Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Archive for January 2012

Unsettling view from inside a D.C. Metrobus (video)

February 1, 2012 - 12:45 PM
(Photo: flickr/elvertbarnes)

Perhaps those Metrobus drivers do need protective shields, after all. A new video has emerged via AccessTheDMV and vlogger MeanBlackDude showing the aftermath of an alleged robbery on a D.C. Metrobus. An older man accuses a younger of stealing his wallet and begins drawing the bus operator and other passengers into the dispute. What stands out to me is the enclosed nature of the Metrobus for all involved. In such tight quarters, it's not hard to imagine escalation of tempers.

Watch the unsettling and tense few minutes in the video here:

Between this and those recent horrifying WTOP bus camera videos, the world of Metrobuses hasn't seemed so peaceful lately.

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See the District's fancy new plans for central 14th Street

February 1, 2012 - 11:13 AM
Central 14th Street. (Photo: Google Street View)

D.C., make sure you've checked out the Office of Planning's Central 14th Street Corridor Vision Plan and Revitalization Strategy plan, released in draft and available for comment this past month. The comment period initially was set to end on Feb. 3 but has been extended as the office translates the plan into Spanish/Amharic to enable more input. The Office of Planning will then take all these comments and submit a final draft to Mayor Vince Gray in the weeks to come.

You can see the 78-page draft plan here.

So what's potentially in store for the 1.3 miles of central 14th Street from Spring Road to Longfellow Street? We're talking the blocks in upper Columbia Heights and the western part of Petworth (including Red Derby and Thaitanic II), the corridor that runs, broadly speaking, east of Rock Creek Park, with around 50 small businesses and more than 2,000 households.

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D.C.'s disjointed push toward a modern taxicab industry

January 31, 2012 - 01:00 PM
The head of our controversial Taxi Commission. (Photo: John Hendel)

In December, Mayor Vince Gray, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, and D.C. Taxicab Commission chairman Ron Linton all stood together in the Wilson Building to present a vision of modern taxis that we could achieve within a year — credit card readers, GPS, all of it. But take a look at yesterday's hearing and witness disjointed confusion. Three of the same officials were back in the Wilson Building and again talking about the taxicab industry's legislative overhaul ... but the front they presented was hardly the unified and polished full court press they offered a month ago and the details of our taxicab modernization are hardly smooth or settled.

Why? No one can decide how to move forward with the specifics of the overhaul and in no instance was that clearer than in Linton's two-hour grilling from Councilmembers Cheh, Wells, Bowser, and Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Hundreds of taxi drivers, hospitality leaders, disability advocates, media, and others packed the Wilson Building for a hearing on two major taxicab bills.

Transportation committee head Mary Cheh was surprised, for instance, that the D.C. Taxicab Commission issued an 89-page request for vendor proposals on Jan. 25, seeking vendors to provide the Taxicab Smart Meter System that would allow credit-card payment, receipts that feature trip details, and screens in the back showing riders the GPS-outlined path the taxicab is taking. This proposal assumes all D.C. taxicabs will modernize using this one government-mandated piece of technology and that D.C. would pay for the installation, operation, and servicing of the smart meter, with no charge to taxi drivers or companies and funded by a 50-cent surcharge applied to the District's taxi riders. Linton imagines this surcharge as an ongoing source of funds that would exist for as long as the government allowed, expected to yield $8 to $12 million a year.

Tommy Wells distinguished two paths — the city government could either establish "standards" about how taxicabs should modernize (implemented on the drivers' and fleets' terms) or follow a more "prescriptive" path, in which the government picks the vendor and runs the equipment with little room for market options.

"I'm not sure which way to go," Wells explained to Linton. "I'm more inclined to setting standards." To set standards would allow taxi drivers and companies more freedom "to change and modernize" as technology evolved and different ways of fulfilling those government standards emerged.

Yet then there's that 89-page RFP, with a deadline of March 12, that clearly opts for the prescriptive option.

