority for transportation? Is McAuliffe making a big mistake? (Leesburg Today, Post, Bacon's Rebellion)

More roads not the answer: Why do building bigger roads just make traffic worse? Induced demand, where as more roads get built, more people want to drive on them. But congestion pricing could be the solution to packed roads. (Wired, JK)

Preservation threatens deal: A plan by the GSA to swap a building at 7th and C SW for work at St. Elizabeths hit a roadblock: the DC Preservation League nominated the building for landmark status. Is it worth protecting? What if that imperils St. E's? (WBJ)

More transit to museum: Ever wanted to visit the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles but don't have a car (or don't want to pay to park)? Once the Silver Line opens, Fairfax Connector Route 983 will run there from Wiehle. (Post)

And...: Bars and restaurants in DC are getting bigger. (WBJ) ... 14 new speed cameras will start giving out tickets in DC today. (Post) ... Jet Blue will start offering service to West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in December from DCA. (WBJ)

Help us with the links!: Our new link curators Kelli Lafferty, David Koch, and Melissa Lindsjo have been putting together great sets once a week, but we need one more curator to replace Sam Sherwood on Fridays. Can it be you? Email info@ggwash.org!

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The MIT solution to small-space living

One way to increase density in our cities is to make living units smaller. But this can present problems when you have to fit bathroom, kitchen, sleeping, and living areas in a small space. But a group at MIT has come up with an innovative solution:

The CityHome puts sleeping, bathing, cooking, and living facilities all in one cube that you use gestures to operate. The set up allows you to condense all these in one compact area, freeing up precious floor space in a small apartment.

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Compare the area's rail and bus systems

Washington area is lucky to have so many transit options. But how they differ? Metro created an infographic that compares the area's current (and some future) rail systems as well as several levels of bus service:

Click on the image for a full-size version. What surprises you about this information?

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Breakfast links: Who needs a license?


Photo by Via Tsuji on Flickr.
Taxis vs. the future: DC's taxi industry came under a lot of criticism at a hearing on a bill to permanently legalize services like UberX, Sidecar, and Lyft. David Grosso accused Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton of having "a fear of the future." (Post)

License to tour: Giving tours in DC without a license can get someone potentially jailed for 90 days. Do we need to have licenses at all? Tim Krepp said almost 4 years ago that this is probably unnecessary and the test isn't very good. (Economist)

Not too high: The FAA may impose stricter height limits near airports, which could seriously impact growth in areas like Rosslyn and Crystal City. (ArlNow)

Get ready to bike to work: It's Bike to Work Day on Friday. There will be pit stops across the area to pick up t-shirts and snacks in the morning, and 4 set up for the evening commute. (DCist)

No place to park: DC has installed over 2,000 bike racks in 10 years, but it's not nearly enough, especially in busy areas like 14th Street and the Golden Triangle. (Post)

Bus flips: An Arlington Transit bus flipped over yesterday while attempting to climb a hill. The driver had let passengers off the bus after a check engine light came on, so there were no injuries. (ArlNow)

From students to Shakespeare: The former Southeastern University campus will be converted into housing for actors and the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The campus has been vacant since 2009. (STLQTC)

Solar pavement: What if we paved our roads with solar panels? There is now a working prototype that would allow us to do just that. In theory, they could generate 3 times the amount of electricity the US uses today. (Atlantic Cities)

And...: Baltimore and Washington have some of the country's least courteous drivers. (WTOP) ... Is DC going to house homeless women in a morgue? (City Paper) ... Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker is sorry for driving drunk in 2009. (Post)

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Ask GGW: Why is there no Silver Line station at Wolf Trap?

Contributor Jason Levinn posed this question:

Has anyone else wondered why WMATA/MWAA/DTP chose not to put in a Wolf Trap stop on the Silver Line? There's such a large gap between Spring Hill and Reston, one would think it might make sense for several reasons.


Photo by A.Currell on Flickr.

Indeed, the distance between the Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations is about 6 miles. That would make it the longest gap between stations once Phase 1 of the Silver Line opens. And being able to get off the Metro and take a short walk to see an event at Wolf Trap would be much more convenient compared to what exists today. But some of our other contributors had some great explanations as to why there is no station currently planned there:

Michael Perkins: It would be a total waste of money. An inline stop would cost somewhere between $100-200 million, maybe more, and there is essentially no development potential around the site. There's a national park and single-family homes.

