Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Archive for March 2012

Uber quantifies the one-night stands of its riders

March 30, 2012 - 02:10 PM
(Photo: Uber)

Forget the Walk of Shame. If you take luxury car service Uber, the company prefers the name "Ride of Glory." Uber is D.C.'s pricier, legally controversial, and tech-friendly alternative to taxicabbing and has now operated in the city for about four months or so. Uber has distinguished itself with some oddball yet beloved PR moves and its staffers recently used math to quantify how many of its passengers use the $15-minimum car service to facilitate their casual hook ups.

Bradley Voytek parsed the data of six Uber cities and defines a "ride of glory" as follows:

A RoGer was defined as anyone who took a ride between 10pm and 4am on a Friday or Saturday night, and then took a second ride from within 1/10th of a mile of the previous nights’ drop-off point 4-6 hours later (enough for a quick night’s sleep). (Note that the cool kids tell me that this time window may not be the best, but small changes don’t change the overall pattern.)

All right.

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Don't expect Car2Go to always save you from parking tickets

March 30, 2012 - 11:55 AM
Parked outside Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Chinatown. (Photo: Joshua Yospyn)

One of the virtues of new car-sharing service Car2Go, launched last weekend and costing 38 cents a minute to drive, is its promise of fewer parking restrictions. Car2Go members can, according to its agreement with the D.C. government, park in any non-restricted metered or non-metered space as long as it's in the "home area" of the District. You can't park in rush hour lanes, handicapped spaces, or any other marked spaces ... but otherwise, you should be free to park without the burden of parking tickets. When Car2Go first established a similar agreement with Austin, the company's North American head called the deal "groundbreaking."

But the city's local parking enforcement officials have, rightly or wrongly, begun ticketing our Car2Go cars, and people have noticed.

TBD photographer Joshua Yospyn noticed the ticketed car above. "A Car2Go vehicle parked outside Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Chinatown," he told me, "received a $50 parking ticket for failure to display a 'multispace meter receipt.'" There are today about 550 of the solar-powered multispace meters throughout the District responsible for 4,200 parking spaces. Yospyn said he's seen these Car2Go tickets all over, and others have said the same.

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Come talk about Capital Bikeshare's Arlington future tonight

March 29, 2012 - 12:06 PM
(Photo: flickr/slocountybicyclecoalition)

Arlington County wants to strategically plot out how to expand and enhance Capital Bikeshare over the course of the next six years as part of its Transit Development Plan. The initial draft chapters reveal many statistics about how the year-and-a-half-old bikeshare system earns money, its demographics, and how often it's used in Arlington.

Tonight Arlington wants to hear from you in the first of two big public meetings. Here's the details:

Thursday, March 29th
George Mason University – Arlington Campus
3351 North Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia, 22201
7:00 – 9:00 pm

Arlington officials have begun releasing several videos to hype the meeting. Bike Arlington's Chris Eatough and the county's commuter services chief Chris Hamilton speak up about the plan, what they hope to accomplish, and why they want to hear from you. Hear their pitches on the Capital Bikeshare plan here:

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How Metro explains all the transit system's broken, idle escalators

March 29, 2012 - 09:56 AM
(Photo: flickr/tvol)

When Metro escalators break, crowds form. We've all seen it happen. You exit the faregates, and then boom, a deluge of bodies swarm around the dead escalators. Nine times out of 10, Metro wants the escalators to work. That's their goal. Yesterday morning, I reported on moments of failure at the Foggy Bottom, Rosslyn, and Dupont Circle Metro stations.

But talk to WMATA. The transit agency wants to do better but clarifies that these incidents will happen in any transit system. General Manager Richard Sarles touts the agency's 90% "escalator availability" in response to scathing pieces from the Washington Times this week. The statistic is partly true. In November 2011, 90.1% of escalators were indeed "available." In December, there were 88.6%, and October, 87.4%. The 2011 average was 85.5% thanks to some very low moments last summer; the year's average was 3.8% lower than in 2010. By that broader metric, our escalators are indeed getting worse. Month-by-month, however, escalator service did improve last year by the end.

