Tag Archives: D.c.

How Maryland Does its Distance Signs

Since a few of you shared my interest in why Pennsylvania and Maryland have different distances to D.C. and Baltimore on their highway signs, I figured I would ask the Maryland State Highway Administration how they measure the distance, and how it might differ from PA’s method.

Here’s what they sent me:

Good Afternoon Mr. Swift:

This email is in response to your question regarding how Maryland determines the mileage for post interchange distance signs.  In the case of Baltimore City, Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) measures from the location of the sign to the Town Hall.  In the case of Washington D.C., the SHA measures from the sign location to the center of the Elipse.   The mileage is generally rounded up so as not to display decimals or fractions, particularly when the distance is great such as the distance from the Maryland / Pennsylvania State Line to the Baltimore and DC destinations.

Interchange guide signs, which do display fractions, are typically rounded down to the nearest ¼ mile so that the motorist is aware that their exit is eminent and that time to make necessary lane changes is limited.

Thank you for allowing the SHA the opportunity to respond to your concerns.

Cheryl Schreiber

Asst. Chief, Traffic Engineering Design Division

WMATA 7000 Series Hype Video (Fixed)

Today, WMATA released a comically sad hype video for their new 7000 series “Snowpiercer” edition train cars. What made it sad was the hype music they found to put it to. I laughed, I cried, I kissed 44 seconds goodbye.

Until I decided to fix it. With the Quad City DJ’s. It took about 30 seconds. I think it came out perfect.

Commuting in Washington

By no means am I a super commuter. I don’t live out in the exurbs or in West Virginia. My commute is ordinary. I live across from a metro station and bus hub relatively close to Washington, D.C. — but I’m done taking the train every day.

For starters, I’m lucky that my phone has an unlimited text plan. If not, the amount of texts would really put a crunch on my plan.

WMATA texts me more than a psychotic ex-girlfriend. While I’ve never had one of those, my friends who have inform me they received about a hundred texts or so over the course of a month or two. WMATA easily meets that.  Except that instead of “I miss you” you get soul crushing texts like “Red Line: Single tracking btwn Van Ness & Friendship Heights due to a sick customer aboard a train at“. In other words, “Say goodbye to twenty minutes of your day.

Of course, these alerts are only helpful if your phone works underground. Which, thanks to the stellar work of WMATA, hasn’t happened.

It’s the same story with email.

In the past month, WMATA has emailed me no less than 138 times. In that time, Jos. A. Bank emailed me about 25 times. When your email rate is five times that of Jos. A. Bank, you’re in trouble.

Are these alerts helpful? Sure. So is WTOP, but WTOP isn’t subsidized by my tax dollars and tells me where the traffic is for the cost of a few advertisements. These alerts are more of a mea culpa of failure.

Since I’ve had enough, I decided I am driving to work now every day. I’ve done this before, and I loved it. (A parking spot in the shadow of the Capitol helps.)

Driving may end up being slightly more expensive, but I have ways of mitigating the increase in cost. Driving enables me to stop at the grocery and bring in food for lunch conveniently, and that will save money over getting lunch at a sandwich joint every day.

It will also save me time and, as we all know, time is money. Even with Washington’s horrible traffic, on average, I beat WMATA during my normal commute time by close to 10 minutes each way. On late nights, it’s close to 30 minutes of savings.  Tonight, with a major accident on the 14th street bridge, a Nationals game, and bumper to bumper traffic on 395 N to 295 S, I tied my normal metro commute. I’m on track to save close to 20 hours of time this year. Admittedly, it helps knowing the back streets.

In addition to the time it will save me, especially given my irregular hours, it will certainly save me the frustration of having to actually ride WMATA. It’s a miserable experience if you have to ride it regularly, if you’ve never had the pleasure. It’s like the popular bar in a tourist-driven resort town. Its patrons are either regular drunks (commuters) or hawaiian shirt-wearing visitors (tourists) who just crowd the place. The bar is run by incompetents and managed by those who know the tourist and government gravy train isn’t getting shut off, so little changes.

