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July 13, 2005


Dear Security Blankets:

I asked on Sunday whether you felt safe in the city — specifically safe from terrorism, rather than from the routine, day-to-day street crime to which we have become accustomed. I’ve been thinking about the question myself. Much, if not most, of what has been done in the name of safety is foolish and useless. It’s like the screening and x-raying and banning of nail clippers that is done at airports. Today the Department of Homeland Security lifted the silly requirement that airline passengers have to stay in their seats when their airplanes are within a half hour of Reagan National Airport. Most of the restrictions and rules that have been instituted don’t make flying safer; they are simply so intrusive and annoying that we convince ourselves they must be effective. The same is true of the traffic closings and building bollards that have defaced the federal government portion of our city’s downtown, and of the useless routine of having building guards give perfunctory glances at whatever you care to present as identification at nearly all the large governmental and non governmental buildings in our city. The ID checks and bag inspections don’t do anything to deter terrorism, but they are obtrusive and discomforting enough to give us a false sense of security.

Any protection that we do have from terrorist attacks comes from whatever intelligence we have about the plans and activities of organized terrorist groups. We don’t really know what information the federal government has about that, because for very good reasons the government isn’t going to tell us until long after the threat has passed. We do know more about what the city government is doing in terms of planning for reacting if a disaster should happen, and that is as reassuring as if all our health care were in the hands of Cub Scouts with first-aid kits. I commend to your attention the audit of DC’s bioterrorism preparedness and response that was done by the US Department of Health and Human Services and released on June 21 ( “We found that the District . . . had unobligated program funds of $11,821,490 as of August 30, 2004, representing 48 percent of the $24,456,357 awarded. . . .” The city administration assures us that program administration has been improved in the intervening year, and that at the next audit the city will actually spend more than half of he money that is available to it for our protection. We’ll see.

Today, to further my skepticism, the Metropolitan Police Department announced a major anti-terrorism initiative, Operation Tipp, “A Program Designed to Detect and Prevent Terrorism in the Nation’s Capital” ( Operation Tipp is designed to encourage businesses to call a tip line — 1-877-YOU-WATCH — when they see anything suspicious. A few examples of suspicious things that are given in the MPD’s handouts: an automobile with a strange smell, a bicycle with a package in its basket, or an individual carrying a suitcase on the subway. I am not reassured.

One more thing, for those who took the occasion to argue for or against the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq, or the Bush administration — remember, we don’t cover national or international issues here. There are plenty of other fora in which to debate those issues. We stay close to home in themail.

Gary Imhoff


Giant Tree
Margaret Feldman, SW Neighborhood Assembly,

Does anyone have historic information about a giant tree on G Street, SW, near 6th Street? This tree was saved during the destruction of the neighborhood at the end of the 1950s in order to allow Urban Renewal. One rumor is that Lady Bird Johnson threw herself in front of the bulldozer to save the tree. Does anyone know where information about Lady Bird's involvement can be found? We already know about the libraries, but wonder about any archives about her work during 1963.

We invite you to walk our SW Heritage Trail: It has seventeen stops, with the first one at the SW Mall Metro exit on 4th Street. And look at the photo display of SW Then and Now inside the Mall.


Another Fine Mess You’ve Got Us In
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

“Fine” is the operative word here. In another great moneymaking scheme of the DC Police folks, you will be fined $300 if stopped by the police in DC and cannot produce current proof of insurance. So check your glove compartment for that proof and also a copy of your current registration. I think that you can black out your address on the copies of these docs. That's a good idea if someone (like those who copped Ramsey's car recently) breaks into your car. You should not have your home address in any part of your car. That might slow down whoever breaks into your car in finding out where you live, and where they can loot your house while you are obviously away from home.


Possible DC Parking Ticket Scam
Bryant Young,

In response to Dana Miller’s message about a possible parking ticket scam (themail, July 6), I experienced a similar situation. I received a notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles for failure to pay a ticket that, of course, I had not received. In fact, the day that I allegedly got the ticket, I was attending a conference in downtown DC and therefore used the Metro, leaving my car was parked at my house the entire day. Yet somehow, I received this ticket on the other side of town. I decided to visit the adjudication services office to contest the ticket in a hearing. Even though I furnished proof that I was at the conference, I was told that my “vehicle had been properly identified” and that I am still required to pay the ticket. But he did at least waive the penalty.


