Briefly noted, Monday;

Columbia Heights Day celebrated with bloody weekend. Now we're back to normal, sadly. A woman was shot and killed near 14th and Harvard at around 9:30 on Saturday evening. Also, according to blog The Heights Life, 2 men were shot near 14th and Park Road at around 3:20 AM. Police appear to have no suspects in the homicide at this time, and are offering a $25,000 reward. Attention Chief Lanier, that big 100 is getting a whole lot closer. Did you bite off more than you can chew?

This one writes itself, MPD attempts to lose weight. MPD officers and civilian staff managed to collectively lose 1,100 pounds in a summer weight loss challenge. Sounds great, right? Well, 800 people participated. That averages out to 1.37 lbs per person. There's an awards ceremony planned for next month. Will there be cake?

If you didn't already know, there may be a serial sexual predator loose in Georgetown. I honestly have no idea why this isn't getting more media coverage. The Georgetown Voice blog reports yet another possible sexual assault in Georgetown, following the same M.O. seen in many others. Many believe these are linked and are the work of the "Georgetown Cuddler." Some range from mere "cuddling" to alleged rape. An aside, many congrats on the Voice blog for celebrating it's third anniversary. I fondly remember my time at the Voice, sadly prior to the existence of the blog.

Something other than crime... how about bus lanes? The Post has an interesting piece on proposed bus lanes for K Street. Musings on the K Street Transitway have been floating around transit-oriented blogs, but it's nice to see the Post delve into the subject. The District Department of Transportation hopes to receive some stimulus dollars to finance installing dedicated bus lanes in the middle of K Street. If you've ever ridden a bus that goes down K Street, you'll likely be in favor of this idea. The plan was originally shelved until 2017 or later, but according to the Post work could start much sooner if the stimulus request is approved. Construction, though complicated and annoying to motorists, could be finished as quickly as 2012. If DDOT manages to get the K Street Transitway built, and the trolly on H Street working within 5 years, I'll be amazed.

Ghost bike memorial removed from Connecticut and R

On July 8, 2008, Alice Swanson was killed when she was struck by a trash truck at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and R StreetNW. Following the tragedy, an all-white "Ghost Bike" was set up near the intersection to serve as a makeshift memorial.

I spend a lot of time in Dupont Circle, and seeing the memorial to Alice Swanson had become part of my daily routine. The memorial, pictured, (photo via the Washington City Paper) was a simple, understated reminder that a tragedy had occurred and that all motorists (and cyclists) need to pay attention so everyone stays safe and alive. Over the past year, the memorial had been well kept, often decorated for the various seasons, and generally stocked with fresh flowers. It was never an eye-sore, and never attempted to make any statement about blame in the accident or the politics of cycling in the District.

Friday evening, as I walked up Connecticut Avenue, I noticed the memorial was missing. As the Washington City Paper reports, the District Department of Public Works was responsible for removing the memorial. According to the City Paper, the bicycle was removed as a response to complaints from Dupont Circle businesses. The two nearest businesses, La Tomate and Cosi, were not responsible for the complaints.

Ghost bikes are intended to be left in perpetuity, and have been installed in many cities across the country. The Alice Swanson ghost bike, as I mention, was well maintained, did not block street or pedestrian traffic, and as best as I can tell offended no one.

Swanson's aunt has set up a new memorial, some flowers and a sign asking why Mayor Fenty had the bike removed. This is a good question, and I have posed that question to various District officials. I will report back on what, if any, response is received. However, this is all aside from the main point.

If the city's statement is true, that local businesses had complained, I have to ask the question, which local businesses and why? I know of at least three businesses within visual sight of the memorial that had no problem with it. I find it hard to believe that a well-kept, thought provoking memorial had a negative effect on business. I have to wonder if the trash company, KMG Hauling, had anything to do with this request. Again, for those who did not see the memorial in person, I want to stress it made no statement about who was at fault in the accident.

The city handled this poorly, sending DPW to cut the lock on the bike, then leaving the memorial at Cosi. While it's not the city's job to maintain a memorial left by residents, the status quo for the past year (leaving it alone) seemed to work just fine. I could understand if the memorial had been left unattended, was blocking traffic, or had become a safety hazard. None of those were the case. Someone complained, someone with enough clout with the District government to get it removed quickly.

I'd like to know who these local businesses are. If we're going to start cracking down and "cleaning up" Dupont Circle, I hope to see MPD out enforcing the no sandwich boards on sidewalk laws, and for God's sake I hope Animal Control comes to get the unleashed Corgi that wanders around. Oh I know Georgie is a nice dog, but there are leash laws.

In other cities, Mayor Fenty would already have an angry critical mass of cyclists surrounding both his home and office. Also, any business that "requested" the memorial be removed would be facing a serious boycott. If it's a priority for the District to become more "bicycle friendly" it's a poor move to dismantle such an inoffensive and poignant memorial.


Topless hair salon coming to DC Area?

Who knows if this is actually "for reals" but the following was posted on Cragislist:
Topless Hairstylist Needed (metro area)

We are currently looking for licensed cosmotologist/hair stylist to interview for a new high end mens salon/club opening soon. The themed salon will be around real stylist whom are dressed either in lingerie or topless depending on the service chosen by the customer. This will be a classy enviroment with upscale pricing and a 50/50 split with huge tip potential. You must be attractive, skilled, engaging, and willing to make every cut a memorable experience. There were be very strict policies in place with an emphasis of providing a extremely safe and pleasant working enviroment. We are only hiring the best 10 candidates so get your application in. Please email us your resume and a photo. We will be scheduling in person interviews based on the applicates qualifications and over all presentation. All resumes and inquires will be strictly confidential and not released or shared with anyone outside the HR department of the company.
You know, I don't even know what to say. This was posted in the Maryland section, so who knows exactly where this will pop up (if anywhere). Seems like similar things have opened in Canada and the UK. The whole idea is laughable, if only for the fact that a topless stylist covered in hair sounds disgusting.

Definitely an "upscale and classy" idea.

Briefly noted, Friday;

Happy Friday, and the last Friday in August. Next week September arrives, and once Labor Day passes it's back to the typical DC grind. So enjoy another week of less crowded commutes and boring news stories.

Ray's Hell Burger coming to Adams Morgan. Thats' right kids, BizJournal has it that the Obama approved hamburger joint will open a location in the former Ghana Cafe spot on 18th Street. Does anyone remember when there was that "Haute Dog" place on 18th? We'll see how a fancy, expensive, destination hamburger joint fares. Seems unlikely that late at night the drunk assholes with popped collars will be able to distingush a "gourmet" hamburger from the dollar menu at the corner McDonalds. I'm sorry, the "Late Night Menu."

Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station isn't safe. Oh really? In fact, the RI Ave. station is on the top 10 most dangerous stations (in the region) list. ABC7 reports on a recent rash of crimes, including aggravated assault and robbery. It's unclear what other stations are on that top ten list, but according to Metro Transit Police the Red Line stop comes in at number eight.
Those who congregate looking for work outside the station believe they are targeted because they tend to carry a lot of cash and the criminals know most of the men won't run to the police.

This pedestrian tunnel appears to be the trouble spot. The dark, long fenced-in walkway is already quite uninviting to some Metro riders.
Police have made a few arrests using plainclothes decoys. I'm not really sure this should even be considered a news story. Is anyone that surprised? I'd love to see an investigation into crime at Metro stations.

The Washington Post makes some "style" videos. How did I miss this? The Post has a whole bunch of cheesy videos on their site where they pretend to stop people on the street to ask about their fashion. Somehow I don't think most of these choices were at random. I especially enjoyed the "Jazz in the Garden" episode... I don't think they talked to anyone who actually even has a real job. I loved the bored, disaffected intern wearing clothing that cost more than my rent. Though the older Asian woman from Capitol Hill bragging about her eBay conquests was pretty funny.

