New series about Metro: The Price of Safety

This is a series that will be running over at Greater Greater Washington. I will repost them here a few days later, for those of you that don't read GGW. This is a more 'in depth' look at safety within Metro, and will be more detail-oriented.

The Price of Safety: Introduction

Following the June 22 crash on Metro's Red Line, numerous questions have arisen regarding safety on Metro. Most of these questions focused on the immediate cause of the crash that killed 9 and left scores injured. At this point, the National Transportation Safety Board has still not completed their investigation, so much of the information available is, at best, informed speculation.

What is not simply speculation, however, is the history of Metro's safety challenges and their efforts to address them. In the more than ninety days that have passed since the June 22 crash, much has come to light regarding Metro's past and present safety record. Some instances have been well-publicized, such as Metro's action and lack of action on NTSB recommendations. Other examples have received less attention, such as safety concerns following a series of derailments in 2003-2004. In some cases, problems have persisted for much of Metro's 33-year history.

Some of these problems stem from Metro's chronically underfunded state. Others do not. Metro has to carefully balance safety against other priorities. Sometimes they have been successful, sometimes not. Some of these issues are ingrained in the organization's culture.

The goal of this series, The Price of Safety, is shine a light on Metro's safety record and attempt to identify ways that Metro can improve safety given limited resources. By identifying current and historical shortcomings, it is possible to lay out a roadmap for reform. This is not a series about the June 22 crash, but rather a bigger picture look at Metro's self-proclaimed "culture of safety." This is also not an attempt to blame Metro for circumstances beyond their control, but to identify positive steps to address the issues that they can control and avoid future problems where possible.

Metro is at a crossroads, suffering budgetary problems and the consequences of the organization's worst rail disaster. There is never an easy or convenient time for an organization to undertake significant and ground shaking changes. For Metro, however, many needed changes are ripe or even overdue.

The following is a brief sketch of where this series will go, and what will be covered. I will break the sections up as logically as possible, with the goal of a new post each week. I will try to present as much objective information as possible in order to draw a reasonable and honest summary of the current state of safety.

Previous incidents
  • Struck workers: Fatal incidents involving track workers
  • Derailments: From the 1982 fatal derailment to present
  • Collisions: The 1996, 2004 and 2009 crashes
  • Near-misses: Focusing on the 2005 incident outside Foggy Bottom, but looking at others, including the 2009 near-miss at Potomac Avenue

Metro's safety priorities and response to crises
  • Communication with NTSB and the Tri-State Oversight Committee
  • Safety management structure and institutional memory. Is there a true "culture of safety" within Metro?

Looking ahead, the potential for reform
  • The next steps: Immediate changes
  • Bigger picture: 'Creative destruction' to Metro's organizational chart
  • Financial and political considerations versus passenger safety: A life or death struggle
I hope you'll join me in taking a critical look at a vital part of our region's infrastructure.

Damning allegations about Teddy Loza

The CityPaper does a rundown of Councilmember Jim Graham's relationship with his now-indicted Chief of Staff, Teddy Loza This story punches a whole bunch of holes in Graham's story that he was unaware of Loza's personal problems. It doesn't address the bribery allegations, but it opens a whole new can of worms for Graham.

This is an absolute must read piece, but here are some of the highlights:
  • In 2005, Loza slept with a woman while on a junket to El Salvador. He got her pregnant. She came to the US on a tourist visa, and Loza pressured her to get an abortion. She initially refused, but eventually receipts show Jim Graham paid for a late-term abortion using his personal credit card.
  • A year later the woman was pregnant again with Loza's child. He again pressured her to have an abortion. She refused, and the baby was born in October 2007. From the CityPaper's piece: "For months afterward, Loza denied paternity and refused to pay child support. Then, while simultaneously denying he was father of the child in one court proceeding, he filed another court action demanding sole custody. (These court proceedings yielded the details for the history of Loza’s stormy relationship with his companion.) In March 2008, a judge ordered Loza to pay $878 per month in child support."
  • In 2008, Loza got into a dispute with a bouncer at Marvin. He apparently threatened to have the establishment's liquor license suspended.
This article tells me a few different things. It tells me that Jim Graham was aware of Ted Loza's personal problems, and knew of his hot temper. There's no way he couldn't have known, people informed Graham and he stayed away from the issue saying it had no bearing on his professional position. Whether that's true or not, it makes it so no one can possibly believe the Councilmember when he says he had no knowledge of Loza's personal issues or why he might take a bribe.

I ask the same question Loose Lips asks, why did Graham stick with Loza for so long? And still to this day?

News Bullets, "post recession" Wednesday;

Two Graham aides subpoenaed in bribery investigation. Grand Jury subpoenas were issued for David Vacca and Steve Hernandez, two staffers for Graham's committee on Public Works and Transportation. Jim Graham, the "Teflon Elton John," has not yet been accused of any wrongdoing, though rumors are flying that he is the focus of the FBI investigation. We've long complained about the appearance of a taxicab 'racket' in DC, and it appears as though our suspicions were warranted. Also, since legislation appears to be for sale under Jim Graham's watch, may I ask how much we'd have to pony up to get some real change at Metro? Graham also serves as the Chairman of the WMATA Board.

DC is the top destination for young professionals "post recession," says the Wall Street Journal.
Our fair city is tied with Seattle as a great place for yuppies to make their home. File this under the obvious folder. WSJ cites things such as increased government hiring and the draw of the capital's non-profit sector. Looks like the business media is continuing to hope they can push the 'recovery' angle even more. With the way the non-profit sector has been hit during the recession, it remains to be seen what will be left when it is over. Let's not count our "after the recession" chickens just yet, WSJ. Favorite profile:
David Gibson Jr., 25 years old, passed up finance jobs in Charlotte, New York and Atlanta to settle in Washington as a financial analyst for the Federal Reserve. Mr. Gibson, who has an M.B.A., figures the capital, with its many universities, can accommodate him for the long haul, enabling him to pursue a Ph.D. if he chooses. He loves the city's museums and live jazz and R&B venues, he says, and its power-center status is helping him "expand my network world-wide."
Vick warns DC residents to stay away from dog fighting. Hardly anyone showed up to hear Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick talk about the perils of dog fighting. He told the crowd that he was swept up in the culture, so on and so forth. The NFL star's appearance was sponsored by the Humane Society. Remember that time the dog was found in a trash can after presumably losing a dog fight? No one showing up to hear Vick speak; good. No one showing up to support ending dog fighting; bad. Verdict: It's the Eagles' PR problem. I don't particularly care to hear a million dollar superstar tell me that dog fighting almost ruined his life.

The Orange Line was damaged by stockpiled soil. So says Metro in a lawsuit, but the article at the Examiner is very confusing. Apparently Jemal's Fairfield Farms, LLC improperly stored soil at a location near the Orange Line off Addison Road. The weight of the soil caused a hill to shift, damaging the elevated track support structure. Apparently the track has been damaged since 2007, causing trains to travel at reduced speeds. The conclusion of the article indicates Metro is suing Douglas Development Corporation for $11 million in damages. The Examiner's article is counting on you to know that Douglas Jemal owns both companies. The piece also doesn't explain why Metro is suing the development company rather than the farm.

MPD doesn't like Why I Hate DC, or facts. A tipster noticed that a message sent the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District Listserv was seemingly edited by the group moderator. The message referred to the fact that DC had reached 100 homicides, and included links to a blog post here, and to MPD's own crime statistics page. When the message appeared on the board, the link to Why I Hate DC was removed, and the link to MPD's site was broken.


Some clarifications about this site

A few good discussions have been going on in the comments here (this is likely a first for this site!) and I just wanted to say a few words about the direction this site has gone in the past few months.

I began writing for Why I Hate DC last November. My initial interest was to write about DC politics. I read the news, and a lot of the time I don't like what I see. I also enjoy writing, so I threw my hat in the ring. It's always been a stretch for me to write the sort of sarcastic, personal-story-oriented pieces that Rusty or James had mastered. Due to various circumstances, it ended up that I was the remaining writer. Rather than "fake it" and try to write in a tone that wasn't my own, I took a different attitude.

