Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sound and fury

Lively. Intelligent. Contentious. From all quadrants of the District, as well as Maryland and Virginia, came a professor and scientist, a Sierra Club spokesman, students, workers, activists (this being D.C.), and other commuters to the hearing at Metro headquarters regarding the proposed fare increases, a standing-room only affair last night. Oh, and Metro General Manager John Catoe and D.C. council member Jim Graham attended, with Graham moderating; to their credit, both stayed the entire time, almost three hours.

Considering the number of activists from the ANSWER Coalition who spoke (one of whom, Ms. Mills, patiently held a banner until it was almost time for her to speak), and the heated emotions and differing viewpoints present, the proceedings were surprisingly orderly, with fifty (count 'em) people altogether, including moi, who gave testimony.

And what testimony it was! Included with the complaints regarding fare hikes were shoehorned criticism of the war in Iraq, as well as pointed remarks about the appointed, unelected nature of the board. One interesting fact that was justly thrown back in Metro's face was that Metro riders pay the highest percentage of the system cost for rail relative to passengers in other North American cities, so there should be some consideration of that fact in any fare increase that comes down the pike. Mr. Greenberg of gave testimony to the generous indirect subsidy for highway driving as opposed to more meager funding for public transit. A number of speakers spoke to the need for the future, for Metro more aggressively pursuing greater funding from the federal government, as Metro transports many of these employees to work, as well as the need for a dedicated funding source, as Metro is the only major city transportation system lacking one.

Of course, I knew the evening was going to be cooking when, before it even began, one guy from in Montgomery County, MD was passing out flyers which pointed out that it's unfair to raise Metro rates without increasing the gasoline tax as well.

Whew! I'm just coming up for air now...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sparks will fly...

After complaints by Metro that the first of its meetings regarding proposed fare increases was sparsely attended (what did it expect when it scheduled one in Reston, a location which barely has Metrobus service?), it has publicized tonight's meeting at Metro headquarters, near the Verizon Center. This one should have reasonable attendance, with the extra publicity boost; I might attend just to see if it's better attended than one I went to earlier this year. (Metro frankly doesn't publicize its hearings far enough in advance, and could use a communications department that knows how to use eye-catching graphics in its posters and other methods of communication.)

The need for rate increases because of rising costs must be balanced with Metro's goal of getting some suburbanites out of their cars; if the price rise is too steep, many current riders may decide to drive into town, which would be a tragedy all around.

Can't Tell Me Nothin'

What a shame about Kanye West's mom's untimely death, all for cosmetic surgery, for someone who didn't appear to need any, as she appeared youthful. (And the weeks in recovery from plastic surgery are the same number of weeks that hitting the weights in the gym might have toned a tummy up instead of getting a tuck.) The irony is that this incident spotlighted a trait which served Donda West well most of her life, her stubbornness (which Kanye obviously inherited), but which turned on her in her insistence on having surgery even after her initial (apparently honest) surgeon balked at performing it at the time. (So, apparently Kanye's not the only one in his family who can't be told nothin.')

Some good may yet come out of this tragedy, if only because it may snap folks into remembering that plastic surgery is actual surgery, with all its attendant risks. Also, it's bizarre that Dr. Jan Adams could have a Beverly Hills practice, and programs on cable, but not be board certified? (Which means that much of his affluent clientele and cheerleaders never bothered to take a close look at his credentials, such as they were, even boosters such as Oprah, who's having a run of problems herself lately.)

* * *

Unfortunately, such focus on the death of a celebrity's mom has eclipsed reflection on the lives of luminaries who have recently deceased, such as the late Congressman Augustus "Gus" Hawkins, one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus and a champion of civil rights, who recently passed away. (He had recently celebrated his 100th birthday.) Oh, the things he must have seen and experienced in this past, free-flying century.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Green Capital?

Like many other areas, the Washington, DC region is its own set of paradoxes. By some measures, the area is one of the "greenest" in the nation, with the greatest number of Prius owners, etc. (although the high Prius ownership is due, in large part, to the ridiculous [and now former] Virginia law which permitted hybrid vehicles to use the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, even when the driver was the sole passenger, which negated the purpose of having HOV lanes)!

Other environmental factors typical in America are true for the D.C. area. Our notorious air quality problems, for instance, partly stem from the fact that, like the rest of the nation, much of our electricity comes from coal. (A peek at the periodic PEPCO statements, which inconspicuously mention the sources of the electricity generated, tells the story.)

The traffic conundrum will take many steps to fix, and attitudes to change. Certainly, Metro's management needs to return to its senses and remember that one of Metro's original goals was to encourage suburbanites to leave their cars behind; thus, its proposed rate increases must not be too drastic, so as not to drive us away.

Another piece of the traffic puzzle, proposed for a different city might help D.C. if proposed and approved. (Dream on!) Bloomberg's suggestion of a congestion tax for Manhattan might work in D.C., if...only because the number of lone drivers coming to D.C. to work from Maryland is staggering. When I used to take the marathon 30-bus route into D.C., countless times I noticed, almost to a car, individual drivers sitting in traffic, which can't be a good thing for air quality. As many of these folk are headed to a relatively small geographical area, and Washington is a city with a huge percentage of suburbanites coming into the city, second only to New York City, our current traffic situation is a tragecomedy. More realistic proposed solutions, such as extending the Maryland Rail Commuter line (MARC) to weekend hours--a long overdue change--might take a decade or more to implement!

Sure, events like the recent Green Festival are fantastic, and a great starting point for getting ideas and encouragement in living a more environmentally friendly fashion (this year's unofficial green festival theme seemed to emphasize local living, with panels on subjects such as funding local businesses, which had Cakelove owner Warren Brown sharing the stage with local lenders, how to install your own green options, etc.), but it's everyday living patterns that will improve the quality of life, and make everyone's space greener.