Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Archive for January 2012

Weekend traffic jams: 'Pacific Coast Highway'

January 20, 2012 - 04:20 PM
(Photo: flickr/dano)

Every good commute calls for a good playlist. Forget long waits for Metro trains, crowded jostling on the cars, walks that seem endless, and the bus stops to what feel like nowhere — this weekend, just sit back and enjoy the songs on your iPod or MP3 player. The right song kills all the travel stress, and in honor of that fact, TBD's On Foot blog offers you a weekly transit-themed track for your Metro playlist. The destination will come eventually, after all. In the meantime, just enjoy the ride and the music.

This week's traffic jam: "Pacific Coast Highway" by Sonic Youth (1987)

Hear more songs for your commuting playlist here.

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D.C. hopes to make Maryland Avenue safer for pedestrians

January 20, 2012 - 02:51 PM
Bikes, walkers, and more will benefit. (Photo: DDOT)

Washington, D.C. may be a walkable enough city, but with more cars and bikes than ever, it's hardly a safe pedestrian oasis. Yet the District Department of Transportation wants people to walk more often. To accomplish this, the city has crafted plans for safer pedestrian corridors, with appropriate infrastructure and better commuter education. The city's latest big project hopes to revolutionize how pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable travelers navigate Maryland Avenue NE, specifically in the blocks east of the Union Station Metro and north of Eastern Market, along the Maryland stretch from 2nd Street NE east to 14th Street NE. You can see the relevant area, which includes Stanton Park, mapped here.

"[Maryland's] not a particularly high-crash corridor, but it's really a livability issue," said George Branyan, DDOT's pedestrian program coordinator. "It's a good candidate for some revamping."

And how's that possible? This Maryland Avenue corridor, after all, is estimated to endure 9,000 to 11,000 vehicles passing through every day, many traveling the speed limit of 25 miles/hour and a few racing far faster. Analysis showed a volume of 800 vehicles driving along Maryland during a weekday evening rush hour and suggested that the average speed of cars did fall between 21 and 25 miles/hour. Busy, busy, busy ... and scary for a pedestrian who just wants to cross the street. From 2008 to 2010, there have been an average of around 50 crashes or so a year there. Are there ways that DDOT can transform the corridor and help a congested, risky mess of drivers, cyclists, and walkers?

Yes, says DDOT, and its planners hope to show people how at the Maryland Avenue Corridor Pedestrian Safety Project interactive workshop on Saturday, Jan. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Sherwood Recreation Center, 640 10th Street, NE. Last year the Maryland Avenue meetings attracted about 30 to 35 people, and Branyan imagines a similar turnout if not more. On Monday, his team will visit the neighborhood and hang door hangers to let people know of the coming workshop.

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A Brooklyn artist imagines the D.C. Metro map made out of M&Ms

January 20, 2012 - 10:31 AM
(Concept/photography: Henry Hargreaves; Styling: Sarah Guido)

Henry Hargreaves likes subway maps. What this Brooklyn-based photographer truly understands, however, is that our obsession with transit maps speaks to a broader fondness for the cities, for the metaphor that the maps represent. To honor these maps, Hargreaves and his stylist Sarah Guido created "The Subway Series," a set of photographs in which they recreated subway systems from around the world using different media. He brings the Paris Métro to life with pipe cleaners; Moscow's subway lines are portrayed with yarn; New Year City's system is illustrated with vibrant pieces of ribbon.

And the D.C. Metro? Our city receives the tastiest of treatments from Hargreaves, who recreated our WMATA lines using M&Ms, featured above. Hargreaves started as a pin-up model for fashion houses like Prada and Lacoste before moving to Williamsburg four years ago to start his own studio. "I have been shooting full time ever since," Hargreaves writes on his website, "specializing in both still life and fashion photography." His clients have included GQ, New York, and Ralph Lauren. I conducted a Q&A with Hargreaves to learn more about his work and what motivated him to approach transit in such a creative way.

TBD On Foot: What first inspired your Subway Series and how did you choose how to represent all the different transit systems? When did you first assemble and shoot all these?

