Greater Greater Washington

Bikes in the snow in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

The National Mall. Photo by Payton Chung.

Photo by Clif Burns.

Yards Park. Photo by Rob Cannon.

Rosslyn. Photo by Brian Allen.

Union Station. Photo by Mark Andre.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

The Dutch government is trolling DC over marijuana, bike lanes, and streetcars

As marijuana legalization took effect in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC would "not become like Amsterdam." We talked about the differences yesterday, including on bicycling and transit, but the Embassy of the Netherlands has playfully responded with this infographic comparing our two capital cities.

Image from the Embassy of the Netherlands. Really.

The embassy also created a Q&A comparing marijuana laws in the two cities. But bicycling and transit supporters might focus more on the bike lane and streetcar disparities. That "(almost)" hurts. Low blow, Netherlands.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

How two families dealt with Metro problems and other transportation options in the snow

There was track work on the Red Line last weekend, and as it turned out, a smoke incident as well. Both Mitch Wander and David Alpert were riding the Red Line, and the experiences yielded plenty of examples of the bad and the good of Metro and other transportation choices.

A family (not Mitch's or David's) in the snow. Photo by Amber Wilkie on Flickr.

Mitch says, "My son and I considered car2go or Uber for an early morning trip from Glover Park to Catholic University. Uber had surge pricing in effect, likely because there were few cars on the road, but there were two nearby cars2go. We walked to the first only to find it parked on a patch of ice and on a hill. But the second one fit the bill."

Meanwhile, David and his daughter were going to Tenleytown. He says, "We've mostly given up on using Metro on weekends when there's track work (and often, sadly, even when there's not). But we didn't want to drive back in a major snowstorm, so we tried the Red Line even though the Metro website said service was only running every 20 minutes.

"We just missed a train to Shady Grove by a few seconds, but fortunately, though the website didn't mention this, there were some extra trains just from Dupont to Shady Grove (and from Judiciary Square to Glenmont), one of which pulled in shortly after."

The snowstorm begins

By the time both families were coming back, the snow was coming down heavily.

There were nearly two inches of snow on the ground when Mitch and his son left Catholic University just before noon. He says, "I overruled my son's suggestion to use car2go again. Instead, we decided to take Metro to Tenleytown and either take Metrobus or get a ride from my wife home.

"We walked to the Brookland-CUA Metro station. The first train arrived but the conductor announced that the train would go out of service at Judiciary Square without explaining why. We waited for the next train which continued downtown.

"At Dupont Circle, the train stopped with doors open for several minutes. There were still no announcements, but Twitter showed photos of smoke at the Woodley Park station."

"My son and I left, as did a few other passengers I informed about the problem. People by the bus stop said that the D2 had not been running for 45 minutes, so after trying to walk a few blocks, we decided to use Uber despite the 1.7x surge pricing. A car arrived within 10 minutes."

Another Metro delay compounds problems

David and his daughter left a little later, at 12:30. It was difficult to even push a stroller two blocks up a small hill to the Metro along sidewalks with fresh snow. This was not a time to be driving.

"Another 'special' train pulled in right as they got to the platform, which I knew wouldn't go through downtown, but he initially assumed it would reach Dupont before turning. However, it instead went out of service at Woodley Park. The conductor also did not explain why; I guessed that perhaps the train was going to wait in the pocket track before going to Dupont, though it also could have related to the smoke which I didn't yet know about.

"The conductor announced that another train was 20 minutes behind, and the signs confirmed this. This seemed odd since the wait between through trains was supposed to be 20 minutes, and the special was surely in between. Nonetheless, we settled in for a wait. Since mobile phone service works in Woodley Park, they were able to play music and watch videos.

"However, 20 minutes later, there was no train,though multiple trains had passed outbound. The top 'Glenmont' line on the digital displays showed a blank space instead of a time estimate. Eventually, the station manager announced that there was a disabled train at Friendship Heights.

Photo by David Alpert.

"I considered bailing on Metro, but my daughter is too small to ride in a car2go or an Uber without a carseat. There were no Uber vehicles with carseats available at all, according to the app, even at a surge rate.

