Greater Greater Washington is pleased to welcome Jonathan Neeley as our Associate Editor! As our one paid staff member, Jonathan will be editing posts from our excellent team of volunteer contributors. We asked him to introduce himself below.
Image from Paul Andris for Ultiphotos.
Hi, readers! I'm Jonathan Neeley and I'm the new Associate Editor at Greater Greater Washington. I'm really, really excited to be here.
I've taken a somewhat unconventional path to GGW. My first foray into media was a blog about the sport of ultimate that I started in college. From there I took jobs writing and editing for the USA Ultimate magazine, an ultimate website called Skyd Magazine, and RISE UP, a company that makes coaching tutorial videos.
While it may lie a way off the beaten path, ultimate is where I first learned to pitch an editor, speak to a source, and develop a rapport with a contributor. It has also afforded me chances to travel the world doing what I love.
Besides my expertise in a less well-known sport, I cover planning and transportation in a monthly ANC 6B report for the Hill Rag, and I've done a good deal of writing about other issues facing DC for sites like DCist. I love investigating and shedding light on city dynamics because no matter how much you learn, it's only natural to want to dig deeper.
That interest actually took root in my childhood. I grew up in Mechanicsville, Virginia, a suburb of Richmond. When my dad moved to Seattle after my parents split up, I wound up going to high school on the west coast. Even as a kid, I was struck by the stark difference between a place where cars are really the only way to get around and where the local government isn't all that visible versus one where the bus could take me seemingly anywhere and the buildings downtown reached well into the sky.
It's funny to look back on it this way, but my hour and a half Metro bus commute to school and the two hours it took me to get home aren't just where I first fell in love with reading the newspaper—they're why I get that transit matters to people.
You can ask David if you want to be sure, but I think he hired me because I know my way around the English language (I majored in Foreign Affairs and History at the University of Virginia, which basically means I got a degree in reading and writing) and I'm generally pretty prompt in responding to emails.
Now that I'm here, I'm really eager for the opportunity for frequent discussions about how our region is changing, and how those changes affect people. Transportation and city planning affect where and how people live, work, and play. They're relevant to everyone whether they spend time reading about them or not.
Please welcome Jonathan to Greater Greater Washington! We are able to pay Jonathan thanks to all of your support—if you haven't already, please contribute! And if you would like to submit an article for us to consider having Jonathan edit and run on GGW, check out our writing guidelines and get in touch at email@example.com.
After utility companies rip up the streets, they're supposed to restore them. But the low-quality way they often restore pavement under bike lanes and cycletracks makes them very dangerous for cyclists.
On Wednesday, I lost control of my bike and crashed after riding over an asphalt patch and a large, loose chunk of asphalt in the L Street NW bike lane. What I hit may have been no more than a minor inconvenience for someone in a car, but since I couldn't see well because it was raining and the sun had yet to rise, it was enough to knock me off my bike.
Leather gloves, a few layers of clothing, and an impact-absorbing roll that I half-jokingly credit to my Army training cushioned my fall. I scraped my right arm, hip, and leg during the initial impact. When I instinctively put out my left arm to break the fall, I badly bruised that wrist. Thankfully, my trusty helmet didn't come into play.
As a cyclist, I'm mindful of drivers, obstacles, other bikes, weather, and even deer when I ride. If I wreck, I'm likely to receive a disproportionate share of the impact and injury.
But at the site of my crash, the asphalt patch I hit looked smooth and the chunk of concrete blended into the rest of the road. I felt a couple bumps, and next thing I knew my wheel turned sharply, I was in the air, and then on the ground.
A DDOT inspector responds
After getting to work and bandaging my wounds, I emailed District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Matt Brown asking if he could send an inspector to look at the spot. At the very least, I thought, this might keep someone else from also getting injured. Six minutes later, Brown responded, "Thanks. I'll send someone to check it out."
The inspector found chunks of asphalt but couldn't determine whether they came from that site or somewhere else, like off the back of a passing truck. A utility company had temporarily laid the asphalt patch. Utilities are allowed to use these as long as they permanently fix the road before their construction permits end.
GGW contributor Kelli Lafferty reported manhole covers on the 4th Street SW bike lane with patches that aren't flush with the rest of the street, and Payton Chung fell a few months ago at 9th and G NW where pavement had worn away around a gas outlet that was inside the bike lane. Both problems, they say, persist despite having been reported months ago.
Utility companies need to do their part
DDOT regulations require utility companies to ensure safety where they dig up the road whether the fix is permanent or temporary. The agency says, "When the work is completed, the utilities are responsible for restoring the roadway, and DDOT ensures that all utility cuts are in compliance with the District's permitting guidelines and that public space is properly restored within District Standard Specifications to ensure safety."
But utility companies sometimes need prodding to properly restore the road or sidewalk. Too often they just to slap down some asphalt and leave a more hazardous situation. People can report a bad restoration through SeeClickFix or by calling 311 directly.
It's not practical to expect every street and alley to be perfectly smooth. And being aware of the conditions and risks is ultimately each cyclist's responsibility. But it is reasonable to expect utility companies to be sensitive to cyclist (and pedestrian) safety.
