Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Archive for June 2012

A close reading of a D.C. commute

June 15, 2012 - 04:15 PM
(Photo: flickr/sdiddy/missbritt/dylanpassmore)

D.C. offers many modes of transportation, but these days, public transportation is not always the fastest (yes, even with Rush+ on the way). Forget WMATA's offloads, its track work, and just consider the way the system is laid out. I've been taking a close look at a commute from Petworth to Dupont Circle on Google Maps, which provides a good look at how modes can affect commuting time.

In a car, this trip is supposed to be a mere 13 minutes in good traffic and up to 25 or so in bad. But compare that estimate of 13 or so minutes to predictions for taking Metro. Then the commute time rises dramatically to about 42 to 46 minutes, depending on what Metro lines you take and combined with the walk from house to station and then station to office. What about walking the commute entirely? To travel on foot would take about 57 minutes, Google predicts, covering 2.9 miles. The second-fastest mode after the car appears to be the bike — the Google prediction for bicycling would put the commute at about 18 minutes or so. Not too shabby.

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Neha Bhatt, D.C.'s pedestrian advocate, speaks on our walkability challenges

June 15, 2012 - 10:12 AM
(Photo: NewsTalk)

Pedestrian safety is an evolving concept in our modern cities. Washington, D.C. has attempted to prioritize the pedestrian, and two years ago, formed the Pedestrian Advisory Council, which meets regularly on these issues of walking and safety and testifies before the D.C. Council and engages the community on how to make the District a more walkable place. Our city has hundreds upon hundreds of pedestrian crashes a year, with several deaths, and we're still sorting out all the causes and solutions. In some parts of D.C., about half of all households lack any personal automobiles and instead rely on alternative modes — first and foremost each member's own two feet.

Neha Bhatt serves as chair of the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, and I've watched her speak many times before the D.C. Council on how we should be approaching these crucial questions. Bhatt's insight covers how D.C. uses street cameras, our changing population, its pedestrian-friendly design and engineering, and myriad other transportation topics worth watching. Here's her thoughts on where the city is and where it needs to move next. 

Chocolate strawberries
(Photo: flickr/foxymoron)

TBD On Foot: People often emphasize the importance of "livable, walkable" cities. To what extent would you say D.C. fits the bill?

Neha Bhatt: D.C. is a jewel. It’s no coincidence one-third of our households do not own cars (D.C. DMV) and 12% of our residents walk to their jobs (U.S. Census). We’ve been recognized in the top-10 list of most walkable U.S. cities (, and we’ve become national leaders in bicycling infrastructure and car-sharing. This is all possible because D.C. built a diverse transportation network and has been smart about putting jobs, shopping, and schools together in walkable neighborhoods. All of these destinations are part of our neighborhood — not the case in so many other cities. No doubt, we have plenty of work to do and mistakes to correct, especially in our underserved neighborhoods; but the fact remains D.C. is highly attractive even in these difficult economic times to employers, businesses, and new residents.  

On Foot: Tell me a bit about your work with the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council. How and when did you get involved and how would you describe your responsibilities?

Bhatt: The Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) serves as the advisory body to the mayor and Council of the District of Columbia on pedestrian safety and accessibility issues. I joined in spring of 2010, when the PAC first launched. I live east of the Anacostia River where transportation options are fewer and walking all the more important. Even when amenities are limited, walkability increases access, choices, and the overall neighborhood experience. A walkable street unlocks all sorts of potential — safety, reduced crime, business opportunity, community building. We want more of these things for all D.C. neighborhoods, and especially in our underserved neighborhoods. I saw the PAC as a chance to get involved in a productive way.

Over the past two years, the PAC has focused on building relationships with the police department to tackle the difficult issue of increasing enforcement of our traffic safety laws. We testify regularly at oversight and budget hearings and offer policy recommendations, and we’ve mapped pedestrian crashes and prepared an analysis of the deadliest D.C. intersections (to be released this summer). Monitoring implementation of the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan is another important activity. We have many more ideas; however, we must prioritize as most of the 13 councilmember-appointed PAC members work full time and are civically active otherwise. Anyone is welcome to join us and help move the ball forward. We usually meet monthly at 6:00 p.m. every second Monday at 441 4th Street NW (Judiciary Square Metro).

