18 July 2013

Feel like your 311 requests get lost in the shuffle? They might be.

I used the DC311 mobile app to report this damaged school zone flasher on April 23, 2013.

**UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Ben Berkowitz, co-founder and CEO of SeeClickFix. It sounds like, for this specific request, downtime in the API may have caused it to get lost in a purgatory of sorts, rather than it being directed to DC311/OUC. Berkowitz noted that if a service request continues to show as "Open" with no response at all, it may be best to manually close the request and open another. Additionally, he mentioned that a very small number of requests in DC—something like 30 out of 18,000—have been caught up in this type of glitch. You can check under "Notified" in the right column on a specific request on the SeeClickFix site to confirm that it's been passed on to DC311. From my conversation with Berkowitz, it's also clear that DC has been at the forefront of municipalities embracing SeeClickFix as a large-scale, interactive tool.

While I still have concerns about the confusion at OUC about whether or not the request could be accessed depending on if I submitted it via the mobile app or via the SeeClickFix website, I am generally pleased with the interaction and results today. Overall, I am happy to see DC embrace Gov 2.0 tools, and I hope bumps in the road like these are considered as learning opportunities and not as reasons to inhibit or stop the progress we've made in this realm so far.**


Hang on, folks, this is a long one, though worth it, because it very likely outlines any number of the collective frustrations out there with the state of government ops and constituent services in the District (and possibly beyond)....

In May 2011, SeeClickFix announced platform integration with DC's Open311 system, and there was much rejoicing across the Distrcit: from Gov 2.0 nerds (like me), from oft disgruntled residents (like me), and even from the now-defunct Daily Gripe column on the Washington Post's website:
Now, instead of solely relying on operators fielding phoned-in requests to the city’s 311 line, residents and visitors can send non-emergency reports to 311 through SeeClickFix’s free mobile and web platform that allows them to pinpoint locations and upload photos and videos.[emphasis mine]
Did you see that? Mobile and web platform. In case you think the Post got their signals crossed, let's go back to the horse's mouththe official press release from the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer, dated May 24, 2011:
SeeClickFix is a free mobile and web platform that allows citizens to submit online reports of non-emergency public problems to governments. The SeeClickFix platform is available in many locations and formats, including mobile phones and widgets on the Washington Post and other city blogs. Citizens can access SeeClickFix at SeeClickFix.com, The Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington, and The City Fix.
Overall, the integration of SeeClickFix with the District’s 311 system ensures a seamless flow of information between residents and District officials, and a more efficient way of fixing problems throughout the city. [again, emphasis mine]
After over a month with no repairs on a lopsided school zone flasher, and a still-open request on DC's SeeClickFix site, I reached out to DC311 on Twitter on Monday, July 1, and followed up again on Wednesday, July 17:

Much, much more below the fold...

11 July 2013

The West Virginia Avenue Wetland is gone - or is it?

For years, there has been a leak of some sort coming up through the sidewalk on West Virginia Avenue NE, just north of the intersection with Fenwick Street, in front of property used by the DC Department of Public Works.

This is what it looked like for a long time:

The "West Virginia Avenue Wetland"
Water constantly flowed down the sidewalk. The water had been sitting for so long that cattails and other aquatic plants had colonized the walkway. As you can see in the photo above, the city's solution was to throw a few cones in the pond and call it a day.

I complained about this regularly on Twitter, mostly to DC Water, assuming this was their problem. They tested the water, though, and asserted that it was not coming from one of their pipes.

I figured this wasn't possible. The water had to be coming from a municipally-owned source, and DC Water controls all of that in the city. But, they're the experts!

The morning I took the photo above, I included the mayor's Twitter handle in my semi-regular complaint. Surprisingly, I received a direct message shortly after letting me know that the executive's office would be getting to the bottom of this issue quickly. I guess you just have to get your timing right, sometimes!

After a few days, crews were there digging up the area around the leak. Jaime asked the workers if they had found anything, but they treated it like a state secret and wouldn't talk.

