Monthly Archives: June 2016

Commuters Need More Public Transit Alternatives to Survive SafeTrack Surge #2

SafeTrack_Surge2Reprinted from Prince George’s Urbanist; by Bradley Heard:

As WMATA begins its 16-day shutdown of all Metrorail service across the Anacostia River, it is hoping that 60-70 percent of its ordinary ridership east of the river will simply abandon the rail transit system in favor of alternative modes of transportation.

That’s not likely to happen, though, unless officials provide more realistic public transit alternatives, such as additional bus shuttles to the Green Line and designated HOV lanes.

This second safety surge of Metro’s yearlong SafeTrack program of major repairs will run through July 3. During that time, Potomac Avenue and Stadium Armory stations on the Orange, Blue, and Silver (OR/BL/SV) lines will be completely closed. That means the approximately 25,000 commuters in Prince George’s County and in DC’s Ward 7 who normally ride those lines will need to find some other way to get to and from downtown Washington and Northern Virginia.

Metro’s website has compiled a detailed list of the current mitigation plans that WMATA, District, and Prince George’s officials have developed. The plans include 40 shuttle buses from Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road to Eastern Market and expanded Metrobus service on several key routes into the District.

That’s a great start. However, officials readily acknowledge that the current mitigation plans are not sufficient to meet existing demands. They have stressed that commuters should avoid the Metrorail system if they can, particularly during peak periods. They suggest telecommuting, carpooling, and bicycling as potential alternatives, in addition to Metrobus.

But not everyone can telecommute or change their work schedules, and it’s unreasonable for officials to expect that employers will allow their workers to stay home for two full work weeks. Similarly, biking and carpooling are often not realistic options for many commuters.

Local Government is Ultimately Responsible for Providing Effective Transit Solutions

Fundamentally, SafeTrack is a public transportation crisis, and it needs a public transportation solution. A mitigation plan that relies on 60-70 percent of the relevant population disappearing from the public transit system for more than two weeks is simply not an adequate or effective plan.

On Thursday, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker rightly chastised the State of Maryland for not doing enough to help mitigate SafeTrack. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn has been noncommittal on what, if any, services and funds the state will offer its DC metro-area counties in connection with these Metro repairs. To be sure, the state’s aloofness in the face of this crisis is troubling. Nevertheless, it can’t absolve the county from taking primary responsibility for providing workable transit solutions.

For its part, WMATA has consistently stressed that it needs the local jurisdictions to share in the pain of SafeTrack by providing additional resources and coordination—including bus support and traffic controls such as HOV lanes. WMATA is already significantly underfunded by the region; therefore, it is not surprising that it has only limited additional resources of its own to provide.

Bottom line: County Executive Baker, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, and their respective transportation departments are principally accountable for ensuring that SafeTrack will not cripple their residents. This is a quintessential local public safety and welfare issue that cannot be delegated to anyone else, including WMATA or the State of Maryland.

We Need Designated HOV/Bus Lanes

Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr

Thus far, Mayor Bowser and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Leif Dormsjo have rejected the idea of establishing temporary bus lanes to facilitate bus bridges across the Anacostia River. They claim that such lanes would require more study and might adversely limit lane capacity for other motorists.

Prince George’s Department of Public Works & Transportation (DPW&T) and the Maryland State Highway Administration are similarly leery of HOV lanes along the county’s arterial roads, according to DPW&T spokesperson Paulette Jones.

This is a transportation emergency that calls for transportation officials to make quick and effective decisions, using the best information they have at the time. There is simply no time to do lengthy transportation studies.

Common sense dictates that the county and the District will need to rely heavily on buses to bridge people around closed Metrorail stations during this safety surge. Accordingly, transportation officials should establish quick ways to move those buses over the roads. The priority should go to buses and carpools, rather than single-occupancy vehicles. Saying that buses will have to wait in traffic is ignoring a problem, not creating a solution.

We Need Better Green Line Connections

Because Prince George’s County’s seven Green Line stations will remain open and running on a normal schedule during this OR/BL/SV line segment shutdown, it makes sense for the county to leverage those stations to the greatest extent possible.

