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A “no cellphones” express walking lane appeared on a DC sidewalk. What’s the story?

A curious thing appeared on a downtown DC sidewalk this week: Dedicated lanes for pedestrians talking on cellphones, with an express lane to the side for everyone else.

Photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.

The lanes aren’t a half-baked experiment from DDOT. They’re actually a stunt from National Geographic.

National Geographic workers added the sidewalk lanes, with permission from DDOT, to film people’s reactions for an upcoming TV show about human behavior.

Film crews recorded pedestrians’ reactions for several hours yesterday. The most common reaction seemed to be curiosity, but according to Yahoo! Tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, the new lanes did inspire many people to move to one side or the other.

The sidewalk lanes are marked on the 1000 block of 18th Street NW, between K Street and L Street.

This might have drawn inspiration from a “tourist lane” New York-based group Improv Everywhere painted on a Manhattan sidewalk in 2010.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

July 18th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: fun, pedestrians, social, transportation

Olympics: Wrong on the spreadsheet but right for the soul

click to enlarge
Photo from The US Army on flickr.

News broke this morning that DC may bid for the 2024 Olympics. And predictably, as happens everywhere the Olympics are mentioned, haters immediately started lining up saying how horrible it would be for DC to actually host a games.

Everything they say is true. Hosting the Olympics in DC would be expensive, and a huge hassle, and probably wouldn’t result in much lasting benefit to the city, specifically.

But all the hate still breaks my heart. It’s the civic equivalent of when a school board cuts art & music programs and redirects their funding to standardized mathematics testing. On paper it’s the right decision, but it’s wrong if you want your students to grow up with anything to dream about using math to create.

Art, music, and Olympics are all luxuries, it’s true. But they’re luxuries that are good for the soul. They’re luxuries that make our civilization more than the sum of its parts. They’re things worth doing if we value love.

I love the Olympics, and notably, so do many of the haters, who are happy to watch them on TV when they’re hosted in someone else’s backyard. Don’t we have a term for that?

August 27th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: in general, social

Map of American regional accents

In keeping with this week’s unintentional theme of resposting random maps I’ve found on the internet, here’s a neat one showing the geographic distribution of regional accents in the US and Canada.

Map produced by Richard P. Aschmann.

March 22nd, 2012 | Permalink
Tags: fun, social

The suburban experiment is over

Five years after the great mortgage collapse ruined outer suburbia, Americans are starting to believe that it isn’t coming back. Demographic and cultural changes have resulted in a permanent oversupply of suburbia.

That’s the basic premise behind an interesting New York Times op/ed by Chris Leinberger titled The Death of the Fringe Suburb. Leinberger claims that we are now in the midst of a reversal of the 1950s suburban explosion, and that the demographic convergence of millenials entering adulthood and baby boom empty-nesters ensures that the reversal is no mere blip.

Leinberger is right, but he fails to mention that what is happening is bigger than a simple reversal of trends. It’s the failure of an experiment, and the return to traditional methods of city building.

Most Americans think of suburbia as normal, but in reality it is anything but. American suburbia was a 50 year experiment. After World War II we made a massive investment in a new way of living. We abandoned thousands of years worth of urbanist heritage in order to build our lives around cars. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, a half century later, we’ve learned that our new paradigm has problems of its own. Large numbers of us now believe that the old way is better.

Never again will Americans think of suburbia as the problem-free utopia that our grandparents imagined it to be. The results from our experiment are in, and they are mixed at best.

My point is this: American suburbia was an historical blip, and our return to urbanism is nothing but a return to normalcy. We’ve always had suburbs and we always will have suburbs, but their day in the sun as the dominant paradigm of city building is coming to an end.

November 28th, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: history, social

A great idea for the Anacostia homeless shelter

It isn’t good enough for opponents of the plan to just say “no.” They’re obligated to propose a reasonable alternative.

Are NIMBYs who want to stop a new homeless shelter from locating on Anacostia’s main street justified?

It’s a tough question. One of the greatest lessons learned from America’s urban ghetto period in the late 20th Century was that if too many poor people are clustered together in a single area, that area becomes almost impossible for any of them to escape. Upward social mobility requires a mix of incomes. The line between providing services where they’re needed most and sending a neighborhood spiraling down towards becoming a ghetto is a difficult one to place.

And so, I think GGW contributor Veronica Davis is justified when she says “plans to put a homeless shelter in the middle of the business district, especially one without any ground-floor retail component, would impede Historic Anacostia’s progress.”