This turned off many of the site's older readership. At the same time, though, it attracted a new readership. As it stands today, more people read this site now than at any other point since Liz was replaced. For the record, both Rusty and James have sent in emails saying they like the direction the site had gone in.

It's a different site now. The name doesn't even so much apply. People come here for a different take on local news. Sadly I have to pick and choose what I cover, because this is not my full-time job. I would absolutely love to spend an entire day digging around for information about the Taxicab scandal. I'd love to take a finetooth comb to Jim Graham's career. If I could spend my days researching the history of safety at Metro to put together feature pieces, I would.

Instead, I use what free time I have and what resources I have to cover stories I think people will enjoy reading. Whatever your personal opinion was about the ghost bikes, it captured the attention of a lot of people. So I sent in FOIA requests and asked people for comments. I put together a story. The local TV news, DCist, City Paper and the Washington Post all covered the ghost bikes story. All of those stories left questions unanswered. I answered them. People read the story, and a lot of people commented. I noted that it cost me some money out of pocket to get those answers. Readers who were interested and appreciated the content donated some money, and in the end I have covered the costs of the FOIA request.

I'll continue to cover what I can, with the time that I have. I'll do my best to bring things to light that have been otherwise forgotten or overlooked. There aren't a whole lot of other DC blogs that spend a lot of time doing this. If I ever have the opportunity to cover DC news with more resources than simply a blog, I would take advantage of that. For now, I'll continue to write for 'blogs.'

Good content is good content. News is news, whether it's covered by a blog, a TV network, or a newspaper. If people want a story covered, I'll cover it. It's a simple as that.

Thanks for reading.

News Bullets, "100 homicides" Tuesday;

Thanks to the anonymous commenter for the new name for the daily news briefs. I think it works well. Also, thanks to the people who donated thus far to the FOIA request. About a dozen donations came in, ranging from $0.50 to $15.00. Still not at $65 but it was nice to see some people pitch in. I think the discussion that's taken place regarding FOIA fees, government transparency, and bloggers is great. I don't know what the right solution is to all of this. I suppose it really means I shouldn't ask for FOIA requests unless I'm willing to spend my own money on it. Which is a shame, because that will only result in myself and others not pursuing things further. This also could be linked into the whole bigger picture of what is a blog (or newspaper's) content worth. Would anyone pay $0.25 a month to read this site? What about $0.50? If you did, I could afford to file a lot of FOIA requests and maybe even work on the site full-time one day per week. Interesting things to ponder.

MPD updates homicide count to 100. Just last month MPD Chief Cathy Lanier told the Washington Times that keeping homicides under 100 for 2009 was a reasonable goal. Well, we've had (at least) 12 homicides since then to put us at 100 with another three months to go in the year. Nice try, Cathy. So will she blame her department for failing at protecting citizens? Or will she blame some sort of trend that isn't her fault. We all know it's likely a mix of both, but since she's been taking personal credit for national trends when things are good, I suppose this should be on her and the department. Next time don't make absurd predictions. It wasn't going to end well.

The History Channel showed what a post-nuclear bomb DC would look like
. Day After Disaster was on last night, a 2-hour look at a terrorist bomb going off in DC. It'll be on again October 6. I live tweeted it for a bit, I can't decide if it was terrifying or hilarious. These sorts of scenarios aren't what I fear on a day-to-day basis. However, I did learn a few things, if a nuke goes off, DC Fire and EMS will tweet about it. No, really, they said that. Also, try to avoid looking at the flash, and open your mouth for when the shockwave arrives. That way your eardrums won't explode.

Street sense doing well during the recession. The City Paper takes a look at how Street Sense, the non-profit newspaper about homelessness, is actually growing in this economy. There's been an increase in vendors (perhaps not surprising) and some fundraising drives have helped. I suppose using the term "thrives" might be a little misleading, given that the paper is doing well because there are more needy or homeless people selling it on the streets. A subject for another time, of course, is homelessness in DC. I've gotten to know a few Street Sense vendors, and for many the job is a good pathway to a better life. If only we could get some more programs like Street Sense, perhaps we could eventually see some real progress in getting some of these people in need off the streets. Alas, I'm an idealistic blogger.

Metro gets federal funds for security cameras. WMATA accepted $27.8 million to install more security cameras on buses, in Metro stations, and in railcars. Most of the funds are directed towards cameras on buses. Privacy advocates have some sort of problem with cameras in railcars, though I have a hard time understanding why. I have to agree with Metro that I have no expectation of privacy when riding on the subway. I'd also advocate for cameras in the train operator area. Operators certainly have no expectation of privacy while driving the train. Airliners have the cockpit voice recorders.


The Alice Swanson Ghost Bike: What really happened

As readers know, I've been following this story for a while. I've been able to track down what happened with regard to the August 28 removal of the Alice Swanson ghost bike at Connecticut and R Streets, NW. This is a lot of information, so bear with me.

On Wednesday August 19, Ed Grandis, the Executive Director of the Dupont Circle Merchants and Professionals Association (DC MAP) sent an email to Mark Bjorge at the District Department of Transportation. In this email, Grandis characterized the ghost bike as being in "significant disrepair" an "eye sore" that was "not a memorial." Grandis requested the removal of the bike on behalf of "several commercial property owners." Also copied on this email was DC MAP's board, including Susan Taylor (Church of Scientology), David Perruzza (JR's Bar and Grill), Jonathan J. ten Hoopen (Black Fox Lounge) and James McGlade (The Leather Rack). When asked via email, Grandis declined to comment for this story. Perruzza responded writing "I work on 17th street but from what I understand they removed it because it is in the way of pedestrian traffic."

On Thursday August 27, Andrew Huff, Mayor Fenty's Ward 2 Outreach Specialist sent an urgent request to DPW asking that the lock on the ghost bike be cut immediately. The email was sent at 7:33 PM and asked that the lock be cut before close of business on Friday. Huff said that it was "a Mayoral request and your assistance is greatly appreciated." The request did contain a note saying "DO NOT REMOVE OR THROW BICYCLE AWAY - JUST CUT THE LOCK AND LEAVE AT LOCATION. FAMILY MEMBERS WILL RETRIEVE BICYCLE TOMORROW."

At 8:20 PM, Jim Sebastian, who works on bicycle matters at DDOT, replied to Huff and DPW saying that Eric Gilliland at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association had located the key to the lock, and asked if the bike's removal could wait until Monday. Huff replied saying "[w]e can wait until Monday but not later." Huff the notified DPW that their services would not be needed.

On Friday, August 28, Earl Simpson at DPW reported that they had cut the lock on the bike. He told Anthony Duckett, Associate Administrator in DPW's Solid Waste Management Administration that the bicycle had been left at Cosi, "because we didn't want anyone to take it while its unlock (sic)."

On Monday, when the media began asking questions about the ghost bike's removal, there was much discussion within DPW, the Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM), and DDOT on how to respond. According to Nancee Lyons at DPW, the bicycle was removed via the abandoned bicycle policy, and not the sidewalk memorial policy. Had it been removed under the memorial policy, a 30-day notice would have been left. The public affairs campaign regarding the incident began to get muddled, as it was unclear whether the Mayor's Office or DPW would take the lead in responding.

I had asked DPW for an official comment on Monday, and internal communication between DPW and EOM revealed a bit of conflict. Mafara Hobson, Fenty's Director of Communications was unwilling to take the lead wanting "to leave the Mayor's name out of the matter." DPW tossed around the idea of sending me a comment explaining the bike's lock had been cut and it had been left in a secure location to prevent theft. I didn't receive an official comment until Tuesday, September 1. This email referenced only the 30-day policy, and extended condolences to Swanson's family. It was unsigned and provided no further information.

The most interesting part of the internal discussion was the consideration of an official memorial being placed for Alice Swanson. Sarah Latterner at the Mayor's Office arranged to call a meeting with all of the involved agencies, as well as WABA and Swanson's family. Francisco Fimbres at the Mayor's Office asked DDOT to "come prepared to suggest a memorial on the sidewalk. Be it a tree box structure with a bike and flowers + a little placard. WABA or family can pay, DDOT and EOM could support and help them make it happen."