Maryland and Virginia are very different places and not ones to cavalierly bunch together. However, we have one post with both sets of endorsements because the most competitive races in both states are more alike than different: a solid candidate with a beneficial vision faces one who would make it a top priority to kill a major transit project.
Anthony Brown and Alan Howze. Images from the candidates' websites.
These races are for governor of Maryland, where we encourage voters to elect Anthony Brown, and Arlington County Board, where Alan Howze is the right choice.
We also endorse Brian Frosh for attorney general. On ballot questions, our contributors did not have a consensus on Maryland's "transportation lockbox" Question 1. The choice is clear to support Fairfax County's bond measure that will help pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects.
Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) hopes to move up to governor. Brown will continue the policies of his predecessor including pushing to build the Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway busway in the I-270 corridor (and, perhaps, challenge conventional thinking on road design and funding).
Brown also wants to ensure Metro has funding for eight-car trains and other upgrades. His Republican opponent Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has made clear that he wants to halt spending on these transit projects because he thinks they are too expensive... but spend more money on highway projects.
The Purple Line nearly died at the hands of former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. Hogan wants to follow in the same footsteps. While Brown has maintained a lead in the polls, the race is far from decided. A Hogan win would be a disaster for Maryland's transit plans and we urge voters to show up on November 4 to cast ballots for Brown.
Brian Frosh, the Democratic nominee for Maryland Attorney General, has a more comfortable lead but deserves special praise. He played a major role in keeping the Purple Line alive in 1991 even while most elected officials believed the project was unpopular.
For the "lockbox" Question 1, our contributors were nearly evenly split while many simply suggested making no endorsement. You can read Ashley Robbins' summary for some reasons to vote for it and an understanding of why many will not.
Virginia state offices are not on the ballot this year, but an Arlington race is all about transit. Alan Howze is facing John Vihstadt in a rematch for Arlington County Board. Vihstadt won a special election this spring where residents angry about county projects had more incentive to turn out while Howze did not run a particularly dynamic campaign. However, the impact on the future of Arlington could be significant, and we again strongly encourage voters to select Howze.
Howze has a good vision for Arlington including concrete ideas to eliminate deaths on the roadways. Meanwhile, Vihstadt has continued to make opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar a core issue. He and other opponents have relentlessly attacked the project that the county has justified in study after study while holding up dubious and misleading alternatives.
A dedicated lane has never been an option on Columbia Pike, and studies have demonstrated how rail can carry many more riders than buses possibly could. Nevertheless, opponents keep touting some amorphous idea of "Bus Rapid Transit" which somehow has the benefits of the expensive, gold standard lines but the costs and footprint of a bare-bones line.
It's not persuasive. This is the GamerGate of Arlington politics. The far more believable alternative is that Vihstadt simply does not want to spend much money on transit. Since transit is massively popular in Arlington, one can't win office opposing it; instead, the only hope is to shout "BOONDOGGLE!" over and over.
Arlington has been an exemplar in our region for the transit-focused direction its leaders have steered. It needs board members who will build on that success; Howze will do so.
In Fairfax County, the proposed $100 million transportation bond measure will pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects in the newly-passed Bicycle Master Plan and other priorities. Fairfax County has taken strong steps to make what's now a very car-dependent county more accessible on foot or bicycle. This is the right decision, and voters should put money behind that effort to see it through.
Last week, people noticed flowerpots appear on 6th Street NE between Gallaudet University and Union Market. But that wasn't all. Yesterday, officials put in the next piece: a cycletrack.
This is a "tactical urbanism" project by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Gallaudet University to make 6th Street NE safer for all users, including a new 2-way cycletrack and small plaza.
6th Street NE between Florida Avenue and Penn Street is extremely wide, with 70 feet of asphalt for only two parking lanes and two driving lanes. Each lane was 22 feet wide before DDOT recently re-striped the road. This is double the width of typical travel lanes.
The new layout still provides parallel parking on both sides, but also adds a two-way cycletrack on the east side while narrowing the travel lanes to 12' wide. This is similar to Option 3 for 6th Street in the ongoing Florida Avenue Safety Study, which will set plans for a future project to permanently rebuild the street.
Gallaudet has been a huge supporter of this project, and worked with DDOT to have this open now that their Neal Place entrance will be open full-time. The university owns most of the real estate on both sides of 6th Street NE and they were concerned about the campus community crossing the street to access Union Market and other businesses. They also have high hopes for future growth on this street.
While most of this land is now used for maintenance or parking, Gallaudet is planning a new campus neighborhood to improve the campus experience, provide revenue and improve links to the surrounding neighborhoods and Metro. The university recently chose JBG as the development partner for this 1.3 million square foot project.
The changes on 6th Street were able happen so quickly because DDOT did not need to remove any travel lanes, parking, or other elements which require more time to approve. This has also recently become a highly-traveled pedestrian area not only because of Gallaudet and Union Market, but also because KIPP has opened a high school at the former Hamilton School on Brentwood Parkway.
