Category Archives: Huntington

Fairfax Connector Strikes Individual at Huntington Station [Photos]

Fairfax, Virginia | 11:30pm
A sad story outside of my residence tonight in Fairfax county. It appears an individual was struck in the crosswalk across Huntington Avenue by a Fairfax county Connector Bus.

Police arrived at the scene within minutes, and EMS and fire shortly thereafter. Fairfax One — the county’s helicopter — was also on scene but did not evacuate the injured individual, who was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

The individual’s condition is unknown but presumed serious.

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Photographs property of Bomble LLC and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission.

 

The Wonders of Privatization (Snow Edition)

contractorsBainbridge Township, Ohio

“Did they shovel our porch?” my sister asked my mother. “Yep.” replied mom. “Wow.”

Ohio, at least northern Ohio, is experiencing one of its worst storms in recent years. Last night, the meteorologists spoke only of dire outcomes. And we’re only supposed to get a foot of snow.

This is not the same Ohio I grew up in, where snow was quite prevalent and a few feet fazed only the carpetbaggers. Snowmageddon in D.C.? Nothing compared to the great snowstorm of 1996 where we got over four feet of snow.

In recent years, snowstorms have been more mild here.

A year ago, my parents were still residing in my childhood home on Eaton road in Shaker Heights. To its credit, Shaker Heights has a very good public works system relative to neighboring communities. Of course, that comes at a high cost.

Shaker recently raised its taxes to keep its very good public works system — snow and trash removal — despite state budget cuts in the form of aid to cities. They proposed, and the voters approved, tax increases.

My parents moved. One county over, in fact, to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County, where taxes are lower (both in income and property taxes.)

Despite telling us for years they would impound our childhood in storage and buy a loft downtown, they opted to move east to an even bigger home. It’s a nice home. But, it’s in the snow belt.

Shaker Heights, like all inner-ring suburbs, gets its share of snow. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding parts of Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties tend to get a lot more snow.

The meteorologists were a little off on the timing, but they seemed to be correct on the amount of snow. It’s coming down hard.

Interrupting our alcohol-fueled games of bananagram and Jenga was the sound of snow plows. Since most of Bainbridge is unincorporated, the communities (run by Home Owners Associations) hire contractors to do the work of government that cities, like Shaker, ordinarily perform.

Dad came out of his new office and notified us that Ali and I would have to move our cars if the contractors were to plow our driveway. It was more of a command.

This, of course, was foreign to us, since we grew up using the winter mouse murderer known as the snowblower.  (If you’ve never seen mouse blood and parts sprayed over snow, then you haven’t truly lived, my friend.)

In Shaker, the city plowed the streets. When I was younger, they had this strange device designed to plow sidewalks. But given the age of those sidewalks, it often resulted in destroyed slabs and damaged machines. I don’t know this for sure, but I am pretty sure they killed that program.

The plows were big, and all of their drivers were city employees. Presumably belonging to a union. While the plows afforded bigger economies of scale, the labor contracts probably negated those benefits, since public employees’ unions have CBAs with pensions and overtime.

Of course, you had to plow your own driveway, and we used our snowblower to clear the block’s sidewalks because that’s how we roll, but the streets were plowed well — better than in the city of Cleveland.

Out here, however, the contractors plow your roads, your driveway, your walkway, and your porch.

Ali’s car — the Lesboat I call it, since it’s a Subaru — has 4WD. It pulled out of the driveway with ease. The “Silver Fox”, my dad’s old Honda Accord  that I now drive– complete with FIGHT TERRORISM license plates –does not. It was quickly evident when trying to move it why he no longer wanted it.

It got stuck.

I tried, in vain, to back it out of the driveway, a slight decline. Our driveway in Shaker was about a one-story incline that required skill to navigate. This, one would think, would be easy. Not so much. Without 4WD, skill was required.

After a few tries, my dad put on his boots and came to my aid to help push my out. It didn’t work.

