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Most of us know it as the road to the beach. Here's the minor revolutionary figure it's named for. By Benjamin Freed
John Hanson's legacy. Photograph by Flickr user Larry Wilbourn.

Washington is full of buildings, roads, bridges, and other structures named for obscure historical figures. “Who’s That Named For” is an occasional series dedicated to deciphering as many of our area’s lesser-known memorials as possible. Got a name you can’t recognize? E-mail us and we’ll figure it out.

If you’re headed to the beach this weekend, chances are that at some point along the journey toward the Eastern Shore, you’ll find yourself sitting in traffic somewhere Maryland’s John Hanson Highway. Wait a sec, “John Hanson Highway”? What’s that?

That’s Maryland’s official name for the road that runs from the District’s border with Prince George’s County to the far side of the Severn River across from Annapolis. If it’s an unfamiliar name, that’s because it’s more commonly known—and cursed about—as US Route 50. (It also carries segments of US Route 301 and Maryland Route 2, in addition to also being an unmarked part of the Interstate Highway System.) But this is all still very fuzzy. Who is this John Hanson for whom this essential but contemptible highway is named?

John Hanson, part of Frederick County’s landed, slave-owning gentry, was one of Maryland’s signatories to the Articles of Confederation in 1781, but his more famous legacy is an apocryphal reputation promoted by his biographers that he, not George Washington, was actually the first president of the United States. Don’t worry, George's reputation is secure. But Hanson’s fans point to his stint as president of the Continental Congress, during which the Articles of Confederation, the United States’ primordial governing document, took effect.

John Hanson. Portrait by John Hesselius, circa 1790.

It’s a nice title, but a pretty flimsy grasp at power. President of the Continental Congress was a completely ceremonial position rotated among the body’s members, and one could just as easily make the same “first president” claim for Hanson’s predecessors like Peyton Randolph or John Hancock. In Hanson’s case, the argument came primarily from a 1932 biography by Seymour Smith, which was roundly bashed by another Hanson biography published in 1976 as being devoid of actual academic research.

Like most secondary revolutionary figures, Hanson’s true legacy is in stamps, middle schools (in Oxon Hill and Waldorf), and a few statues. One is outside the courthouse in Frederick; the other sits in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, though Maryland lawmakers have recently considered yanking him in favor of Harriet Tubman. At least he still has the beach traffic.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 04:34 PM/ET, 08/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Bike registration, Metro permits, and blaming cyclists for most collisions were all featured in a 1982 city brochure about cycling. By Benjamin Freed
Via District Department of Transportation.

Think that DC’s roadways today are ruled by an epic clash between cyclists and drivers? It was way worse for two-wheeled riders in 1982.

The District Department of Transportation just dug up a 32-year-old manual it used to distribute to the District’s cyclists back when bikes were scarce on city streets and more likely to be scolded than encouraged by the authorities.

The manual includes dozens of pages describing “D.C. Bikeways,” including most of the bridges that cross the Potomac and Anacostia river, but don’t mistake them for actual cycling paths—they’re just arbitrarily assigned corridors where street signs were affixed with “Bike Route” signs, markers that most urban cyclists interpret as not really carving out a safe co-existence with cars.

As for actual bike infrastructure, the District circa 1982 had just two marked bike lanes: 11th Street, Southeast, from East Capitol Street to the 11th Street Bridge, and East Capitol Street between the Capitol Building and Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. Throughout the rest of the city, the manual just lists the “Bike Route” signs and for much of the District, encourages riding on the sidewalk. (Although, the Washington Post’s John Kelly will be relieved to know that biking on sidewalks downtown has always been prohibited.)

Bike ownership was also a tightly controlled activity when this manual was written. The District required all bike owners to register their rides within two weeks of purchasing them. While registration was cheap—$1 for five years—it was enforced randomly, and sometimes led to complaints of police confiscating bikes from owners who simply didn’t follow the low-compliance statute. (Bike registration didn’t come off the books until 2008, and the Metropolitan Police Department now recommends that cyclists join the National Bike Registry instead.)

And what about taking a bike on Metro? These days, it’s only verboten to bring one on a train during rush hour. In 1982, bikes were only permitted on Metro on the weekends, and only then with a special permit.