How to react to these sights of crowded commuters though? We see all the bodies, the pictures on Twitter and Facebook, the news reports. There's a shock value to those. People face these offloads and escalator delays on what feels like a daily basis and often will snap photos on their phones.

"That's what an offload looks like," Stessel explained, referring to the dramatic photos. "That can look crowded but that's what you have with 800 people on the platform at the same time."

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Is the D.C. Metro escalator problem getting worse?

March 28, 2012 - 10:35 AM
Foggy Bottom crowds from last year. (Photo: flickr/brownpau)

WMATA continues to have an escalator problem. The transit agency replaced its first 15-year-old escalators last summer at Foggy Bottom, but this morning, major escalators throughout the system broke down during the morning rush hour. Why? About 700,000 people travel through the Metrorail every day, and such dysfunction creates a nuisance as well as raises safety concerns. The escalators, despite all vaunted improvements, continue to fail at key moments — and when three major stations encounter problems in the same morning, it hurts commuter confidence.

Earlier this year, WMATA announced that rather than replace a few escalators, it would replace 94. That number runs counter to what WMATA proposed in another Jan. 19, 2012 document: "WMATA is seeking comments from the escalator installers and manufactures relating to the replacement over 100 existing escalators in the Metrorail system with new APTA standard, transit grade escalators." 100+. The full cost is unknown. That document suggested more than $100 million but $150 million was what was slated when most escalators would be rehabbed rather than replaced. Replacing more than a hundred escalators now will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, by my estimation. WMATA reports that its escalators worked 85.5% of the time in 2011, and earlier this month, announced it has "rehabilitated or replaced 14 escalators and two elevators so far in FY12 at a cost of $11 million" and plans to rehab or replace 13 more escalators over the course of the next half year.

Yet according to WMATA business documents, the aspired 100+ replacement of escalators may not even be possible. Recent rules require all entrances to include canopies and Metro has explicitly said in these documents that if it can't get approval for a canopy at a given spot, it will scrap plans for replacing escalators and simply "modernize" the existing ones if it can't waive the canopy requirement. "It is possible/probable that WMATA may not be able to obtain permits to install canopies at all locations slated for escalator replacement," Metro noted in the January procurement document. "The primary reasons for non-approval of canopy installation relates to aesthetic issues raised by approval authorities." I've called Metro for clarification on both the number of escalators to be replaced (is it 94 or 100+?), how canopy approval will affect that number (aesthetics over safety?), the overall cost now associated (it surely can't be just $150 million overall now), and if there's any insight into this morning's commuting chaos (which included new escalators) and will let you know what I find. (Update: Here's Metro's account of the morning)

But such replacement and better maintenance may well be necessary. See what unfolded this morning at Foggy Bottom, Rosslyn, and Dupont Circle — some of the busiest Metro stations in the entire system:

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The Zipvan is rolling into D.C.

March 28, 2012 - 09:15 AM
(Photo: Zipcar)

Just as Zipcar's car-sharing competition goes small, its own vehicles are going big.

Behold the "Zipvan," Ford E-150 full size cargo vans that Zipcar will be adding to Washington, D.C.'s fleet of 800 or so cars. Boston and the District will receive 15 of these cargo-movers now that the company's recent pilot program in San Francisco has concluded successfully. The cost: $15.75 an hour, $109 a day for 230 cubic square feet of cargo space. Vans will be available, according to Zipcar, "on Rhode Island Ave and 4th Avenue NE, at the Columbia Heights Metro and at Courthouse Metro in Virginia."

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Welcome to Speed Camera City

March 27, 2012 - 02:27 PM
(Photo: flickr/ellbrown)

How many speed cameras does D.C. plan for the long term?

“Eventually we hope to be able to cover the entire city," Mayor Vince Gray told the D.C. Council this afternoon.

Boom. You heard the man. The entire city, at least one day in the future. 

Gray expressed his desire when discussing his 2013 budget, which includes the acquisition of "new photo and laser radar equipment and expand the scope of automated enforcement activity to include 'speed on green' cameras that capture vehicles exceeding the speed limit through intersections and mobile red light and stop sign violations." Other pilots might focus on, say, fining people who violate pedestrian crossings. The new enforcement also means more money for the city — like $30 million more, according to Gray's budget estimates. Dozens of speed cameras and red light cameras already earn the city more than $50 million a year.