On Foot: Who are the biggest advocates for pedestrians out there now in the D.C. region?

Bhatt: Many names come to mind. On the D.C. Council, Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh are consistently good on the policy side. They are not only receptive on pedestrian issues, they lead. Within government, there are some very dedicated individuals such as Chris Shaheen in the Office of Planning and George Branyan (D.C. Pedestrian Manager) and the entire DDOT active transportation team. Lisa Sutter and Lt. Breul from MPD continue to be strong partners in the effort to make the city safer for pedestrians. Groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth and neighborhood and regional blogs such as Greater Greater Washington have played key roles in raising awareness and prioritizing walkability in public decision-making. Civic leaders doggedly fighting to make their neighborhoods safer are the unsung and most critical advocates. People like Carolyn Ward (Ward 8) and Marlene Berlin (Ward 3) inspire me because they are very active locally, and they recognize the role of safe streets in their neighborhoods. They could easily retire from civic activities and be proud of what they’ve already accomplished, yet they continue to stay involved and lead. Both currently serve on the PAC.

(Continue reading the Q&A with Neha Bhatt after the jump)

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See what remains of D.C.'s graffiti along the WMATA Red Line

June 14, 2012 - 10:01 AM

If you haven't looked yet, take a glance at TBD photographer Joshua Yospyn's pictures of Red Line graffiti. He ventured out to blocks, underpasses, and warehouses, around the Metropolitan Branch Trail and Rhode Island Avenue, Brookland, and NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro stations in the last couple weeks to get a sense of, as he puts it, what used to be and what is still there. You can clearly observe the scrubbed graffiti in the first of his excellent photos around Rhode Island Avenue — new paint, new signs, a new look for commuters. Consider the broader changes to this transit, as the eight-year-old New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U Metro station's name officially changed to the NoMa-Gallaudet U title earlier this week in a ceremony. There's no question the surrounding aesthetics is also changing and at an accelerating pace, as new developers and interest enters the region. WTOP just noted that the Department of Public Works removed "1,780 pieces of graffiti [in 2010], according to DPW spokesperson Nancee Lyons. That number jumped to 6,155 in 2011, and was at 4,115 as of March 31, 2012." A clear trend emerges from these numbers.

Georgetown alum Saaret Yoseph recently completed a documentary about Red Line graffiti called The Red Line D.C. Project and has begun scheduling several events to mark the completion. She recently suggested creating a Red Line mix tape as part of her exploration of commuters' public space. "The idea is to collect as many suggestions as possible of songs/tracks that are reminiscent of the Red line experience or that touch on themes of transit, graffiti, and the city," Yoseph told me. "I want commuters, writers, and city-dwellers to consider this — if the Red line had an anthem, what would it be? I'm open to any & all suggestion and will enlist a music-minded friend to make the final selections. Folks can tweet their suggestions to @_Redlinedc_; #redlinedc."

Yoseph's documentary as well as Yospyn's recent photos stand as testaments to a transit line that may look quite different six months or a year from now.

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Where Washington, D.C.'s car-free households are concentrated

June 13, 2012 - 12:05 PM
(Photo: DDOT)

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has assembled the 2010 American Community Survey data and created a few fascinating charts that detail just where D.C.'s car-free households live (hat tip to Matt Yglesias for tweeting a link to the data yesterday). Here's the breakdown of the eight wards, from those with the highest percentage of car-free Washingtonian households to the least:

Ward 8                 48% of households car-free

Ward 2                 46%

Ward 1/Ward 7     41%

Ward 6                 35%

Ward 5                 33%

Ward 4                 22%

Ward 3                 21%

No real surprises here but it's good to know the breakdown. Washingtonians love and rely on their automobiles in more outlying neighborhoods like Tenleytown and Petworth but get by without them in downtown and Anacostia. In the greater metro region, about 193,000 households (10% of the region's total) have no access to personal cars, the Brookings Institution noted last year.

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A closer look at who's responsible in pedestrian crashes

June 13, 2012 - 09:37 AM
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Walking isn't always safe in big cities. Our local Street Smart campaign will tell you of the accidents, the deaths, the problem of drivers and bicyclists and pedestrians who ignore responsible awareness and caution. But just what causes pedestrian crashes?

