Ticketers are watching their backs. (Photo: John Hendel)
In the District, parking tickets come with the ominous line "Assaults on parking enforcement personnel are fully prosecuted." You can see for yourself in the photo above. The line, based on a Google search, seems to have been on parking tickets in D.C. for at least a decade. Ominous.
My question: Is there an epidemic of assaults against parketing enforcement personnel? Emotions are certainly hot enough about parking tickets. I could imagine a few risks in being one.
And first off, I should note another thing: This is a great week to be a driver! Not only can you now pay for parking with your cell phone in all of the District's 17,000 metered spaces through Park Mobile but Mayor Vincent Gray is offering an amnesty on ticket late fees, starting August 1 and going through January 27, 2012, in order for the city to regain a little revenue. The city hopes to collect around $6.3 million of the $245.7 million owed in outstanding tickets through this measure. Not bad, D.C. Way to bring a little sanity to your city's crazy roads.
But what of the parking personnel? Again my thoughts turn back to that mystifying line. The D.C. department of public works handles parking tickets, so I put in a call with Linda Grant, the department's public information officer, to see if I could find some answers.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this is a sad one to face on a Saturday morning.
Here's to the better rail service we'll have one day! These delays may be another example of the price we pay for improved, safe service. Still ... ugh. Make sure you bring your iPod, a book, and even a magazine for the delays that'll hit down on the platform. And God forbid you'll need to transfer lines!
The past week of D.C. transportation news has been a little disjointed, with all eyes turned toward Congress and the fate of the debt ceiling. Many offbeat stories did emerge, however. Let's look back at some of the big posts of the past week to get ready for August:
• "Excuse me, is that your bag?" I interviewed Alice Riley, the voice of Metro that we hear every day on the Metro platforms. She's sweet, patient, and likes action movies and bowling.
• Everton hooligans made a ruckus on the Metro. Just watch the video.
• Oh, and @MetroOpensDoors will be no more, perhaps as soon as next week when Metro's new social media manager.
• Bike commuting went big! I looked at how the movement arose in the past couple decades, listed the locations of the 32 new Capital Bikeshare stations coming to the District, and even noted Congress's preeminent biking advocate who's wearing a bright biking pin on his lapel as he speaks on the floor about the debt ceiling. We also saw through the eyes of a bike commuter in a scary, dramatic video.
Every good commute calls for a good playlist. Forget long waits for Metro trains, crowded jostling on the cars, walks that seem endless, and the bus stops to what feel like nowhere—this weekend, just sit back and enjoy the songs on your iPod or MP3 player. The right song kills all the travel stress, and in honor of that fact, TBD's On Foot blog offers you a weekly transit-themed track for your Metro playlist. The destination will come eventually, after all. In the meantime, just enjoy the ride and the music.
This week's traffic jam: "Take the A Train" by Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington (1964)
Residents of the District, start preparing yourselves — the Bicycle Film Festival is on the way in the next week or so. Whether you're a cyclist yourself or just a fan, you should swing by the big event, which is being held is various cities around the world at different times. It's D.C.'s turn now, so read on for details on how to attend and a glimpse of some of the films that'll be shown this year. I've included trailers for four of the festival films at the end of the post, and they seem promising — often internationally focused, the movies range in location from Red Hook to Ghana. Even Spike Jonze directed one of the selections being shown.
What: The Bicycle Film Festival was founded in 2001 by New Yorker Brendt Barbur after he was hit by a bus while riding his bike. He was inspired to start a festival looking at the art, music, and film devoted to bikes, and now the Bike Film Festival (or BFF if you're feeling friendly) occurs in countless cities, from Tokyo to London to Amsterdam to our very own D.C.
When: The festival will happen in our very own District from Thursday, August 4 through Saturday, August 6th.
Where: Here! In many places. The films will be shown at the Gala Theatre at 3333 14th Street and other events will happen throughout the area. A Thursday kick-off party's happening at American Ice Co. at 9 p.m. and Friday's 9 p.m. after-party is scheduled for Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights.