Henry Hargreaves: I come from New Zealand so didn't grow up with a mass-transit system like a subway. London was the first place I encountered one and I was really blown away by the scale of it and got such a kick out of riding under a city and popping up right next to your destination. Then studying these maps figuring out how to get somewhere I kind of fell into a trance with the colors and lines that are used to represent a route and how I felt somehow they create a kind of a metaphor of a city.

The idea came to me a few months back to recreate these maps with no stations, just lines out of odd products and see if the patterns out of context would still be associated with the city. Then it was just a matter of scheduling it with my stylist and shopping for the goodies.

On Foot: How many of these subways have you taken a ride on? What’s your impression of the D.C. Metro?

Hargreaves: I have been on all of them. D.C. was many years ago, I remember massive stations, honeycomb-like concrete work inside, and some story about the stations doubling as nuclear shelters (not sure it's that's an urban myth...).

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'Ubers from Last Night' shows us what young, posh Uber fans look like

January 19, 2012 - 01:14 PM
Local Uber riders. (Photo: Uber)

When the D.C. Taxicab Commission threatened Uber's legality last week, the luxury car service struck back hard — but by tapping its fans online and not by talking with the Commission. The service itself is simple enough. You request a car on your smartphone, and pay $15 minimum for what's essentially a classy, tech-savvy cab ride. I wrote about the service's many defenders last Friday, a mix of socialites, transportation enthusiasts, and libertarians who feared our local law stifled innovation.

The defense of Uber spread across many platforms. Twitter users loudly proclaimed themselves with the hashtag #UberDCLove. Uber formed a Facebook group called UberLove (Facebook URL: "saveuber"), taken advantage of an official Uber D.C. Tumblr account to post photos of Uber fans holding up signs with phrases like "Commissioner Linton doesn't care about the people of D.C. #UberDClove" and "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of UBERness," and kept followers informed on its company blog. All of these are wonderful, flashy ways to reach people, consistent with the methods many companies today use to build loyalty and love among their customers.

But I noticed a stranger social media effort of Uber's today, a nationally focused one that I haven't seen people mention much here, but that, if Uber remains in D.C., will likely be talked about all the more. Have you checked out Uber's shadow Tumblr "Ubers from Last Night"?

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Metro employees allegedly steal as much as $150,000 in riders' fares

January 19, 2012 - 10:41 AM
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Oh Jesus, of course this would happen.

"HORACE DEXTER McDADE and JOHN VINCENT HAILE have conspired to steal funds — and indeed, have successfully stolen thousands of dollars — from their employer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority," reads the Eastern District Court affidavit issued by Metro Transit Police Captain Kevin Gaddis yesterday. The crime — "conspiracy to commit theft concerning programs receiving federal funds." Today  United States Attorney Neil H. MacBride is trumpeting the case, which appears to have involved the coordination of MacBride, the FBI, Alexandria police, the Virginia Lottery, and Metro Transit Police to nail the two men, reported to be a Metro revenue technician and transit police officer.

What's especially sad is that both men have worked for WMATA for years, 58-year-old technician McDade since 1979 and 54-year-old transit cop Haile since '97. Is there no loyalty? No consideration of the greater crime against the riders they also serve? I find that transgression, after so many years of service, amazing and hard to stomach.

Also wild to consider is the logistical nightmare of stealing thousands of dollars in coins. I'll grant these alleged thieves one thing. They are committed to the theft. That's a lot of canvass bags full of coins, and they must have been awfully heavy.

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Metro history: A D.C. taxicab killed America's premier CIA-trained cat spy

January 18, 2012 - 04:28 PM
Acoustic Kitty. (Photo: Spycraft: The Secret History)

As if the D.C. Taxicab Commission wasn't already receiving enough heat from the Uber mess, let's turn to a sadder piece of local taxi history — the tale of how our country's multimillion-dollar CIA-trained cat spy died at the wheels of a D.C. taxicab. Today I've already talked about dogs (and about cabs and technology), so it's only fair I bring up felines as well.

The United States began pondering the possibility of cat spies during the Cold War, in the early 1960s, a fact we only learned of in recent years as documents were declassified. The project involved surgically implanting hearing devices inside cats, if you can believe it, and letting the creatures run wild in the vicinity of Very Important People in order to learn state secrets. Even the Soviets had to love cuddling with cats, right? Accounts of the CIA's $25-million Acoustic Kitty project are available throughout the Internet, but one of the more detailed and fun couple pages come from Alan Bellows' book Alien Hand Syndrome in a section called "Cyborg Spy Kitties." He recounts a former CIA agent's description: "They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity."