The District Department of Transportation has collected data from all pedestrian crashes from 2004 to 2010 and crunched the numbers. About half of these crashes happened when the pedestrian was in the crosswalk (legally or not), which affirms the recent D.C. police remarks on the crosswalk remaining the most dangerous spot for pedestrians.

Here's the breakdown for all the crashes in which a pedestrian was struck for these seven years — we're talking about 4,800 crashes total, with an average number of accidents of about 687 a year and nearly two a day:

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Tags: to launch Uber competition in D.C. and San Francisco this fall

June 11, 2012 - 01:40 PM
(Photo: flickr/bsabarnowl)

Elite cities call for elite transportation options, as we've observed in the last half year with the rise of luxury car service Uber. The ride is far more expensive than a taxicab (it's $15 minimum and sometimes far more) but loaded with class and convenience and the tech-friendliness that certain people want. Just load the Uber smartphone app and summon a car when you need one.

But plans to launch a competing service in the District's luxury transportation market, and the company's chief product officer Doug Anderson wants to avoid the regulatory debacle that Uber entered in early 2012. He flew into D.C. recently and met with Councilmember Mary Cheh's office last Monday and with D.C. Taxicab Commission Chairman Ron Linton last Friday afternoon. Last January, Linton declared Uber's service — one that skirted the definitions of "limo" and "taxicab" and avoided street hails while charging based on mileage — was "illegal" and impounded two Uber vehicles. Uber's status has remained in limbo for six months as Cheh voiced support for Uber and Linton's Commission is, as he told me, "not concentrating on them at the moment."

Anderson told me that he is concerned about "how Uber entered the market," with what appeared to be a minimum of conversations with D.C. officials, and doesn't want the new offering to be "regulated out of existence."

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WMATA's Rush+ service changes will begin in under two weeks

June 8, 2012 - 02:00 PM
(Photo: John Hendel)

Rush+ starts in 10 days, Metro riders, and promises a significant change in the frequency of WMATA trains throughout the lines. The transit agency spent all of last month trying to raise awareness for the service changes and deployed stunts like railcars decked out with Rush+ ads and decoration in popular Metro stations like Gallery Place-Chinatown. Now in June, WMATA hopes you pay closer attention and understand what the hell Rush+ really is. Rush+ promises faster service on the Yellow, Orange, Green, and parts of the Blue line to accommodate the busy system and prepare for the advent of the Silver Line next year. WMATA has handed out glossy booklets, the exterior shown above and the interior below, and launched another survey to assess what Metro riders are hearing about the new service. WMATA produced video explainers and announced that more than 100,000 riders would experience faster service, all the while brushing over the downside that 16,000 Blue Line riders will have to wait as many as six minutes longer for their rush-hour trains.

Here's some Rush+ updates worth noting:

• To help raise awareness and get a head start on the work, WMATA has begun installing new Metro maps in the stations and on the railcars (with special markers signifying that Rush+ won't begin until June 18) and installing the Rush+ signage at the stations (Gallery Place has received new station signs, for instance) in recent weeks.

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Here's the 28 Metro stations with anti-sexual harassment PSAs

June 8, 2012 - 10:00 AM
(Photo: WMATA)

It was just this February that advocates testified before the D.C. Council about tales of sexual harassment and woefully inadequate reporting measures on WMATA. Within a couple months, WMATA acknowledged the seriousness of the issues, met with the principal individuals concerned, and created new mechanisms to report sexual harassment as well as sexual harassment PSAs throughout the Metro system in both English and Spanish. In an April meeting with the Riders' Advisory Council, WMATA staff explained the campaign would unfold in three phases:

• Phase One: Web portal, email address and launch, which have been created;

 • Phase Two: Public Service Announcements in the Metro System, which will be rolled out in phases throughout 2012;

• Phase Three: Employee training, including brochures, training programs and employee training videos.

