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December 1, 2010

Betting on the Odds

Dear Bettors:

Below, Kaya Henderson, the interim chancellor of DC Public Schools, congratulates Nathan Saunders on winning the presidency of the Washington Teachers Union. Saunders has consistently represented the interests of teachers — and, I believe, students — against a school district administration and city administration that have been warring against teachers. With Saunders’ hard-fought and hard-won election to head the WTU, the shape of the debate over improving education in the next four years becomes a little clearer. If Henderson’s congratulations are sincere, does that signal that school “reform” will no longer mean just breaking the teachers union?

John Hoopes, also below, can’t think of any government incentives that have been given to bicyclists over the past few years. Can anyone help him out, or is he right, and was the Fenty administration not particularly pro-bicyclist? I suspect that the most avid bicycling enthusiasts just can’t understand why most people don’t share their preference, and therefore will never be satisfied by any measures taken to encourage bicycling. As Patrick Thibodeau writes, there’s a natural ceiling on the popularity of bicycling, and bicycle advocates are never going to accept that; they’re always going to blame that ceiling on “enemies” of bicycles, people who “hate” bicycles. Politicians who attempt to meet their demands, therefore, will never be able to do enough to satisfy them. It’s a losing game that councilmembers are foolish to play, but they’re determined to play it.

Must reads: Michael Neibauer’s analysis of the donations to Gray’s transition fund,, and the list of Gray’s donors, Does anyone want to bet on the odds of cutting big-dollar projects that benefit developers rather than on raising taxes to keep paying for these projects?

Gary Imhoff


Congratulation to Nathan Saunders
Kaya Henderson, Interim Chancellor, DCPS, through
Safiya Simmons,

I congratulate Nathan Saunders for his victory and plan to reach out for an early conversation to talk about working together as DCPS continues to move forward. Our goal is a great teacher in every classroom in this city and I look forward to exploring ways we can cooperate to reach that goal. George Parker was a leader who negotiated a historic contract that received nearly 80 percent of the vote and his service to the teachers he represented and to the school system as a whole has made a difference to many people across this city. Our best wishes go to George and his family.


160-Years Anniversary Web Site
Alan Etter,

As the only public university in Washington, DC, prepares to celebrate an historic year, the University of the District of Columbia is announcing it has established a web site to keep the public up to date on all the events. features photos, a history page, and a list of events that will commemorate 160 years of scholarship and achievement. From the founding of the Normal School for Colored Girls in 1851 by abolitionist and educator Myrtilla Miner, to the historic merging of Washington Technical Institute, DC Teachers College, and Federal City College in 1977, UDC’s history is as colorful as its future is bright.


Patrick Thibodeau,

Unless they build a dome over DC, there’s going to be a hard limit (and I don’t know what it is) to bicycling commuting. It may well be 2% or 3%. There’s a limit to telecommuting as well, but I think it’s one policy that can deliver far more benefit than bicycle commuting.

The Metropolitan Council of Governments reported this summer that “since 2001 the number of workers in the region driving alone to work has declined from 70 percent to 64 percent, while the share for transit and those who telework at least one day a week has risen to 21 percent (from 17 percent) and six percent (from three percent) respectively,”

Telecommuting is relatively easy to implement. It’s biggest impediment are managers who view it as a negative and employees worried about the office disconnect. I am totally for improving the bicycling experience, adding bike lanes, etc., but I don’t think those improvements will move the needle all that much on the numbers who bicycle commute.


Commuting Stats
Simon Davis,

I read your article from the November 28 themail, and would like to note that the carpooling data you provide is based on 1990 census data that is for the residents of the greater DC metropolitan area, rather than DC residents as is the case with the Post article.

As of the year 2000 (Full Census Data), the percentage of DC residents that carpooled is 11 percent and the percentage that used motorcycle, bike, or other means was 1.9 percent. Also interestingly, DC residents have both the highest percentage of workers who use public transportation to get to work (33.2 percent) and walk (11.8 percent),

As of the year 2009 (American Community Survey), the percentage of DC residents that carpooled was 6.6 percent and the percentage that biked was 2.2 percent,

[Many thanks for finding the 2000 census data; it eluded me when I tried to find it. I do think, however, that if we’re trying to measure commuting data for DC, we need to use a refined version of metropolitan area data, rather than using data limited to DC residents, since a huge portion of DC-area commuters travel interjurisdictionally, rather than staying within one state. Does anyone know of a survey that measures commuting methods and determining which jurisdictions people commute between? — Gary Imhoff]


Few People Bike?
John Hoopes,

I bicycle occasionally to work. I can think of a number of reasons to ride my bicycle: sheer enjoyment, my direct health benefit, fresher air than car commuters, and lower operating costs than any of my horseless carriages. Help me out please though, because my wallet perked up at your comments on how bicycle riders are being coddled. What are the many government incentives you mention?