The planters at the Neal Street NE campus entrance will help protect a small plaza on either side of the street. This will make it easier to cross between Gallaudet and Union Market by shortening the crossing distance and making pedestrians more visible. Gallaudet provided and will maintain flowers in the pots.
This cycletrack will transition to the existing bike lanes on 6th Street south of Florida to K Street NE (which will eventually be rebuilt as part of the Florida Avenue NE project). For access to the southbound 4th Street NE/SE bike lane or to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, DDOT is planning new bike facilities for M Street NE.
The funding comes from DC's new Sustainable DC Innovation Challenge program. David Levy, program manager for Sustainable DC, says the program "funds innovative pilot projects that demonstrate ways to make the District more sustainable."
Sam Zimbabwe of DDOT said planners are "always looking for ways to improve safety and create usable public space. We did some short-term improvements on Maryland Avenue NE at 7th Street earlier this year, so it's definitely more and more in our toolkit, but we don't have other locations identified just yet."
A project like this will have a major impact on safety for all users, and was completed very quickly through collaboration by many partners. Where else are there opportunities for tactical sustainability projects like this?
Mayoral support. Image from the Washington City Paper.Poll says: A new WAMU/City Paper poll found 44% supporting Muriel Bowser, Karl Racine leading for attorney general with 27%, and 52% prepared to vote to legalize marijuana. The poll didn't cover the at-large race.
Not in my back ward?: Voters across the city are generally undecided about McMillan development. Perhaps not surprisingly, voters in the wards closest by have the strongest opposition; the most support comes from the farthest wards. (City Paper)
DC police live elsewhere: Less than 20% of DC police officers actually live in DC. That includes Park Police and the Capitol Police, but among MPD officers alone, still only 17% reside in the District. (City Paper)
Transportation on the radio: The Diane Rehm Show will discuss sharing the road at 10 am with bike & walk advocate Mary Lauran Hall, Gabe Klein, Wonkblog's Emily Badger, and a SF bicycle infrastructure opponent. Last week, Kojo Nnamdi talked moveDC and congestion pricing with Cheryl Cort, Martin Di Caro, and AAA's John Townsend.
Underpass designs forgot bikes?: Designs for the NoMa underpasses may be pretty, but many of the L Street ones ignore the fact that the sidewalk is part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail. Is it time to clearly define a bike space? (TheWashCycle)
Use two wheels? Fairfax wants you: Fairfax County's new bicycle plan calls for 1,130 miles of lanes over 30 years. Leaders think cycle infrastructure is necessary to woo young professionals who could otherwise go to DC, Arlington, or Alexandria. (Post)
Later school start in Fairfax: After years of debate, Fairfax County will move high school start times up by 40 minutes starting next September. The change is popular with both students and parents, but will cost the county $4.9 million. (Fairfax Times)
Left-wing housing is pricier: Even after adjusting for income, metro areas on the progressive side of the political spectrum have higher inequality and less affordable housing than their peers. (CityLab)
And...: Montgomery County lawmakers may ban some pesticides on lawns and county property. (Gazette) ... DC may advertise itself as a health tourism destination. (WBJ) ... ... Takoma Park is still a mecca for left-leaning federal officials. (Post)
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Photo by Sergio Ruiz.
The last two weeks have been significant for the streets of San Francisco, and it’s not because of the World Series, Halloween or Dia de los Muertos. Last week at SPUR, Enrique Penalosa, the renowned former mayor of Bogota, articulated a poetic and passionate democratic vision for our streets: a safe place where we can all live our lives. Also last week, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) convened its annual Designing Cities conference in San Francisco. NACTO, an organization made up largely of municipal transportation departments, is leading a paradigm shift: citizens, rather than generic highway-oriented guidelines, should determine how streets are best used.
Sadly, these celebrations of revived city streets were interrupted by tragic events in San Francisco: two pedestrian deaths caused by vehicle collisions — one in front of City Hall right after a pedestrian safety ceremony.
These events demonstrate that we are still very much in the process of making streets safe and livable. The re-envisioning of San Francisco’s streets has been ongoing for more than four decades now, but there is still work to do.
Transit First, at Last
In 1973, San Francisco adopted a city transportation policy called Transit First, which states, “Public transit, including taxis and vanpools, is an economically and environmentally sound alternative to transportation by individual automobiles. Within San Francisco, travel by public transit, by bicycle and on foot must be an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile.” Today this policy is guiding significant efforts to improve city streets, including the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s Transit Effective Project, now known as Muni Forward. In combination, initiatives such as painting transit lanes red, installing new traffic signals that prioritize transit and many others are projected to improve travel times by up to 20 percent for more half of Muni riders.
For decades, Muni buses have been caught in traffic. New bus-only lanes give transit the space it needs to operate optimally — and they improve safety for everyone else using the street. Source: SFMTA.
Unlike rail service that runs on a exclusive right of way or underground, most transit operators in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities don’t have full control of the routes they operate on. Streets are a hotly contested space, where buses are slowed by cars, trucks, taxis, private shuttles, bicycles and pedestrians. This is why we need a policy like Transit First.