Holly Kearl, of Stop Street Harassment as well as a Collective Action for Safe Spaces board member, was one of the people who has pressured Metro for months, and she recently posted a list of the 28 Metro staitons that now feature PSAs. Have you spotted them? One of the PSAs first announced, modeled off a Boston transit PSA, featured a line that a few people found somewhat cringe-worthy: Rub against me and I'll expose you. Other PSAs have begun circulating throughout the system, however, and are now in more than two dozen stations. Another prominent line notes, I'm not the one who should be ashamed. Here's the listing of the full 28, which Kearl recently provided, some stations listed multiple times to underscore multiple PSAs at that station:

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Happy 10th birthday to Washington, D.C.'s Department of Transportation

June 7, 2012 - 12:53 PM
(Photo: DDOT)

The District Department of Transportation turns 10 years old today, which Mayor Vince Gray recognized this morning down at DDOT headquarters. It was only a decade ago that the District Department of Transportation Establishment Act of 2002 created the agency out of the Department of Public Works. A 2004 GAO review conveyed satisfaction with the progress and noted DDOT was "off to a good start." The department now sports over 900 employees and helps manage everything from streetscaping to the developing 37-mile streetcar network to road quality to bicycling infrastructure to Potholepalooza to traffic safety to car-sharing to major bridge projects to pedicab regulations to the new move toward performance parking, all with an annual budget of $400 million. What a modest set of responsibilities, right?

"In our first decade as an independent agency, we have made tremendous strides improving the way we deliver everything from major infrastructure projects to routine services," DDOT Director Terry Bellamy wrote in the agency's 2011 report. "We’ve also launched and expanded the popular DC Circulator bus system and the nation’s largest bikesharing system, and we are poised to restore streetcar service to the District after a 50-year absence. There’s a lot to be proud of at DDOT and I want to thank everyone in the agency for their dedicated service and efforts to make DDOT what it is today. DDOT delivers consistently and as a result I believe we have earned the respect of many of our customers and partners."

This morning Mayor Vince Gray declared June 7 to be "DDOT Day" in D.C. as the officials celebrated the anniversary with a big red and white cake. The agency has developed into a strong voice in D.C.'s transportation world, and it's hard to imagine a time before DDOT. Yet the agency has continued to struggle with some criticism — most regarding the level of discipline it brings to its work.

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Signs now warn bicyclists to be careful near H Street streetcar tracks

June 7, 2012 - 10:11 AM
(Photo: John Hendel)

Bicyclists and streetcar tracks don't generally get along. There have been countless anecdotes of bicyclists crashing along the 2.3 miles of streetcar track along H Street for the past couple years and hard data about the bike crashes in Portland. D.C. plans to install 37 miles of these streetcar tracks in the years to come as it simultaneously expands its biking infrastructure and bikeshare program ... which is worrying. The modes conflict.

But now, at least, District bicyclists will receive a warning about biking on H Street. The District Department of Transportation has installed about 21 signs over the last two to three weeks along the H Street-Benning Road stretch, both on the main road itself and on streets adjacent to it (Note, June 8, 12:47 p.m.: This post initially conveyed the DDOT estimate of 50 signs installed but now includes their updated number of 21. All 21 sign locations are now listed below). The yellow caution signs are clear — Streetcar Tracks: Bikes Use Caution. The signs are no silver bullet eliminating the risk, but they alert bicyclists to pay attention to any potential danger, and that's a substantial and easy improvement compared to the last couple years. This is the first real step toward government awareness and public education that may allow a city of both streetcars (when and if they ever come) and bicyclists.

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VRide wants to sell Washington, D.C. on the virtues of vanpooling

June 6, 2012 - 01:37 PM
(Photo: vRide)

You may be familiar with carpooling, but let's talk about the lesser-known vanpooling for a second. Today a 35-year-old Michigan-based company that recently rebranded itself as "vRide" (formerly VPSI) hopes to let D.C. commuters know they have options beside their cars — and beside walking, the Metro, the bus, biking, Car2Go, Zipcar, pedicabs, taxicabs, slugging, and... Well, you know. D.C. has a lot of transportation options. But what we don't hear much about is a little concept called "vanpooling."

VRide touts itself as the world's largest vanpooling business with more than 6,000 vans in the U.S. and in the greater D.C. region more than 275 vRide vanpools of 3,000 commuters. The company estimates it will take 73,000 cars off the road in the D.C. area over the next two years and already supports organizations such as the FDA, NIH, and some military units. This June vRide hopes to raise awareness for their mode of transportation by traveling from city to city with a vRide van and promoting their "Don't Be an S.O.V." campaign. What's an S.O.V.? Single-occupant vehicle, of course. Today the vRide team is down at Farragut Square with campaign spokesperson Anjelah Johnson, a comedienne who gained prominence on MADtv. And why vanpool? The mode will save on transportation costs, the company contends, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly. A vanpooler's average costs run about $130 to $140 a month in the D.C. metro area, and that includes service and fuel.

