21 November 2010

Bike tour of wards 5 and 7

Last Friday, I took a bike tour of parts of wards 5 and 7, taking a few photos along the way with my new smartphone (thanks, Credo Mobile!)

Here's a map of the route, with the photos embedded. The trip started at Oates Street and Trinidad Avenue, and headed north to the Trinidad Recreation Center.

View November 12th Bike Tour in a larger map

I just thought it would be fun to share a trip through some of the local neighborhoods. Enjoy!

18 November 2010

What have we gained (and what have we lost)?

I'm too busy at work on a regular day to keep up with the news, so I generally don't write about the most up-to-date happenings in DC. The Walmart story, though, is far too big and consequential to not weigh in on in a timely fashion.

There are things that make Washington, DC unique: things that make us different from every other city in the country and give us a sense of pride. It seems like that specialness, that uniqueness is slipping away from us in some ways. Is it all important? In some ways it is, and it others, it really isn't, but I wanted to note how I feel about these things, while the feelings are fresh.

I wanted to focus on the things we didn't have.

We didn't have handguns. Sure, "when you make handgun ownership a crime, only criminals will own handguns," was a phrase we all heard a million times, but most of agreed with the ban. It's gone now, not just for DC, but for any other municipality in the United States, thanks to the Supreme Court.

We didn't have voting rights in Congress. Fought like hell for it the last few years, with ideas that seemed ingenious and workable (a seat for us, a seat for Utah), only to come out with nothing. With the results of the election two weeks ago, the chances of that changing any time soon are less than zero.

We didn't have Walmart. So what? Neither do most cities, if you think about it. But this mostly left-leaning city decided multiple times, when the retailing behemoth made overtures about crossing the line and setting up shop, that we didn't want them here. For reasons related to labor, mostly, Walmart stood on the outside looking in. Most of us agreed with this (well, maybe not this lobbyist), but it looks like they've wiggled their nose far enough under the tent this time.

This one divides people in strange ways. Some are excited about the possibility that they won't have to travel out to Landover Hills to get some goods cheaper. Some are enraged that a company with a reputation for not being fair to workers could get a foothold in the city. Some fear what will happen to small business in the city. My biggest fear is that Walmart will be able to steamroll any opposition, and I don't mean regarding their existence here. I mean opposition to locations, or site layout and design, or wage deals. Their PR machine helicoptered in and was ready to go at 100 miles per hour before anyone even knew what was happening. If that doesn't convince you that the fix is in, then nothing likely will.

What really makes DC unique, especially when compared to surrounding jurisdictions, is that we're a real, dense, urban city. Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax—even Arlington—they're not the same thing. A lot of us live here, or moved here, because of the uniqueness of that, vis-a-vis those surrounding counties. Many had a choice to live in suburbia or to live in the city. I chose the city. It looks like suburbia has decided they want to be here too.

At the end of the day, the one thing we didn't have, and really fought for, we still don't have.

12 November 2010

...my kingdom for a copy editor!

Capital Community News produces three monthly magazines, the Hill Rag, MidCityDC (formerly known as DC North), and East of the River. They're essentially community newspapers, focusing on a compact geographic area, covering everything from obituaries to restaurant openings to school plays. They do a decent job of reporting news, but could use a lot of work when it comes to copy editing.

I mentioned this at the end of September, and promised some more examples. After marking up every copy of the August, September, October, and November issues of the Hill Rag and MidCityDC, I came to the conclusion that there are just too many mistakes to share. It would take days to write about them all.

But, my need to curmudge knows no few bounds, so I figured I should share some of them with you!

First up is the name of MidCityDC. I'm not certain that's the proper style. It's "MIDCITY DC" on the website, "MidCity DC" in the masthead (PDF), and "Midcity DC" in the footer on each page. It would seem that the switch from DC North to a new name came with some confusion about what that name really is.