Read on to find out about the cost and see four trailers for films playing at this year's D.C. event!
Bowtie and bike pin? What a gentleman. (Photo: YouTube/RepBlumenauer)
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Democrat from Oregon, is not happy about the impending crisis involving the debt ceiling. Yesterday he stood up in the House and called the actions of Congress "reckless," a way of playing "fiscal chicken." He called the Republican plan "abusive" and "hypocritical." He's been talking about this problem for days now as Congress struggles to reach an agreement that will save the country from a staggering economic collapse.
"People are already paying the price right now as we're starting to see the stock markets slide, premiums are increased for ensuring our debt, and there's doubt going forward," Rep. Blumenauer said on the floor yesterday.
Watch a part of his speech here:
Why bring the debt crisis onto a transportation blog? Take a close look at the photo and video above. See anything unusual? Yes, Rep. Blumenauer wears a bowtie but see that other flash of color there? Look at the bright green pin on the congressman's lapel. That's exactly what you think it is — he's sporting a flashy bicycle pin right there amid the debt debates.
He owns more than one biking pin, of course, and in different colors. Congressman Blumenauer happens to be the founder of Congressional Bike Caucus, more than 160 members strong according to his site, and he's happy to let everyone he meets know.
Just a District cabbie. (Photo: Universal Pictures)
How did such a film as 1983's D.C. Cab enter the world? I only discovered its existence last night. The film feature Mr. T, Gary Busey, and Bill Maher (?!), and gives a glimpse into the apparently shadowy world of the District's cabs and the people who drive them. Here's the synopsis from the film's IMDB page:
The tale of a hapless group of cabbies and a rundown cab company owned by Harold. Albert comes to town with a dream of starting his own cab company but needs to motivate Harold's employees to want to make something out of themselves. It is only when Albert is kidnapped that the cabbies must decide whether or not they are loyal to Albert and his cause.
4.8 stars out of 10. Further investigation will be needed into all of this before long. In the meantime, please, please look at the full cover of this '83 classic after the jump. It's really all you need:
Thank your morning commute. (Photo: flickr/Pink Sherbet Photography)
This morning I took the Green Line from Georgia Avenue-Petworth down to L'Enfant Plaza and as I stood near the end of one of the cars, I began to watch quite the spectacle next to me — a rotating cast of wet and horrified people who never stuck to the nearby seat for more than one Metro stop at a time. I held the bar right next to the back set of side seats. The car's temperature felt wonderfully cool — this was definitely no hot car worth reporting, thank God. Today was supposed to climb to more than 100 degrees later. At first the woman next to me in the side seats simply read her magazine, settling into her relaxed morning commute as usual. But by the time we reached U Street, she'd hopped up to grab another seat closer to the center of the car.
Strange. I glanced up at the Metro car ceiling and then saw the drops of water crawling down the tan color. Some of this water had been dripping down onto the woman's legs.
People continued to relax into the train seat and then exit throughout the rest of its journey to L'Enfant Plaza. At one point, one rider warned another not to sit there, pointing to the dripping water. On multiple occasions, however, I was forced to watch riders experience the unpleasant revelation on their own. Tiny drops of water kept falling down onto them.
I've witnessed these scenes a couple different times on Metro, and today's encounter was far tamer than the last I observed. The water this morning was no terrible nuisance to the Metro train overall, even if it did make one seat unusable. No, I've seen one Metro car in the past where water poured rather intensely onto one side of the Metro car, splashing several seats. Back then, though, I had no idea what I was seeing. Now I know better. People have complained about this on Twitter, and Metro confirmed the sad truth — the water dripping and pooling up in Metro cars is actually a consequence of Metro car air conditioning doing its job a little too well. Water sometimes drips into the Metro cars when the AC is pressed by these extreme temperatures. Fair enough, given the weather D.C.'s been getting, but it's still a little gross for the riders who run into the problem.
And here you thought Metro didn't permit water on the trains anymore! Better than sweating, I guess.