Lyons, in an email to DPW Director Bill Howland, said "so now that the Mayor's office apparently asked for this to be removed, folks are apparently freaking out at the reaction. I don't think affixing a permanent memorial is the right way to go to appease just one family, do you?"

Monday afternoon Howland sent an email to City Administrator Neil Albert, Fenty's Chief of Staff Carrie Kohns, Hobson and DDOT Director Gabe Klein saying he was opposed to any permanent memorial to Alice Swanson. Albert and Hobson would agree, and the official public relations response would be to say that the official policy was that memorials are removed after 30 days and that the city is sorry for the family's loss. That would be the end of discussion on the matter.

What remains unknown is why this issue became such an urgent priority to the Mayor's office. DC MAP's request did not indicate there was an urgent need to remove the bicycle. These emails were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, however it does appear that Mayor Fenty's office withheld many documents. I sent separate FOIA requests to both DPW and EOM. DPW's response includes over 80 pages of emails, many that were sent from staff in Fenty's office. Many of those emails were NOT also included in the FOIA documents supplied by the Mayor's Office. I was provided with no documents that show how the matter moved from DDOT to EOM and why it became a priority. Also, there is still no information on what businesses approached DC MAP with the original request. This would not have been covered by the FOIA request.

If anything, this whole incident has revealed some tension and blame-passing between DPW and Fenty's office. Fenty's office demanded the prompt removal of the bike, and then essentially hung DPW out to dry. It's no surprise I received 80 pages of documentation from DPW and roughly 4 pages from Fenty's office. They fall back on the "30 day policy," however the memorial clearly remained for more than 30 days. DPW's communications indicate the bike wasn't removed under the 30 day policy, but rather under the abandoned bicycle policy.

Personally, I believe that the replacement memorial idea should not have been shot down so quickly. Had the city offered to help dedicate a treebox near the site, I don't believe the 22 ghost bike art project would have happened. Rather we would have had a small, unobtrusive memorial. From a political standpoint that would have been much better than the mess that unfolded. It would not have necessarily resulted in a "Pandora's Box" as the DPW chief called it. Clearly this memorial was allowed to remain beyond 30 days, so this was done on a case-by-case basis. Permanent memorials for tragedies in the future could also have been handled on a case-by-case basis. Having some plaques on some treeboxes is not unheard of, and would not clutter up the city.

Briefly noted, bailing out Detroit Monday;

Pictured: Metro's public relations team hard at work.

Good morning Washington. It was a slow weekend in the news. This is going to be a busy week in the blogosphere, though. This is a briefer edition of briefly noted because I've got a bunch of content lined up. Starting this morning.

Metro offers a response to the Post article about "sandwiching," remains unconvincing. Metro put out a quick response yesterday, claiming there have been crash-worthiness studies, though not involving Metro railcars. WMATA also continues holding the "Series 1000 cars are safe" theme. Perhaps trying to "get out in front" of problems, the press release admits that sometimes car intercoms don't work when the Series 1000 cars are in the center of the train. So... if the cars are safe anyways (NTSB disagrees), and it causes more problems (and cost), then why are they still being put in the center of the train? Sigh, at least NBC4 agrees with me.

SHOCK POLL came out Friday, Fenty's disapproval rate at 51%. It's exciting, we're getting closer to election time. There's still a ton of time, but a SurveyUSA/WJLA poll shows Fenty might be in a bit of trouble. 54% of District Democrats disapprove of his job as Mayor thus far. I suppose this is only meaningful if someone runs a viable campaign against him. I'd like to see some poll numbers for other races in the District, but I can't afford to put polls in the field. Though I would like to see some polling the race for Ward 1 Councilmember.

Speaking of DC elections, DC GOP robocalls Ward 1 about Jim Graham. An automated call to Ward 1 residents highlights the arrest of Ted Loza and the search warrant executed at the Wilson Building. The DC GOP attempts to link Graham both to Loza's misdeeds and also reminds voters about the incident where one of Graham's interns allegedly shot two people at the Columbia Heights Metro station. The mantra is "anyone but Graham." Hey, I agree. Anyone listening? I'm a concerned Ward 1 resident, who also doesn't want Graham on the Metro board anymore.

Really quick hits: Homicide count still sitting at 99, unclear on when this will ever be updated. Washington bails out Detroit with 19 points. CityDesk tells you more about liquor licenses restricted to "chain restaurants" in Trinidad.

Coming up this week: THIS MORNING the definitive post about the ghost bike hubub. Later this week, Eye on H Street Country Club and the Arena Stage. More on Metro, of course. Stay tuned.


Catoe, Metro Board, and Metro's Safety Chief deceived public, media, Congress

Back in July, Metro announced they were putting the older Series 1000 railcars in the middle of trains. The Series 1000 cars had been deemed unsafe in a collision by the NTSB, and John Catoe billed this effort as a safety improvement.

This is exactly the kind of safety improvement that should be expected with Catoe and the current Metro management: none.

The Washington Post reports today that, as some of us suspected, there was no scientific study done to show that "bellying" the railcars would improve safety. In fact, myself and others on the Internet had asked if maybe this move was actually making things less safe, by surrounding older, more "brittle" railcars with the stronger, newer cars.

In July, in a previously unreleased letter to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro safety chief Alexa Dupigny-Samuels admitted the move was purely theater. It was "a means to address public perception." The committee concluded that the effort was only a public relations measure.

Metro board members knew the measure meant absolutely nothing, yet allowed John Catoe to go on television, write Op-Eds in the Post, and testify before Congress saying the measure was aimed at improving safety.

From the Post:
At a June 30 news conference, Catoe said, "To ensure as much as we can the crashworthiness of our cars and of our trains, we're moving these cars to the belly of the train configuration." Five days later in an op-ed column in The Washington Post, Catoe wrote, "We have placed the 1000-series rail cars at the centers of our trains, hoping that this will make them less vulnerable."

And a week after that, in testimony to a congressional subcommittee, Catoe said that Metro was working "to enhance safety" and that "the cars are specifically placed based upon . . . crashworthiness." In the news conference and in his testimony, Catoe stressed that he considered the cars safe to operate.
Add into the mix the fact that shuffling these cars around is expensive; Metro admits it results in a good deal of overtime.

In the world of reality, this measure likely harms safety. I'm not a professional safety consultant, nor do I have years of experience at Metro. However, I am armed with some common sense and knowledge of previous safety failures within organizations. Look at it this way: There's no benefit from putting the cars in the middle of the train, other than as a PR move. There's a significant cost to this effort, time and manpower and money. Also, as the Post points out, no longer having the different series cars attached to specific maintenance shops could result in even more problems.

The biggest problem of all is the fact that this was seen as a SOLUTION to a serious problem. The Series 1000 cars are unsafe no matter where in the train they are placed. The NTSB has said as much, and personally, I trust the NTSB to make that call more than I trust Metro's safety department, which cannot keep a safety chief for more than a year.


Briefly noted, Grahamgate Friday;

Not pictured: Federal agents searching Ted Loza's home

The lead story across the blogosphere is the arrest of Jim Graham's chief of staff, Ted Loza. I live in Ward 1, and I tell you if someone doesn't challenge Graham in the Democratic primary, I'll be upset. Every news outlet has information on this story, the gist of it being that Loza was paid by unknown people in the taxi industry to get taxicab legislation passed. This would be the taxicab legislation Graham introduced regarding medallions and hybrid cabs. Graham claims that Loza had no impact whatsoever on the taxi legislation, and in fact that they hardly discussed the matter. Somehow I find it very unlikely that Graham didn't have discussions with Loza about an important piece of legislation. Loza is Graham's top aide, who earns a salary of $93,286. Loza's wife, Ligia X. Munoz, works for FiestaDC, a group funded until FY2010 by DC Council earmarks. In the last two years, FiestaDC has received $300,000 in District funds. Also possibly of interest, Loza is not a U.S. citizen. Does anyone else find it completely ridiculous and outrageous that Loza makes nearly $100,000 for a job that apparently doesn't even involve discussing legislation? By the way, he is on "paid administrative leave" pending trial. One Loza salary could have saved WEAVE... just saying.