The second thing that vexes me is the geographic breakdown of the monthly columns in MidCityDC. There are regular columns each month dedicated to telling stories and reporting news about Bloomingdale, Logan Circle, Shaw, and 14th and U Streets. The problem is that each month, most of the Logan Circle column is about 14th and U, which the author has inexplicably coined "U/14." I have never heard a living soul in this city use that moniker, and I'm curious if he's attempting to start a trend, or merely finds it funny. I realize, of course, that drawing a sharp line between the Logan Circle and 14th and U neighborhoods is difficult (see TBD's reporting on the naming of the Arts District in that part of the city). Perhaps the author of the 14th and U column (U Street Girl's Catherine Finn) could cover the whole Logan Circle/14th and U area, solving this toponymic disaster.

One more MidCityDC note is worth a chuckle. Richard Layman pointed this one out to me a last week. The cover of the August edition of the magazine is pictured to the left. Take note of the highlighted word on the cover. That's an example of where a little airbrushing might be acceptable, don't you think?

Finally, there's the Hill Rag. The ratio of advertising to content is about 5 to 1 (I didn't check this precisely, but it sure feels that way), but the content is usually worth reading. News that may have slipped through the cracks from the monthly ward 6 ANC meetings gets a full recount in this paper. Unfortunately, it's riddled with so many typographical errors and run-on sentences that it makes me cringe. Submitted for your approval, here are nine problems I found on one page this month. This isn't a large or unusual number.

1) The gentleman's name is Ron Rob, not Rom, Amos. Double-checking the spelling of proper nouns is always a good idea.

2) Rogue number.

3) It appears that the author wrote "used to," then changed her mind to say "used for," and never deleted "to."

4) This paragraph should be indented, as it's part of the bullet point above.

5) An indefinite article ("a") should be put in front of "City Council" here.

6) Extra comma. The Hill Rag doesn't appear to have a standard for dealing with commas. Sometimes they use an Oxford comma, sometimes they do not. Unnecessary commas appear in places where they are not needed, creating awkward pauses that make for difficult reading.

7) AMI is not defined anywhere in this article. When using jargon and acronyms, it's a good idea to provide definitions for those who might be unfamiliar with the term.

8) Missing comma. That extra comma in number 6 could float down here and fix two problems.

9) Number 8 is actually part of a much bigger problem. This paragraph is one run-on sentence. It hurts to read it, and I dare someone to diagram it! Here it is, reprinted it its terrible glory:

Alex Nyhan, representing Forest City Washington, the Yards developer had presented an overview of the project at the September meeting, and returned to seek approval of the Zoning Commission, including a variance needed because the project is included in the Southeast Federal Center Zoning Overlay, and will be taller than the 90' height requirement that the Overlay specifies, and others to enable a curb cut for a loading dock, and balconies on the apartment building.

Don't get me wrong, the Capital Community News stable of community newspapers are a valuable resource. It's just difficult to read without developing a small headache if you're an editor.

11 November 2010

Fast food signs

This quick study shows two tall signs for fast food establishments. These are the kind of signs that you would usually see on an Interstate Highway, advertising an establishment to long-distance travelers approaching the exit.

First is the sign for a McDonalds at the corner of 9th and T Streets NE. It's in the middle of an area that's zoned industrial and commercial, with no residences for many blocks in every direction (map).

The second sign is for the Checkers just off of H Street in the northeast corner of Capitol Hill (map). This location is surrounded by residences, on the edge of the H Street commercial district.

I looked through the zoning regulations, expecting to find something that might hint that the Checkers sign would not be legal. It just seems so out of place in a residential neighborhood, especially one with the design rules of Capitol Hill. But the location is a few blocks north and east of the edge of the Capitol Hill Historic District, so the stricter rules that would probably preclude such signage don't apply here.

10 November 2010

The new 9th Street Bridge

Here are a few photographs of the new 9th Street NE bridge over New York Avenue and the Ivy City Rail Yard (you can see the old and new bridge side-by-side on the latest imagery at Google Maps). DDOT says the bridge should be fully opened by May 2011. The bridge it is replacing was built in 1941 and has outlived its usefulness.

