Greater Greater Washington

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Taxis


Pedicabs gear up for inauguration weekend

Even with this weekend's inauguration festivities projecting to draw significantly smaller crowds than in 2009, the influx of tourists, along with road closures and unseasonal weather, has the local pedicab community gearing up for what will likely be its busiest weekend of the year.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The prospects of a crowd of 700,000 to 800,000 people projects to draw approximately 200 pedicabs to the National Mall and downtown areas to work the inaugural eventsa nearly 100% increase over 2009, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty declared pedicabs to be the "official vehicle" of the presidential inauguration.

"With the heavy influx of folks coming in, and all kinds of activities going on, it's a great opportunity for the pedicab business," says Ron Graham, owner of ShowPeds, LLC, a local pedicab company. "It's such a rare opportunity to have this type of crowd. I would imagine every pedicabber around will be out working."

As is typical of large Washington events, finding ways to provide efficient transportation of the large crowds this weekend poses daunting challenges. The closure of several metro stations, along with restricted vehicle access on the streets surrounding the National Mall and downtown, means that residents and visitors alike may experience more than a few transit headaches.

Pedicabs, however, which operate essentially as a large tricycle with a seat in the rear to carry passengers, are well calibrated to provide for the short to mid-range transportation services that will either be hard to find or difficult to manage on inauguration weekend.

"Transportation for visitors after they get off the metro will be the tricky part," says Alex Lesiak, a veteran pedicab operator who worked the 2008 Inauguration. "South of K Street, pedestrians will have three options for getting around: walk, ride a bike, or take a pedicab."

Indeed, the three-wheeled machines are uniquely positioned to assist families with children, persons with disabilities, tourists unwilling to navigate the Washington grid, and people who are simply exhausted from a long day of walking.

However, given the negative recent publicity surrounding an incident in which a New York City pedicab operator allegedly charged a family an exorbitant amount for a short ride, the pedicab community in Washington sees this weekend as a chance to boost its local profile and its reputation as an ethical industry.

"It's all about protecting the industry's integrity. We don't just see ourselves as giving Point A to Point B rides, we see ourselves as cultural ambassadors to the city," says Lesiak. "Good operators will provide the client with a full service experience at a fair price."

The industry has grown exponentially within the District since first being introduced more than five years ago, with pedicabs becoming increasingly more common around the National Mall, Nationals Stadium, and neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle and U Street. The city now boasts five licensed pedicab companies and more than 100 pedicabs available to operators and riders.

Public Spaces


Visitors will walk far to MLK, as they do to most memorials

On August 28th, an estimated 400,000 people will attend the dedication of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. They will experience what thousands of visitors find every day: it's hard to get to the memorials.


Photo by jpatrickmadden on Instagram.

The nearest Metro stop is Smithsonian, 0.8 miles away. In a special guide for those heading to the dedication, Metro wisely suggests not using this one, which will be mobbed. It's entirely possible that overcrowding will force the Smithsonian stop to close periodically.

Instead, Metro recommends walking from Farragut West and North, L'Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle, McPherson Square, or Arlington Cemetery. (They discourage using Foggy Bottom due to ongoing escalator repair.) An extra ten minutes of walking may be faster and will certainly be less aggravating than coping with the crowds transferring to the Orange and Blue lines.

Dr. Gridlock tried the walk from Arlington Cemetery, and found it an inspirational one, with the walk over Memorial Bridge giving great views of the Lincoln Memorial. The trickiest parts are around Memorial Circle, where unsafe crosswalks and the Park Police's response make pedestrian crossings difficult.

WMATA also strongly recommends purchasing fare cards prior to the trip. Quite commonly at major events, people waiting to purchase cards for the return trip cause backups at Metro stations.

What about biking? Certainly the crowds around the Memorial itself make biking an inconsiderate choice in close proximity to the ceremony, but bike parking and/or a bike valet a short distance away would allow people to bike to the event and reduce Metro congestion. Unfortunately, there appears to be no bike parking at the memorial at all.

According to Shane Farthing of Washington Area Bicyclist Association, "WABA always looks forward to providing bike valets that allow bicyclists to more easily access major events. In this case, unfortunately, we were not contacted by the organizers, and generally we do not seek to provide valets without the support of the event organizers."

That's not terribly surprising, as the MLK, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation website makes no mention of biking whatsoever. It appears as if biking was not even considered as an transportation option. In contrast, the a shuttle bus for drivers is provided from the parking lots at RFK stadium.

No bikes will be allowed on the Metrorail system on the 28th (even for reverse direction trips far from the memorial), due to the expected large crowds. Cyclists can still use the bike racks located on the front of Metrobuses, however.

In the end, despite all of the advice, people will surely stream from the Smithsonian Metro in droves. If past events are any guide, the shared endeavor of making the hike together will simply heighten the experience, as people from around the country share a common sense of excitement to commemorate the man who marched on Washington on that very day 48 years ago.

But when the newness fades, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial becomes just one of many, we will have a new crop of visitors who discover that many of the memorials just aren't that easy to get to.

A standard walk around the Mall traverses 3.5 miles, from the Smithsonian Metro, taking in all the memorials, and ending at the Foggy Bottom Metro. National attention is focused on the obesity epidemic, and we've all seen visitors having a hard time on the Mall. Large numbers of our fellow Americans are disabled for any number of reasons, elderly visitors may be past their prime walking years, and small children just aren't ready to walk that far yet. There is not, nor should there be, a physical fitness requirement to exploring our common cultural heritage.

But what are the other options?