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Car2Go launches in D.C. to new challenges and fresh enthusiasm

March 27, 2012 - 12:16 PM

Two tiny blue and white smartcars floated across Rhode Island Avenue NW one afternoon last week and in a graceful, quick turn, parked in front of 1710 Rhode Island. This address marks Car2Go's new D.C. office but as of last week, days before the car-sharing service's official launch, construction crews still labored. No one could look away from the unusual sight of the 8.8-foot-long cars as they approached.

"What are you laughing at?" called a smiling Paul DeLong, Car2Go's director of North American marketing and sales, to one amused onlooker.

Out of the cars emerged DeLong and Katie Stafford, the service's communications manager for the U.S. and Canada. The Austin-based duo is responsible for packaging the service to its half dozen cities on this side of the Atlantic and ushering in new communities. They greet me with plenty of cheer regarding the 200-car launch, which happened over this past weekend at two Busboys and Poets locations. The Daimler service launched in Europe in 2008 and markets itself as a distinctive alternative to the District's other car-sharing companies like Zipcar and the more recent Hertz On Demand and advertises one-way trips within the city at prices beginning at 38 cents a minute plus tax. Riders "can go to work [with a Car2Go vehicle] and leave it!" DeLong said. Members can find available vehicles through the Car2Go smartphone app, online, or simply by looking at a car's windshield (see photos here). Then all they need is to enter their card and a four-digit PIN number and can park in any unrestricted metered or residential space within the "home area" of the city. More than 70,000 people worldwide now use the service, according to Daimler.

Many in D.C., from Councilmember Tommy Wells to Navy Yard Commissioner David Garber to the folks at the District Department of Transportation, have noticed the new transportation alternative and new cars parked on District streets starting this week. "I took it four times this weekend," Ryan Gregor tweeted about Car2Go. "Taxis? Weekend metro? You done."

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Transparency alert: WMATA resumes its monthly crime blotter

March 21, 2012 - 08:40 AM
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At 1:45 p.m. on Feb. 4, a Metro rider was cited for urinating in public at the Addison Road Metro station. In the whole month of February, WMATA issued 15 citations or arrest warrants for urinating in public, actually. A Feb. 18 arrest at Wheaton Metro was particularly rowdy as Transit Police hit the urinator with charges of public drunkenness and resisting arrest around 1 a.m. At Franconia-Springfield Metro at 12:34 a.m. on Feb. 1, the Transit Police reported an account of an alleged "indecent exposure, proposal, or act." A rider received a warning at Deanwood on the evening of Feb. 26 for failing to pay the WMATA fare. On Tuesday night, Feb. 28, a rider at Gallery Place was arrested for alleged bike theft. What to make of all these terrible allegations?

The Metro Transit Police monthly blotter is back!

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D.C. police kindly remind residents to watch out for pedestrians

March 20, 2012 - 01:12 PM
(Photo: flickr/benthomas)

The D.C. police handed out pedestrian safety reminders recently on the streets of the District.

Here's an example of their leaflet, entitled "Pedestrian Safety for Drivers."

The leaflet breaks down three different scenarios: A)At crosswalks and intersections without traffic signals. B)At intersections with signals. C)Right Turn on Red After Stop. The leaflet also reminds drivers of the hundreds of dollars they can be fined for a collision. These moments all concern when drivers should give pedestrians the right of way. The Pedestrian Advisory Council recently testified before the D.C. Council about the need for greater pedestrian safety efforts — and if you're truly concerned, the District Department of Transportation outlined the 24 most dangerous intersections for those traveling on foot. It's a small gesture but a good one. What commuter doesn't need reminders about the importance of pedestrian safety?

Matt Ackland noted police handing out these reminders at 15th and Pennsylvania yesterday on Twitter.

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Should Metro allow bikes during rush hour? New petition says yes

March 20, 2012 - 10:50 AM
The bandit of rush hour. (Photo: flickr/daquella manera)

WMATA forbids bicyclists from bringing their bikes into the Metrorail system from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. The transit agency also forbids bicyclists from transporting their bikes on the stairs or escalators any time, according to the guidelines, for reasons of safety. But not all Metro riders are happy about the way Metro treats the bicycles within the transit system.

