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The District's income inequality is also at its widest point since 1979. By Benjamin Freed
Chart via DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

The percentage of District residents without a four-year college degree who can't find full-time work jumped significantly between 2007 and 2013, according to a report published Wednesday by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, again throwing into relief just how uneven the city's economic recovery since the Great Recession has been. DC's underemployment rate for people with some post-high school education, including two-year degrees, went from 9 percent to 22 percent over that span, and recent economic trends do not appear to offer much relief anytime soon.

The underemployment rates also rose nearly as significantly for District residents with less education in the years since the Great Recession, with the rate for residents with just a high-school diploma nearly doubling from about 16 percent to 31 percent, and less than high school going from about 25 percent to 32 percent. The underemployment rate for people with at least bachelor's degree remained low, rising from 5 percent to 6 percent since 2007.

The figures are part of a larger DCFPI study on income inequality, which the think tank reports is at its widest point in 35 years when comparing the hourly pay of the top 20 percent of earners to that of the bottom 20 percent. The top quintile took home more than $45 per hour in 2013, while the bottom made $12.62 an hour. Since the recession hit, earnings at the top have gone up 15.9 percent, while actually decreasing at the bottom, reflecting a national trend in rising income gaps.

For low-wage earners, this represents a 1-percent decline from what they made in 2007, but high-wage workers have seen their earnings increase by $6 an hour. Middle-wage workers saw about a $3 hourly increase after the economic downturn, rising to $24.25. Since 1979—the last time the gap was this big—low-income wages have risen only 7 percent, while high-income wages have more than doubled.

The widening gap between high-income and low-income residents is even starker when comparing just the top 1 percent of earners to the other 99 percent. Average income for the very highest-income workers in the District is 32.3 times higher than the average income for everyone else, according to a separate report by the Economic Policy Institute. If DC were compared to the states on that metric, it would rank eighth.

The overall employment situation for DC's black and Hispanic populations continues to be especially bleak. While the city's unemployment rate of 7.4 percent is down from a mid-recession peak of 10.4 percent, joblessness among blacks and Hispanics remains well into double digits. Black residents endured an unemployment rate of 16 percent in 2013, twice that of Hispanics and more than four times the rate for white residents, the report states.

Job prospects are even dimmer for residents with less than a four-year college degree. While unemployment is down to 4 percent for people with at least a bachelor's diploma, it's 15 percent for those with some college, and 18 percent for those with only a high-school eduation.

A family budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that a two-parent, two-child household in the Washington area needs to earn $89,643 per year to cover the costs of housing, food, transportation, education, taxes, and other living expenses. This, too, reinforces how much more difficult it's become to get by in DC. Full-time employment at $12.62 per hour translates into annual pay of just $26,250.

Some policy changes aimed at leveling things out are coming into effect. The District's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10.50 per hour this year and $11.50 per hour next year, and employers are no longer permitted to ask about job applicants' criminal records before a job offer is extended. But DCFPI still prescribes several measures that haven't been enacted by the city's leaders, including expanded food stamp benefits, paid family leave, subsidized child care, and an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is stuck at $2.77 per hour.

And there might not be much more relief on the immediate horizon. Private-sector jobs are increasing in DC, but not in a way that's likely to alleviate low wages and chronic underemployment. Since 2007, the biggest growth has been in frequently low-income professions like education and health services and hospitality. Meanwhile, the government payroll is shrinking: After peaking in 2011 at about 247,000 federal and local government jobs, the number fell to about 237,000 in 2013. The District has only added 3,000 professional and business services since 2007, the study reads.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 09:25 AM/ET, 01/28/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The region's population will get much larger, more diverse, and a little bit older. By Benjamin Freed
Screenshot via Urban Institute.

It's about to get a lot more crowded around here, according to new projections from the Urban Institute. The Washington metropolitan area's population is expected to grow by at least 2 million between now and 2030, according to an interactive map charting out the country's expected demographic changes over the next few decades.

By 2030, the organization predicts, Washington will have gone from a region of 5.4 million residents in 2010 to more than 7.4 million. And the future population will be slightly older and more diverse than it is today. In several ways, Washington's population is already visibly moving away from the country's at large, with the makeup of local residents expected to go from 48.3 percent white today to 42.4 percent white in 2030; whites are expected to become less than 50 percent of the national population in 2042, the Census Bureau forecasted in 2008.