One could drive, of course. Many of us do. But parking in the area is, at best, chancy, and it's typically only an option for locals who are comfortable with the very confusing road layout. I don't recommend it to visitors, nor is more parking in the area realistic or desirable.

Riding a bike is an increasingly popular option. It does little to help disabled and elderly visitors, but a 3-mile bike ride is far less daunting than a 3-mile hike.

Bike infrastructure on the Mall lags behind the rest of the city. Bike racks are few and far between, and events such as the upcoming dedication show that bike planning is not yet as fully integrated as it could be. Like so many things on the Mall, Congress has a responsibility to properly allocate funds for improvement, but a cultural shift in the Park Service's mentality would go far.

The Park Service should immediately drop their intellectually weak objections to Capital Bikeshare and recognize that participating in the program is a low-cost way to increase access to the Mall for visitors and locals alike.

There's no reason for the Park Service to be perceived as anti-bike. After all, they lead free bike tours of the Mall right now. This is an easy fix and is in keeping with much of the excellent programming the Park Service offers.

Better integrating taxi service, both traditional and pedicabs, would be another relatively low-cost way to improve access. Traditional taxi cabs are generally not at all difficult to hail, but designated taxi pick-up points, discreet signage and perhaps even a cell phone call-in guide on how to use a cab would better marry tired visitors with cab drivers looking to relieve them of their cash. Believe it or not, many of our exurban visitors find the cab system, or cabs in general, daunting.

And, of course, the Park Service has been needlessly antagonistic to pedicabs. In addition to the press reports, including the highly publicized tasing, I've personally witnessed between overwhelmed and aggressive police officers and confused and frustrated pedicab drivers.

Clear, understandable, and transparent regulations will give clarity to everyone, from visitors to drivers to Park Police officers. Most of the attention has focused on individual Park Police actions, but it seems that individual officers are operating with unclear directives from above, lack of consistent standards, and strained staffing issues.

Finally, the memorials lack anything approaching a true mass transit system, thanks to an exclusive Tourmobile contract which prohibited Circulator service for years. Fortunately, NPS director Jon Jarvis has made it clear that change is coming to transit on the Mall.

When you take your first stroll to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, whether for the dedication or just on any other day, take a minute to chat with a visitor from out of town. All Americans deserve better access to this new memorial, and we should encourage those visitors to call their elected representatives and demand it. We may just have a chance to dramatically improve everyone's ability to enjoy our nation's monuments.

Photography


Floating in the Flickr pool

Here are a few of our favorites from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool this week.


Rows of similar, yet differently painted houses appear in many places around the region. Here are some in Alexandria. Photo by matturick.


A pedicab downtown. Photo by mosley.brian.


Well armed Park Police. Photo by nevermindtheend.


A walk on the C&O Canal. Photo by djhanson.


The now-demolished bus garage in Ballston. Photo by Aaron Webb.

Join the Flickr group and submit your own photos! Photos will ideally depict either great or not-so-great features of a part of the Washington, DC region, showing people, roads, parks, stores or buildings as beautiful and lively places filled with people, or unsightly or desolate places that could be greater.

One specific request: We could especially use photos of SmarTrip cards. This one from Mr. T in DC has gotten used many a time, but we try not to repeat more than necessary. There are a number on Flickr that aren't CC licensed. If you get any photos of your SmarTrip, please CC license them and/or post them to the pool. Thanks!

Transit


Dinner links: Many voices for transit over roads


Photo by by buba69 on Flickr.
The Times: A NYT editorial yesterday argues Obama must "give mass transit the priority it deserves and the full financial and technological help it needs and has long been denied" in the upcoming transportation bill. According to the Times, the current stimulus proposal floating around Congress would allocate $30 billion to "highways and bridges" and $12 billion to transit, a "far healthier mix." It's especially healthier if most or all of that $30 billion would repair roads and bridges rather than adding new ones to nowhere. Via Louise and The Overhead Wire.

The Post: The Washington Post endorses the light rail Purple Line. "Two decades of dithering is long enough," they say. "Community support is coalescing around light rail. The onus is on Montgomery officials and state leaders to support the route. The County Council, which will vote to recommend a route late this month, is expected to overwhelmingly support light rail."

The citizens of Greenbelt: At recent visioning sessions to collect input on the future of Greenbelt, residents favored "maximizing available transit resources to provide efficient services throughout the community, improving pedestrian and bicycle experiences throughout the community and improving overpasses," says the Gazette. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Baltimore Sun letter writers: In a letter published Saturday, Greg Cantori of Pasadena, MD explains that it's not too late to cancel the ICC. Just look at "the nightmarish 1970s-era Interstate 70 bypass that was supposed to run through central Baltimore and would have bisected Leakin Park, Federal Hill, Fells Point and Highlandtown and, imagine this, involved a bridge across the Inner Harbor." Despite construction also having begun, activists managed to block that and save many precious Baltimore neighborhoods.

Plus other stuff: Rob Goodspeed discusses the pros and cons of brick sidewalks, a topic hotly debated recently in Dupont Circle; some Washingtonians are moonlighting as pedicab drivers to make more money amid bad economic times; and Parking Today has some choice words for a recently-revealed unpublicized NYC policy to reduce parking tickets by one-third for anyone who asks.

If we add bike lanes, the terrorists have won? During the 2005-2006 Maryland State Police surveillance of peaceful protest groups, writes the Post, "troopers monitoredand labeled as terroristsactivists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes." Watch out, maybe those scary people will use Twitter to plan their bicycle route to commit the terrible act of promoting civil rights! The only solution is to violate their civil rights!

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