MPD investigating body found under pier, would be the District's 100th homicide. As of this morning the homicide count was still at 99, though police have not made a determination about the body found in Southwest. The body of a woman in her 40's was found near the Capital Yacht Club yesterday morning. Maybe they will wait until after January 1, 2010 to declare this a homicide.

Metro fires bus driver involved in crash. Metro has fired Carla Proctor, the operator of the out-of-service bus that struck Amanda Mahnke on September 3. The Dupont Circle incident was Proctor's third on-the-job crash. Metro says Proctor was fired for failing to follow standard operating procedures. The Mahnke family is seeking witnesses, likely for a lawsuit. Police have not yet filed charges in the incident. This seems to be confirmation by Metro that Proctor was at fault.

Speaking of Metro, they locked some people in the Van Dorn station last night. NBC4 reports a group of people were locked inside the Van Dorn Street station last night. Reportedly they were left there for 45 minutes before the gates were unlocked. Not a lot of information on this currently, perhaps Metro will have a comment later this morning. All I have to say is this would be evidence of an incredible safety and security problem. If station managers do not sweep the station before locking it up, imagine the damage someone with some tools or bombs could do with a station all to themselves.

Happy Friday, everyone. Coming up soon, the first few installments of the to-be-named feature. The redesign of the Arena Stage is first up, and hopefully an inside look at H Street NE will soon follow. Is it the next U Street? Is it too hyped? Is it the next Clarendon (unlikely)? Love it or hate it, I'll spend some time digging up the nitty gritty. Also, a wrap-up to the whole ghost bike saga.


Why the Catoe Watch continues

Today the WMATA Board voted to extend General Manager John Catoe's contract. As many readers of this site know, I have been advocating for change within Metro, and wrote a petition calling on the WMATA Board to replace Catoe. As the "Catoe Watch" box on this site declares, it's been 94 days since the fatal crash on the Red Line.

I've written many posts here about Metro and the safety problems that exist within the organization. I'm currently working on a completely new series of posts that will be appearing soon elsewhere in the DC blogosphere. I've poured through NTSB accident reports and safety letters, and read every news article about every fatal incident that's ever happened at Metrorail. Let me be clear in saying that I don't believe now, or have ever believed that John Catoe was personally responsible for the June 22 crash.

The point of the Catoe Watch, and the petition, is to highlight long-standing organizational problems at Metro. The transit system is facing all sorts of challenges, including significant financial strains. It would be hard for WMATA to search for a new manager in the midst of all of this. However, I still believe that's exactly what needs to happen. Metro needs reform, and has needed it for a long time. We'll never see that kind of reform with John Catoe, or with this Board. As some media accounts have reported, some on the Board were hesitant to fire Catoe because they were the ones who had hired him! These sorts of political considerations, while the reality, are also the problem.

Organizational, institutional problems cannot be solved without organizational and institutional reform. Yes, Metro has to solve funding problems. Yes, Metro has to solve infrastructure and safety problems. It's a tall order. We really believe that Catoe is the best person in the entire country to do it? Expand the search. Find someone who is good with reforming organizations, even if they have little or no experience with transit. We need someone who can revamp Metro's entire culture within and it's image to the public.

It's a difficult task. It's not impossible. The longer we maintain the status quo, the harder things will be to fix. We've got at least another three years with Catoe. Three more years of the status quo. I'm keeping the Catoe Watch up to remind people that we didn't arrive at the status quo by chance. The Metro Board and those who support Catoe chose this path. If and when things do not improve, and if and when there are more incidents or accidents, I hope we all remember that.

John Catoe's contract extended by another 3 years

The WMATA Board has voted to extend General Manager John Catoe's contract by another 3 years. Board members voiced support for the manager, despite recent safety problems and the 6/22 crash. Board member Chris Zimmerman called Catoe the best person in the country for the job. Catoe's new contract begins January 30, 2010 and his salary of $315,000 plus living expenses is unchanged.

Maybe when Metro Board Chairman Jim Graham is finished praising Catoe's wonderful job, he will have a comment about his chief of staff being arrested.

The vote was 5 in favor, 1 against. Roll call information is not available at this time. Catoe's reaction to the approval was that it is a reflection on his staff and the direction the agency is headed.

I know I feel better already.

UPDATE: The one NAY vote was from the District's City Administrator Neil Albert.

Jim Graham's Chief of Staff Arrested

This just in from DC Wire:
The chief-of-staff to D.C. Council Member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) was arrested Thursday morning by federal agents on bribery charges, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Ted G. Loza, 44, was taken into custody at his home. He is due to appear in the District's federal court Thursday afternoon. Keep an eye on the D.C. Wire today for updates.
I'm looking for information about Loza. The most I can find is that in addition to working for Graham's office, he works with the DC Latino Caucus.

We'll see if Graham has a statement today.

Briefly noted, insanity defense Thursday;

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) blames Metro's troubles on demons. The Washington Post profiles Metro General Manager John Catoe, highlighting his career and the trouble he has faced during his tenure. It's an interesting piece, and it does point out some of the institutional problems that Metro is facing. A good read for anyone interested in local politics, Metro, or PURE INSANITY. Metro Chair Jim Graham is quoted: "We're having the heavens open, and all manner of demons have been unleashed." Now I'm all for hyperbole, I'm a blogger after all. But first segways and now demons. Also, shouldn't the demons be unleashed from, you know, hell?

DC Blogs links to a ridiculous piece of nonsense. Should I be surprised? Perhaps not. I've been trying to back off of calling other blogs out by name, but this just boils my blood a bit. The blog Red Stapler accuses Amtrak of having a racist seating policy. She doesn't come out and use the R word, but uses the "back of the bus" imagery. She was on a crowded train from Richmond to DC and noticed that the "three cars in the back" were filled with "90%" black people, while the white people rode "comfortably" up front. Now she's got a comments section filled with outraged people vowing to boycott Amtrak. There's a lot to complain about passenger rail service in the U.S., but accusing Amtrak of having some sort of policy of discrimination is ridiculous. Managing passengers on a sold-out route that has people getting on and getting off at numerous stops is a difficult task. Trying to keep groups of people together is even more difficult. And since when are the "back three cars" similar to the "back of the bus?" The rear three cars plus the cafe car make up a majority of the train! Shame for evoking Rosa Parks.

Body found near pier in Southwest. WJLA has a story, though they have it spelled "peir" on their homepage. The female body (according to @dcfireems) was found near the 900 block of Water Street SW. I've been keeping my eyes on MPD's web site, and for the past few days the homicide figure has been sitting at 99, though bodies have been found that are likely homicide victims (not even including this one). We're getting real close to 100... I wonder if MPD's site will curiously stop getting updated.

Some taxicabs to get credit card payment machines, ala New York City. Hey, don't get excited, it's not in the District. Barwood Taxi in Kensington, Md. has installed some of those fancy touchscreen computerized credit card machines. Red Top Cab in Arlington is also considering installing some of the devices. It costs a taxi company around $100 to install the machine. In the District, we'll continue to have taxicabs with meters attached with duct tape, drivers who can never make change for a $20, and won't take you to your destination.

Federal forest fire funding going to the District. I'm all in favor of green jobs, but this does sound a bit fishy. $2.8 million in "Wildland Fire Management" funds are going to the District to create environment-oriented jobs. Critics in Congress point out that large wildfires continue to burn out west and that the District has no national forests. Officials say the name is misleading, and that the stimulus funds are intended for more than just firefighting. Says Steve Coleman, director of Washington Parks and People, "[t]he condition of forests in the city is directly related to crime." Most of the funds will go to Parks and People to improve the city's urban tree canopy and for DDOT to finance an "all green summer jobs corps." Honestly, we could use some money to improve our actual firefighting infrastructure.


