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  • Franklin School – Get Off The Pot

    Posted on August 15th, 2011 Brian No comments

    This morning’s news roundup on Greater Greater Washington included this link to a story in the Examiner (ugh, I hate linking there) about the long-suffering Franklin School. As the former ANC Commissioner for 2F03, in which Franklin School is located, I dealt with this issue a few times during the most recent round of RFPs. The city received several proposals during that process, including one from the Yu Ying Charter School, as well as at least one from a private developer intent on creating a boutique hotel. There was at least one other hotel proposal being floated at the time, although I don’t know whether it was every finally proposed.

    Franklin School Window, From the InsideAs the Examiner article states, capital funding is a huge issue on this project, given both the extreme historic protections on the building and the decades of neglect and abuse it has now sat through. The city quickly ruled out the ability of the Yu Ying school to realistically fund the project, and appeared intent on settling on a hotel. Finally, after years and years, a derelict block in the midst of downtown would be activated!

    And then came the community activists.

    Well-meaning folks like Joe Browne from the Goethe Institute, the former city-dweller Cary Silverman, and even Greater Greater Washington, began writing, blogging, and petitioning the mayor’s office and the council to halt the processes so that more study could be done about potential public uses for the building. Everything from a school of architecture to a return-to-service as the city’s downtown homeless shelter were suddenly thrown back onto the heap – just as they had during the prior rounds of RFPs. The process stalled yet again, and here we are more than a year later: back at square one. Sadly, as great as all of these community-generated ideas are, they each lack any realistic mechanism to actually accomplish their goal. No funding, no plans, no consensus, no popular support. Nothing. Just great ideas and no way to implement them.

    To be clear, I am not saying these folks are directly responsible for the failure of the last round of proposals. I don’t know precisely why the project has stalled again, and I would place blame on the wicked recession and tenuous economic outlook before them. What I am saying is that these folks are needlessly hindering an already difficult process with pipe dreams.

    It’s time for them to get off the pot. Would I love to see the building converted to a school or some other public use? Of course – who wouldn’t? Is that realistically going to happen any time in the next decade? Not if history is any guide. A boutique hotel isn’t anyone’s first choice, but it is far better than the sad, empty facade that sits there now.

  • Marion Barry Is The Problem With Ward 8

    Posted on June 7th, 2011 Brian No comments

    Councilmembers in the District of Columbia hold an inordinate amount of power, so the current battle over the boundary between Ward 6 and Ward 8 is no surprise. If I lived in the contested area, I too would be fighting tooth and nail to stay out of Ward 8. Think about it: Who would you rather have as your councilmember? Let’s review your options:

    1. Tommy Wells – Who, in just five short years on the council, has been a primary advocate of livable, walkable communities; overseen the re-blossoming of Barrack’s Row and H Street; guided the rebuilding of Eastern Market after the devastating fire; and successfully pushed for the expansion of the Circular, Capital Bikeshare, and Streetcars. No corruption and no scandals — just a record of continual improvement for both his constituents and the entire District.
    2. Marion Barry – Involved in DC politics for over 30 years, he has been arrested for crack, pushed the city back under the Control Board, can’t seem to pay his fair share of taxes on time, can’t seem to stay away from drugs, and can’t seem to avoid stalking and abusing women – that is, when he isn’t using them to kickback money to himself.

    There is no problem with the geography of Ward 8 — it is a beautiful, historic part of the District of Columbia. There is no problem with the people of Ward 8 — they are kind, hardworking residents of the District of Columbia. There is a problem with the councilmember of Ward 8 — his name is Marion Barry, and he is a disgrace to the citizens of Ward 8 and the entire District of Columbia. I would get pretty pissed off, too, if a person like him were suddenly my councilmember just because some lines on a map were re-drawn.

    Marion Barry

  • We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Statues In The Capitol

    Posted on December 17th, 2010 Brian No comments

    In a move one might describe as “adding insult to injury”, or perhaps as “petty and dickish”, the House has graciously decided that the tax-paying-but-unrepresented citizens of the United States who live in the District of Columbia may place one statue in the Capitol’s visitor center, instead of the two that their own constituents receive. So now – assuming it even passes the Senate – we get to choose whether we want Pierre L’Enfant or Frederick Douglass to be placed in the hallowed halls.

    You know what? Fuck ’em. We should keep our statues. Put them up in some nice city-owned parks somewhere, preferably in neighborhoods that are in want of some good statuary. I would love to see Frederick Douglass in Civic Plaza in Columbia Heights, and it would be cool to walk by Pierre L’Enfant coming out of the Waterfront Metro station. The one place I don’t want either of them is in the halls of Congress. The mere thought of those slimy, un-American politicians who continue to deny their fellow citizens representation smirking as they walk by the one statue which they have condescended to allow us to give them turns my stomach.

    Accepting this compromise is a symbolic acceptance of our indentured status. It is a moral defeat, it is unacceptable, and we should reject it.