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D.C. Taxicab Commission imagines 300 wheelchair-accessible cabs in 2012

January 31, 2012 - 08:54 AM
Our new carriages for the disabled. (Photo: John Hendel)

Washington, D.C. has tested just 20 wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in the last two years, part of a subsidized pilot program run by Yellow Cab and Royal Cab, but prepare to see more in the next few months. Yesterday afternoon D.C. Taxicab Commission chairman Ron Linton told the D.C. Council he hopes to have 300 wheelchair-accessible taxis on the road by the end of the year. The upgrades would conceivably be paid for and go to serve two prominent D.C. entities — WMATA and D.C. Public Schools.

“We believe there is a way to contract with taxicabs to save them millions of dollars," Commissioner Linton told Council Chairman Kwame Brown in the Wilson Building yesterday as part of a drawn-out and contentious exchange in which Brown sought to shame Linton for not doing more to promote wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Linton’s motive is as focused on business as on equality, as our transit system and public school system would serve as taxicab industry clients. In the case of WMATA's $100-million MetroAccess transport for riders with disabilities, contractor Battle Transportation will be ending its service on Feb. 10 for what WAMU called "economic reasons," and Linton raised this as a possible entry point into that transportation market. According to WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel, Battle has provide for about 35 of MV Transportation's 300+ MetroAccess routes but says those will be "seamlessly absorbed into MV's operation" when Battle leaves. Meanwhile, our public schools spend $92 million to transport 3,500 special needs students, a cost the Council and Mayor Vince Gray have sought to cut. Could taxis be the answer to these dual transportation challenges?

Linton said that D.C.’s taxis could save WMATA about $10 million a year in their services, and he has already met with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles to discuss the possibility. First would come a 90-day study on how to integrate D.C. taxicabs into these transport systems for those with special needs, and then, potentially, big-deal contracts that would positions taxis to move whole new populations of District residents.

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Seven key issues to consider as the D.C. Council debates taxis today

January 30, 2012 - 09:06 AM
(Photo: flickr/manwithface)

At 11 a.m., the D.C. Council will host a hearing on how our city's taxicabs should "modernize," which to our politicians means everything from picking one uniform cab color to accepting credit cards to featuring GPS to better driver training. When talking taxis in our city of more than 8,000 drivers, here's seven major issues you should consider:

How innovation is implemented: Should the D.C. Council force specific technological equipment on all D.C. fleets or issue broader mandates with many ways to fulfill them? The folks at Taxi Magic as well as certain industry officials don't see taxis as quite so stone-age as D.C. officials paint them.

How D.C. politicians coordinate with taxicab fleets and their drivers: Yes, stakeholders will weigh in this morning. But is there real conversation and coordination as part of the Council's legislation? In December, taxi drivers gave the impression that Mayor Vince Gray and other politicians weren't including them in the process.

A question of taxicab color: Councilmember Mary Cheh surveyed more than 4,000 people about taxis and found people would pick yellow as a uniform taxi color, yet the Post reports Mayor Gray will push red and white.

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Metro apologizes for last night's communications breakdown, delays

January 27, 2012 - 03:49 PM
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Why didn't Metro let riders know what was happening last night until hours and afters after the system malfunctioned? WMATA doesn't have any one reasonable excuse. The transit agency apologizes, hopes you'll forgive, and promises to do better.

"That failure should not have happened," WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel said, who despite that communication failure only received three hours of sleep last night. "We should have been tweeting independently of the systems."

 Riders strongly agreed as dozens lashed out about the silence. Why were all voices MIA? If Stessel wasn't awake and seeing these tweets, why wasn't some other individual doing so? No alternative communications plan appeared to exist or emanate independently from Metro's control center.

When Metro broke last night, it broke hard. Power throughout much of the system failed due to a piece of equipment called the switch, which monitors the power feed to the facility, according to Stessel. The "partial power failure" of these elements, which comprise the rail and bus control facilities in Landover, Maryland, caused the WMATA website to fail, the alerts system to cease, as did the PIDs, and train operators on the Red, Orange and Blue lines to hold for at least 15 minutes, WMATA reports, though some riders suggest far longer waits. Train operators had no idea what was happening, apparently. Radio and signals continued to operate ... but the control center relied on computers to coordinate all the data and did suffer from the breakdown. "Driver says he doesn't have any communications," one person tweeted (see all the frenzied reactions from late last night, from 11 p.m. till about 1 a.m., here). Stessel began responding to press inquiries at 3:30 a.m. and released a press release on the incident, in which "Metro apologizes for the inconvenience" and stated that the power outage lasted about 15 minutes. "Radio and signal systems are independent and remained online, but desktop consoles and computer systems were affected," he told me in the late a.m. hours last night. "Preliminarily, the cause appears to be linked to a particular UPS [uninterruptible power supply]." But given the outage and the single-tracking, Stessel believes the riders who speak of long, miserable rides on the system.

