26 August 2010

PSA: Bike parking at NY Ave. Station is not safe—avoid if possible

Three bikes: two vandalized, one attempted.
Examine the photograph at the right. Is it an art installation, or is it vandalized private property? If you guessed the latter, you're right.

These are the bike racks near the northern entrance to the New York Avenue/Florida Avenue/Gallaudet University metro station. I've written before about bicycle parking at this station, and I've noted that bicycles get stolen (or at least have parts stolen off them) with alarming frequency here.

On my way home from work Tuesday, I found that someone had attempted to steal my bicycle. I had a rear wheel stolen here in the spring, and since then I've taken the time to make sure that my front and rear wheels are locked, in addition to the bicycle frame. This time, they got far enough to remove the rear axle before realizing they weren't going to be able to get anything of value. The axle was left on the ground, and the the wheel had been pulled from the frame, but the U-lock prevented its removal.

Previously, I had asked the station manager how to get abandoned bicycle frames removed. I also asked whether there was any regular patrol of this area, which is somewhat hidden from sight. To say that he was unhelpful would be too kind and diplomatic. My experience with metro station managers leads me to believe that many of them serve little more purpose than filling the empty space inside a reflective vest.

Earlier this month, when parts were stolen from the bike on the left, I reported it to the Metro Transit Police. Nothing happened. This time, I called again and complained about the lack of action, noted a clear pattern, and asked that something be done. I finally saw some action on Wednesday morning.

First two images: removal notice from MTPD. The third is from DDOT.

The Metro Transit Police placed the orange notice on the latest vandalized bike. It is now considered abandoned property and will be removed by the end of next week. The other bike has a removal notice from DDOT. I'm not sure why there are two different agencies responding to the same situation, but I'll be happy to see these bikes removed. Leaving them there is a prime example of broken windows theory. Thieves can see that the area is not cared for, which does nothing to discourage criminal behavior.

Metro vehicles serve as a virtual wall,
shielding criminals from the eyes of the public.
The fact remains that this is currently a dangerous place to park a bicycle. To the best of my knowledge, there are no regular patrols here. The bike racks are out of the sight of most foot traffic—you can't really see them from the cafe and coffee shop around the corner. The biggest problem is that Metro employees still park their cars on the sidewalk, creating a wall that hides criminal activity.

Until Metro gets on the ball and actually enforces common-sense rules, like requiring its employees to park cars in real parking spaces, this isn't a smart place to park a bicycle. If you are going to park here, ABSOLUTELY make sure you use both a cable lock and a U-lock AT THE MINIMUM to secure your bike. Lock up your seat and remove any accessories. There is a professional bike thief at work here, and he knows that he can act with impunity (the thefts I've seen have all happened sometime between noon and 6 pm—broad daylight).

22 August 2010

Update about street trees

Back on August 10th, we posted an article about street trees, which included opinions about what we feel needs to be done to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent effectively when planting and maintaining these trees. The article was cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington as well.

On Thursday, DDOT replied. Karyn LeBlanc wrote that the "US Environmental Protection Agency’s MS4 Permit requires the District government to plant at least 4,150 trees every year." (MS4 stands for "Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.")

The big news was that the Urban Forestry Administration will be rebranded "d.Trees" in the near future.

It's always reassuring to see a government agency paying attention to the concerns of the taxpayers. Hopefully this rebranding will lead to even more focus on outreach with the residents of the city.

11 August 2010

One Washington Post error fixed, an even worse one discovered

This morning, I pointed out how the Washington Post missed out on some basic DC geography. They fixed the misnamed "Oak Street," properly replacing it with "Oates Street." (Not everyone agreed with my assertion regarding the quadrants and Ward 5, but there's both opinion and fact in addressing that.)

But this evening, I found something even worse. The Islamic month of Ramadan is upon us, and the Washington Post has an article discussing the calculation of when the month actually beings begins (in short, it depends on the mosque, the branch of the religion, or raw politics). The article is accompanied by the graphic above.

Arabic is written from right to left, unlike English, which flows from left to right. If you can read Arabic, you'll immediately recognize that the word 'Ramadan' in that graphic is backwards! It would be as if i typed it as 'nadamaR' in English.

It should look like this:


Again, edit these things before you publish them, Washington Post! This is basic journalism!

UPDATE: Within a half-hour of the publication of this post, the Washington Post pulled the graphic offline. We'll update again if/when they post a replacement graphic.

UPDATE II: The graphic is actually still there. There are two links from the article to get to it. One is bad, one still works.

Washington Post writers need to spend more time with maps

Map from Google Maps
(This post has been updated. See below the jump.)