"The platform had grown quite crowded at this point. Fortunately, Metro sent an empty special train in the opposite direction to pick up waiting passengers (even though, as Twitter showed, having a train pass by without picking them up annoyed some people waiting at Dupont Circle).

"An employee arrived on the platform and told people that a train would come within 15 minutes. And it did. The total trip ended up taking about an hour."

What can we learn from this story? There are a few conclusions we can draw:

Travelers have so many options, which is terrific. Mitch and his son used three modes of transportation (car2go, Metroail, and Uber) and considered two others (Metrobus and private car). He says, "I think my son takes for granted that we can seamlessly jump from one transportation option to another." If one mode is struggling, as Metrorail did, many people can opt to switch.

Modern technology is extremely helpful to compare options. It wouldn't have been possible to find out about the smoke so quickly or evaluate as many choices without today's smartphones, apps, and social media. We didn't have these options or this timely, decentralized information even just a few years ago, and it's transformed mobility.

Metro still can do far, far more to communicate about outages. Neither Mitch nor David knew about the short-turning special trains before riding one, and the website didn't talk about them. Some train announcements are hard to understand because of bad equipment and/or train operators who mumble through their explanations.

The following day, David and his daughter rode the Metro again, and when arriving at Dupont on a special train which was turning around, he overheard a rider saying, "I don't understand how this system works." People get confused and frustrated during planned or unplanned disruptions. Communication wouldn't stop all frustration, but could stop the confusion and reduce anger.

We're still lucky to have Metro even despite all its problems (which are many). Even though it took an hour to get from Tenleytown to Dupont Circle, that was better than trying to drive. Buses were not running. Walking was out of the question. Underground trains had a lot of problems, but they still worked. Maybe that's not much to be happy about, but people in most cities and even most parts of our region don't even have that.

Cities worldwide are building beautiful, landmark pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Could Georgetown be next?

A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge may one day connect Georgetown with Roosevelt Island. Some recent bridges like this in other cities have become iconic landmarks. Could DC do the same and compensate for its freqently lackluster bridge designs? Here are a few of the world's great pedestrian bridges.

London's Millennium Bridge. Photo by Dominik Morbitzer on Flickr.

Such a bridge was part of Georgetown's recent 15-year action plan and made it into DC's MoveDC citywide transportation plan last year.

Where the bridge could go. Image from the Georgetown BID.

Many cities have built new bridges as opportunities to showcase distinctive design while adding vital pedestrian links. The London Borough of Wandsworth is sponsoring a design competition right now for a new footbridge across the Thames.

Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed the glass-floored Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California.

The Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. Photo by David W Oliver on Flickr.

Photo by dwhartwig on Flickr.

London's Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 to bridge the Thames between the Tate Modern to St. Paul's Cathedral. The bridge is tall enough to allow river navigation, but short enough not to obstruct the historically protected view corridor of the cathedral.

Photo by Duen Ee Chan on Flickr.

Photo by andre.m(eye)r.vitali on Flickr.

The Simone de Beauvoir Footbridge has been undulating across the Seine in Paris since 2006.

Photo by Tim Brown Architecture on Flickr.

Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz on Flickr.

The crescent Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, tilts back to allow ships to pass.

Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.

Photo by Martin Sotirov on Flickr.

The Henderson Waves bridge soars 120 feet over a valley in the Southern Ridges park of Singapore. The bridge deck provides shade and seating areas to view the park valley.

Photo by edwin.11 on Flickr.

Photo by Steel Wool on Flickr.

Although it spans a relatively short distance, Sarajevo's Festina Lente Bridge features a playful loop that shades a seating area midway across the bridge.

Photo by the author.

Could one of these bridges come to DC?

Such a connection would provide many advantages. Although the island is inside the boundaries of the District of Columbia, visitors can only access it from Virginia. Visiting the island requires a half-mile walk or bike ride from Rosslyn down the Mount Vernon Trail. There's a small parking lot on the Virginia shore, but it fills up quickly on warm weekends, and drivers can only reach it from the northbound GW Parkway.