But Washington's demographics are moving away from national trends more aggressively when it comes to age. The Urban Institute projects people 65 years and older will make up 15.3 percent of the Washington area by 2030. While that's about twice the current rate of 7.7 percent, it's below the national projection for 2030, when seniors will make up more than 19 percent of the population.

Demographic projections for the entire Washington area.

Still, it's the raw numbers that are most startling. Even setting Urban Institute's map to average birth, death, and migration rates, Washington's population will grow by 37.9 percent over the next two decades. The only large metropolitan areas expected to grow at a greater clip are Atlanta, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Raleigh, Orlando, and Austin. The Philadelphia area is only expected to grow by 6.5 percent, New York by 7.4 percent, and Boston by 7.5 percent.

The expected growth becomes even more jarring when DC is isolated. The District's population was measured at 658,893 last July, and according to the Urban Institute's project, will swell to 718,499 by 2030. But that's at an average growth pace, with current birth and death rates. It will also remain relatively young (though older than now), with seniors making up 15.1 percent of the city, and continue to become more racially mixed, with blacks shrinking to 42.9 percent of the population while white, Hispanic, and Asian populations continue to expand.

Demographic predictions for the District.

A 16-year population jump of 60,000 seems manageable, especially with the city's present-day migration slowing down to fewer than 1,000 net new residents per month. But the Urban Institute's map also allows the user to look at a population surge. Setting birth and migration rates to high and the death rate to low presents DC with a 2030 population of 807,761, which would be the largest in the city's history.

The upshot of any population forecast is that all these new residents will need to live somewhere. Even if DC only makes modest gains between now and 2030, it will still need to accommodate an additional 70,000 people, and that could prove difficult in a city where the housing supply is artificially constricted by the Height Act. The Urban Institute's projections recall similar scenarios raised in 2013 by then-DC Planning Director Harriet Tregoning, who proposed major revisions to the Height Act including allowing buildings as tall as 200 feet downtown and with no height restrictions in neighborhoods around designated transit hubs. Tregoning raised her suggestions based on models that predicted that even at a modest pace, the District would have to make room for an additional 99,100 households by 2040. Her proposal was slammed by the DC Council, discarded by the National Planning Commission, and ignored in Congress; the only change made to the Height Act was to allow penthouse construction downtown—an unlikely solution for tens of thousands of future residents.

But maybe if none of the rules about how DC can put up buildings change, the Urban Institute's projections won't pan out, though it'll do nothing to make the city a less expensive place to live. "Local policies can have an effect too," writes the organization's Serena Lei. "In some high-cost areas, restrictions on development that make housing too expensive could prompt young households to leave."

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 10:43 AM/ET, 01/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Maryland leads the nation in percentage of households worth more than $1 million. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

Maryland leads all states in the percentage of households with at least $1 million in assets, according to a new report by a marketing firm, and Virginia and the District also land in the Top 10. The report, published by Phoenix Marketing International, finds 7.67 percent of Maryland's 2,220,791 households were worth more than $1 million in 2014, making it the second year in a row that the state topped the chart.

Virginia is not far behind at No. 6, with 214,361 households, or 6.76 percent of the commonwealth, in seven figures, while DC lands in tenth place, with 18,267 of its 292,398 households, or 6.25 percent, having more than $1 million in the bank.

Other recent studies of Washington-area households' net worth suggest similar results to what Phoenix Marketing says. Washington Business Journal reported last October that the region's median household net worth clocked in at $188,921, well above figures in the Boston and Philadelphia areas, according to data collected by the mapping software company Esri.

Phoenix Marketing says there are higher concentrations of millionaires in smaller states clustered around metropolitan areas and in larger states with highly diversified economies, and the listing of states is largely consistent with that reading. After Maryland, Connecticut and New Jersey rank second and third, while Massachusetts is seventh. Washington's economy is not actually that diverse, with the federal government accounting for 39.8 percent of the region's economic activity in 2010. But the area is projected to become less government-dependent over time; Stephen Fuller of the Center for Regional Analysis, a George Mason University think tank, predicts that by 2019, the federal government's share of the local economy will shrink to just 28.8 percent.

Posted at 12:56 PM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
A $100 commercial-photography fee will come under the microscope Wednesday night. By Andrew Beaujon
Green Spring Gardens. Photograph by DC Gardens, via Flickr.

