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Bicycling


2015's greatest hits: Nation's first bicycle HOT lanes planned for Mt. Vernon Trail

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This April Fool's joke post originally ran on April 1. Enjoy and happy New Year!

The National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have announced a new partnership to construct the nation's first bicycle High Occupancy/Toll Express Lanes on the Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon.


Artist's rendering showing how high occupancy vehicles will benefit from enhanced capacity. Image by Peter Dovak.

The all-electronic HOT lanes will require construction of a second path parallel to the existing trail. Once completed, each path will carry one-way mixed traffic (runners, walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and other self-propelled vehicles) on the right, with a left lane set aside for high occupancy vehicles or for users paying a variable toll.

Local leaders and transportation experts hailed the move as a way to relieve congestion on key arteries without digging into the already-strained National Park Service operating budget. NPS spokesperson Val O. C. Pede said that congestion at several key junctions along the trail would go from a Level of Service rating of "F" to an "A" or "B-."

The construction and operation would be funded by Trechiant Ventures, a partnership of bicycle manufacturers Giant, Trek, and Bianchi, who are developing bicycles designed specifically for such facilities.

The HOT lanes will not be separated from regular traffic by bollards or barricades, but will instead rely on strict enforcement. All HOT lane users will be required to use an E-ZPass, just as they would in motor vehicles.

NPS ranger stations, local Whole Foods stores, and participating bike shops will offer special clips to attach transponders to riders' helmets. The lanes will be free for High Occupancy Vehicles using an E-ZPass Flex, including tandem bicycles, bicycles with children in trailers, and joggers practicing for wife carrying races.

Park Rangers will be stationed at the side of the trail with special equipment to detect the number of riders in or on the vehicle, and proper E-ZPass Flex settings.

Rollerbladers will be required to pay double, by strapping one E-ZPass transponder to each of their skates. Bicycle mechanics will also be stationed every two miles to clear the lanes of any breakdowns.

Toll rates are expected to vary between 25¢/mile and $1.00/mile, which would make the Rosslyn to King Street corridor a competitive alternative to Metro's Blue Line. As with the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes, there is no ceiling on the price. The pricing will be adjusted to maintain a guaranteed 15 mph speed for cyclists, which is also the maximum speed for the trail.

Neighboring jurisdictions hailed the announcement. Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey suggested that "VDOT's enthusiastic participation in this exciting public private partnership makes bicycle HOT lanes the perfect, low-cost-to-us replacement for the canceled Columbia Pike Streetcar."

Alexandria Town Crier understudy Hugh G. Pannier suggested that the city's new waterfront plans would be well-served by additional bicycle capacity along the waterfront, but that the city might demand that signage use a more period-appropriate typeface.

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Photography


How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 45

This article was posted as part of our April Fool's Day series.

It's time for the forty-fifth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

The answers will appear tomorrow. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: the answers are here.

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Bicycling


Nation's first bicycle HOT lanes planned for Mt. Vernon Trail

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

The National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have announced a new partnership to construct the nation's first bicycle High Occupancy/Toll Express Lanes on the Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon.


Artist's rendering showing how high occupancy vehicles will benefit from enhanced capacity. Image by Peter Dovak.

The all-electronic HOT lanes will require construction of a second path parallel to the existing trail. Once completed, each path will carry one-way mixed traffic (runners, walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and other self-propelled vehicles) on the right, with a left lane set aside for high occupancy vehicles or for users paying a variable toll.

Local leaders and transportation experts hailed the move as a way to relieve congestion on key arteries without digging into the already-strained National Park Service operating budget. NPS spokesperson Val O. C. Pede said that congestion at several key junctions along the trail would go from a Level of Service rating of "F" to an "A" or "B-."

The construction and operation would be funded by Trechiant Ventures, a partnership of bicycle manufacturers Giant, Trek, and Bianchi, who are developing bicycles designed specifically for such facilities.

The HOT lanes will not be separated from regular traffic by bollards or barricades, but will instead rely on strict enforcement. All HOT lane users will be required to use an E-ZPass, just as they would in motor vehicles.