But hey, at least it’s clean!

To avoid having to take WMATA on short trips, I registered for what I call BikeSocialism — or Capital BikeShare as it’s known around D.C. The RFID key they sent me looks like a Soviet flag.

Some of the money used to subsidize the BikeShare program was meant to “address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” That hasn’t worked out, according to a recent story by Reason magazine which reported that “95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D….”

I figure if my tax dollars are going to be used to subsidize a bike commune at below-market rates, I might as well do what I can to capture the subsidy — even if I am a college graduate.

Mind you, I have nothing wrong with bike sharing.  I just don’t think our tax dollars need to subsidize it and the lanes we dedicate take away from motor vehicles when the cyclists don’t pay the same taxes that auto drivers do to maintain the roads. Call me crazy.

I am just plain sick of riding WMATA. The fares are going up, the PIDs are never correct (if they’re working), and the experience is getting worse and worse. Going forward, my goal is to give as few dollars possible to WMATA as possible. I realize that this won’t make much of a dent in their balance sheets — not that they particularly care too much about those. I know that my tax dollars will continue to their coffers, but my discretionary/pre-tax transportation dollars? Not so much.bsig

Bomblecast #18

Thanks for dropping by for episode 18 of the bomblecast. If you like reddit and we’re not reddit friends, make sure you add me. I’m still figuring out this whole reddit thing, so shoot me a message with your user name and I’ll add you back.

Links from today’s episode:

Here’s episode 18 of the Bomblecast:

Unintended Consequences: Helping the Homeless

I read this morning in today’s Washington Examiner that the city is considering efforts to help homeless youth, LGBT homeless youth specifically.

The District would conduct a census of its homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth every five years, under a plan the D.C. Council will consider Monday.

Now I am not exactly what you would call a gay rights crusader, but I feel equally bad for anyone who is homeless, regardless of their sexual orientation or identity. I also recognize that the complicated issue of homelessness can be made even more difficult by having a lifestyle that might not be accepted by people on the street.

Homeless youth all have different stories and circumstances why they are where they are. In the eyes of the law, though, all should be equal. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

I continued reading:

Along with the population study, the measure would also intensify the District’s efforts to serve LGBT youth by expanding the number of beds and units that are devoted to them in the city’s homeless shelters.

This makes me uneasy. Should the District of Columbia earmark beds and units for homeless people based on criteria dictated by the knuckleheads on city council? I don’t think so.

Here’s where some unintended consequences come in. Let’s say Mary Cheh gets her way, and earmarks a lot of beds for LGBT youth. What’s to stop straight youth from lying to get a bed? If one were homeless and it was freezing cold and they had to say they were gay or identified with another gender to get a good night’s sleep and a better shot at a spot in a shelter, you’d bet most people would do that.

I doubt the District is going to recreate the scene from “In the Army Now” where Pauly Shore is forced to kiss Andy Dick to prove he is gay to avoid being deployed to the middle east under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It probably is more like checking a box.

Further, if a fixed percentage of beds and units are devoted to LGBT youth, does that mean if an insufficient number of people who self-identify as LGBT are there, the beds are held until somebody does — thus leaving empty beds and displacing other homeless people? If not, and the beds are used by non-LGBT folks, when one comes in and self-identifies, does a person who is not lose their bed?

As I understand it, this just goes for the city-run shelters, not private ones. Will the city eventually start imposing these edicts on private shelters?

Just some questions.

I understand the sentiment behind wanting to help LGBT youth, but trying to do so specifically comes with trade-offs and unintended consequences.

A better policy would be to help all homeless folks equally, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. That’s just my opinion.

UPDATE: A reader shares this story with me.  And this one. Seems like this sort of thing is growing in DC.

Hotel Commercial Filmed in Metro?

Was watching a video on the Daily Caller, but saw this ad for Marriott’s Springhill Suites before the video started.