"I absolutely believe every customer who says they were waiting an hour or nearly an hour on the platforms," Stessel told me. Even before the outage, he said, the headway on parts of the Orange Line was 30 to 35 minutes thanks to single-tracking.

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A communications meltdown fully crippled the D.C. Metro Thursday night

January 27, 2012 - 05:10 AM
Trains were delayed forever. (Photo: flickr/millerustad)

WMATA's website died, communications fell apart, train operators left trains to walk the tunnels, delays were staggering, and for hours no one heard a word from anyone at the transit agency. How can riders maintain confidence after January 26?

The nightmare began sometime around 11 p.m. and continued until the system closed. I sent WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel a message seeking comment at 12:22 a.m. and as of 2:30 a.m., haven't heard anything back or observed any other communications response, whether press release, tweet, or alert. The website was down from before midnight until well after 1 a.m. I first saw return to life at 1:34 a.m. Yet no human voice supplied any insight into the baffling failure. The silence was, as one person said, deafening. "Hundreds if not thousands of tweets from across the region started flying in right after 11 p.m. on Thursday night," wrote Mike Rupert at his Local Gov Chat blog late last night. "Yet both the @wmata Twitter handle and the semi-personal Twitter handle of its chief spokesperson Dan Stessel @dstessel were absolutely silent. In just two hours, Metro has killed any goodwill they have earned over the past year. They’ll have to work twice as heard to earn all that back now."

(Updated at 8:38 a.m., to include Metro's answer) WMATA's Stessel replied to my message at 3:30 a.m., ultimately, and Metro does have a press release out on its operational website now. He ascribes last night to a combination of planned single-tracking on the Red, Orange, and Blue lines and a "power failure at our control center. He says:

As a result of this work, trains were already operating at roughly 30-minute intervals.

Then, due to a power failure at our control center, trains were held in stations for about 15 minutes on those three lines — due to the workers on the tracks. Green and Yellow continued to operate.

Trains were held at 11:54 p.m. for about 15 minutes. Systems came back online at 12:08 a.m.

Radio and signal systems are independent and remained online, but desktop consoles and computer systems were affected.

Preliminarily, the cause appears to be linked to a particular UPS.

But the rider reaction seems to suggest something a little more severe and longer lasting than this. Stessel says the system was offline for 14 minutes but some of the reports of communications failure seem to begin nearly an hour before that, and the website seemed out until after 1 a.m. Holding the trains on top of track work could create some of the 45-minute waits people talked about but doesn't speak to the extent of people's confusion I observed last night.

Here are the reactions as they played out in real-time, chronicled on Storify. Read through the night's chaos. The details are worth it and available after the jump.

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Should Metro hide its suicides?

January 26, 2012 - 11:45 AM
Keep it secret. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Metro board member Tom Bulger raised a surprising question during this morning's WMATA meeting. The board was discussing Metro safety and the various incidents that snarl through our transit system, including some high-profile suicides in recent months. Nearly 20 people died of apparently their own volition between 2009 and 2011. Bulger was concerned. They seem, he said, to be happening more often. He's served on the board since July 2011.

"I have a Golden Gate Bridge suggestion — they don’t report them," Bulger said. "We need to talk about how we handle these suicides, which are related to a number of factors. Maybe the economy. I don’t know. ... We might be better off not knowing about ‘em." 

The immediate response was opposition. How could Metro hide suicides? When someone kills themselves on the Golden Gate Bridge, the impact on traffic is not similar to the delays we would see on the Metro, one person replied. Others quickly shifted the subject, emphasizing instead Metro's suicide prevention program and saying that Metro should address the status of the initiative at a coming meeting. No one else voiced support for hiding Metro suicides.

But once that portion of the meeting ended, the WMATA microphone continued to pick up the chatter, and people continued to discuss Bulger's strange idea.