Construction crews dig to find the source of the leak.
Finally, a few days later, this email arrived from Matt Desjardins, who works in the mayor's office:

Hello – Mayor Gray asked me to follow up with you regarding some standing water on the sidewalk near a DPW facility in NE. I know that this has been an issue you have been looking to resolve for some time now and I apologize if any of the below information is redundant. 
Here is what we currently know. DPW is working with its partner agencies to address the issue: 
· DPW has hired a contractor to address the flooding of the sidewalk at 1725 West Virginia Avenue, NE (Fleet campus). The contractor uncovered an abandoned storm water drain that originates at a manhole and dead ends into multi chambered structure under the sidewalk. When it rains, all of the runoff water backs up in the manhole and bubbles up onto the sidewalk and street on West Virginia Avenue, NE. There is no access for the runoff into the sewer system. 
· The current DC Water regulations require that there be either an oil/water separator or a storm water management system on the property. Neither system is in place for this section of the campus. 
· One possible solution is to have DC Water build a storm water management system as it builds the new parking lot. DC Water needs to use the Fleet campus to construct a 110 foot shaft to address the Bloomingdale flooding issue. DC Water will construct a new parking lot for DPW to replace the parking lot where the shaft will be used for the tunnel. 
· Unfortunately, a solution may be a few months away.
The upshot is this: there's a drainage system under the sidewalk that apparently does not connect to the regular storm sewer system. It could get "fixed" when DC Water works on the tunnel that will ultimately divert storm water from Bloomingdale.

Isn't infrastructure fun?

After construction to cap the abandoned storm drain.

14 June 2013

A run-in with kids outside of Frager's while biking home

By necessity, this is just going to be a narrative without embellishment. I just wanted to share this story because I mentioned it on Twitter, and many people responded out of concern for me and out of anger at the situation.


First, let me say that I'm okay. 100% fine. There's not a scratch on my head.

I was taking the Green Line home from work. We arrived at the Anacostia station, and the train doors were held open for over ten minutes. I decided to leave the station and find another way home.

I hopped on a Capital Bikeshare bike at the station and headed north, across the 11th Street bridge. When I got to the corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, I had to wait for a red light. Four kids were standing on the corner, next to the fence that has been put up around the charred remains of Frager's Hardware Store. There were three girls and one boy, all around the same age (12 or so).

One of the girls approached me and asked for five dollars. I told her I didn't have any cash on me. She looked at the bike and said, "You need money to pay for that, right?"

I told her, "Yes, I use a credit card."

She said, "Credit cards have money on them, give me some!"

The light turned green at that point, and I said, "Sorry, no, I have to go."

As I started across Pennsylvania Avenue, she lunged at me, pushed on my backpack, and yelled, "Give me money! Give me money!" a couple times, while the other kids laughed. The events of Tuesday on the MBT came to mind, and I turned around to make sure the other kids weren't coming after me. I scolded them and asked if they heard about the MBT assault.

The boy in the group started yelling, "Fuck you! Fuck you! Get the fuck out of my neighborhood!" At this point, I realized I could hurry up and bike away, but I wasn't in the mood to let these kids think they could get away with threatening someone on a bicycle, so I yelled out, "These kids are trying to assault me."

I moved my bicycle to the southwest corner of the intersection (in front of the dry cleaners) and called 911.

A gentleman came out of the dry cleaners and told me that the kids had been causing problems in the past, throwing rocks at the store's windows.

Two officers arrived after about 3 or 4 minutes. I told them what happened, and in which direction the kids went after our encounter. A quick check on the radio and the first officer was able to confirm that a third officer had some kids a block down the street. The second officer went to bring them back.

While she was gone, I spoke with the first officer. She told me that kids in the area were apt to do things like this, and that the children doing this get younger every year. The second officer returned a couple minutes later with a woman in her cruiser. This turned out to be the mother of the girl who had shoved me. The first officer insisted that the young girl be brought back as well, so a couple more awkward minutes passed while the first officer, the girl's mother, and I stood around waiting for the other officer to bring back the girl.

When they returned, the first officer asked the girl to state what had happened. She basically gave the full story, but claimed that she had just touched the bike, and not pushed me. The officers wanted her to apologize to me, which she did, but clearly not in a sincere manner.

The police told the girl she could be charged with both aggravated panhandling and simple assault. The girl's mother quietly told her not to be stupid and to apologize.

The officers stepped aside for a moment, leaving me with the girl and her mother. We stood there awkwardly as a light rain began to fall. The officers then called me over to where they were discussing things, and asked if I wanted to press charges. They were willing to lock the girl up, and told me that there would be a few hours of paperwork, but it was up to me how to proceed.

