Changes incoming!

There are a lot of changes about to happen here!

First, as you’ve probably not noticed since I hadn’t updated in two years and nobody that used to visit probably does visit anymore, there’s an entirely new look to the website! I’m still messing with templates and getting it how I want, but it’s been fun.

The reason for the change is that the purpose of this site is changing. It used to be just a personal site where I could post whatever random things I felt like posting. Really, there’s enough social media now that’s taken over that role. Even the random image page I used to have is now done by tumblr. Before those websites existed, then it made sense to have a site like this used to be, but now it really doesn’t.

So what do I do with this domain and blog? Well, I decided to start actually writing about my newest insane goal:
In five-six years I want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.

One Monday, I’ll be getting into my new writing schedule so I’ll start with explaining the process and what I’m doing, but in the meantime:
Title suggestions wanted!

This blog was named back when it was about me commuting into the city every day, and when I just liked it as a general name for a general blog. But it doesn’t at all convey what I’m doing with it now, so I need something else. Thoughts? I’d like to have something new for the first major post on Monday.

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Short people represent!

So, according to The Express (who I think lifted the story from their parent paper, The Washington Post) metro is testing out different styles of straps and handles on the metro trains for short people.

Now, the article says that they are testing these on the orange and red lines, and have been for a bit of time. Seeing as how I ride both the orange and red lines every day, twice a day you would think I would have run into these by now. But I haven’t seen a single one of them and now I’m on the lookout for them.

I can’t believe it’s take Metro this long to figure this out. I’ve been consistently frustrated with the trains since I started riding in April because I’m just barely too short to reach the overhead bars at all. If I’m not near a vertical bar, then I can’t stand there. I know some people have the balance to not hang onto things, but I’m not one of those people.

So I’ve had a few extremely frustrating moments trying to find a place to stand where I can reach, but at the same time trying to be one of the only people who actually tries to move away from the doors after boarding. What is especially bothersome is the new metro cars, which have a lot fewer vertical bars to hang onto. I end up getting on those and trying to wedge myself towards a wall or something solid just to try to stay upright.

Now, the handles that are in most of the buses I ride aren’t actually that useful either, but at least they’re something and if Metro actually put these in it would make it easier for me to move away from the crowds and find a place to stand. I do encourage them to get the metal handles instead because the cloth straps would need replacing so much faster, and would end up getting a little stained and funky if the carpets on the metro are any indication.

If this would make people actually move towards the center of the car like the benevolent voice tells you to, then my commute would be so much easier.

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I brake for everything

I’m starting to believe that they use my bus route to train new bus drivers. Why? Because whenever I get used to seeing one driver, there’s a different one the next week, for one. But the other thing is that just when the ride starts to smooth out, I’m back to being jerked around all over the bus.

I know it can’t be easy to drive a city bus, I understand that. But one of these days somebody is going to get whiplash or just get straight thrown out of their seat from the way the bus drivers hit their brakes so hard. Not to mention that it’s not just slamming their brakes, it’s brake-pause-brake-pause-brake-pause-stop. You get jerked all over the place.

I get a little bit of that from the bus that I take to work, but the more experienced drivers that I recognize don’t do it as badly, that’s why I think it might be that I’m on a training route or something.

The metro trains do the same thing sometimes, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how to avoid it. Is it because I tend to sit in the first or second car? Is it because of bad driving? Is it because they speed and it’s the only way for them to slow down and not overshoot the platform?

Of course, it is possible that this is the way these people drive their regular cars too, I’ve been running into that some lately. Whatever happened to the slow steady brake? I thought that was how you’re supposed to stop.

I never used to get motion sickness, but this is starting to test my stomach’s patience.

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Recycling?

Dear Metro,

The other day in the express you had a letter talking about how much you’re doing for the environment. Kudos, I’m glad most of the buses in the metro fleet are running on alternative fuels. I’m also glad that having viable public transportation gets so many people out of their cars so that the pollution is that much less.