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The two things D.C. taxi passengers want the most

January 26, 2012 - 10:57 AM
(Photo: John Hendel)

The results of Councilmember Mary Cheh's unscientific taxi survey are officially here, more than 4,000 responses later. These results come four days before she holds a Council hearing on taxi modernization and less than 24 hours after she checked out the expensive, sleek wheelchair-accessible taxicabs that the city has tested in the last couple years.

Among the many results, two things stand out. Our city's taxi passengers expressed a desire for two amenities at an extraordinarily high level and I suspect that implementing these two features alone would go a long way toward changing people's perceptions.

Should D.C. require credit card readers in taxicabs? 94% say yes. 

Should D.C. require "uniform cruising lights to signal if the taxi is available"? 92% say yes.

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Metro rail cracks as WMATA board discusses rail safety

January 26, 2012 - 10:04 AM
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Call it bad timing. This morning the WMATA board is discussing the recent safety report and how to make the system better. The numbers don't really inspire much confidence, particularly those involving rider injuries. They're up 35%, according to one page. I also like how WMATA, when referencing the 27 National Transportation Safety Board recommendations, refer to "the Fort Totten Incident." Fitting enough for a Powerpoint slideshow but it's a grimly sanitized phrase for "the worst accident in Metro history" when WMATA trains killed nine people in mid-2009. They're talking all the big hits of recent months, from friction rings to suicides to smoke and fire reports to 10-car trains.

Just as WMATA board members talked about how to make the safer and more secure, Metro rail cracked early this morning at Tenleytown on the inbound track, creating delays on the Red Line throughout the morning. "Trains are single tracking between Friendship Heights and Van Ness with delays in both directions. The disruption is expected to cause 20-30 minute delays throughout the morning commute." You can imagine the moans and blips of frustration throughout the last couple hours. The WMATA homepage is bright red with the announcement of single-tracking (I'll at least give credit for putting the news of the delay front and center). RED LINE SERVICE DISRUPTION, the WMATA homepage declares.

One rider even found himself literally in the dark. But WMATA, at the least, knew the situation — there were two cars where the lights went off, the transit agency told the rider on Twitter. Although cracked rail is a naturally reoccurring problem in cold winter months, it's ironic as well as fitting that the WMATA board are chatting about the very topic of rail safety as the delays happen.

edroso edroso
in reply to @edroso

@edroso are you on 5016 or 5017? If so, it's been identified. ^BA
Jan 26 via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

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More wheelchair-accessible taxicabs are coming to D.C.

January 25, 2012 - 04:13 PM
Mary Cheh talks to the head of Yellow Cab D.C. (Photo: John Hendel)

Roy Spooner Sr. nodded and talked patiently with D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh this afternoon next to the Wilson Building. He's the general manager of Yellow Cab of D.C., she's the head of the D.C. transportation committee. Both have a thoughtful way about how they talk, standing outside in the chill air next to a 2010 Toyota Sienna taxicab. Cheh has talked a lot about taxicabs in recent months, from her technological overhaul of taxis planned for later this year (credit cards!) to her recent positions on Uber (she's a fan of options).

But today Cheh met with Spooner in order to learn more about and to see one of Spooner's wheelchair-accessible taxis, 20 of which are now out on D.C. streets as part of a program that started in February of 2010. Yellow Cab  and Royal Cab offer 10 each and have tested the $32,500 ADA-approved minivans to see about expanding our city's transportation options for people with disabilities. The program goes by the names "Roll D.C." as well as the drier "Wheelchair Accessible Taxicab Pilot" and we can thank the District, the Council of Governments, and the Transportation Planning Board for putting these first 20 vehicles into motion. The Federal Transit Administration provided a $1 million grant, which the D.C. Taxicab Commission matched with $200,000. Several others have helped in the last year, with the D.C. Office of Disabilities Rights sharing its advice and the Council of Governments providing professional training for the companies' drivers.

"They're not easy to acquire and they're not easy to maintain," Spooner told me about the unconventional taxicabs. "The biggest challenge was vehicle acquisition."