Perhaps the most antiquated item in this manual—Courtland Milloy might disagree—is an institutional statement from DDOT saying that “the majority of bicycle/motor vehicle accidents in the District are caused by bicyclists.” A quick glance at the five most common types of bike-car collisions, according to Bicycling magazine, including blind left turns and dooring, show that in most cases, it’s actually the car’s fault. Fortunately, DDOT’s current guidelines are more balanced.

Read the full document below.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Getting Around Washington by Bicycle

Posted at 12:39 PM/ET, 08/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Supreme Court is reviewing whether to take up the case to overturn the state's 2006 ban. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

UPDATE, 3:19 PM: The Supreme Court issued a stay in the Virginia same-sex marriage case, meaning gay couples who might have lined up to get married starting Thursday morning will have to wait while the court decides whether to take up the case in its next term. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the order in response to requests to delay a lower court ruling from county clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who opposes the state's 2006 ban but has said he wants the case settled by the high court.

Roberts also referred the case to his fellow justices, who could soon review writs by parties in the case for the Supreme Court to take up the matter. The stay issued in Virginia is consistent with other recent cases in which lower courts have overturned state bans on same-sex marriage, like Utah's. If the justices decide not hear Bostic v. Rainey, as the Virginia case is known, the decision last month by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold an earlier verdict striking down the marriage ban will take effect.

Courts in suburban Washington had been preparing to receive gay couples Thursday morning. Unlike many cases that are stayed pending an appeal by the losing party, Fourth Circuit Judge Henry F. Floyd only ordered that there be a three-week gap between when he issued his decision in Bostic v. Rainey and when it would take effect.

Posted at 09:51 AM/ET, 08/20/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The company is using DC to test out a competitor to delivery apps like Postmates. By Benjamin Freed
Uber's new competition. Photograph by Flickr user NCinDC.

Having already upended markets for taxis, ice cream, and long-stem roses, Uber is now attempting to disrupt the sundry market. The app-based transportation company is launching a new experiment called Uber Corner Store, in which its affiliated drivers will deliver items one usually picks up at convenience stores and pharmacies.

Too busy to walk to the nearest CVS? No problem, says Uber. Customers for whom the Corner Store upgrade appears can order off a menu that spans from allergy pills to chewing gum to heartburn medicine to condoms and lube. The items will be picked up by an Uber driver and delivered to the user, whose account will be charged just like an ordinary UberX ride. There’s no set delivery fee, but the company is setting its own prices. (A tin of Altoids, for instance, is $3, while a stick of Degree deodorant will set you back $11.)

For now, Uber says the Corner Store program will only run in DC for a few weeks and only for selected users on weekdays between 9 AM and 9 PM. An Uber spokesman did not say if it will expand outside a few small delivery areas (Most of Northwest, Capitol Hill, H Street, and Navy Yard).

While the company adds on its website that this is still a test, Uber’s aim seems apparent: It wants to compete with companies such as Postmates, whose app will take same-day delivery orders for goods from just about any store or restaurant a user desires. Postmates entered the Washington market in December and quickly took off with the same crowd that made Uber popular. Corner Store isn’t Uber’s first foray into deliveries, either. It’s been testing out a courier service in New York since April. Don’t be surprised if this new experiement turns permanent.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:47 PM/ET, 08/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The museum's collection will go to the National Gallery of Art, while the college will become part of George Washington University, effectively ending the 145-year-old Washington institution. By Benjamin Freed
The Corcoran Gallery. Photograph by Flicker user SBC9.

It’s official: The Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design will be dissolved in October after a District judge upheld the financially failed institution’s plan to be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.

In the ruling issued Monday afternoon, Judge Robert Okun of DC Superior Court rejected a last-minute case by Save the Corcoran, a group of Corcoran students, staff, and benefactors seeking to block the 145-year-old institution’s bureacratic death. Okun’s ruling allows the Corcoran’s cy-prés petition to move forward, meaning its 17,000-item collection will fall under the auspices of the NGA, while the art school is absorbed into GWU. The university will also take over the Corcoran’s building, an iconic Beaux Arts landmark from 1897 that needs as much as $130 million in repairs.

Because the Corcoran is a nonprofit organization, changes to its charter need to be approved by a judge. In his opinion, Okun seems sensitive to founder William Corcoran’s desire that the museum bearing his name remain “an institution in Washington City,” as Corcoran wrote in the original 1869 charter.