"Why should other communities pay for Arlington's action?" asks the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance.
Strong words! Yikes.
The NVTA is freaking out because the I-95/I-395 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes project isn't happening ... and all thanks to silly old Arlington, if you ask the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (hat tip to ARL Now). The organization, which Greater Greater Washington has called a "more lanes all the time" advocacy group, released a statement on their website today slamming Arlington County for their concerns and, earlier in 2011, a lawsuit critical of the project.
And what are HOT lanes? Special highway options for carpooling, buses, and if they pay a toll, individual drivers that would aim to speed up highways and remove congestion. The merits of the project have been questioned by multiple parties as many forces continued to fiercely promote the idea, even as its shape changed throughout 2011. The plans for these northern Virginia HOT lanes appears to have officially fallen apart as of this month. The organization points to a July 26th quote from Virginia's governor that credits Arlington's lawsuit with ending the project.
And now, they rather bluntly suggest that because Virginia will no longer receive the private revenue from the HOT lanes, the funding slated for Arlington's transit should be shifted to pay for other areas that had supported the project.
"Bad decisions have bad consequences," the statement concludes after suggesting that Arlington shouldn't get to enjoy its trolleys now. Some folks are clearly not happy.
A mass transit system like the Metro is bound to create a lot of subtle, intimate connections. I talked about the strange, unifying power of noticing the same people on your daily commute day after day a couple weeks ago. That familiarity sometimes grows into attraction — and for better or worse, translates onto Craigslist's section known as Missed Connections, in which people longingly post about a person they liked but fell short of meeting.
The Missed Connections section is always intriguing and can be good for a laugh, a shudder, or at times a truly touching moment of outreach. I first glanced at the collection of Metro-centric postings a month ago as summer started, tied to the fact that the Orange Line's Vienna station was ranked one of the country's most romantic transit spots.
As we hit the sizzling temperatures of mid-summer, let's glance back into the abyss and see what our fellow commuters desperately wanted throughout this month of July, deep under the surface of the Earth, traveling through the city and in search of something far more than a Metro station. The selection could never be comprehensive but here's a taste of what people sought recently:
One of the first complaints people give me when they hear I write about transportation is Metro's escalators. Why don't they ever work? You should write about how terrible those are. Even last night, someone was going on about frustrations at Farragut North. The escalator situation just seems to be getting worse, people say. We hear about improvements ... the $150 million going into escalators and elevators over the next few years, the $6 million to install brand-new escalators, stairs, and a canopy at the Foggy Bottom station this year (the first new escalators installed in 15 years), Richard Sarles' announcement yesterday that the Bethesda station will receive new escalators in the not-so-soon time of 2014.
Well, these people aren't imagining things — the number of working escalators has gone down in 2011. I looked through Metro's Vital Signs report for the month of July recently, which has a chart tracking the number of working escalators in 2011 compared to 2010 as well as various statistics on the toll these repairs and new inspections are taking (PDF). Look first at the chart.
You can see here the stark reality that plays out every day when we enter the Metro stations and find ourselves walking up escalators that don't work. Notice how the 2011 line just keeps dipping in that sad little way?
Flying into traffic. (Photo: Vimeo/SocialStudiesDC)
D.C. commutes during rush hour can be insanity, and one District cyclist working for Living Social strapped a camera to his head to capture what biking into the onslaught of traffic looks like. Wild drivers, twisty roads, and vehicles stopped at random create a horrifying obstacle course for the bike commuter. Just released, this on-the-ground video perfectly highlights the challenges of bike commuting; I spotlighted the rise of bike commuting in America yesterday evening, so it's both fitting and fascinating to see a video of how such travel unfolds in D.C. now.