Spooner and Wendy Klancher, a transportation planner with the Washington Council of Governments, told me that the pilot developed out a longstanding demand for such wheelchair-accessible taxicabs and require significant coordination and treatment, such as dispatch services. But Klancher calls the 20-taxicab pilot a success and points to a response time of 30 minutes or less for trips that aren't booked ahead of time and a more-than-90% on-time response for those with appointments. The specially accessible taxicabs cost no more to the passenger than a traditional taxicab.

Spooner led me to the back of the Toyota Sienna minivan to show me the full size of the vehicle. I took a good look at all the space, equipped with straps and able to fit wheelcahirs and scooters easily as long as they're under 600 pounds and no more than 30 inches wide by 48 inches long.

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Commuting's intense emotions come out online in Twitter 'micro-participation'

January 25, 2012 - 12:47 PM
What Austin commuters talk about online. (Photo: TRB)

The Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting is this week in D.C. and I've been looking through the treasure trove of research papers that many different experts and academics have submitted on every topic imaginable.

Jennifer S. Evans-Cowley of Ohio State and Greg Griffin of Austin's Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and adjunct lecturer at Texas State University-San Marcos have released a paper addressing how transportation planners and transit authorities have taken advantage of social media. They conducted a mixed-methods analysis of what's going on on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking platforms and coordinated with the Social Networking and Planning Project to collect results. Among their conclusions they note:

The growth in use of location-aware social media, such as geo-tagged microblogging, has the potential to extend planning participation to citizens, who could digitally tag such planning issues as in this case the location of traffic congestions, areas where bike paths are needed or other transportation related issues. Smartphone technologies have the potential to further democratize planning by allowing participants to join the planning conversation from their regular locations and on their own terms. We contend that micro-participation provide new and valuable opportunities for public participation that should be integrated into a broad-scale participation process.

What these researchers are considering is a little phenomenon they call "micro-participation," something I've observed in D.C. in different ways.

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D.C. streetcar may be a victory for the city's pedestrians

January 25, 2012 - 09:00 AM
(Photo: John Hendel)

Half a century after the last D.C. streetcar stopped running, the D.C. Office of Planning presents its Streetcar Land Use Study, as City Paper shared yesterday evening. I've begun glancing through the 80 or so pages of the report and my first reaction is how much the narrative places us in the imagined future in which all 37 miles of the streetcar system are up and running.

Can you imagine? After all the fits and starts that have afflicted the D.C. street, here we have a document that fully examines the implications of having the streetcars everywhere. Mayor Vince Gray had reiterated his commitment to the streetcar in December, but the focus there inevitably focuses on the short term and the practical deadlines, on the couple miles of streetcar coming to H Street purportedly in 2013. But the Office of Planning imagines the age where more than 50% of D.C. residents live within walking distance of a streetcar. More than 50%! The report says this will transform the transit potential of about 72,000 households in the District and add $5 to $7 billion to the city's property values.

I never quite realized how much such a streetcar system has the potential to kickstart pedestrian life. The government notes that "streetcar service would increase pedestrian activity within the streetcar corridors." In turn that would have the potential to trigger more business activity and make people feel safer. As it stands, D.C. ranks as the number-two city in the U.S. for bicyclists and pedestrians. The government already has initiated many efforts to improve our roads with pedestrians in minds, adding medians and bike lanes and attempting to calm traffic, like with Maryland Avenue NE. Streetcars give people places to walk to.

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Mayor Sam Adams of Portland applauds D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare

January 24, 2012 - 02:43 PM
(Photo: Courtesy of Sam Adams)

The 48-year-old mayor of Portland, Oregon is named Sam Adams, wears hipster glasses, and has been in office since January of 2009. While he's not quite the same as Portlandia's Kyle MacLachlan-portrayed mayor, he seems like a charming enough politician ... all the moreso because he recently visited the corner of K and 17th Street in Washington, D.C. to try our "bikeshare machine," as he calls Capital Bikeshare in the video below. Adams was in town for the 80th winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, held from Jan. 18-20, and he uploaded this clip in the last 24 hours.

The Portland mayor studies the dock, explains the cost of the bikeshare system, and then takes to the handlebars.