I told the officers I wanted the girl to learn a lesson, but I wanted to do what they thought was best. They called her over, and had her stand right in front of me. The officers told the girl that I had the power to ruin her life then and there, to give her a criminal record. They told me to tell her what I thought about the whole situation.

I told the girl that I thought what she did was stupid, and there was no reason for her to have done anything more than say hello to me on the street.

The officers jumped in and told her to look me in the eye, stand up straight, stop mumbling, and pay attention. The girl's mother, standing nearby, implored her daughter to listen. The police asked her if she had goals, wanted to go to college, and wanted to get away from the bad influences around her. They reminded her that her attitude and actions were going to damn her to a life of dead-ends.

Finally, I told the girl my name, and offered my hand to shake. She did, and apologized again (personally, it still didn't feel 100% sincere, but I remember how much of a sullen brat I could be at 12 years old myself).

Her mother said she'd be going home and would be on a short leash. I obviously don't know what happened once they got home, but I hope we got some sort of message into the girl's head.

As I got back on the Bikeshare bike to head towards home (yeah, I racked up some fees for having the bike out more than 30 minutes!), I thanked the officers and they apologized for my ruined evening. I told them it was absolutely not their place to apologize, and thanked them for doing a great job.

The officers remarked that, while the girl avoided a criminal record, they had her name and would put her on a "juvenile watch list." If she gets caught causing trouble again, there will be no mercy.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

03 June 2013

Vanished/The Ruined Capitol doesn't live up to promise

Sloppy work on blogs deserves to be called out, especially when the author of the work seeks an air of authority on a subject. I'm taking this opportunity to ask Simon Jacobsen to do a better job with the Vanished/The Ruined Capitol blog.

Early last year, his blog called "The Ruined Capitol" (since re-branded "Vanished:Washington," though the URL never changed) was briefly profiled by the Washington City Paper. In this short interview, he gave an interesting quote:
I'm not putting any facts down...
In fact, Mr. Jacobsen puts a lot of facts down with every post. The most important of these facts is the address of the buildings. Unfortunately, he can be sloppy with those facts. Here's an example:

Image from Vanished

Mr. Jacobsen shows this picture and says it's at 6th and College Streets NE. That's a non-existent corner. There is a 6th and College Street NW, though. Here's a piece of the Baist Atlas for that part of the city in 1937 (two years after the date shown on the photo):

Image from Historic Map Works

You can see a line of rowhouses on the west side of 6th Street, north of College Street. I think it's a safe bet that these are the houses in the photo. What's there today? This:

View Larger Map

It's Lewis K. Downing Hall, home to Howard University Engineering.

Jacobsen, though, shows this image of what he believes is at that corner today:

Image from Vanished

That's actually the corner of Georgia Avenue and Howard Place NW. Jacobsen manages to start by saying the original location is in a different quadrant, then believes today's corner has somehow moved a couple blocks away. It's terribly sloppy. Google Maps is how he verifies the location of all present-day buildings. He'd be helped by actually going out to the corners where he believes these old buildings were located and doing some ground-truthing. It would probably make clear some of the more egregious errors and avoid the embarrassment of publishing mistakes.

Here's one more. The page was taken down after I pointed out an error, he refused to acknowledge it, and further information from me made it crystal clear that he had made a simple mistake. I saved the page as a rough PDF:

Jacobsen mistook the numeral "1" (for 1st Street) for the letter "I" (for Eye Street), and insisted Florida Avenue "flattens out" (whatever that means) at Eye Street NE. A simple walk around the neighborhood would show how incorrect that is, but he didn't take the time to go out and look at things in the real world.

It's a shame, it could be an authoritative site, but there are so many holes in it, it's hard to say how many of the before and after pictures he posts are just plain wrong.

A better example of the genre is the "Then and Now" series that Kent Boese did for Greater Greater Washington. Admittedly, this is more thorough than the "drive-by shooting" (a poor choice of words) that Jacobsen claims to offer at his site, but the basic idea is that a little more research goes a long way.

23 April 2013

Non-professional #four23dc election predictions

I'm not here to give you a prediction regarding the results of today's election. We'll find that out very soon. What I do want to put out there are some things that I would wager would be talked about given a few different scenarios. Here they are, in no particular order, and remember, I'm no professional prognosticator!

If Anita Bonds wins:

- She has the inside track for reelection in just under a year. Yes, that's right. The primary for next year's general election is April Fool's Day (April 1), and the power of incumbency will aid her greatly in that Democratic primary. Voters will get to vote for two candidates in the November 2014 election, and whomever has the (D) next to their name is a shoo-in for one of those seats.