NPS ranger stations, local Whole Foods stores, and participating bike shops will offer special clips to attach transponders to riders' helmets. The lanes will be free for High Occupancy Vehicles using an E-ZPass Flex, including tandem bicycles, bicycles with children in trailers, and joggers practicing for wife carrying races.

Park Rangers will be stationed at the side of the trail with special equipment to detect the number of riders in or on the vehicle, and proper E-ZPass Flex settings.

Rollerbladers will be required to pay double, by strapping one E-ZPass transponder to each of their skates. Bicycle mechanics will also be stationed every two miles to clear the lanes of any breakdowns.

Toll rates are expected to vary between 25/mile and $1.00/mile, which would make the Rosslyn to King Street corridor a competitive alternative to Metro's Blue Line. As with the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes, there is no ceiling on the price. The pricing will be adjusted to maintain a guaranteed 15 mph speed for cyclists, which is also the maximum speed for the trail.

Neighboring jurisdictions hailed the announcement. Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey suggested that "VDOT's enthusiastic participation in this exciting public private partnership makes bicycle HOT lanes the perfect, low-cost-to-us replacement for the canceled Columbia Pike Streetcar."

Alexandria Town Crier understudy Hugh G. Pannier suggested that the city's new waterfront plans would be well-served by additional bicycle capacity along the waterfront, but that the city might demand that signage use a more period-appropriate typeface.

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Roads


Mayor Bowser announces new "Funiculator" initiative

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

This morning at a press conference in Foggy Bottom, Mayor Bowser announced a proposal for a new method of getting commuters across the Potomac. Under her plan, the District Department of Transportation will construct a pair of inclines across the river to link the Kennedy Center with Rosslyn.


Rendering from DDOT.

Citing the over-capacity Metro tunnel under the river between Rosslyn and the District, Mayor Bowser called the inclines "an ideal solution to giving commuters a refreshing alternative to Metro." Additionally, the new line will get transit riders closer to major destinations like the State Department and the Kennedy Center.

The line would be built on a large A-frame type structure over the river. The tall structure is necessary because inclines only work on steep slopes. Riders using the service would be required to change vehicles at a station at the apex, but the transfer will be a seamless walk across the platform.

The Bowser Administration hopes to eventually build other inclines around the city, and they've decided to name this type of service "Funiculator." The vehicles will be painted red and yellow, to match the popular paint scheme adorning Circulator buses, streetcars, taxicabs, bikeshare, and pogoshare vehicles.

Internal documents from DDOT refer to the first line as the Funicular Aerial Initial Line. However, based on a suggestion from the Operatic Director at the Kennedy Center, Claire-Annette Joueur, the city has decided to call this first line "Funiculi Funicula."

Opponents voice skepticism

While some residents are skeptical of this new mode, officials in the administration downplayed the criticism, citing incline operations in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, where the services have proven to be a vital part of the transportation network and have generated unquantifiable amounts of development.

On the other hand, some opponents have already emerged. Many cities, like Cincinnati, ripped out their inclines in the post-war era, replacing them with more modern buses. One organization known for opposing government spending, the Federal Area Association for Restrained Taxpaying, has come out strongly against the project. Their president Hilda Klyme derided the proposal as "incline decline."

Other organizations are more positive. The Committee of 100 appears to have granted tacit support to the concept. When asked about the tall structure and its impact on viewsheds, the Committee's chair, Seymour Skeiz, said, "The beauty of these inclines is that while they're cable-drawn, the wire is built into the trackway instead of being suspended above the vehicle."

In fact, the Committee is somewhat enthusiastic that the District may expand the Funiculator initiative beyond the Funiculi Funicula Line, because they would like to see the proposed aerial gondola line between Rosslyn and Georgetown replaced with a mode that does not require overhead wires.

Federal approval and other questions aren't answered yet

Sources close to the administration are worried, however, about opposition from the Commission for Fine Arts. They're likely to insist on expensive design treatments like marble columns on the structure to help Funiculi Funicula better fit into the federal landscape.