Briefly noted, 'urgent recommendations' Wednesday;

The NTSB has sent urgent safety recommendations to Metro. Yesterday the federal agency sent safety letters to Metro, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and Alstrom Signaling. In the letter sent to John Catoe, NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman makes the following recommendations:
Examine track circuits within your system that may be susceptible to parasitic oscillation and spurious signals capable of exploiting unintended signal paths, and eliminate those adverse conditions that could affect the safe performance of your train control system. This work should be conducted in coordination with your signal and train control equipment manufacturer(s). (R-09-15) (Urgent)

Develop a program to periodically determine that electronic components in your train control system are performing within design tolerances. (R-09-16)

The NTSB has not yet released an accident report on the 6/22 crash, but if anything is clear, it is the fact that the current signaling system is susceptible to failure, and those failures can have horrific consequences. Metro has responded saying they are already taking appropriate action to identify failing track circuits.

Council passes ethics regulations, Segway rules. Yesterday the DC Council passed its first-ever unified code of ethics. This is temporary, emergency legislation that will expire in 90-days. We'll see if the Council follows up on this, and introduces a code of ethics that has some teeth and enforcement. The Council also made it legal for disabled people to ride Segways on the sidewalk downtown. Like bicycles, it's illegal to drive a Segway on the sidewalk in the downtown business district. A disabled resident complained, and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) introduced emergency legislation to legalize the "personal mobility devices" for people with disabilities. The best part of the whole thing is that Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) believes that Segways are a "matter of great concern." Priorities, Jim, Priorities.

11th Street Bridge Project gets the greenlight. The DC Council approved a $365 million reconstruction project for the 11th Street Bridge. This will be the largest capital improvement plan ever undertaken by the District Department of Transportation. The aim is to alleviate traffic to/from Anacostia and simplify access to other freeways and bridges. I enjoy that the "opponents" the Post talks with mention how the $365 million could have been better used for other highway projects. I prefer to imagine what $365 million could have done for transit.

Some jackass wanted to stop the H Street Festival. Frozen Tropics has the scoop on a local resident who tried to get the festival's permits revoked. The Trinidad/H St NE area blog calls out resident Bobby Pittman by name, detailing the controversy. An interesting read, and provides a bit of insight into neighborhood politics and possible pushback to gentrification. Or a pushback to anything fun or nice.

The blogocalypse is nigh. Professional blogger Prince of Petworth now offers a "Smell of the Day."


Call for suggestions for a new feature

So I've been kicking around an idea for a new feature. I haven't completely decided on a title yet, but "the real deal" is the general idea. It goes something like this:

I take something that draws a lot of "hate" in DC. Maybe it's a restaurant, a bar, a political official, it's all fair game. I boil down the reason why it's hated, and then I have a discussion with the owner, manager, or person themselves. I talk about the topics that are fueling the hate, ask them a few questions, and write up a bit of "analysis." I'll throw together some sort of rating system, and try to piece together how much of that hate is warranted, and how much might be unfair. I'll try to be as objective as possible, so that when the establishment or person does end up scoring high on the "hate scale" (to be renamed, I'm sure) it's all the more "for reals."

I've been trying to come up with ideas, and so far the leaders are the H Street Country Club and the Dangerously Delicious Pie shop. Other possibilities could be the Cork Wine Bar, and possibly Marvin (if they want to talk to me, I did refer to them as a Waffle House). I'm looking for your ideas, though, of things that would make a good "Why We Hate DC" piece. Come to think of it, that's a good title. Maybe I'll go with that.

What do you all think?

Briefly noted, mo' money mo' problems, Tuesday;

Senate approves $150 million for Metro safety. The Post has a write up on a Senate bill providing funds for "projects that will improve the safety" of the Metrorail system. The main priorities for the money would be to implement important National Transportation Safety Board recommendations. It's not a done deal yet, the details need to be worked out with the House before President Obama signs it. We'll see how much accountability is behind these earmarks, and how Metro will implement them. Perhaps 'much needed' bonuses for John Catoe and perhaps Lisa Farbstein, given the 'difficult' job they've had to do in the wake of the 6/22 crash. We'll see what happens, $150 million isn't enough to fix everything but it's enough to put a stop to the "we have no money" excuse.

Domestic violence support group WEAVE to shut down. This is just tragic. The DC non-profit that provides emotional and legal support to survivors of domestic violence will be shutting down. The group was operating with a $2 million budget, serving over 3,500 people annually. Most of their funding comes from government sources and grants, with a huge amount from the District's Office of Victim Services. Due to the budget crunch, there will be no funding for counseling services in FY2010, and WEAVE will have to cease operations. For most of those WEAVE helps, there are no other organizations to pick up the slack. WEAVE provides legal services for women, and if the organization shuts down, many victims may lose their legal representation in the midst of trials. The group is attempting to raise $80,000 to keep legal services going, they have brought in about $37k. Visit this site to donate. Way to cut a really vital part of the city's budget. Kick people when their down is the best way to improve the city. As much as I'd hate to say it, I'd rather see Saturday hours cut at the library than WEAVE shut down. I know budgets aren't always flexible like that, but for the price of a dog park we could continue to help victims of domestic violence. Also, for the record, the price tag of the dog park was only for the dog park, not for the human park as well.

Some DC cabbies are on strike, WTOP won't tell you why. Super double-secret cabbie strike today, according to WTOP News. All the article says is:
WASHINGTON -- You may have trouble catching a cab Tuesday morning.
Some D.C. cab drivers are holding a strike until 6 p.m.

It is not a full fledge strike.

WTOP called a few D.C. cab companies and they say you can still get a cab if you need one.
Wow that was some awesome reporting there. Someone in the comments says it's related to today being World Carfree Day.

Controversy over liquor licenses on Bladensburg Road, NE. The local ANC wants to ban both single sales of alcohol and new liquor licenses for non "chain" restaurants. In a reversal of roles, WeLoveDC reports. It's unclear on what exactly an "established chain" is... could the owners of Marvin or the Diner open an establishment? Or is a brightly lit (possibly neon) sign a requirement? I'm noting this down in the "look into this further" file. It seems like we might be seeing some resistance to the gentrification along H Street. Residents, perhaps, don't want more alcohol-serving taverns attracting yupsters from NW and Virginia.

DC Council hires Florida-based firm to construct ethics rules? Michael Neibauer reports in the Examiner that the Council has a contract with Jacksonville, Fla. firm CityEthics to develop a new ethics code. Neibauer notes that the new 'guidelines' are mostly toothless. I have to ask, in a city full of public policy experts and wonks, why we are contracting this out to a firm in Florida?


Briefly noted, 'hipster justice' Monday;

It's back to another week, and it looks like we aren't rid of the swamp-weather yet. At least it's nice and cool in the mornings.

Bad news: another murder. Derrick Marshall, 20, was gunned down Friday night in Southwest. Good news: MPD have made an arrest in the case, a 17-year-old has been charged.

Borderstan reports on a vigilante-style beat down of a mugger. Who knows how accurate this account is, but supposedly a couple 20-something "hipsters" chased down a mugger on U Street and started beating him in the gutter near Nellie's Sports Bar. I don't condone this behavior, since it's a bit risky--the mugger could have had a weapon. In this instance the mugger escaped with some injuries, and MPD was not involved. It's hard to say if it would have been safer or more prudent to restrain the assailant and wait for MPD to make an arrest. As it stands now, the so-called hipsters went from victims of robbery to perpetrators of (possibly) aggravated assault. But I bet it felt good. Hopefully this actually was the case of hipsters beating muggers, and not some pissed off kids beating someone up for the hell of it.

Another fire at the Embassy of Gabon. District fire officials are investigating a late-night fire in the basement of the embassy. There were no injuries but damage is estimated to be near $100,000. This is the second fire at the embassy in the last month, the previous fire being declared as arson. It's unclear the cause of this fire, though it may be related to the serious political turmoil going on within Gabon. It's always interesting to see how international crises play out here in DC.

As expected, Lanier appeals All Hands on Deck ruling. No surprise here, MPD Chief Lanier has appealed a federal labor board's ruling that the AHOD program must end. MPD's argument continues to be that these initiatives are necessary to reduce crime. According to the federal arbitrator and the DC police union, the measures violate officers' labor contract and the law. Lanier wants to argue the programs necessity and effectiveness. I don't understand how that's even relevant if the program violates the law. I bet we might see a reduction in crime if we made police work 24-hour shifts, everyday forever until those new police robots are developed. Who cares if it's legal or not. Heck, I bet we'd see a reduction in crime if we put up checkpoints around high crime areas and asked people for papers to enter. Right?