"A part of being an S.O.V. is feeling like you have to have a car," said John Garcia, CFO of vRide. His company says that in today's world, you no longer need one while you're busy at work. Why take up parking space? VRide has an allowance for cabbing you away from the office a couple times a year if you're in dire need to leave early but overall, Garcia says, people don't need a personal automobile at all times, especially in a city like D.C.

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'The Red Line D.C.' documentary contextualizes fading Metro graffiti

June 6, 2012 - 10:31 AM
(Photo: flickr/eyspahn)

The Red Line D.C. documentary has developed slowly for more than a year now. Little clips have emerged every few months, and the broader mission of the documentary seemed like a necessary one. The film, which will ultimately comprise two parts of 20 minutes apiece, asks the question — how should we make sense and understand the graffiti that countless D.C. Metro commuters see along their Red Line commutes at stations like Brookland, Rhode Island Avenue, and the newly renamed NoMa? But as the film is unveiled for broader release and fundraising now, the timing couldn't be more appropriate. In 2012, Washington, D.C. has begun scrubbing the graffiti along the Red Line, and the documentary now serves as an important way to capture the history of this public art and the ways, for better and worse, it's been a part of our lives.

"I believe the change up is an obvious result of gentrification and increased interest in that space on the part of developers," filmmaker Saaret Yoseph told me by email when I asked about the graffiti removal observed in the last half year. "The complete removal of graffiti at the Rhode Island rooftop had me particularly floored because I know how popular and recognizable that spot was on the Red Line. Though I try not to qualify or make snap judgments about these changes, I think the lack of color will give us a little less to look at during our daily ride."

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Loudoun residents resist the Dulles Metro expansion with giant pig

June 5, 2012 - 10:27 AM
(Photo: Facebook)

Should our Metrorail system expand to Dulles as part of a new Silver Line stretch? A grassroots resistance has developed in Loudoun County, Virginia, where some opponents point to the higher tolls and taxes and waste they see as likely rather than the vision of advocates, who say any rail will return more revenue in the long run. This tension was again on display last night at a Loudoun County Board of Supervisors hearing as opponents trotted out their number-one mascot — the Tax Pig.

Yes, the Tax Pig. This creature has quietly grown into full articulation over recent months and exists primarily to oppose the Silver Line's second phase, which will cost Loudoun County more than a quarter billion dollars in investment. The rail would stretch from Reston past Dulles in phase 2 and would hopefully open in 2016. Hence we have the Tax Pig. Here's a photo of the beast from last night at a gathering that attracted hundreds.

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Metrorail attracts more riders in 2012 but slower than national average

June 4, 2012 - 11:07 AM
(Photo: John Hendel)

More and more people are choosing to ride the Metro and the bus in the D.C. region, and across the country, to take public transportation, but the growth locally continues to favor the bus over rail as opposed to national trends. This morning the American Public Transportation Association released its national figures on ridership and notes a nationwide public transportation increase of 5% more trips now than this time last year — 2.7 billion trips were taken in the first quarter of 2012, more than 125 million more trips than in the first quarter of 2011. Light rail was up 6.7%, heavy rail was up 5.5%, and large bus systems rose by 4.6%.

Locally, the number of Metrorail and Metrobus riders have increased over these same months but, as noted earlier this year, at very different paces. The bus is the real victor here in D.C. Our city ranks among the top-10 cities in which large bus systems grew, with a 7.8% increase in trips.

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D.C. is America's number-two travel destination this summer

June 1, 2012 - 10:45 AM
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Beware, commuters, the tourists are coming! The American Public Transportation Association revealed that about 104 million Americans — a third of the country — plan to travel to a big city this summer. D.C., with its monuments and National Mall and White House, is super popular, and tourists love coming here in full force. How many tourist exactly? More than eight million slated for this summer ... and you thought the spring Cherry Blossom season was bad.

Here's the top 10 destinations for the summer of 2012:

Chicago 11.1 Trips (in Millions)

Washington, D.C. 8.3

New York City 6.8

Los Angeles 5.3

Miami 4.9

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