“[T]he Court is aware that the GW/NGA proposal is inconsistent with Mr. Corcoran’s intent in one important respect—unlike the UMD proposal from February 2014, the GW/NGA proposal effectively eliminates the Corcoran as an independent institution, leaving behind only an untethered Board of Trustees to advise GW and NGA on future plans for the College and Gallery,” Okun writes. “Undoubtedly, Mr. Corcoran would not be pleased by this turn of events. It seems likely, however, that he would be pleased to see that the College will be preserved through its partnership with the very university to which he donated both property and his company’s archives, and where he served as Chairman of the Board for several years, and that the Gallery will be preserved through its partnership with one of the country’s pre-eminent art institutions.”

The Corcoran has been struggling for years under its current management. Save the Corcoran argued in court that the museum’s board, led by Harry Hopper, raised just $4 million in 2012 and spent $3.7 million of it. The Corcoran also attempted to raise money by selling off some of its most prized items, such as the Clark Sickle-Leaf Carpet, a Persian rug that went for $33.8 million in a 2013 auction.

Under terms of the arrangements with the NGA and GWU announced in February, the museum will close around October 1. Students, now enrolled in GWU’s Columbian College, will continue to attend classes at the Corcoran building, though current students’ tuition will remain the same. While most of the current galleries will be closed to the public, parts of the building will eventually reopen with exhibits presented by the NGA under the banner “Corcoran Contemporary, National Gallery of Art” featuring small selections from the Corcoran’s vault.

Save the Corcoran, led by former instructor Jayme McLellan, has been brief so far in its obviously disappointment.

“The Corcoran as we know it is gone,” the group says on its Facebook page. “We fought the good fight.”

Closing out his ruling, Okun writes that his decision, while “painful” to issue, likely staved off complete disaster given the Corcoran’s unsteady leadership.

“[T]his Court would find it even more painful to deny the relief requested and allow the Corcoran to face its likely demise—the likely dissolution of the College, the closing of the Gallery, and the dispersal of the Gallery’s entire collection,” he writes. “Fortunately, two internationally recognized institutions, with strong and enduring commitments to education and the arts, have agreed to sustain the College under the Corcoran name, and to provide the same educational and employment opportunities to its students, faculty, and staff; to maintain the Gallery and much of the collection under the Corcoran name, and to keep it open to the public; and to renovate the iconic building which houses both the College and the Gallery.”

Read the full opinion below.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

237147270 Corcoran Ruling

Posted at 05:56 PM/ET, 08/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
After a series of slip-ups, airport security workers across the US will learn what a District ID looks like. By Benjamin Freed
Image via DC Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the wake of numerous instances of DC residents not being able to fly home because airport security personnel did not understand that a driver’s license issued by the District counts as valid identification, the Transportation Security Agency will start training its employees to recognize that, in fact, a DC license is as good as any state’s. Licenses issued by the city will be part of TSA agents’ daily shift briefings, according to a press release from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office, which is taking credit for the change.

Norton met again with top TSA officials last week, as she had done several times already in 2014 following reports of District residents getting held up at airports around the country, but it appears the most recent sit-down finally produced results.

Beside the daily briefings, TSA employees who check travel documents—the blue-shirted ranks who sift you through security gates—will also go through a four-hour training session in September that will feature a special emphasis on driver's licenses, especially those issued by DC’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Residents are sensitive about invidious treatment, considering what Congress throws at them,” Norton says in the press release. “I appreciate the remedial actions led by top officials at the TSA.”

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 04:55 PM/ET, 08/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
An annual report shows that homicides and sexual assaults were up in 2013. Plus, a look at the demographics of DC's police force in the wake of Ferguson. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Matt Johnson.

One of the many issues at play in the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer there shot and killed an unarmed black teenager is that the police department in the St. Louis suburb is 94 percent white in a town where two-thirds of the population is black. The disparity has exposed deep faults that can arise when a police force is not representative of the community it serves.  

For all of the Metropolitan Police Department’s faults, though, that doesn't appear to be one of them, according to an annual report made public Monday. Fifty-seven percent of the department’s nearly 4,000 sworn officers are black, 33 percent are white, and seven percent are Hispanic. Two of the department’s six assistant chiefs are black, as are six of the seven district commanders.

The Metropolitan Police Department investigated 35,499 crimes in 2013, about the same number as in 2012, according to an annual report made public Monday. Beneath that generally stable number, though, were sharp increases in homicides, sexual assaults, and rapes.