All of the drivers of the snowplows stopped and got out of their trucks to help push me out.

That’s service.

(My mom rewarded them with a sixer of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.)

It got me thinking about city-provided services and private contractors.

While city-provided big trucks may be superior at providing the economies of scale necessary to plow big thoroughfares, the same could be done by a smaller amount of F-250’s, or bigger trucks. (Ohio isn’t big into privatization, while my current home of Virginia has embraced it, with VDOT using private contractors to plow main roads.) If allowed to compete, they’d presumably buy bigger trucks.

When the weather is tame, cities eat the cost of stagnant trucks and employees. Contractors have more flexibility. If it is particularly snowy, they can hire guys with trucks to join their team for the season, or lease trucks fitted with plows. That saves time and money, especially when competing for contracts.

And when it comes to providing service, they do a better job and more thorough job, at least when it comes to plowing snow.

In Bainbridge, however, my parents still have to take the trash out to the end of the 30 foot driveway. In Shaker, they employ little golf-like carts that pick it up from the back.

In the end, it’s all about trade offs, I guess. And my parents seem to value lower taxes and better snow service.bsig

 

 

 

 

This Election? I’m Undecided

“When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” – Benjamin Franklin

I know this is embarrassing to admit, as some people see me as the sort of guy who thinks he has all of the answers: I’m undecided in the fall election.

Seriously. I’ve thought about this for months. I’ve changed my mind a few times now, and now with the election but days away, I don’t know how I am going to vote.

Strange, right?

On one hand, I can vote to take other peoples’ money to pay for programs that will benefit me. Or I can vote to give a cold shoulder to my middle class neighbors, essentially saying I don’t think our tax dollars should protect them.

Should I vote for or against the $30 million Storm Drainage Improvements Bonds? Oh. You thought I was talking about the Presidential election?

Don’t be silly, there’s no way I’m voting for Obama. And while I like a lot of what Gary Johnson stands for, I’m not going to throw away my vote. I’m voting for Romney.

I know how I’m voting on Fairfax County’s other three bond referenda for Libraries ($25m), Parks ($75m), and Public Safety ($55m) — No, No, and No. But I don’t know which way to go in this $30 million Bond Referendum.

A bit of background:

I live in Huntington, Virginia, which is an unincorporated part of Fairfax County about 500 feet from the Beltway and about 1000 feet from Alexandria City. Between the Beltway and my neighborhood there is a body of water called Cameron Run that runs parallel to the Beltway into the Potomac River.

Every three years or so, a big rain storm comes and the 100+ houses a few blocks to my east get a lot of flooding in their neighborhood. It causes a fair amount of damage to the houses of the neighborhood and takes days to subside. The rescue team comes and sets up a command center and nobody usually gets hurt. The last episode occurred year, but in 2006 there was a big flood that caused a lot of damage.

Here’s a quick video from what sounds like Miss Cleo’s brother. (He knows his stuff, I might add.)

My building, which is about five years young and sixteen stories tall, sits on higher ground with an embankment to protect us against most floods (like in 2011).

The houses in this Huntington neighborhood aren’t anything special — like architectural treasures — and they’ve been hit with at least three big floods in the past ten years. In short, not worth too terribly much.

The 2006 flood resulted in so much damage that, in 2008, over 100 residents sued the County and the Virginia Department of Transportation for damages, contending that “the flooding was caused by the relocation of a local stream, Cameron Run, as part of the construction of the Washington, D.C. Beltway, and by the subsequent failure of VDOT to maintain the Run by dredging the sediment that filled it over the years.”

It was rejected by a Circuit Court, and sent back by the Virginia Supreme Court, allowing the petitioners to sue VDOT but not Fairfax County. The petitioners want $9 million.

Since the Beltway was constructed, feet of sediment has built up, or so the petitioners claim. I believe them. Also the Route 1/495 and Telegraph Road/495 Interchange construction, I am sure, have contributed to the sediment. Obviously, more sediment equals more flooding, since Cameron Run is less able to send water to the Potomac.