But there was one note that made me raise an eyebrow. You say that Metro has helped recycle so many thousands of newspapers.

Then why, sir, have I seen Metro employees emptying the newspaper recycling bins into the trash cans or into the same bins as they empty the trash? If this had only happened once I would think maybe it was a lazy employee, but this has been a couple times now.

If you don’t want to recycle my newspaper, then fine. I’ll cart it home and put it in the bin there, and hope that my county offices aren’t lying about recycling. But please don’t say you’re doing one thing and do another.

And if it’s a few employees that are doing this when they aren’t supposed to, please ask them to stop. I don’t really like the implications of having a physical paper every day in the first place, so making me feel like I’m not even recycling it is just worse.

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Thanks for the consideration…

A brief rundown of my daily commute:

1. I catch a bus near my home and ride to the metro stop ($1, 30 minutes).
2. I catch a train to Metro Center and then switch to another line, getting off a few stops later ($3.55, 1 hour).
3. I catch a shuttle from the metro to my work (Free, 10-15 minutes).
4. Work through the day, then catch the shuttle back to metro (Free, 10-15 minutes).
5. Metro back home, ($3.55, 1 hour).
6. Bus to home ($0.35 transfer fare, 30 minutes if I can catch the right bus).

So the total here in time is 3.5 or so hours, depending on delays and missed connections and $8.45 per day. One day a week, because of the timing, I need to park at the metro station, which is $4.50 extra. But on those days, I ride at reduced fare, which is $2.35, meaning one day a week I pay $9.20. Notice that I pay the most on days when I do not take the bus and ride on a “reduced” fare.

In other words, parking is so high at the metro station that I pay $0.75 more to park for one day than I do for two peak time rides and two bus trips.

All in all, I am giving my commute $43 per week, $172 per month. Having a friend give me a ride home a few days a week is saving me 35 cents once in a while, but let’s just say that all in all, my SmarTrip card is being tapped for $170 per month on average.

I am pointing this out because I would like to say how absolutely ridiculous it is that Metro offers absolutely no manner of discounts except for Senior Citizens. I’m not saying that senior citizens aren’t worthy, in fact I’m happy that they do get a benefit.

I’m just trying to point out that if Metro really wanted to get more people to ride, if D.C. really cared about reducing traffic, and if all those people talking the talk actually cared about the environment then there would be more ways to save money by riding the Metro.

I’m going to let my number sink in for you again: almost $200 a month. That’s 50 gallons of gas, which in my car would be over 1,000 miles on the highway. Is it still cheaper for me to metro than drive? Well, probably because traffic is just that darn terrible and I’d have to pay to park in the city. But I shouldn’t have to do complicated math problems to figure out if I’m saving money.

The metro should always be cheaper than driving. It shouldn’t be “maybe” it shouldn’t be “kind of” and I should have to try to factor in some obscure assumption about the value of the wear and tear on my vehicle.

I’m a student. I work for a really large educational institution. I take public transit on code red air quality days. And there is only one single possible way for me to save any money on Metro fare: SmartBenefits.

On Code Red days I save my bus fare but still have to pay full price for the Metro. Every day I catch a shuttle that is run for free by my workplace, and it’s more reliable by far. But the only way for me to save any money on Metro is to still pay that money to ride, but get it taken out of my paycheck pre-tax.

Oh, and the maximum allowed pre-tax is only $110, which doesn’t really come close to covering my monthly travel expenses.

Yes, it’s nice for that money to get taken out pre-tax, but why exactly does Metro think that is the only bone they need to throw to us? Why don’t they offer discounted passes that we could buy a week or a month at a time for a lower rate? Why don’t they offer student passes? Why can’t they offer off-peak rates all day on Code Red days?

I know that on the one hand, it’s because the Metro is losing money, and they do need money for maintenance and expansion, as I’ve already posted how in favor I am of the Silver Line. But the fact is if there was a student discount, more students would ride. If there were discounts for frequent riders, people would ride more frequently.

