Poor Service Is a Bigger Problem than Terrorism

This is a staggeringly poor use of resources:

The Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) now has a dedicated unit devoted to deterring a terrorist attack in the Metro system. The new anti-terrorism team will increase surveillance of the Metro system, conduct more frequent security sweeps of Metro facilities and tunnels, and provide greater visibility of uniformed officers.

Using a $9.56 million Transit Security Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), MTPD formed the 20-member, anti-terror team in December. The team, whose mission is to deter terrorists from selecting Metro as a target, will use tactics such as increased surveillance and random, unpredictable patrols of Metro buses, trains, stations and facilities to keep the Metro system and its riders as secure as possible.

Is this a joke? We’re supposed to stop terrorists from targeting the Metro with a team of 20 people through “increased surveillance” and “random, unpredictable patrols”? Does Metro realize that virtually every single terrorist attack comes as a suicide attack? What on earth is a random patrol going to do to someone who is willing to kill themselves? What is increased surveillance going to accomplish? People need to understand that if someone wants to strap a bomb to themselves or bring a machine gun into a metro station or train, they’re going to be able to do it.

At a certain point, there’s just nothing you can do. For example, one way to make sure no terrorists get in a Metro station would be require a strip search. Even leaving aside the enormous inconvenience and invasion of privacy, you’d still have a bunch of people clustered somewhere in line, which as it happens, would be a fantastic target for a suicide bomber.

Don’t get me wrong, we should definitely do what we can to make transportation safer. Simple, low cost things like adding locks on the cockpit doors makes a lot of sense. Costly and irrational security theater that does little to make anyone safer while wasting time and money is one of the ways in which terrorists “win.”

Now, as it happens, this crack team of 20 Terror Hunters won’t do much to disrupt anyone’s commute, but consider for a moment the news yesterday that facing a $4 million shortage, Metro is looking to run fewer trains, less often despite the lack of commensurate demand, thus risking a Metro death spiral.

I realize this money comes from a Federal grant, but it’s indicative of the poor choices we’re making. Terrorism is not nearly as big a problem for Metro users as inadequate service.


Metro Suicides and the Press

Here’s the latest from WMATA on the most recent “Metro Suicide.”

A 50-year-old woman from Kensington, MD, who was struck by a Red Line train at the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metrorail station at 11:36 p.m., on Monday, Jan. 4, died this morning (Tuesday, Jan. 5) as a result of her injuries.

The Metro Transit Police continue to investigate, but preliminary information shows that the woman intentionally placed herself in the path of the train.

She was hit by a six-car train traveling toward Shady Grove.

Beyond the disruption these cause to thousands of people, consider the emotional trauma experienced by train operators who find themselves unwitting suicide accomplices. Imagine opening a door to discover it had been tied to the trigger of a gun and simply by going about your daily business, you had played a direct role in ending the life of another human being. It’s a horrible thing to force to upon someone else.

I don’t mean to diminish the pain experienced by someone who sees fit to take their own life or the anguish that their loved ones and friends must experience in the wake of a such an event, but we ought to do whatever we can to prevent these types of things. It’s really quite difficult to prevent suicides structurally, but the WMATA, DCPD, and local press really ought to read these recommendations from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as there is a demonstrated effect of “suicide contagion.”

…between 1984 and 1987, journalists in Vienna covered the deaths of individuals who jumped in front of trains in the subway system. The coverage was extensive and dramatic. In 1987, a campaign alerted reporters to the possible negative effects of such reporting, and suggested alternate strategies for coverage. In the first six months after the campaign began, subway suicides and non-fatal attempts dropped by more than eighty percent. The total number of suicides in Vienna declined as well.

The Real Cost of Parking

When fellow urbanites attack zoning regulations requiring minimum parking requirements for new developments, they typically argue that it’s often a waste of space, makes communities less walkable, and furthers automobile reliance. These are all good reasons to abandon such requirements, but here’s another (via New Columbia Heights) courtesy of the WaPo:

The prediction seemed sound: A shopping mall dropped in the middle of Washington would deliver street-snarling traffic to an otherwise peaceful residential neighborhood.

The District’s solution was to build a parking colossus, a $40 million taxpayer-funded garage beneath the Target-anchored mall in Columbia Heights. Yet, even as waves of shoppers come and go, the 1,000-space garage remains empty enough that the operator typically blocks off one of its two sprawling levels.

The District has lost nearly $2 million — or $100,000 a month — since the garage opened in March 2008, numbers that make Valerie Santos groan when she considers the city’s decision to build the structure.