In the last week, Kwon Yang of College Park, Maryland began a petition asking the transit agency to remove its rush-hour prohibition on bicycles, and he has received upwards of 90 supporters. Here's the text of Yang's petition letter:

Repeal the ban on bikes/ bicycles on the Metro during rush hour

It discourages people to use bicycles as a form of transportation and contribute to urban congestion. Also it inconveniences many commuters who do commute on their bikes. Not all workplaces are within walking distance of Metro stops. Finally, the citation that bicycles are a safety hazard during rush hour is flawed. If bikes were a safety hazard, why do we allow them on the Metro in the first place? I have seen people get on the Metro with bikes during rush hour because of the inconsistent application of this rule. People are smart enough to avoid tripping on a bike.

The signatories all passionately advocate for new rules. "We allow strollers, oversize luggage, and a host of other space hogs," writes Christian Maimone, "so why not bikes?" John Campanile suggests a better management of Metro space: "WMATA could easily institute 'Bike Zones' on certain train cars; i.e., the first and last section of the first & last cars." Lisa Eaker is simply frustrated and writes, "I'm tired of arbitrary power negatively affecting my life."

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WMATA credit card scandal reinforces perception of waste and corruption

March 20, 2012 - 07:30 AM
(Photo: flickr/brownpau)

WMATA's workers have not had the best week, and it's only Tuesday.

A Dec. 1 13-page Metro report, first acquired by the Post and made public last night, chronicles a recent outbreak of corruption in WMATA's planning department. The Office of Inspector General investigation uncovered several unaccounted for, personal, and unwarranted expenses on the agency's Citibank credit cards — more than $2,000 worth of gift cards, a $500 Blackberry, three camcorders valued at $730, $180 Beats By Dr. Dre earbuds, and four Kindles priced at nearly $950 overall, for starters. Numerous other questionable expenses include purchases marked as anniversary and retirement gifts and other strange, excessive costs. One staff outing cost $1,863.36 (food: $1,452, tip: $261, room use: $150). Employees used Metro credit cards to purchase eight gift baskets and six boxes of chocolates. One staff lunch of 30 employees led to a $427.80 charge at Safeway, a use of the card not sanctioned by WMATA. 71 of these items, like the chocolates, four cutting board sets, 49 gift cards, Kindles, and a digital photo album, added up to $2,795 and were intended as gifts for employees at what seemed to be an annual staff recognition event.

But these thousands of dollars of "gifts" seem excessive and well beyond what Metro authorizes its staff to spend, even considering the immensity of its $1.6 billion operating budget. How did an office's spending climb so out of control?

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Metro's new Rush Plus map is here

March 19, 2012 - 12:26 PM
(Photo: WMATA)

Metro's new map, which will come to stations and riders this coming summer, is now public early, noted first at Unsuck D.C. Metro this morning. 

Take a look at the new Metro map here in PDF form.

What do you think? We've got snazzy new dotted bars to mark the Rush Plus patterns of service that will begin on June 18. We've got the ghostly wisps of the Silver Line in the western portions of the map. We have each line bookended with letters spelling out their colors ("RD" for red, "YL" for yellow, etc.) to help the colorblind. Little tweaks update other aspects of the map, with the prohibition on music now represented by what appears like an iPod rather than a boombox. I first reported on the Rush Plus realignment, which will change how Metro distributes its trains, back in February. WMATA now devotes a section of its website to explaining the changes.

What strikes me as a small shame is how much in flux the Metro system is — the fact that we don't know the Silver Line station names yet gives this draft of the Metro map a short shelf life. While I imagine most elements of the map will remain more or less permanent for years, WMATA will probably want to release a new map in the next couple years once the Silver Line formally opens and establishes its station names.

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Red Line delays still happening after a suicide at White Flint Metro

March 19, 2012 - 11:32 AM
(Photo: flickr/krossbow)

Watch out, D.C. commuters. There are delays on the Red Line this morning after an adult man intentionally placed himself on the Metro tracks at 10:15 a.m., according to WMATA reports, at the White Flint Metro station. Trains initially passed by the closed station as Metro Transit Police and Montgomery County fire department officials handled the aftermath.