First screengrab:

Clearly a WMATA train. I think the station is north of Shaw on the Green Yellow — not entirely sure.

Second screengrab:

He’s walking into a train and … IS THAT A PLANT AND A LAMP?

Third screengrab:

This is not where I parked my car.

Fourth screengrab:

What kind of messed up train is this?

Last screengrab:

Hey dude, why are you staring at me?

All in all, an interesting commercial — I couldn’t find a link to a sharable version. I’m presuming here, but I am glad WMATA is doing creative things to raise money.

But, a few questions/comments:

  1. Given the handles on the ceiling and the non-carpeted floor, this appears to be one of the newer cars. You know, the ones the NTSB doesn’t think will telescope and kill all of us. Did WMATA take a relatively safer car out of service to be used for a commercial? If so, that’s not really cool.
  2. I hope Springhill Suites paid for the tear down and putting it back together.
  3. Or, if it hasn’t been put back to normal service, will WMATA put that car in service? That would be fun. Maybe a locals-only lounge for extreme commuters who can pay more to sit in such a car.
  4. I hope this was done at night after Metro was closed, as not to delay service.
  5. Or it’s entirely possible that green screens were used to good effect. You’ll notice that the first scene is filmed in a middle platform station, and the fourth screengrab was filmed where the platforms were on either side.
  6. Maybe they filmed in multiple stations.
  7. How much does WMATA charge for such access?


Shut up, Victoria

Parents: Do us all a favor and teach your kids some manners.

I boarded a half full 1000 series tonight at Gallery Place, Chinatown.

It was like the usual Washington evening commute — a little crowded but not uncomfortable — in a rail car the NTSB determined telescopes too easily and sends passengers on an early express train to death.

At L’Enfant, the usual horde trampled in and it got uncomfortable.

Three college girls shouted their conversation, and they didn’t even have the courtesy to wait until Friday when they’ll drink on the train and vomit into piles of discarded newspaper to be loud.

Enter little Victoria. Somewhat nicely dressed for a girl under the age of 10, I was surprised that the blaring teeny bopper music I faintly heard at the station made its way to the aisle directly next to my seat came from her smartphone.

Yes. Her smartphone. A girl under the age of 10 with a smartphone.

Excuse me, but this is Washington D.C., not New York. Here we ride the train in a civil manner after spending a day wasting your tax dollars. We are not hooligans.

What is this city turning in to?

Three stops later, her mother realized that the music was irritating passengers in the packed car and asked her to turn it down, despite that using a device to listen to music on the metro without headphones is unlawful.

Normally, I would have offered my seat to one of them, but this offense is unforgivable to me.

If I were feeling particularly passive aggressive and the car were less crowded, I’d ask little Victoria to read the part of the metro rules posted on the panel near the ends of the car that describe this unlawful behavior. Alas, it was too crowded, so that little twerp can stand instead.

Her mom eventually caught on to the glares and snatched that phone and turned the music off — making her play an equally noisy game. A+ parenting right there.

Seats opened up behind me and Victoria and her mom sat down. The sound was even closer now.

“What is the punishment for violating this WMATA rule?” I thought. Do they punish based on age? Would Victoria get sent to a juvenile detention camp in southeast? Would she get court-mandated therapy with a cell phone specialist? Nah, as a minor she probably wouldn’t bear the brunt of it — would her mom get fined?

My mind wandered, thinking of creative ways to punish such people who ruin commutes. Like the annoying college girls chatting up the train like it was the Long Island Railroad. Or the ones who were drinking on metro a few months back and vomited all over the car in front of a metro employee that did nothing and moved on.

What is the appropriate punishment for these people? Do I support creative punishment or fines? Sure. Though in five years I’ve never seen anyone brought to justice.

Then it hit me: The punishment is that they are who they are. The college vomit girls — I hope — will end up like Lindsey Lohan. The loud “woo girls” will get some reality television contract for ‘Bayonne on the Potomac.’