A bridge from Georgetown would give District residents and visitors easier access to this wooded and marshy parkland, which serves as a stark contrast to the dense urbanization of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.

The view from Georgetown Waterfront Park. Image by the author.

Georgetown Waterfront Park (left) and Roosevelt Island (right) as viewed from the Key Bridge. Image by the author.

There isn't money for the bridge today. MoveDC lists the bridge as a second-tier priority, meaning it is not within DC's six-year capital plan. DDOT planner Colleen Hawkinson said external factors, such as outside funding or public support, could shift the bridge's priority.

Even if funding arises, multiple federal agencies will have to act. The National Park Service controls the island and would have to agree to any changes. MoveDC classifies the bridge as a bicycle transportation project, but the National Park Service, which controls the island, prohibits cycling there. The National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts, which are providing advice on the Frederick Douglass Bridge replacement, would play a strong role in reviewing designs.

Any project will require an environmental analysis which could take years (one for a proposed boathouse on Park Service land on the Arlington shore of the Potomac is dragging on into its third year, for example). If the bridge does come to fruition, it will be years away, but it would be a major asset to help people enjoy and appreciate the Potomac River.

Breakfast links: Transit tactics

Photo by Kevin Harber on Flickr.
Service saved?: The WMATA Board rejected a fare increase and most proposed service cuts, but kept some cuts to bus service. Instead, WMATA will cut some administrative costs and use capital funds for operations to address the budget shortfall. (Post)

Addicted to Koch: Maryland lawmakers questioned new MDOT chief Pete Rahn on a suspicious highway contract he awarded to Koch Industries. Rahn later backed out of speaking at a Purple Line debate with Koch-funded Randal O'Toole. (Streetsblog)

Landlords make the rules: Marijuana possession and use is now legal in DC, but that doesn't mean your landlord has to allow it. Landlords can set their own policies on marijuana use and cultivation in their buildings. (WBJ)

Local progress, national setback: Nationally, the number of pedestrians killed in car crashes is holding steady even as the total number of crash deaths decreases. In the region, pedestrian deaths fell marginally from 2013 to 2014. (Post)

Uber strikes a deal: Uber and Maryland reached an agreement to allow the company to continue operating its black car and SUV services. Uber will now be subject to state regulations for sedans and limousines. (Post)

On the patrol: Amtrak's Ice Patrol knocks down icicles in New York tunnels to keep commuter trains running smoothly. The icicles can fall and knock out power. (NYT)

Ancient cities: Cities today are surprisingly similar to ancient cities. Populations tend to cluster in dense areas, and productivity often outpaces population growth, suggesting that density has always been the driver of success. (Smithsonian)

And...: Residents want to see improvements on the Palisades Trolley Trail. (TheWashCycle) ... New sidewalks that are coming to Upper Marlboro should improve safety and walkability. (Gazette) ... This map shows where llamas live in the US. (Post)

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Circling the answers to whichWMATA week 40

This week's whichWMATA, the fortieth, had a theme: All of the stations have shapes in their names. How well did you do?

We got 28 guesses this week. Four of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, Rich Frangiamore, FN, and Mr. Johnson! Joey and Chris H also correctly identified the theme, but didn't get all five correct.

Image 1: Dupont Circle

Of Metro's 91 stations, eight have shapes in their names. There's one circle, one triangle, four squares, and two pentagons. I also tried to take photos that featured geometric shapes as well.

The first picture shows the broad bowl that's home to the northern (Q Street) escalators at Dupont Circle station. The circular rim and pit is itself unique within the Metro system. But another distinguishing feature is the inscription around the rim, which Metro installed in 2007. The words are an excerpt from Walt Whitman's poem The Wound Dresser. Every person got this one right, all 28 of you. Great work!

Image 2: Federal Triangle

The next image shows the street escalators at Federal Triangle. Several of you confused this with Union Station, but this entrance is significantly different. For one, there are three side-by-side escalators here. Union Station has just two, and they're separated. Additionally, at Union Station, the escalators face the wall of the station, not the exterior. In this case, the light is streaming in from the courtyard (opposite 12th Street). Just over half of you—16—guessed correctly.