In 2011, the Fairfax County Park Authority instituted a fee for commercial photography. Green Spring Gardens in particular "was being overrun by weddings and commercial photographers," agency spokeswoman Judy Pedersen says.

One of those photographers is Pamela Lepold, who says she was photographing a family on a park bench at Green Spring Gardens last fall when a park employee approached her. After telling Lepold she needed a $100 permit to do professional photography in the park, the employee "tossed a permit information sheet on my bag and walked away," she says.

Lepold is trying to get people who feel the fee is unfair to attend a public comment meeting about parks fees Wednesday night. (She has prepared a petition.) Pedersen says the park authority welcomes a discussion. "We're open to re-examining the issue," she says, not necessarily about the existence of a fee, but more "are we in the right place, fee-wise?"

The current fee structure requires photographers to pay $100 for two hours, or $500 for a yearlong pass. Lepold says that falls particularly hard on photographers shooting family portraits. She charges $250 for a family photography session and says many of her clientele for those "don't have manicured lawns to take photos" in front of. "It's people who don't have the property and the grand estate that are looking for other places to take their photos," she says.

Green Spring Gardens is a particularly good spot for those photos because it has a lot of places where toddlers can roam in sight while their parents get their picture taken, Lepold says.

In its 2015 fees proposal, the park authority lays out a number of reasons it seeks increases in some fees—though the commercial photography fee is not listed. Debt obligations of about $1.5 million this year, higher employee healthcare benefit and compensation costs, and golfers responding to "challenging economic conditions with judicious belt tightening" all contribute to the need for some fees to rise, the proposal reads.

Miniature golf fees and carousel tickets at Clemyjontri Park will see modest increases under the proposal. Campers and those who rent athletic fields by the hour will have to pay a little more, too. Greens fees at most of the county's golf courses will remain the same.

The commercial-photography fee is no different than the charges paid by other businesses that use parks, says Steve Lewis, FCPA's business office manager. Tennis instructors pay to use public courts. Personal trainers not only pay fees but pay a 15 percent commission on their gross revenues for activities on parkland. Lepold counters that the fees aren't applied consistently -- dog walkers, for instance, don't pay to use Fairfax parks.

Pedersen says the commercial photography fee is "not a moneymaker" and has brought in "less than $10,000 per year." Also, she says, the county has been "very soft in terms of enforcement and compliance."

For Fairfax, it's a matter of managing park resources. Maybe you can't snap a photo of your family at Colvin Run Mill's most picturesque vista because a line of weddings precedes you. Lewis tells the story of Our Special Harbor, a free spray park at the Lee District Recreation Center that became overrun by groups, with long waits for all patrons until the county adopted a group use fee. The county got "not one iota of pushback" from institutional splashers, he says.

Lepold notes that Fairfax is alone among Northern Virginia jurisdictions in charging these fees. (Commercial photography in the District often requires fees, according to Kat Forder's excellent website, which also lists requirements in Maryland and Virginia.)

Wednesday's meeting won't be definitive, Pedersen says: "We have no statutory obligation to hold a public meeting but we do."

But she expects more comment at this meeting than others, thanks largely to Lepold's efforts, and says they'll take all comment to the authority's board, which may elect to study the fee issue further. Lepold says she doesn't oppose a fee for weddings but wants the fee eliminated for family photography and groups of fewer than 11 people. "Photographers are not costing the parks anything by taking pictures there," she says.

Posted at 10:07 AM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Even though President Obama has nothing to lose politically, don't count on him sticking up for DC tonight. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Ted Eytan.

One of the District's most energetic statehood activists admits he does't have much hope President Obama will respond to pleas to make even a slightest mention of DC's second-class status during tonight's State of the Union address.

"He’s sold us out repeatedly when it counts," says Josh Burch, who created a petition on the White House's website urging the president to give the statehood cause just a bit of lip service during his speech to Congress. "Every single time there’s been a budget rider, he’s turned his back on us. I think it would liven up the statehood movement if he speaks out for us."

At least on a personal level, Obama supports the notion of the District being elevated to a state, as he mentioned during an appearance last July at the at the Walker-Jones Education Campus in Northwest. But his executive actions show a record of official indifference toward DC.