Historic Anactosia has been one of the city’s worst ghettos for decades, but these days it is improving, and if those improvements are to continue it’s important that key locations along the commercial main street (Good Hope Road) be allowed to become storefronts. If they aren’t, Anacostia might backslide into a difficult-to-escape poor enclave.

But even if all that is true, the shelter has got to go someplace, and should be convenient for its users, which are in Historic Anacostia. Therefore it isn’t good enough for opponents of the plan to just say “no.” They’re obligated to propose a reasonable alternative.

So what is the alternative? I think Veronica Davis has struck on a great idea:

“Locate a restaurant or retail business on the street level where the residents of the homeless shelter could have employment and gain some skills. The residences could be on the upper floor. This would allow for provision of social services and create jobs, while energizing the street level.”

The street needs a storefront, and homeless people need jobs. Why not kill two birds with one stone? Of course, adding retail increases the complexity of the project. The developer (Calvary Women’s Services) would need something to sell, and they might have to enlarge the building in order to accommodate both a store and a shelter. It would cost more up front, and charities don’t often have extra cash sitting around.

But including a store is such an improvement! It’s such a win-win, for both neighborhood residents and shelter users! If we can’t find a way to make it happen, or to make some other equally good alternative happen, then we are failing. Failing both to provide for the needs of the neighborhood, and failing to provide adequate services to the homeless users of the shelter.

It may not be justifiable to deny the shelter a home, but I think it is reasonable to ask that the homeless shelter be added in a way that doesn’t contribute to a neighborhood backslide. Ground floor retail may be a way to satisfy both needs.

August 3rd, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: development, proposal, social, urbandesign

Vienna/Fairfax is the most romantic transit station in America

click to enlarge
Romance in the Metro.
Photo by radialmonster.

Craigslist’s research team has devised a formula calculating the frequency of missed connections personal ads that reference particular transit stations in five of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas. Their finding: That WMATA’s Vienna/Fairfax station is the most frequently cited out of all 750 stations studied, on a connections-per-rider basis. That is to say, a larger percentage of riders at Vienna make a missed connections post on Craigslist than at any other station in any other city that was studied.

It seems likely to me that a lot of people who could be elsewhere on the Orange line are getting picked up as Vienna riders because they may have mentioned which direction they were heading. If that’s true this may be somewhat less than scientifically valid (there’s a shocker). Or maybe the platforms at Vienna are actually a meat market of super sexy singles looking to hook up.

It could happen, I guess.

June 14th, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: fun, metrorail, social, transportation

America may have to accept shantytowns

click to enlarge
The “Nickelsville” homeless camp in Seattle. Photo by flickr user javacolleen.

     This is not an April Fool’s post.

The government of Virginia destroyed a town this morning. It wasn’t on any maps, and it didn’t have a mayor, but it was a town. For its 80-some residents, it was home. The problem: The town was made up tents, and was lived-in by people who would otherwise be homeless. It was, for all intents and purposes, a shantytown.

When Virginia State Police cleared out the town this morning at the request of VDOT and State Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), it did so ostensibly to improve safety, since the town was near a highway. In so doing Northern Virginia becomes merely the latest example of a widespread trend where shantytowns pop up, and the government clears them out.

Since, you know, that solves the problem of homelessness.

It seems clear that shantytowns like these are here to stay. We’ve made a social decision in this country that low taxes are more important than an adequate social safety net. That decision has consequences, one of which is that people who fall through the cracks will naturally find non-traditional ways to provide for themselves and their kin. That was the idea, after all; let the poor pick themselves up by their bootstraps, if enough of them fall off the grid, let them start their own. Well, it’s working! Poor people are taking care of themselves. Shantytowns are a natural byproduct.

So no matter how many of these things state governments destroy to keep whitebread constituents from facing dirty reality, more and more are likely to spring up, and eventually some will start to take on the trappings of more permanent towns. The dirty reality exists, in part because we have adopted policies to create it, and the problem seems likely to get bigger as the economy stumbles along.

America may soon be a nation with shantytowns again, and we have only ourselves to blame.

April 1st, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: social

What’s the real Ward 9, and other thoughts on demographics

Census results say the District is rapidly losing its black majority, which has Marion Barry rather upset. He says:

“We’re going to stop this trend — gentrification… I believe in integration, but I don’t believe in the apartheid we have in Ward 8.”

