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December 27, 1998

Moving Barriers

Dear Washingtonians:

Jimmy and Becky Aligny's marriage on the net has already taken place, but you can still catch a rerun, so I printed his notice below. Please get your submissions in early if there is a time constraint involved. themail is published late on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. I also break a rule in this issue by printing a multi-paragraph submission explaining the purpose and use of the New Jersey barrier machine. If you send me the article you wrote in the Washington Post, and give me permission to reprint it in full, I might do it for you, too. Otherwise, brief and to the point is always best. For me, too.

Gary Imhoff


Penn-Branch Ordeal
Rhoma Battle, President, Penn-Branch Citizens Civic Association,

Here in the Penn-Branch area of southeast, we have recently stopped the District government from consolidating and locating three welfare (income maintenance) centers in our neighborhood shopping center. Our community vigorously opposed the project, citing (among other things), that the presence of a “mega” welfare office in our neighborhood would negatively effect the quality of life for residents — one of one of the few remaining black middle-class neighborhoods left in southeast. Of course our position raised all sorts of class, race, and equity issues, but the bottom line for our residents was the feeling that our community (and southeast in general), was already supporting more than our fair share of human services (i.e. residential facilities, job training centers, and drug/alcohol treatment homes), and that we needed to protect the value of our homes and the quality of life that we have been able to maintain over the years.

Our recent battle with DHS points to a larger issue, particularly for residents east of the river. As the District and federal governments (under new welfare and housing reforms) begin to decentralize and disperse human services in the neighborhoods (purportedly, to bring these services closer to the people that need them), how do neighborhoods like ours weather the storm? Fortunately, we were able to draw upon the resources of the business and government professionals that live here in order to effectively beat back the human services onslaught that is underway here in southeast. Other communities, I am afraid, have not, and will not be so fortunate. Our community (and others like us), have to continually battle against the negative perceptions that prevail about southeast Washington. DHS made a grave error in thinking that Penn-Branch residents would accept a welfare office in the middle of their neighborhood. Our task now is to continue our efforts to retain and attract higher-end businesses to our commercial corridors, and to keep the residents who have chosen to stay, rather than move out to PG County (sometimes referred to as Ward 9). This is the key to revitalizing and maintaining our neighborhoods east of the river.


Free Ice Skating
Ed T. Barron,

You don't have to go downtown for free ice skating. Just come on out to the streets of AU Park. They are all covered with a half inch of frozen slush. As I took my daily 2.7 mile constitutional early on Christmas morning I noted a disturbing contrast between MD and D.C. All the mile of streets that I walked on through AU Park were covered with frozen slush. There had been absolutely no efforts by the city to spread some salt to make the roads safer to drive or walk on. As I crossed over Westmoreland Circle to walk the back roads of Westmoreland Hills, it was like entering the city of Oz. All the back streets had been salted and were now bare and dry.

It appears that the citizens of D.C. are second class and are not entitled to the services equivalent to those provided to our nearby neighbors. This is not a nice to have situation. This is a safety issue. People should be able to walk and or drive in their neighborhoods without fear of slipping and sliding on ice covered roads. Let us hope that the New Year will bring about a process that is more considerate of the safety and welfare of the city' residents.

Although the city abdicates its responsibility for clearing their streets of AU Park of ice and snow, that does not preclude homeowners (and renters) of homes in AU Park from clearing the sidewalks in front of their homes. This is not only a courtesy, it is a law. Although I have never heard or read of this law being enforced, it is still and ordinance that should be followed. In New York, where there are a plethora of pedestrians, the law is enforced and almost all the sidewalks are promptly cleared after a storm. Many folks in AU Park walk to Janney school each day. Many more walk on the sidewalks to get to the Tenleytown Metro Station or to the bus on Wisconsin. On the other side of AU Park we have those who walk to the Spring Valley Shopping Center and to Super Fresh. Why risk a lawsuit and injuring a pedestrian when with just a few minutes of shoveling you can make things safer for those who would walk to these places rather than pollute the air with more exhausts from their cars. And some folks in AU Park just don't drive. Mass Ave. is a very heavily traveled pedestrian route for those going to the Spring Valley shopping center. The commercial enterprises do a good job of clearing their walks. American University is the one exception. The wide sidewalk in front of the AU Law School building was notably unavailable due to the ice until it was finally melted by the sun's rays yesterday. The number of homes where the sidewalks are cleared are almost negligible. People clear the path from their front door, but stop there. Perhaps this is an issue that should be addressed at the ANC meetings.