This new death is the second Metro suicide this month. The first one in 2012 happened less than a week into the new year. WMATA has plans to post suicide hotline numbers at its stations but has yet to do so and has trained a couple hundred employees in suicide prevention out of the 900 it hopes to do so by January 2013. WMATA officials debated their program earlier this month just as a second individual jumped at Foggy Bottom and ultimately died. The program found the majority of suicide attempts are associated with a history of depression.

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We're listening to smartphone audio in our cars more than ever now

March 19, 2012 - 10:28 AM
(Photo: flickr/erocsid)

Why tune into your car's radio when you have an iPhone you can plug in right there? More and more Americans are content to ignore the dial and hook their smartphones up to their stereos. The trend has begun increasing dramatically in the last year or so and is perhaps captured in no better way than a new report's banner headline: "Will car listening tip the scales toward digital?" Good question.

Today the Pew Research Center released its annual report on the state of journalism, The State of the News Media 2012, and its findings suggest Americans have changed the way they consume radio and online audio in their cars.

"One of the most important battlegrounds over the next year will again be the car, where a good deal of traditional radio listening occurs," write Laura Santhanam, Amy Mitchell, and Tom Rosenstiel in the Pew essay "Audio: How Far Will Digital Go." "And the momentum continues to shift."

The Pew numbers suggest people will keep listening to audio, be it music, podcasts, or books on tape, more and more in the next few years. What's changing is the medium.

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Capital Bikeshare's bikes dominated the National Mall this weekend

March 18, 2012 - 09:20 AM
(Photo: Heather Rudow)

With temperatures creeping into the 70s, St. Patrick's Day was a perfect day for biking — and for heading to the National Mall to see the gorgeous, century-old cherry blossoms in bloom. I walked past the Washington Monument down to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in the Tidal Basin this past Saturday morning and was stunned at the number of Capital Bikeshare bikes I saw. The first two of five planned Capital Bikeshare stations were installed on Friday, and no one wasted any time in using the bikeshare bikes.

Capital Bikeshare set a staggeringly high new record on Saturday with 7,805 rides. The previous record, set last week, was 6,313 trips in a day, and I expect as the 1.5-year-old system continues to open more stations and the weather grows warmer, we'll see more record-breaking days. The National Park Service includes a terrific history of the cherry blossoms here, all of which creates a massive draw for residents and tourists alike and helped produce the record.

Yet on Sunday, the Post's Tim Craig encountered new bikeshare stations that still suffered from some debut kinks. "One dock at new Ohio Drive on Mall already broke and won't accept bikes and station full and lots peep her trying to drop off bikes," Craig tweeted at Capital Bikeshare's Twitter account yesterday, "and because system thinks Ohio Drive station not full cause of broken dock, system not able to give time credits. The new station next to Wash Monument is off line. Machine stuck so no new memberships and bikes for daily members can be issued."

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Bikeshare comes to the Mall, just in time for cherry blossoms

March 16, 2012 - 12:32 PM
(Photo: DDOT)

Well, that was fast. The National Capital Planning Commission approved bringing five Capital Bikeshare stations to the National Mall on March 1 and two weeks later, the first stations are here. The turnaround is surprisingly fast, considering the National Park Service only came around to the idea late last year. The time for waiting and wondering is now mostly over though. The first two bikeshare stations have been installed on the National Mall — at 14th and Jefferson SW and on Ohio Drive near the MLK Memorial, according to the District Department of Transportation.

John Lisle, spokesperson for DDOT, told me the city hopes to install the next three stations "within the next few weeks."

The other stations will be located near the Smithsonian Metro, at the Jefferson Monument, and at the FDR Memorial. The city also has plans to install more than five miles of bike lane in 2012 (find out where here). During the gorgeous warm weather of Wednesday, the year-and-a-half-old Capital Bikeshare set a new record of 6,313 rides in one day. Yesterday the service saw 6,172 rides, another strong number, and one likely to grow as visitors and residents can take advantage of these new stations. Between the warm weather and the season of cherry blossoms, the timing is just right.