There is no Oak Street in Trinidad. There is an Oates Street. A simple glance at a map of the neighborhood proves that in less than a minute. Why can't our city's largest newspaper invest that time and effort when writing stories about DC?

Over the last couple days, I've complained to many friends and acquaintances that there has been very little coverage of the Ward 5 race in DC's influential newspapers and TV stations. All the oxygen has been sucked out of the room, so to speak, by the mayoral race, and to a much lesser extent, the council chairman's race.

Even the smaller newspapers have dedicated little to this important political scramble. Capital Community News used to publish a paper called DC North which covered news across Ward 5. In March of this year, they rebranded the paper MidCity DC, pulling back coverage of Ward 5 to the Bloomingdale neighborhood, no longer covering the rest of the ward.

The Washington Post published a story about the Ward 5 race on their website last night, and it's in the print version of today's Metro section. But they didn't take the time to do some basic geographic fact-checking. Ann E. Marimow wrote the story, with contributions from Nikita Stewart, but the two apparently didn't run the story by a fact-checking staff member to make sure they got the details right.

The story paints a picture of the incumbent, Harry Thomas Jr., by mentioning parts of the ward where he grew up. One of those places was his grandmother's house in Trinidad, which they claim was on "Oak Street." Click on the Trinidad map above—there is no Oak Street, there is an Oates Street. Sure, it's a little detail, but little details are the things we expect professional journalists to get right. Otherwise, us crazy bloggers might as well be your only source of news, with our supposed lack of fact-checking, lack of editors, and Cheeto-stained fingers.

It's not the first time the paper has expressed a lack of geographic knowledge about DC. Last month, I wrote about the Post's tendency to make broad generalizations regarding the city's quadrants. A lack of understanding regarding Northeast and Northwest, and how Ward 5 relates to the two, is on display in today's story as well.

Here's the article's first sentence:
Ask residents of the District's Northeast neighborhoods about city government, and many are quick to say that they feel neglected, that Ward 5 has too often been a dumping ground for stinky trash transfer stations and unseemly X-rated clubs.
This makes it appear that Ward 5 and the Northeast quadrant of the city are co-extant. Northeast is much bigger than Ward 5 (it includes parts of wards 4, 6, and 7 as well) and Ward 5 isn't just in Northeast (Ward 5's Bloomingdale and Truxton Circle neighborhoods are both in Northwest).

These are simple things that could have been caught if run by someone familiar with the geography of the city. Find that person on your staff and make sure they get to weigh in on these things, Washington Post writers, because your natural advantage over us bloggers (a bigger audience and better news gathering infrastructure) doesn't mean much if you can't get your facts right.

10 August 2010

Street tree care—How can it improve?

The appropriateness of the nickname "City of Trees" is at risk here in Washington, DC, but there is hope that change to the way our city's trees are cared for will make this nickname relevant again, and soon.

In the August 4th edition of the Dupont Current (I wish I could link directly to the story, but the Current has a strong dislike of Internet publishing), there is a story about the DC "Tree Fund." The fund is partially filled by fees levied as part of the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002, and is legally required to be kept separate from the city's general fund. The Current says that the 2011 budget, proposed by the mayor and approved by the council, removes money from the fund and places it in the city's general fund. I'm no expert regarding the execution of DC law, but this appears to be in direct opposition to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Urban Forest Preservation Act.

In the article, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) states she wasn't aware that the money was being diverted from the Tree Fund into the general fund when she voted for the budget. [Personal aside: I think this is a dereliction of duty—if your job is to legislate, and if you're voting in favor of legislation that you're not familiar with, you have no right to complain about what was in it later. If there isn't enough time to read and understand everything in the legislation, don't cast a vote.]

The government agency tasked with planting and maintaining street trees in DC is the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA), which is part of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). I recently had the opportunity to speak with John P. Thomas, the Urban Forestry Administration's Chief Forester, about some details of the city's street tree planting and maintenance program.

DDOT's yearly street tree budget is $7.5 million. As John Kelly noted on Sunday, the city is not responsible for watering trees once they are planted (contractors plant most of the street trees in the city). Mr. Thomas told me that watering will be a line item in the planting contract this coming year. It will most likely mean that the city will not be able to plant as many trees as they have in years past, but I see that as a net-positive for the DC.

A few years ago, the city planted trees in the median of North Capitol Street, from Michigan Avenue to Hawaii Avenue, while the street was undergoing a complete reconstruction. The trees all died within the year, due to a lack of water. Casey Trees recommends that a newly-planted street tree receive twenty-five gallons of water per week for the first three years while establishing a healthy root system. [In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Casey Trees Citizen Forester.]