Some questions remain unanswered. At the moment, the District has yet to determine whether the line will use modern vehicles or whether the funicular will be a so-called "heritage" operation like the lines in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

The city will need to procure four vehicles to operate the service. Because of "Buy America" requirements, the number of vendors is extremely limited. To save money, rumor has it that DC may go in on a car order with the city of Magic Mountain, California, which is planning to replace the vehicles on their line to the top of Samurai Summit.

Mayor Bowser has not yet made details public about the financing of the project. However, some sources suspect that funding for the line may come from the District's streetcar program, which has been recently facing cutbacks.

The Federal Aviation Administration may also be a hurdle, since they will have to authorize an over-river structure. Funiculi Funicula will sit under the flight path for airplanes approaching National Airport from the north. However, the FAA has approved other tall structures in the area, including in nearby Rosslyn, so this may not be an insurmountable obstacle.

Next steps will come in 2016

The fact that Funiculi Funicula has made it to this point is largely a testament to the hard work of Ivan Haas of the Funicular Operators Association of the Mid-Atlantic Region. Haas has been tirelessly promoting inclines as a cheap method of mass transit for over three decades. It appears the District is the first government jurisdiction to take Haas at his word.

Over the next few months, the District Department of Transportation will start installing the guideway over the Potomac. Construction is expected to start sometime this summer. In early 2016, the agency will begin to work on designing the project and undertaking the necessary environmental review procedures.

So far, District officials have been tight-lipped about a projected opening date for the project, however Mayor Bowser indicated that it could open by December 2015. Or 2016. Or if not by then, then certainly by the end of 2017. But definitely by the end of 2018. Probably.

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Transit


Chevy Chase commemorates amphipod on town seal

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

The Town of Chevy Chase's Town Council has voted to add the Hay's Spring amphipod, a tiny, shrimp-like creature that may or may not live near the adjacent Capital Crescent Trail, to its town seal.


The old Chevy Chase town seal (left) and updated seal (right).

"We're glad to celebrate this totally real, authentic part of the Town of Chevy Chase's heritage by including the majestic amphipod on our town seal," said mayor Kathy Strom in a press conference this morning.

The Hay's Spring amphipod will join other symbols of Chevy Chase on the town seal, including its historic houses, lush tree canopy, and ample bank statements. Town residents say the critter, whose alleged habitat may or may not be in the path of the proposed Purple Line light rail between Bethesda and New Carrollton, is an integral part of the town's heritage.

"The amphipod has probably been a part of Chevy Chase history for centuries," said Chevy Chase town historian Cornelius X. Hollowood V. "Records show that when the Native Americans created the trail now known as Wisconsin Avenue, they may or may not have stepped on amphipods along the way."

When Chevy Chase was first developed at the turn of the 20th century, lushly illustrated real estate ads may or may not have included visual references to something that looked like an amphipod. A Washington Post story from 1929 notes that Montgomery County police broke up a raucous Chevy Chase house party that may or may not have disturbed amphipods that could have been nearby and were possibly sleeping.

As a nod to the amphipod's translucence, the amphipod on the town seal will be rendered with clear paint. "The amphipod is so delicate and light-reflective, you can look directly at one and it's as if it isn't even there," says biologist Dee Forestation. "It truly is a sight to behold."

"It's about time that Chevy Chase acknowledged its small, shrimp-like inhabitants, which truly do exist," said resident Monet Oliver D'Place, adding, "unlike Purple Line riders, which only exist in the Maryland Transit Administration's fallacious projections."

In a separate vote, the Town Council narrowly defeated a proposal to make the town animal the unicorn.

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Development


Dan Snyder talking with DC, Maryland, and Virginia about new football stadiums

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

DC officials and candidates have long been talking about plans to try and lure the Washington NFL team back to play within the city limits. It was revealed today that, in fact, this is part of a larger deal with Maryland and Virginia to build stadiums for the team in all three jurisdictions.


Photo by inneedofhelp08 on Flickr.