The definition and meaning of “Transit First” may be in need of an update given how transportation is changing. But the idea of Transit First remains indispensable. Here are five reasons why:
1. It saves lives.
As Mayor Penalosa bluntly pointed out, there is an ever-present chance of death while using our streets. Each year in San Francisco, some 100 people are severely injured or killed, and 800 more are injured, while walking. Seniors and children are especially vulnerable. A key reason why people are at risk while walking on city streets is because of the way streets are designed. (The other reasons are generally education and enforcement.) The city’s goal is to reach zero traffic fatalities in San Francisco by 2024, a campaign known as Vision Zero.
2. It creates opportunity and equity.
Together, transit and job-rich neighborhoods create a system where people can access economic opportunity. Among U.S. cities, San Francisco is fifth in number of jobs available by transit and second in rate of transit use. When one transit system improves, it opens more options within the larger transportation network. For example, when your bus connection to BART goes faster and is more reliable, BART then becomes a more viable commute option, opening up a greater range of job opportunities. We also know that great transit networks lower transportation costs for residents, freeing up more income for other needs. Meanwhile, there is a growing portion of our population whose mobility is decreasing, and this group is looking for transportation options.
Annual Household Transportation Costs in Major American Cities
Transit availability leads to lower household transportation costs, freeing up income for other needs. San Francisco has the fifth lowest transportation costs among major U.S. cities. Source: HUD Location Efficiency Index
3. It solves a spatial problem.
A single car consumes an incredible amount of street space, which means San Francisco’s narrow streets are better sized for transit, cycling and walking than they are for cars. Without a doubt, implementing Transit First is getting more complicated as technology-driven innovations join our crowded streets: private transit, transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, ridesharing and more curbside deliveries to individuals and businesses. Other urban amenities like parklets, bikesharing and bike corrals also complicate street design. But these other needs don’t change the fact that transit is the right-sized solution in dense cities.
Cars needs a lot of space compared to other transportation modes. On Market Street, space has been reallocated to cyclists. Image source: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Emphasizing transit isn’t just about using streets efficiently, it’s about using land efficiently. A more car-centric San Francisco would require significantly wider roads and increased parking, which directly results in less allocation of space for shops, bars, restaurants, offices and housing.
4. It respects San Francisco’s character.
San Francisco retained its charm as it grew thanks to transit, beginning with cable cars and streetcars. What would remain of San Francisco’s ambiance if it neglected its ongoing efforts to support non-auto transportation? What would the city’s favorite neighborhoods feel like with wider roads, more parking lots and lifeless parking structures? They would feel like the suburbs. Luckily we have another option. With care and great design, new transit can be very effectively woven into the fabric of old and dense cities.
5. It reduces greenhouse gases.
Muni’s fleet produces just 1 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, while cars and trucks produce 40 percent. Walking and cycling have essentially zero pollutants. Street design very quickly shapes which modes of transportation people use, so initiatives like Transit First can do a lot ot reduce the greenhouse gases that are changing earth’s climate.
The World is Watching
Next week, San Francisco voters will decide whether to fund $500 million in transit and pedestrian safety improvements through Measure A, a general obligation bond. The types of transportation projects that would be funded by Measure A are in line with the goals of the Transit First policy. Meanwhile, SF voters will also have the option to approve Prop. L, a policy statement that would work directly against Transit First and prioritize cars.
Now is a time to embrace and celebrate Transit First. As mayor Penalosa stated, the world is watching San Francisco and will emulate what we do.
Matt Covert was featured in the Spring/Summer edition of In Common magazine. Several UW-Madison Nelson Institute alumni were asked to look 30 years down the road and imagine more livable, sustainable urban communities.
On Monday, we posted our twenty-sixth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in Metro. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
We got 20 guesses this week. Only one of you got all five correct. Great work, Peter K!
Image 1: Fort Totten
The first image shows a northbound train leaving Fort Totten's lower level. There are several clues in this picture. The portion of the platform below the mezzanine has a unique ceiling, which is visible here. Additionally, the terminal supervisor's booth (the windows) narrows this down to a few stations that served as terminals. And in the reflection on the window, you can see that the station is partially above ground. Nine of you got this one right.
Image 2: Spring Hill
The next image depicts the Spring Hill station along the new Silver Line. The vantage point is from the pedestrian bridge over the southbound lanes of Route 7. This is distinctly Spring Hill (as opposed to the other Tysons stations) because McLean and Tysons Corner are not in medians, they're entirely on one side of Route 123. Greensboro, which is also in a median, has a completely different roof type (Gambrel) and the mezzanine is above the tracks, rather than below. Twelve of you correctly guessed this one.
Image 3: Takoma
The third image depicts art at the Takoma station, visible from the entrance. It's located on the retaining wall between the tracks south of the station, and is easily visible from the left side of southbound trains upon departure. Nine of you got this one.
Image 4: Braddock Road
The fourth image shows the view from the platform at Braddock Road. The clue here is the distance from and angle to the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Further confirmation comes from being able to see the southern end of the canopy (Alexandria Peak) and the railroad tracks, which makes it clear that this is not King Street. Nineteen knew this one.
