What Would Make Your Commute Better?

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Vice-President Biden at the event 'Fix My Commute'Jeff Bezos‘ $250 million purchase of The Washington Post in 2014 changed the direction of the newspaper in some fairly significant ways. Among them: The Posts’s focus became less local and more global, it began expanding digital access dramatically (promoted by the Kindle, of course), and started spending some serious cash on events.

One of these events is the America Answers series. Begun in 2014, it is intended to showcase the ways people are solving some of America’s biggest problems, such as commuting. To that end, America Answers’ Fix My Commute event will take place for the second time this October.  Last year the forum took place in Washington D.C.’s Studio Theatre, and it was apparent from the catered lunch and generous swag bag that the Post had committed some serious money to it. Vice-President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker, and I was lucky enough to literally be within spitting-distance of him (see above).

The Post wants your participation before this year’s October 21 Fix My Commute forum. It is soliciting comments via the Dr. Gridlock column, or you can tweet comments or questions before-hand using the #americaanswers hashtag. Last year’s event resulted in a ton of new content for the Washington Post web site, as well as useful data for geeks like me. It was also live broadcast over the Web, and should be this year as well.

Photo by the author

Uber’s Plan for Self-Driving Cars Will Make its Taxi Disruption Look Quaint by Comparison

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab. Reprinted by GovTech.]

Uber's CEO Travis KalanickUber has fundamentally changed the taxi industry. But its biggest disruption may be yet to come.

The ride-hailing company has invested in autonomous-vehicle research, and its CEO Travis Kalanick (pictured above) has indicated that consumers can expect a driverless Uber fleet by 2030. Uber expects its service to be so inexpensive and ubiquitous as to make car ownership obsolete. Such ambitious plans could make its disruption of the taxi industry look quaint in comparison.

Uber operates in about 60 countries and 300 cities worldwide. Consumers and Wall Street adore the “gig economy” company, which is worth more than $50 billion, and got to that mark in nearly half the time as Facebook.

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When ‘To Protect and Serve’ Becomes ‘To Shame and Ridicule’

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NYC HomelessThe disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” is perhaps nowhere more striking than in New York City. One end of the economic spectrum is best symbolized by the array of new condominium skyscrapers reshaping the city’s skyline (top price, $95 million). Pan down 1,000 feet or so, and the economics shift just as precipitously. At street level, huddled in doorways or sleeping on park benches, are the city’s poorest of the poor. New York’s homeless population is at an all-time high, at around 59,000. New Yorkers’ reactions have ranged from concerned to outraged.

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has been the recipient of most of the ire over this issue, since homelessness spiked on his watch. But it is the recent actions of the police that have come under fire of late. In a bizarre attempt to draw attention to minor law infractions or signs of disorder (the so-called “broken window” theory of policing), police in New York posted hundreds of photographs of homeless people onto a Flickr account (since removed) titled “Peek-a-Boo.”

The New York Post seems to be the only news outlet that reacted positively to the police’s actions, calling the city’s homeless, many of whom are mentally ill, “vagrants” and “bums,” and intimating that their “quality of life crimes” were deserving of public ridicule. The rest of the sensible media recognized the police’s actions for what they were: an insensitive shaming that further ostracizes a marginalized class of people, and another misstep by police who are quickly gaining a reputation as bullies rather than protectors.

Photo by Flickr User Paolo Margori

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Embassy Row in Dupont Circle

Washington D.C.’s recent renaissance probably doesn’t include the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Dupont has been an attractive place to live since the 1970s, when the neighborhood (in decline after World War II and the 1968 riots) was revitalized by gay and lesbian urban pioneers. Along with other neighborhoods like West Hollywood, Chicago’s Boystown, and Greenwich Village, Dupont Circle became nationally known as a gay neighborhood, in large part defining gay identity and culture in America. Today, gentrification has made the neighborhood more mainstream, and you’re more likely to find a pour-over coffee shop or yoga studio in Dupont Circle than a gay bar.

According to Zillow, rents in Dupont are slightly over the median for the city, and housing values, while high, lag those of hotter neighborhoods like U Street and Logan Circle. MWCOG’s Activity Centers project determined that Dupont Circle is the most walkable neighborhood in D.C. (and WalkScore concurs). Dupont’s terrific walkability is not only because the neighborhood is mixed-use, but also because the numerous transportation options — Metro, Capital Bikeshare, and Circulator, among them — make owning a car unnecessary.

Photo of the Dupont Circle neighborhood by Paul Goddin.

New Research Reveals the Cost of Sprawl to Municipal Coffers

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

A suburban development

Ever since the Roman Empire, local governments have had great control over land use. Today, this control is exerted through zoning regulations, tax policies, and infrastructure-investment decisions. Municipalities can choose to develop in an unconnected, low-density, suburban-style manner, or they can consider more compact, connected urban land uses.

These decisions have enormous implications for a municipality’s finances, according to a new report from non-profit Smart Growth America and real-estate advisory firm RCLCO.

The report, The Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns, is authored by Smart Growth America’s Chris Zimmerman and RCLCO’s Lee Sobel. They analyze the dollar costs to municipalities of different land-use patterns, concluding that, overall, dispersed, car-dependent land use patterns result in higher costs to municipalities than dense, urban development. Choosing sprawl over density, the authors state, could have multimillion-dollar consequences.

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Union Station

Washington D.C.’s Union Station, in addition to being a major train hub and leisure destination, is the busiest Metrorail station in Washington’s system. Customers may exit directly to the Amtrak and MARC train platforms, or, as pictured here, onto street level in front of the station’s entrance. Trivia: This shot of Union Station can be seen at the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Strangers on a Train (1951), when the Metro entrance was utilized as a passenger drop-off point for automobiles and taxicabs.