Owner Dan Snyder revealed at a press conference that by spreading the team's home games between the three jurisdictions, he can end some of the squabbling over where the team plays.

Each stadium would be built entirely with team money, provided that the local jurisdictions prepare and deliver the land intact and for free, only as long as they donate approximately $700 million to the team prior to delivery.

This plan will also provide a solution to the controversy about the team name. When playing in DC, the team will use a different name, thereby allowing Snyder to please critics who wanted him to change the name while also retaining the old one, as he had vowed to do.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray said that this would allow the District to gain the "civic spirit" it is looking for, and entice players to live in the District, bringing in tax revenue.

Jack Evans explained that the existence of a stadium will bring economic development to the area. When asked whether this will still happen with the team playing only 2-3 games per year on the site, Evans pointed out that past stadium advocacy has never analyzed whether it matters how many games a team plays, so he is not considering that a factor here as well. "Besides," said Evans, "the difference between 3 games and 8 games is only 5 days, or one week, so it can't matter much."

Councilmember Vincent Orange said he thinks this just might be the thing to bring tourists to DC. In a statement, he said, "The Redskins playing in DC for a couple of weeks each year will mean huge benefits to our city, as having a stadium will give tourists a reason to visit Washington over most any other large American city."

Maryland would also build a new stadium, possibly at National Harbor. It would replace the aging FedEx Field, which at 17 years old is greatly outdated and inadequate to the team's needs. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said that the site would be "transit-oriented," since at least one bus per day will travel to and from the stadium site on game days.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said that the new stadium would bring more tax revenue to Maryland, as many of the players would likely live in Maryland as a result of the stadium.

Virginia lawmakers aren't quite sure where their stadium would go, but one person suggested replacing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport with a new riverfront stadium. He said "the location is great, and it's such a pain for many in Northern Virginia to drive to National instead of Dulles anyway." Such a plan would require adding 12 more highway lanes through Arlington, which a Giles County lawmaker said was surely possible without causing any side effects to any important places.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe didn't take a position on the location or the roadways, but said that since many players will want to live near the stadium, it will be a big asset to the state and whatever area is ultimately chosen for the location.

Since the negotiations have been going on for some time, the Washington Post also revealed that former governor Bob McDonnell had struck a deal with a contracting firm to pay them $1 million per day as a "mobilization fee" until such time as a stadium can be constructed.

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Roads


Engineers find a new approach to solve traffic congestion and pedestrian delays

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Drivers and pedestrians alike often have to face unacceptable levels of delay when they drive or walk around roads in the state of Maryland and Montgomery County. Engineers recently announced new approaches that they believe will make these problems disappear.


Image from photo by Google Earth.

The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is developing a new Pedestrian Level of Service standard to ensure that pedestrian delays are not unacceptably long, while the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will make traffic changes that ensure smoother flow of traffic.

On state highways, pedestrians sometimes have to cross three legs of an intersection, as SHA often does not stripe a crosswalk on one leg. Under federal guidelines, walk signals must last long enough for those on foot to traverse the crosswalk. But the crosswalks need not go straight to a pedestrian's destination, so the state and localities often remove crosswalks so avoid having a long walk signal.

The new Pedestrian Level of Service (PLOS) will address this. It will work similarly to the motorist Level of Service, which grades intersections based on how long people have to wait to cross. Vehicular LOS defines an intersection as "failing" if, on average, a driver has to wait 90 seconds or more to get through the intersection.

Since a pedestrian trying to go straight across the leg where the crosswalk doesn't exist has to cross the other 3 legs of the intersection (waiting for the signal each time), they often encounter more than 90 seconds of delay, so SHA will instead define a failing intersection as one where a pedestiran has to wait 3600 seconds or more to cross.

A statewide analysis of intersections under these new standards to determine which intersections need to be upgraded didn't find any problem spots. Deputy Administrator Ida Driven is pleased. "Clearly, this study shows that Maryland is doing well with pedestrian safety. Over the past 15 years, SHA has spent tens of dollars to make sure that active transportation users can get around safely."