To locals, Obama's best-known quote is perhaps "John, I will give you DC abortion," which he uttered to House Speaker John Boehner in April 2011 when Republicans insisted on including in a federal spending bill language that banned the city from funding abortions for low-income women. And last year, despite threatening to veto an appropriations bill blocking the District's marijuana decriminalization law (that never made it to his desk), Obama signed off on a funding bill that includes an amendment aimed at stopping the District's pot legalization referendum.

Threatening to shut down the government over one city's self-determination is an unlikely hill for any president to die on, but the State of the Union offers a different kind of platform. The Walker-Jones appearance was followed only in local media, and omnibus spending bills are too granular and wonky for mass consumption. But a State of the Union speech gives the president his biggest television audience of the year. An average of 42.3 million people have watched the address over the past two decades, and the speech is almost always followed by some kind of national tour promoting its content.

"He’s willing to go around the country and talk about immigration and wars overseas, but why can’t you can’t go around America and talk about the unfuliflled promise in the neighborhood around the Capitol?" Burch says.

The White House's defenders will point to the fact that the presidential limousines roll around with DC-issued license plates that read "taxation without representation," but Burch says there's not much value in the tags. "That’s like a pat on the head and saying good job," he says. "We need fighters in this."

Burch's online petition has stalled, too, with just 1,323 signatures. While that's more than twice as many as are on the petition seeking a national day of appreciation for the Flash, it's far short of the 100,000 needed for an official response.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is also trying to sway Obama to press statehood during tonight's speech, inviting DC Mayor Muriel Bowser to sit in the gallery. But the DC resident scheduled to attend who is most likely to get a presidential mention doesn't work at the John A. Wilson Building. It's Alan Gross, the telecommunications worker who spent five years in a Cuban jail and was released last month when the White House announced a normalization of relations with the island nation. Cuba is more likely to come up than DC statehood, as are immigration reform, free community college, climate change, internet surveillance, to name just a few issues.

History suggests it might not be utterly hopeless though. The last president to mention the District's rights during a State of the Union was Lyndon B. Johnson, who argued for legislative home rule in 1966, when DC was still an enclave ruled directly by Congress. Eight years later, DC residents started electing their own mayor and Council members.

Johnson said that when he had friendly majorities in both houses. Obama goes into tonight's speech facing bicameral hostility. But if there's a sliver of hope for activists like Burch, it's that Obama is a lame duck who no longer has to try to protect any congressional majorities. It's still a long shot, though.

"This president, with nothing left to lose, it’s going to be really disappointing to have him turn his back on the city where he lives, if he doesn’t say it," Burch says. "I’m a cynical optimist."

Posted at 04:02 PM/ET, 01/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The vice president joined DC Mayor Muriel Bowser to launch the creation a new water runoff tunnel. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Photograph by Emma Foehringer Merchant.

What gives high-ranking government officials hope for the future? If it’s Vice President Joe Biden, it’s water infrastructure and eagles.

“It’s a really good omen," Biden said after being told a bald eagle soared over his appearance Friday at DC Water's Anacostia River Tunnel site in Southeast. "Off to my right there was a bald eagle flying. In a sense, that’s what this is all about."

Biden joined DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to announce the launch of a new federal program to fund municipal water upgrades like the District’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project. McCarthy said the EPA’s new Water Finance Center will serve in part as a resource for cities to innovate financing solutions for water infrastructure through public-private partnerships.

“This center is going to help communities improve water and waste water systems and build resilience in the face of a changing climate,” she said.

Aging water infrastructure is a problem both nationally and locally. McCarthy said the country needs to spend at least $600 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade and maintain its pipes. In DC, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the city needs about $1.6 billion in fixes to its drinking-water infrastructure and $2.5 billion in improvements to its sewer system.

McCarthy offered an “I love you,” to DC Water, which is creating a massive new water tunnel beneath the city. Today’s event was held in the shadow of “Nannie,” a 26-foot wide, 350-foot long, 1,248-ton boring machine that is about to embark on digging a 2.5-mile portion of a 13-mile network to capture storm water that would otherwise flow into—and pollute—the city’s natural waterways.

The current system spews billions of gallons of overflow sewage into Rock Creek and the Anacostia and Potomac rivers on a yearly basis. That nasty runoff then finds its way into the Chesapeake, creating all types of problems for water and the creatures living in it. But at least, according to Biden, we’re not Detroit—the Motor City has wooden pipes.