In addition to the path-reinforcing consequences urban parking structures can have, they can also be nonsensical wastes of tax money. The good news is that it looks like the DC Council is going to change things:

The empty garage is part of the evidence that District officials cite as they rewrite 50-year-old regulations so they will no longer require developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces for new retail outlets, offices and apartments in areas near Metro stations. Instead, the District would like to leave it to developers to analyze market conditions and determine the appropriate parking levels.

If you live in DC, find your council member and let them know it’s a good idea.

Infelicitiously Titled Buildings

The unhappiest building on the block.

This building is worth the whole damn block put together.

Every once in a while, when feeling attuned to my coworker’s aversion to traffic circles (as well he should be — they’re unsafe!), I walk down 15th Street in the morning, and invariably, I pass The Gatsby (pictured above). And I have to say, the naming of this building has always struck me as a bit curious. Of course, I understand the name conjures some vague feeling of opulence (if of the tumid variety), but it’s also worth pointing out that Gatsby was a serially miserable pathological liar who died young, unhappy, and unfulfilled. I suppose they could have gone with The Kurt Cobain or something, but either way, probably not the best thing for a building owner to project.

More Capacity, Less Moping

An editorial in today’s Washington Post correclty pushes back on the idea of one its readers that Metro should lower fares so long as the delays stemming from the June 22nd accident on the Red Line Continue. The Post also misses an opportunity to make an important point.

To accommodate passengers, Metro has put more eight-car trains into service on the Red Line (most are still six cars) and should add even more if electric power supplies allow for it. It should continue to warn passengers to factor in delays of 30 minutes or more on the line. Until Metro gets out the kinks, passengers will either have to wait or find alternative means of transport. That, unfortunately, is the price of prudence.

Well, yes, it is the price of prudence, but it’s also the price of not having a Purple Line to carry Beltway commuters and reduce strain on the Red Line. More broadly though, it underscores the point that redundancy within a transit system is actually a good thing. We are not resigned to this fate.

On Facile and Tendentious Interpreations of Provacative Data

whereweliveBrother-in-Blog Mike has a post up on an ESPN ratings gimmick SportsNation Poll reporting that given the nonexistent choice of watching an NFL Preseason Game or Game 7 of the Caps-Pens series, 37 percent of respondents would opt for the NFL Preseason Game. In a style of analysis I’m sure totally divorced from his contempt for bandwagon DC sports fans, Mike opines:

The results: A brutal 37% pick the NFL game.

The NFL game is in red and the NHL in blue.  And the states have voted remarkably similarly to how they did in the 2008 Presidential Election.  I think we can say with some confidence that excepting the coasts, Americans are not open to new sports. And even the coasts aren’t open to soccer, which is just like hockey but at half speed, with 1/10th the shots, 1/3 the goals, and no checking or fights.

First, a few minor things: your link to the poll hub was useless — learn how to take a screen shot. Second — and more to the point — is this a joke? Brutal? Shouldn’t the NHL be ecstatic about this? I mean, millions of people gather every year to watch 350 pound men-with-breasts run around touching orange cones, so in the off-chance that come April when they gather with other men to watch Roger Goodell open envelopes at the world’s biggest sausagefest, they might be able to offer some jejune conjecture about the dynamism of some oaf’s feet and impress their friends, or Mel Kiper’s hair, or whatever. When you face that sort of competition, I think you have to be pretty happy that two-thirds of the country would rather watch hockey, a sport with worse primte time broadcasting appeal than Barack Obama’s press conferences. Moreover, should we be surprised that the region inspiring teen soaps sports dramas like Friday Night Lights and Two-A-Days isn’t all that in to watching Canadian socialists skate around on ice?

Finally, I’d just like to mention that we should be wary of generalizations that begin with “…excepting the coasts, America…” Here’s an example of why we should resist conclusions drawn by ignoring a majority of the data set:  “I think we can say with some confidence that excepting the 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, Americans are a rural people.” It might be more useful to make a statement like, “I think we can say with some confidence that ESPN SportsNation polls are mostly useless from an analytical perspective, and generalizations based upon their findings should be taken with commensurate seriousness.”

People Have Died From This, Recently

Leave it to Glover Park to keep it classy…


UPDATE: I’m sure that someone would like to suggest hypocrisy on my part by referencing a post I made last week highlighting a popular parody of Winnie the Pooh. I’ll just point out that going out of your way to deliberately mock the population most severly affected by the outbreak under the pretense of binge drinking evidences, I think, a slightly more pronounced level of insensitivity than a cartoon contrasting the level of paranoia engendered by the disease with its seemingly innocuous source.