Yikes. I'll say. My family grew up with multiple cats, and I can't imagine my childhood pet Norman strapped up with all those devices. Sam Stall notes that this CIA-crafted prototype was one of the "100 cats who changed civilization" in his book of the same name.

A half decade passed from the project's start to its first field test in 1966 or '67, according to most reports I've read, but the first big spying attempt did not last long.

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D.C. wants modern, inclusive taxicabs in the year to come

January 18, 2012 - 02:28 PM
Do you accept credit cards? (Photo: flickr/alexbarth)

The District's taxicabs are under a lot of scrutiny these days. One highly publicized comment derides them as "third-world" service, cited yesterday on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. People point to our D.C. cabs as stone age, backwards, and unprofessional. The emotion borders on disgust at times, surprisingly visceral, and has helped propel a government overhaul of the industry. Last month, Mayor Vince Gray, Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, and D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton stood together to announce a major initiative in which all taxis will have credit card readers, GPS tracking, and other modern devices installed within the next year. Yet annoyance at our cabs' purported backwardness has amplified in recent weeks, as people slam the D.C. taxi in their praise of new luxury car service Uber, which comes equipped with smartphone-hailing convenience, credit card readers, and a built-in tip.

And then there's that sense of class, which so many Uber fans emphasize when talking about their fondness for the service. They opt for a professional, smooth ride, and scoff at the idea that they can find that in the District's taxicabs. But D.C. has more than 8,000 cab drivers. Does the overwhelming narrative of terrible taxis capture what's been happening in D.C. throughout the last half decade? Certainly the District's cab service has a long way to go, but do people also miss the advancements taking place?

"Taxi drivers are not the Luddites painted in the press," said Matt Carrington, Taxi Magic's director of communications. "We follow this market very closely. That's not our experience at all."

Like Uber, Taxi Magic is focused on expanding the technology options of our casual cab rides but this company, founded in 2007 in Alexandria, Virginia, has sought to accomplish the mission by working with traditional taxicab fleets rather than offering an entirely new transportation option. People can download the Taxi Magic app and call a cab using their smartphones. The company also helps fleets install credit card readers. Taxi Magic works with seven fleets in the D.C. metro region — D.C. Yellow Cab, Arlington Red Top, Barwood Taxi, Alexandria Yellow Cab, Fairfax Yellow/Red Top, Loudoun Yellow Cab, and Red Top Sedan Service. The company works with close to 30,000 taxis around the country, Carrington told me, in 45 cities and with 75 fleets total. Locally, Taxi Magic records "a few thousand" rides a day from people using the service, and they charge fleets a negotiated price based on the number of rides that they provide. 

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Picture of the day: Beware the dogs of Petworth

January 18, 2012 - 10:02 AM
A serious warning. (Photo: John Hendel)

D.C., perhaps I don't have to tell you that the dogs of Petworth are newsworthy. Perhaps, for instance, you already know this thanks to Adam Serwer's  American Prospect take on "the city divided" that we have in Petworth:

You don't have to look at the buildings or the people in Washington, D.C.'s historically black Petworth neighborhood to see that things have changed. Some say you just need to look at the dogs. "It used to be nothing but pit bulls and Rottweilers around here," says a longtime resident who gives his name as Lattimore Jenkins. He sits on a blue cooler across from a new condominium building. "Now you got them little baby dogs, Jack Russells, Chihuahuas."

What Serwer doesn't tell you is that all these Jack Russells and Chihuahuas can be a pedestrian menace. Yes, you know what I'm talking about. Are these pet owners owners cleaning up after their dogs when they go for walks? The task is necessary and not all that hard. And if you can't do it yourselves, at least three companies in the D.C. metro region offer to do it for you (the names are priceless — "Doodyscoopers"?).

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'Kojo' brings Taxicab Commissioner Linton and Uber together

January 17, 2012 - 12:58 PM
(Photo: Courtesy of The Kojo Show)

Last Friday at close of business, Uber and the D.C. Taxicab Commission hadn't talked to each other once, despite two days of very public tension over accusations that Uber is operating illegally. An Uber car was even impounded and the driver fined extraordinary amounts of money on Friday morning.