Image 5: Shaw—Howard University
The final image was clearly the hardest. This shows the northbound trackway at Shaw. All stations have drains in the trackways. But they usually just have one or two. Shaw has drains at this interval for almost the entire length of the platform, and it's distinct in that regard. The base of the vault could have also helped you narrow it down, since it's a Waffle type. Only four of you knew this was Shaw.
Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!
Large flowerpots recently appeared on 6th Street NE along a crosswalk connecting Gallaudet University to Union Market. These aren't the work of a rogue gardener; they're a way for the city to narrow the crossing and enhance pedestrian safety.
Twitter user @GnarlyDorkette, a Trinidad resident and Gallaudet Deaf interpreter, posted these photos of the new flowerpot.
6th Street is only striped as a two-lane road, but it's a very wide two-lane road, with lanes formerly 22 feet wide. Drivers often used it as a four-lane road, said Sam Zimbabwe of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).
The road is part of the area that has long been a wholesale food market. There was a lot of truck traffic, but very little pedestrian traffic, and so it wasn't a top priority to change. But now this is a popular destination. Union Market opened two years ago and has become a bustling food destination with 34 carefully-curated vendors. Its success has drawn other businesses as well, like the Dolcezza gelato factory across the street. And a lot more Gallaudet students are walking over.
The university recently modified its gate on 6th Street to allow people with university IDs to pass through 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, Zimbabwe said. All of this led DDOT to install the flowerpots to keep drivers on the two official lanes and encourage them to pass slowly.
What about Florida Avenue?
There's another wide road adjacent to Gallaudet that neighbors say could use some narrowing: Florida Avenue. The roadway there is three lanes each way but narrower elsewhere, and the traffic volume doesn't warrant six lanes. There's a study underway to look at widening the extremely narrow (and non-ADA compliant) sidewalks and adding bike lanes.
Zimbabwe said that study is about to wrap up, after which DDOT will submit proposed changes to the regional Transportation Planning Board for its Constrained Long-Range Plan. Departments of Transportation submit their projects for that plan each December, and Zimbabwe wants to get the Florida changes in this year.
The extra step is necessary, Zimbabwe said, because Florida Avenue is part of the "expanded national highway system" under the recent MAP-21 federal transportation bill, and is a major artery in the regional traffic models. DDOT expects to be able to modify the road, but has to jump through some administrative hoops first.
Between NoMa, Union Market, H Street, and more, the number of shops, restaurants, and other destinations around Gallaudet University has exploded in recent years. This makes it even more important to ensure the streets are safe to cross on foot for everyone of all ages, walking speeds, and hearing abilities.
With 15 people on the ballot for two DC Council at-large seats on Tuesday, many voters have little information on this race, which has gotten light press coverage and no independent polling. But an at-large council seat is a very important post. Voters will be able to pick two candidates, and we recommend Elissa Silverman and Robert White.
White and Silverman. Images from the candidates' websites.
In addition, while they stand virtually no chance of losing, we hope voters will happily cast ballots for Brianne Nadeau for the council seat in Ward 1, Mary Cheh in Ward 3, Kenyan McDuffie in Ward 5, and Charles Allen in Ward 6. Cheh and McDuffie have been exemplary councilmembers, and Nadeau and Allen are sure to be as well.
There was no consensus to make an endorsement for DC mayor, attorney general, chairman of the council, or delegate and shadow races. Greater Greater Washington contributors do strongly support voting Yes on Initiative 71, marijuana legalization. Our endorsements come from a survey of contributors, with the editorial board making a determination of whether there is strong enough consensus to warrant an endorsement.
Robert White has made it clear that he supports smart growth and progressive transportation measures. His transportation issue page focuses on about improving transit and walkability and recognizes such solutions will help decrease congestion. He also has an intriguing plan to convert underused office and retail space into housing. White supports streetcars and bus lanes, completing the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and much more. He will be an effective councilmember, already gaining the support of GGW allies David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie as well as Yvette Alexander and multiple newspapers.
We previously endorsed Elissa Silverman in the 2013 special election. She is a supporter of transit and a crusader for affordable housing as well as other programs to help less fortunate residents. While she had softer positions on some elements of the zoning update and has called herself "a moderate" on streetcars, there is more to legislating in DC than just parking minimums, and she is on the right side of most issues. With support from DC's progressive organizations and Marion Barry, hopefully Silverman can help bring the city together to move forward in a way that benefits all.
Kishan Putta, a sitting Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission member and first-time candidate for higher office, also deserves special mention. He has made the 16th Street bus lane a centerpiece of his work both on the ANC and in this campaign. This has helped elevate it to a top city priority and gotten other candidates on the record in favor as well. While he is unlikely to win a seat next Tuesday, his candidacy has been positive and we hope to see him continue to be involved in transit and other issues in the years to come.
The mayoral race between Muriel Bowser, David Catania, and Carol Schwartz has gotten the lion's share of press and voter attention. However, our own process reached no clear enough consensus for an endorsement. We encourage our readers to read our chats with Bowser and Catania and make up their own minds.