H Street Country Club to get even more ridiculous. The mini-golf location is now featuring expensive designer cocktails. PoP reports that mixologist Gina Chersevani will be assisting in their revamping of their drink menu. This will include artistic cocktails. And mini-golf. I'm still hoping for a place that will have skeeball, air hockey and fancy 'foam' cuisine served with handcrafted cocktails, dangerous pies, and charcuterie.

Photo from the H Street Festival by Francis Chung, via DCist. Not pictured: vigilante hipsters.


All ghost bikes removed from Connecticut and R

Sometime today all of the ghost bikes were removed from Connecticut and R. It is unclear who removed them.

This morning, they were all in place, though the DDOT laminated tags had been removed. This evening, all of the bikes, including the one that had been locked to the light post at the original ghost bike site, were gone.

There was one remaining ghost bike, further up Connecticut Avenue, outside of the Academy for Educational Development building, between Florida Avenue and T Street.

UPDATE: TheWashCycle reports that DPW removed the bicycles on Friday. They also note that the part of DC code cited on the DDOT tags appeared to be relevant only to locked bicycles.

Again, this all likely would have been avoided had there been better communication between the Mayor's Office (supposedly) and DPW.

Briefly noted, 'alarming frequency' Friday;

Amid media confusion, Metro reports yet another suicide-by-train. Yesterday a 15-year-old student jumped in front of a Huntington-bound Yellow Line train at the Columbia Heights station. Eyewitness reports at WTOP initially indicated horseplay as a possible cause, saying a group of students were playing "chicken" on the platform. It's unclear how one plays "chicken" on a Metro platform, or even with a Metro train, (it's on rails, it can't swerve), but now Metro Chair Jim Graham has said it is "definitely a suicide." Transit Police are still investigating, but Graham felt the need to clear that up immediately. Today WTOP reports Metro is attempting to curb further suicides, but it's unclear what steps will be taken in the short term. My suggestion? Have an employee on the platform of every station, all day, in a period of time following a suicide. Train the employees in what to look for and how to approach someone who looks like they may be contemplating jumping (see Toronto as an example). There have been nine suicide attempts this year on Metro (7 fatal), up from five attempts and two deaths in 2008. I'll have a longer piece on Metro and suicides next week.

DC Public Libraries getting shafted. As part of Mayor Adrian Fenty's efforts to close a Nationals Stadium-sized budget gap, the library budget has been cut by 11%. This means no more Sunday or holiday hours, and the bookmobile will be put in storage. DC Public Library hopes to keep their main branch, the Martin Luther King Library near Metro Center open on Sundays with the help of volunteers. It could be worse, the Philadelphia Free Library system nearly closed entirely due to budget problems.

Council Chair Vincent Gray slams Fenty. It's showdown time over teachers in the DC Public Schools. Yesterday Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced $40 million in cuts from the DCPS budget. Fenty says the cuts need to happen because of the budget cuts made by the DC Council. Gray disagrees, saying Fenty and Rhee are using this as an excuse to fire union teachers. This is all a bit complicated, but it looks like Gray is on to something here. Mike DeBonis takes a deeper look for the City Paper.

Council of Carpenters again likely using the homeless to protest. There's a picket line outside of the Washington Hilton today, protesting the lack of union carpenters on the worksite. They carry signs proclaiming the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters is outraged, and that hiring non-union labor hurts carpenter's wages. Perhaps a fair statement to make. However, it's well documented that the union hires homeless people to picket. The "hired feet" make about $8/hour "protesting" the impact on union wages. Yes, this obviously makes us sympathetic to unions. Perhaps the non-union protesters can protest the union not hiring union protesters.

Finally, if you missed it, Why I Hate DC was featured on the Washingtonian's Capital Comment blog earlier this week. If interested feel free to read a brief profile and interview, and compare them to Rusty's.


DDOT cleans up, restores ghost bikes?

Quick update. The previously piled up ghost bikes have been put back up at their original locations. They have laminated tags from the District Department of Transportation (pictured) saying the bikes will be removed in 10 days. The original artist, Legba Carrefour was not involved in the clean-up.

@ScienceClub confirms DDOT personnel were on the scene putting the tags on the bikes.

To clarify my earlier post from today, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association was not responsible for the ghost bikes. Their offices are located nearby, and they had been involved with the original ghost bike display and worked with Alice Swanson's family.

Briefly noted, all piled up Thursday;

Ghost bike display now just a few piles. All of the remaining ghost bikes near Connecticut and R have been piled up at two locations, outside of the Cosi and at the site of the original ghost bike. It's a mess, and the pile near the Cosi is blocking the crosswalk. It appears as though some of the bikes that had been locked are in the pile or missing, as well. It's unclear who may have done this, but I would imagine DPW will be removing the bikes very soon given the state of the street. I urge Legba Carrefour or the Washington Area Bicyclist Association to clean this up as soon as possible. This is no longer a tribute to Alice Swanson or bicycle safety. Unfortunately it has become an eyesore that is now obstructing pedestrians. I'm a little surprised the display remained intact for this long, given that many of the bikes were not locked to begin with.

Related: It's still unclear who originally requested the bikes to be removed, or how that process unfolded between DPW and the Office of the Mayor. Stay tuned, I'll have some more information on that soon.

Leo Alexander is running for mayor. Mike DeBonis over at the CityPaper asks Alexander a few questions about his (likely ill-fated) campaign. Alexander wants to tackle "generational poverty" in the District, and has a few ideas to get that done. These range from hiring more social workers, to rebuilding DC General Hospital, and cracking down on illegal immigration. Alexander believes that many DC residents have been pushed out of their traditional jobs (parking cars and working in hotels) by illegal immigrants. His base, he tells DeBonis, is "Marion Barry's people." It's unlikely Alexander, the former TV news anchor will mount a serious challenge to Mayor Fenty. However, anything is possible, as Marion Barry himself has shown. I'd like an alternative to Fenty, but not like this.

Cash-strapped Montgomery County pays for employee's chi-chi yoga. Sorry, I know MoCo isn't the District, but this is a great story from the Examiner. Montgomery County, like many other jurisdictions, has been facing budget problems. One thing that hasn't been axed is the county employee tuition assistance program. Employees have been using this to pay for Bikram yoga, a "hot yoga" class. People pay $17 to do yoga in a 105 degree room for 90 minutes. On the county's dime. Can't they just do yoga at Miriam's Kitchen?

Yes, DC is getting rid of safety inspections. No, they aren't closing the inspection station. Passenger vehicles will no longer be inspected for safety issues, a move that will save the District $400,000 per year. Federal law mandates cars be inspected for emissions, however, so the inspection station will remain open. Quick question: Why not privatize vehicle inspections in the District, allowing garages to provide the service, as is the case in other states (Virginia comes to mind). DC could license service stations to provide the inspections, and shut down the inspection station and save even more money. This very idea was floated by Mayor Fenty's office in 2008, though it's unclear why this never happened. Something I'll note to look into later.


How many crashes is too many?

The reports that Metrobus driver Carla Proctor had previously been involved in multiple on and off-the-job crashes has sparked some discussion about driving records and bus safety. At first glance it seems outrageous that someone who had been involved in two on-the-job accidents (with injuries) could still be driving a bus. The fact that she had been cited for driving an unregistered car with no insurance is also a bit outrageous.

However, we should consider the fact that Metrobus drivers spend all day, everyday driving a bus, and it's likely accidents will occur over a period of years. With this in mind, is two accidents in a seven year period too many? Metro General Manager John Catoe says no. He tells WTOP it's not a great record, but "it isn't what [he] would consider a bad record."