We see the mayor ride around the streets of downtown D.C. very casually and apparently quite happily. Adams is in charge of a city that understands the bicycle, that is often elevated as a mecca of biking culture. Portland, after all, trumpets a stunning percentage of bicycle commuters, with around 6% of the population out on the bike lanes.

Although watch out, Mr. Mayor — you briefly bicycle on downtown sidewalk there in that video clip, and in the District, that's illegal. Don't underestimate the myriad dizzying biking laws and confusions in the capital.

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Illegal? Uber scoffs, tells D.C. fans to drink up

January 24, 2012 - 11:26 AM
Thirsty for transportation options. (Photo: flickr/mountainhiker)

The new luxury car service Uber is still operating in D.C. and, in fact, "busier than ever," according to General Manager Rachel Holt in a message to local Uber fans. I suppose having the D.C. Taxicab Commissioner call you out as "illegal" and impounding one of your cars makes for great marketing, even if it is $15 minimum for one of the smartphone-booked classy rides. 

The only better marketing move may be to give away free alcohol. Oh wait, Uber's doing that, too.

This Thursday, Jan. 26, Uber D.C. is holding a party called "Uber D.C. Cocktails, Innovation, and Transportation" from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on K Street to turn their noses at the forces that would have shut them down and celebrate the glory that is Uber. The party comes after an aggressive Uber public relations campaign centered around Twitter, Tumblr, and blog entries, which even resulted in some staunch Uber fans acting on their own and calling Commissioner Ron Linton's cell phone to complain. For days it seemed that Uber and the Commission would never even meet and just lob words at one another through the media. But Holt did tell me last week that a meeting between the two parties is scheduled, set to happen in a matter of weeks.

In the meantime, why not drinks?

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D.C. ranks as America's second best city for biking and walking

January 24, 2012 - 09:26 AM
Sharrow power. (Photo: flickr/ubrayj02)

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has released a new report that ranks American cities and states by their "biking and walking levels" (how friendly they are to cyclists and pedestrians) and by the number of biking and pedestrian fatalities. D.C., you didn't come off so badly. America's capital city is the number two city overall, the Alliance says, and is the sixth best city in terms of fatalities (if you can still use a term like "best" when talking fatalities). The news is encouraging to consider but also a reminder that more work remains to be done — like the District Department of Transportation's efforts to slow down and better manage all the traffic on Maryland Avenue NE, which I wrote about last week. Our neighbor city Baltimore scored 11th and 15th in the two main categories, which rely on American Community Survey data.

What's the city that took the top slot in both? Cold, old Boston, Massachusetts. 

The full report is a whopping 248 pages and the result of "hundreds" collaborating but a handy media sheet will try to wow you with some big facts, like this one: "12% of all trips are by bicycle (1.0%) or foot (10.5%)." Good to know. But look deep into the report and see that D.C. is also recognized for some big firsts: "In August 2008, the first public smart bike sharing program in the U.S. was launched in Washington, DC, and subsequent programs have sprung up in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, San Antonio, and other cities." This "smart" bikesharing system was actually the now-dead SmartBike D.C., which preceded our current Capital Bikeshare.

The report also ranks the percentage of people who bike to work and walk to work. D.C. ranked seventh and second, respectively.

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WMATA keeps growing, Metro keeps slowing

January 23, 2012 - 04:00 PM
Metro wants more escalator workers. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Tuesday may be our president's State of the Union address but what about the State of Metro?

Big events loom — in the next week or so, WMATA will close the southern entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro in order to replace escalators; Metro has announced it will replace more escalators now rather than simply rehab them, which should be both more timely and costly; and to accomplish all these tasks, WMATA has announced it's hiring more people.

A quick look at the LinkedIn job-oriented social network confirms that WMATA has already begun to expand their team.

Yesterday WMATA announced plans to hire an elevator and escalator engineer. On Jan. 20, WMATA posted a position for an escalator/elevator tech and supervisor as well as, perhaps most vitally, an elevator/escalator position which would involve "highly skilled and technical maintenance coordination work involving auditing of preventive and corrective maintenance on escalators and elevators in support of the entire Metrorail system." Four new elevator/escalator positions were posted in less than a week, and I can understand why. WMATA plans to replace more than 90 escalators now, and you can just imagine the closures and delays that will result. In next year's budget, WMATA says its preventative maintenance and improvements will come to a bill of around $66 million. Why wouldn't the transit agency be beefing up its escalator teams? The hiring makes sense.

