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March 10, 2013

Car War II

Dear Drivers:

The Car War debate in the last issue of themail continues in this issue, and it continues in today’s issue of The Washington Post. Anti-driver, anti-car advocate David Alpert gets one of his frequent chances to use the newspaper to argue that making it hard to drive and park in DC is actually good for drivers, since it eliminates competition and makes the roads less crowded, David Alpert and Matthew Yglesias, "Looser Parking Rules Are No Threat to DC,"

By contrast, Robert Thomson (Dr. Gridlock), "Longtime Residents Fear DC Government Will Push Their Cars Off the Street" (title in print, "DC Is a Great Place to Live, But Not to Park"),, acknowledges that drivers have legitimate interests. Thomson summarizes the Department of Transportation’s "Parking Action Agenda" in the most positive light, ending with the DOT’s goal to "communicate better with the public," and then ends with the inarguable point, "This is a good year for the public to communicate back."

Gary Imhoff


Turnaround Documents’ Dissonance
Samuel Jordan,

A dissonance exists among the documents authorizing a "turnaround" at the United Medical Center (UMC), the only hospital "east of the river." Rather than retain the management team that has already demonstrated that UMC can, with strategic investments, profitably improve patient services, its physical plant, and health technologies, the District’s leadership has committed resources to "downsize" and sell the facility. The downsize decision was reached without a community health care needs assessment which would have provided concrete data on the service capacities needed by the communities of Wards 7 and 8 and nearby Prince George’s County, Maryland — nearly 200,000 residents.

The District commissioned recommendations made by the RSM McGladrey Group, released on November 2, 2011. Mayor Gray endorsed McGladrey’s "Option #2" and presented that recommendation to the UMC Board of Trustees as its mandate — bowing to Wall Street’s insistence that the District should no longer be in the hospital business, producing a "drain on the city’s bond rating." McGladrey Option #2 requires UMC to reduce its in-patient services and become a largely ambulatory care service with 60 beds or fewer, although, 220-228 beds are in use on a daily basis.

In a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the District of Columbia Department of Health Care Finance and the United Medical Center Board’s of Directors on May 9, 2012, the parties agreed that the UMC Board, on January 24, 2012, "voted to move forward with option two (2) in the McGladrey report, with modifications. . . ." The UMC Board of Trustees has long debated the implementation of Option #2, giving rise to the claim that the MOU phrase, "with modifications," mitigates the need to comply strictly with Option #2. Nevertheless, "with modifications" could mean seventy beds, or 210 beds. The UMC Board, however, seemed to echo the preferences of the communities east of the river in supporting the maintenance of UMC as a full-service, acute-care hospital.

Through a contract approved at the DC council’s third legislative session, on February 19, 2013, Huron Consulting Services, LLC, a Chicago firm, will counsel the District on a "turnaround" of UMC. The contract requires Huron in "Contract Line Item #1" to develop a strategic plan "in consonance" with McGladrey’s Option #2: "Ambulatory Focus With Scaled Down Acute Inpatient Services." There is no "with modifications" language in the contract. Accordingly, Huron is tasked as a matter of contract compliance to implement McGladrey’s Option #2. At UMCB’s meeting on February 28, 2013, Matt Harrison, Huron’s Managing Director and UMCB Chairman Hudson declared that McGladrey’s Option #2 was not binding on Huron, thereby confirming the general misunderstanding or disregard of the contract’s language. The Huron contract does not execute the will of DC council even though it was approved by a council majority. The council’s consensus was like that of UMCB as described by Council Chairman Mendelson: "Every member believes we need a full-service, acute-care hospital east of the river."

The United Medical Center Foundation has opposed the McGladrey Report from its release, steadfastly insisting that no decisions can be made about the future of the United Medical Center without a comprehensive community health care needs assessment. A credible assessment cannot be limited to the opinions of twenty-five to thirty "stakeholders" and a review of statistical reports, but should include a community survey of at least two thousand respondents, including patients, former patients, and residents who will be asked to relate their experiences, describe what services are needed at UMC, and project the value of a full-service, acute-care hospital. Nor can a credible health care needs assessment be included in a contract which pre-determines the size of the hospital — McGladrey Option #2. Furthermore, the Foundation has argued that the contract sum, $12.7 million, up from a budgeted $10.0 million, can be put to better use invested in the hospital.

The mayor, council, DHCF, UMCB and Huron must modify or cancel the Huron contract. An all-parties conference must be convened to rewrite or rescind the agreement with the maintenance of UMC as a full-service, acute-care hospital as its central objective. Upon its sale, the hospital should have appreciated in its financial value and its value to the health of the residents in its service area.


Car War
Paul Basken,

Among all the puzzled rants you’ve published over the road situation, the latest one, in your own hand ["Car War," themail, March 6], is truly a gem. Your contention is, to quote you directly: "Drivers haven’t made their own interests a political priority, so they have no representatives or spokesmen in the political power structure." Go to and see exactly what type of political power the automotive industry actually has. The bottom line: $57,028,732 in 2012 alone. And that doesn’t even include the oil and gas industry. They’re at That’s something on the order of $140 million a year.