Update, 12:45 p.m.: The city just released its own release on the installation and says Capital Bikehshare will have staff on hand during the cherry blossom festival: March 24 and 25; March 31 and April 1; and April 7 and 8, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., according to DDOT. NPS also is hooking bicyclists up with some more bike parking between 15th and 14th Streets, SW, apparently, as well as at the Jefferson Memorial. DDOT director Terry Bellamy notes that these two stations brings the total up to 151.

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Car2Go to kick off D.C. launch at Busboys and Poets

March 16, 2012 - 09:56 AM
Won't you join? We charge by the minute! (Photo: Facebook/Car2Go.DC)

In the tale of two car-sharing launches, Car2Go D.C. wins the prize for most enthusiastic. The smartcar-focused car-sharing company, with its U.S. headquarters based in Austin, will launch in the nation's capital on March 24 with about 200 vehicles — in little over a week. A month ago most people barely knew the company's name but now, it's hard to look anywhere and miss its presence. Its pre-launch buzz makes a strong contrast to the launch of Hertz On Demand in February. Do most people even realize Hertz On Demand launched here in 2012? Despite the heft of Hertz, Car2Go is quickly becoming the company to watch.

Consider how the most recent Zipcar competitor has blitzed the town's media with its advertising. You see the ads so far, by my count, here at TBD, at Washington City Paper, at The Washington Post, on DCist, and in the pages of Express. "A better way to car-share is coming to D.C.," the company announces in its dynamic, cute promotions, with Fortwos racing by. Any D.C. metro area resident can already sign up for the service (the promo code "capital" lets you waive the $35 application and receive 30 minutes free), and based off of Twitter chatting, several already have, including Councilmember Tommy Wells.

"Took awhile," Wells tweeted, "but I'm looking forward to trying it.

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Tomorrow's transportation paradise is today's commuting nightmare

March 15, 2012 - 01:52 PM
Pedestrian amenities. (Photo: DDOT)

Earlier today I drove down 18th Street NW and beheld chaos. As I drove south, the entire left side of the street appeared to be shut down. Construction workers were everywhere. Bright cones and road blocks kept me limited to driving in a narrow strip of hardly even concrete, a path that I also precariously shared with a bicyclist in front of me. There wasn't room for both of us, so I slowed to a snail's pace behind him and kept my eyes locked on the road to ensure the vehicle didn't brush against the potential intrusions on either side of my Pontiac Grand Am. It's a long stretch of blocks, from Columbia Road to Kalorama these days and to Florida overall.

Welcome to the $6.5 million Adams Morgan Streetscape Project and the landscape that the Post recently termed an "obstacle course" and a frustration to local businesses like Amsterdam Falafel and the art gallery Toro Mata (which has taken a "huge financial hit," its employees noted on the Adams Morgan listserv this week).

God forbid the thought of commuting through this mess every day, I thought as I drove. But as the Post observes, the streetscaping benefits are real — wider sidewalks, better lighting, sharrows, and more, expected to be completed this summer. The District Department of Transportation fought back against the grumbling online, posting several photos of the different enhancements already out there.

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Meet WMATA's 'prime mover,' the Metro Forward workhorse

March 15, 2012 - 08:20 AM

Have you witnessed one of these titans rocket across the Metro tracks in the last few months? Take a peek at this video clip from earlier this March in which an enormous machine hurtles down the Gallery Place-Chinatown track and into the darkness of the Metro system.

That screech is a sound worth hearing:

When I first saw the clip, I wasn't quite sure how common it was for all this equipment to fly through the tunnels this way, riders still on the platform. I've never seen anything like this in my own riding experience.

Dan Stessel, chief spokesperson for WMATA, told me these are the "workhorses of our maintenance fleet. They haul supplies and equipment to work sites, lift materials with their cranes, provide lighting, and more." They also help clear snow on years that actually feature any. The vehicle, called a prime mover, is one of many responsible for moving around the materials necessary to rebuild our deteriorating 36-year-old transit system.

Not to mention it sounds like an absolute monster on the tracks. Imagine being the rider waiting at the edge of the platform and seeing this equipment fly through ... it's a rather unsettling sight.

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