Saturday, July 24, 2004

CITYSCAPE: K Street's Remake

The Washington Post explores plans to transform K Street from a clogged traffic artery into Washington's "Main Street." The reconstruction and streetscaping scheme is similar to one the District introduced two years ago to reconfigure K Street's traffic patterns to incorporate bus-only lanes. While this is still in the plans, a new team of Chicago planners have something else in mind: sidewalk cafes and trees, essentially a grand urban boulevard that K Street was 50 years ago.

(Hmmm ... 50 years ago, like when my great uncle and aunt had a townhouse on K Street between 21st and 22nd streets. Today, the townhouse is gone, replaced by an ugly office building housing Mr. K's Chinese restaurant and an employee drug-testing facility.)

From The Washington Post:
The planners envisioned a transit- and pedestrian-friendly boulevard with a "green" theme that would link it to the three parks that line its sides so that they would be integrated into the road, rather than serving as a refuge from it.

The design would rid the street of its four service and parking lanes, which the team described as a "disaster" because they fail to serve retailers and contribute to traffic tie-ups.

In the late '60s and early '70s, K Street was slated to be converted into the North Leg crosstown freeway, an extension of Interstate 66. But that plan never went through for many reasons.

But the traffic never went away. K Street serves both a local crosstown connector between Washington Circle and Mount Vernon Square and an important gateway corridor for Virginia commuters from the Whitehurst Freeway and Key Bridge.

Of course, as in all things D.C., it could be better.

From the Post:
But the planning team said that its cachet lies more in "name, perhaps, than reality" and that a redesign is needed to turn it into the centerpiece boulevard it ought to be. "What we see today is a space squandered," said Theodore Wolff, a principal with Wolff Clements and Associates in Chicago. "We see something with a lot of unrealized potential."

K Street today is an architectural reflection of the businesses, institutions and law firms it serves: busy, impersonal, and overall imposing. It is a grand avenue right now, but lacks well-rounded street activity, lacking soul. Can trees and fancy sidewalk pavers cure K Street's ills? Perhaps, perhaps not.

"A Radical Makeover for K Street" [The Washington Post]

Friday, July 23, 2004

COMMUTING: WMATA's Probably Having a Bad Day

I was planning on filing a complaint this morning with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after two N-Route buses failed to show up between 10 a.m. and 10:25 a.m. at the corner of Massachusetts and Cathedral avenues. I don't file complaints to be annoying, I do it with the hope that my complaints will be forwarded on so the bus superviser at the Western Division garage knows that bus drivers are having a hard time staying on schedule. Perhaps some good comes out of filing complaints, but it is difficult to tell.

But I decided against filing this morning's complaint. I'm sure WMATA's customer service is being inundated by angry messages about how the transit agency has foolishly run out of SmarTrip cards.

ANIMAL WORLD: Rabid Raccoon May Be on the Loose in Adams Morgan

Watch out for a rabid raccoon if you're in Adams Morgan. Though there is a little bit of a dispute over what exactly went on, neighborhood kids supposedly have been testing their luck in tormenting one of the creatures and now D.C. officials are trying to find anyone who has come into contact with the raccoon.

From The Washington Times:
About 10 D.C. Department of Health staffers began searching the 2500 block of 17th Street NW after learning that a group of children had lassoed a raccoon Tuesday night and were throwing rocks at the animal.

Please note that The Washington Times says this is all unfolding in Mount Pleasant, but if you look at the map, the 2500 block of 17th Street Northwest places this south of Columbia Road, and well within the bounds of Adams Morgan.

"Rabid raccoon sets off search" [The Washington Times]

CRIME: Finding Your Stolen Stuff; Police Warn Residents to Beware of Northwest Flasher

Have you been robbed? If so, if you bring your police report to the 3rd Police District headquarters, you can see if it is in the police's recovered item surplus today.

From The Washington Post:
Jewelry, bicycles, electronic products, power tools and other items will be displayed 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the 3rd Police District, 1624 V St. NW. People planning to attend are required to have a police report or the report number, as well as a thorough description of the stolen items, serial numbers or photographs.

Be on the Lookout for the 'Serial Exhibitonist.' The Metropolitan Police is warning women and children to be on the lookout for a "serial exhibitionist" who has been showing himself off, you could say, in different parts of Upper Northwest. The Post reports that a man with "a potbelly and a hairy chest" has been exposing himself in American University Park and Tenleytown since April. Apparently, he's been exposing himself in the window of an abandoned Connecticut Avenue townhouse.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

DINING: Restaurant Week Slots Being Snatched Up

Despite the fact that much of D.C.'s political sphere will be up in Boston next week, reservations for certain dining establishments participating in Restaurant Week are going fast.