I don’t think anyone uses the up to $230 per month car parking subsidy for bicycle parking, and the transit benefits aren’t really related to bicycles. The only direct incentive I know of is the $20 a month bicycling subsidy signed into law in 2008. My employer, a private company, doesn’t offer that. I know of no other government incentives, but I eagerly wait to hear what I’m missing.


Answer Faster
John Hoopes,

Ahh, just as I suspected. You haven’t sent a list of additional government incentives because you haven’t found any. If you dislike bicycles, why don’t you just say that next time and be done?

If you want to be honest about encouraging alternatives to single occupancy vehicles, your next posting on bicycles might say that despite generous government incentives in support of public transportation, carpooling through HOV lanes and preferred parking, general parking subsidies, and a very car-oriented transportation infrastructure, an increasing number of people recognize that bicycles are viable and enjoyable forms of transportation. Since bicycle commuting directly reduces societal medical costs and the number of single occupancy vehicles smogging up our roads, most probably recognize this as a good thing.

How might one increase the numbers of bicycle riders? Maybe encourage bicycle training in schools to improve skills and behavior? Maybe increase the government incentive bicycle benefit above the twenty-dollar monthly amount? Maybe invest more in bicycle lanes and multipurpose paths, or maybe even increase gasoline taxes as a Pigovian tax to cover some of oil’s externalities? If you do come up with a government incentive I am missing, I remain interested.


Bicycling as a “Niche Enthusiasm”
Paul Basken,

“Niche” is right; 2.2 percent of the population is probably a heck of a lot bigger than the readership of themail, and just as you probably believe that statistic as not reflective of your importance relative to the Post or Examiner, you surely are capable of reflecting long enough to realize that 2.2 percent, given the abysmal and frighteningly dangerous conditions out there for bicyclists relative to cars, is a clear sign that once again the people are leading and waiting for the day that the politicians follow, by getting on board and truly supporting a mode of transportation that makes sense in a whole host of critically important ways for our health and humanity.

I do realize your shtick is to complain about everything and hope that your all-purpose yelling attracts a crowd, and that the ugly reality of the media landscape these days may leave you feeling as if you have no other option. Responsibility, meanwhile, can only offer you a proper feeling inside your soul, which may simply not be enough.


Subjunctively Speaking
Larry Lesser,

I strongly agree with Melissa Williamson and you [themail, November 28] that the Diane Groomes incident should be dealt with in the first instance in a straightforward manner and only take into account her overall record and the fact that we like her and want to keep her on the force in her current position in the sentencing phase of the case. That’s all I want to say; just that I agree.

But let me mention a minor and perhaps arcane grammar point from your paragraph on the subject. “Then, after it has been determined whether this were an isolated incident. . . .“ It should be “was,” not “were.” “Were” should be used for “contrary to fact” constructions such as in the following example: “It was as if she were a habitual lawbreaker.” Look it up (because I can’t give you the technical explanation myself).

[Sort of. The subjunctive case is used not just for things that are contrary to fact, but also for things that are either doubtful or hypothetical. We don’t know whether or not Groomes has done anything like this before. If I hadn’t used the subjunctive, I would have implied that I assumed that her cheating on the test was an isolated incident. Instead, I wanted to leave the question open, pending investigation and confirmation. Larry is right to question the use of the subjunctive case, however, because it is nearly extinct in modern-day English, and thus unfamiliar. Only stick-in-the-muds like me use it very often. — Gary Imhoff]



Howard Theater: We Were There, December 8
George Williams;

Were you at the Howard Theater? Did you perform there? Were you in the audience? Waiting by the stage door? Skipping school to come to a matinee? Come to the DC Music Salon at the Watha T. Daniel Shaw Neighborhood Library on Wednesday December 8 and bring your photos, posters, and memories. Dr. Bernard Demczuk, Howard Theater Community Committee chairperson, and Blair Ruble, author of Washington’s U Street: A Biography will lead an informal discussion. There will also be a screening of the documentary, Howard Theater: A Century in Song” and James Brown and the Famous Flames performance from the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show. The Watha T. Daniel Shaw Neighborhood Library is located at 1630 7th Street, NW, near the Shaw/Howard University Metro Station. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m.


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