A Fix for Metro’s Problems?
Harold Goldstein,

There is no fix for Metro's financial or other problems. None, that is, until Metro undergoes a lobotomy or whatever it takes to understand that it is a service agency, and until providing service is the first thing in all their little minds then nothing can improve. When I worked for the DC DOT (or its predecessor) back in the 70's, it was astonishing to me how forthright individuals were in their disdain for their users. (Once, when I asked why we couldn't have schedules on all the bus stops, the reply was "people who use the buses figure that out quickly.")

Anyway I now live rurally, if that is a word, but still occasionally use Metro. So I went to a baseball game and parked at the White Flint Metro. And here is what I learned. I never noticed reading this anyplace or seeing any notices, but unless you use your Smartcard for the trip bringing you back to your car then you are charged $7.75 to park. Not only that, but you must have $5 extra on your Smartcard to exit, so even for a regular $4 payment you must have $9 on the card, and for $7.75 you must have $12.75. So as we exit, not knowing the above, and walk the half mile to the parking lot in the rain, we don't worry, since my friend thinks he has $18 on his card. Well he was wrong and had $8. And, of course, there are no farecard machine at the lot. Fortunately for us there was a Metro person at the exit who succeeded in explaining all this to us and directing us to walk a mile to rectify the situation (half mile back to station and half mile back to lot). (Financial woes? why have someone sitting at a lot doing nothing? Fix things to make that unnecessary!)

If Metro had an iota of concern for its users, they would make certain that everyone clearly knew the rules so that we would make sure to use the Smartcard appropriately (instead of trying to get rid of old farecards with value on them), would have machines where people might need to use them, would, in other words, think about its users. And does anyone know of another business that charges you more money than the product? What if you went to buy gas and the station said you need to pay an additional $5 in case you come back again. How on earth can that be justified? I understand the extra charge to discourage people from using the lot to do business in its vicinity but please, why the need to have an extra $5 on the card? Encourage riders? No, the philosophy is and always has been that people will use Metro because it is less trouble than the alternates. Metro considers its riders as captive riders. Until Metro wants people to use it because it is fast and efficient, then its financial and other woes will be permanent.


Circulate This
Michael Schlesinger,

Larry Seftor wrote about the cost-savings realized by outsourcing The Circulator to a private company [themail, July 10]. I wrote about this very topic on my web site,, and had two questions:

How much do these imported-from-Belgium buses cost, compared with the cost of a Metro-purchased bus? And does anyone know anything about the 1960s lawsuit whose settlement, according to a Washington Post article, was used to fund The Circulator? This privatizing of city services has caught my attention, and I am especially interested in finding out how $12 million of settlement money from a lawsuit found its way into private hands!


New Buses, Old Congestion
William Haskett,

I understand that we are now to have the dubious pleasure of a special shuttle bus fleet service from Union Station to Georgetown by way of Massachusetts through K Street and M Street to Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. I had the chance to see two of the fleet on K Street today, around 11.00 a.m., and indeed they look very fine, shiny and new. Yet except in special circumstances, and in the middle of the day, I would not expect a great change in the time and inconvenience of its route.

It will add congestion to an already-congested K Street, which now has the D-6, the 80. and established routes to Silver Spring and to Ballston, and the D-5 to and from Sibley Hospital, mornings and evenings. It will then add more traffic to M Street through Georgetown to its final destination/starting point. It confronts the peculiar situation that north of this part of K Street, there is only a single one-way street (L Street) eastward, between K Street and Dupont Circle, and no buses at all run on it. Below it, as it were, is I Street, which is one-way going westward until it reaches Pennsylvania Avenue at 21st Street, a long block from Washington Circle, again without any 'bus service on it. On any normal evening in rush-hour, this whole segment of the city is overcrowded with cars, ensuring that surface traffic of all kinds will be not merely slow, but extremely slow.

I would suppose that the fastest way for the healthy to get from Union Station to Metro-free Georgetown, at almost any time of day or night, is still likely to be the Red Line from Union Station to Metro-Center; the Orange-Blue transfer to Foggy Bottom; and a walk from there to Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.

The realized proposal misses most points of utility: where there is a Metro station, the bus route is hopelessly outclassed for speed and time by the trains; it is possible for healthy folk to walk more than half-a-block to a bus stop, and halting for passengers at every corner merely confirms the slowness of buses on almost all the downtown main streets, at most times of day; it neglects the plain utility of each service, above and below the ground, while failing to take advantage of their possible coordination; and it fails to make reasonable use of the one-way system of streets, and compounds the present confusion of car and bus movement.