It’s a basic thing you learn in retail: offer somebody 10% off and they’ll spend 20% more. Plus, if I wasn’t paying them so much I would be more forgiving of things like how they can’t seem to keep the orange line from delaying at least once a day. I wouldn’t be so cranky about the fact that the escalators are broken about half the time, or the giant floods that happen at the bus entrance at West Falls Church whenever it sprinkles. And perhaps people would get so angry and start saying “where is all my money going anyway” and calling for a massive audit of the metro’s books.

But instead, it really is so expensive that even I am sitting here wondering where my money is going, and that doesn’t really happen to me very often.

How about it metro, maybe help students out a bit? Or at least pretend to care about Code Red days?

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Thanks Metro

So, in the last two weeks there have been two major, major problems on the Orange Line. Specifically on the leg of the Orange Line that I ride every day.

Last Wednesday, I got an alert during the height of the storms that said the line was “terminating at East Falls Church.” Which was a bit of a disappointment because well, that’s not my stop. Yesterday, I got alerts that there were major delays and shuttle bus service due to a “malfunction” at Court House.

But this isn’t going to be about me griping about the delays in my travel. In fact, I only have one gripe about both instances, and that’s the flow of information. I get the emails from Metro, but for some reason they’re unable to send text messages to my phone. Only email enabled phones can get alerts from Metro, and honestly, that’s technology they should have had by now. So once I leave for work, or leave work, I’m stuck relying on the overhead announcements for news. And the train car I was in yesterday I could hear that they were announcing something, just not what it was. So it just would be nice to have a little more knowledge.

It also would be nice not to read about what happened on the Express the next morning. The problem during the storms? Power lines across the tracks. I’m willing to let a lot of inconvenience go in order to avoid power lines so just tell me. Yesterday? I knew before I left work that it was a train derailment, but only because a co-worker saw a report on the local news station’s website.

Most people trying to board the orange line had no idea what was going on. I see in my email today that there were shuttle services that probably would have been a great solution for everybody but saying “shuttle service is available” on the sign doesn’t really tell anybody anything. Say “Shuttle service from Foggy Bottom to Virginia Square is available to anyone, buses leave ever 10 minutes.” Nice, concise, contains relevant information.

All that said, there was no need for me to bother with the shuttles. I arrived at my stop only 15 minutes after I normally do, and really, I wouldn’t call that a major delay. Even though I’m a slave to the bus schedule because I don’t drive to the metro most days, I can say 15 minutes is no hardship. I had three perfectly good options at that point for getting home.

So this is what I’m getting at: good job WMATA. It can’t be easy to deal with down power lines or derailed cars on your busiest line, during peak times. Especially since yesterday was a code red day and more people were on public transit. But neither one of these things actually caused me any problems, in the end, because they were cleared up so quickly. I left work a little later than usual during the storms so the line continued right on to my stop without a delay. And as I pointed out, fifteen minutes late is no big deal when you also consider that a train derailed right before rush hour.

Perhaps if I had been on the trains earlier, I would be more upset about the whole thing, but really the fact that both of these things happened with no injuries and the delays didn’t cascade to ruin the entire day? Thanks, WMATA. I’ll continue to gladly ride every day, wish I could hear the conductor’s announcements more than half the time.

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What’s this wet stuff?

I don’t know how or when it happened, but at some point everybody that lives in the D.C. Metro area lost their ability to deal with any kind of precipitation. I realized this when I was just driving, because the roads suddenly clogged and everybody either slowed down to 25 miles per hour, or they sped up and put everybody’s lives in danger. Nobody was going cautiously but not impeding traffic.

Today I realized that public transit doesn’t know how to deal with it either. Now, normally I’m not all that grumpy about a little bit of rain while I wait for the bus. But the storm that’s blowing through right now is very cold, very windy, and very very wet. So I just wasn’t in the mood this morning.