Image by WMATA

Right now, DPW&T has no plans to provide bus shuttle service between the Blue and Green lines in the less affluent central part of the county (e.g., from Addison Road to Suitland).

Yet, on the wealthier northern end of the county, DPW&T has secured 10 charter buses to provide a free shuttle between New Carrollton and Greenbelt. This is a striking inequity that can and should be corrected immediately.

Similarly, the county should be prepared to establish additional satellite commuter parking and bus shuttles at available locations near Green Line stations if existing station lots fill up.

All of these measures will empower commuters to make alternative transportation decisions that they otherwise would not be able to.

County Executive Baker has repeatedly assured the public that the county will do everything it can to assist its commuters during SafeTrack. Now is the time for the county to make good on that promise.

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On Thursday, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker rightly chastised the State of Maryland for not doing enough to help mitigate SafeTrack

Maryland official proposes drastically cutting back public school inspections

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David G. Lever, head of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, proposed Wednesday that the target for inspections be reduced from this year’s 220 schools to 100 during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Maryland official who oversees public school construction has proposed to drastically cut back inspections of local school buildings, saying that the state does not have enough staff to keep up.

With hundreds of millions of state dollars each year invested in public schools, Maryland has had an aggressive program of inspections. State inspectors aim to visit more than 200 schools a year to check such things as roof condition, electrical and plumbing systems, the upkeep of grounds, recreational equipment and fire safety.

Any problems are reported to the local superintendent with instructions to get them fixed.

David G. Lever, head of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction, proposed Wednesday that the target for inspections be reduced from this year’s 220 schools to 100 during the fiscal year that begins July 1. That would extend the time between inspections from once every six years to once every eight.

Lever floated the plan at Wednesday’s meeting of the powerful five-member body that oversees the work. He said the agency cannot maintain the inspection schedule because of staffing problems.

“We’re dealing with reality — the reality of getting the job done,” he said. “It’s been a struggle every year because of staffing issues.”

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a member of the state Board of Public Works, which oversees the interagency committee, criticized the proposal. Franchot’s spokesman Peter Hamm noted that Gov.Larry Hogan had budgeted for more employees.

“So with more maintenance inspection staff, someone wants the [state] to do less maintenance inspecting?” Hamm said. “The comptroller thinks this is a dumb idea, and it has safety implications for our kids.”

The board deferred action on the proposal at the request of a Hogan representative on the interagency committee.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said Wednesday that Hogan included in his budget money for three more employees for the agency, including one for school inspections.

Lever, the longtime director of the agency that doles out state school construction dollars to local school boards, plans to leave his post Sept. 1. He resigned in protest of a Board of Public Works decision to press Baltimore city and county to use their school construction dollars to install window air conditioners. Lever said that decision politicized the process.

Hogan reacted to Lever’s resignation by saying he wished he were leaving earlier. Hogan and Franchot, both members of the Board of Public Works, have pushed for the portable air conditioners.

Maryland is among a handful of states that play a major role in financing the construction of local public schools.

The state holds sway over local school systems and how they address problems with their buildings because it decides which school capital projects receive funding.

Lever said the agency also compiles a “report card” for each local board that is delivered to the General Assembly and the public works board, which is composed of the governor, the comptroller and the state treasurer.

Increasing the time between inspections would allow the agency to reduce its school inspections to 100 next year. The agency initially adopted a target of 233 annual inspections in 2007, an amount that was reduced to 220 in 2013.

Lever said the agency’s inspections office normally has a staff of four — two inspectors, a program manager and an administrative aide. His deputy, Joan Schaefer, said one of the inspectors is retiring and the other is on leave.

Meanwhile, the program director’s job is vacant, Schaefer said.

Lever, who has been in the job for 13 years, said that to maintain the pace of 220 inspections each year, inspectors would have to schedule two a day with travel time and follow-up paperwork.

“We think this is beyond the limits of human endurance,” he said.

Lever said inspections can last up to 31/2 hours at elementary schools and a day or longer at high schools.