Petworth's new organic market re-Grand Opens. Mayor Fenty did a ribbon cutting outside the new Yes! Organic Market in Petworth yesterday. The store had already had an "opening" but did it again for ceremony-sake. Ward 4 now has three grocery stores. I don't think Yes! should be counted as a grocery store, though. It's a specialty store. It's a bit surprising to see organic specialty stores make in-roads in areas under served by traditional stores. While organic food does have some benefits, most families would go broke shopping exclusvely at Yes!. Perhaps this will encourage Safeway to finally get moving on the "Scary Safeway" renovations.

Mayor Fenty still won't talk about his kids. Is it any surprise that Fenty isn't going to admit, on the record, that he pulled strings to get his kids into the public school of his choice? Fenty keeps dodging the questions, saying he will not comment on his kids. He will not even go on the record saying the school selection process is free from political influence. Remember, Fenty is up for re-election. Some Democrats are on the fence about re-electing Fenty, but something tells me he'll end up winning. Underwhelmed by the possible contenders at this point.


Amateur Hour at MPD and Among the Media

It just keeps getting worse and worse. MPD is investigating to determine if yesterday's murder was hate motivated. The Post has some more information, including some sadly graphic descriptions of the crime scene.

MPD's liaison to the gay community, Lt. Brett Parsons sheds a bit of light on the crime:
The surviving victim told a detective that the attacker might have used an anti-gay epithet during the incident, Parsons said. But it would be "extremely premature" for authorities to definitively classify the crime as having been motivated by the victims' gender identity, he added.

"Until we're able to do a really detailed interview with the surviving victim, I'm not sure that anyone really knows," Parsons said.
So right now we don't know if it was a hate crime, because the surviving victim hasn't been interviewed in detail. It's important to remember that at this point not only is the survivor a victim, but also a witness to a murder.
The surviving victim was a witness to the incident, and D.C. police do not publicly identify witnesses. Parsons said investigators were not completely sure of the survivor's identity.
Except that the "authorities" already released the names of both victims! WJLA (Channel 7) has had those names posted on their web site all day. Way to protect the safety and privacy of the witness/victim.

Seriously, is everyone who handles these sorts of things on vacation or something? We've got the police releasing all sorts of information at the wrong time, including the identities of a key witness. What the hell MPD?

And at this point perhaps the media should refrain from publishing these names, except it's too late and the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. Such confusion and incompetence across the board.

Briefly noted, Thursday;

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier has a lot on her hands. A shooting in Columbia Heights, and a murder and stabbing in Bloomingdale. As noted last night, sources at MPD made known the victims were apparently transgendered. Today, ABC7 reports the names of the victims. ABC7 cites "sources close to the investigation" for the gender identification information. Some say the media should be blamed for reporting the information, but reporters will run with what the police tell them. A whole lot of confusion and violations of privacy resulted. Shame on MPD, and to a certain extent shame on the media. The Sexist at the City Paper has a bit more.

105.9FM switches format to "Classic Rock for Men," only those with Y chromosomes can hear signal. Gone is the "True Oldies" station, now replaced by "The Edge." Coming soon, play-by-play wedding broadcasts by Washington Post Radio, to be called "Sports Talk Radio for Women." Radio in DC has been poor since HFS went off the air, and I also remember listening to sappy "adult alternative" as played by Haber and Erin. Anyone remember that?

Fire department higher-ups like parking in front of fire hydrants? City Paper's Mike DeBonis writes about fire department brass parking their squad cars in front of a fire hydrant near the U Street Metro. The photo really is worth a thousand words, but there's also a couple hundred in the article.

Gotta name something after Ted Kennedy. Slate suggests federal buildings, let's beat them to the punch. Revoking Regan's name from the airport seems unlikely, and if DCA still exists in 40 years it'll likely be renamed for Obama anyway. So what will we name after Ted? Obvious answer, move the Redskins back to DC and build them a dome at the RFK site. Call it the Edward and Robert Kennedy Memorial Dome. Actually, no, let's not give Fenty any ideas.

Metro ridership is still trending down for August, I'll have a full analysis at the end of the month. Again it is unclear what role the 6/22 accident plays into this decline. WMATA does occasionally make a good point, which is that ridership will of course be down when they are unable to provide full service (as was the case in July). In other moderately-related WMATA news, for some reason Unsuck DC Metro has decided to block me on Twitter. Stay classy, whoever you are.


MPD apparently outs two crime victims

A tragic and horrific crime occurred today in Truxton Circle/Eckington, with two people being stabbed. As of Wednesday evening, one of the victims has died.

At this point, the big story is that the victims were transgendered. Depending on the source, the victims were either men or women. Fox5 describes them as "transgendered women," and then refers to one as "he." ABC7 reports that two women were stabbed. DCist reports that two "transgendered men" were attacked.

This is a horrible daytime crime, whether or not it turns out to be a hate crime. One of the witnesses described the scene to Fox5:
"He said he couldn't breathe, 'I can't breathe,'" said Frenzell Alexander, a neighbor. "He came down 4th street and was gasping for breath and was bleeding from his neck."
My beef lies with MPD and their handling of the information about this case. As of right now there is a ton of speculation about the gender and sexual orientation of the victims. We know that both victims were seriously injured, and one of them has died. The police have released some sort of information that they were transgendered, but it is unclear where this information came from and how reliable it is.

My first reaction to reading about this story was that it seemed inappropriate and premature to release information pertaining to a crime victim's gender identity. I know that MPD did not release the names of the victims, but that information will eventually come out. MPD has not yet classified this as a hate crime, and a trial is not yet underway (nor has a suspect been identified) so I cannot imagine why releasing that information is relevant or appropriate.

Furthermore, I have a hard time believing that the victims of this crime (especially the deceased) had a discussion with the police about what gender they identify themselves as. Even if they were found wearing the clothing of the opposite sex, the police should only identify them by age and their gender as indicated on their driver's license.

As best as I can tell, it sounds like two women (who possibly identify themselves as men) were attacked, one was killed. The suspect is a black male who fled on 4th Street. That's all we know. Out of respect for the victims and their families it seems inappropriate and wrong for MPD to be speculating on their gender identification so soon after the crime.

Briefly noted, Wednesday;

Ted Kennedy is dead. The man was not without controversy, however he did serve the people of Massachusetts and the United States of America for decades. Rest in peace. He likely accomplished more during his career as a Senator than he ever could have as President.

The Washington Post is way ahead of the curve, breaking the story of a new culinary trend in town: cupcakes. Way to be relevant and timely, Posties. Likely inspiration for the story, the lines wrapped around the block in Dupont Circle for a free cupcake at Hello Cupcake. Write that FroYo story now and save it for 2011. What's that? Cupcakes in a recession seem like a bad business model? Is there a cupcake bubble? Good thing we've moved on to pie.

H Street NE to be closed for streetcar track installation. Two intersections along H Street NE will be closed this week for streetcar work. 4th and H St. NE will be closed from 9-5 today for track work. This would be awesome and inspiring if we weren't installing tracks to nowhere. Remember, as of now, DDOT doesn't know how the streetcars will be powered.

A bunch of assholes made some noise in Reston yesterday. Health care townhall turns violent, comical. From @dceiver: "Outside someone has a Bush/Cheney 04 poster. He came from the past to warn us!" Maybe he also came to write the cupcake article for the Post.

Hubub over so-called "Fenty Field." The Harriet Tubman school in Columbia Heights recently got a renovated soccer field. I haven't personally looked at it, but it seems Fenty's name is emblazoned in large lettering. The DC GOP is pissed, and local bloggers are wondering if the public can use the field. No one has any good answers. Also, no one has a picture of the supposed controversial Fenty signage. NBC runs a whole article focusing on the hubub, but only shows a stock photo of Fenty. That was helpful.