Mrs. Simpson's Demise (No, Not Nicole)
Phil Greene,

Perhaps this is old news, but does anyone know the story behind the abdication (sorry, couldn't resist) of the restaurant Mrs. Simpson's, which was located in between the Zoo and Woodley Park on Connecticut? There is a sign on the door, posted by disgruntled ex-employees, explaining that the joint closed without warning on November 20, and suggested that the owners were on the lam, spending money that should go toward back pay for said employees. There was also a legal notice, which I took as service of process for a suit from the landlord for failure to pay rent. What gives? Does anyone know more? I'd always thought of it as a nice restaurant, although a recent review I read spoke of it's sharp decline in quality of late.


How to Get White House Tour Tickets
John-david W. Franklin, 215-849-0829, Fax: 215-849-0188,

I've been a subscriber and avid fan for over a year....but, I need a small favor; albeit, the late date and time of the year. I wanted to come to DC next week and am finding it impossible to get White House tour tickets! Any way you could help me out, pull some strings for a subscriber? Help will be generously remunerated....but all the same, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year from Philadelphia. Would greatly appreciate your help.

[Getting White House Tour tickets shouldn't require any influence, string pulling, or remuneration. The easiest way to get them, without standing in the ticket line at the White House Visitors' Center in the Commerce Building at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, is to go to your local Congressman's or Senators' offices. They all are given a supply of them that they are happy to give to constituents. You can probably also get them them through your Congressman's field office, if you want to be sure to have them before you come to Washington. Anyone else have any suggestions? — Gary Imhoff]


Jury Duty
Rick Rosenthal,

Help! I've been selected for a Grand Jury in DC! According to the folks at the courthouse, I am required to serve (get this) every weekday from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm for five weeks. Five weeks? Doesn't that seem excessive? Needless to say, my boss was not thrilled. Anybody been through this ordeal? Got any advice?


New Jersey Barrier Machine
Andy Meadow,

On the Roosevelt Bridge, the Jersey Barrier Machine is used after each weekday morning rush hour (around 10 or 10:30 AM) to change the lane configuration from three incoming and two outgoing into three outgoing and two incoming. The bridge is then ready for evening rush hour. Sometime during the night or early morning the configuration is switched back. Incidentally, over a year ago a new, enclosed machine that looks like a formidable Winnebago replaced the previous open-to-the-elements machine. I have personally seen both machines in action over the last six years.


Jersey Barrier Machine
Dana Cole,

I used to commute to Tyson's Corner and have actually seen this machine in motion. It is used to move the Jersey Barriers to add an east-bound lane over the bridge in the morning, and to reverse the lane, adding a westbound land in the evening rush hour.


Inquiry about Machine on Roosevelt Bridge
Julie Makinen Bowles,

Don't condemn the D.C. Government just yet. If you're talking about the machine I think you're talking about, that's no idle piece of equipment. It is used to adjust the median on the bridge so that in the morning, there are more lanes inbound than outbound, and vice versa in the evenings. This is a great service for all commuters (though not really DC residents, I guess). I refer you to a piece I wrote about this phenomenon in the Washington Post in May, 1995. Here is the article: (Note: since I wrote this piece, the old-timey pumpkin orange machine has been replaced with a newer, high tech model.)

2 Men Toil Toward A Happy Median
Julie Makinen, Washington Post Staff Writer

It's 4 a.m. on a Monday on the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge, and James R. Gray and Millegan Cobia are hard at work moving more than a million pounds of concrete.

Eight hours later, they'll move it all back.

It is the same routine day after day: back and forth, forth and back, twice a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year (holidays excluded).

Their work is repetitive, but it's nothing short of a godsend for the tens of thousands of Virginians who commute on the bridge that carries Interstate 66 between Arlington and the District.

Gray and Cobia are the median men — the contractors in charge of creating an additional lane for traffic by shifting the segmented concrete divider on the bridge every weekday before dawn and again at midday.

It's a costly, awkward procedure originally conceived as a temporary way to combat gridlock while the Whitehurst Freeway was under construction in 1991. But as the Northern Virginia suburbs have continued to grow — the bridge now carries 100,000 cars a day — traffic engineers say moving about 1.5 million pounds of concrete twice daily has become vital to the Washington commute. And as the city's aging bridges crumble and major rehabilitation becomes necessary, shifting medians will be sprouting up on more spans, traffic engineers predict.

“Without it, they'd be stopped almost dead,” said John Payne, acting chief of traffic operations for the D.C. Department of Public Works, which oversees the program and owns the machine that moves the median. “It's worked really well since we put it up there.”

Although Gray and Cobia make it look simple, median-moving is anything but.