Lever said that when the agency gets behind in inspections, a “snowballing effect” means that work cannot be completed until the next school year.

The result, according to the agency staff, is that annual reports to the public works board and the legislature have been delayed. Lever said the report for the budget year that ended June 30, normally due in October, is still being compiled.

In other action, the agency decided to hire an interim director for eight to 12 months on a contractual basis when Lever retires. Former state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a committee member, said a legislative commission is studying the structure and mission of the agency and could recommend changes that affect the executive director’s job.

Hoffman said the interim hire would fill that position through the 2017 legislative session. She said it would be unfair to hire a permanent director when the legislature might change the job description next year.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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WHY “C”STUDENTS END UP SUCCESSFUL

Bush to ‘C’ Students at SMU: “You Too Can Be President”

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After reading this article we realized how irrelevant grades are in determining success in any life. Some of us can relate because as of last and this month, many will graduate and we know some won’t get any honours. As far as we are concerned our lives are still good, its not the end of the world if you get a “c” average. We still have ‘untapped’ talent, a brain with lots of ideas and a network of people to rely on. So dont’ despair because of a low G.P.A., we are more than just numbers in life.

Enjoy.

Former President George W. Bush isn’t typically celebrated for his public speaking skills, but he made an important and insightful point while delivering the commencement address at Southern Methodist University on or around May 16, 2015.

He said:

To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’
And as I like to tell the C students: You too, can be president.
Bush was making fun of himself for earning mediocre grades in college, while also granting some perspective for students graduating with less than stellar academic records.
He was highlighting the fact that grades don’t dictate the rest of your existence, and life is full of limitless possibilities.

Regardless of whether or not you like the guy or appreciated him as a president, he’s not wrong.

In fact, a number of other presidents did poorly in school at one point or another, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush. Vice President Joe Biden also struggled with his grades as both an undergraduate and a law student.

In addition to some of our country’s leaders, there are a number of incredibly successful entrepreneurs who didn’t allow their academic experiences to deter them from rising to the top.
Steve Jobs, for example, never finished college. The same is true for Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Likewise, the youngest female billionaire in the world, Elizabeth Holmes, who is revolutionizing medicine, dropped out of Stanford to pursue her dreams. Richard Branson suffered from dyslexia and dropped out of high school at the age of 15.

Simply put, while receiving an education in some form or another is important, there is no single path toward greatness.
As renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently stated while delivering the commencement address at the University of Massachusetts Amherst:

Your grades, whatever is your GPA, rapidly becomes irrelevant in your life. I cannot begin to impress upon you how irrelevant it becomes.
Because in life, they aren’t going to ask you your GPA.
…If a GPA means anything, it’s what you were in that moment — and it so does not define you for the rest of your life.
Intelligence is subjective, and academic achievement is not always a proper way to measure it. Success as a student is largely dependent on one’s ability to operate within a certain system, but it’s not always the best preparation for the real world.
A person’s character, experiences and connections, not grades, ultimately determine their direction in life.
Success requires passion, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to understand the value of failure.
This is precisely why we see so many “C” students, people we wouldn’t necessarily expect, running the world. They understand what it means to struggle, and often have to overcome more obstacles than many people realize.
This is not to say that getting poor grades guarantees success, but that doing well in school doesn’t mean you’ll always be on top.

In the end, grades are just arbitrary letters on a page. True achievement is a product of making observable and altruistic changes in the real world.

So if you just graduated from high school or college and you didn’t finish with honors, don’t despair. Life is full of ups and downs, and while we learn a great deal in school, the real education occurs after you leave the classroom.
Never stop learning, never give up and remember to enjoy the ride along the way.

Here is the whole speech – https://www.smu.edu/News/2015/commencement-may-bush-address
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Idaho: Boise Superintendent Stands Up to the Privatizing

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Dr. Don Coberly, the superintendent of the Boise, Idaho,

Dr. Don Coberly, the superintendent of the Boise, Idaho, school district,wrote a blunt letter to the district’s staff telling them not to believe the smears disseminated by the rich and powerful Albertson Foundation. This would be like the superintendent of Los Angeles telling Eli Broad to take his money and go away. Or the superintendent of any district including Prince George’s County to turn down a bribe from the Gates Foundation to open more charters.