Over the last year, the city reconstructed Brentwood Road NE from Rhode Island Avenue south to T Street. That reconstruction included the planting of approximately 64 new trees in the treeboxes lining the street. The photographs at the top of this article and to the right show the condition of the trees on this stretch of road now—namely, they've nearly all died. On a recent weekend, I counted only four trees, or 6% of the total from this project, that remain alive. Weeds choke the treeboxes that line the street (save two in front of the Lowest Price Gas Station, where the trees are still dead), all of them neglected. That's unacceptable.

A new section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail recently opened between the New York Avenue Metro Station and Franklin Street NE. Trees were planted along the trail at many points, including the pocket park pictured at 4th and S Streets NE. Many of the trees are already dead due to the extremely dry spell we had in June and early July.

All of that is unfortunate, and easily could have been prevented, had the property owners and neighbors along the Met Branch Trail and Brentwood Road taken the time to water the nearby trees, or if the city had planned to water the trees in the North Capitol Street median, as the road there is practically a freeway where watering would be difficult. But there is hope ahead!

The city is actively working on a streetscape plan for the entire length of Sherman Avenue NW, between New Hampshire and Florida Avenues. One of the elements of this reconstruction will be a planted median. After seeing what happened on roads like North Capitol Street, it's reasonable to see why residents might be skeptical that trees could survive without a dedicated source of water to keep them alive. Thankfully, Sherman Avenue resident Craig Sallinger was able to get a guarantee from a DDOT employee that an irrigation system will be included in the construction of the road, so it will be easy to get water to those trees while they're trying to establish roots. Hopefully this will be a consideration DDOT makes in all of their future streetscape programs.

Spending money on in-ground watering systems and paying more individuals (be they UFA contractors or students employed during the summer) will inevitably take money away from actual tree planting. I think that's a good thing.

I'm not saying I want less trees—I want more! But I want them to be mature and healthy, not first-year seedlings, struggling to stay alive.

DDOT's current planting process doesn't work, through no fault of their own. Mr. Thomas noted that 95% of what they plant comes from citizen requests for trees in front of their house. A program called "Canopy Keepers" exists to encourage citizens to water the young trees on their street. Some of my friends here in Trinidad are participating in this program. Walking around the city, though, you can easily see that many citizens are not holding up their end of the bargain. The UFA staff does an admirable job with limited resources, but I believe it would be better to help young trees mature instead of wasting those resources replacing trees year after year.

You can only count on the kindness of strangers to a certain point. Eventually, money talks, and it can also water trees.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

05 August 2010

Is the owner coming back for this bicycle?

Take a look at this bike. It's missing its handlebars, seat, front wheel, brake and shifting cables, front- and rear-brakes, and chain, while the back wheel has been stomped into a useless mess. It sure doesn't appear to be wanted by anyone at this point.

This is at the New York Avenue Metro station, where the bike racks are not up to code anyway, and they often fill up. Parking is at a premium here, but this mangled used-to-be-a-bike has been here for a couple weeks now.

Wednesday evening, I spoke with a station manager, asking if he knew what to do to get the bike removed. First, he told me that he, as a station manager, has nothing to do with the bike racks (they are on WMATA property—whose job is it to "manage" them?). He said I should find a member of the Metro Transit Police Department to speak with. As I walked away, he claimed that, no matter what, if the frame is locked to the rack, WMATA will consider the bike "in use," and they won't be able to touch it.

That's clearly ridiculous. The lock should be cut and the frame should be donated to a group like Phoenix Bikes or someone else who can turn this into something useful again.

I put a call in to the MTPD as I left the station, and was told that an officer would stop by to assess the situation. As of Thursday morning, nothing has happened. We'll see how long this takes to be removed.

04 August 2010

More DC license plate obscuring?

Is blotting out parts of DC license plates a growing trend?

Last week, Mike Grass of the Washington City Paper wrote about a BMW on Capitol Hill which had a frame with a provocative anti-DC message that covered up part of its DC license plate.

Mike cited city code which states that license plates "shall be maintained free from foreign materials and in clearly legible condition." He followed with an update from the city which clarified that frames that cover part of the plate are indeed illegal.

I saw this car in the Suitland Metro parking garage, and it has black electrical tape placed over the DC flag on the plate (as well as over a "thin blue line" emblem and a shield styled after the Maryland state flag).

What could someone have against these three symbols? Looks like it was an old police cruiser that has been sold to a civilian.

What we do know is this is not legal. Better watch it when on the road.