Sitting in separate cockpits on each end of the pumpkin-orange “Transfer/Transport Vehicle,” as their concrete-moving contraption is officially called, the two men must work together to pluck more than 1,000 concrete segments from the road surface. The pieces, linked with metal pins into a jointed ribbon, are then snaked through a conveyor of rollers on the underside of the machine and plunked down one lane over. The process usually takes less than 20 minutes.

“This thing is tricky,” said Cobia, who went through more than a week of hands-on “driver's ed” to learn how to run the vehicle, despite his years in the construction business.

The “caterpillar-like thing,” as he calls it, doesn't drive like a car, or even a bulldozer, for that matter. “It's something altogether different,” he said.

Like most operators of rare vehicles, Gray and Cobia devote about 10 percent of their time to driving and 90 percent to maintenance, keeping the diesel-powered median machine well lubed and often installing fresh rollers.

From time to time, they must replace concrete pieces that are damaged by cars, and they're forever repainting the orange guide line down the center of the bridge that keeps them from veering too far to the right or the left.

The machine itself is kept on the bridge at the end of the concrete barriers. When Gray and Cobia are not working on the median project, they do other work for their company, Facchina Construction Co., based in Maryland.

Unlike other, simpler means of creating extra lanes during rush hour, such as using lighted directional arrows as is done along 16th Street NW, median-moving has its advantages, Payne said.

The most obvious is safety: A solid barrier helps prevent head-on collisions, particularly during that precarious time when the lanes switch direction. And for workers, it's safer than methods such as placing traffic barrels in lanes by hand.

Median-moving does have its perils, the top three being cold weather, small projectiles lobbed by inconsiderate motorists and airborne hubcaps.

“Hubcaps come flying off every day,” said Gray, standing near a pile of twisted wire-spoked caps at the side of the road as he pointed to a bump in the bridge that's notorious for springing them loose. “In a few years, we could go into the hubcap business.”

The generally reliable machine has been stubborn to start on a few frigid mornings, and a few years back, the concrete pieces actually froze to the deck of the bridge.

But most days, the $15,000-a-month project, which is funded by Virginia and the federal government, runs without a hitch. Its success has led D.C. officials to use median-movers on the current John Philip Sousa Bridge construction work, and when repairs begin on the New York Avenue bridge, such a system likely will be used. Other governments from New Zealand to New York have begun using median-movers as a permanent means of improving traffic flow in congested areas.

“It's a crazy-looking machine, and everybody likes to stare at it,” Gray admits. “But it sure does work. Without it, these people would be going nowhere fast.”



A Little Guilty Pleasure
David Vyorst,

Start 1999 with guilty gastronomical pleasure: The National Institute for Jewish Leadership is proud to invite you to our first ever “GUILT BRUNCH,” serving up lox, bagels, interesting people and sinful desserts! No need to feel guilty for too long as all participants will receive free passes (good anytime for a single visit) to the JCC's fabulous gym and many will gather Monday evening, January 11th to work off the calories. Join us for a little wicked fun!

Sunday January 10, 1999, at 11 am - 2 pm, District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, 16th and Q Streets, NW, $9 members/$12 non-members. Please RSVP 202-518-9400 ext. 362.


Marriage on the Internet
Jimmy Alignay,

Local broadcaster and science teacher marry on the Internet and plan to use technology in the classroom. All of you are invited to join us on our wedding day!!! Dec 27, 1998, 5:00 pm EST. Live video Internet broadcast at:  If you can't make come back for the rebroadcast afterwards. Thanks for all your prayers and support! Love, Jimmy and Becky. Sligo Adventist Church 7700 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD 20912.


Homicide Ahead
Wayson Lee,

In regards to Improv at 1140 Connecticut Ave. Generally Tuesday nights its FREE with an Improv t-shirt ($12). I hope to perform, sometime in January! Watch for me in Homicide, 2/5/99, I get shot!



ISO Driving School or Instructor
Stuart Weiser,

My wife just got her Learner's Permit and is looking for a good driving instructor or school. She has driven with a permit in the past, but has never had a license nor has she driven in DC. Any recommendations?



Volunteers Needed for Anthony Williams Transition
Jeffrey Itell,

I am looking several volunteers to help me finish a major communications project for the Williams transition. The work consists of searching the Nexis database, formatting text files (which can be done at home), and building simple web pages. Pick one, pick them all. I'll be working with you on the project. This is an especially good week for conducting the Nexis search. I have access to an account in Rosslyn and the machine will be free most of the week. Days and evenings both work. Please contact me as soon as possible by email or telephone, 202.244.4163.


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