Image 3: Mount Vernon Square

When I went to Mount Vernon Square last week to collect pictures for this series, I didn't intend to capture this angle, which is directly above the street escalators and stair. But the sharp triangle fit with the set so well, I couldn't not snap a shot. The superstructure is part of the Convention Center, and stands over the entrance on the southwest corner of 7th and M Streets NW.

I expected this one to be a stretch, but if you'd sussed out the theme you should have been able to narrow this down to one of four stations. This was the hardest of the set, garnering only five correct answers. Two people guessed a different "square" station.

Image 4: Virginia Square

The fourth image is another square. It's Virginia Square, to be precise, which heretofore was the only station in Virginia we hadn't featured. If you had figured out the theme, you probably knew that the building at left doesn't fit around any of the DC "square" stations, and this is the only "square" outside of the District. It's clearly a residential building (with balconies) and is of the style typical of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.

The other icon is the clock tower visible through the escalator canopy, which a surprising number of you seemed to recognize on its own. Sixteen people knew this was Virginia Square.

Image 5: Pentagon City

The final image shows an unused entrance to Pentagon City. When the station was built, in addition to the entrances on either side of Hayes Street south of 12th Street (and a direct entrance into the mall), a tunnel ran over to the northeast corner. At some point, however, that tunnel closed. But the entrance is behind a set of glass doors immediately opposite the faregates. There are four porthole-shaped windows along the passage, which are the subject of this photo.

In keeping with the theme, they're also a geometric shape. They're the only real clue to this image, but they're a very distinct and easily-visible feature of Pentagon City station since they're straight ahead as you exit the faregates. Nine of you figured this one out.

I expected many people to get Dupont Circle, Federal Triangle, and Pentagon City, since those stations are well-used and fairly distinct. I hoped that knowing there was a theme would help people figure out the two "square" stations.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

DCPS wants to focus on boys of color, but some say that's unfair and illegal

DC Public Schools is launching a new initiative that will focus on males of color, but some critics say the plan is unfair to black and Latino girls, and possibly illegal.

As part of its Empowering Males of Color initiative, DCPS plans to recruit 500 volunteer tutors for black and Latino males. It will also award grants to schools that devise their own programs to help those students. And, in its flashiest move, in the fall of 2016 it will open a new boys-only high school east of the Anacostia River.

After DCPS unveiled its plans with great fanfare a few weeks ago, Councilmember Mary Cheh sent a letter to DC Attorney General Karl Racine, asking for an opinion on whether the planned $20 million initiative would violate DC or federal anti-discrimination laws. And this week the ACLU of the National Capital Area wrote to Mayor Muriel Bowser raising the same question.

Three other councilmembers are defending EMOC, citing statistics showing that black and Latino boys lag behind white students on many academic measures. Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson have chimed in to defend the initiative as well.

Cheh doesn't dispute that boys of color have it worse than white students. But she and the ACLU-NCA say that black and Latino girls face problems just as serious as their male counterparts.

The DCPS initiative is part of a broader movement focusing on black and Latino males. Last year, President Obama announced a program called My Brother's Keeper designed to improve the lives of minority boys. Sixty urban school districts have joined the effort.

Critics say girls of color have it just as bad

But, like Cheh and the ACLU, some observers have questioned why the initiative targets only males. They argue that minority girls also live in poverty, come from single-parent homes, drop out of school in large numbers, and get arrested. Not only that, they say, girls of color face high rates of sexual assault and are at risk for teen pregnancy.

And a recent study suggests that school discipline affects black girls more disproportionately than their male counterparts. Across the country, black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls, according to the study. Black boys are only three times more likely to be suspended than white boys.

Still, it's clear that in some ways black and Latino males fare worse than their female counterparts. Within DCPS, test scores and attendance rates are lower, particularly for black boys. More broadly, incarceration rates are higher for black and Latino men, and fewer of them enroll in college.