No one is going to agree to rezone that area to allow anything like transit-oriented development, and the road access isn't appropriate for a commuter lot. Wolf Trap has several dozen events a year, but it's not enough by itself to drive much transit use.

Matt Johnson: Originally, the Silver Line plans included a provision for a future station at Wolf Trap, but in the deal struck (by Ray LaHood) to make it cost effective, the planned provision was deleted.

Tony Goodman: The agreement between Fairfax County and MWAA includes a "Concurrent Non-Project Activity" (or CPNA) to allow for a future possible station. These CNPAs are items that MWAA is providing that are outside the scope of the FTA project agreement.

Although currently there are no plans to build a Wolf Trap station, the current project includes accommodations necessary to allow the addition of a future passenger station, including a vertical tangency (flat spot).

Breakfast links: Bridge and tunnel crowd


Image from Wikipedia.
Darkness at end of the tunnel: Amtrak might have to shut down one of the two rail tunnels from New Jersey to Manhattan within 20 years, and maybe much sooner. That would cut train capacity across the Hudson River by 75%. (Capital New York)

Build your own bridge: Developers want to build a multimodal bridge to connect to the nearby Van Dorn Street Metro and shorten what would be a 1.2 mile walk. (WBJ)

Rework track work: Metro track work will look different starting in July with weekend shutdowns starting midnight on Friday night with fewer major disruptions. Track work during the day may also make a comeback. (Post)

Metro for cars?: Many of the outer Metro stations have large parking lots that attract cars but encourage people to ride Metro. Is this a good strategy or can we do more to encourage alternative transportation to Metro? (Post)

Turn it on: 5 pedestrians were hit by drivers on Route 1 in College Park recently. There are speed cameras, but they don't operate at night. Should they? (Diamondback)

Lots of benefits: If it builds an 8-story building at 13th and U, JBG will rehab the fields at Garrison Elementary, Harrison Rec, and Westminster park; add a CaBi station at Garrison and bike racks on 13th Street; and more. (WBJ)

Don't tread on my transit: Should there be an urbanist version of the Tea Party, to push for local tax dollars to stay local and less federal meddling in planning and transportation? Some say yes, but would it help or hurt inequality? (Human Transit)

Not a bike mecca any more?: Portland was a leader in bicycling and got the moniker "America's bicycle capital," but has the city been "resting on its laurels" too much? It has no cycletracks and no bikeshare. (Spacing)

And...: DDOT will try for federal streetcar funding for the 3rd time. (WBJ) ... Maryland rose from #11 to #7 on the list of most bike-friendly states, but Virginia dropped from #16 to #18. (WashCycle) ... You can sign up for TSA PreCheck at DCA. (Post)

Do you enjoy the links?: Chad Maddox, our regular Tuesday link curator, has to step down, and we need someone to put together a set of links once a week. If you can help keep the links going and contribute to one of Greater Greater Washington's most popular elements, please let us know at info@ggwash.org. Thanks!

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Make cycling safer with protected intersections

Protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, are great for encouraging bicycling, but intersections often don't offer much protection for cyclists. Enter the protected intersection:

The design is based on Dutch designs that gives all parties more time to react to conflicts and makes intersections much safer for cyclists. The design is not standard in the US, but neither were protected bike lanes up until a few years ago. Which intersections around here do you think should get this treatment?

Thanks to reader Jeremy Frisch for the tip.

Breakfast links: Fast and reliable


Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.
Silver Line soon?: A summer Silver Line opening is looking more likely as WMATA and MWAA agree to let MWAA finish work even after WMATA has taken over the project. There's still no firm opening date, though. (Post, City Paper)

MoCo sees red over Red Line: The Montgomery County Council is not happy with Metrorail reliability. In fact, Red Line problems may have deterred at least one "major tenant" from locating in Silver Spring. (Gazette)

InKLEINed to listen: Former DDOT head Gabe Klein describes how a carrot and stick approach can encourage alternative transportation and discourage single-occupancy-car use. He also talked about Capital Bikeshare with Kojo Nnamdi. (Atlantic Cities, WAMU)

REALity can wait: After some confusion, it turns out DC residents can wait for their driver licenses to expire before getting a new, REAL ID-compliant version. Initially, the DMV said all licenses had to be replaced by October. (WAMU)

A costly Crescent: Cost estimates for rebuilding the Capital Crescent Trail along the Purple Line have nearly doubled to $95 million. But Montgomery County officials have promised to build it and may seek funding from the state. (Post)