I wanted to point this link out, simply because I can never walk past this place without reading the cafe's name as LOLCAT. Locolat Cafe applies for liquor license.

Also, I noticed the under construction Tynan Coffee near the Columbia Heights Metro is applying for a liquor license as well. That seems a bit strange to me.


Capital City Diner owners allege robbery, MPD disinterest

This story made its way around the DC Blog echochamber yesterday, and I wanted to chime in with a different take on it. The guys who are attempting to open an old-style diner near Trinidad are reporting that they were robbed Sunday night near Bladensburg Road NE and K St. From their Diner Blog:
We (Matt & Patrick) were walking home late last night on Bladensburg Rd NE just north of the intersection with K St. We were with a friend of ours, aware of our surroundings, and in a well-lit area, but still were victims of a robbery.

We were walking down the street, passed by a group of 4-5 young people (one in a wheelchair), one of which asked if we had any money. After we passed about 10-15 feet, he quickly approached us, presented what appeared to be a sawed-off shotgun in his pants, and then demanded money from us. Two of us handed over some money and they fled up L St NE toward Carver/Langston.
The part of the story that has been generating a lot of comments is what happened next. The two men claim that they called 911, and after getting frustrated with waiting a long time for a response, approached an officer at a gas station. Only one officer appeared interested in the crime and called a detective to the scene. The detective allegedly attempted to talk one of the men out of reporting the crime, stating that a robbery had not occurred and reporting the crime might cause trouble for a white guy living in Trinidad.

OK. Now, we should remember the important fact that all of this information comes from one source only, the Diner's blog. It was re-reported by the Prince of Petworth and also mentioned on DCist.

After the hubub around the blogosphere, supposedly MPD has launched an investigation into the incident.

I'm going to limit my comments to a few things here, one being some observations about the reaction to this story. Commenters across the board are saying that this is typical MPD behavior, also alleging that this is likely part of a widespread effort to keep crime numbers down.

MPD has certainly gotten a bad rap lately, especially the top brass. There's a lot of internal strife right now, and Lanier isn't exactly the most popular police chief amongst MPD officers. The District has seen lower crime this year, especially violent crime. However, I find it very unlikely that there is an MPD-wide conspiracy to prevent people from reporting crimes. First off, the police union would obviously make this public to take down management. Additionally, this doesn't mesh with the second argument commenters make, which is the police don't care to investigate because there's no incentive for solving crimes. If anything, showing an increase in crimes would help the argument that more officers are needed and/or more overtime should be approved.

In any event, this whole story has launched a slew of "I remember that time MPD didn't really want to take a report" stories. Should the police actively discourage people from filing police reports? No, of course not. Are police officers going to make comments that the report is a likely waste of time... yeah, that's going to happen. I know we, as taxpaying residents, don't want to hear that. We will gripe and complain and say that they police aren't doing their jobs. A lot of us might come from smaller towns or cities where the police investigate each and every crime reported, and can even close a lot of those cases.

Sadly in a city with significant crime problems, a lot of lesser property crimes do not become priorities. There are a lot of details missing from the story as told by the Diner guys. We don't know how long they waited for police response, we don't know how they described the crime (or suspects) to dispatch. If you provide the police with a vague report about a crime that happened and the suspects have fled the scene, it's no longer a crime in progress. You will not get a response of overwhelming force with squad cars running code.

I don't like to say it, but once this event was over it was over. Thankfully no one was hurt, and apparently no valuables beyond some cash were taken. I sympathize with the victims, and I understand their frustration with the situation. I don't excuse a detective from being incorrect about the definition of robbery. However, the "discouragement" that occurred:
[T]he detective reminded Matt that he sticks out because Matt’s a white guy in Trinidad and asked repeatedly if he really really wanted to be remembered by the criminal’s associates if/when he’s prosecuted.
I read this to mean exactly what it says. Is it upsetting that the reality of Trinidad is that it's a very rough part of town that is not exactly welcoming to outsiders? Of course. However, I don't read that comment as being intimidation or an attempt to help keep crime stats down. I see it as a detective not sugarcoating the situation.

It's amazing that this whole situation has resulted in griping about the police, rather than any discussion of the fact that Trinidad is still an incredibly troubled part of the city, and it's only "steps away" from the new yuppie destination of H St NE. Instead, it turns into people griping about that time someone stole their ladder and the police weren't excited about taking a report.

While I don't blame these guys for being a bit upset, and maybe even blogging about it, I have to wonder how well they will survive running a late night business in a very rough neighborhood. It'll be immensely frustrating for them after the first few armed robberies, I imagine. Sadly we live in a city where, right now, losing some cash to a group of unruly teens might just be the cost of doing business. I don't fault them for filing a police report, of course, but part of me really wants to say, "Welcome to DC, it could be worse. In Chicago you might get beaten with a 2x4 while riding your bike."

UPDATE: Following a rather long (yet thought-provoking) discussion in the comments, I wanted to add a few thoughts. The first is that if the resources are available, MPD should always do as much as they can to locate suspects for a crime that has occurred. There's no excuse for anything less than that. The second is that there may be significant details about this story which are missing from the blog narrative. If MPD is investigating both the intial crime and a complaint about a detective, there may be specific details missing that would shed more light on the story. I did not consider this fact when initially writing this post, which led me to think there was something 'fishy' about the narrative. I now believe this falls under the "too soon to know anything." The blog and news world move fast, but I look forward to providing some sort of update in the future if more information becomes available.


A Case for Wal-Mart

Last week, the Washington Business Journal reported that Wal-Mart is exploring the idea of opening a store in the District. This isn't the first time this has happened, the prospect was discussed back in 2004, with a potential site in Brookland. Now, it appears Wal-Mart has its eyes on Poplar Point in Southeast.

Wal-Mart has indicated that the move will not be possible unless it is offered some tax incentives by the District. It appears as though this is off the table for the Fenty administration. From the BizJournal piece:

“Over the last couple of years we’ve had numerous discussions about [Epperson’s] plans for his site next to Poplar Point,” [Fenty spokesperson Sean] Madigan said and added: “We’re not entertaining any subsidies to bring Wal-Mart to the city for any site.”

No subsides for any site. Fenty's developed a spine, and is putting his foot down. Say no to Wal-Mart. Say no to the big box and everything it represents.

Over at DCist, the commentariat for the most part is outraged and glad that Fenty is standing up to Wal-Mart. I loved this one from elizqueenmama, especially:
NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Trust me, you would rather have that shell stay a shell. Building a Wal-Mart at that location [Rhode Island Avenue] would kill all chance of small locally-owned businesses opening anywhere in the area, and would further encourage the perception of the area as a crappy place you want to drive by as fast as you can. There needs to be another use for that space. NOT another big box store, please! Wal-Mart would indeed be the worst of all. It sucks the souls from people, I swear.
Yes, what depressed, under-served areas of the city need are more "locally-owned" businesses that "serve the neighborhood." More liquor stores, overpriced corner shops and check-cashing places, please.

Is Wal-Mart the perfect retailer? Absolutely not. Wal-Mart does not have a stellar reputation for its working conditions. But wouldn't a Wal-Mart in Southeast (or Northeast) be a good thing for the city?

Let's look at what a Wal-Mart would provide. Immediately there would be construction jobs to build the store. After completion, there would be hundreds of jobs created to staff the store.

Wal-Mart hopes to build a fairly large store it seems, so it would likely include a grocery component. Let's see, what's so bad about low-cost food? Wal-Mart is the nation's largest grocery store, and they have been investing in more organic choices. A Wal-Mart in the eastern part of the city could provide many, many, residents with lower-cost, (possibly) healthier foods. Coupled with the low-cost pharmacy and other goods, a Wal-Mart that was easily accessible would be invaluable to many of the District's residents, especially many lower income residents.