How this could benefit me:

  • It makes flooding less likely in my area in general.

How this could hurt me:

  • Since the Levee they want to build starts at Fenwick Drive, it actually might make flooding statistically more likely to hit my property, if the flooding is significant. Previous floods have hit western areas of my neighborhood in the past.

Another thing to consider is property values. As the D.C. area grows, it would make sense that this area would eventually grow. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I chose to live here. The commercial property next door is planning on selling out to developers, and the aging condo/town homes across the street is too.

Yes, passing this Bond Referendum will improve the property values of those houses. Which, may, in turn, help my property value.

Or, my property value might not rise as much as it could…

But, if what some of our County Supervisors says is true — that developers signalled interest in buying out the homes  to build there– then the Bond Referendum might not even be necessary, since a developer might build their own levee depending on their needs. That wasn’t considered when the supervisors voted to put this referendum on the ballot, which is why three of them voted no.

Should Fairfax voters borrow $30 million to save 160 or so homes the time and trouble of floods (they’re in a mandatory flood insurance zone). Should the Board of Supervisors taken a little more time before throwing a not inexpensive bond issue on the ballot to consider alternatives? Should I vote to help myself (maybe) and my neighbors knowing others are footing the bill? Should the state and federal government pay for this since their Beltway and subsequent road projects are what probably caused it?

I don’t know. I don’t have all of the answers.

Eleven days left, and I’m still undecided.

 

New at the 7/11 Near Me

It’s the new Amazon Locker!

The Sentinel

Was filmed in Huntington, VA apparently. Right by my house! I was watching it with my room mate this evening, and had to phone Bobby Metzinger to inform him of my discovery.

I saw it and paused it, thinking “wait, that’s on Belle Haven Road!” I took a screenshot and went on google maps and it checks out. I went there once but they didn’t take credit cards so I didn’t buy anything. Apparently they have/had good pizza? Anyone know about this?

The Sentinel isn’t one of the best movies ever made, but it’s one of the most DC accurate, in my opinion.

In the movie, Pat’s is supposed to depict rural Maryland. However, it’s in Fairfax County Virginia right near Mount Vernon.

Fairfax County Doesn’t Need Bikesharing

In today’s Washington Examiner, I noticed an article that said “bike sharing is on the horizon for Fairfax.” Oh no.

The 14th wealthiest county in the United States (which I live in) does not need a bikeshare program, and I say this as one of the poorer people in this county filled with government money.

Yet, our county government seems pretty bent on “wanting” bike sharing, I question whether we need bike sharing.

“The county definitely does want bike sharing,” said county spokeswoman Beth Francis. “We don’t have funding right now, but it’s definitely in the plans.”

I hope that, when we do have funding, there happens to be a lot of it lying around… because bikeshares lose money. Seriously, though, when the money is there, we should spend it on something marginally worthwhile, not subsidizing lunch bikes for rich people.

DCist, a very pro bikeshare blog, noted: “Regardless, even some cyclist advocates are doubtful that bike-sharing can work in such suburban outposts.”

Yeah, no shit. What, am I going to bike from Huntington to Reston? Why not put bike lanes on the FFX County Parkway? Even cyclist advocates are skeptical? Fairfax County doesn’t care! Fuck it, let’s do it anyway! It’ll be nice!

People are rightly skeptical that it would work in “the county” because bikeshare can’t even make money in Washington, D.C.! The Examiner quoted a bicycling enthusiast skeptic:

Bike Club Treasurer and Reston resident Ken Thompson member had more reservations.

“I can see it working well in a large metropolitan area, but I’m not sure how it would work here,” he said. “I think it’s too small.”