This is the northern approach to the bridge. Traffic heading southbound onto Mount Olivet Road towards Trinidad and Ivy City veers to the left onto the old bridge. Traffic heading towards the Capital City Market and downtown veer to the right onto the new bridge.

This is right at the base of the new bridge. Only one lane is open for now, but you can see the wider sidewalks and the bricked median.

This is looking north from the bridge. Less sun glare in this direction. You can see the bricked median more clearly. The bridge is wider for both cars and pedestrians, and has a more gentle, constant slope than the old bridge.

09 November 2010

Sights along the Met Branch Trail

The Metropolitan Branch Trail has been open between Franklin Street NE and the New York Avenue Metro Station for a few months now. Richard Layman and I must have both been on the trail within a few minutes of each other on Sunday, because I saw the cat at the top of this blog post in about the same spot. Here are some photographs I took of oddities and interesting things.

There is a continuing problem with erosion just south of the New York Avenue bridge. The area to the left where this mud is coming from is a steep slope half covered with weedy growth. Without it, there would probably be even more mud.

There is now signage for every street connection from the trail into Eckington. Here's R Street and Randolph Place NE.

For whatever reason, an R2-D2 look-alike looks over the trail at Randolph Place NE.

The pocket park where 4th and S Streets NE meet the trail is an overlooked gem. Each bench is accompanied by a place to lock up your bike, and there are trees that will hopefully live long enough to provide shade and beauty to this light industrial spot. (Richard makes a very good point that there should be garbage cans here, as well as in other locations along the trail.)

Neat how the trail's 5th and T Street NE signs are reflected in the signs across the street.

The parking structure that's going up at the Rhode Island Avenue station looms over even the elevated tracks.

The entrance to W Street NE is not as nice as the others. It's basically just a hole cut in the fence.

No idea what this is. It's just north of the Edgewood entrance to the trail. It looks like it could be for composting or something similar, but those light layers are rocks, not organic material.

Finally, here's a shot of the Rhode Island Avenue Station parking garage. Part of me would like to see it very underutilized, since the station is very well served by buses, and it's becoming easier to walk to. I think this garage will attract suburban drivers who will come down Rhode Island Avenue from Maryland. It could serve as a way to get close to downtown without having to drive all the way into the congestion of the center of the city.

One step forward for urbanism, one step back?

A suburban-style building is about to go up in the shadow of smart-growth development at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station.

While construction has begun on Rhode Island Station, an mixed-use infill development that is replacing the former parking lot at the Metro station, a smaller, adjacent development has not received much attention.

In the parking lot of Rhode Island Place, a large strip mall that was plopped down on top of what used to be a city impoundment lot (and a cemetery before that), TD Bank is about to begin construction on a new branch. This was first reported by a commenter on the Rhode Island Ave NE Insider blog in March, but was not widely circulated.

Judging this is a tough call. On one hand, this land is a completely unused piece of asphalt. Look at the map here—the location is in the part of the parking lot furthest from both the Giant and the Home Depot. I never see any cars parked there, even during busy hours at the stores. The land will be better utilized than before, but it will still be a car-centric drive-to and -through location.

It's somewhat ironic that, while we are encouraging transit-oriented development on the old WMATA parking lot next door, we're moving further away from that goal at Rhode Island Place.

08 November 2010

Someone's not a Washington Post fan

There's a working Washington Post box among the other newspaper boxes at this D8 bus stop on 9th Street NE, in front of the McDonalds. It looks like it gained two friends this weekend. You can see them lying ahead on the sidewalk in the photo to the right. A closer view is below. What did they do to deserve this cruel fate? 

04 November 2010

Say nice things about the Current Newspapers!