How hadn't the two forces talked? I was baffled and talked to both sides trying to figure out why.

In the confusing limbo of the last few days, the debate has continued everywhere, from Slate to DCist to The Atlantic to TechCrunch to Greater Greater Washington. In the last half hour, even, Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert has published another defense of the service, as he asks what the underlying virtue of regulations are. It's a fair enough question. But how would the Commission and Uber hash out the issues? That practical reality has struck me as even more pressing.

Kojo Nnamdi has come to the rescue. D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick are coming together literally right now for The Kojo Nnamdi Show, broadcast on WAMU and available online. Tune in to today's 1 p.m. show to hear a dialogue that seems more than necessary.

Update, 1:24 p.m.: I've been listening to the broadcast so far as Commissioner Linton has explained last Friday's sting, the law as he's interpreting it regarding Uber and its illegality, and clarification on both the taxi fare increases and the proposed legislative overhaul that's dominated the D.C. transportation world in the course of the last month. Sadly, I'm beginning to think that Kojo will not actually be bringing Linton and the Uber CEO into one big conversation ... it's just Linton now, and I fear when the Uber head comes in, it'll also be a one-on-one.

“It happens to be D.C. law," Linton reiterated about the situation with Uber. "D.C. law prescribes that limousines must enter into an advance contract with the passenger.”

But I doubt Uber is quite so receptive to that perspective, which we'll see soon enough. When will a real dialogue begin?

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D.C.'s gas station bill is hardly dead yet

January 17, 2012 - 12:09 PM
(Photo: flickr/brownpau)

The Retail Service Station Amendment Act of 2011, introduced last summer in the D.C. Council by Ward 3 Councilmember and nationally recognized "babe" Mary Cheh, is still alive in 2012. The bill specifically targets the middle men known as "jobbers" — those individuals who distribute gasoline as well as operate gas stations. Does the dual role result in price fixing? Maybe. Two entities, as of now, control about 70% of the gas stations in the District of Columbia. But the question of how this plays out in the District's gas stations has resulted in a long, contentious debate stretching back more than half a year ... and today D.C. Councilmembers even turned to a metaphor of McDonald's and Burger King hamburgers in their discussions.

"This situation is untenable for station operators and can lead to market manipulation on the part of the jobber,” Cheh said to her fellow councilmembers at today's gathering.

"I want to go on the record vigorously opposing this bill," at-large Councilmember Vincent Orange spoke up moments later. "It's not clear this bill would reduce the cost of gas."

Orange has opposed the bill in the past, a reflection of larger opposition from the Washington Post editorial board, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and others. In support of the bill we have a collection of independent gas station operators calling themselves the Coalition for Affordable Gasoline, which has gathered signatures in support of the bill and, as I wrote last week, released a video decrying Joe Mamo, a notorious jobber who operates nearly half of the gas stations in D.C. The coalition partnered with AAA Mid-Atlantic last November.

"Do you have a question?" Council Chairman Kwame Brown interrupted Orange.

The councilmember confirmed he did, and asked what had happened to the D.C. attorney general's purported investigations into jobbers and the work of Mamo.

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A closer look at WMATA's study about regional Metro benefits

January 17, 2012 - 10:30 AM
(Photo: Jay Westcott)

Last fall, Metro announced a new report: "Making the Case for Transit: WMATA Regional Benefits of Transit," the abstract of which was then available online. You may remember this as the "imagine there's no Metro" report. Or perhaps you were fixated on the cost, reported at $200,000 at the time. Sixteen cents per rider. Some critics of WMATA still point to that report as a ridiculous sign of Metro waste. Others suggested it was a foolish exercise for WMATA to go around envisioning scenarios in which it didn't exist.

I defended the report in mid-December. Quantitative analysis like this does cost money and enumerating the capital benefits of transit is a sure way for WMATA to acquire more money from the different local and federal governments, among other stakeholders. To break down these benefits is a sign that WMATA is, as people have long requested, committed to a better understanding of their system and a strategic understanding as well as undertaking.

Now in January, I've begun to look over a copy of the full WMATA report on regional benefits, 67 pages that break down the regional benefits rather than the few pages of the abstract we saw before.