In U.S. News and World Report, this professor noted:

“I’m not aware of a bike sharing system that covers all of its costs simply from user membership dues and whatever fees you pay for a trip,” says John Pucher, professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

When asked for comment about why Capital Bikeshare wasn’t making money, D.C. Department of Transportation bikeshare project manager Josh Moskowitz said:

“It’s not our prerogative or priority to turn a profit. It’s to get people to ride bikes,”

Oh, great! Let’s get one of these for Fairfax ASAP. No program like it ever seems to break even, let alone make money, and those who run some of our regional programs don’t view that as a prerogative.

In short, even advocates admit it’s a money pit that just encourages people to ride bikes. Are you shitting me?

For full disclosure, I own two perfectly good bikes. Each cost me $100 or so at Walmart. I like biking, even though I hate cyclists who don’t follow the law.

A few thoughts:

1.) Is the goal to make the environment better? If so, bikeshares don’t seem to have a great record on that.

CEI’s Mark Scribner writes:

So if 90 percent of the 1 million trips made by Capital Bikeshare came from previous users of “green” transportation modes, why should we be so excited that the District Department of Transportation spent millions of dollars subsidizing bicycle use for mostly white-collar downtown office workers? Much of the initial Capital Bikeshare funding came from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grants. If the money was to be spent on “[auto] congestion mitigation” and “air quality improvement,” and assuming the [Montreal’s] BIXI mode-switching figures broadly hold in D.C., this was a clear misuse of federal funds. (Here’s FHWA’s CMAQ fact sheet.)

2.) Is it to help poor people get around? Bikeshares don’t fare too well in this department, either.

When DC started the program, it received $16 million in government support, including (as Reason magazine notes) $1 million to:

“address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.”

Except that, according to Reason:

Capital Bikeshare’s latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white.

According to the American Community Survey, a full 52.3% of DC’s 25+ crowd have an associate’s degree or higher. In Fairfax County, that figure is 11% higher at 63.3%.

What reason(s) do I have to believe that Fairfax will have any lower use of this system by rich, educated people than Washington, D.C.? Great use of cash.

Hey, at least bikeshare bicycles make convenient getaway vehicles!

Bikeshares are a money pit, and Fairfax won’t see anywhere near the use that D.C. is seeing, and in D.C. it still isn’t breaking even. Plus, Fairfax lacks the interconnectivity that D.C. does, which means that a bikeshare program will likely fare even worse.

While I don’t support the following idea, it makes more sense than “investing” (read: losing money every year) in a bikeshare program.

So, I propose:

How about we get $1 million dollars and buy 10,000 bikes from Walmart and give them to the people we’d like to see biking (fat people, poor people without cars, etc.) — sure it’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars, but at least it isn’t a money pit.

Capital Bikeshare says it has about 1,500 bikes — so we’d have 6.666 times times that many bikes! For a fraction of the cost!

In conclusion, bikeshare for Fairfax County is absolutely stupid. I’d be happier if they spent a million dollars buying 10,000 bikes and giving the damn things away. Even though I don’t really support that idea, at least it would save money in the long run relative to a bikeshare program.

 

Could GOP Crossovers Have Ousted Moran?

Earlier today, I blogged about my cross over vote for Bruce Shuttleworth. As I noted, I didn’t vote for him because I like his views — he’s crazy. Rather, I voted for him because I absolutely do not like Jim Moran, my current Congressman. Also, I (accurately) predicted that George Allen would handily win the Virginia Republican Senate primary, which is why I felt safe to cast this vote.

So, was my hypothesis — that voting in this Democratic primary might be a statistically more likely way to oust Jim Moran from power — true? With 99% of the results in, and Shuttleworth losing by larger margins than Republican Patrick Murray did in the 2010 general, I’ve concluded my hypothesis was false.

Let’s adjust this a bit, just for fun. What if every Republican voter who cast a vote today in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District decided to vote in the Democratic primary instead of the Republican? Let’s also assume that, because they don’t like Jim Moran, they’d vote for Shuttleworth.

What would happen?

Well, if every Republican in VA 8 abandoned the Senate primary and voted for Shuttleworth, he still would have lost 51 to 49.