Since my umbrella turned inside out before I got twenty feet from my front door, I though maybe I could walk to a nearby bus stop that had a shelter instead of standing at the curb like I usually do. But I racked my brain and couldn’t come up with a shelter on the right side of the road within walking distance. By the time I could have gotten to one, I would have been just as soaked as if I had waited.

Once the bus arrives, I have to hope that it’s a bus driver who actually waits for people to sit down before he pulls away. Two or three times a week I end up falling into my seat because the driver is in such a hurry. But when you couple that with the fact that the floors are soaking wet, then it’s a recipe for disaster.

While I’m discussing the floors, exactly why are bus floors all designed the way they are? It’s like they’re making a show of being anti-slip, but in fact they’re designed like a runway for your shoes. When you add water to the mix, it just gets dangerous.

Every other bus has some problem with the windshield wipers. They seem to actually get rid of the water, but in this erratic way that makes me think they’re about thirty seconds from stopping.

It all makes me wonder what the bus system in Seattle is like. Where do they stash their umbrellas? How do they keep from getting the seats wet when the people in raincoats sit down? Are they smart enough to make sure the bus windows don’t leak and spray water on the commuters?

Do they have rugs on the bus so people don’t slide around?

I won’t even get into how the metro train had two seats out of commission because they were covered in water (how does that even happen) or that flooding made delays on the orange and blue lines this morning.

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Step back, doors closing.

In Japan, they have these men on the train platforms with white gloves whose sole job is to cram as many people onto the trains as possible.

Today was probably the first time in my life that I really wished that somebody was shoving me to get somewhere faster. Because if somebody had shoved me from behind, then I wouldn’t have held the guilt from being impolite and shoving the businessmen in front of me.

I don’t understand what it is about the metro that makes people suddenly approach the speed of bored cows. It doesn’t matter what’s happening, getting on the train, getting off the train, funneling onto or off of escalators…there are only two speeds possible for commuters.

People are either shuffling and looking disinterested (or possibly lost, but those are tourists, and I mostly forgive them) or running and shoving others. Neither of these behaviors is really good for the flow of traffic. What happened to knowing where you were going and just GETTING there?

What especially irks me is that these people who are shuffling and trying to look bored then stand two inches from the edge of the platform, or subtly push in front of you when it comes time to board the train. I queue up politely, but I’m not going to stand at the edge of the platform because the next unenthusiastic woman in expensive shoes is liable to shove me off in front of a passing train (without looking up from her book club selection). So every day about three people get in front of me despite how long I’ve been standing and waiting.

Normally, this isn’t a problem, I don’t really care as long as I’m on the train.

Except this morning, I arrived at the platform about three minutes before the train did. No problem there, that’s what you get when you have to transfer trains. But the problem here was that for some reason, a minute before the train arrived a huge glut of businessmen arrived at the platform.

This morning, the businessmen were making such a big show of being disenchanted with the world around them, absorbed in their newspapers and far too good to do mundane things like care about the metro train. So they shuffled slowly into the car, leaving me standing on the platform waiting. The overhead voice asked them to please move to the center of the car. They shuffled. They stood. They made it onto the train and continued to read, oblivious to the people waiting behind them.

The door dinged that it was closing as I was stepping across into the train. I’ve actually been two or three steps away when it dinged before and still made it on just fine, but this time the guy in the suit in front of me stopped moving. He got on board the train and just stopped dead.

So I have a split second of trying to decide if I’m going to shove him, or if he’ll remember he’s supposed to get out of my way, and the doors close on me. As in I’m standing in the center of them, desperate to get onto the train and unable to move because this guy (who never turned around, glanced my direction, or too his eyes off his precious Washington Post) couldn’t imagine that maybe I didn’t want to get bruised by the door slamming on me repeatedly.

I don’t care how much you think you’re above the commute that you’re on, you’re not above your fellow passengers. Get out of their way, get where you’re going, and then maybe everybody will be much happier.

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Does nobody understand the Dulles Metro Extension?

