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.

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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.

This Post Is Not About Twitter; Focuses on Metro Inefficacy

Some of my friends aren’t totally sold on Twitter yet, so one of the points I made in support of the medium’s efficacy is the @metroopensdoors account, which tweets updates on the Metro’s status. This is a very useful tool, but here’s the thing: the only reason it’s at all useful is because the Metro is a decrepit piece of shit. Seriously, sometimes I wonder if the Metro isn’t actually connected to Detroit. Let’s examine only Red Line tweets over the past 24 hours or so.

Note:  I’ve inserted rough times in brackets.

Red Line: Expect delays in both directions due to an earlier train malfunction at Metro Center station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Trains are sharing the same track between Judiciary Square and Farragut North due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties

Red Line: Expect delays to Glenmont due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays in both directions due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to an earlier train malfunction at Van Ness station that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due a train experiencing mechanical difficulties at Van Ness station.

Red Line: Disruption cleared.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to an earlier train malfunction at White Flint that has been resolved.

Red Line: Expect delays to Shady Grove due to a train experiencing mechanical difficulties at White Flint station.

Red Line: Trains are sharing the same track between New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue stations due to scheduled track maintenance. Exp

Due to some conflagration of divine intervention and blind luck, the Red Line managed to be trouble free during today’s morning commute hours, but as you can see, basically had some form of problem for roughly all of its useful time thereafter and note also, that this generously excludes a number of problems on the Orange/Blue lines. I mean, why doesn’t the Metro just save us all the time and just let us know when it is working? If a person was this unreliable, you’d be right to wonder if they had a crippling heroin addiction.

Not For You

While we’re on parochial subjects, Greater Greater Washington has a post up on Sette Osteria”s (Italian restaurant on Connecticut and R) request to completely enclose the sidewalk dining area on R Street.

In November, Sette Osteria, the pizza restaurant at Connecticut and R in Dupont Circle, proposed putting a retractable awning over their outdoor seating. The awning would enable service in a wider range of weather. The restaurant’s manager initially told the community that they planned only to request the awning, not a complete enclosure. However, only a few months after receiving approval for the awning, they have requested permission to install removable panels that would completely enclose the space during the winter.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this, but as a general rule, businesses should not rely on year round usage of public space for private interests. If you operate a restaurant on one of the most desirable corners in one of the most desirable neighborhoods, and you need public subsidy for a third of your seating area to stay afloat — as Sette claims — you might want to reexamine your menu and pricing.

Gawker: Eat Shit

Gawker Editor (and according to DCist, former DC resident) Alex Pareene sees fit to try and take a steaming dump on D.C., informing the internet reading public that “DC will never be cool,” and “DC is boring.” Fair enough, but seriously? Here are some of the damning facts, according to Pareene:

It’s small: 591,833 residents, with a “daytime population” of a million.

Everybody knows population size is directly proportional to coolness.  That’s why all the cool people you know have tattoos of Chinese characters.

Some like to enlarge the “metro area” to include Baltimore, making it the fourth-largest such area in the country, which is like claiming Philly is a part of New York)

Absolutely nobody is claiming Baltimore.

And if you’re counting the whole metro area, you’re counting people who live in the least cool places in America: the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

First of all, here are some areas which aren’t just hypothetically part of New York City: Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. And second of all, say what you will about Maryland and Virginia, but New Jersey is actually Hell on Earth.

Sure, 30 years ago DC had Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and today it still has, uh, Ian Svenonius (the Sassiest Boy in America!), but the intervening years have gentrified the hell out of a quarter of the city proper and kept the rest in abject urban poverty, more or less. Not a great recipe for “cool”!

Obviously, New York has a better music scene than Washington, D.C., but I’m frankly not quite sure what this has to do with gentrification, or in what way New York City is immune to either criticism. Assuming this has something to do with anything though, I’m not sure what New York’s poor would have to say about how transcendentally cool it is for paper traders to massively inflate the local market with multimillion dollar bonuses earned flushing the worldwide economy down the toilet. But that’s neither here nor there.

There’s no “creative class” of monied young jerks showing up in DC with the express purpose of wasting their funds making indie dance music, starting literary journals, or even buying researching jobs at Vanity Fair.

Got us there.

The biggest celebs are TV pundits.

Ah yes, the proximate property of coolness: If you have your locker in the same row as the popular kids, you’re cool too! Even 7th graders know that’s bullshit.

And even if we’re just talking about DC stealing New York’s thunder with the death of the financial sector, trust us: they’re not going to enjoy the spoils of obscene imaginary wealth with the same flash as our bankers once did.

I’m struggling to find a way to make light of the fact that millions of people saw their retirement accounts crumble in front of their eyes, but really, I guess it’s just not that funny.

Your DC congressional staffer is typically a well-meaning (or formerly well-meaning) dork who dresses and drinks like he did in college. Or they’re just fratty assholes.

As opposed to Wall Street bankers, who are materialistic dorks that spend more money on clothes dress better than they did in college, but are still just fratty assholes.

Now, I don’t mean to defend D.C.’s coolness on its merits, because indeed, D.C. is not cool. But if I’m going take shit about it, you better bring something stronger than this tired crap.

NB: A number of my friends are bankers in New York, and a number of them read this blog. I can attest to the fact that they are good people who never laughed all the way to bank with your parents retirement money. I just figured that while we were working off of stereotypes, I’d compare apples with apples.

The Answer Is No

So this weekend, the Washington Post — before announcing that they’ll bring Bill Kristol in to write a monthly column — published a whimsical article attempting to ascertain, whether or not D.C. is cool. Naturally, they ask a Dutch sociology professor.

Carl Rohde has an idea. He teaches cultural sociology in the Netherlands and runs a Web site called “Science of the Time — the science of cool.” He oversees a network of trendspotting “cool-hunters” who troll major cities for the next next things. There are no cool-hunters in Washington. And he says he has no real plans to find any. He has also never been to our nation’s capital. But he’s game to consider the question anyway.

As the author notes in the first sentence, “If we have to ask, the answer’s probably no.” Indeed. But I think the answer moves from “no” to something far beyond no when you get shot down by a wool-sock wearing Dutchman who blogs about coolness by corresponding with an army of trained “cool-hunters.” I mean, the Dutch? We’re talking about a people whose most recognizable contribution to the world are basically Crocks with brain damage.

UPDATE: I guess the Netherlands do have Amsterdam. But still. The clogs.