I frequently refer to articles in the Dupont Current, because they're the closest of the Currents to my home. This community newspaper, based in Northwest DC, publishes four editions (the aforementioned Dupont, as well as the Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and Northwest Currents). They do amazing journalism, digging deep into stories and getting facts that are difficult for bloggers to take the time to find, and that papers like the Washington Post simply ignore.

Others cite the Current's reporting as well, but we all complain that the content isn't available in a format that's easy to link to. The paper is placed online in PDF format, sometimes weeks after initial publication, so it's hard to get their stories out to a wider audience that doesn't have access to the hard copy.

That said, it's important to stop and take a second to appreciate the amazing work they do. Erik Wemple wrote a great story about the Current in the Washington City Paper a couple years ago. I also wanted to share this note that was recently posted to the Shaw listserv by Joesph Martin, an ANC member in Ward 4:

At last night's ANC 4C meeting, someone raised the question of why ANC 4C's monthly newsletter is inserted in the Northwest Current as opposed to other small newspapers.

Answer: Other papers have not bothered covering ANC 4C's meetings on a monthly basis.
We asked the Northwest Current to be distributed to all ten, single-member districts. The Current agreed. We asked the Current to consider including the monthly, ANC 4C newsletter in its first, monthly, weekly edition. The Northwest Current agreed.

No other small newspaper offered itself as a vehicle for getting our monthly newsletter to all ten, single member district.


When I first got on ANC 4C, I routinely emailed ANC 4C agendae to The Afro, Washington Informer, the Hill Rag, etc.... I am not even sure if I notified the Current Newspapers in those early days. I probably did not, to be honest. I was not as familiar with the Current as I was with the Intowner, and I knew the Intowner did not cover Petworth.

There was a time when the Hill Rag covered ANC 4C. I seem to recall the City Paper covering ANC 4C from time to time. Once The New York Times ran an article that quoted me, Gable Klein (current DDOT Director, then at Zip Car) and Dan Tangherlini, then DDOT Director under Mayor Anthony Williams.

National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" included a piece on ANC 4C in a weekend-edition, post Katrina report about whether or not DC would be ready for a major emergency.

If the national press can find their way to covering ANC 4C, what's stopping any local media outlet or blogger?

Two thumbs up to the Northwest Current for taking the trouble to cover us every month for the last few years.

Note to any blogger, media outlet or DC newspaper: What's stopping you from coverage ANC meetings? Take your pick. We're all over the District of Columbia. If you agree with those who think ANC stands for All Neighborhood Cranks and can't be bothered, I might even agree with you - for a moment.

The Current is an amazing community asset. If you live in one of the areas they cover, count your blessings!

03 November 2010

How NOT to be a neighborhood blogger

Back on September 14th, Jaime and I participated in the Social Media Club – DC's Social Media Breakfast. One of the things discussed was an advantage we bloggers have over other media sources—we can easily and quickly correct errors, in part because we don't have a bureaucratic structure with editors and the like. If we find something is wrong, whether on our own or through someone else pointing it out, we can deal with it swiftly. I went so far as to say that I felt that this was one of the most important things a hyper-local blogger can do. Accuracy is our stock in trade.

Ancillary to accuracy is an ability to work together with the community of other local bloggers. At the end of September, a new local blog, The Georgetown Dish, sent an email to a list of names that appeared to be cribbed from earlier emails sent out to the TBD Community Network. These are the blogs that work in concert with TBD.com to cover local news. Unfortunately, these people did not request to be placed on this mailing list.

Many complained to TBD and The Georgetown Dish regarding this conduct, and TBD quickly apologized by way of an email, letting Community Network members know that their names were not intentionally given to The Georgetown Dish. Beth Solomon, the publisher of The Georgetown Dish, sent only a weak non-apology, stating:

I did hear from our tech people that there was a mix up of lists -- I am really sorry and we will send out a note to the group shortly. Apologies again for the trouble and have a great day

If Ms. Solomon and her team ever sent out a "note" regarding this, we never received a copy. It would be interesting to see what she meant by a "mix up of lists" as well, as we should never have been on any unsolicited email list in the first place.