And little Princess Victoria, who has a smart phone despite being under the age of ten and a pushover mom? She’ll grow up to be a preening princess. And we all know what kind of men she’ll attract.

That’s punishment enough in my book.

Power You Didn’t Get vs. Restoration of Service

Lightning strike

I drove to work today. I don’t normally drive to work these days since getting to DuPont Circle from Huntington is a bit more difficult than driving to Capitol Hill. Today, though, I did because I had to haul in the boxes of stuff my company and our sister company acquired at the Republican and Democratic Conventions.

This morning on the hellish commute — some asshole got into a wreck on 295 — I heard WTOP reporters talking about the recent drive-by storm DC had, and how Maryland was going to allow PEPCO (a much hated public utility) to charge people for electricity they didn’t receive.

Framed this way, I’d understand why people would be mad. On the way home, News Radio 99.1 (a new station and inferior competitor to WTOP) ran a similar report.

However, it doesn’t tell the whole story. People — like Gawker’s Drew Magary — want to make you think that PEPCO execs are lighting cigars off of piles of money and doing lines of blow off of strippers. Yeah, not really. PEPCO’s stock price might be close to Facebook’s, but they’re nowhere near as valuable as a company (Facebook’s volume is 50M to PEPCO’s 1.6M). They’ve been offering quarterly dividends of about $.27 for the past five years. Even some conservative bloggers have jumped on the “I hate PEPCO” bandwagon.

Yes, some of their executives make a lot of money. I’ve heard somewhere CEO’s tend to make bank. Not surprising. But that’s not where all of this money is going. (For a primer on executive pay, please consult Thomas Sowell‘s fine work on the subject.)

And while I don’t live in Maryland (I hate Maryland, for the record), I don’t like PEPCO very much — because they’re Marylanders. I do think, on par, they provide inferior service to Dominion Virginia Power, who powers my home. Part of it is Maryland’s own damn fault for fighting them on tree trimmings, but some of it, I am sure is due to fact that everything in Maryland is inferior to Virginia.

Here’s a theory I haven’t heard being discussed much on the news:

Maybe, just maybe, the fees that are being charged help bring your electricity back faster.

Imagine for a second if Maryland and D.C. instituted laws that said PEPCO can’t pass along the higher costs of hiring out-of-state crews on overtime pay to come in and restore power and fix infrastructure after a Derecho or a Snow Storm. (At the end of the day, consumers bear all of the costs of production and electricity is no different.) If Martin O’Malley and Vince Gray teamed up to pass a pair of stupid laws, if I were PEPCO’s CEO, I’d probably just adjust the rates of Delaware and New Jersey residents to cover the costs.

After all, if I want continued investment in my company, I do have to compete with Dominion and other companies out there for investment. If I project losses or smaller dividends, it would make sense that people would be less inclined to invest in my company.

Now, not to be screwed by the crab cake eaters and Washingtonians, Delaware and New Jersey pass similar laws. What would happen? Would PEPCO be as inclined to spend a lot of financial resources to hire out-of-state crews on overtime pay to fix things? Probably not.

Could it mean longer power outages? That’s very likely. Do Marylanders and Washingtonians want that? No. Ironically, they want PEPCO to bury the lines — something that will cost billions of dollars. (Guess who will pay for that?)

I’m not saying PEPCO is a saint, or provides the best service. I just wanted to throw it out there that consumers will bear the costs of restoring their power and fixing the infrastructure that brings them the juice. Nobody likes to admit that, but it’s the way of the world. It’s not unreasonable.

So, rather than looking at it as “paying for electricity you didn’t receive” maybe you should look at it as your share of restoring the system. Power outages suck. Nobody disagrees with this, but we really should put a little more thought into it — and the unintended consequences of well intentioned but ultimately bad proposed laws — before we rant and rage. 

Local Breweries Shouldn’t Buy into “Buy Local”


As much as it pains me to post this, I have to be frank you with: I am really annoyed by local brewers encouraging people to “buy locally.”