Barry went on to refer to Prince George’s County as “Ward 9″ because so many of the District’s former residents have moved there in recent years.

As a white person I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to gentrification, because it seems like no matter what I do, I’m the bad guy. First white people were bad guys for abandoning the city, now white people are bad guys for coming back, except in Ward 8 where white people are bad guys for not coming back. ‘We’ve got to stop gentrification, but we’ve got to do something about the lack of integration in Ward 8′. Uhhhh…

Anyway, I thought Barry’s Ward 9 comment was interesting, but also potentially applicable to more places than just Prince George’s County. Arlington is an obvious contender, since it’s dense and urban and, y’know, it used to be part of DC. Maybe arguments could also be made for Silver Spring, or Baltimore, or – who knows – Denver.

So I put together the little survey attached. What do you think?

March 25th, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: question, social

Few scream more loudly than an interest group used to getting the entire pie

GGW has an interesting post up debunking the nonsense floating around some circles these days that increased focus on transit and cycling somehow represents a “war on cars”. I’ll let GGW provide its own excellent tl;dr version:

“These two pie charts, one from Transit Miami in 2009 and one from Streetsblog yesterday, tell it all… Few scream more loudly than an interest group used to getting the entire pie.”

There is no war on cars. The only war going on is one by the highway lobby against all other modes. The only people who want to take away your freedom are the people who want to require everyone to drive everywhere for everything.

March 3rd, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: social, transportation

Early census results for MD and VA

Initial 2010 Census results have been released for 5 out of the 50 states, including both Maryland and Virginia. Some highlights from the data:

In Virginia:

  • The big news is that Northern Virginia grew enough to affect legislative redistricting. Northern Virginia will soon have considerably more political clout, while the rest of Virginia (especially rural southwest) will see their clout decline. WTOP thinks the shift may tip the overall balance and, for the first time, give urban/suburban areas more overall political power than rural ones. Rural Virginia, as one might imagine, is freaking out.
  • The basic trends we’re all familiar with continued. Outer suburbs grew the fastest, with established cities and suburbs growing more slowly but healthily. Compared to the 2000 Census several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia passed important thresholds. Fairfax County topped 1,000,000, Prince William County passed 400,000, Loudoun passed 300,000, and Arlington passed 200,000.

For Maryland:
I looked at Maryland in a little more detail. For one, there’s no big picture redistricting story to dominate, because Maryland is already an urban-controlled state. Also, since most of the population centers are close to Washington, the detailed information is more pertinent.

  • The big story is probably that Montgomery County is now minority-majority, meaning whites are less than half the total population. No single demographic group in the county forms a majority on its own.
  • Montgomery County remains Maryland’s largest jurisdiction, but still hasn’t crossed that magical 1,000,000 person mark. At 972k, it is getting close. Prince George’s County probably won’t catch Montgomery, but at 863k it added to its lead over third place Baltimore County (801k). Baltimore city is 4th (621k), followed by Anne Arundel (538k).
  • With a population of 99,615, Columbia is on the cusp of becoming only the second community in Maryland history to cross the 100,000 population threshold (the first is obviously Baltimore).
  • After Baltimore (620k) and Columbia (99.6k), the next largest communities are Germantown (86k), Silver Spring (71k), and Waldorf (68k). However, all of them except Baltimore are “Census Designated Places”, which means they aren’t real cities, but merely convenient statistical groupings.
  • The largest incorporated cities after Baltimore are Frederick (65k), Rockville (61k), Gaithersburg (60k), and Bowie (55k). After Bowie there’s a big drop-off to the 6th place city, Hagerstown (40k). It’s important to note that incorporated cities and CDPs really can’t be compared on an apples-to-apples basis, because CDPs are defined more liberally, meaning the populations of incorporated places are undercounted relative to CDPs. Nobody exactly knows what a Frederick or Rockville CDP would look like, but if such things existed they would definitely be larger than 65,000.
  • The densest communities with a population over 50,000 are 1) Silver Spring, 2) Baltimore, 3) Gaithersburg, 4) Germantown, and 5) Dundalk. If you drop the criteria to 10,000 population, then it’s 1) Langley Park, 2) Chillum, 3) East Riverdale, 4) Silver Spring, 5) Takoma Park. Savvy observers might notice that the Purple line hits all 5 of those latter communities, and that either the Purple line, the proposed Baltimore Red line, or the Corridor Cities Transitway hit 4 of the 5 in the first list.

February 10th, 2011 | Permalink
Tags: government, social



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