Now hunt the same site for bicycles, or bicyclists, or any of the major bicycle manufacturers, or anyone else lobbying on behalf of bicyclists. I couldn’t find any. Perhaps you can. If you do, good luck finding anything that even begins to approach $57 million in one year alone from the car industry, never mind $140 million from the oil industry. How about finding even something on behalf of bicyclists to match just the $544,000 a year spent by the AAA alone? In your previous edition, you included messages from two drivers who complained that the balance of power on DC roadways was seriously in danger of being tilted too far toward bicyclists. That’s, of course, similarly blind to the obvious reality that we all see each day. On what basis does anyone conclude that the majority of the rules or the roadways are written or built to favor bicyclists? Or even remotely close to that point?

Could it be that instead of comically trying to blame power politics, which in fact is a force fighting very hard against bicyclists and in favor of cars, that the majority of people around you is simply waking up to reality, and figuring out that encouraging a more reasonable balance of commuting options — beyond an army of single individuals in a single cars clogging and often menacing downtown DC on a daily basis — makes more sense for all of us, on multiple grounds, including health, economics, the environment, and simple human interaction? Please at least consider that possibility.


Car War (So-Called)
Bill Hamilton,

I’m not a biker, although I probably should be. I eschew the Blue and Orange Metro lines and drive from southwest. where I live, to McPherson Square, where I work, most days and don’t feel a bit of pressure or pain from the experience. One big exception is the block in front of the Willard Hotel, where the city seems to have surrendered the entire turf to limo drivers, cabbies, and tour buses. Sometimes I even find parking on the street near my office and save on parking. I no longer need a sack of quarters, thanks to ParkMobile — a Fenty-Gray innovation that is certainly pro-car and driver.

Bike lanes take some getting used to, but if they take others like me off the streets that’s not a bad thing. Parking lot owners and AAA have always been serious players in DC affairs. Have they given up the fight? We probably should cut some slack for delivery vehicles and UPS trucks, but it is hard to feel much sympathy for tax-sheltered suburbanites who are zombies by the time they hit town from jammed-up I-66 or 270, who don’t like it when they get a photo-citation for speeding down New York or Connecticut Avenue or K Street and who think our bike lanes are the problem, not part of the solution.


Car War: Bicyclists Are Winning?
Richard Layman,

Considering the fact that two days ago, a motor vehicle operator blithely turned left (the infraction would be called "failure to yield the right of way") across my bike lane into the 7-11 at 7th and Rhode Island Avenue NW, and I thought this was too close obviously, since I quickly braked and flipped over my handlebars, and the retired police officer driving that car (DC plate DP 0020, a dark PT Cruiser) didn’t give a damn about what he did — said as a (now retired) police officer he broke the law all the time — I would argue that it’s far too early to claim that sustainable mobility (walking, biking, and transit) is by any way shape or form "winning" any purported battle against the cars. In short Harry Jaffe is full of it. (And I find it hard to believe he rides a bike at 25 mph too).

Basically what people like you call a "war" is about rebalancing access to streets. For the last eighty years, automobile traffic has been prioritized and privileged. Now, the use of this precious space is being shared or balanced across multiple modes. And automobile operators using war terminology are focused on the loss of space to which they’ve enjoyed privileged access. But access to this space is a privilege, neither a right nor an entitlement. In the city more than 50 percent of daily trips are performed via walking, biking, and transit, without the use of a car. You call it a war, those of us advocating sustainable mobility look at it in terms of providing better access to all users of the streets.

In any case, it bothers me greatly that much of this discussion ignores the urban design history of the city. DC (look up "Pierre L’Enfant" for more information) was designed during the Walking City era (1800-1890) and therefore the street network and organization of the city was designed to optimize walking. During the Streetcar City era (1890-1920), this same design was equally supportive of transit and biking. The city’s urban design hasn’t changed significantly from those patterns in the ninety years since (except on the very edge of the city in a couple places — like North Portal Estates). [See Muller, P.O. "Transportation and urban form: Stages in the spatial evolution of the American metropolis," in Susan Hanson and Genevieve Giuliano, eds., The Geography of Urban Transportation (New York: Guilford Press, 3rd rev. ed., 2004), pp. 59-85.]

So the reality is that the city is still physically designed to optimize walking, biking, and transit. And all the bellowing in the world won’t change that. And frankly, motor vehicle operators, if they were smarter about representing their interests, should be foremost at promoting sustainable modes, if only to selfishly reduce the number of people competing with them for parking spaces and to get from place to place — key choke points that exist in the road network mean that even small amounts of traffic can have cascading negative effects on motor vehicle throughput (sadly including buses, e.g., the other day going northbound on 7th Street, traffic stuck in the intersection at Rhode Island didn’t hinder me on a bike, but did prevent the Express Bus from making it through the intersection; even going uphill on Georgia Avenue I beat this bus by many blocks to the Petworth Metro Station at New Hampshire Avenue).