- Expect talk about how the "newcomers/gentrifiers/progressives/white residents" still aren't organized enough to elect someone citywide (even though that loosely-defined demographic just did that with Grosso's election last fall).

If Patrick Mara wins:

- Expect some right-leaning blog or Washington Post pundit (George Will? Charles Krauthammer?) to write about how Mara's victory signals that "even a jurisdiction with an African-American majority is sick and tired of the librul Demoncrats and Barry Obummer." Don't expect them to discuss the fact that many of the people voting for Mara are HUGE Obama supporters and that the party affiliation of Council candidates really has little to nothing to do with national politics.

- If David Catania chooses to run for attorney general, mayor, or simply retire in 2014, Mara's incumbency would give him a pretty solid shot at reelection. As mentioned above, there will be two spots on the November 2014 ballot for at-large councilmember, and whoever wins the Democratic primary on April 1 has the inside track at one of those spaces. Since there would be no incumbent Democrat at that point, I'd expect an epic 15-way scrum for the Democratic primary.

- If David Catania chooses to run for reelection as councilmember, it would set up an interesting race between him and Mara for the likely non-Democratic seat in November 2014.

- Expect talk about how it looks possible for the city to elect a white mayor in 2014.

- Expect wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and the like from those who supported Bonds.

If Elissa Silverman wins:

- Elissa would have the inside track for reelection in 2014. (Seeing a pattern here? Elected incumbency is a powerful thing in DC.) Expect an attempt from the groups she didn't strongly court (big business, etc.) to draft a strong challenge to her in the coming year, though.

If Frumin, Redd, or Zukerberg win:

- This won't happen. One does not have a broad-enough base, another represents a party with no infrastructure, and the third is a non-serious one-trick pony.

28 March 2013

Reader submission: WMATA passenger shortcomings

Metro Blur, by theqspeaks
We welcome the occasional reader submission here at The District Curmudgeon, and this little bit of righteous anger from our friend Jonathan Gitlin sums up what we're sure are pretty common feelings for many who use Metrorail on a daily basis.

Dear fellow WMATA passengers, here are some things I hate about you:
  • Standing on the left on the escalators.
  • Standing still at the exit of escalators, during rush hour.
  • Standing still at the exit of escalators, during rush hour, pulling your enormous suitcase behind you.
  • Standing in the doorway of the train I’m trying to get out, resolutely refusing to move an inch. No, I’m not sorry I barged you out the way.
  • Meandering slowly up the platform, wandering from side to side as you go.
  • Wearing sunglasses. Underground. When it’s already dimly lit. You look like a cretin.
  • Eating. Are you blind, stupid, or just inconsiderate? Because it pretty clearly says no eating, you blind, stupid, inconsiderate fool.
  • Schoolchildren.
  • Having to deal with the pages of your copy of the Examiner that you littered all over the seat.

Let me add:

  • Meandering slowly down the platform, during rush hour, in a crowd, pulling your tiny backpack on wheels behind you. You're an adult, carry the pack on your back, you lazy, inconsiderate, space-wasting fool. You're taking up the room of 4 people on this crowded platform!
Have a wonderful weekend!

20 March 2013

State of Incompletion

As a former Michigander, it always bothered me to see the state represented without the Upper Peninsula or Isle Royale. A map showing only the Lower Peninsula, labeled "Michigan," is incomplete. End of story.

Map of "Michigan" from Van Diest Supply Company

When I see maps of Virginia like the one below in today's edition of the Washington Post's Express, without the Eastern Shore included, I wonder if Virginians are equally bothered.

Map of "Virginia" from the Express [PDF]

It bothers me to see maps produced without some level of concern for cartographic accuracy. This is the world we live in. Everyone can be a "mapper," but the level of quality is greatly diluted.

02 March 2013

Irony: litter from Two Rivers PCS on its way to the Anacostia

I guess it's that time - the yearly litter bomb from Two Rivers Public Charter School.

Nearly a year ago to the day, I wrote about this school's lazy attempt at neighborhood outreach. They've printed the exact same flyer, on different colored paper, with updated dates, and done the same thing - hanging it on the fence of every house in the neighborhood.

Same thoughts as last year - couldn't they have procured a database of some sort so they know which homes actually have school-aged children? The vacant homes on the block aren't going to send to many children to any school. Same goes for the houses with retirees and those with DINKs.