According to the vice president, the United States now ranks 26th in the world in modernity of infrastructure. Rising above that will be based on “the grit of the American people.” In the past, he said, “our success has been built on the backs of the women and men that build the infrastructure.”

Find Emma Foehringer Merchant on Twitter at @egfm47.

Posted at 04:25 PM/ET, 01/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Barry's campaign for his father's old DC Council seat is going forward. By Benjamin Freed

Three days after he allegedly had a temper tantrum at a Chinatown bank, Christopher Barry writes on Facebook that he is continuing his campaign for his father's old DC Council seat. Barry, 34, writes on his Facebook page that he "learned from my father a long time ago not to get bogged down and deterred by sensationalism and the frivolous." He also notes that he is "feeling fantabulous," pairing the emotion with a smiley face.

Barry's father, of course, is the late Marion Barry, whose death last November created a vacancy in Ward 8. The younger Barry announced last week that he will try to get on the ballot for an April 28 special election, running under his legal name, Marion Christopher Barry. His campaign website and logo refer to him as Marion C. Barry, with the slogan "The Legacy Continues."

According to a police report made public Wednesday, Barry allegedly started an altercation with employees at a PNC Bank branch in Chinatown after being told he could not make a withdrawl because his account was overdrawn. Barry allegedly reacted by threatening the teller.

"You always give me a hard time,” he said, according to police. "I’m going to have someone waiting for you when you get off, you bitch."

The report also alleges that Barry threw a trash can over the teller's protective glass barrier, breaking a security camera. No charges or arrests have been made in the incident.

Barry does not explicitly mention Tuesday's events in his Facebook post, but he does refer to the public scrutiny his family has existed in for decades and his own past legal troubles. He was sentenced to 18 months probation in 2011 on multiple drug charges, and pleaded guilty last year to drunk driving.

Barry is scheduled to continue campaigning through the weekend. According to his post, he is attending a ceremony at the St. Elizabeths Hospital East Campus honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, including his father. He will also be marching as the grand marshal in Monday's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:26 PM/ET, 01/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Surprise! Another delay to the way-overdue light rail. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Victoria Pickering.

Remember former DC Mayor Vince Gray's ultimate news dump? The one in which he said, with just hours remaining in his term, that the long-anticipated streetcar running along H Street and Benning Road, Northeast, would finally open to the public the week of January 19? Yeah, that's not happening.

According to WAMU, District Department of Transportation officials say next week has been "taken off the table" as the beginning of fully fledged streetcar service. The report does not give a new projected opening date, but that hardly comes as a surprise—DDOT has been almost completely silent about the streetcar since January 2, when Mayor Muriel Bowser was sworn in. If anything, the streetcar's latest missed deadline is more of a knock on the Gray administration, which repeatedly promised residents that the streetcar would begin running in mid-2013, then late 2013, then sometime in 2014.

Streetcar planning dates back nearly a decade, with former mayor Anthony Williams hosting the ceremonial groundbreaking. Bowser, the fourth mayor to oversee the project, supported the H Street line during her time on the DC Council, but since being elected mayor has backed away from her predecessors' visions of an eventual 37-mile network criss-crossing the city, saying instead she wants to "right-size" the system.

Even before the latest delay, the streetcar was off to a rough start this year. Streetcars, undergoing a seemingly never-ending testing phase, have collided with cars on H Street nine times since October, while safety inspectors continue to find faults with DDOT's protocols and documentation.

UPDATE, 2:25 PM: In a statment, new DDOT head Leif Dormsjo says the agency is done setting "arbitrary deadlines" for the beginning of passenger service aboard the streetcar and will defer to the State Safety Office, a division of the Fire and EMS Department that determines the streetcar's readiness.

"Passenger safety is the number one priority for public transportation in the District of Columbia," Dormsjo says. "Further, given the need to achieve safety certification, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will not set arbitrary deadlines for the independent State Safety Office (SSO) to complete their regulatory compliance review. The Bowser Administration will work to launch the H Street line of DC Streetcar as part of our effort to expand the District’s transportation infrastructure and will put this long-delayed line on track. DDOT will continue to work with the independent SSO to ensure that Streetcar meets—and exceeds—all safety specifications before setting an official date to begin passenger service."

In other words, DDOT's new bosses really would have preferred it if the outgoing mayoral administration hadn't stuck them on the hook for an unrealistic goal. And the streetcar will open whenever it opens. If it ever opens.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 09:52 AM/ET, 01/16/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
The kind of electrical accident that started a fatal Green Line failure happens an average of twice per month. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Rogers.