I've always appreciated the crowds on the Metro but only recently have I begun to understand how packed and hectic traffic gets on the road. For the past couple days this week, I found myself sitting in a car's passenger seat as we veered into Dupont Circle. Just last night, I sat as cars inched forward and honked at one another. Ahead of us was a diplomat's car full of smiling faces. People cut one another off as we approached the Circle and yelled and cursed. Often driving resorted to what felt like a childish battle of wills. Cyclists would dart past at startling speed. Ahead of us, a woman opened her taxi car door and began vomiting onto the pavement (yes, for real). A bus kept swerving from the right toward our lane, scarily close and often with little warning. Seconds later, a middle-aged man in a wheelchair began rolling down the very center of the road on the yellow line, requesting money and calling out to the cars with a caustic grin.
To navigate this swirling nightmare of vomit, wheelchairs, bikes, cars, and buses in an automobile seems tough enough, and I couldn't imagine what the roads must look like from a morning cyclist's perspective — at least until now. Living Social has begun a series of "How We Commute" videos on their SocialStudiesDC blog, and the first highlights the perils of the morning bike commuter. Watch the video, full of frantic music and all, here to get a sense of what rush hour looks like from the ground:
The idea of biking to work has begun to seem natural in Washington, D.C., especially given the very public emergence of the Capital Bikeshare in the past year. The District is hardly enormous, and I imagine most offices have at least some workers who forgo car, Metro, bus, and foot to ride through city blocks before beginning their professional day. The culture has grown receptive. No surer sign exists than today's announcement about where we should expect 32 new Capital Bikeshare stations in the District, planned to be built this coming fall.
But even 15 years ago, at least in the United States, the concept of bike commuting had yet to take off in such a big, powerful way. The November 1994 issue of The Rotarian magazine observes the slow but growing rise of the biking movement in the U.S. and strongly contrasts the American notion of biking with that of many other countries around the world, such as China, "home to one-third of the 900 million bicycles in use worldwide" circa the mid-'90s. "Can bicycle commuters secure a place on the world's roads and highways," the subhead of the Rotarian cover story asks. Bikes made sense in many parts of the world for economic reasons — biking to work is cheaper. But Americans and U.S. infrastructure liked and relied on the automobile, and cycling often fell into the sphere of recreation. This was true of my own childhood in Missouri, where my family would load up bikes on a car and drive to a nearby trail to ride there.
The story cites a few statistics about U.S. bike commuting — in 1994, 3.4% of Americans rode to their jobs "occasionally," compared to 1.5% in 1983. The country's bike-friendliness had cool after the automobile emerged and dominated, the journalist recounts, but the modern bicycling movement can be traced to 1973 when the price of gas began to spike and Americans bought 14 million bikes. What the article dives into is relatively familiar now, talking of initiatives like "Bike to Work" week, bike racks, and the addition of cycle tracks, but all this comes then at a time when bike commuting was called "relatively modern" for Americans. The bike commuting option is still not feasible for many, but it's certainly in the air, especially in a city like Washington, D.C.
Read the 1994 cover feature from The Rotarian for a taste of what bike commuting seemed like 17 years ago:
Sing it for the trains. (Photo: Courtesy of Metrosongs)
Tax man by day, musician by night, 32-year-old Jason Mendelson is composing a song for every Metro station, an album for every line. The Alexandria resident apparently finds the roaring Metro trains and the stations creatively riveting — the transit rock star has compiled a full album of 12 songs entitled Volume One: Mostly Blue, that chronicles various stations along the WMATA Blue Line. Now he's partway through his second volume of music, Party Train, which will tackle the Red Line. The Tampa native refers to the project by the forthright label "MetroSongs," and although unsigned, he's just recently found a retailer to sell Mostly Blue. His song titles include "Ice Skating at the Archives," "New York Avenue Invasion," and "Electric Takoma."
The wildest fact might be that Mendelson's lived in D.C. less than a year. When hearing about Mendelson's project, I thought of the musician Sufjan Stevens, who initially made many claims about wanting to make an album dedicated to each of the 50 states. I became curious about what motivates Mendelson's DIY project about the D.C. trains and conducted a Q&A to highlight the transportation ballads he's been producing.
TBD On Foot: What about Metro stations inspires you?