Perhaps, as a matter of policy, those statistics do warrant a special focus on males of color. But do they justify a boys-only high school?

"Studies show that separating boys and girls does not improve academic performance," wrote the ACLU-NCA's executive director, Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, in the letter to Bowser. "It simply increases gender stereotyping."

Single-sex schools raise special legal issues

Still, some maintain that single-sex environments actually help break down gender stereotypes, and you could argue that DC should be able to experiment even in the absence of hard data. But there may be legal obstacles to doing that.

In defending the initiative, Councilmember David Grosso argued that lots of government programs target funds to populations with particular needs, such as low-income students and those with learning disabilities. "The EMOC initiative, in my opinion, is no different," he said.

But in the eyes of the law, the EMOC initiative actually is different. That's because the Constitution, and the federal law referred to as Title IX, impose special restrictions on the government when it discriminates on the basis of gender.

Federal regulations interpreting Title IX say that school districts offering single-sex schools have to provide a substantially equal school to the excluded gender. That doesn't mean DCPS would have to set up an all-girls school, but it's not clear that it could even offer a coed equivalent to the urban prep school it's planning.

And the Title IX regulations aren't the last word. There's also the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has relied on that provision to require an all-female nursing school to admit men and an all-male military school to admit women. But it hasn't ruled on the question in 20 years, and it's far from clear how it would come out on a school like the one DC is planning.

In fact, these days there are many single-sex public schools—particularly charter schools—operating across the country. DC has an all-girls charter school, and until recently it had one that was all-boys.

But, says the ACLU's Hopkins-Maxwell, the fact that single-sex public schools exist doesn't mean they're legal. It just means no one has challenged them yet. The ACLU has challenged a number of single-sex programs around the country, but it doesn't have the resources to challenge them all.

Single-sex classes could be a problem too

In addition to single-sex schools, the ACLU has focused nationally on single-sex classes within coed public schools, which are actually regulated more closely than single-sex schools.

Under Title IX, a school must provide a rationale for the single-sex class, ensure that enrollment is voluntary, offer a coed class in the same subject, and avoid gender stereotyping. Every two years, the school must conduct a review to ensure that the rationale is still valid.

There are a number of public schools with single-sex classes in the DC area. While they don't necessarily reinforce stereotypes, I happened to visit one DCPS elementary school that had such classes, and I noticed that schedules for boys appeared in blue and those for girls in pink.

A spokesperson for DCPS failed to respond to questions about how many other single-sex classes the system offers and whether the district is complying with the federal regulations that govern them.

The EMOC initiative has attracted a lot of attention, and whatever its merits it makes sense to get an opinion on its legality before investing millions of dollars in it. But perhaps someone should look into whether DCPS is already in danger of violating Title IX because of its single-sex classes.

A map of Montgomery County's rapid transit future

The Purple Line may dominate recent headlines, but Montgomery County's 81-mile, 115-station Bus Rapid Transit proposal also has tremendous potential. Here's what the future network might look like.

Map by Peter Dovak.

The BRT network would create a vast web of ten major corridors stretching across the county. That may be a bit harder to wrap your head around than simple one-line proposals like the Purple Line, so we've put together this map based on Communities for Transit's diagram of the network.

The map also shows the the Corridor Cities Transitway, a BRT line which has been in planning longer than the larger countywide BRT network; the Purple Line light rail; and existing rail transit in the form of the Metro Red Line and MARC Brunswick line.

Combined together into one map, you can get a glimpse of just how great Montgomery County's transit future could be, extending the reach of the Metro with a connection at every Red Line station, including two long-desired links between the eastern and western halves of the line, connecting Wheaton to Rockville and Glenmont to White Flint.

To make this work, Montgomery County has to avoid "BRT creep" and stick by its plans to give routes dedicated lanes. There will be tremendous pressure to cut corners, and already some segments of the plan don't have dedicated lanes. On the map, those appear with a hollow line instead of a solid one.