The Albertson Foundation has been pushing charters and virtual charters. It doesn’t like public education. It is running an anti-public school campaign called “Don’t Fail Idaho” in that state.  It is about time that an educators with guts started a campaign calling out the Albertson Foundation for their anti-public school propaganda. Call it the “Albertson Foundation Fails Democracy” campaign.

Superintendent Coberly wrote:

Dear Boise School District staff member:
It’s been a while since we have communicated directly with you in an update. We wanted to take this opportunity to address an important issue.
Over the last few weeks you may have heard or seen the latest advertisements from the J.A and Kathryn Albertson Foundation’s “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign.  Perhaps the most controversial claim is that four out of five Idaho students are not prepared for life after high school.  There are four facts we want you to understand about this campaign:
  1. It promotes an agenda that is designed to undermine public schools.
  2. It is highly inaccurate.
  3. It offers no real solutions to increasing post-secondary readiness.
  4. It is a disservice to the work you do every day for the youth of this district.
Undermining public schools
 
Why would someone want to undermine public education in Idaho?  The motive is quite clear. At a recent Downtown Rotary Club meeting, the executive director of the Albertson Foundation stated that the goal of the Foundation is to increase charter school seats by 20,000 in the next few years. That will only happen if Idahoans lose faith in their public schools.
Predicting college success
 
Now let’s set the record straight.  The data in question have been spun to create the illusion that 80% of Idaho’s high school graduates are not prepared for college. The source of the data is the 2015 SAT test, administered to juniors in Idaho’s high schools last April. The criteria used by the Foundation? A score of 500 on each of the 3 sections of the test, and an overall score of 1550, adopted by the Idaho Board of Education as an indicator of college success. 
The creator of the SAT indicated that achieving this score provides a 66% chance that a freshman will achieve a grade average of B- in the first semester at a four-year college. While this may be one predictor of success in college, it clearly does not reflect other factors that often are more important. High school grades are more predictive than SAT scores. Experience in Dual Credit and Advanced Placement courses are more important. Enrollment and success in Professional Technical coursework, such as Welding or Auto Body, is more important.
Among members of the Boise District high school graduating class of 2009 who have graduated from college, nearly 40% did not achieve the benchmark when they took the SAT or its competitor, the ACT. According to the Foundation, it must be a miracle they graduated from college.
Additionally, we know that only 1 in 10 Boise District students entering Boise State University require remediation in math and reading. This is direct evidence that at least 90% of District students are prepared for college – and that’s due to the tremendous work you do with our students.
 
  Our commitment to post-secondary readiness
 
The ad is just one more indication that the Foundation is out of touch with where Idaho is going. For the first time in nearly a decade, The Governor, State Board of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Legislature, ISBA, IASA, and the IEA are working together to build up our public education system, funding schools more properly and making teacher salaries more competitive in order to improve the economy and develop a more educated citizenry. The Albertsons Foundation is trying to tear it down.
Your efforts are appreciated
 
In spite of the disheartening rhetoric that the Albertson Foundation is promoting, we know that the community supports and recognizes the work that all of you do daily to prepare our students.  We will continue to oppose any effort to undermine your dedication, our students’ successes and the role public schools play in creating a vibrant, healthy city and state.
Please feel free to share the information contained herein with parents and community members who might have questions for you about the negative campaign being waged across the state by the Albertson Foundation. We value your service to the community and to our students, and we know that parents and community members do, as well.
Our District’s mission is to “graduate each student prepared for college, career, and citizenship”. Thanks so much for all you do to help us achieve this mission.
Sincerely,
 
Dr. Don Coberly
Superintendent
Boise School District  boise
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Downtown Boise – Idaho

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Prince George’s Develops a SafeTrack Plan After All

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Prince George’s County officials announced that they had developed a comprehensive action plan to help the county’s public transit riders Photo courtesy Jun 9

Via 

In a welcome reversal of course last week, Prince George’s County officials announced that they had developed a comprehensive action plan to help the county’s public transit riders navigate around the upcoming shutdowns and disruptions of Metrorail service during SafeTrack, WMATA’s yearlong plan of major infrastructure repairs.