Jason Mendelson: The main goal is to increase awareness and appreciation for rapid transit. I would love to see this country really embrace green energy concepts. With that in mind, taking the Metro sure beats the heck out of all those riders driving their own cars. I suppose when you boil it down, you might even say it's really a thinly disguised environmental effort. But despite owning a Prius, I have to say I'm probably a lousy treehugger.
On Foot: Is it really so much about the stations or about the surrounding neighborhoods? In D.C., I don’t always notice huge differences between the stations themselves.
Mendelson: It's usually the locations and neighborhoods. Sometimes there are unique properties to the stations that help. For example, the canopy above King Street's platform was deliberately constructed in two split parts, to preserve the fabulous view of the Washington Masonic Monument from Old Town. My wife and I recently met up with Emily Haha, who writes a Metro-related blog, www.emilyhaha.com, at the Wheaton station, to share stories and combine research. As a result of our meeting, we all learned the station in Wheaton has the longest escalator in the Western hemisphere. That certainly deserves to be in the lyrics, and may even influence the way I write the music, too.
On Foot:Tell me what your songwriting process is like with each station? Are some stations easier to conjure songs for than others?
Mendelson: Sometimes the music comes first, like on "Van Dorn Street." Sometimes the lyrics are first, as is the case with places like Federal Triangle and Eastern Market, that were super easy to write, and are basically just history lessons set to music. Rosslyn and Pentagon allowed me to stretch out and take a more impressionist type of approach. Rosslyn is a totally fictional story, but the concept is quite moving to me — lamenting the death of a lover, and regretting not appreciating her more when she was around, possibly to the point of madness, when at the end it is revealed that the guy has actually been imagining she still calls him on the phone. Pentagon, for some reason, seemed to be begging for whimsy. The initial obvious idea was to write it in 5/8 time, an unusual rhythmic meter for rock music, and that seemed to work out well. The idea of the Pentagon having a secret underground disco for top brass is hilarious to me.
The District department of transportation has just revealed the 32 new Capital Bikeshare stations that'll be added to the District in fall of 2011. The expansion coincides with other new marketing efforts, such as providing free rides to certain hotel guests. The Capital Bikeshare, still less than a year old but already sporting more than half a million rides so far, is also hoping to expand in Arlington later in 2011 with 30 new bikeshare stations.
Washington D.C. was noted as one of North America's 10 great cities for biking in the past week. Strong announcements like this are one reason why.
Here's a list of the 32 brand-new Capital Bikeshare stations coming soon to a block near you:
WMATA has begun offering a special one-day pass to the Metro for $9 to coincide with the Monday, August 22nd opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. The pass is sold for $9 and can be found on the WMATA website, sales facilities, and at commuter stores, according to Metro. The dedication of the national memorial will be on August 28, a week after the national memorial's opening and noted on the themed card shown above. The $120 million project has been constructed on the Washington Mall.
Metro's store also offers a commemorative SmarTrip card heralding the election of President Barack Obama for $10, if you're feeling especially into themed transit passes.
Watch a preview of the MLK Memorial released earlier this summer, detailing how it was designed and created:
... outrage, frustration, incomprehensibility, technical, sanitizing, PR. How should a person decipher all these words?
I've considered the special language that surrounds D.C. transportation for awhile now. It's got its own ring and cadence and layers of meaning attached to it, especially because so much of the language emanates from an institutional body that wants, ultimately, to calm situations and cool emotions.
That delay that made you late for dinner? It's not an agonizing breakdown of maintenance work at the northern section of the Blue Line tunnel in that one spot — it is, put simply by Metro's alert system, a "disturbance." When the delay is removed, the disturbance is "cleared." What's the difference between a "backup" and a "mob" when describing how packed a Metro station might be? I thought about those words a lot as frustrations mounted at the Foggy Bottom station before and after it received its first new escalator earlier this month. Some language confuses because it's technical and some is chosen for public-relations reasons; clarity and accuracy should ultimately be the goal, however. Much of the struggle in the ongoing Metro dialogue comes back to communication and the words we all choose, as riders and Metro employees. Word choice can protect, defray, deflect, obfuscate, clarify, and create understanding if done carefully.