In 2004, Brookland residents were worried about a Wal-Mart killing local businesses. Let's really look at that. Are some mom-and-pop retailers at risk when a low-cost big box store comes to town? Absolutely. In my neighborhood, for example, in the last two years two new grocery stores have opened. Harris Teeter and the Target. Have some small "local" grocery stores suffered. Maybe. Do I care? Not particularly. If a corner market's business model is to seriously overcharge what are mostly lower income customers, I feel very little pity. These small stores create little, if any, jobs and charge astronomically high prices compared to Safeway, Giant, Target or Wal-Mart. These places are not a good deal. It's not their fault, they can't get the same price for goods that the big chains can. But for everyone except the owners, the prices they charge are too high. Should residents feel an obligation to subsidize a business with an unsustainable model just because they are "locally owned?" Take a walk to your corner store, and see the price of milk. Compare that to Safeway. It's ridiculous. Don't tell me that these stores are vital to our community.

I used to work for a small business. I worked for an independent hardware retailer when the Target opened. There was some concern that we would lose business. We probably did lose a bit of business. What did we do? We aimed to be as efficient as possible and further improve customer service. Make the shopping experience better at our store than at Target. Businesses that provide a viable and valuable alternative will survive. Businesses that likely shouldn't even exist (e.g. most corner markets) will suffer.

There are great portions of the District that are vastly under-served by business. Wal-Mart thrives in these environments. Bringing a Wal-Mart to the city would make a lot of things a lot more affordable for a lot of people. Wal-Mart should not be off the table.

The city jumped at getting Target to move to Columbia Heights. Just read Jim Graham's web site, talking about passing emergency TIF measures to ensure Target came to D.C. What does the city get out of the deal? A parking lot that no one uses. How surprising that a parking lot next to a Metro station in a walkable area isn't used very much. Target is a big box that put a lot of pressure on businesses in Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan. The area has survived (and even thrived, perhaps), though. Mount Pleasant had shuttered shops before and will continue to until some serious efforts are made at promoting more commercial development.

Why yes to Target, and no to Wal-Mart? Is it because Target is more upscale? Is it because Columbia Heights was up-and-coming and the Target would be the linchpin of further gentrification? Why is it off the table to bring a different big box to a part of the city that would see a great benefit? Why not at least say the city would be open to working with Wal-Mart to create a destination area that was easily accessible?

Wal-Mart is by no means the perfect retailer. However, it could provide a much needed resource to many District residents who are in need. To not even consider it as an option is foolish.


Local blogs stir controversy; spark debate

Tepid headlines for the win! Thank god August is winding down, because I don't know how much more I can take. The top story at WTOPNews.com this morning was "What's the Best Grocery Store?" and the conclusion that shoppers enjoy a wide selection, good customer service, and clean stores. Well hot damn. Glad we sent some 'professional' reporters to figure that out. Personally, I prefer to shop at GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT DEPOT #9, a joint-cooperative run by the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

In any event, I'm going to tackle an item that is a bit controversial. I was first tipped off to this yesterday by reader Kerry, who was outraged by an event being sponsored by the local web site BrightestYoungThings.com.

Full disclosure: I occasionally contribute photos and writing to BYT, though I am not at all involved in editorial/management decisions.

The event was part of a series of "pool parties" at the Washington Skyline Hotel, and this week's was named "Indian Summer." The post promoting the event had Google Image results for "Indian" and did contain some jokes referencing Native American culture and stereotypes. The flyer for the event did picture a large slot machine.

As you can see by the comments on the event post, there were a variety of reactions. The director of the National Museum of the American Indian even chimed in. Eventually, under threats of protest and growing outrage, the event was changed and the offensive materials removed.

When asked for a comment about the whole firestorm, editor of the site Svetlana Legetic admitted that the staff had not considered the potential for outrage. "We did not think about it, and it is probably kind of naive that we didn't but we didn't," she said via email.

I'm going to have to fault BYT a little bit here, this is Washington, DC where everyone gets outraged and where everyone is a political activist. Of course a Native American themed event is offensive. Was it funny? Possibly. Does that make it OK? No, it doesn't. I'm glad that the event has been changed and that BYT has reached out to some Native American groups to make amends. Honestly, I don't think they meant this to be offensive, it's the sad truth that making jokes and exploiting Native American stereotypes is socially acceptable. A good amount of people (myself included) were not immediately outraged to see something themed "Indian Summer." We have become conditioned to this, to the point where we, ourselves, make fun of it and don't even realize what we are doing.

Native American groups and supporters have successfully lobbied to get this "pool party" cancelled. But I'm going to stir up some trouble right now and ask why are we letting the bigger things slide? One of the big things that is conditioning us to the fact that "savage" jokes are OK, is the fact that we see names like the Redskins, Braves, Indians, etc. all the time. The Redskins had their share of controversy with the mascot and team name... but there was no serious resolution of the issue. The Director of the National Museum of the American Indian is not threatening to boycott FedEx, for example, for sponsoring the Redskins stadium.

In a 2004 poll, a follow-up to a 2002 sketchy Sports Illustrated Poll, the Annenburg Public Policy Center found that 91% of Native Americans polled were not offended by the name Redskins. That's all fine and well, but does it still excuse the matter? I don't know. All I know is that it's difficult to tell someone not to have their "Indian Summer" pool party if 91% of Native Americans are OK with having a professional sports team named the Redskins with a logo that plays into the same type of stereotypes. What if we had a basketball team named the Washington Negroes? Maybe the mascot could be a character chopping wood. Maybe they sing faux-Spirituals during half-time. Would that not be offensive? What if the mascot was something that showed a stereotypical "accomplishment" of the race--maybe a Tuskeegee Airman, a mo-town singer, or a bling-encrusted rapper? Would that be offensive?

Where do you draw the line? I don't know. This whole thing has launched a good debate. Generally the conclusion has been that most people are not offended by jokes made at the expense of Native Americans--though if the same jokes were made about any other group, it would definitely be offensive. That doesn't seem right to me. As much as I enjoy football, and as much as I don't want to piss off Redskins fans (or Cleveland Indians fans, or Atlanta Braves, or Chicago Blackhawks, etc), I think renaming these teams would set an example that this sort of thing is contributing to the idea that it's socially acceptable to insult Native Americans. If they can rename the Washington Bullets to the Wizards...

We've also learned that you have to remember there's always someone itching to start a protest or boycott in D.C.


MPD chief to criminals: Bring it on

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier told the Washington Times yesterday that the department expects fewer than 100 homicides for 2009. Lanier, who resides in the land of magical thinking, has essentially issued a challenge to the city to bring on the murder. As of this writing, there have been 88 (or 89, it's unclear if the Pizza shop body is included) murders this year. There's still more than four months left in the year, so we've got to average less than 3 murders per month.

"Fewer than 100 homicides is reasonable," Chief Lanier told The Washington Times. "We're targeting for under 100, and I think we can do it if we give everything we've got."

Well, I'm glad Lanier decided to give it everything we've got, and to not settle for the ~140 murders we'd get if the current pace continues. I hope that the super-double-secret crime prevention techniques continue to work for the rest of the year.

As I've discussed here before, Lanier enjoys taking credit for DC's following of a nationwide trend of less violent crime and murder. Experts are puzzled as to why crime has been down this year all across the nation. It's been down a little bit more in DC than elsewhere, but it's very hard to believe that the All Hands on Deck weekends and the Go-Go Task Force are enough to take credit for all of this.