Outsourcing and Savings
Michael Piacsek,

Before jumping to the conclusion that a private contractor can always do public sector work for less, as Larry Seftor did by calling for more outsourcing of Metro bus routes [themail, July 10], one has to look below the surface. First is the issue of whether First Transit can actually deliver services at the price quoted. Too many contractors low ball their bid and then expect payment for any overcharges. Second, what wages are First Transit going to pay its employees? A living wage with full health insurance benefits, as Metro does? Or minimum wage with no benefits, thus placing an additional burden on District services to handle yet more uninsured patients? Third, what safety precautions and equipment with First Transit use, as compared to Metro? What track record does First Transit have and what is their rate of accidents?

I'm the first to acknowledge the problems that Metro has, and the need to save money. But without taking a full account of just much money a private contractor will really cost the city, rushing to outsource is being penny-wise and dollar-foolish.


How Safe We Feel in DC
Susan L. Anderson,

My memories of last Thursday morning: first, we were awakened at home with the news. As my husband has colleagues in London, we knew what had happened before I was even out of bed. One of the first reports I heard (on WETA) was that Chief Ramsey had placed the city on alert, but Homeland Czar Chertoff indicated that the nation was remaining at the current levels By the time I reached the office, Chertoff reversed himself and placed the nation's major urban transportation systems, but nothing else, on alert. My first thought: my, the Bush administration was able to turn that poll around quickly enough to realize that the London bombings may register with the citizens here, many on the verge of summer travel plans, if not already off on them. Additional thoughts included that the District and Feds are simply destined not to cooperate and that I need to revisit my family's emergency plans in the wake of this.


Safety at Sequoia
Ann Carper, rochester54 AT

I, for one, certainly feel safer now that Sequoia has instituted its “no hats” policy. Last Sunday, my family (ages 79, 79, 55, and 50) decided to have dinner at the waterfront restaurant. As we advanced towards the hostess, one of the “bouncers” asked my partner to remove her floppy cloth hat because of its new security policy. Beth removed it, but queried the hostess, who said to ignore it. Beth put her hat back on because she's sensitive to the sun and we weren't able to get a table in the shade. Later, two other “enforcers” came by and said to take it off. The first backed down when told of the hostess's response; the second got the manager, who gave an incoherent explanation about the security rationale. It wasn't clear whether people were hiding weapons under their headgear, but the words “common sense” and “skin cancer” were less important to him than having a consistent policy applicable to all. As we left, we did see a list of prohibited clothing items, which included “athletic hats” (not applicable to Beth) and ”sleeveless shirts.” Prohibiting clothes for aesthetic reasons, maybe, but security? C'mon!


DC Safety
Mary Baluss,

I use public transportation and go where I want to go. I think that another attack here may well be inevitable and I absolutely do not trust the feds or DC to do the best possible job. I've lived in NW DC for thirty years and am capable of learning from experience. My sense is that there is inherent risk in many daily activities. Think about driving, going to the hospital, etc. We have to choose how we will live our lives in recognition of that fact and we have chosen to carry on.


Apology by Bryce Suderow
Henry Townsend,

In the spirit of being confrontational and unpleasant, I want to disagree with Bryce Suderow's notion that our government's “only interest is to squeeze money out of its citizens.”

Be fair: Surely our government also wants to hire as many people as possible; never to fire any of its many incompetents; and in general enjoy the great pleasure of spending other peoples' money as lavishly as possible, meanwhile griping that Congress keeps some leash on these desires, whilst keeping up the absurd fiction that there is something called a "structural deficit." Well, maybe there is a "structural deficit": it is the inability to spend the District's unparalleled income in any sort of responsible fashion.

I publicly apologize to Mr. Suderow, but I have been in DC for over twice as long as his seventeen years.


The Future of New York Avenue: Local Entertainment or Regional Economic Connectivity?
Len Sullivan,

NARPAC is increasingly concerned about letting DC's Department of Transportation plan the long-range future of DC's major arteries. Their visions of the future seem relatively disconnected from a) real future city transportation needs; b) regional connectivity rather than just "neighborhood connectivity"; and c) the functional realities of sustaining the viability of a major first-class American city. Their newly released long-range planning study for New York Avenue has been put together by a team of five (count 'em, five) consulting teams, apparently advocating spending almost a billion dollars of federal (?) funds without adding one lane-mile of additional capacity over the next 30-50 years. A full third of that money would go for beautification, one quarter to “separate” traffic at two major intersections, and 40 percent to extend the I-395 tunnel while eliminating the North Capitol Street underpass.