One thing that stands out to me now is how many partners WMATA brought in to help conduct and review this study, "a group of outside experts and stakeholders" that "held three meetings over the course of the study to suggest benefits metrics and methodologies, define and select benefits metrics, review and provide feedback to the study, and disseminate the results." The steering committee reinforces the credibility of this report, I'll suggest, and points to something deeper and much more serious than back-patting PR. These WMATA partner organizations included:

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Walking it back: Uber transportation panic hits D.C.

January 16, 2012 - 11:05 AM
(Photo: Ben Schumin)

Welcome to the three-day weekend, D.C.! I hope you're enjoying the Monday that so many of you have off work. The District isn't paying attention to the parking meters, and the sun is out shining. The past week has been a busy one, however, full of transportation news, and you should get up to speed before returning to work again Tuesday morning.

What's been occupying people's minds? Here's a review of the biggest transportation stories of the past week:

• How could two days have gone by without legally-in-limbo luxury car service Uber and the D.C. Taxicab Commission talking last week? I asked that question at the close of business Friday after talking to Uber D.C. GM Rachel Holt and Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton.

• Taxicab Commissioner Linton had first accused Uber of operating "illegally" on Wednesday and said the company "will be dealt with," I reported.

• Meanwhile, Uber ramped up massive support with a social media campaign. Let's look at some of the voices who have risen to defend the costly new transportation option, now a month old in the District.

• Last Sunday, Metro riders ditched their pants as part of the internationally celebrated No Pants Subway Ride. I joined them and presented these 33 photos of the spectacle.

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Uber's legality will be up to the D.C. attorney general

January 13, 2012 - 05:15 PM
(Photo: Ron Linton)

The head of the D.C. Taxicab Commission is, for some of our city's residents, a controversial figure. Why? Ron Linton attacked the beloved luxury car service Uber, which debuted in the District last month. Earlier today I wrote about the company's superfans, a mix of socialites and transportation fanatics. One even posted Linton's cell phone number, asking Uber fans to let the commissioner know how they felt about the $15 minimum car service.

How do we know it's his cell phone number? I called him.

"I just had my first call," Linton told me. The Uber fan apparently hadn't even had the courage to stay on the line with him. The person simply praised Uber, insulted Linton, and hung up. Much of the emotion and anger at him, Linton said, seems "based upon a lot of ignorance about what it's all about."

Ron Linton is not happy with the way things have been going and the response to it lately. He says it's not a question of the Taxicab Commission regulations, even — "I have to enforce these laws," he said this afternoon. The law concerning limousines prescribes against charging a mileage-based rate, according to Linton, and is the basis for Uber's legal issues. He publicly decried the company as "illegal" on Wednesday, today conducted a sting operation against one of the Uber drivers, and plans a bigger move next.

"We're turning the matter over to the attorney general," Linton told me.

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D.C. Uber superfans hope to save pricey car service, crucify Ron Linton

January 13, 2012 - 02:29 PM
(Photo: Courtesy of Uber)

Say what you will about Uber, its customer service, or its legality, but the luxury car service, available in D.C. for the past month, has a freakily passionate set of fans. This week, the D.C.Taxicab Commissioner called Uber's operations "illegal" and said the company "will be dealt with." Uber has, Linton alleges, failed to comply with government regulations that would be appropriate for the service. This morning, Mike DeBonis and DCist share accounts of Commissioner Ron Linton's sting operation against an Uber driver who now faces more than $1,000 in tickets.

Mere hours after Linton first questioned Uber's legality, Uber's D.C. team pivoted into a full-throated defense of its services by asking fans to share their love. They also gave birth to a hashtag: #UberDCLove.

Scores have responded with outrage and sympathy for the luxury car service, which costs a minimum of $15 a trip and often more. The level of response and depth of passion amazes me. Why do people love Uber? One Uber rider told me that customer service is a "lost art" and that it's refreshing to see a company offer a classy, truly enjoyable riding experience. Others point, angrily, to how this customer service contrasts with D.C.'s taxi companies, which they slam as rude and antiquated.

But who are these vocal Uber riders, so passionate after the service's month-old introduction? Uber's real defenders comprise a mix of socialites, transportation fanatics, and libertarians.