Lanier is hedging her bets by thinking big. Generally I admire that sort of thinking, but in this case it almost seems like a challenge to the criminals. I'd love it if DC had less than 100 murders in 2009, but will there be any accountability if that goal is not met? Lanier says we have the ability to do this, that it's possible. If MPD fails, will management be held accountable? Also, will we look at a possible uptick in property crimes and robberies? If it bleeds it leads, I know, but even if MPD keeps murders under 100, they've still got at least 99 other problems.

Metro revises hiring guidelines, will now reject felons

Yesterday Metro announced revisions to their hiring practices. The new guidelines, which went into effect this month, are intended to bolster safety. Applicants for "front line" or safety-related positions, will now be disqualified for the following:
  • One or more moving violations within the last three years for negligent, careless or reckless driving
  • Driver’s license revocations or suspensions due to moving violations within three years
  • More than two points on their driver’s license within three years
  • A conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs within three years
  • A felony conviction within the last 10 years
  • Two or more misdemeanor convictions for drug possession or a crime against person, property or society within the last 10 years
  • A criminal conviction for crimes of violence and/or sexual abuse or sexual assault
This is a positive step for Metro, because under the previous guidelines applicants were only disqualified for 2 or more felony offenses within a 3 year period, or 3 felony convictions within 10 years.

I'm all about rehabilitation of criminals, and their eventual return as productive members of society. However, until Metro revised these guidelines, the following people would have been eligible for jobs ranging from bus driver to perhaps even General Manager.

O.J. Simpson. Could continue his search for the real killer by driving a Metrobus.
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme. Gerald Ford passed away in 2006 of natural causes, so we've got nothing to worry about now.
John Hinkley. Already lives in D.C. Maybe he'd be a true advocate for transit to better serve the area around St. Elizabeth's. I hear Jodie Foster is a big fan of public transportation.
Michael Vick. If the whole Philadelphia Eagles thing doesn't work out.
Rod Blagojevich. He brings a lot of administrative experience to the table. As a possible replacement for John Catoe, perhaps WMATA could offer a $65,000 hairbrush stipend.
Marion Barry. You know what, why not.
Vince "The Shamwow! Guy" Shlomi. That whole beating a prostitute thing was just one big Scientology conspiracy. The bitch set him up.

In all seriousness, though, this is a good policy revision for Metro. However, I have to wonder what took so long. Oh, that's right, more than a month of bad press. Including the news of a bus driver with a suspended license.

I'm not advocating that people with criminal convictions be deemed unemployable for the rest of their lives... but come on, really, WMATA?

“Our frontline employees are the face of Metro,” said Metro General Manager John Catoe. “We want the strongest applicants for every open position. These new hiring standards are meant to help us find only the best and brightest employees to help move more than one million customers each day.”


Update: Metrorail ridership off 2.7% so far in August

For those who don't know, Metro publishes ridership information on their web site. I went ahead and nailed down the numbers for August, and ridership is off 2.7% for the month so far. These figures are adjusted so weekends line up in comparison. All figures are for Metrorail only.

Sorry that it's a JPG of an Excel spreadsheet, I don't have access to better publishing tools at the moment.

After a debate in the comments to the previous post, I was curious if the "trend" of less ridership has lasted into August. It appears it has. Weekend ridership has certainly been hit, not surprisingly given the amount of track work.

The fact that ridership is off during the week makes me think a certain percentage of people have selected an alternate way of getting to work. We'll see if this continues for the rest of the month, and if it also happens in September as well. To be clear, I'm not pinning this all on the 6/22 crash. I find it interesting that weekday ridership is still down, given that the Red Line has restored nearly full service at rush hour.

How can we make any sort of conclusion, given that there is a major recession going on, and that may impact how many people use public transportation?

Well, let's compare May 2009 to May 2008. We should be able to compare this difference to August 2009 versus 2008. The economic situation in May is not that different than August, and there was no major rail crash in May.

Unfortunately Metro screwed up their ridership information. If you believe what is on their web site, then ridership was up just about 4% in May. However, the data from May 11 and May 12 is not correct. If you go back to the May 2008 archives, the ridership is listed as "TBD." These two days should be compared against weekday ridership data, and those 362,024 and 352,542 numbers don't make any sense for weekday travel. If you filter those two days out, you end up with ridership being off by 0.18%.

I don't trust Metro's reporting very well, and only wish it was available on their site in a XLS or something easier to work with.

If we suppose that for some reason Metro's numbers are correct, and that ridership in May and June were up over 2008, even in the midst of the recession, then the fact that we are down another 2.7% in August is significant. That points to the fallout from 6/22 as being a big reason for a decline. There was indeed a 1.71% increase in ridership in June, if you exclude the data from after the 6/22 crash.

If ridership being down 2.3% in July is a Big Story, then being down 2.7% in August is just as big. I would venture to guess about 1.5-2% of this decline is due to the 6/22 crash. Since the trend continues during rush hour days in August, I imagine some people have given up on Metro.

Metro ridership down, are we surprised?

In the realm of WMATA-related news, Metro ridership was down in July compared to the same period last year. Metrorail was off 2.3% and Metrobus ridership was down 4.1%. All of the media outlets reporting this, including the Post speculate on the cause. Of course the natural route to go is to blame it on the June 22 crash. The Examiner's headline, in fact, was "Metro ridership down since June's deadly crash."

The articles make it clear there is a lot going on here, the 6/22 crash, the recession, and lower gas prices. Everyone wants the headline to be "Riders flee unsafe system" but we're not quite there yet. NBC4 goes a bit further, with Jim Iovino's blog-style news piece speculating people are fed up with delays and overcrowded trains.

Obviously. The system is under more stress now than likely ever in its history. Most weekends this summer have seen delays on a majority (and sometimes all) of the system's lines. Adding 45 minutes to travel time on all lines effectively makes the system worthless. During the week, trains are more crowded and move slower. People are concerned about safety. People are fed up, and likely looking for alternatives. If they have a car, they are probably more likely to drive if that is an option.

The economy has been on the decline for a while, unemployment has been high for a while. Gas prices have been low, and even lower at some points prior to July. Tourism has likely been off all summer due to the recession. There wasn't a significant further decline in the economy between May, June, and July of this year. In June of this year, ridership was up 1.7 over the the same month in 2008. So what changed in July?

The fallout of the 6/22 crash. Metro doesn't want to speculate that the deaths of 7 customers and the months of bad press that have followed have caused a decline in ridership. Of course they will point to other factors. It's difficult, even for a Metro critic, to say with certainty that the crash has caused the decline. It's hard to link the crash to the decrease in bus ridership. If anything, that figure is surprising given the roll out of Nextbus.

Metro is in trouble. Less riders means less money, and right now is not the time for Metro to have less money. Prior to the June crash, there was a significant amount of work that needed to be done to the system. Now there is even more, and adding into the mix the fact that still no one is completely sure what is wrong with the system. Ridership is off but trains are still crowded and delayed. People are concerned about safety. People are likely turning away from Metro because they feel as though these concerns are not a priority and will take ages to resolve.

I will not be surprised if we see similar numbers in August, and September too if Metro doesn't deliver some results. Metro needs some good PR around positive steps made to improve safety and service. A good first step, of course, would be replacing upper management.


Reader submitted: fancy dog park on S street

Mayor Fenty and others break ground at new dog park. Photo via DCist via Flickr

A few weeks ago reader Aida wrote in about the new dog park near New Hampshire Avenue and S Street in Dupont Circle. Remember that this was during the whole budget crunch debate, where vital city services were getting cut left and right. The dog park is quite fancy, complete with special astroturf called "K9Grass." It's 5,600 square feet, and has ornate fencing, a seating area, and water fountains for the dogs. You can see a Department of Parks and Recreation press release about the park here.

Since this is such a super-fancy park, I wanted to find out how much it cost to build. Maintenance will be shared between the city and Circle Dogs, a neighborhood group. I put in a request for information about construction costs with DPR a few weeks back, receiving no reply. I emailed Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) who forwarded my request to DPR.