One hundred four people were murdered in DC last year, an 18 percent jump over the 88 who lost their lives in 2012. While the 104 slain last year includes the 12 victims of the September 16 massacre at Washington Navy Yard, it picks at a general uptick in the city’s homicide rate after several years of decline. The District has recorded 73 murders so far in 2014, up from 57 at this point a year ago, or a jump of 28 percent.

Via Metropolitan Police Department

For yet another year, an overwhelming majority—78 percent—of DC’s homicide victims were black men.

Police also report a 15 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults reported citywide, from 259 to 298. Meanwhile, the number of reported rapes leaped from 236 in 2012 to 393 last year. But MPP spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump tells Washingtonian via e-mail that those figures cannot be accurately compared because last year’s figure reflects a long overdue update in how the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system, which police departments use to record crime data, defines “forcible rape.” The new definition covers any penetration, no matter how slight, without consent of the victim; the previous terminology, defining rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” hadn’t been changed since 1927. Crump says 27 percent of rapes reported last year fell under the new definition.

The 41,747 arrests MPD made last year is a slight drop from the 42,471 in 2012. Of the total arrests, 3,177 were of juveniles. What were the most common causes of arrest?

  • Simple assault: 6,720
  • Narcotics: 5,866
  • Traffic violations: 4,656
  • Warrant charges: 4,624
  • Other: 2,210
  • Disorderly conduct: 2,194

Arrest data is not broken down by race, but external reports in years past show deep racial divides among who gets arrested. More than eight out of ten people arrested in DC between 2009 and 2011 were black, according to a report issued last year by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. The division is even more extreme for drug arrests, with blacks accounting for nearly 90 percent of marijuana-related arrests, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union. With a decriminalization law now in effect for possession of one ounce or less, the number of drug-related arrests could fall greatly in next year’s MPD report.

The annual report also contains a few other fascinating statistics about the city’s crime rate and the police department that patrols it.

Traffic fatalities:

Via Metropolitan Police Department

There were 10 more deaths caused by motor vehicles in 2013 than the year before, including 12 pedestrians and two cyclists.

Use of force:

Via Metropolitan Police Department

District police officers shot and killed five suspects last year, including Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis, who was taken down by Officer Dorian DeSantis. DeSantis and 55 other officers who responded to the massacre were given MPD’s Medal of Valor in February.


There were 358 complaints lodged against police officers in 2013, but of those, only 66 were sustained upon review, while another 75 remain under investigation. Of the total number of complaints filed, 50 were for abuse of authority, 34 were for excessive use of force, and 53 were for rude and unprofessional behavior. There were also eight complaints of illegal searches. The report does not break down which complaints were dismissed and which were verified according to category.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:06 PM/ET, 08/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The seven-year-old female was euthanized this weekend. By Tanya Pai
Photograph of Shama (pictured here in 2009) courtesy of National Zoo's Flickr feed.

Brace yourselves for sadness, animal lovers: Shama, the National Zoo’s seven-year-old female red panda, was euthanized on Saturday at the zoo’s facility in Front Royal, Virginia. According to a press release, a necropsy turned up evidence of severe cerebral edema caused by “encephalitis associated with a microscopic parasite.” Zookeepers noticed something was amiss with Shama the Wednesday before, and her condition worsened rapidly. “Shama was euthanized due to her worsening clinical condition and poor neurological function, which was likely attributed to accumulation of fluid in the brain,” says the zoo. 

Shama and Rusty, her male companion, gave birth to their first litter of cubs together earlier this summer. The three cubs are now being hand-reared by staffers, and appear to be developing normally, though one is being treated for pneumonia. Escape artist Rusty also appears to be healthy. 

“Shama’s death is a big loss for all of us and for those who study and care for red pandas everywhere,” says National Zoo director Dennis Kelly in the release. “I have a lot of confidence in the team caring for the surviving cubs and hope this creates an opportunity for scientists to research infectious diseases that affect red pandas.”

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 02:10 PM/ET, 08/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The social network briefly blocked ads from the DC government's condom distribution program, which helps prevent HIV infection. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

Like any advertising platform, Twitter reserves the right to regulate the content its customers want to promote. The social networking platform’s policy for “promoted tweets”—posts that appear high up in certain users’ feeds, whether they ask for them or not—prohibits “adult or sexual products,” a category that covers pornography, prostitution, sex toys, and mail-order spouses. It also outlaws most contraceptives, although condoms are permitted when the point of the ad is not explicity sexual.