A representative of AAA, Hugh Jestkarr, lauded the change. "Clearly the study shows that pedestrians benefit from roadway improvement projects. It shows that drivers can have fast roads and pedestrians can still get what the government defines as adequate."

The State Highway Administration hopes the new standards and the study will help determine where to spend money. As has been done in many areas, if the PLOS does show a poor grade, state officials will simply remove the crosswalk to ensure that the intersection continues to meet the standards.

Meanwhile, MCDOT has been conducting a detailed analysis of places where the vehicular Level of Service is too low. The test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection, but the county has faced increasing difficulties in meeting this test.

County rules, in fact, block construction where roads have a "Level of Service" that is too low. This test measures how much time it takes cars to get through each intersection.

A particular problem is left turns, which slow down the performance of each intersection. Therefore, beginning next year, left turns will be banned throughout the county.

"When turning cars aren't in the way," explained chief traffic engineer Ample Wandering, "drivers get through intersections faster." Current LOS defines an intersection with an excessively backed-up left turn lane as "failing," but the same intersection passes when left turns are forbidden.

LOS rules prescribe how fast cars must go through intersections, noted deputy transportation director Edsel Gasoline, but they say nothing about how quickly drivers get where they are actually going. "Our drivers will finally be free from the curse of failing intersections," boasted Gasoline.

If any intersections still have Level of Service F without left turns, the county will ban right turns there too.

AAA's Jestkarr cheered the plan. "Drivers," she said, "will at last have the fast-moving roads we crave."

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Government


Maryland occupies, intends to annex disputed District of Columbia territories

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley seized on instability in the small but strategic territory of Columbia today, where local elections could return a controversial leader, who may face indictment, back to power.


Photo by Michael Hilton on Flickr.

Maryland-based construction contractors demanding access to District government projects and to the Fort Totten dump led columns of untagged pickup trucks over the District line this morning. College Park students, also believed to be acting on O'Malley's orders, have rallied at District polling places to demand a referendum on the territory's status, chanting "There is no State of Columbia!"

The Marylanders took over several recreation centers and library buildings in Wards 4 and 5, raising purple and black Ravens flags and demanding the territories be "returned" after being illegally "taken" from Maryland in 1801.

Pro-Maryland forces moved as far as DC USA and the Rhode Island Avenue Home Depot by early afternoon. At a press conference, O'Malley justified the move, citing "chaos" in the District and alleged mistreatment of Marylanders. Grievances were not limited to contractor rights. "Sunday church parishioners arriving from Prince George's County have been pushed out of their traditional parking lands by bike lane fascists," he claimed.

Embattled District Mayor Vincent Gray asserted there was no pretext for the incursion, and that his administration stopped enforcing parking bans around churches months ago.

O'Malley also promised that no commuters driving into the city would have to face discrimination on the basis of whether they chose to pay at a meter or not, whether they obeyed posted time limits or not, or for leaving parked cars in rush hour restricted lanes.

Tensions remain high as O'Malley appears poised to encroach further into the District from the south, with still greater Maryland forces amassing at Town Centers in Largo, Westphalia, and National Harbor. An analyst with the Coordination Strategy Group (CSG), a defense contractor, said the formations were suspicious. The analyst, Carol Chort, said, "These should be lifeless places. But we're seeing levels of pedestrian activity at these Town Centers that our models would have never predicted, even under ideal busway conditions."

Gray's rivals for power were trying to capitalize on events as they unfolded. Councilmember Jack Evans claimed credit for keeping Maryland forces out of Ward 2, citing the hordes of gentry he had mobilized on 14th Street NW at happy hour to dissuade further incursions with the area's notorious $14 cocktails.

Meanwhile, fellow rival Muriel Bowser said that while she had no specific comment on the merits of annexation at this tme, she promised residents she would fight hard against applying Maryland's laxer zoning restrictions and lack of a height limit to occupied Ward 4 territory.

At his press conference, O'Malley brimmed with confidence. "There is no ethnic or linguistic distinction between Marylanders and our District brothers. We will free them from corruption and taxation without representation." He concluded, "Under my decisive leadership, I am confident we can extend the Green Line all the way to Maryland Live! Casino in Arundel Mills by 2024."