When it comes to beer, what does “buy local” mean?

For the record, I love microbreweries. I am a big fan of Great Lakes in Cleveland, Schlafly in St. Louis, and Port City and D.C. Brau in the D.C. metro area. However, I can buy all of those brews here in Washington, D.C. and in northern Virginia — less than a mile from my house.

When microbreweries become successful, does “buy local” mean anything anymore? In a slanted documentary, the founder of Dogfishead — a great brewery — really goes hard on the “buy local” concept and against mass brewers. That bothered me because I think it is disingenuous.

What spurred this post tonight was a facebook post from a brewery where a friend of mine is the brewer. He, like me, has libertarian leanings. I’m not sure about the owner.

As it turns out, a local business entity in their town — a non-profit local business development group — holds happy hours in this big metropolis. And an alternative weekly pointed out that the beers at said event aren’t from local breweries. Rather, they’re from a local distributor (gasp!) that isn’t offering locally brewed beers. THE HORROR!

Regular readers of this blog know I am skeptical of the “buy local” fad du jour. (Especially those dipshits in Maryland.) When people move, I argue, the cult of buying local presents a challenge.

If I, a Cleveland native, moved to Saint Louis — should I only drink St. Louis beer? If so, I’d have more choices than most people, seeing that there is a large multi-national brewer in town, not to mention the numerous local breweries. If not, I’m not “buying local” — especially if my hometown brewery starts selling beer there.

Should I buy Great Lakes or Schlafly? Which is more applicable to the “buy local” cult? I don’t know. Despite the fact that I think these people are loons, I have never had to solve that riddle because Great Lakes wasn’t available in St. Louis when I lived there and, more importantly, I don’t believe in “buy local.”

Fast forward to 2012 when I live in Washington, D.C. — a liquor store two blocks south of my office sells both Schlafly and Great Lakes. It also sells a few local brews. Except, for some reason, Great Lakes is $2 more expensive per 6-pack. What’s a guy to do?

Should I only buy beer brewed in Virginia and D.C. now that I live here? That is what advocates of “buy local” would tell me. But what about my brethren in my former home towns?

Anyways, so in this non-story the local alternative publishes, the comments are depressing:

Here’s one:

“I’m very confused about the ‘sponsoring’ that is going on here. If they are charging for the beer & they are a non-profit, why would they need sponsors with deep pockets. What else is going into these ‘events’ that they need money for?”

One commenter on the brewery’s facebook page (it shared the story) said this, and he got it:

“Just keep making good beer and we will keep drinking it. Their loss in my opinion.”

The first commenter is woefully ignorant of how non-profits operate. Non-profits aren’t structured in a way that they don’t generate revenue: that’s the whole point. Similarly, this person might be surprised to learn that local beer distributors of national brands employ locals.

The second comment that I posted was somewhat refreshing. In today’s politicized culture, people love saying they’ll boycott events or groups because of things they do/don’t do. Rational people will judge the event by its goals and decide to attend based on their incentives and desires.

I have no doubt that my friend’s brewery makes some of the best beer in his town. Why? I’ve tasted his beer and he is a genius. But, is not attending an event that is intended to promote local commerce — and has alcohol supplied by a local alcohol distributor — because they aren’t offering local beer hypocritical? I say yes.

Don’t like non-craft beers? Good for you. However, local distributors are local businesses and employ locals. Is that hard to understand?

People should buy beer they like because they like it and it’s offered at a price they are willing to pay. They shouldn’t buy into other arbitrary criteria like where it is brewed.

This is the main argument I have against “buying local” for locals’ sake. At the end of the day, people will have jobs delivering and selling the beer people prefer most. If it is locally brewed that’s swell. Buying locally for intrinsic reasons just doesn’t make economic sense.

And in today’s economy, it’s bound to leave a lot of people pretty darn conflicted. So I’ll use rational criteria like taste and price. 

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.