The results for the Senate primary in my hypothesis would not have changed significantly from the actual total.

Now, I know that it’s unrealistic to assume that such a scenario would happen. Could it? Sure. But it would be unlikely and mitigated by other factors. (i.e. Republican interference, which wouldn’t be by stealth, would increase turnout for Moran.)

Do I regret my vote? Not really. I knew Allen would win, and he would have been the recipient of my vote otherwise. However, I do plan to take a count of how many Democratic mailers I get, and the money wasted, just for voting in this primary. 

 

I voted for a Democrat

Crazy, right? Yes, this morning I voted in the Democratic primary for Virginia Congressional District 8. (Virginia has open primaries.)

Why? Here are my reasons:

  • George Allen will win the GOP nomination for Senate without my help. George Allen is facing E.W. Jackson, Bob Marshall, and Jamie Radtke. Who are they? Exactly.
  • My Congressman, Jim Moran is a moron. He needs to be retired, even if it means voting for someone politically extreme like Bruce Shuttleworth. No better feeling in the world than voting against Jim Moran, especially in a race where the likelihood of him losing is greater than most general elections. Shuttleworth may have crappy ideas, but at least he doesn’t heckle kids and start fights on the floor of Congress.
  • Democrats will spend money sending me campaign literature for years, costing their party and candidates thousands of dollars.

So, you see, it was easier than I thought it would be. I get to vote against Moran and cost the Democrats money in the future. Should Bruce Shuttleworth somehow win tonight, I won’t vote for him in the general, but I will blog about how stupid his Apollo 2020 proposal is. Anyone who seriously thinks alternative energy is going to be our baseload energy supplier is crazy, and anyone who thinks getting the materials (like REMs) for alternative energy is somehow “green” is naive.

I did feel great voting against Jim Moran. And if Moran loses, Shuttleworth might be easier to beat than Moran in the general. Call me crazy. 

This is why we can’t have nice things

Tonight, I noticed a card in my mail box that encouraged me to keep my (nonexistent) pets at bay so they wouldn’t attack carriers, meter readers, newspaper delivery folks and, of course, neighbors’ children.

Most rational people heed these general life tenets without a formal notice from the USPS. Though, I find this notice curious for a variety of reasons:

  1. I live in a condominium. Nobody’s pets are untethered and running around attacking people.
  2. As a former paper delivery boy, I can understand this being a legitimate worry. But it doesn’t apply to my building.
  3. All of our meters are wireless. Nobody goes into units to check these things anymore.
  4. It’s a condo building. Even when I received physical paper delivery, there was a 0.0000001% chance of dog mauling.
  5. The notice says that there are “deaths” caused by animal attacks. While statistically possible, I highly doubt that many meter readers, newspaper delivery people and mail delivery folks face a probable likelihood of death by dog mauling at work. They’re more likely to die driving to and from places.
  6. The card notes that “Each year, more than 4.5 million people — most of them children and the elderly — are bitten by dogs.” That sounds like a scary number, but it’s about 1.44% of the total U.S. population. I doubt many children and seniors are delivering mail and reading meters. I’d also posit that fewer children are delivering papers due to lower print news media demand. Most of these bites are probably from the dogs of their friends.

The U.S. Postal Service is in bad shape. Post Offices rightly need to be closed, and downsizing seems like an inevitability. Few people doubt the need for reform. But, these post cards? Really?

I doubt they were produced at an actuarially insignificant cost. Likewise, I also doubt people will get the cards and change their behavior at a level that will make a statistical impact that will change outcomes. “Oh, you mean leaving my Doberman out in the yard at night has risks? Who knew?”

I was attacked by a few dogs in my day delivering The Sun Press. I bought mace and that solved the problem. Postal delivery folks have had mace since 1995, at least in Cleveland.

My problem is that I have serious concerns as to whether these post cards were a cost effective decision. For starters, they were printed by the U.S. Postal Service. I have no idea the scope of the printing, but given that they were distributed in my building (with an infinitesimally small chance of mauling), I have good reason to believe that they weren’t distributed thoughtfully.