We think DDoT has failed to draw a distinction between major routes that provide a front entrance to our nation's capital and those that provide a service entrance. New York Avenue is one of four arteries that together carry two-thirds of all the heavy tracks that enter and leave DC. A full 40 percent of its traffic is regional: neither originating or terminating in DC. Almost 90 percent of properties fronting the avenue are zoned commercial/industrial/mixed or public use. Why ever try to turn this utilitarian “heavy metal” thoroughfare into a “linear park” with biker/jogger trails, grassy medians, shade trees, residential curbside parking, and inspiration points? Why not turn New York Avenue into a functionally efficient artery? Why not convert it into an automated toll road that pays its own way and helps the city keep up with regional growth? This isn't about making the city safe for dancing in the streets, its about keeping the city viable through realistic logistic support. Take a look at our analysis and suggestions at Perhaps you'll see more common sense where we find too much misguided fantasy.



Speaking of Incident Response Coordination, July 14
Dennis Jaffe, Citizens Advisory Committee for the TPB,

On Wednesday morning, July 20, the National Capital Area Transportation Planning Board (TPB) will convene a high level work session on the topic of incident response coordination in response to a letter I sent on Tuesday, April 19, as chairman of the TPB's Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). Transportation officials who do not regularly attend monthly TPB meetings themselves have been invited to attend this special meeting. Citizens are encouraged to contribute ideas and concerns to the Citizens Advisory Committee, which will meet this Thursday, July 14, at 6 p.m. at the Council of Governments building at 777 North Capitol Street, NE. More information about the CAC is available at

More than three and a half years after 9/11, the letter called for a deliberative conclusion and expeditious action regarding recommendations, issued by a special Transportation Planning Board (TPB) task force, which aim to improve incident response coordination and communication by our region’s transportation agencies.


Talk: Marketing — The 22 Immutable Laws of Al Ries, July 16
Barbara Conn,

Join an interactive, thought-provoking discussion of marketing led by independent consultant, instructor, and Web developer Dwight Barbour according to the classic book in the field, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, written by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Marketing is the process of creating or increasing demand for whatever is sold. Ries and Trout are world-renowned marketing strategists. Barbour is a technology entrepreneur who shares his fascination for marketing. This book, challenging conventional thinking, and supported by real-world examples, is dedicated to the elimination of myths and misconceptions from the marketing process.

Gather your friends, colleagues, and family members and bring them to this Saturday, July 16, 1:00 p.m. (check-in, 12:45 p.m.), talk of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). This free talk will be in the First Floor Large Auditorium of the Cleveland Park Library at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW, just over a block from the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about this event, the speaker, and CPCUG [a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization, and to register, visit


National Building Museum Events, July 16
Brie Hensold,

Saturday, July 16, 9:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Construction watch tour of Suitland Federal Center. The Suitland Federal Center in Suitland, Maryland, will soon be home to two federal buildings designed by world-class architects. The 208,000-square-foot Satellite Facility for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will contain a satellite operation control center with office space, computer rooms, and amenities. Designed by 2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Thom Mayne, this project is scheduled for completion in September. Nearby, a two-building office complex for the United States Census Bureau, designed by the New York office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, will serve as the Bureau's new headquarters. The two buildings, scheduled for completion in May 2007, will consolidate the bureau's operations in more than 1.4 million square feet of office space and other amenities. Jag Bhargava, project executive with the General Services Administration, will lead a tour of both projects. Open only to Museum members, $30. Limited space available. Prepaid registration required. To register, call the Museum at 272-2448 or visit

Saturday, July 16, 1:00-3:30 p.m., at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Family program: material explorations: hardware. Families explore the characteristics and uses of various building materials and then create a sculpture using either wood, hardware, or masonry. $5 per project. All ages. Drop-in program.



Housing Sought For UDC Law Students
Joe Libertelli,

The School of Law's Class of 2008 is due to arrive soon — some are already here — and many will be looking for convenient, affordable, safe places to stay. If you know of an apartment for rent, or a house to share, or even a room in a house, whether in the District (preferred) or in the suburbs, please reply with: 1) location (address and area); 2) description of housing (shared, room in house, etc.); 3) cost (and whether utilities are extra or included); 4) terms (security deposit, first and last, etc.); 5) when available to rent; 6) any restrictions (no smoking, no pets, etc.); and 7) contact information — E-mail or telephone for person offering the rental. Please send any listings to Ariel Shea,


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