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How Metro commuters react to graffiti on the Red Line

January 23, 2012 - 01:03 PM
Colors for your commute. (Photo: flickr/elvertbarnes)

What reactions does graffiti inspire among the D.C. residents who ride the Metro's Red Line? Are these images art or are they blight? How do the graffiti artists themselves see their creations and how do they perceive their transit-riding audience? Are their daytime identities even what commuters would suspect?

These are some of the questions that Georgetown grad student Saaret Yoseph has continued to explore with her ongoing Red Line D.C. Project, which zeroes in on the Red Line track between Union Station and Silver Spring. I first wrote about her efforts last summer, where she told me about her motivations and goals and thoughts on how graffiti and WMATA intersect. Yoseph has not spent the last few months idly. Her Red Line Project website features many updates, new clips, and best of all — a 13-minute mini-documentary called "See Something, Say Something," chronicling a range of voices from both Red Line Metro riders and the graffiti artists who have tagged the many buildings and walls visible from Metro windows. Released last month, i's a wonderful film that essentially stands on its own as it, Yoseph writes, "explores [the] indirect dialogue that graffiti creates. Equal parts craft and confusion, art form and illegal act, Red Line graffiti embodies all the contradictions of the capital city."

The dialogue is a refreshing and fascinating one. Watch riders and artists speak up in "See Something, Say Something" here:

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See the wisdom of Metro station managers in Chinatown (video)

January 23, 2012 - 10:41 AM
Redman and Davis. (YouTube/slimstokes1)

Robbie Stokes, Jr. is turning 25 this month, and he's embarked on a quest. The young man is a graduate of FSU who works at Destination D.C., our city's  convention and tourism bureau, and in the last two months, he launched a one-man campaign to encourage us to talk to more strangers. He paired this mission with a journey across America, from D.C. to Atlanta to Chicago to Los Angeles, as well as a website and plans to write a book. Stokes called me from L.A. last Saturday as he kicked off the final leg of his journey, full of video blogs and tweets and more, specifically to touch on one very fascinating transportation conversation he recorded before he left — Stokes chatted with two Metro station managers who work at Gallery Place-Chinatown. 

WMATA employs about 11,000 people, and as we've learned in recent weeks, plans to employ several hundred more to accommodate all the repair and improvement work. Sometimes Metro's employees frustrate riders. People see the reports of sleeping station managers, of rudeness, even of racist outcries at times, and of course the dramatic and disappointing revelation last week that two employees stole tens of thousands of dollars in our Metro fares. But there are thousands of Metro workers out there and several who do a tremendously impressive job of serving our city's commuters. We should recognize the patience and good work of WMATA employees just as we decry the bad and seek to identify and isolate the few destructive behaviors.

Here's the brief but enlightening conversation Stokes has with two Metro station managers who serve the Yellow, Green, and Red lines, where they talk everything from rider frustrations to Metro suicide:

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Walking it back: Don't freeze the weekend away

January 21, 2012 - 09:05 AM
(Photo: Ben Schumin)

Happy Saturday, D.C. I hope you're staying warm amid all the reports of chilly weather and the buzz over the "wintry mix" we heard yesterday afternoon. On top of the cold, of course, there's Metro track work — we'll be experiencing delays on one, two, three (can it be?), four, and yes, I'm afraid we've counted right, five out of five Metro tracks this weekend. Whew. No one said that achieving a state of good repair was easy or without commuter pain.

The past short week has contained a medley of transportation news items, many of which are a little oddball. Let's walk our way back through the biggest stories now:

• Two WMATA employees allegedly stole thousands upon thousands of dollars ... and all for scratch-off lotto tickets? Read the tale here.

• Yes, the D.C. Taxicab Commission is trying to kill Uber, but did you hear the one about how a D.C. taxi killed America's first CIA-trained cat spy?

• Let's turn Maryland Avenue NE into a pedestrian oasis, safe for pedestrians and bicyclists and drivers all.

• Are D.C. taxis really so behind the times? Taxi Magic says they're very receptive to all the new technology out there.

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