Aside from their direct costs, the labor costs of transporting, sorting, and delivering them to consumers probably made a pretty big dent in productivity. The stamp area says that they are “First Class Mail.” And that the “postage and fees” were paid by the USPS with Permit No. G-10.

I seriously doubt USPS paid themselves for mailing these. If they did, that’s stupid. If they didn’t, while the costs are imaginary, the costs of having postal carriers pointlessly deliver them to condominiums like mine are quite tangible. Given the budget woes of the USPS, don’t they have bigger fish to fry? That’s just me.

Futile Efforts to Curtail Junk Mail

I must confess that these stickers (pictured above) in my mail room are beginning to annoy me. For full disclosure, I actually kind of like junk mail — if only for the entertaining advertisements. This is odd, because I am not a lonely senior in dire need of contact from the outside world.

Why, then, do these stickers bother me? They’re ineffective or encourage undesirable and probably illegal behavior. That’s why.

In a condominium like mine, only two people have access to these mailboxes — tenants and the postman. Unlike houses in suburbia or crowded mailboxes in older cities, people can’t walk up and stuff your box with tripe. To get into your mailbox, at least at Midtown Alexandria, you need to mail something there, buy a condo, or get a job at the USPS.

These stickers should read “Please hasten the demise of the U.S. Postal Service” or “I’d prefer to pay more for stamps.”

Here’s why these stickers are pointless:

  • According to the Consumer Postal Council: “Businesses and institutions that mail in bulk, which account for 85 percent of USPS revenue, receive discounts from the First Class rate.” Junk mail makes up a decent amount of bulk rate mail. Eliminating or reducing that makes the operations of the U.S. Postal Service more expensive, and you can guess what that will do to stamp prices and delivery schedules.
  • Clearly, the USPS understands the value of this advertising, as they use it is a marketing tool. What rational person is going to believe that postal carriers are going to act in irrational ways that could potentially harm their employment?
  • I haven’t double checked the law, but I am fairly sure that postal carriers aren’t given the discretionary authority to determine what mail to deliver or not. I am also pretty sure it is illegal for them to interfere with mail delivery.
  • Encouraging mail carriers to do anything other than deliver addressed mail sets a bad precedent. Because what is junk mail? Are you giving the carrier license to destroy any mail that looks like junk? What if he or she mistakes your much needed replacement credit card or other important document as junk mail? While I’m not a lawyer, it seems like if you sued for damages, they’d have a pretty solid defense. After all, you asked for that screening without stipulating concrete procedures or boundaries. Better to keep the law that all addressed mail gets delivered.
  • Unlike telemarketers, there is no “opt-out” or “do not mail list.” It would be infeasible and costly to administer if we forced USPS to do that. I don’t know if you’ve seen the news, they’re not flush with cash right now.
  • Last, but not least, the private sector already offers a fairly comprehensive opt-out feature. After all, it’s not in the best interest of bulk mailers and advertisers to waste their money.
The FTC’s website even provides this handy description:

The Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Mail Preference Service lets you opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from many national companies for five years. When you register with this service (for a $1 fee), your name will be put on a “delete” file and made available to direct-mail marketers. However, your registration will not stop mailings from organizations that do not use the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. To register with DMA’s Mail Preference Service, go to www.dmachoice.org.

The FTC publishes a free brochure on Shopping by Phone or Mail. For a list of publications, visit www.bulkorder.ftc.gov; write to Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580; or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357), TDD (202) 326-2502.

I wanted to print this out and mail it to each of the people in my building who have made my trip to the mailbox both uglier and more aggravating, but I think I’ll just leave it online instead.

Further Reading:

GAO: Network RightsizingNeeded to Help Keep USPSFinancially Viable

CATO: Privatizing the U.S. Postal Service

BusinessInsider: 11 Things You Should Know About The U.S. Postal Service Before It Goes Bankrupt