The maps shows the lines continuing into DC. The current plans don't include the District, but officials have started talking about ways to make the lines reach Metro stations in DC or go all the way downtown. The county also cut back the line on Wisconsin Avenue to end at Bethesda following resident objections, but it could span that section again if and when the line can continue farther, such as to Georgetown.

DC like Amsterdam? We can only hope

According to yesterday's Express, DC is starting to look a lot like Amsterdam, and not just because of marijuana. That's fantastic if true.

The top of yesterday's Express story.

Among the reasons the Express cites for DC's Amsterdamization are increasing bicycle use, the appearance of streetcars, and Georgetown's improving C&O Canal.

Amsterdam is one of the world's great bicycling and streetcar cities. It's a joy to travel along its extensive bikeways, and even lanes where cars are allowed are amazingly bike friendly. And Amsterdam's huge streetcar network (with streetcars in both dedicated lanes and mixed traffic) is a case study in successful urban transit.

DC's nascent bikeway and streetcar networks pale in comparison, but Amsterdam is a superb model for us to aspire towards.

And while it's true that we can never hope to have as many canals (short of a disastrous global warming-induced flood), we can at least ponder what might have been had the history of Constitution Avenue turned out differently.

Even more similarities

Transportation and canals aside, Amsterdam's overall urban design is actually incredibly similar to DC's. We're both predominantly rowhouse cities, with plenty of brick. Even our street grids are similar: Amsterdam has a relatively small core with twisty medieval streets, but for the most part it's a city of straight streets and radial avenues just like DC.

These scenes from Amsterdam wouldn't look all that out of place in Dupont Circle, U Street, or Adams Morgan, apart from how little street space goes to cars.

Amsterdam, but could be DC. Photos by the author.

Admittedly, Amsterdam beats DC in a lot of ways. But it's not Paris or Hong Kong, not so thoroughly alien. And DC is not Las Vegas. Amsterdam and DC aren't identical, but we're the same species of city, which means Amsterdam is better in ways that DC can practically emulate.

Plus, we've got Amsterdam Falafelshop.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Breakfast links: Smoke pot in the snow

Photo by Torben Hansen on Flickr.
Marijuana is legal: Marijuana is now legal in the District, despite threats from members of Congress. Although it is legal to possess up to two ounces, you can't sell it or consume it in a public space. (Huffington Post, POPville)

Confusion: DCPS says it's open with a 2-hour delay, but @Metrobusinfo was insisting the schools are closed and saying there wouldn't be buses to school until later correcting the mistake. (Twitter)

Necessary bike lanes: Bethesda residents asked for a sidewalk along Bradley Boulevard, but when the county provided a wider plan with a sidepath, bike lanes, and rain gardens, residents weren't pleased. (BethesdaNow)

Break up with Bikeshare?: Should you renew your Capital Bikeshare membership or "break up"? Gear Prudence advises a reader to "just be friends" with a Daily Key. Also, to remember the zone where you can't bike on the sidewalk, remember the phrase, "Pedestrians will be SoMaD." (City Paper)

A new kind of bus: Bridj is planning to launch service in DC. The company provides point to point bus service based on census data, social media, and where there's less existing transit service. (Washingtonian)

Cold never bothered them anyway: Edmonton, Alberta is considering building an 11-kilometer "freezeway" so residents could commute by ice skating. The frosty design has many opponents, one calling it "the stupidest idea I've heard." (BBC, LEW)

Girls, become transportation engineers!: The teams that created AASHTO bike infrastructure standards were 91 and 97% male and didn't prioritize infrastructure that makes women feel safe. Bus shelters and bike cages with only one exit are another consequence of missing women's voices in infrastructure design. (Governing)

Too little housing: Washington is the 6th most expensive US metro area to own a home; you must make over $77,000 a year to afford homeownership. ... Even with more homes on the market, there are still too few to meet demand. (Next City, UrbanTurf)

And...: Here are the region's worst merge lanes. (WTOP) ... Children in Indian slums are mapping their communities. ... London is setting aside $140 million to expand bikeshare into the suburbs, the largest municipal bike investment in European history. (Streetsblog)

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