Metro classifies accidents in several ways, including "minor" and "major" and whether or not they are preventable. This makes sense, again, because bus drivers are likely to be involved in a crash at some point. It appears that these categories could use some rethinking. While it's understandable that if a bus gets, for example, rear-ended in rush hour traffic, that is not a sign that the bus driver is careless or unsafe. If a bus operator allows her bus to roll backwards down a hill, however, that seems more indicative of carelessness and unsafe practices. The same could be said for crashing into parked cars. While these may have been "minor" (though the second incident resulted in injury and a lawsuit) and "preventable" they seem to paint a more "unsafe" picture than rush hour fenderbenders.

So how many is too many, and can past accidents predict future one? After some brief research, I came across a fairly interesting document from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This report was focused on school bus crashes, but compares school bus accidents to other types, including mass transit buses. Looking at fatal transit bus accidents, from 1999-2005, 46.3% of bus drivers had been in an accident or had a citation in the 3-years prior to the crash (29.9% had been in accidents). In the case of Proctor, she had been on-the-job accident free for five years. Those USDOT figures don't tell us a whole lot, though. Transit accident numbers are difficult to nail down.

At this point it is unclear if Metro knew that Proctor had been cited for driving without insurance or registration--surely an indicator of poor judgement. It's also unclear what impact this would have had on her employment. I'd like to immediately say that Metro is responsible and kept an unsafe driver on payroll, but this is a bit tricky. It seems as though the two accidents in 2003 and 2004 should have been a red flag. Catoe has said he wants Metro to work on a system of cooperation with local motor vehicle departments to monitor bus operator's driving records. We'll see if that ever happens. Metro is also "examining the driving records of all bus operators."

It sounds like Metro's policy recognizes that bus accidents will happen, but could use some more work on classifying and taking accident circumstances into consideration. The realm of "minor" appears to be huge.

Briefly noted, once, twice, three times a negligent driver Wednesday;

Kudos to the Washington Post for staying on the story about the September 3 Metrobus accident in Dupont Circle. If you recall, an empty bus struck a jogger at the intersection of Connecticut and Florida Avenues, NW, at around 8:30 AM. We had learned about the jogger, 30-year-old Amanda Mahnke, a House communications director. Today we learn about the bus driver, 43-year-old Carla Proctor of Southeast. As it turns out, the 9/3 incident was Proctor's third on-the-job accident. Previously she had let an empty bus roll down a hill, causing a minor pile-up. In another incident, she struck a parked car in Georgetown, injuring a passenger on her bus. Off-duty, she has been involved in traffic accidents as well, including one where her car drove into a Wendy's. She is currently awaiting trial for driving an unregistered car with no insurance. I don't even know what to say. From the Post article, WMATA doesn't really know what to say either. I hope Mahnke, who is still in critical condition, has a good lawyer.

Arianna Huffington to attempt primetime series about DC. Yup. I'm sure this will end well. Via Gawker, the show will center on three freshman Members of Congress as they blaze their trail of glory in DC. It'll be like all those other DC shows (Blond Charity Mafia, etc.), but with even more wonkiness, perhaps. It's amazing how the best DC show that ever existed (the West Wing) was popular when DC was not at all trendy. Now that DC is cool again, there appears to be no need for fictionalized drama. Man, remember that show The District? It had that guy from Coach? I'd take Craig T. Nelson over Chief Lanier any day of the week.

Greenpets to go out of business as well as Big Monkey Comics. I'm surprised the comic book shop survived this long, but it looks like high rent and the recession is claiming the pet product store on 14th Street as well. The best reason to read this post from 14th & You is for the last part, which says a "sex ed entity" called "Hole" may be moving into the 2nd floor space. How does that mesh with the whole ARTS overlay? No source on that info, though.

Redskins trademark case might go to SCOTUS. I've briefly discussed this topic before, in the context of blogs doing ridiculous things. However, in the realm of serious business, Native American groups are hoping the Supreme Court will hear their case to have the Redskins trademark invalidated. In the past, courts have said the Native American groups were correct that the name was offensive, but said too much time had passed to complain. It's unclear if the Court will take this case, though the groups petitioning cite a decision by Justice Alito (when he was on the 3rd Circuit) that supports their cause. The Redskins name is definitely offensive, the decision that needs to be made is whether or not our society finds that acceptable.


AG Peter Nickles' argument against concealed carry

This flew a bit under the radar, but last week there were some "developments" in the fight to carry handguns in the District. I'll preface this by saying that I mostly agree with Heller, and that I don't believe "legalizing" guns will have any effect on gun violence.

DC Attorney General Peter Nickles has filed the city's official response to a lawsuit hoping to legalize carrying weapons in DC. Of course, the District government is opposed to any sort of public carry, whether "open carry" or concealed. (Fun fact, in Virginia, open carry is legal, and requires no permit. If you walk around Clarendon with a gun in a holster, people will likely call 911, but you aren't breaking the law.) I understand that it's Mayor Fenty's political position that gun control is good and helps prevent crime. However, Nickles' reasoning as expressed in this filing is a bit of a stretch.
[I]t would be far more difficult for MPD and Federal law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia to ensure safety and security in the Nation’s Capital.

[P]rotecting government officials and infrastructure is a challenge for every cityin the United States. But in Washington, DC, the likelihood of attack is higher, and the challenges to protecting the city are greater.

[T]he high-profile human targets—from the Nation’s top elected leaders to the more than 400 foreign dignitaries that make official visits to DC each year—are also an obvious and attractive target.

[I]n addition to assisting the Secret Service with daily movements of the President and Vice President around the city, and protecting foreign dignitaries, MPD also provides security support for more than 4,000 special events annually. [I]magine how difficult it will be for law enforcement to safeguard the public, not to mention the new President at the Inaugural Parade, if carrying semi-automatic rifles were to suddenly become legal in Washington.

[A]llowing [weapons] to be carried in a large number of places outside the home will make this job much more dangerous and difficult.

It is clear to me and others engaged every day in securing DC against terrorism that our city is unique.
So if I am to understand this correctly, since DC is home to government officials and visiting dignitaries, citizens should not be allowed to apply for a permit to carry a gun in public. This is because permit-holding gun owners are going to decide to assassinate people. If the District allowed concealed carry permits, that would not extend to government buildings or courtrooms or anywhere else concealed weapons could be banned for security reasons. Obviously the President and other dignitaries never visit states that permit the carrying of concealed weapons.

Nickles also quotes MPD Chief Cathy Lanier regarding her inability to bring her sidearm into the United States Supreme Court:
The Federal Government considers the Court building to be so sensitive that, no matter who you are, you cannot wear your firearm in the building.

I would argue that similar caution should apply to the District of Columbia. [T]he District of Columbia, as the seat of the Federal government, with its multitude of critical official and symbolic buildings, monuments, and events, and high-profile public officials traversing its streets every day, is a city filled with “sensitive” places. Our laws should reflect that reality.
That reasoning just makes my head hurt.

The other argument that Nickles uses is the OK Corral or Wild Wild West argument... that if we permit people to carry weapons in public, everyone will start shooting at each other. Well, that already happens, but among people who don't have permits. Many other states have concealed carry permits, and are not seeing problems with massive gunfights breaking out. Northern Virginia allows concealed carry, and we don't have people with road rage shooting at each other on the Beltway or I-66.

So what is this really about? It's impossible to make an argument that the District's gun laws were preventing crime. Since Heller, we haven't seen an epidemic of anything at all relating to legal firearms. In fact, since the District relaxed the gun laws, there hasn't been a single instance of a legal firearm being discharged. We don't have children shooting each other, we don't have people accidentally shooting each other. Zip. Nada.

If the District were to implement a permitting process for concealed carry, allowing those with permits to carry registered handguns, I hardly see a problem with that. I don't think it's going to help fight street crime, there won't be that many people applying for the permits, and even fewer actively carrying. Perhaps there's something to be said that criminals might think twice about robbing someone if they might have a gun. Who knows. I just can't get behind AG Nickles and the District's argument on this matter.

I see people all the time saying that, if anything, guns should be harder to get. They cite all sorts of gun crimes that have happened in DC, explaining that gun crime is out of control. I don't understand how people can sit at their computer and type these things and believe that it makes sense. Saying that a person who wants to legally obtain, register, and carry a handgun is the same as a 16 year-old kid who shoots at some other kids and hits a woman walking home from work is completely ridiculous.