But as DC’s Department of Health discovered this week, Twitter’s policy is applied inconsistently, and can derail publicity for things with public value, like the city’s programs aimed at reducing infection rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

On Thursday, the publicity company that helps promote the health department’s seven-year-old free condom distribution program attempted to buy a promoted tweet for the account @FreeCondomsDC, but was rebuffed. An automated reply informed them the tweet violated of its content guidelines.

The ban was short-lived, with Twitter spokeswoman Genevieve Wong saying that @FreeCondomsDC was approved Friday morning (a few hours after Washingtonian had inquired about why it had been refused). “We allow advertisers to run campaigns that promote condoms and safe sex,” she wrote.

But the temporary ad-block raised questions about how consistently and effectively Twitter applied its condom ban. At least one condom retailer has run into a wall after Twitter prodded then to advertise. In June, Think Progress reported that, an online condom store, finally tried to buy a 140-character ad but was rejected on the grounds that its tweet was too sexy. (Lucky Bloke’s basic pitch—“Tired of lousy condoms?”—seemed to us relatively tame for prophylactics.) Meanwhile, manufacturers like Durex have been able to advertise, making the logic of their ban even fuzzier.

There’s no evidence that Twitter targets sexual-health tweets. The health department had been able to place sponsored tweets in June to advertise its presence at DC’s annual Capital Pride parade. In fact, it reports encouraging results from its social media efforts. @FreeCondomsDC doesn’t have many followers—only 804 at last count—but promoted tweets can increase that audience four or five times, says Michael Kharfen, the director of the department’s HIV/AIDS office.

“We’ve recognized that social media is a critical way for us to reach the public with information and access to services and resources,” Kharfen says. “We’re getting across information that’s on the leading edge of public health.”

Kharfen says social media has been critical growing the program from giving out 500,000 rubbers in 2007 to 6.9 million last year. And in Washington, where 2.5 percent of the total population is HIV positive—one of five highest infection rates among major US cites, Kharfen says, and an epidemic by World Health Organization standards—safe-sex promotion needs as much daylight as possible. 

The tweets intended for next week include a link to the health department’s order form for condoms.

“We tend to get increases [in orders] when these ads go out,” Kharfen says. “We get more people that check out the tweet. They click through.”

It’s likely that Twitter’s uneven condom policy has more to do with hypersensitive keywords than human squeamishness. Perhaps it would be better to err toward allowing the occasional French tickler to get through the filters than to frustrate a valuable public health resource.

Posted at 05:01 PM/ET, 08/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Most people living in DC, Virginia, and Maryland are from other places, especially New York. By Benjamin Freed
Excelsior! New Yorkers (whose state flag is pictured here) make up 4 percent of DC's population.

The “native Washingtonian” appellation carries a lot of totemic power to some District residents, and for good measure. People to whom that term applies have accounted for less than half the city’s population going back to at least 1900. According to Census Bureau data sifted through by the New York Times, 43 percent of DC’s 278,718 residents at the turn of the 20th century were born here. In 2012—with the District’s population eclipsing 632,000—that percentage fell to 37 percent.

The broad data befit Washington’s reputation as a largely transient city, but the Times’s report also digs into microdata that show where everyone else came from. And unlike most states, DC’s transplants aren’t led by people from just over the nearest state lines. Of District dwellers today, 5 percent—including, full disclosure, the one writing this post—are native New Yorkers. Maryland and Virginia are next, each representing 4 percent of the current population, while California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina all claim 3 percent of the city’s residents. And 16 percent come from outside the United States.

Only Nevada and Florida have smaller percentages of native-born residents, though DC is hardly the retirement destination those two states are. (However, like the District, Florida’s biggest segment of transplants also comes from New York.)

The District’s Beltway-hugging neighbors also have more than half their populations come from somewhere else. Virginia, where 51 percent of the population comes from out of state, also appears to be a favored destination for ex-New Yorkers, who now make up 4 percent of the Commonwealth. Overall, 18 percent of the newcomers are federal employees.

In Maryland, where 52 percent of current residents moved from elsewhere, DC has been the leading source of new people since 1970. Native Washingtonians account for 9 percent of Maryland dwellers going back to the 2000 census; that figure peaked at 10 percent in 1990. Pennsylvania and New York are next, claiming 4 percent of the state’s population. Like the rest of the region, federal jobs are the biggest incentive to move, with 17 percent of non-native Marylanders working for the government, according to the Times’s analysis.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 04:21 PM/ET, 08/14/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()