Park(ing) year?: Los Angeles is allowing community groups to convert street space to public space for a year without permits, sort of like a long Park(ing) Day. The initiative also lays out preapproved designs the groups can choose from. (Atlantic Cities)

Are you a gentrifier?: If you have higher income than most, you are contributing to gentrification whether you live in an expensive area or a cheap one. Daniel Hertz argues, instead of angsting about where to live, affluent people should lobby for more affordable housing and more housing, period. (Atlantic Cities)

And...: DDOT has started work on a trail that will connect DC to Prince George's County. (TheWashCycle) ... The Old Post Office clock tower will close for 2 years starting May 1. (WBJ) ... Prosecutors want to send Michael Brown to jail for 43 months. (City Paper)

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Topic of the week: Is the Metro fare hike fair?

The WMATA Board yesterday approved a fare increase, which will be effective July 1. Are the fare hikes fair?


Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

Metrorail fares will increase 3%, on average, and most Metrobus routes will now cost $1.75, no matter if you pay with cash or SmarTrip. Today, the buses cost $1.60 with SmarTrip, $1.80 cash. Parking rates at Metro lots will go up 10¢, except at some Prince George's County lots, which will cost 60¢ more.

Are the fare increases too great? Did WMATA make the right call with the specifics of the fare hike? Our contributors weigh in below. What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Michael Perkins: WMATA missed another opportunity to make their parking pricing make sense. They raise the rates universally by only 10¢, and put an additional 50¢ on most lots in Prince George's County, even though there's already a large east/west divide in ridership, and the PG County lots are less crowded than other parking lots.

For the 2016 fare update, WMATA staff should do their homework and get ready to implement something similar to BART. BART staff are allowed to periodically review and adjust the parking rates in their parking lots based on demand.

For the cash fare on bus business, I think WMATA made the right call. The cash discount was causing a lot of people to load one trip's worth on a SmarTrip card and then use it immediately just to get the SmarTrip discount.

Dan Malouff: Just to keep up with inflation since WMATA's last fare hike in 2012, fares should rise between 2-3%. The Metrobus hike is a lot, but the Metrorail hike of 3% is not much more than inflation. But even buses are matching inflation over the long term. A DC Metrobus fare in 1975 was 40¢. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $1.75 today.

Ben Ross: I find it very disappointing that WMATA has paid for lesser fare increases by cutting funding for bus priority corridors. It is very hard to take long-range plans for expensive "bus rapid transit" seriously if the area isn't willing to make modest investments in making its buses move more rapidly now.

Malcolm Johnstone: People are being priced out of using the subway and, now, the bus. Metro is too expensive—nowhere else in North America can you pay $10 round trip just for subway ride.

Malcolm Kenton: WMATA still needs to institute some form of daily, weekly and monthly pass that covers both bus and Metrorail. Nearly every other big city transit agency that operates both bus and rail offers passes that cover both. If a 7-day "short trip" rail pass is $36 and a 7-day bus pass is $17.50, perhaps a 7-day "short-trip" rail pass that also includes unlimited bus travel could be $50.00. Similarly, a 28-day rail-plus-bus pass could be $260.00.

It's interesting to note that the deal remains in place that allows those with current weekly or monthly MARC train tickets to ride local buses in both the DC and Baltimore regions, as well as the Baltimore subway and light rail, at no additional cost. At $175.00, a MARC monthly ticket between Baltimore and DC is a great bargain for those who also travel extensively within either metro area: the only other form of transit it doesn't cover is Metrorail.

Can WMATA's rationale for these hikes be tied directly to any change in federal funding, or to a change in any particular jurisdiction's share of funding? Or simply to declining ridership and/or increasing costs?

Michael Perkins: Even better than that, the MTA sells a zone 1 bus pass that's good on all WMATA services as well as service in Baltimore. The Transit Link Card is just a hair under $200 and is good for everything. It covers rail and bus. Unlimited everything, including zone one MTA commuter bus and all the MTA service in Baltimore too. I don't know that there are any restrictions. Someone should try it.

The thing is on autopilot. I don't think Metro staff or the board really look at it so it just goes up with inflation every year, even though the peak long distance rail fare has outpaced inflation for a decade.

Metro has some of the highest fares in North America. I think only the London Tube has higher fares in the world. On the other hand, the trains are bursting with people. The London Tube also has reasonable passes, unlike Metro, and a congestion charge.