So what's the real reason why we should prohibit what would likely be a couple dozen people from legally carrying handguns?

Previous coverage: DC turns down voting, doesn't want guns

Briefly noted, keep on rollin' Tuesday;

Good morning, and welcome back to summer. For today. I was walking to the Metro today and noticed some construction workers getting ready to install a Greco-Roman Panic Room (pictured). Or a utility vault of some type. Jodie Foster could not be reached for comment.

A good deal of notable news stories from yesterday, though my favorite comes out of Baltimore. A Johns Hopkins medical student killed an intruder with a samurai sword. Appears a man entered the student's house through a garage. When confronted a fight ensued and the samurai sword won. Perhaps we'll see a call for stricter sword control.

Police search for wheelchair gunman following a daytime shooting on H St, NE. MPD is looking for a man in a wheelchair who shot a woman in the foot yesterday afternoon. I have to wonder if it's the same man who was part of a group that mugged the owners of the Capital City Diner last month.

Speaking of H Street, the pie shop is still coming. Frozen Tropics (via DCist) informs us that Dangerously Delicious Pies will be offering "discounts" to anyone who gets a tattoo of their logo. If you recall the DDP will be offering expensive (around $6) slices of pie on paper plates, as well as full-sized pies ranging up to $30. No word on what the discount will be for people sporting this tattoo. I'd say free pie for life is a good deal, if you're stupid enough to get a tattoo simply for a discount on pie.

Blogosphere asking about Metro suicides. Everyone is on this story, it seems, including Prince of Petworth. Readers ask PoP if there's been an increase in suicides and if Metro should be doing more to prevent them, that sort of thing. I love the comment firestorm, including those that aim hate-rays at John Catoe. This comes in the wake of the suicide on the Red Line this weekend. Many are upset because killing yourself using the Metro is an inconvenience to riders. This is true, it is, but it's kind of a dick move to criticize the deceased. Someone who is going to kill themselves using the Metro isn't going to reconsider because you wrote about it being annoying on a blog. For a more productive read, check out an interesting PowerPoint about suicide prevention on the Toronto Subway. Thanks to Michael Perkins for the link.

DC Area Rock Cellist needs help to release album. This is totally a reason why I love DC item. Internet friend and super-talented DC area musician Gordon Withers has recorded an album (with the help of famed DC producer J. Robbins), and has launched a pre-sale fundraising drive to get it mastered, produced, and released. Check out his page over at Kickstarter, which is an excellent site for all sorts of creative projects. The idea behind Kickstarter is that supporters make a pledge, and if the project's goal is met, the creator receives the money and can make the project happen. As a supporter you receive benefits, in this case, copies of the album and at higher levels of donation, your own personal cello arrangement. Withers has previously recorded a Cello tribute to DC area band Jawbox.


Briefly noted, another Monday;

It was a busy weekend in DC, as things return to "full-time" again. Saturday our fair city played host to another teabagger protest, this time dubbed the 9/12 demonstration. I don't understand exactly how "9/12" and "Healthcare Reform is the Devil" are connected, but hey, who said logic and reason had a place in such discussions of national public policy. I forgot that after the World Trade Center collapsed and the Pentagon burned, Americans rallied together to screw the uninsured. I guess I should cut the protesters some slack, they've been consistently protesting massive government spending for over 9 years now... right?

Redskins lose to the Giants in season opener. Not quite the "suckiest bunch of sucks that ever did suck" but Jason Campbell wasn't exactly inspiring. Can someone buy the man a watch, please? Or explain the concept of the play clock? I have to admit, the fake field goal was pretty good. Giants to Jim Zorn: "You Lie!"

Mayor Fenty participated in the Nation's Triathalon on Sunday. WTOP wins the award for fluffiest inside baseball fluff piece. A good three paragraphs of their story was dedicated to some sort of "feud" between WTOP's Mark Plotkin and the Mayor. NBC4 has Fenty's bare chest plastered all over an article and calls him "pretty hot." Ah, the increasing casual nature of the news.

Two more homicides this weekend. MPD Chief Lanier said bring it on, and it is now being brought. Two men are dead after shootings in Northeast, including a 16-year-old. That goal of less than 100 homicides is slipping away, sadly.

Never doubt the power of the blogs. I forgot to mention this, but I was down on U Street yesterday and saw the newly re-named "U-Scream Ice Cream." For those who missed it, the Prince of Petworth readership came up with the new name. I still standby my suggestion, "A Dreamsicle Deferred"

Former DPR chief launches Council campaign, to run on "dog park" platform. Clark Ray, former Clinton administration official and head of DPR, kicked off his run for an At-Large Council seat this weekend. Ray will be challenging Phil Mendelson in the Democratic primary next year. Ray has been touted for expanding DC's parks and dog parks before getting axed by Fenty. While I'm sure Ray is running on more than just dog parks, you might not be sure after reading the Post's article. I loved the closing paragraphs:
Judy Leon, who lives in the 1500 block of 16th Street, attended Ray's announcement with her dog Beta.

"This is a dog whose life was changed by Mr. Ray," Leon said, explaining how the 4-year-old yellow Labrador was rescued from a puppy mill. "She's now able to come out of her shell [at the dog park] and play with other dogs."
Finally, some of the ghost bikes still remain. This morning I walked past Connecticut and R and many of the ghost bikes were still in place. DPW and the Mayor's Office need to figure this out, because at this point it's a bit ridiculous.


Briefly noted, Friday;

It's miserable outside today. It's Friday, and it's September 11. Eight years out I have to say it was a secondary thought to me that today was 9/11. To a certain extent, that's probably a good thing. We remember the victims but hopefully no longer focus so much on being afraid. Soon it'll be six years since the DC Sniper. Now that was terrifying.

Labor arbitrator shoots down All Hands on Deck. Chief Lanier and Mayor Fenty's "All Hands on Deck" program has been deemed a violation of MPD's labor contract. The police union has long been against AHOD, claiming it's not much more than theatre that violates their contract. The city plans on appealing this ruling. The City Paper has more on this. AHOD, like the "crime emergencies," seem to yield very little results. How about MPD work on further developing their communications with communities rather than every few weeks wasting a bunch of time putting on a show.

DDOT approves farmer's market near the White House. Vermont Avenue will be closed from 1pm-8pm on Thursdays for a new farmer's market. Damn, that was some record time for approval from DDOT. Farmer's markets are great, but few people other than the Obamas actually live near Vermont and H St, NW. It is located near many bus lines and the McPherson Square Metro station, so that's a plus. Some are complaining about the traffic problems, 4,600 cars travel on Vermont Avenue between H and I on an average day. I'm actually surprised that many vehicles use that stretch of Vermont.

Man arrested with gun outside Capitol might be from Falls Church. The AP (via the Examiner) reports that Joshua Bowman, 28, was arrested outside the U.S. Capitol during President Obama's heathcare speech. Bowman had a shotgun and ammunition in his trunk. AP locates a Joshua Bowman in Falls Church, Va. Ooh, maybe the AP used Google to find that, too. I have to wonder, Falls Church City or Fairfax County. Either way, must have been riled up after one of those townhall meetings. Sadly, this isn't uncommon, the Secret Service are stretched too thin investigating the enormous number of threats to the President.

Miriam's Kitchen hosts yoga for the homeless. An interesting, dare I say "heartwarming" piece in the Post about a yoga class for homeless people. In a lot of ways I can see how yoga for the homeless could be a good thing... though it's hard not to say things such as "well, medical and dental check-ups would be better." I suppose if we had more unemployed doctors and dentists, we might seem them offering their services for free while layed off. Two words, liberal guilt.

Prince of Petworth goes "professional" today. I don't know what that means, beyond I suppose that PoP quit his day job. Prince of Petworth does get a fair number of scoops on new business and restaurant openings, though occasionally the number of mindless posts get annoying. Some changes are in store for the site, it seems, perhaps better research and copy editing are among them. Best of luck to PoP, it's very difficult to make a living blogging.