The Georgetown Dish hurt itself in the eyes of many in the local blogging community by taking advantage of our openness, not showing any humility when they were caught cheating the system, and then failing to follow-up in the end. All it would have taken was an emailed statement like, "You're right—we screwed up and shouldn't have done that. Our sincerest apologies and we promise we won't do it again." Instead, we got radio silence.

That's not what I'd expect from an honorable, respectable, or trustworthy news outlet, and it's not an auspicious way to make one's entry to the local blogging community.

(I realize it may seem curious why this is being brought up after a month. I intended to wait a week, see if anything was forthcoming, and then write about this. Things got very busy and the blog fell very low on the priority scale. That's why this and the previous post are bringing up things from a month ago.)

02 November 2010

Let the sunshine in (yes, everyone else uses that title as well)

Photo by Guillaume Cattiaux on Flickr.
In late September, the Washington City Paper reported on the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Muriel Bowser, intends to make the deliberative process in city government less opaque at many levels, from the council down to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) throughout the city.

Unfortunately, many neighborhood commissioners are up in arms because they believe that their ability to deliberate will be held hostage by the need to conform to the requirements of such a bill. The last time a similar act was written up, according to the September 29th Dupont Current, the bill gave a wholesale exemption to ANCs. That bill never passed out of committee to the whole council.

The Dupont Current article also quotes Gottlieb Simon, whose title is executive director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Mr. Simon is apparently going to bat for the commissions that are opposed to the bill. The Current's editorial page argues that opposition to the bill is wrong, and I agree. The sensible reaction to difficulties that may come about because of the passage of such a bill is to create room for exceptions in case the requirements put a straitjacket on neighborhood commissions. Granting them a blanket exemption from the beginning does not sound like the way to encourage openness from the commissions.

Speaking of openness, the ANC website could use an overhaul and some more sunshine as well. It has not been moved to the new dc.gov template, and you can't even find out who is in charge of the operation without prior knowledge of the current situation. Mr. Simon's name and title appear nowhere on the webpage (unless you count the fact that you can see his address when you hover your mouse over the link that says "The office...may also be contacted by email").

Yesterday, Lydia DePillis wrote the an article about the possibility of ANC reform. It's something that Richard Layman has preached for ages. His experience included serving on one of the citizen-led committees of a Capitol Hill ANC when he lived in the neighborhood, and it's something that many in the city believe is a model other ANCs should follow.

There are many ways we could go about reforming the ANC level of government here in DC, including adjusting the size of individual commissions, encouraging more citizen involvement, or even radical reworking of the duties of the ANCs. But it all starts with openness. Without transparency in the decision-making process, corresponding changes will not have the necessary transformative impact to make them really worthwhile.

If we really want to make ANCs better, we need to pass the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010, and make sure that the deliberations and actions of the city's ANCs are included.

01 November 2010

Google Maps flubs our city's name

When filling out forms online, you often enter address information. In most instances, the choice for state includes the postal abbreviations for the states, and the District of Columbia is included in alphabetical order after Delaware and before Florida.

Unfortunately, the "state" we live in is sometimes listed as "Washington, D.C.," so one finds DC in alphabetical order after Washington and before West Virginia. When coupled with the name in the city field (Washington), this leads to an address in "Washington, Washington D.C.," which looks, sounds, and is ridiculous.

It appears that sometime in the last few weeks, Google Maps has fallen into a similar trap. Typing "Washington" into the search field when first in Google Maps, one sees the result below:

As you can see, they're labeling our city as "Washington D.C., DC." It's pretty silly.

Here's another example.

And finally, any address that you select (like the White House in this example) has "Washington D.C., DC" appended to the street address. Google needs to fix this, so the city name is only rendered as "Washington," and the state abbreviation is "DC." The current redundancy doesn't make sense.