Letter from Washington (IV)

Staring out at the city skylights A marathon is going down the street And we're all racing for our own reasons And sometimes in the middle we all meet --"MARATHON," HEARTLESS BASTARDS (w/m Erika Wennerstrom)
Last weekend was the Rock n Roll Marathon in Washington, much anticipated after weeks of seeing notices like this:

The route went down East Capitol Street from Lincoln Park to 3rd Street, passing little more than a block from our apartment. It was fortuitously one of the nicer days we've had of late. I walked along the route for a little while. Crowds in the neighborhood were not thick, but runners were enthusiastically greeted by small children and their parents:

In time, more runners appeared:

There was considerable police presence, to manage traffic. On 5th Street, where we live, cars were blocked below A Street.
Other officers blocked the intersections with East Capitol Street.

Cars were allowed across on the busier thoroughfares, like 4th, 6th and 8th Streets.


Local bike advocacy in Washington DC

Perseverance and comprehensiveness were the messages last week when the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) held a bike advocacy training session at the Mt. Pleasant Library on the city's northwest side. Members recounted recent campaigns for bike infrastructure, discussed the city's political process, and crowd-sourced some ideas for the next target areas.

Maryland Avenue NE is one of the picturesque diagonal thoroughfares designed in the 1790s by Charles L'Enfant. Running four lanes NE/SW between Stanton Park and H Street, it features speeding cars and difficult sight lines that pose hazards to cyclists and pedestrians. WABA member Todd Hettenbach described the conversations between neighborhood residents, their 6th ward representative on the City Council and transportation officials that led to a redesign plan including bike lanes, a center turning lane, and bumpouts at key intersections:

Once agreement on the plan was reached, it took several years to get Dis…

Letter from Washington (III)

One of the outstanding walkable aspects of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is the presence of small-scale shopping within five minutes' walk of our apartment. These include innumerable cleaners--maybe a unique aspect of a city of "suits"--as well as pharmacies, medical offices, cafes, a used bookstore and even a couple of auto repair shops.

They also include that staple of urbanist vision, corner stores. A block away, across East Capitol Street, is Corner Market.

The Congress Market is a block west of that.

Capitol Hill Supermarket is a  little farther away, on the other side of Stanton Park.

Each has an impressive variety of foods and household goods packed around a couple of aisles. They exist in a context that is almost ideal for corner stores, an unusual combination of wealth and population density. Census tracts #66 and #82 have median family incomes of over $110,000, which provides ready spending money even with a high cost of living. Its combined 5000 residents liv…

Evidence-based policymaking: Moneyball, or GIGO?

A confluence of recent events around the capital city showed many people wish for better information when making public policy. This may seem surprising--the President's budget as well as the recent tax changes rely on supply-side economics, climate change denial is practically an article of faith for the majority party, and Congress may or may not be able to undo the 23-year-old provision that restricts the Center for Disease Control from researching gun violence--but it's fair to say the desire for data is here... co-existing with a lot of other desires.

Some years ago, as part of our long research project on policy making by the President and Congress (see note below), Paul J. Quirk and I examined the government's ability to manage complex or changing information. When issues are technically complex, as most have gotten to be in one way or another, we wrote "they must obtain the necessary information from reliable sources, as well as mastering it to the extent req…

PS on I-380

Last week I considered the plan to widen Interstate 380 between North Liberty and Cedar Rapids from four to six lanes. I tried to construct the strongest argument for the project, based on increased population and daily traffic, as well as reasons not to do it (induced demand, fiscal stress at all levels of government, environmental costs, maybe traffic safety). I explained why I thought the reasons not to do it were stronger.

Despite a public meeting this week, we're still without specifics on the cost, or on the metrics that justify the expansion. We need to know: How much time , are we buying with our X hundred million dollars, and whose time are we saving? Consider that this is a 12-mile stretch of highway, with a 70-mile-an-hour speed limit (though the design speed surely is higher). Driving either direction between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, and assuming no obstructions, you should make it through this patch in about 10 minutes. In heavy traffic, that time will increase, bu…

Letter from Washington (II)

I've made my first breakthrough as a (temporary) Washingtonian: I've learned to stop worrying and love the bus system.

I first met the Metro during my first visit to the city 34 years ago. It was a gleaming new transportation system then; now, it is showing the effects of age and possibly deferred maintenance. There've been a few widely-publicized incidents, such as a piece of ceiling falling at the Rhode Island Avenue station, which will be closed for maintenance this summer after the All-Star Game. This week one north-south track was closed for emergency maintenance, creating delays on the green and yellow lines.

I've encountered nothing harrowing on the Metro yet. I enjoy the advantages of trains: the network is simple and gets you around the city fairly quickly without having to deal with auto traffic. Washington's train network has six lines, named after colors, but they share routes so there really are three routes through the city: east-west (blue/orange/si…

The futility of widening (II)

Discussion is going forward on widening Interstate 380 between North Liberty and Cedar Rapids, so that there are three lanes in each direction the whole way. Things are getting realer: The Iowa Department of Transportation will hold a public information meeting next Tuesday, February 20, at the District 6 office, 5455 Kirkwood Boulevard SW, Cedar Rapids, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m.
As I wrote two years ago, the impetus for widening the highway is understandable: population in Linn and Johnson counties has increased: their combined population in the 2016 census estimate is 368,208, up 7.63 percent since 2010 and 39.0 percent since 1990, both faster than the United States as a whole Intercity commuting has increased with population--average daily traffic counts at the county line increased by about 50 percent between 1998 (38,200) and 2014 (55,600)--and drivers can at times feel trapped in traffic without an extra lane to set them free. The region and the state have sunk their investments i…