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Metro now wants to replace far more escalators, not just rehab them

January 13, 2012 - 10:37 AM
(Photo: Erik Wemple)

Yesterday the Metro Board met again, and as I listened and pondered and heard back and forth on any number of topics, most struck me as more of the same with the exception of one enormous thing — Metro's changed its strategy regarding how to fix its escalators. WMATA is hashing out its final budget, which includes the frustrating provision to raise fares and calls for 1,000 new Metro employees as the transit system expands.

In the past, WMATA had announced that it would be mostly rehabbing old, semi-functional escalators and replacing a select few, such as ones at Dupont Circle Metro station's southern entrance that are about to close for more than eight months. But now that's changed. Here's what you should know about how Metro is changing up its escalator strategy.

"We've come to the conclusion that we're better off replacing more and rehabilitating fewer," WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles told the Metro Board yesterday. He said it makes more sense from a technical standpoint to straight-up replace many of the old escalators.

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Stomp, clap: Meet Southwest's 'coolest flight attendant' ever (video)

January 12, 2012 - 03:48 PM
(Photo: YouTube/Shabbooo7)

Travel always benefits from lively transportation employees, whether on trains, planes, buses, or elsewhere. I think of the hilarious Metro conductor on the Orange Line who cracks up commuters with his commands to spread out (WJLA recently discovered the man is Lamore Rogers).  Another transportation superstar emerged in 2009, and this entertainer is an employee of Southwest Airlines. Post columnist Gene Weingarten just tweeted the following video that celebrates "the world's coolest flight attendant," a singing, clapping, and undeniably fun man named David. He delivers the most memorable flight announcement I've ever seen..

"I've had five flights today," Dave tells the plane's passengers, "and I just cannot do the regular boring announcement again or otherwise I'll just put myself to sleep. So you guys with me? All right. So give me a stomp, clap, stomp, clap ... Stay on beat there!"

And then an astonishing, wonderful flight announcement rap begins. The video has apparently made the rounds on Reddit, which hardly surprises me. This is simply terrific and, in the name of entertaining transportation moments, I wanted you experience the announcement, too. Brighten up your Thursday and watch the video here:

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Capital Bikeshare's riders may fit our exact stereotype of D.C. bicyclists

January 12, 2012 - 12:57 PM
Just riding. (Photo: flickr/ericfischer)

Virginia Tech has released a study on Capital Bikeshare that most biking fanatics will enjoy, as the League of American Bicyclists noted yesterday. The 49-page document is called "Capital Bikeshare Study: A Closer Look at Casual Users and Operations" and was prepared by close to a dozen VT Urban and Regional Planning program grad students as well as Professor Ralph Buehler, an experienced transportation researcher. Our expanding Capital Bikeshare offers 1,100 bikes at 130 stations and, now in its second year, trumpets more than a million rides.

The new January report collects and presents a lot of data, some new and some less examined. What I absolutely loved were the many colorful charts of the Capital Bikeshare demographics, the data drawn from the census, researcher surveys, and Capital Bikeshare statistics — and a study of the numbers suggests that our city's common assumptions about who does and doesn't bike and uses bikeshare may be correct, after all.

Back in her August cover story, the City Paper's Alex Baca offered a keen look at the image problems surrounding the bike in the District. She sets up and then punches holes in our casual notion of what a District bicyclist looks like. She writes that the bicyclist has "come to signify for so many D.C. residents a very specific caricature: the rich, white, gentrifying newcomer," with the bike lanes and other infrastructure ostensibly a product of the former Mayor Adrian Fenty's sensibilities. Baca carves into these notions as lazy and often false: "Like any stereotype, it has holes when you examine it closely." And certainly, she's correct in many ways, as her reporting shows; no stereotype is absolutely true, and there are many examples that don't fit the lazy, hyped idea of a bicyclist. Just look to Veronica Davis's Black Women Bike club, as Baca herself does.

But does data refute the stereotype? Despite the egalitarian nature of the bike, the statistics create the exact picture of a bicyclist that Baca attempts to puncture.

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Metro history: When the Motor Maids rode to D.C.

January 12, 2012 - 10:22 AM
But where are their bikes? (Photo: Courtesy of American Motorcyclist)

Motorcycles, let it be known, are not for men alone.