Unfortunately, there was a pretty good breeze today, and many of the flyers blew off the fences and into the streets and gutters. Here are a few photos from our street.

Irony? Flyer from "Two Rivers"about to go down the drain toward one of those rivers.

They gave us three flyers this year. I guess one wasn't enough?

I could take a dozen more pictures of the treeboxes and gutters of our neighborhood, but I believe the point is clear enough. I wonder if teachers teachers at Two Rivers could take their students out for a real-world lesson about stewardship of our natural resources and how good neighbors aren't litterbugs.

22 February 2013

DDOT photo of the old Sears building on Bladensburg Road

I was poking around in DDOT's photo archive on Flickr last night, and I came across the following photo:

Southeast/Southwest Freeway 1968 (DDOT on Flickr)

It's a picture of the construction of the Southeast/Southwest freeway through Capitol Hill in the late 1960s. It's a stark reminder that the freeway cut a neighborhood in two, and it's a scar that we'll likely continue to have for decades to come.

What caught my eye, though, was the bright patch at the top of the photograph. I've cropped that section out, enlarged it, and circled the interesting spot below:

You can click above to enlarge it even more. I'm pretty sure this is the old Sears, Roebuck & Co. building. (At that link, you can see a photograph of this amazing Art Deco building, which was still standing until the late 80s/early 90s). It was located on Bladensburg Road, just north of the Starburst intersection, across the street from Trinidad. It's now the location of the Flats at Atlas apartment building, which is better than a vacant lot, but certainly not as cool as a repurposed Art Deco beauty would have been.

20 February 2013

A two-block shuttle for "urban lifestyle" apartments?

Trilogy NoMa is a strange apartment complex.

To start with, the name is ridiculous. The buildings were built in a long-established neighborhood (Eckington [PDF], since 1830) that just happened to have some empty lots. The business improvement district (BID) to the south is called NoMa, and it includes a few of the commercially-zoned lots at the southernmost extent of Eckington. The developer decided to use the NoMa name for the complex, most likely because they felt it was a "brand" they could exploit.

The contact page for the complex, though, says these are "Apartments in Chinatown DC - Trilogy at Noma DC Chinatown" at the top of site. Clearly there is some confusion on the part of the ownership regarding where they made their investment. I wonder if they know the city and neighborhood well enough to know where they're actually located.

What "drove" me to write this post, though is the photo below:

That contact page touts the Walk Score for the apartment complex - a respectable 71. (Worth noting - the Transit Score is a 72 and the Bike Score is a fantastic 89!) It's questionable if the management really believes in that Walk Score, though, since they have a shuttle van to drive you the two blocks to the Metro station.

Sure, a shuttle service for handicapped residents might be necessary and a nice service for those who need it. But this van, dropping off passengers at the northern entrance of the NoMa station, wasn't equipped for wheelchair access, and the twenty-somethings disembarking from the van appeared to have no problem walking the few feet from the van to the turnstiles.

Lazy? Silly? A waste of fuel while the van idles at the curb? All of the above? All of the above.

18 February 2013

Open letter to local stone masons

A solid low-stone retaining wall is about to become part of history (probably tomorrow). Do you know any stone masons in DC who could use this material? Let them know as soon as you can! Read on for more...

Titan of Trinidad noted that the church at the corner of 14th and Maryland NE has finally been demolished. This is the first step in the construction of the new "Maia" apartment building that will be built in its place.

I'm writing about the detritus of the construction project, though. As you can see from these pictures, there are thousands of bricks, many of them already broken into shards, remaining on site. There are many who would gladly take solid, century-old bricks to reuse them for other projects, but I'm afraid that it's probably too late for most of these solid pieces of history. We don't value recycling and reusing in this society to the extent that we should.

I'm concerned about this stone retaining wall that encircles much of the property. Surely the demolition crews will be removing it very soon. This is the kind of thing that simply isn't built these days - people use cheap cinder block construction for retaining walls instead.

There must be a stone mason in the DC area that would be interested in getting their hands on this material. I imagine someone could take this wall apart relatively quickly (certainly not as fast as a backhoe, but let's be realistic here!) and reuse the material elsewhere.

If you're reading this and you know someone who might fit this description, please pass the story along. I'd love to see some of this material reused instead of becoming backfill for a pit somewhere.