A quick survey of available slots indicates that a number of restaurants -- some just buzzworthy, some respectably laudable -- are booked. Included on the booked list include 1789, Ceiba, Equinox, Rosa Mexicano, Taberna del Alabardero, TenPehn and Vidalia.

That's not to say you won't be able to get a table, but you may be eating at 10:30 p.m.

Washington Restaurant Week

SPORTS: Report Says Expos Coming to D.C. reports that the Montreal Expos will be playing baseball at RFK Stadium next season, a signal that the Expos will settle in the D.C. area for the long term. That's is what Expo sources tell ESPN at least. What remains unclear is whether or not the District or Northern Virginia will get the team in the end. Apparently, the District is the favorite.

The players now believe Washington is the favorite, with Northern Virginia looming as a compromise choice if Orioles owner Peter Angelos attempts to block Washington's bid. Either way, the players were told that the union is very confident this is, finally, their last season in Montreal.

"Sources: Union officials break news to players" []

COMMUTING: Feds Gives $59M for 'Dulles' Rail Connection

The Federal Transit Administration gave its OK, and $59 million, to begin engineering work on a 11-mile metrorail spur off the Orange Line that would eventually go to Dulles International Airport. But the money is only for the first phase, which will link West Falls Church and Wiehle Avenue in Reston via Tysons Corner.

According to The Associated Press, Jennifer Dorn, who controls federal pursestrings for transit projects, made no promises for the entire 23-mile extention to Dulles at this point.

"Money for Metro Extension to Dulles Gets Approval" [AP via WTOP]
Dulles Corridor Rail project information [Dulles Corridor Rail Association]

GEORGETOWN: Hometown Ticket, Part III

It seems that Georgetown's two most notable politicians of the 2004 election cycle, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, are making more waves locally over matters that seem odd: color scheme and trolley tracks.

The Northwest Current reports that Sen. Edwards has "chosen to update his home with a green-and-yellow color scheme."

Georgetown realtor Nancy Taylor Bubes tells the paper that Edwards' P Street home has "more of a Southern look" and the new color scheme "is not the classic Georgetown color scheme."

The Oculus wonders what the "classic Georgetown color scheme" is: brick?

Mark Fisher, in today's The Washington Post writes about the heated controversy dividing much of Georgetown these days: whether or not the District should defy a decades-old federal court order that declared that the historic Route 20 streetcar tracks on O and P streets be preserved forever. Sick and tired of a bumpy ride, some want the tracks ripped up and paved over; others want them preserved for nostalgia's sake.

From The Washington Post's Mark Fisher:
This being Georgetown, the two sides of the debate include diplomats and corporate chieftains, socialites and politicians. One resident went so far as to ring up the campaign offices of John F. Kerry, who lives on O Street, and John Edwards, who lives on P Street, to put the Democratic ticket on the record on the tracks issue. The resident was shocked to be told that the two senators had opposite positions on the question.

Luckily, another senator, Max Baucus of Montana, was at the meeting. He was asked to explain the discord between Kerry and Edwards.

Baucus rose slowly and said, "There's a simple explanation." He paused to think of one. "They complement each other."

Does this mean that the contentious streetcar track issue will divide the Democratic convention platform committee?

"D.C. Wants To Pave Over A Bit of History" [The Washington Post]

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

GEORGETOWN: Hometown Ticket, Part II

As the Oculus has previously reported, Georgetown is in awe of itself for having its first hometown presidential ticket. (Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and wife Teresa Heinz Kerry live on O Street, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina lives on P Street.)

The Financial Times' Jurek Martin, in Wednesday's campaign diary, writes about the subtle celebration of sorts of the hometown ticket.

From the FT's Jurek Martin:
It took a while for the Democratic ticket to generate enthusiasm in the neighbourhood. One Georgetown free sheet got excited by it but found few people who actually knew the Kerrys or Edwardses. The leading local parish magazine, the Washington Post, has been uncharacteristically reticent on the matter.

But on Monday night, Georgetown turned out in impressive force to give money to the ticket, even not everybody present actually lived there. They did so in the elegant home of an unnamable friend, and with two star turns that, your fly-on-the-wall regrets, must also remain anonymous. Still, as the host pointed out, they do constitute two-thirds of most short lists for secretary of state in a Kerry administration.

Jurek continues later saying that "[a] Republican spy would dismiss them all as quintessential latte-loving, chardonnay-swilling, Volvo-driving elitists. But three houses up the same Georgetown block there is a formidable Republican fundraiser who offers his guest the same fare."

So who in Georgetown is giving to whom? According to, one of the Kerry's O Street neighbors gave $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Georgetown, and the rest of the 20007 zip code, is pretty blue territory.