Enter the Motor Maids, a band of female motorcyclists that formed more than 70 years ago. They defied the gender expectations of motorcycles, which in the years after the group's formation became associated with rougher men like the Hell's Angels of California. But women wanted to ride and made themselves known, gender gap be damned. The 72-year-old club is still alive and well today in 2012 with about 12,000, and you can visit its website here. But for the group's 20th anniversary, the Motor Maids decided to convene in America's capital of Washington, D.C.

The Motor Maids describe their early history as follows:

In the late 30’s, a young woman motorcycle enthusiast named Linda Dugeau of Providence , Rhode Island , conceived the idea that there might be a number of women who owned their own motorcycles and might be interested in becoming acquainted with one another. Linda wrote to dealers, riders and anyone she thought might know of women motorcycle riders. After this extensive search, she compiled a list from which the Motor Maid organization was founded with 51 Charter members in 1940. The American Motorcycle Association Charter #509 was issued to the club in 1941. Dot Robinson of Detroit, Michigan, was appointed the first President.

The Motor Maids continued to grow, and by 1960, Dot Robinson brought her riders to Washington, D.C. for the 20th convention, a visit recounted in August 1960 issue of American Motorcyclist.

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Our D.C. taxicab industry is wearing Ron Linton down

January 11, 2012 - 05:05 PM
(Photo: John Hendel)

More than a hundred taxicab drivers piled their way into One Judiciary Square this morning. Perhaps closer to two hundred. I've reported on the D.C. Taxicab Commission's hearings in the past, yet at the October session on cab passengers who dodge paying the fare, I recall fewer than a dozen or so people. But anger's built. Taxicab drivers are concerned — about fare increases, about the vast modernizing overhaul that Mayor Vince Gray has proposed, about the nature of the dialogue between drivers and authority. And today they were ready to speak.

Upon first arriving at One Judiciary Square a little after 10 a.m., I saw a long line of drivers snaking out toward the front door, 40 or 50 men and some women waiting to get it in. We all needed to pass through security. "Sweet Jesus," one man muttered when his elevator opened to reveal the sight.

Another man entered the line behind me but knew nothing of the Commission's hearing that was already happening beyond the security line. "What is this?" he asked me. "Some kind of demonstration?"

I told him what was happening.

He laughed. "That's why I couldn't catch a cab! Looks like all of Africa's in here."

Inside the chambers the mood grew quickly fast. At question was the set of changes announced last month, raising the per-mile rate from $1.50 to $2.16 and eliminating many surcharges, among other small changes and requirements. They'll take effect as soon as February. But today, with a couple hundred taxi drivers, what again emerged was the outrageous friction that divides Commissioner Linton, appointed earlier this year, and the host of drivers he oversees. Linton is an older man, in his 80s and stocky and generally giving off a formal, patient demeanor, but today stretched the man. Here's what he looks like. The Chambers were packed, standing room only, and all eyes penetrated Linton for more than two hours.

Chocolate strawberries
Entry line. (Photo: John Hendel)

"I don’t care what you think of the individuals up here," Linton told a concerned driver halfway through the hearing, his own face a hard frown at this point. "I didn’t ask for this job … But I want to demand respect for the Commission as an instrument for the people of the District of Columbia.”

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Is fancy cab service Uber operating illegally? Yes, says D.C.'s taxicab commish

January 11, 2012 - 10:55 AM
The new service in question. (Photo: Courtesy of Uber)

Scores upon scores of unhappy taxi drivers fill the Old Council Chambers this morning. The concerns are legion — and we'll talk about those soon enough. But first, a fascinating and staggering little exchange just occurred between D.C. Taxicab Commissioner Ron Linton and one of the drivers at today's 10 a.m. hearing.

One taxicab driver brought up the new service called Uber, the expensive upmarket cab service that positions itself as "everyone's private driver" and a tech-smart alternative to the District's taxis. Trips in D.C. cost riders $15 minimum and sometimes far more. Uber has received much national press and now offers service in several cities across the U.S. I wrote about its arrival in our city back on Dec. 15.

The cab driver was concerned about how Uber was operating and pointed out the starting mileage rate of more than $3.

But this morning, Linton just declared that the fancy new service, now in the District for under two months, is operating illegally.

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