Today I received an email from Sarah Moulton a community planner at DPR. The cost of the S Street park was $552,700.51.

So there's the figure. Make of it what you will. A little over half a million dollars for a fancy dog park. Now, I'll admit, this dog park will be fancy. I mean, really fancy. Nicer than most playgrounds for human children. I can't tell you if that price tag is a good deal or not for what the city is getting. On principle I'm not sure how I feel about the city paying for a dog park. I suppose it will raise property values in the area a little tiny bit, and it'll make dog owners happy. However, I can think of a few things that half a million dollars could be used for that would probably be more useful. Even if it had to be spent by DPR.

A fancy dog park in a rich neighborhood just seems wasteful at a time when the city is having to freeze hiring for police officers and cut services to the poor. It appears to be somewhat of a Big Deal to Dupont residents, with people upset with the poor communication between DPR and the community regarding delays in construction. DPR is terrible with communication, I've had faster responses from the DC DMV and the Office of Tax and Revenue. And nothing compares to DCRA's less than 10-minute answers via Twitter. However, complaining about how your fancy expensive dog park is delayed makes you look a bit foolish when you have homeless people on the street just a few blocks away.

What do you think? Half million for a dog park... complete waste of money?


Another Friday in August

It's been a slow week for news here in DC. Somewhat. The City Paper has been doing a good job keeping up with the latest on the whole Pershing Park mess. This all dates back to the 2002 mass arrests by MPD in Pershing Park, and a flurry of controversy and suits that have followed. I remember when the arrests happened back in 2002 at the IMF/World Bank protests. I recall the outrage, but who knew seven years later we'd still be discussing. In any event, DC Attorney General Peter Nickels is in the hotseat with some calling for his resignation. Here's a good background story on the civil suit and the apparent mishandling of evidence. Check CityDesk for more recent updates.

It's still August, and as best I can tell most everyone is still on vacation. Especially on Friday. So what's going on? Well, WTOP reports Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is coming to Maryland. They will also apparently be building a community center in the District. That's moderately interesting, I'm occasionally a sucker for that show.

No 'bee crisis' here in Rock Creek Park. I know there's some sort of worldwide concern that honeybees are dying in epic numbers, possibly fortelling of global catastrophe. Apparently bees are still in full force in Rock Creek Park, and they are pissed. Looks like DC Fire and EMS had to be called twice to respond to children getting attacked by bees. 22 people, in fact, were stung by bees.

What else is going on? Well, I'm surprised that in just a few days, with little coverage on other blogs, the WMATA petition received 145 signatures. I'm going to leave the link up and occasionally promote it. 145 isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but for the dead of summer I'm going to call it a bit of a success. It got some people talking. Also, hilarious result of the whole thing was that WUSA-9 showed an image of the site on their newscast, clearly broadcasting Dick Cheney's "Go Fuck Yourself" quote. Stay classy!

On deck I have a reader request post for some information on dog parks. Namely, where the funding is coming from for the posh dog park on New Hampshire Ave near R Street in Dupont. I've scoured the Parks and Recreation site, to find that the dog parks are "sponsored" but this only appears to help defray maintenance costs. I put a request for information in to Councilmember Jack Evans, who referred me to the Director of DPR. Still no response. Who is paying for the doggy drinking fountains and the astroturf? Not a huge deal, but I'm curious nonetheless. Hopefully we'll have something on that next week.

Here's a doozy. I've taken a break from bashing on fellow bloggers, but this just makes me groan. Over at DC Metblogs, we have a discussion about the decline and fall of Cleveland Park. This is completely laughable. This is from someone called Suburban Sweetheart, who hails from Ohio and is deeply disturbed that Cleveland Park will soon be a ghetto. A really really white, upscale and safe ghetto.
Who pays $1,200 a month to live in a ‘hood void of Starbucks AND Slurpees? (Me, I guess.)

I moved to Cleveland Park because its subtle vibrancy & friendly, suburban feel made me feel like I could live an Ohioan’s life in a Washingtonian’s land. But as my adopted neighborhood begins to go under, I’m left wondering: Is it worth it? Take note, Cleveland Park. It’s time to reassess your value & reinvent yourself. As neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant gain go-to tenant traction, Cleveland Park is losing both its relevancy and its luster, & even the most devoted among us are beginning to reassess.
Yes, if by most devoted you mean someone who moved there from Ohio in the last couple of years and is pondering moving because some stores have closed. Cleveland Park is not going anywhere, it's a central location near bus lines and the Metro. There are some issues with attracting retail along Connecticut Avenue, but that won't be forever. There are still businesses worth patronizing. Comparing Cleveland Park to Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant makes no sense. You want a commercial strip devoid of resources, check out Mt. Pleasant St. Oh, and how many shootings and robberies do you have over there, Ms. Sweetheart? Your $1,200 per month can purchase a lot of Starbucks back home in Ohio.

Finally, reader and fellow blogger Jamie wrote in mentioning a curious lack of shootings in Columbia Heights over the past month or two. Come to think of it, I believe he's correct. I've heard shots fired in Columbia Heights, but as it stands now it looks like no one has been hit since the incident at the Metro. I might be forgetting something. However, it's never too soon for MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to call victory over violent crime in Columbia Heights. The same can't be said for Shaw at this point, though.


WMATA responds, concern "isn't worth a response"

Well, there's been an unexpected amount of attention given to the petition to remove John Catoe as Metro General Manager. As such, Metro spokesperson Lisa Farbstein issued an official non-response.

Farbstein told WUSA-9 that "John Catoe serves at the pleasure of the Metro board," and that the petition "isn't worth a response" because there were a few obviously fake names. Yes, the petition only has 97 signatures as of 7:30 AM on Thursday. Some of the names are fake, the majority are real.

What is real, however, are the concerns. The petition references real and valid concerns about management at Metro. Catoe is the top manager, and if there is a problem with management, any solution has to start with him, or by replacing him. He does serve at the pleasure of the Metro board, which is where the petition is directed.

I understand that online petitions are not exactly the most effective organizing tool in the world. It does make a statement however, that people are concerned and upset about the problems plaguing WMATA. In less than a day, the petition received over 75 signatures. Today it will pass 100 and perhaps even more if there is more coverage. While not an amazing amount of people, the petition is leading to discussion. The petition is getting the idea out there, the idea that we need sweeping change at Metro.

That's been the idea the whole time, to get people talking. To get them thinking. Of course WMATA's press department, who serves at the pleasure of John Catoe, will defend him. However, they could do it in a more mature manner than simply saying they don't feel the need to respond to the concerns of a growing number of riders.

Why not just say, "We understand the frustration and concern of many Metrorail riders. John Catoe remains committed to ensuring that Metro operates safely and efficiently."

Or maybe Lisa Farbstein is just sick and tired of having to deal with this and is getting a little edgier. I wouldn't blame her, it's been a hell of a couple months.

UPDATE: I have sent a request for comment to WMATA, we will see if they respond. As of 12:45PM the petition has 119 signatures.

UPDATE X2: Lisa Farbstein responded to me via Email this afternoon. This time, her response was a bit more diplomatic:
My comment to Channel 9 last night was that Mr. Catoe has seen enormous support from customers as he has been riding in the Metrorail system. I saw that again today when customers approached him on the sidewalk downtown and in the Red Line trains this afternoon to share words of encouragement.

I declined to go on camera, but I also responded by telling Channel 9 that Mr. Catoe is focused on finding the cause of the June 22 accident, putting the needed fix in place, and running the transit agency.

Doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter, but at least isn't decrying the people who are demanding sweeping changes. As a side note, yesterday's Washington Post Express poll had 76% of respondants saying Catoe should be fired. Guess that other 24% really like to hang out down by WMATA HQ.


