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Showing posts from May, 2011

Not the Best, Not the Worst

Nate Silver has been tracking some heat over a post he wrote last week about the Brookings Institution's study of public transit and access to jobs in metropolitan America. The authors have even gone on record to say that there are fundamental differences between what they studied and what Silver thinks they studied.

(from joiseyshowaa on Flickr)

The trouble, I think, is in the all-too-common interpretation that metro area rankings are lists of 'best' and 'worst'. Silver writes: The report caught my eye because it came to some surprising conclusions. It ranked the top 100 American metropolitan areas on the basis of “access to [public] transit and employment.” I know that I’ve become something of a New York partisan since moving here two years ago, but I was pretty sure that New York was going to rank somewhere near the top of the list, probably along with Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

This seems really strange... I could fathom New York’s being behind Washington — bu…

The Trouble With Home Buying

There's a lot of things I love about DC, but high rent is not one of them. According to Elizabeth Razzi's Washington Post article, DC's price-to-rent ratio is 13, which makes it a favorable market for home buyers. When you think about it, the idea that after 13 years, you'll have spent enough in rent to have paid off an entire home makes buying seem especially lucrative.

(from Mr. T in DC on Flickr)

After I saw a pretty sobering presentation last week about housing in DC, including this graph, which shows the inflation-adjusted median rent in the district, I crunched the numbers, but the result wasn't especially encouraging.

Consider a hypothetical young couple. They both have modest careers and earn $100,000 a year, combined. Using the traditional 30% metric, they can afford to pay up to $2,500 on rent and utilities per month. It also means they could afford monthly mortgage payments for a house that costs roughly $350,000 (the exact price depends on the interest rat…

State of the Blog

As you may have noticed, the frequency of posting here has fallen off a bit in the past few weeks. About a month ago I started a big freelance project that wound up taking significantly more hours than I'd initially estimated. Most of those hours traded-off with the time I would have spent blogging and doing other personal things.

Since late-2008, I've been averaging about 5 posts per week here. And in light of comments that the quality this blog's material has plateaued, I think it makes sense to post less often, but focus on a few longer-term projects - things I've been wanting to do for a while but haven't been able to commit time to. I'm not going away and you can still expect to hear from me here, just not quite as often as you used to.

Maps and Reality

David Alpert recently linked to a study which shows that people make travel decisions based on the scale of maps, even when doing so doesn't make otherwise rational sense. Personally, I don't particularly like maps that distort distance. I think there's some evidence that the DC Metro map does just that, like it or not.

(from OZinOH on Flickr)

Consider these few examples.

When traveling from Arlington, what's the best way to get to Dupont Circle? The obvious choice is to take the Orange/Blue line to Metro Center, transfer to the Red Line, and get off at the Dupont Circle station. But doing so requires unnecessary back-tracking, especially at off-peak times. It's nearly as easy to get off at Farrugut West and walk north along 18th Street. Of course, only someone well-versed in the local geography would know this.

How about people traveling from East of the River to see a ballgame at Nats Park? They could take the Orange/Blue lines to L'Enfant Plaza, transfer to the …

Sometimes You Get What You Pay For

I've never been entirely sure how to feel about Fair-Trade coffee products. In theory, it all sounds well and good, but I've never really been convinced that the movement achieves the goal it sets out to achieve. Several times in the past, I've been in the awkward position of choosing between a coffee that I really want, or another "certified" Fair-Trade coffee that doesn't seem quite as appealing.

(from colleen_taugher on Flickr)

Cuppa Joel, my favorite DC coffee roaster, offers an interesting perspective:
...Fair-Trade coffee also presents a number of drawbacks, such as lack of information and lower quality beans. Because certification is only available to relatively large cooperatives, specific details about individual lots of coffee are generally sparse. And, while farmers may participate in a fair-trade coop, they may not sell all their coffee through the coop.

For high-quality growers, they can often fetch a higher price on the specialty market than the set…

The Parking Gamble

I’ve been thinking about parking a lot since I listened to some very smart people discussing it on Kojo the other day. I think Donald Schoup’s argument against free parking is, economically speaking, very compelling. Yet, no matter how well articulated, you just can’t convince people that getting rid of free parking is anything other than the worst idea in the world. What gives?

(from lodev on Flickr)

City parking is a lot like playing the lottery. It’s a loser’s game, for the most part. But occasionally, if you play enough, you win; and winning the parking lottery sure feels good. I don’t think that people misjudge the value of good street parking spaces. They know they’re highly valuable, and that’s why it’s so exciting to get one. It’s one of the few opportunities in life to truly get something for nothing.

Last winter a few friends and I went to a party in Dupont Circle at 10pm on a Saturday night. Parking in that neighborhood is “free” at that time of night, and there wasn’t a spot …

Not-So-Bad Commutes

Back in March I started a new job in DC, which effectively doubled my daily commute, from 5 to 10 daily round-trip miles. Now, 10 miles round-trip might not sound like much to a lot of people, some would probably even describe it as "short." I've made the trip on bicycle, public transportation and by automobile. Regardless of the mode, the commute is about 60 - 75 minutes back and forth.

(from richardmasoner on Flickr)

The first few weeks, it was just fine; but lately, it's started to get tedious and boring. While I definitely appreciate the extra miles I get in on my bike each week, there are some days I just want to be home and on the couch the moment I leave the office.

The difference isn't insignificant either. Adding 30 minutes to my commute each day means I spend 2.5 extra hours each week, or 10 extra hours each month, just going back and forth from work. It adds up pretty quick.

I know that my commute isn't bad, relatively. I know there are people with unb…

Down an Alley

Last week Darrow Montgomery and Lydia DePillis had a really interesting photo essay and short piece about Washington DC's alleys. It got me thinking about my own experience with these unnamed and relatively unknown roadways. I've been in exactly two alleys in DC - one behind a friend's house near U Street, and another that you have to walk down to get to Well Dressed Burrito.

(from M.V. Jantzen on Flickr)

I think one reason that people don't really know that these spaces exist is because there's very little documentation of them. For example, Google Maps doesn't show alleys among the rest of the streets and avenues in the city. I would never plan to cut through one on my bike because, if I were planning my route on Google, I'd have no idea they are even there.

To help better visualize the locations of DC's alleys, I downloaded some data from the DC Data Catalog and went ahead and put it into this map. I simply highlighted all of the roadways in red that ar…

Hotels and Apartments in DC

Last weekend my parents came to visit DC. They stayed at a luxury hotel downtown for under $100 per night (thanks to Hotwire). In my travels and experience, I've found that DC has some very low hotel rates if you travel on the right dates. In fact, before I moved I stayed at a couple of very nice DC hotels and never paid more than $85 (plus tax) per night for that privilege. It does raise an interesting question though. How can DC, a city which has unbelievably expensive housing, also offer some of the lowest hotel rates around?

(from Dan_DC on Flickr)

The simple answer is supply and demand. DC's hotel market seems to be primarily event driven. There are enough rooms scattered across the city to cover huge events, but on days when there aren't events? Well, there's tons of vacancy and prices are really low.

Demand for DC's hotel rooms tends to fluctuate based on factors like the day of week, time of year, and what events are happening around town. Demand for living in…