  • Car Fire — Or: Why My Internet Is Down

    Posted on July 30th, 2010 Brian No comments

    I’ve had some harsh words for Comcast over the last few days.  The constantly bouncing connection has made it very difficult to work.  Sure, there were some major storms from which they were trying to recover, but it’s really annoying that they had to drop out whole service areas just to fix other peoples’ connections.

    My connection dropped again today, though I can hardly blame them for it this time around.  A fire in the alley down the block from our house happened to occur directly below the pole carrying the wires that carried my packets.  It turns out charred copper and melted plastic suffer from approximately 100% packet loss.

    There are a few more pictures on my Flickr stream.

    Charred car below the telephone pole.

    Melted wires on a telephone pole.

  • The Marion Barry: A Shot In Honor Of The Former Mayor-For-Life

    Posted on February 16th, 2010 Brian No comments

    It’s been a big news day for the former mayor-for-life.  The investigations into his use of earmarks have finally boiled over with the release of the Bennett Report.  The upshot?  His goose is cooked.

    This seems an opportune time to introduce to a broader audience the shot we invented on this year’s Marion Barry Day.  I give to you: The Marion Barry.

    1. One part Stoli Blackberry
    2. One part Southern Comfort
    3. One part Blue Curacao
    4. One part grenadine
    5. Drink up, slam the glass, and holler in your best just-got-caught-with-crack-in-a-hotel-room voice, “Bitch set me up!”

    The concoction is sweet and quite drinkable, and is rife with symbolism.  The Stoli Blackberry is because the marionberry is a subspecies of blackberry.  The Southern Comfort makes it in because the former mayor-for-life was born in Mississippi.  And the Blue Curacao and grenadine are there for flavor, and because together the purple hue they create reminds us of the purple velour jogging suit the elder councilmember has been known to sport from time-to-time.

    Originally called “The Bitch Set Me Up”, we re-named it to be a bit more obviously associated with the man.

  • Blame for the Metro Crash

    Posted on June 24th, 2009 Brian No comments

    The Metrorail system is deeply inculcated into the fabric of transportation in the DC Metro Area.  Everyone uses it, at least once or twice.  It is a testament to the fantastic success a rapid transit rail system can be, especially one spanning several different conflicting jurisdictions and built during an era when the construction of public transportation usually gave way to highways, interchanges, and parking lots.  The tight integration into our everyday lives is what makes Monday’s crash so disturbing for so many.

    And now the blame starts circulating.  The results of the National Transportation Safety Board investigation will not likely be known for more than a year, but the root cause of the problem is obvious to anyone with a sense of the Metrorail’s history: The system has been underfunded for decades, robbing funds from necessary capital improvement and deferring maintenance in order to simply keep operating.  Just this past march, we played the same game again.

    The local jurisdictions have been wringing their hands over dedicated funding.  Metro must beg, borrow, and steal to keep the trains running, and this accident is the direct result.  Mayor Fenty recognizes this fact, and took some of the blame on Good Morning America today.

    The Federal government has also recognized both the lack of funding and that a significant portion of the Federal Government takes the Metro to work.  It has offered up $150 million per year to Metro if DC, Maryland, and Virginia all agreed to pony up $50 million each.  The offer has been on the table for years, and each jurisdiction has had its hand in stalling.  Virginia was the lone hold-out for a couple of years, but DC is currently to blame for the current delay.

    As shameful as the current lack of funding is, such a massive cash infusion should never have been necessary.  Local jurisdictions failed to fund the system correctly in the first place.  This accident rests squarely on the shoulders of every politician elected to the Virginia General Assembly, the Maryland General Assembly, and the DC Council in the past thirty years.  Everyone knew this was coming, and they failed to act; blood is on their hands.  Greater Greater Washington sums it up nicely:

    In the past, WMATA has followed some NTSB recommendations and not followed others. Two recommendations which they did not successfully complete include the installation of data recorders on all railcars and full retirement or reinforcement of the 1000 Series Railcars. They are currently taking a lot of heat for this, but in reality, they have had little choice in the matter.

    The 1000 Series makes up about one-third of the Metro Fleet. Removing them from the tracks would mean major cutbacks in rail service. They’re already scheduled for retirement when replaced by the new 7000 Series in a few years. And while data recorders would have made the NTSB investigation easier, it would probably have not prevented this crash. Perhaps this tragedy will serve as a wakeup call to everyone in the process. Metro is underfunded, and has been for years. Deferred maintenance is taking its toll, and is keeping railcars in service longer than they should be. Everyone, from the local jurisdictions to the federal government should be willing to fund upgrades, especially considering that lives are at stake.

    In the meantime, if you’re suddenly afraid of taking the Metro: Don’t be. Driving a car is still orders-of-magnitude more dangerous than transit. Two fatal crashes in over thirty years is a damn good record, and you’re a fool to fear the Metro more than your car.