Myles Smith: I was surprised how close Metrorail was to the actual per-rider cost, with taxpayers subsidizing the fares by only about 20%, was it? Metrobus was more heavily subsidized, something like 60% by taxpayers. And any discussion of it should compare these subsidies to those of public streets for private vehicles (a 100% subsidy).

Jim Titus: We should not have to revisit every policy question related to equitable burden sharing, simply to make annual adjustments to account for inflation. And for the most part, they didn't.

Topic of the week: Trapped inside a marathon?

Two days and one big snowstorm ago, DC hosted the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. It was one of many events that have shut down city streets. But are DC residents bearing more of a burden than necessary for these events? NBC's Tom Sherwood passed along a letter to Councilmember Tommy Wells from a resident who has had enough of these events:


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
I would appreciate if you or one of your staff members could provide me with information on how I can access I-295 Southbound, or Pennsylvania Avenue West, around 7:30am this Saturday morning? I live at [the 1800 block of C Street SE], and the last time one of these Saturday Running Events occurred, I went to do laundry (which took about 90 minutes), and it took me almost two hours to get back home after doing my laundry—even though the laundry matt is only about 10 minutes from my house!!!! ...
Another point not mentioned in the attached information is that our DC Government should not try and compare itself to City's like New York, or Chicago, because those City's have massive public transportation systems that are far greater than what exists in DC, especially their subway systems. Accordingly, marathons in places like New York or Chicago can be accommodated in a manner that does not place a substantial number of City residents on "Lock-Down" when these events occur.
Tom Sherwood wrote, "I am all for healthy public events held in the city, but the writer [of the letter] raises an issue I occasionally have discussed—how can the city inconvenience thousands of citizens for half-days and more over such a wide area?"

Our contributors respond:

David Cranor: To answer Tom's original question, "How can the city inconvenience thousands of citizens for half-days and more over such a wide area?" That's easy, by closing a lot of streets.

But seriously, I take Tom's question to be why would the city do this. And there are several benefits that offset the costs.

  1. Tourism. A lot of these runners come from outside of DC and they come in for the day and stay for brunch or lunch. Or they even get a hotel, etc. It brings something to the economy.
  2. Amenities. One thing a city does is try to give its citizenry opportunities to take part in interesting/fun/exciting events. The marathon qualifies. Having a marathon in town is much more convenient than having to travel somewhere else. You don't even have to run in it to enjoy it. Lots of people pull lawn chairs out and sit in their yard to watch the runners go by. Or, with the Rock N' Roll marathon they can go and listen to the bands along the route (we did this a couple of years ago).
  3. Overtime pay for police officers/other employment. Police officers have to staff these events and that's paid for by the event organizers, as are other employees they need to hire. Not only does this put extra money into the local economy, but it's not a bad idea for an employer (the city) to look out for its employees and help them to make extra money when opportunities present themselves—for morale. It's a pay raise that the city doesn't have to pay for.
  4. Fees. I know there are some. I don't know how much they cost.
  5. Charity. Some races raise money for good causes
  6. Health. There are likely some positive externalities from hosting a race that encourages more people to exercise and boosts public health (if only a little bit).
So I'm not sure what those benefits are worth, or what the total cost in inconvenience is, but the answer to Tom's question is that the city thinks the former exceeds the latter.

Matt Johnson: The Rock 'n' Roll Marathon website ... has a map of the racecourse and road closures. [The original letter writer] lives at 18th and C Southeast. He wants to know how he can get on I-295 southbound or Pennsylvania Avenue west.

That's easy. For getting on I-295, he doesn't even have to cross the racecourse. South on 18th. Potomac Ave to Eye Street. Left on 11th. Get on 11th Street Bridge. Get on I-295 south.

For Pennsylvania Avenue West (how far west?), he can take Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to the Capitol without crossing the racecourse. For the section between the Capitol and the White House, he should get on I-395 and use the tunnel under the Mall. The same goes for getting to the section of Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to Georgetown.

Topher Mathews: This is an issue that has come up repeatedly in Georgetown. One point the ANC now makes is that if the event is not substantially charitable in nature, they will object to it. They also work very closely with the race organizers to minimize the impact, etc.

I think a balance is important, but I also don't agree when people equate "I can't get my car out" with "being forcibly stuck in my house."

Canaan Merchant: I'm interested in several things.

