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July 29, 2009


Dear Popular Ones:

My introduction to the last issue of themail got some interesting responses. If you remember, I wrote about transportation and the movies in the twentieth century, and the way that movies portrayed our fascination with transportation and movement throughout that century. I ended with an appreciation of the history of transportation as seen from the 14th Street Bridge. That evoked the ire of anti-car activists, who didn’t like the fact that I said nice things about automobiles. Tom Grahame sent a very nice message about themail, but the import of the message was, “I see absolutely no fun in driving. . . .” Well, that’s true for him. He likes to walk, and to him driving means nothing but fighting traffic and the risk of an accident. Stephen Miller, on the other hand, “cannot deny what is often the pure joy of driving,” but prefers bicycling. I can’t quarrel with their preferences; each of them is right for himself. I’m not going to advocate tearing up sidewalks to make life harder for pedestrians, or banning bicycles from the streets to make it harder for bicyclists. Why should I want to?

However, more extreme anti-car activists do want to make life harder for drivers. Unfortunately, they are influential with the current administration, which prefers the stick to the carrot when it comes to transportation policy. The most extreme reaction to my introduction came from anti-car activist David Alpert, who runs the Greater Greater Washington blog. Nothing makes Alpert angrier than automobiles. He was inspired by my piece to write a parody in which he replaces cars with ferris wheels, and ridicules the pleasure that most people take in driving by imagining a city in which everyone parks a ferris wheel in front of his house ( Alpert’s argument is that, “Just because something is fun doesn’t mean our public policy should crowd out other types of fun, or that we should devote substantial public land to that fun at great taxpayer expense, or require new buildings to spend millions of dollars to accommodate the fun, crowding out other uses.” Of course, cars aren’t just fun; they are also the most practical way to transport millions of people daily to thousands of different destinations and to transport their goods to their houses. Alpert asks, “Why are the desires of those who enjoy walking or bicycling insignificant, while those of the car enthusiast paramount?” The answer is simple. It’s the same reason cities have more basketball courts then they have broomball stadia: bicycling and long-distance walks are the preferences of small minorities. They are doomed to remain that as long as automobiles are an option. When it’s too hot or cold, rainy or snowy; when the distance is too great or what you have to carry is too heavy or bulky; when the destination isn’t convenient to public transportation or to mass transit schedules — in other words, most of the time — cars are a better option.

Since I didn’t mention any motorcycle or bicycle movies in the last introduction, it’s only fair to add the three great motorcycle movies and their iconic images to my list (The Wild Ones with Marlon Brando, The Great Escape with Steve McQueen, and Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper). There are also two good bicycle movies, Breaking Away and American Flyers, that make bicycle racing seem to be an exciting sport. (But let me rub it in: the paucity of bicycle movies, compared to the wealth of automobile movies, makes my point.)

Ed Barron sent a posting to the last issue of themail on the yellow stripe painted in front of Janney School. While every other yellow stripe in the District apparently means the area is a fire zone in which parking is prohibited, this one just means no parking in front of the school when school is in session. However, Ed reported that the police are treating the area as a fire zone, and issuing tickets to anyone who parks there at any time. A woman who also got a ticket parked in the same yellow-stripe area sent sent an E-mail to her Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative, Jonathan Bender, citing Ed’s message and her own experience. Bender forwarded them to Second District Commander Matt Klein, who replied, “I think that if the person received a ticket on a non-school day, seems that they have a good argument to protest the ticket. I will ensure my officers do not write tickets if in violation of the sign. If the ticket was written less than fifteen days ago, we can try and cancel the ticket from 2D.”

A few issues back (themail, July 15), Ed also asked what was up with the listings for AMC movie theaters, which have been missing from the Washington Post. Today the Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, explained what the problem is, He wrote that the movie listings are actually paid ads, and that the AMC chain has decided not to pay. The Post and the company are in talks.

Gary Imhoff


More Bogus Parking Tickets
Jack McKay,

“No person shall stand or park a vehicle,” says DC Municipal Regulation 18, 2405.2(c), “within 40 feet of the intersection of curb lines of intersecting streets”. And that’s where DDOT plants “no parking” signposts, 40 feet from intersections, an arrow pointing in the forbidden direction. Okay, but for at least eight years, “vehicles displaying valid residential parking permits may park, within a designated residential permit parking zone, . . . 25 feet from the intersection.” Um, forty minus twenty-five — yes, DC, cars can extend up to fifteen feet past those “no parking” signs, and yet be perfectly legally parked. In 2001, this was allowed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. In 2002, the hours were extended, allowing said parking from 10 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. In 2006, the hours were eliminated, and 25-foot parking is now allowed “at all times.”

Okay, but just try to explain to Parking Enforcement or Metropolitan Police officers that they should go by what the law is, not just where the signpost is placed. The signpost, they think, is definitive, and any car extending any distance beyond that signpost is in violation, end of discussion. I have successfully challenged a number of these bogus tickets, by simply noting the applicable law in a letter denying the violation. Only one of my challenges has failed, and that I have appealed, though the Department of Motor Vehicles appeal process appears to be a black hole of eternal duration. They’ve got my money, plus the $10 appeal fee, for more than a year now. Is anybody at DMV actually reading these appeals?