The vocabulary needs to make sense, and even Metro senses that much. As WMATA's new social manager Brian Anderson told the Washington Post recently, saying "disruption" and "disruption cleared" lacks the detail that people crave when trying to understand what's up with transit.
Metro itself has, in a pleasantly self-aware move, realized the confusion surrounding one of its own new words and has made an attempt to remedy the vocab nightmare. The word in question is "virtual tunnel," which refers to the new initiative this fall that will allow Metro customers to transfer between Farragut North and Farragut West without paying an extra fare. Details of the "tunnel" are still being worked out now, but what customers latched onto was the baffling phase used to describe it. Person after person asked in disbelief what the words meant after Richard Sarles discussed the project last week. On Twitter, chief spokesman Dan Stessel attempted to clarify.
Now, Metro officially has thrown open the question to the public — what should Metro call the "virtual tunnel" if not that?
Commuters like to Yelp. (Photo: flickr/ElvertBarnes)
To enter the world of Yelp reviews is to tumble down a deep, scary rabbit hole from which you may never emerge. Millions of people regularly go to the website, founded in 2004, to offer opinions on restaurants, bars, and anything else that strikes the Yelp user — including, I discovered recently, the D.C. Metro system. Last week, I looked at how D.C. residents talked about and checked into the different Metro stations on the popular social networking application known as Foursquare and identified the 40 most popular stations. Now let's consider how our city's residents react to the transit system on Yelp.
An initial search for WMATA on Yelp reveals multiple individual Mero locations to critique. A few stations pop up with their own pages (Smithsonian Metro Station: 4 stars, 9 reviews; Metro Center Metro Station: 3 stars, 16 reviews).
But what's far more interesting, however, is the big Yelp Metro page. The one for "Washington DC Metro" that has ... wait for it ... a whole 281 Yelp reviews. And these reviews are serious, heavy, in-depth reviews in many cases — with paragraph after paragraph outlining the Metro riders' experiences. Yelp users have also uploaded close to 60 photos of the D.C. Metro to accompany this page. The most frequent rating by far was four stars (selected by 105 users) followed by five stars (selected by 50). Still, there was more than enough rage and negativity directed at WMATA.
The range and visceral power of commuter response was staggering and compelling. Let's dive in to see how Yelp users see the big transit system and pick from the praising, the bemoaning, and the befuddling.
D.C. cyclists, take note — our city has just been named one of the top 10 cities in North America for biking over at USA Today. No real surprise, given the dramatic growth of the Capital Bikeshare program and the expansion of cycle tracks over the past few years. As I mentioned yesterday, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare will even begin offering free rides to guests at three Kimpton Hotels starting this month! It's quite the push, and it's nice to see those accomplishments receiving the attention they deserve. The bikeshare program itself has already emerged as a pioneer and example to various other American cities.
The list points to many of these facets in naming D.C. a great biking town. Read for yourself and see. Other quality cycling cities include Minneapolis, Chicago, New York, and Madison, among others.
Then again, as wonderful as D.C. biking opportunities may be, we still haven't solved the eternal conflict between cars and bikes — D.C. director of planning Harriet Tregoning was struck by a car while biking to work this morning. Luckily, she emerged from the accident okay.
As the Council's new representative on WMATA's board of directors and chairman of the COG's transportation planning board, D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser of Ward 4 has a vested interest in transportation. It makes sense that she has begun to show new passion for taking the rails. Her recent tweets chronicle her experiences on the bus and Metro transit lines:
I like the gesture. It's a cute but relevant, real way to show Councilwoman Bowser's commitment to her transportation duties. Transit issues will inevitably arise throughout her public work, and her ridership on the District's Metro trains and buses is a critical way for her to realize the concerns of the general commuting population.
Bowser's move also raises a bigger question: Should people who serve and represent public transit be expected to ride the Metro trains (or any other transit they cover)?