  • I usually see announcements via the web (DDOT, GGW, DCist etc.). That could be an issue for someone not as connected as I am. There may be a dissemination issue to go over.
  • There seems to be real money to be made from all these races. I see different ones advertised all. The. Time. They've even started making obstacle courses and "zombie runs" a thing. Nominally, proceeds go to charity but the cynic in me says that races wouldn't be nearly as prevalent if there wasn't serious money to be made.
  • The "Rock 'n' Roll" marathon is happening in at least a dozen cities; this is a real franchise.
  • This Post story highlights that this route goes through a lot more neighborhoods than other races which stick to the Mall area and down on the parkways between Crystal City and Rosslyn. That's the issue the original writer is concerned about.

    So there is definitely room to ask about the outreach to neighborhoods on these events and whether communication could be improved. But one positive is that this may be the first time a lot of people ever really explore Capitol Hill and other urban neighborhoods. That may be a positive overall. Sure, people trying to really race may have their mind on other things but a race like this works better in DC than in Fairfax where it's not practical to close an arterial.

  • If they're going to have "Rock 'n' Roll Marathon" and NOT play rock bands that are famous to DC (Dag Nasty, Fugazi, Dismemberment plan, or call it the Go-Go marathon!) then that's kind of annoying to me. They really had to go to Seattle to find a suitable band to play at the end of the race? (apologies to any fans of the Head and the Heart).
It may be worth it to talk about if there is a need to have a special road race transportation/neighborhood plan. Marathons and other races are super popular and they aren't going away, much like sports stadiums they can be a positive for the city's image but a drain on actual resources. Maybe a more a broader and more holistic approach to them is necessary.

Edward Russell: I disagree with a lot of the points the author of the original email makes. First, has he ever been stuck between the NY marathon on 1st Ave and 5th Ave, and need to get the west side? Sure, you COULD take the subway down to 42nd go to Times Square and then back up, but would you? Probably not.

Road races are a necessary public event in any city, regardless of size.

And I'm sorry, your laundry does not take precedent over an event thousands of people have trained for and are looking forward to—not to mention that has been planned and disclosed for months ahead of time.

DDOT has had digital message board advertising the race on 395 and other major highways coming into DC for more than a week now—if you're a driver in DC, it'd be hard to not know there will be road closures and you can plan around them. The city has definitely done its job letting people know of the closures on Saturday.

Steven Yates: Given where I live, events that close down roads often inconvenience me. In fact, this one will go right outside of my apartment. But it's really not more than an inconvenience for me. It might disrupt my bus route, which means I might have to leave a little earlier or walk to the Metro. I've sort of come to accept this as part of city living. Though I imagine if I had a car I'd find these a bit more of a disruption.

To answer your outreach question, Canaan, I think last year for this particular race I received a flyer on my door outlining the route (since, again, I live near the route) several weeks before the event. This year, I think I first saw it via email (or somehow knew it was happening). Signs announcing the road closings just went up a few days before the event. But often for events that close streets farther away from me (but still affect me) I don't find out until I get an email, usually either from WMATA or DDOT.

Veronica O. Davis: To bring a different perspective, the portion through Ward 7 is the last leg of the race. Basically, it means that the roads are closed on this side of town until 1:00 pm. The community has asked the marathon several times if the race could be run in the opposite direction every other year, so that this side of town could get some relief earlier in the day. The race organizers stated they have to re-open downtown first.

The Twining neighborhood is effectively trapped. They are the small neighborhood between 295 and Minnesota Ave. Over the years MPD has tried to be helpful in letting residents out of the neighborhood, by "slowing the race."

The other major issue is that Ward 7 is a bus-dependent community. Shut down the buses and it basically shuts down accessibility and mobility. We've tried to work with WMATA on bus routing. However, Minnesota Ave is one of the two major north to south bus routes. With the race on Minnesota Ave, a sizable population loses access to everything.

Sure it's only a half a day of inconvenience. However, some people to get to work, doctor's appointments, etc.

Payton Chung: These event closures, and recent complaints about diplomatic road closures, offer yet another example of why street connectivity matters. A dense network of streets offers more routes through, even when some of the streets have been closed.

Granted, Ward 7 has topography that makes it difficult for streets to run through. In other instances, like in my (and Tom Sherwood's) neighborhood in Southwest, the lack of connectivity is entirely self-imposed. We live literally on a cul-de-sac, within a neighborhood that is effectively a cul-de-sac, and even though many of the through streets still exist in practice there's great resistance to letting others trespass across what's now private property.

Hopefully, the opening of a continuous trail network along the Anacostia will open up new routes for future road races. I know that some informally organized (ahem) cyclists take advantage of the road closures and ride the route. Maybe this is a starting point for a proper Open Streets event.

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