Call on the WMATA Board to fire Catoe

I have spent a good deal of time on this site documenting Metro's failures. I have written in depth at how Metro does not have an established culture of safety. On a weekly basis, we learn more about how Metro continues to be plagued with safety issues. We also learn all too frequently about past incidents that foreshadowed the tragic June 22, 2009 crash.

For the uninitated, here's a round-up of the pieces that have appeared on this site, regarding Metro's safety problems.

There are more, but those are the big ones. I have called on John B. Catoe, Jr. to accept responsibility for the crash, as he is the man in charge. However, sadly (but in typical DC fashion), the buck is merely passed around. No one was responsible, or perhaps everyone was responsible.

Several things are clear at this point, Metro lacks an effective emphasis on safety, and no amount of "retraining" is going to change the culture. In order for Metro to establish a true culture of safety, a complete change in administration is required. Starting at the top. Catoe has failed, and will remain a failed and weak leader in the wake of the June 22 crash.

Therefore, I am calling upon the WMATA Board of Directors to remove Catoe from his position as General Manager.

I am also launching one of those "online petitions" to back this effort up. You can read and sign the petition here.

Metro needs a new start. Metro needs a general manager with experience running and maintaining a safe, complex system. A search should be started immediately for an administrator with this experience. They need not specific transit experience, but rather organizational experience. Department heads and deputies can fill the role of transit experts. We need an effective administrator who will attempt to make the sweeping changes Metro so badly needs.

Spread the word.

There's also a Facebook group. Social media is our friend.

Dog found discarded in trash can

Lovely story today in the Post about an injured dog that was found wrapped in a trash bag with duct tape in a trash can in Southeast. The Humane Society was called and the animal was taken to a veterinarian hospital. The society speculates the dog was likely discarded after losing a dog fight.

This was a very brief article in the Post, it does not explain whether or not any sort of investigation has been started, or whether the dog has survived. Also, there's no information on where in Southeast the dog was found.

It's still sickening though, to think of a dog being tossed in the trash while still alive. I mean, if you're that upset that your dog lost the fight, you could at least shoot it before you throw it away. Yeah, I'm going out on a limb there and assuming you likely have access to firearms if you fight dogs.

This depressing story reminds me of another depressing story. Yeah, the whole Michael Vick saga. I'll just go ahead and remind the Post about Mike Wise's piece a few weeks ago supporting Michael Vick's return to the NFL. Of course it's an "opinion" piece, but I had been meaning to comment on it for a while, and a DC reference to dog fighting brings back the topic.

Wise wrote that Vick's skill in life is to be a football player, and that even though he disgraced his team and the NFL by engaging in acts of horrible cruelty, he must be allowed to earn a living. Oh the horror that someone can't spend their life doing what they love! Oh the horror that he would have to accept responsibility for his crimes and that he might never play the game he is good at again. Come on. He disgraced the league and his team. Tell me that when you read this post about a dog being dumped in a trash can, your mind didn't wander somewhere to Michael Vick. I bet it did.

This whole nonsense pisses me off. And it's damned hot outside. I envy all of those DC blog readers who are not reading this post because they are on vacation somewhere.

UPDATE: NBC Washington has more information, albeit on their poorly designed site.


Near miss on Metro in March

The Washington Post reported yesterday about another incident where the automatic train protection system failed. On March 2, 2009 a Vienna-bound Orange Line train overran the platform at the Potomac Avenue station. The train operator activated the "mushroom," or emergency brake, and stopped the train one car-length beyond the platform. The train was off-loaded and taken out of service.

Platform overruns do happen, and can be indicative of braking problems, but are generally not considered an urgent safety problem. In this case, however, the train had entered a block of track that was occupied, and stopped only 500 feet behind the leading train.

Metro did not make the March 2 incident public, and according to the Post, did not disclose it to the NTSB during their investigation of the June 22 crash. The NTSB learned of the incident through the Tri-State Oversight Committee, the generally tooth-less organization that monitors Metro.

The general consensus is that the March 2 incident foreshadowed that a train could enter a block of track occupied by another train. The near-miss was yet another reminder (like the near-miss between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn) that the automatic train protection system was flawed. In the specific case of March 2, Metro insists this was due to a failure on the train, and not in the track circuit. This, Metro believes, absolves them of all responsibility because it is "totally different" than the June 22 crash. Safety experts disagree, however, stating that this incident is alarming in that it shows that the system is not fail-safe.

The Tri-State Oversight Committee also states that on June 3, they received a complaint from a Metro employee that the ATP system was unreliable.

The TOC demanded Metro investigate the March 2 incident, however they have not yet received an official response. Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein was also unaware of the incident until she was asked by the Post.

What does this all mean?

Yet again we see an amazing display of arrogance by Metro management. John Catoe, who has promised increased transparency, yet again failed to disclose an incident to either the public or the NTSB. Metro officials, who have again and again dropped the ball on safety issues, made the determination on their own that a failure of the ATP system was irrelevant to the fatal June 22 accident. If Metro is serious about improving safety, they must disclose any and all incidents that could in any way be related to the June 22 crash. Any incident involving the ATP system must be discussed with the NTSB. It is not up to Metro to decide what is and what is not relevant to the investigation.

As this story unfolds, it becomes alarmingly clear that Metro was aware that there were problems with the ATP system. Metro knew that there were multiple failure points, be it failed equipment on a train, "flickering circuits" or failed communications cables. These failure points resulted in trains being in the dark about their location relative to other trains. On more than one occasion, a failure of the ATP system resulted in operators using the emergency brake to prevent a disaster. Yet it was not until 9 people were killed on June 22 that Metro acknowledged problems with the system, and that was only after the NTSB and the media took them to task.

This is unacceptable. John Catoe, as well as any other top management relating to safety, must be fired. The Metro Board must take action, and Jim Graham especially must decide if it's worth continuing to defend Catoe. The management at Metro could not see the writing on the wall, that it was simply a matter of time before a crash of catastrophic proportions occurred. The people whose jobs are dedicated to ensuring the system is safe failed. Metro was lucky that the failure happened when and were it did. It is by the grace of god and good fortune we are not discussing an incident that resulted in hundreds of deaths and the system being shut down for months.

Fire John Catoe. Fire his deputies and his safety chief. Search the nation for people who have expertise in managing complex organizations that must be safe. Jim Graham is the head of the WMATA board. He is also seeking re-election to the DC Council next year. I might be just one blog but I'll make sure this hangs around his neck for the duration of his campaign.

This is absolutely ridiculous. How many more times do we need to hear about an undisclosed "near miss" before we realize that Metro failed in a spectacular way. In most other countries, there would have been a criminal investigation opened by now.

UPDATE: The WaPo is now reporting that the NTSB was "verbally" notified by a Metro employee of the March incident. Metro, however, did not provide any further information in the days following the June 22 crash.


Summer in the city, blog writers/readers leave town

It's Friday in August, which means absolutely no one is around. The Red Line was surprisingly deserted this morning, as compared to the normal sardine crunch. I was even able to get a seat on the bus, holy crap.

So things are slow, WTOP is writing about the Air Guitar championships, and most people are at the beach instead of reading blogs. People are still continuing to shoot at each other. Since this is a Friday, and I'm still researching my final two WMATA pieces (sorry for the delay), I wanted to ask the readers a question. How often do you find yourself calling the police in DC?

I'd say I call 911 on average 2-3 times a month, probably more in the summer. Yesterday alone, I had to call twice. The first was when some asshole in a Mini Cooper ran into a cyclist at 16th and Euclid. The cyclist started yelling at the driver and punching the car, at which point the Mini Cooper went into reverse (in the middle of rush hour), and attempted to speed off up 16th Street. Except he was too busy being an asshole to notice the girl on the Vespa he was about to hit. Whoops. No one was injured, but I wanted to relay the tag number in case he sped away again. My favorite part was the random bystander who screamed at the top of her lungs and started sobbing "oh my god!"