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Education


DC finds a way for every child to attend Deal Middle School

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

The Alice Deal Middle School, in Ward 3, is by far the most coveted middle school in the District, and some have urged DCPS to replicate the school in other wards. Now the advisory committee charged with redrawing DC's school boundaries has stumbled upon an idea that could make that possible.


Alice Deal and some of her sisters. Photo by born1945 on Flickr.

The 23-member committee is due to unveil several draft scenarios for new school boundaries and feeder patterns on April 5. Greater Greater Education has learned that one of those scenarios proposes a creative solution to the vexing middle school problem.

Not much is known about the woman for whom Alice Deal Middle School is named. But Martha Hogan, an enterprising member of the committee, undertook some genealogical research and discovered that Deal had 7 sisters. "That gives us enough Deals for every ward in the city," Hogan said.

Ward 1, which currently has no stand-alone middle school, will get a new one, to be named the Mary Ann Deal Middle School. Ward 2's Hardy Middle School will become Gertrude Deal, and Ward 4 will get a stand-alone school named after another sibling, Mildred. Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 will have new or renamed schools honoring Florence, Sadie, Harriet, and Zelda Deal.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who has been campaigning for mayor on an education platform that calls for replicating Deal's success across the District.

She added, "Everyone in the city wants to send their middle-school child to Deal. Now they'll be able to."

"Finally!" said Roger Blinderman, an elementary school parent in Ward 6. "We've been waiting for a high-quality middle school in this neighborhood for years. I just don't understand why someone didn't think of this sooner."

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Government


Proposed project stirs debate

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

A new controversial project has drawn vigorous support from some residents but strong opposition from others. Proponents insist that it will enhance the community, while those against see it as yet another example of change in an already changing neighborhood. Both sides agree that the change that will greatly impact the quality of life, for better or worse.


Yes/no image from Shutterstock.

Several local leaders and neighborhood activists insist that the project is an important way to help the community adapt to the 21st century and accommodate new ways of doing things that many residents want. They also argue that this is only a minor adjustment to previous plans.

Opponents disagree, insisting that the project does not fit into the character of the existing neighborhood and will ultimately render it unrecognizable from its current state. Both sides have marshaled data (and, more importantly, anecdotes) to support their vision for changing things or keeping them exactly the same.

Some community meetings have become intense affairs of shouting, foot-stomping and finger-pointing and the rhetoric on the neighborhood listserv has become increasingly vitriolic. The most passionate supporters and opponents insist that they love the neighborhood so much that they will move away if the wrong outcome comes to pass.

"I just moved here, and I would not have done so had I known that this project could have even been proposed," said one opponent. "I can't believe that no one consulted me to let me know ahead of time that such a change was even possible," said another. "I have kids. What about them?" she continued.

"I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and I can't recall a time that our community was this divided," said a resident who supports the project. "This is yet another example of how the side I disagree with on this issue continues to put their own interests over mine."

Several residents have argued that this change will push elderly people out of their homes, while others insist it is necessary to ensure they can continue to live in their homes. The needs of poor residents have frequently come up, as affluent proponents say this change will help the less fortunate while wealthy opponents are certain it will harm the poor.

The fierce debate over the project has even garnered attention from the local media. After the last community meeting, one reporter filed a memorable story, "Community Members Square Off Over Controversial Project." Several notable local newspaper columnists have written that this project is a prime example of the tensions over change in the region.

Both sides do agree that the current public process has not involved enough residents. Those who support the project and those who oppose it both believe that certain voices in the community have spoken up at public meetings out of proportion to their numbers, while a "silent majority" of other residents who agree with their side of the issue have not yet been heard. Local elected officials have generally agreed that the government agency or private organization promoting the project has not done enough to involve the community.

Tensions continue to run high, but a decision should be reached soon. Whether the community rallies behind the eventual outcome and the project is advanced or rejected, or whether the project moves forward or stalls and the rift carries on for years to come, remains to be seen.

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