That's not to say the GOP is not represented in Georgetown. Up on R Street, Helen Lee Henderson, who sits on the board of the Kennedy Center, gave the Republican National Committee $50,000 as well, according to Across Dumbarton Oaks Park on Whitehaven Street, the Berman family, who count New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as a neighbor, has steered plenty of cash to the GOP.

ANIMAL REPORT: Dean and Deluca's Rat Issues

The Oculus hears that a good Samaritan in Georgetown recently noticed a massive rat infestation behind the Dean and Deluca on M Street. Though the creatures didn't pose a threat to food safety and storage at the upscale specialty grocer, the good Samaritan kindly told the Dean and Deluca crew that it wasn't a pretty scene from his apartment's vantage point across the C&O Canal.

Dean and Deluca said essentially, "thank you, but the rats aren't a problem." So he called District authorities and soon, some leafy foliage was removed from Dean and Deluca's back side, and the rats went away.

Again, there weren't any problems with rats gnawing on the Foie Gras de Moulard, Humbolt Fog cheese and black truffle carpaccio, just to be clear.

STATEHOOD: Plotkin Says Norton Is Damaging Statehood, But Delegate Gets Prime Convention Speaking Slot

In the current issue of The Georgetowner, WTOP's Mark Plotkin, in his "You Take the Cake" column, derides the District of Columbia's House Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), for "single-handedly, unilaterally, all by herself, diminished and seriously damaged DC."

Norton's apparent misdeed, Plotkin says, was how she took it upon herself to strike the word "statehood" from the national Democratic platform this year. That buzzworthy word has been part of every platform since 1988. But Plotkin doesn't say how she did this, or why. (Plotkin's latest column has not been posted yet, his latest piece on Councilman Orange is a classic.)

For this, Plotkin says Norton "deserves to take the cake!" (How clever ...)

But according to The Washington Post, Norton is getting a primetime convention speaking slot the night Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is supposed to accept the Democratic nomination. Norton will advocate for voting rights and will raise awareness of the District's disenfranchisement.

From The Washington Post:
"It is simply not enough for the Democratic Party to support voting rights, but do nothing to ensure it or act on it," [D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott] Bolden said. He said the District's 39-member delegation was prepared to try to nominate Norton for vice president -- allowing her to address the gathering the night that Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), speaks to the convention.

Bolden said that before Norton got the speaking slot. Now he is more than pleased, saying: "This is an outstanding development, and one which reinvigorates our notion that we have a great partnership."

The Post briefly touches on what Plotkin is complaining about: the push for plain and simple District statehood.

Norton said the new language, supporting "equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation" in the District, is shorter and clearer, and encompasses statehood and the current focus on Congress.

For the record, Kerry, the Post says, generally supports D.C. voting rights, but opposes a GOP plan that would expand the House by two seats, giving the District a vote in the House, as well as temporarily give Utah an additional seat.

"D.C. Democrats to Push Voting Rights in Boston" [The Washington Post]

WEEKEND: The Great 90-30 Pub Crawl

The Oculus is hosting a cross-city pub crawl Saturday evening. While the goal is of course a good time, the real mission involved is getting from each of the four stops, which will avoid crossing into Zone 1 of D.C.'s gerrymandered Byzantine cabzone system. We will take the bus, specifically routes 90 and 30.

Think of it as part-urban challenge and part-flashmob. Depending on who shows up, we'll walk into a bar, have a drink or two, and then in an instant, leave for the next stop. There are four stops, which means that each place will be enjoyed (or loathed) for approximately an hour. The organizer appreciates those coming from New York and New Jersey for the challenge.

The bars/clubs selected represent a broad range in what D.C. has to offer ... an Irish bar, an up-and-coming music lounge, an Upper Northwest twentysomething yuppie watering hole, and an under-the-Whitehurst Freeway joint where you can get into a fight with Marines on leave from Quantico if you so please. You will need $1.25 for the bus. Maps will be provided at stop No. 1. There are no prizes for finishing the route, just the satisfaction of knowing you've done something probably no sane person has ever completed.

But you can join up along the way if you want. Stop No. 1 (at 8 p.m.) is near Eastern Market. Stop No. 2 (around 10 p.m.) will be near the 9:30 Club. Stop No. 3 (around 12:30 a.m.) is in Glover Park. Stop No. 4 (around 1:30 a.m.) is in Georgetown.

If you would like more information, please e-mail me at: oculus [at] fastmail [dot] fm

COMMUTING: WMATA Running Out of SmarTrip Cards

Tourists who are buying a $10 SmarTrip card for single uses at suburban metrorail stations are partially to blame for higher than expected sales of the automatic payment cards that were made mandatory at garages after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority discovered parking attendants were stealing money from parking gates. The cards are such a hot commodity that the transit agency is running out of them.