Metro, which rarely inspires much public confidence on normal days, will be picked apart in the coming weeks and months after an incident Monday near the L'Enfant Plaza station left one passenger dead and more than 80 others hospitalized when a Green Line train stalled in a tunnel and filled with smoke.

While the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is deferring to federal regulators on the investigation into what happened yesterday, the immediate cause—electric arcing—is something the transit system has dealt with before, and without deadly consequences. Arcing is the result of a plasma discharge, and actually happens fairly often on Metro, according to a 2013 report, but rarely with any serious consequences.

Metro got a scare about electric arcing back on January 30, 2013, when a segment of the Green Line near Anacostia lost power after an insulator supporting the electrified third rail experienced electric arcing, causing several trains to shut down and spewing a cloud of smoke. Like yesterday, the 2013 incident happened right at the beginning of the afternoon rush hour, sending commuters into a tailspin. Also like yesterday, passengers aboard a train several hundred feet away from the nearest platform "self-evacuated" and navigated their way through darkened tunnels.

While Metro applauded the perfomance of most of its personnel that day, the transit agency's follow-up report still showed several failures. While passengers on one of the stalled trains commended its operator for keeping people calm and informed, many riders from the other complained about being stuck in the literal and figurative dark during their ordeal. As many as 150 of them eventually got off the train themselves and walked back before officials could reach them, more than an hour after the power went out. The report also noted that arcing insulators occur an average of twice per month.

So why was yesterday's emergency so much worse? That won't come out until the National Transporation Safety Board completes its investigation, but the immediate evidence is unsettling. Besides the frequency of electric arcs, Metro also experienced a sharp increase in the number of smoke- and fire-related incidents between 2013 and 2014, NBC4 reported last July. There are about 100,000 insulators spread across 117 miles of track, and many of them need replacing; Metro put out a request for proposals last February for bidders to replace as many as 35,000 of them over a five-year period.

Yesterday's scene resulted in the first passenger fatality since the 2009 Red Line crash near Fort Totten that killed eight riders and one train operator. And Monday's incident shared some elements of that grisly event. Some of the cars on the smoke-filled train that was stuck about 1,100 feet from the L'Enfant Plaza platform were 1000-series stock, the oldest in the system's inventory and equipment that the NTSB demanded Metro rid itself of after the Red Line disaster. When the NTSB files a report on Metro's latest accident, there may be yet another citation about an outmoded fleet.

Metro was supposed to start rolling out its newest cars, the technologically advanced 7000 series, by this month. But safety inspectors representing DC, Maryland, and Virginia recently faulted the transit agency on its safety inspection protocols, potentially delaying the rollout and leaving Metro passengers riding old rail cars on tracks in need of repair.

Posted at 11:27 AM/ET, 01/13/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Local cops surrender in the War on Christmas. By Benjamin Freed
Holiday patrol. Cached image via Google.

Christmas and Hanukkah ended two weeks ago, but the Montgomery County Police Department is still dealing with the decorations. The department, in a somewhat befuddling tweet on Thursday, announced that it is scrubbing its social media accounts of images featuring Elf on the Shelf and Mensch on a Bench, popular figurines that some observers of Christmas and Hanukkah put up during the holidays.

The department's initial tweet was greeted with some incredulity, but it is no joke. A police spokesman tells Washingtonian there were complaints that Elf on a Shelf and Mensch on a Bench were insulting to someone's beliefs.

"The person who complained found one or both offensive," says Captain Paul Starks.

Elf on the Shelf adherents often share photos of the dolls after placing them in creative positions, ranging from the delightfully safe to the disturbingly chaotic. Judging from Starks's descriptions, MCP wasn't doing anything too naughty with its Elf and Mensch. Sometimes they were posed around police stations. In the photo above, they were positioned on the windshield of a motorcycle. It was just a holiday stunt designed to make the cops appear festive.

"If you Google them, there are people who put them in all kind of precarious decisions," he says. "Christmas Day we put Elf on a Shelf getting out of the box. Obviously, we’re doing it to try to lighten up some of the news and information we put out and also connect with more of the community in another way."

Starks could not elaborate on the nature of the complaint, but he says all the offending images have been removed from the department's Facebook and Twitter histories.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:51 PM/ET, 01/08/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()