Two of Metro’s fifteen planned “safety surges” will most directly impact Prince George’s County commuters. The first will occur on June 18-July 3, when all Metrorail service across the Anacostia River on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines will be shut down due to the closure of Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue stations. The second will occur on November 12-December 6, when there will be continuous single-tracking on the Green and Yellow lines between Greenbelt and College Park stations.

Earlier, the county’s Department of Public Works & Transportation (DPW&T) stated that it was not able to provide any additional services during SafeTrack and that county commuters would need to take it upon themselves to make alternative transportation arrangements. After Prince George’s Urbanist and others decried the county’s initial response and local media outlets began asking hard questions about the county’s plans, officials began to rethink their approach to this looming transportation crisis.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” County Executive Rushern Baker declared at last week’s press conference. “We’re going to do everything we can” to help commuters survive SafeTrack safely. Here are some of the particular elements of the county’s mitigation plan, as laid out by DPW&T Director Darrell Mobley:

  • Prince George’s will increase local rush hour express bus service on TheBus route 15X, which connects New Carrollton and Greenbelt stations.
  • WMATA will have 40 shuttle buses that will operate every 5-10 minutes during peak periods from Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road stations to Eastern Market, with interim stops at Stadium-Armory and Potomac Avenue.
  • WMATA will double its rush hour bus service on Metrobus routes 97 (Capitol Heights to Union Station, U Street, Woodley Park, and Tenlytown) and T18 (New Carrollton to Rhode Island Avenue).
  • WMATA will run the Metro Extra express bus route X9 (Capitol Heights to Metro Center via Gallery Place) all day, instead of just during rush hour.
  • The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has agreed to provide additional railcars on MARC’s Camden Line.

In addition to those mitigation efforts, the county is planning a robust public outreach program, including the deployment of “street teams” of DPW&T employees at affected Metro Stations. These teams will directly engage with transit riders and provide them with information on alternative transportation options.

The county stressed that its mitigation efforts “will not remove inconvenience” related to SafeTrack and are being provided primarily for those who have no choice but to take public transit. DPW&T is urging everyone who can telework, bike, or carpool to work to do so.

More Mitigation May Be Necessary

County Executive Baker stressed that this initial action plan may need to be adjusted in response to evolving traffic conditions: “We’re going to look at how the situation is unfolding, and we’re going to make the best decision for the residents of Prince George’s County to get back and forth…We’re going to make the adjustments we need to make to make people’s commutes as easy as possible.”

In the event the county’s mitigation efforts need to be enhanced, officials would do well to consider these specific proposals:

  • The county should run a free shuttle bus between Addison Road and either Suitland or Naylor Road, to provide a safe and reliable connection between the impacted Blue and Silver Line stations and the Green Line.
  • The county should establish HOV/bus lanes along selected arterial streets, to facilitate the quick movement of bus shuttles and carpools.
  • The county may need to arrange for additional satellite commuter parking lots and bus shuttles near southern Green Line stations, in case the parking lots at those stations fill up. Usually, there is excess parking capacity at several of the stations, but that may not be the case during the upcoming safety surge, when Orange, Blue, and Silver line riders may flock to the Green Line as an alternate.

Without question, the upcoming SafeTrack repairs will be a hassle for all concerned. However, the pain should be a little easier to bear now that Prince George’s County officials are thinking seriously about mitigation efforts.

UPDATE (06/14/2016 @ 6:20 pm): DPW&T issued an alert earlier this evening stating that WMATA is calling for a 60-70% reduction in Metrorail transit riders on the OR/BL/SV lines during SafeTrack Surge #2. If that is true, it seems even more likely that Prince George’s will need to employ additional mitigation efforts to avoid perpetual gridlock.

via Prince George’s Urbanist blogvre331lenfantbetw12CewlqwEXIAA-xKw

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