On Initiative 71, no contributor voted to oppose the measure. Marijuana has been shown to be less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, and many legal drugs, and most of all, enforcement against it has overwhelmingly harmed communities of color. It's clear that the negative effects of keeping marijuana illegal have far outweighed any benefits, and voters should take the next step with Initiative 71.
We will have posts about Maryland and Virginia as well as some Advisory Neighborhood Commission races over the coming days. Regardless of your views, if you are an eligible voter in DC, please be sure to vote on Tuesday, November 4 or in early voting until Saturday, November 1.
The 2½ year project began earlier this month to replace all three of the station's entrance escalators. WMATA's press release said, "For safety reasons, Metro may need to temporarily close Bethesda Station to prevent overcrowding during service disruptions or other events, such as a disabled train, medical emergency, infrastructure problem or power failure. This may happen with little advance notice."
What does this mean? Will Bethesda station really have to close? What will the impact on riders be? We talked with WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel about the project.
Why do this now?
Bethesda station is going to get a new, second entrance in tandem with the Purple Line. That construction is scheduled to start in 2016. Can the escalator rehab wait until there is another entrance? Metro already will be closing the Red Line for 14 weekends between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor for that and other repair work.
Stessel says this can't wait:For more than a year now, [the escalator division] has permanently assigned a maintenance team, composed of two technicians and one master technician, to Bethesda and Medical Center—just those two stations (something that is unheard of among our peers in the transit industry). That's in addition to emergency response personnel and supervisors. That level of attention has yielded positive results, but it is not sustainable in the long term.
The escalators are original equipment, installed when the station was built and in service since it opened. As you know, the longer the escalator, the more parts/sensors, the harder to maintain. These units are well past their useful life and need to go. Kicking this can down the road is not a good option.
Also, [General Manager] Sarles personally made a commitment to Bethesda riders three years ago, and we are making good on it.Stessel also said that the work couldn't go any faster if workers closed the whole station because they can't fix more than one escalator at a time:KONE, our contractor—and one of the global leaders in this industry, would still only be able to work on one unit at a time, because one unit must be maintained for worker access to the shaft and crane activity can only occur on a single unit due to space constraints. Meanwhile, we would continue to expend huge resources to maintain outdated, outmoded escalators. I believe that if you spoke with most Bethesda customers, they would agree that getting this project done sooner is better.What if an escalator breaks down?
Bethesda has three escalators from the station fare control area to the bus garage area (where you can exit or take other, shorter escalators to Wisconsin Avenue). If one is under repair, that leaves two, one going up and one down.
According to DC Metro Metrics, Bethesda's three escalators have been down 6.63%, 4.55%, and 4.81% of the time. (And that is with the dedicated repair personnel Stessel talked about above).
Given these numbers, if we assume that each breaks down totally independently of the others, the probability that two or more escalators is broken at the same time would be less than 1%. But when only two escalators are functioning, the average probability that one or both escalators is broken rises to 10.4%.
What happens when one of these escalators breaks down, leaving only one functioning escalator? Stessel says:We will have [escalator] techs physically at Bethesda every hour the station is open for the entire duration of the project. They're there to quickly respond to any outage.
In most cases, the escalators can be reset by the techs—or the problem can be quickly resolved. If that's the case, no closure necessary.
If we have a longer, more complex outage, that may or may not result in a closure depending on a few factors:
- As long as there is an ascending escalator available and the second, out of service unit is available as a walker [a shut-off escalator you can walk up or down], the station can stay open. Personnel can reverse a working descending unit to ascend if that helps.
- If either of the two remaining units is barricaded for any reason (not available as a walker), the station will close due to the extremely limited capacity for exit.
- If both units are out of service (i.e. for a power outage or fire alarm), the station will close.
Bethesda could close even if two escalators are still working. That's because, Stessel said, with only two escalators there is less capacity to get people out of the station:The station will be closed/bypassed if there is a delay that causes crowding beyond normal rush hour levels. ...
We have a team of personnel at Bethesda every hour that the station is open, including MTPD officers and an official, [escalator] techs, a safety officer, a rail supervisor and an [escalator company] rep. These personnel are there to monitor conditions and effect an evacuation if necessary.
The decision to bypass the station is made by the ranking MTPD official based on actual crowd conditions or the potential for crowds. Types of incidents that could prompt bypassing include single tracking events, medical emergencies, arcing insulators, person struck, power outages, and so on. Factors such as peak vs. off-peak are taken into consideration. We won't needlessly inconvenience riders, but we will always put safety first.In fact, the day we were emailing back and forth with Stessel, he said the Bethesda station was going to close because of single-tracking and "a reported track problem" like an arcing insulator outside Bethesda. But then the track inspectors found everything to be okay, so the station stayed open.
It sounds like there's really no good answer here. It's likely that the station will close some of the time, and even though Metro will provide shuttle bus service from Medical Center when that happens, it would still add a lot of time to a trip. Still, Metro has good reasons for moving forward. It's just unfortunate that Bethesda riders may have to deal with some significant inconveniences as a result.
Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.Revive Bethesda's plaza: A vision for a grand new park on the plaza at Bethesda Metro envisions a lawn, retail, water features, and maybe ping pong or bocce. The current plaza is uninviting and underutilized. (BethesdaNow)
More affordable housing in DC?: A bill to require affordable housing in development projects on public land passed the DC Council yesterday, but not before Muriel Bowser and Phil Mendelson weakened it by adding some loopholes. (Post)
What's next for bikeshare: The new owners of Alta Bicycle Share, which also operates CaBi and other systems, will double the size of Citibike. There are yet no details on how they will get new equipment or what this means for Capital Bikeshare expansion. (Streetsblog, City Paper)
Biking safer despite headlines: The Governors Highway Safety Association may have done bike safety a disservice when it reported higher bike fatalities while ignoring rising bike ridership. It also blames crashes on drinking and not wearing helmets without evidence. GHSA has now been backpedaling on Twitter. (Streetsblog, BikePortland)
Boost for bikes and peds: Fairfax County approved its Bicycle Master Plan last night. A $100 million bond referendum on the ballot next week, if passed, would pay for many bike and pedestrian projects. (WAMU)
Glowing bike lane: A bike lane in the Netherlands has glow-in-the-dark paint which recharges during the day and glows at night to make it more visible. (BBC)
Real estate bits: A mixed-use development with affordable units will replace Glenarden Apartments, a low-income complex near Landover. (Post) ... Georgetown's Latham Hotel will become micro-units. (UrbanTurf) ... GSA may hand an underutilized building near Navy Yard to DC in exchange for construction services at St. Elizabeths. (WBJ)
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How can communities change while preserving what's important? Learn about these challenges in historic Georgetown and developing Route 1 in Fairfax. Also, learn about transportation financing, water and equity, and Ride On service at upcoming events around the region.
Photo by terratrekking on Flickr.
Change in Georgetown: Moving historic neighborhoods into the future can be difficult. Georgetown is trying to do that with its "Georgetown 2028" plan. On Tuesday, November 4, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield will discuss how the area can continue to develop a thriving commercial district and preserve its historic flair. That's at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.
Growth and stormwater: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's next tour takes you to Route 1 in Fairfax, where growth will affect the local watersheds. Experts will talk about how Fairfax can add housing, stores, and jobs while preserving water quality. You need to RSVP for the tour, which is 10 am to noon this Saturday, November 1.
Public-private transportation: Curious about how the nation will finance transportation infrastructure? Tonight, Tuesday, October 28, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is hosting David Connolly and Ward McCarragher, both from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to discuss a new report about how public-private partnerships can fund transportation. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 5 pm and the presentation will be 5:30-6:30 at 1666 K Street, NW, 11th floor. Please RSVP.
Ride On more: Montgomery County is planning to increase service on six routes, and will discuss the changes at a public forum Wednesday, October 29, starting at 6:30 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.
Social equity and water: Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program's weekly lecture series is talking about "big investments in big cities." On Monday, November 3 at 5:30 pm, George Hawkins, the general manager of DC Water, will discuss how infrastructure also affects social equity. The talk is at Georgetown's SCS building at 640 Massachusetts Ave, NW. RSVP here.
Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to another edition of our blog series, A Day in the Life, which will introduce you to HUD employees and highlight the important work they do.
Today we meet Leslie Meaux, Director of the Monitoring and Asset Management Division of Ginnie Mae.
Can you tell me a little bit about Ginnie Mae?
Ginnie Mae is a government-owned corporation within HUD. We guarantee Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS), which raise funding for virtually all loans insured or guaranteed by the U.S. government. This includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing. Ginnie Mae does not originate loans or issue MBS, which means we have no exposure to credit risk if a borrower defaults on their loan. Ginnie Mae facilitates a diverse range of products including single-family and multifamily properties, and currently has a $1.5 trillion portfolio of outstanding MBS.
How did you come to join HUD?
After more than 20 years in housing finance working for Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and being on the ground during the mortgage crisis seeing the impact first hand, I decided to take a look at the government. At the GSEs, I worked to ensure we implemented every remedy to help as many borrowers as possible, but I figured I could give back more through public service. When the position at Ginnie Mae became available, I knew it would be a great way to use my experience to support a great mission, and to contribute in a small way to the transformation of the nation’s housing finance system. Being part of the solution is important to me at this point in my career and public service best exemplifies this for me.
What is your typical day like?
Working as the Director of the Monitoring and Asset Management Division is dynamic, exciting and productive. No two days are ever the same. Overseeing the monitoring of a 1.5 trillion dollar MBS program is obviously no small task. My team is responsible for monitoring how Ginnie Mae issuers, servicers and document custodians are complying with our program requirements. On any given day, we are doing that monitoring or in the case of an issuer not complying, working with the issuer on appropriate remedies for the non-compliance. We are also busy with management of Ginnie Mae’s loan assets from previous issuer defaults where we had to step into the shoes of this issuer and take over the servicing of the pools. All in all, the team works in a very dynamic environment on a daily basis.