[Actually, Richard’s account of the transportation history of DC is seriously flawed. It’s true that DC’s streets were laid out before the invention of automobiles (and also of bicycles), but that doesn’t mean that walking was the sole, or even the primary, means of transportation, especially for destinations further than the immediate neighborhood. The primary mode of transportation then, as it had been for several previous centuries, was horses and carriages. Cars replaced horses and carriages because they had several advantages — they were cleaner, much less noisy, not as smelly, and much less expensive and troublesome to maintain. But cars could be easily accommodated on the streets of DC because the streets had already been designed to accommodate horses and carriages. — Gary Imhoff]


Car War
Carole Jacobs,

The claim that "Chevy Chase in a neighborhood where residents can’t get to anything without driving . . . ." [themail, March 6] is nonsense. From the Friendship Heights Metro Station to Nebraska and Oregon is nine minutes for a nice old lady on a bike. If her knees were not so bad, she could walk it in a half hour. People often think they "need" cars when in fact they have just thought about alternatives.


Misinformation and the Zoning Rewrite
Marilyn Simon,

Misinformation about what the Office of Planning is proposing in the Zoning Rewrite still seems to be a major problem. This is understandable inasmuch as zoning regulations are complex and there are many protections in the current regulations that we take for granted. The OP proposal consists of approximately nine hundred pages of new text, making comparisons with the current regulations difficult. Recently, a Ward 3 ANC passed a resolution in supporting OP’s entire 900-page draft zoning code. Yet, looking at the resolution, it was clear that whoever drafted the resolution was not familiar with what is actually being changed.

The resolution ( included the following statement: "Whereas the December 2012 draft of the zoning update requires set-asides for car sharing, updates bike parking requirements, and does not modify parking minimums for large apartment buildings outside of transit zones so that the proposal will not adversely impact the availability of on-street parking;" Yet, in fact, a careful review of the current regulations and the December 2012 draft document on the OP web-site shows that OP is proposing to drastically reduce minimum parking requirements outside of transit zones for multifamily housing with more than ten units, as well as for schools and retail and service uses. Also, outside of transit zones, minimum parking requirements are eliminated for multifamily housing with ten or fewer units, and single family housing.

As an example, under the current regulations, an apartment building with 107 units in a moderate to medium density zone (such as C-2-A or C-3-A) would be required to have one space for every two units, or 54 parking spaces for 107 units. Under the proposed regulations, if that apartment building is outside of the transit zones, it would be required to have only one space for every four units over 9 units, or 25 parking spaces for 107 apartments at a location that is at least a half-mile from Metro and a quarter-mile from a high service bus corridor. The statement that OP has not modified parking minimums for apartment buildings outside of transit zones is clearly false. By contrast, the Arlington County (Va.) Zoning Ordinance requires 1.125 spaces for each of the first two hundred housing units in multifamily housing, and one space for each additional housing unit. The same 107 unit building in Arlington County would be required to have 120 parking spaces, except as approved as part of a site plan review. A comparison of the minimum parking requirements for other uses outside of transit zones shows substantial changes in most of the requirements.

ANC 3B’s original draft resolution included the following statement: "Whereas the December 2012 draft of the zoning update does not modify parking minimums outside of transit zones so that the proposal will not adversely impact the availability of on-street parking." David Alpert, who is active in supporting OP’s recommendations, made a partial correction of the statement in the Glover Park ANC’s resolution on his blog, Alpert’s (incomplete) correction was: "In the interests of full accuracy, it’s not strictly true that the update ‘does not modify parking minimums outside of transit zones,’ since new residential buildings of up to 10 units won’t have parking minimums even outside transit zones." However, his partial correction demonstrates that, in spite of his vocal support for the ZRR proposals, David Alpert apparently is unaware of the large reduction in the parking requirements for schools, retail, service uses, and for multifamily housing with more than ten units outside of transit zones and he is apparently unaware of the change in the parking requirements for churches, hospitals, hotels, entertainment, assembly and performing arts (most of which seem to be major reductions in the requirements, but OP has not provided any information to allow for a comparison of the current and proposed requirements for those uses.)

The ANC resolution also describes the nine-hundred-page document as simplified, offering clear rules that can be followed by the average resident and enabling the zoning code to be transparent and accessible to all. Since the current minimums are in a simple table in the parking chapter, this confusion about whether the rules have changed outside transit zones might indicate that the new regulations are not so simple and easy to use. But the clarity of the nine-hundred-page document is a matter of opinion, and some might find it simpler than the current regulations. So rather than rely on what one has heard, I suggest that neighbors download the document and decide for themselves.


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