In the past month, I’ve been spending three to four hours of every day on public transit. I bounce from the Fairfax Connector to the Metrorail system, to the University shuttle. It’s thrilling, let me tell you.

So you can imagine that the proposed “Silver Line” extension that would bring the metrorail to Dulles is of a great deal of importance to me. The bus is the most obnoxious section of my commute, and the proposed Wiehle Avenue stop is so very convenient.

Of course, even though it’s in phase one of the construction, said stop will not be operational until 2012 at the very earliest (I’m betting on 2020 myself). But none of that mattered when the Federal government threatened to completely bury the project by denying it’s funding several months ago. Of course, the news now is different: funding for the planning stages is back on but funding for construction remains under consideration.

Unlike some, I don’t care why the feds reconsidered their decision, I’m just thrilled that they did. This extension is desperatly needed, and anybody who has had to drive through Tyson’s Corner can recognize that. The only road I’ve found that’s worse than Route 7 is 95, and honestly, I don’t think there’s any saving 95.

Route 7 is a horrible mass of traffic, bumper to bumper road rage inducing idiots with SUVs. People at my office don’t really understand that most of the reason that I don’t drive to work isn’t to avoid traffic in the district, it’s to avoid traffic in Tyson’s Corner.

So I’ll be honest, the thing that annoys me most right now is people saying stupid things about the project. People who are saying, “they’ve been trying this for years and it hasn’t happened yet, why are they still trying.” Because there’s still a need.

The people who are saying, “the orange line already has a lot of passengers, we shouldn’t overtax it.” This is very true, I am baffled by how crowded the orange line is every morning. But according to the map I just downloaded on The Dulles Metro website, the Silver Line will be running through Rosslyn, so riders on the Silver Line will be evenly distributed between the orange and blue lines, I think. Personally, I’ll just be on one of the two for a few stops before I get to Metro Center. There will be kinks in the system, yes. There’s plenty of kinks in the orange line right now, but I think that the need far outweighs the challenge.

But this is the thing that bothered me the most, as I read my copy of The Express. In an article about the metro’s funding approval, a blogger is quoted as saying: This project will only bring rail to Reston. For $900 million in Federal money, decades of planning and promises, speculative development based on proposed stations, and repeated harangues from community leaders Loudoun will get exactly nothing from this deal, except perhaps even more traffic.”

Could somebody explain to me, exactly and in detail, how someone would expect to build anything connected to the District out to Loudoun without first going through Reston/Fairfax County? The railway has to serve Tyson’s Corner, and in order to connect Tyson’s with Dulles, going through Reston is only natural. Not to mention the fact that Reston is a bit more populated than people seem to think. Yes, I’m happy that the first phase of the project is bringing the metro to me. Yes, the station on Wiehle is the one I would be utilizing most.

But if the first phase only brought the rail out to Tyson’s Corner, I would STILL be all for it. I would still be cheering it every step of the way because you CAN’T build it to the end without building the middle first. It’s only logical.

I’m also not sure about how this is going to bring more traffic to Loudoun. But I have to remember that the first thing that any resident of Northern Virginia says when they’re in “doom and gloom” mode is that something will increase traffic. It’s their excuse for all of their BANANA behavior.

(For those who don’t obsess about urban planning, BANANA is the extension of the idea of NIMBY, it stands Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).

When a developer wanted to completely reinvent the Vienna Metro station, and create a hub of Transit Oriented Development, all anybody could think was that it would make more traffic. The entire plan was to create a large section of homes within walking distance to the metro station, where people wouldn’t NEED to own cars, and yet people talked about the traffic. They planned to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, but of course everybody was obsessed with parking spaces.

I’m starting to feel like the only person on the planet whose life does not completely revolve around being a car owner. Yes, I have a car. But I gladly leave it parked at my house five days a week. And if I could, I would gladly donate money towards the Silver Line.

Better public transit is a necessity. The Dulles Extension is a well-imagined, well thought out necessity. People desperately need to start supporting it and helping rather than hurting.

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