What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned in your career to get you where you are today?
Respect and collaboration at all levels is critical. You never know where you might end up as you move along in your career, and who you might need to support you. I have always treated others as I wish to be treated, and that approach engenders mutual respect. That is a key value for me. I believe this has always helped me build strong and effective teams. When you respect everyone and value the process of collaboration, everyone feels a part of the whole. Strong teams are productive, effective and get results.
Tell us something interesting about you that most people don’t know.
My education and early career was in the field of mental health. My background as a psychologist has always been an asset in my career – especially as a leader and manager – in helping me build strong and successful teams and also understand how individuals think and work. Leveraging individual strengths to meet objectives is critical to the success of both individuals and teams.
What’s your biggest accomplishment over the past 12 months?
The Monitoring and Asset Management team is very productive, so to point to just one accomplishment is hard. The biggest lift was probably moving $11 billion of Ginnie Mae’s portfolio from our previous Master Sub-Servicers to two new Master Sub-Servicers. On occasion, we are called upon to step into the shoes of a defaulted issuer. That means we must take possession of government loans when an Issuer has been terminated from the program. In order to protect our assets and stay true to Ginnie Mae’s responsibility of guaranteeing timely principal and interest payments to the investors, we rely on these Master Sub-Servicers to provide critical servicing and reporting functions.
But we have also spent a significant amount of time this year working on strengthening our monitoring programs given the ever increasing size of the Ginnie Mae portfolio, and as we approve new issuers and bring them into the program.
What’s next on the radar?
In early 2015 we are scheduled to roll out Ginnie Mae’s first Issuer Operational Performance Profile (IOPP). This tool is a transparent way for our issuers to understand their performance in our program in the areas of issuing, pooling, servicing and collateral management on a month-to-month basis, and compare it to the performance of their peers. This has been an interesting project for the team and represents just one way that Ginnie Mae is being responsive to our issuers and helping to ensure they are successful in our program.
Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check back next month for a new edition of A Day in the Life!
Danielle Walton is a Communications Specialist at Ginnie Mae.
Gas prices have fallen below $3 per gallon in much of the US, and the explanation isn't the simple seasonal differences that always make gas cheaper in autumn. The bigger reason: US oil shale deposits are turning the global oil market on its head.
Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.
How did cheap gas happen?
In the simplest terms, supply is up and demand is down.
Travel drops between the summer travel season and the holidays, and cooler temperatures actually make gas cheaper to produce. That's why gas prices always fall in the fall.
But that's not enough to explain this autumn's decline, since gas hasn't dropped this low in years. China is also using less gas than expected, but that's also only part of the explanation.
The bigger piece is that supply is also up, in a huge way. North American oil shale is hitting the market like never before, and it's totally unbalancing the global oil market. Oil shale has become so cheap, and North American shale producers are making such a dent in traditional crude, that some prognosticators are proclaiming that "OPEC is over."
It's that serious a shift in the market.
Will this last?
Yes and no.
The annual fall price drop will end by Thanksgiving, just like it always does. Next summer, prices will rise just like they always do. Those dynamics haven't changed at all.
Likewise, gasoline demand in China and the rest of the developing world will certainly continue to grow. Whether it outpaces or under-performs predictions matters less in the long term than the fact that it will keep rising. That hasn't changed either.
But the supply issue has definitely changed. Oil shale is here to stay, at least for a while. Oil shale production might keep rising or it might stabilize, but either way OPEC crude is no longer the only game in town.
Of course, oil shale isn't limitless. Eventually shale will hit peak production just like crude did. When that happens it will inevitably become more expensive as we use up the easy to refine reserves and have to fall back on more expensive sources. That's a mathematical certainty. But it's not going to happen tomorrow. In the meantime, oil shale isn't very scarce.
So the bottom line is that demand will go back up in a matter of weeks, and the supply will probably stabilize, but at higher levels than before.
What does this mean?
Here's what it doesn't mean: There's never going to be another 1990s bonanza of $1/gallon fill-ups. Gas will be cheaper than it was in 2013, but the 20th Century gravy train of truly cheap oil is over.
Oil shale costs more to extract and refine than crude oil. Prices have to be high simply to make refining oil shale worth the cost, which is why we've only recently started refining it at large scales. Shale wouldn't be profitable if prices dropped to 1990s levels. In that sense, oil shale is sort of like HOT lanes on a congested highway, which only provide benefits if the main road remains congested.
So shale can only take gas prices down to a little below current levels. And eventually increased demand will inevitably overwhelm the new supply. How long that will take is anybody's guess.
In the ultimate long term, oil shale doesn't change most of the big questions surrounding sustainable energy. Prices are still going to rise, except for occasional blips. We still need better sustainable alternatives. Fossil fuels are still wreaking environmental catastrophe, and the fracking process that's necessary to produce oil shale is particularly bad. It would be foolish in the extreme for our civilization to abandon the progress we've made on those fronts and go back to the SUV culture of the 20th Century.
There will probably be lasting effects on OPEC economies. The geopolitical situation could become more interesting.
In the meantime, enjoy the windfall.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.