The second call was around 10:15 pm, when I heard 7 or so gunshots. It was two shots, then a series of three more, then a pause, and then two more. At first I assumed it was firecrackers, but then realized my mistake. Especially when the shots began to get closer to my window, and the people on the street backed up against a wall and looked frightened. So I call 911, and this time am directed to some sort of automated message I was not expecting, I think asking me to press a button to continue in English. I had never heard that before, I hung up and dialed again, this time getting an operator. MPD was on the scene within a few minutes, so not too bad.

Generally I end up calling for gunshots or suspicious activity, sometimes car accidents with injuries. And there was that one time a guy kept driving around the block in a BMW while masturbating.

I try not to fall into the trap of "well, if it's serious someone else would call," because if something was happening to me, I would hope whoever saw or heard it would call the police. It's better safe than sorry, and I'm not calling for things that would be a waste of time (e.g. no chicken nuggets, well-dressed black people walking on the street).

How about you all?


Quick Updates, Links

Sorry folks, it's been a couple of those days where the "full time, employed" side of life starts dragging on the blogging. There's been a few good things kicking around, though nothing that got the rage pumping enough to forgo sleep or eating to blog. I know, my priorities are totally off, sorry dear readers.

In the event anyone would like to sponsor the site, and ensure timely, "snarky" updates, multiple times a day, I'm not going to turn you down. You, me and Gawker can all team up to put the Washington Post out of business. Hopefully so they don't write more drivel about the Target in Columbia Heights.


More information on Barry's spending of city dough, making it even clearer he's a total asshole. The Post has some deets including that he paid a woman from Reynoldsburg, Ohio $50k to coordinate a "Summit on Poverty" in Southeast. I know we're trying to stimulate the economy in the Rust Belt and all, but somehow I don't see the need to funnel DC money to a suburb of Columbus. Barry also used money to pay a firm that helped him support tainted Illinois Senator Roland Burris. Peas in a pod, perhaps.

More "all hands," still likely pointless. Tuesday night was "National Night Out," and DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier had all police officers on duty through Wednesday morning. Previously "all hands" weekends were limited to weekends. I've discussed these sorts of things recently, but most notably I wanted to point you to a great post by Jamie at farmfreshmeat. I especially love the graphics.

Gabe Klein's desire named 'streetcars.' I'm excited about the idea of streetcars, especially when I see the tracks being put on H Street, NE. Washington Biz Journal has some nice info about the District's completely half-assed attempt at streetcars. Remember that we purchased streetcars before we had tracks, and we are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to have them stored and cared for in the Czech republic. As the article notes, we're building tracks on H Street, though overhead wires are banned in the area. Hopefully someone can figure out how to remove head from ass and update the L'Enfant Plan. I'm all for some degree of keeping things in the style intended, but it might be time to revisit a few things.


Broken News: The Washington Post are a bunch of whiners

In case you missed it, there was a big to-do this weekend between the Washington Post and Gawker. Post reporter Ian Shapira wrote a long (whiny) post about how Gawker "stole" one of his articles. For reference, here is the original piece, and here is Gawker's commentary.

First off, let's agree about what Gawker "did." They took a moderately interesting news piece, summarized it, and added some commentary. Gawker also provided several links to the Post article, as well as the "citation" at the bottom indicating the source. This is not plagiarism, and I don't believe it's theft, either. Is it theft when a comedian comments on the news? What about the Daily Show or the Tonight Show? If they re-tell a news story and add in jokes, are they ripping off the reporter?

A majority of blogs (this one included) exist to provide (ideally) an original take on what's going on in the world. Of course bloggers are going to refer to and comment on the news. However, the news isn't competing with blogs for the humor or insight audience. Perhaps the op-ed page is a little bit, but news is news. People read a newspaper for news, they read blogs for commentary. I doubt there are a whole lot of people who stopped visiting the Post's web site (or cancelled their subscriptions) because they can get their share of real news from Gawker.

For the Post to dedicate a whole story to a reporter's ire of Gawker is embarrassing, to say the least. This isn't a Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair sized incident. Furthermore, the Post doesn't even know what the hell is going on in their own office--with their communications staff forwarding links to Gawker for republishing! Shapira complains that blogs are going to destroy newspapers, because blogs capitalize on the hard work of reporters such as himself. He then makes a whole bunch of wishy-washy points and eventually concedes that Gawker got his article more pageviews. In the end, he has no point except that he is a little upset a blog talked about his article.

Are newspapers a vital resource for news and actual reporting? Absolutely. Do newspapers actually believe this and prioritize appropriately? Absolutely not. There are so many arenas in which newspapers, hands down, defeat blogs and other online-only outlets. It's called pounding the pavement and getting the story. Breaking the news and writing important features used to be the bread and butter. Sadly, newspapers have no idea what they want to do now that they've grown up, so they try to be everything. The Post, for example, decides to dedicate time and money to a blog about swimming. Blogs are not to blame for the downfall of 'traditional media,' and we all know it. Newspapers failed to adapt to the Internet, and they are paying for it.

The Post can't keep young talent, they flee to the blogs and other, more nimble media outlets. It's time for management to realize they have to refocus their efforts to producing a product that the market (including the Internet) demands, and that they can produce using their skilled resources (and clout). I'm no business guru here, but I think the comment by Ian Shapira's editor sums up nicely the problems at the Post. The editor said, "they stole your story. Where's your outrage, man?" That shows just how out of touch with the Internets of 2009 that editor is. I imagine that's not an isolated case.

So where is the news headed? In the direction of a stupid fantasy land, likely. The AP and other large media organizations are struggling to figure out how to 'protect' their reporting. Here's a plan by the AP (along with some humorous commentary, sadly not written by me, but found via Twitter):

Good luck with that one, guys. While you are at it, maybe if you wrap some tinfoil around your fax machines they will become modernized telecommunications devices that can compete with iPhones and Blackberries. Oh nevermind, we'll just completely redesign the Internet around the AP's needs. That's clearly the best solution for all involved.

So yes, traditional media, continue griping about how the future is destroying you. When you feel like dedicating some of your time and (dwindling) resources to figuring out how to compete with the world you actually live in, we'll all be here waiting for you.


This is why we can't have nice things

DCist comes through with some reporting about a weekend attack on the city's bus shelters. I took this picture on Sunday at around noon, along 16th Street. This is at the bus shelter for the northbound S buses at 16th and Harvard NW.

Vandals struck at least 20 bus shelters all around the District, shattering one or more panes of glass. I saw another vandalized shelter on 16th Street, near the stop at Irving on the other side of the street.

No leads yet, according to DCist, though DDOT does believe the incidents are connected and are likely the work of the same perpetrators.

Well, gee, you think? My money is on someone who is trying to take a shot at The Man (e.g. Clear Channel Communications) that maintains the new-style bus shelters. Reports are a majority of those shelters hit are the new-style ones. Given that most of the vandalized shelters are in Northwest and Upper Northwest, I'd speculate it's a group of disaffected youth, probably from Tenleytown or thereabouts. Reminds me of the jackasses who vandalized the PNC and Wachovia Banks in Logan Circle as a way to stick it to the IMF and the World Bank. Brilliant.

Or maybe it was a Cleveland Park resident looking for an outlet for their frustration. It appears as though the once nice strip along Connecticut Avenue is now on a fast track to becoming the next Gary, Indiana. And residents are outraged! The economic downtown has hit them hard, in so much as they have 50% less Starbucks within 300 yards and now the nearest 7/11 is in Adams Morgan. CityDesk has a nice video report of a recent adventure to the wasteland that exists between Woodley Park and Van Ness.