From The Associated Press (via WTOP):
Metro chalked up the drastic increase in large part to the elimination of cashiers at its parking facilities. SmarTrip cards have been required there since June 28. Along with the regular commuters who have bought SmarTrip cards, numerous tourists using station lots and garages have found themselves forking over $10 for a card with $5 good for transit fare or parking fees. The other $5 is a fee for the card.

In the meantime, WMATA has suspended online sales of the cards and all SmarTrip promotions before more cards can be acquired.

"Shortage of SmarTrip Cards Could Create Problem for Metro Riders" [AP via WTOP]

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

ANIMAL WORLD: Zoo Will Avoid Fines for Panda Poisoning

The Associated Press reports that the National Zoo will avoid a $650 fine from the District for a contractor's use of rat poison that killed two rare red pandas in 2003. A seperate agreement allows the city to "conduct tests and copy records" at the National Zoo (despite that it is a federal facility) but also allow for the zoo to set and control its own pest control policies.

"Zoo Won't Have to Pay Fine for Use of Rat Poisoning" [AP via WTOP]

CRIME: Mayor Says Kids Are After Your Car

Mayor Anthony Williams has issued a special crime alert for the city that will mobilize the city's police to target juvelines who are stealing cars at unprecedented levels.

"These aren't just kids out for a joy ride," Williams tells The Washington Post. "These are acts of reckless, senseless violence. These are crimes."

Neighbors in some of the hardest hit areas in Northeast and Southeast say that many kids steal cars to play a rendition of "cops and robbers" where the maverick driving kids drive in an erratic fashion on city streets.

"Williams Renews Pledge To Rein In Car Thefts" [The Washington Post]

Monday, July 19, 2004

COMMUTING: Transit Riders Unite? Straphangers' Union Coming Soon, Perhaps

Postings from a transportation chat from Monday is causing confusion. Washington Post reporters Lyndsey Layton and Steven Ginsberg got all giddy for a second when someone submitting a question said that a new WMATA commuters' union was in the initial stages of formation. But by the end of the day, all traces of the commuter union vanished from the chat, sans a reference to one person telling them to reference the earlier post on the commuter coalition.

This leaves the Oculus very confused. Why was the news of the commuter union edited out in the final version? The prospects of a commuter union is probably the best news for area transit riders in a long time. Such an assocation would be similar to New York's famed Straghangers Campaign.

Such a union could provide aid to distressed commuters, like this one from the chat:

I dutifully purchased and registered my SmarTrip card, and used it daily. It stopped working, so following instructions, I filled out the yellow Metro envelope and mailed it in. That was over three weeks ago and I still have not received my replacement card. Now, here's the most aggravating part: SmarTrip people are unreachable. I've e-mailed them to the address from the Web site, I've sat on hold waiting for an operator for 25 mins. at a time, I've left messages asking for a phone call in return. Nothing. What do I do now? I have $100 sitting on that card!

The chat also revealed some additional interesting items.

Remember when I posted about bunching buses on the 30-series bus line? Here's Lyndsey Layton's explantion after someone asked a question as to why buses often run in bunches.

Hi D.C., You're refer to the phenomenon known in transit circles as "bunching" and, as a daily bus rider myself, I understand your annoyance. When buses bunch, it often is because of traffic conditions - it only takes a snarled intersection for buses on a single line to catch up to one another and stall in traffic together. But sometimes, it's an indication that the drivers are fooling around. I've heard complaints from some bus drivers who say that less conscientious colleagues intentionally start their runs late and fall in behind other buses, so they don't have to pick up passengers. Seems they like their space on their big, empty buses.

And to clarify something from the chat. A reader in Woodbridge, Va., seems to say the region's traffic is so bad in part because of residental pressure in Georgetown to keep metrorail out.

That is only partially true. According to George Mason University assistant professor Zachary Schrag, who has done extensive research on the development of the metrorail system, geography had much more of role in derailing a Georgetown station. In a 2001 interview on WAMU's Metro Connection program, Schrag contends that if Georgetown were to have a metrorail station, it would a) be very, very deep below M Street; b) follow an awkward tunnel alignment that would c) require a rail bridge over the Potomac to Rossyln, not a tunnel. The Rosslyn-Foggy Bottom tunnel alignment was easier to construct than a massive infrastructure undertaking via M Street.

That isn't to say there weren't residents in Georgetown who were opposed to the station; it is just that geography played just as big of a role in the alignment of the Blue and Orange line subway.