Two weeks ago the MPD struck again, ticketing my wife’s legally parked car. Happily, Commander Kucik of the Third District has requested the details of the law from me, so that MPD officers can be suitably instructed. Not so happily, a neighbor parked in the 40-to-25 zone was ticketed twice in one night, by a pair of zealous Parking Enforcement aides. Yes, one ticket was written at 1:44 a.m., and a second at 7:16 a.m., as evidently the ticketee was supposed to somehow to have discovered that past-midnight ticket, and to have moved his car before dawn and the arrival of the second Parking Enforcement aide. The poor guy is looking at $100 worth of parking tickets for a legally parked car. When, oh when, will the people hired by the District to enforce parking laws actually learn what the District’s parking laws are?


“Up-and-Comers Who Are Bridging the Digital Divide”
Phil Shapiro,

The headline of this Washington Post article ( brought a smile to my face. One of the people profiled in this article, Shireen Mitchell, has been working to bridge the digital divide since the last century. Shireen Mitchell is as much an up-and-comer as the Lincoln Memorial is one of the newest memorials on the mall.


Still a Romance to Car Travel?
Tom Grahame,

Gary, I am so glad that I’ve subscribed to themail, but I disagree with you about the romance of the auto, at least today. Car companies still sell cars on the image of driving speedily by mountains and lakes, or racing across desert landscapes, but that isn’t the reality for 99 percent of drivers. Traffic jams, texting or calling while in jams, trying to figure out what is causing the holdup and is there an alternate route is more the norm.

I see absolutely no fun in driving, contra your editorial, although this hasn’t dampened my love of themail. Driving is a requirement, in most cases, for a chore, and always carries with it the risk of an accident. Walking, to the contrary, is exercise and the opportunity to interact with friends and neighbors on occasion. Walkability is a great thing about DC, compared to many other cities. My wife and I take the train to NYC or Connecticut because we can do things and it is relaxing, compared to fighting traffic. I drive about 4,500 miles a year, commuting two miles to work each way by foot in cooler weather, Metro in hot or rainy weather.

Convenience is the main reason many people still take their cars. Mass transit is, to me, generally preferable, because I can read and be relaxed and not worry about someone hitting my vehicle — but mass transit only goes so many places. (The Circulator seems to be catching on pretty well, after a slow start, by the way, and if it continues to do so, it may reduce traffic jams marginally.) There are still those who prefer driving, no matter how many traffic jams there are, but don’t we have to determine how many do so because there isn’t an alternative way to their destination, versus those who actually enjoy the experience?


Joy of Bikes
Stephen Miller,

Regarding Gary Imhoff’s opening statement on the July 26 newsletter about transportation and the wonder of the automobile: As one of the many District residents who do not own a car, I found your dismissal of the joys of every other mode of transportation except private automobiles to be rather absurd. Like any human being, I cannot deny what is often the pure joy of driving. However, unlike you, I cannot also deny the joys of riding my bike with the wind in my hair, riding our Metro system and admiring its grand architecture, or walking down a beautiful city block. Yes, each mode has its pitfalls — biking can make me sweat in the summer months, walking may not take me places as fast as I’d like, Metro has its countless frustrations, and driving has its ever-present gridlock — but the level to which you glorify the automobile over all else makes me wonder. The “smart growthers” you seem to detest advocate for context-appropriate transportation that provides choice and doesn’t place the car above all else, especially in a dense urban environment like ours where space and clean air are at a premium and the joys of driving are more often than not outweighed by its frustrations. Maybe you ought to take your bike out for a spin on the 14th Street Bridge bike path some time — I find the thrilling sight you describe so well is best experienced on two wheels.


Brookland Heartbeat July/August Issue Now Available
Abigail Padou,

The July/August issue of Brookland Heartbeat is now available. The lead article is “District Scraps Plan for New Libraries in Ward 5.” Previously, the District had planned to spend twenty million dollars to build two new libraries to replace the aging facilities in Woodridge and Lamond-Riggs. This plan was quietly eliminated in the 2010 budget. Other articles and features include: “Ward 5 Democrats Choose Officers in Election Called Chaotic and Irregular,” “Businesses Celebrate Completion of 12th Street Storefront Program,” and “Hot and Smokin’ Jazz at Bobby’s Q.” Brookland Heartbeat is on the web at To receive a copy electronically, send your E-mail address to Brookland Heartbeat is mailed to more than ten thousand homes in the greater Brookland area. Brookland Heartbeat is a nonprofit, all-volunteer community newspaper.



Mount Pleasant’s National Night Out, August 4
Marika Torok,

Mount Pleasant celebrates another year of National Night Out on Tuesday, August 4, from 4:30-8:30 p.m. at Lamont Park. This is a big night of celebration for all of Mount Pleasant, and one not to be missed. Please join your neighbors in Lamont Park on Tuesday evening. This is your opportunity to take a stand against crime in the neighborhood, a chance to meet officers who patrol the neighborhood, a chance to chat with your neighbors, and a chance for you and your family to show you care about your community.

Free ice cream giveaway. Balloons, face-painting, and an open fire hydrant for splashing and other fun stuff for kids. Bring your lawn chair and come hang out with your neighbors and listen to some music. Musical performances by Mount Pleasant’s own Kitty Hawk, MPD’s own police band Side by Side, and DC Drum Core Afro-Cuban drumming and dancing. We could still use a few volunteers for the event, or to pass out word about the event. If anyone would like to help out, please respond to

This event is jointly sponsored by Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA) and the Metropolitan Police Department MPD web site. Neighbor’s Consejo will be doing outreach as well. National Night Out is celebrated in cities and neighborhoods nationwide on the first Tuesday of August, to raise awareness about the importance of public safety and crime prevention.


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