Category Archives: Alt Transportation

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App will help fight parking tickets


WASHINGTON — There seems to be an app for everything these days, and soon there will be one to fight bad parking tickets.

The app, called Fixed, allows drivers to upload a picture of their ticket, then explain why the ticket shouldn’t have been written. Fixed takes care of the rest.

Fixed is launching first in San Francisco, and the developer hopes to expand to the District.

“A common misconception with parking violations is that they’re black and white. But frequently it’s actually a gray issue. That’s where we’re here to help, to get you off those tickets that are gray issues,” says David Hegarty, co-founder of Fixed.

“We have a team of legal researchers that pour over the parking regulations and ordinances that apply to parking. But what’s clever about our system is that it learns. We have an algorithm to know, for a given type of violation, what are the most common types of errors and what are the most effective defenses. The more tickets we put into the system, the smart the algorithm gets.”

Once a photograph of the ticket is uploaded, the app will asks why the ticket is wrong. It could prompt users to take more pictures, then will forward the information to the legal researchers. Fixed then helps challenge the ticket and write a statement of defense with legal reasons why the ticket should be dismissed.

For nearly a year, WTOP Ticketbuster has profiled the persistent and repeated problems with erroneous tickets written in Washington and the problems adjudicating those tickets at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

District of Columbia ticket writers issue about two million citations per year, mostly from the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Hegarty says he’s a victim too, that’s why he started the app.

“I was working with my co-founders last November and we were kicking around ideas. One day, I came back to my car and I found two tickets on my windshield. It was frustrating because I just paid four others. I was fuming. But someone told me that I could contest them,” says Hegarty.

“I learned how to contest tickets, all the rules, and I won both cases. I told my friends about this and they suggested to put it into an app, so everyone could do it. That was the genesis for Fixed.”

The app launches the first week of March in San Francisco for Apple and Android phones and will be free to download. There’s a waitlist to join.

Hegarty hopes to expand to Washington, D.C. within the next 18 months, but will make that decision based on demand.

“The demand is so great that we’ve put in a wait list process. The way we’ll determine what cities to expand to next is the number of downloads we have in that city. So my advice to the listeners in D.C. want it to come to the D.C.-area sooner, they should download it and get on the waitlist now,” he says.

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© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.



Lawmakers seek to restore trust in speed cameras

The House Environmental Matters Committee approved a bill that would set up an ombudsman to let people resolve speed-camera disputes without going to court. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A new position will work to ease drivers’ frustration with speed cameras in Maryland after a House committee’s meeting Tuesday.

At a hearing Tuesday, the House Environmental Matters Committee heard testimony on a number of bills to reform speed-camera programs, ultimately deciding to accept a measure that would create an ombudsman in each county and town that would serve as a customer service liaison between police and drivers.

House Bill 929, proposed by Delegates James Malone, D-Baltimore County, and Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel, would also explicitly define a school zone as K-12 and requires cameras to be located within a half-mile of the center point of the school.

“When people have a complaint or a concern, the driver will be able to go to [the ombudsman], as opposed to the court. Hopefully, a lot of these erroneous tickets that people are getting will be able to get taken care of with an ombudsman,” Malone says.

“We’re going to watch the effect of the ombudsman across the state as much as we can. I’m sure when we pass state law that the local jurisdictions are adherent to the law. If they don’t, in my opinion, repercussions will have to be taken.”

McMillan says the ombudsman would give drivers a fair shake.

“An individual who gets a ticket from a speed camera can go to the individual, who’ll look at the records surrounding that camera, talk to the liaison. The liaison at the point can dismiss the ticket, and you wouldn’t even have to go to court. I think this is going to be useful to Maryland citizens.”

But some aren’t too confident that smaller jurisdictions in Prince George’s County will pick a reputable liaison. WTOP has chronicled problems in Fairmount Heights and Morningside and, in recent years, problems have also surfaced in Riverdale Park.

“Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, what we need is oversight: Having the Attorney General looking at this will bring fresh light to this dark subject,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic Spokesman John Townsend.

Ron Ely of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, an opponent of speed cameras, says the new position won’t make things worse.

“We’re not saying having an ombudsman is a bad thing,” Ely says.

“But the committee seems so determined to leave every local government to police themselves. You’ve got to wonder: Some of the local governments we’ve had the most problems with, who are they going to pick? Like in Morningside, they could pick their existing code enforcement officer.”

Ely is referring to Regina Foster, who was recently named code enforcement officer after stepping down from the town council for the second time in three years. In 2011, Foster resigned after a Maryland State Police investigation found that she may have inappropriately voided red-light camera tickets. She denied any wrongdoing.

Morningside driver Mike Weathersby testified on Tuesday. WTOP Ticketbuster helped him after his video showed him going the speed limit, yet he still received a ticket from the town. Weathersby recalled the story WTOP reported on last November to lawmakers, many of whom came to him afterward and apologized for the ordeal.

“Today was the first day I heard about it. I will be happy to work with Delegate Aisha Braveboy to see what we can do, to make sure it doesn’t continue or happen again,” says Malone.

Braveboy, D-Morningside, sent a letter to Morningside and urged them on WTOP Radio to conduct an independent audit of their program, similar to an audit conducted in Baltimore last year. Morningside told WTOP that if we wanted to conduct an independent audit, we would have to pay for it ourselves. Both Baltimore and Morningside used Brekford Corp. as their vendor.

“The truth is, Morningside is making money off of speed-camera tickets. It’s the cost of doing business to ensure whatever device you’re using is accurate. They should build the cost of an independent audit into their contracts and any town budget decisions they make. If you don’t have the desire to ensure the speed cameras in your town are accurate, then you shouldn’t be using them,” says Braveboy.

McMillan says HB 929 will help in places like Morningside.

“Quite candidly, a lot of the things that came out of Baltimore City and those jurisdictions you’ve identified in Prince George’s County were the motivation for this legislative,” he says.

“Under this legislation, everything that Morningside has done, as far as records, would be open to the public. It also requires the Town of Morningside to have their equipment calibrated daily and checked and validated annually from someone other than Brekford. I think all these things will restore confidence in towns like Morningside.”




Watchdog report: Metro employees cheat the parking system

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – A viewer complaint to ABC7’s Watchdog unit asked us to investigate illegal parking by WMATA employes at the Anacostia Metro Station’s parking garage.

The viewer claimed while she was ticketed for her meter running out, Metro employees were being allowed to cheat the system.

The small parking lot adjacent to the Anacostia Metro parking lot garage is popular with Metro employees. It allows for up to 12 hours of metered parking, but many Metro employees aren’t paying – the meters all read “expired.”

ABC7 made multiple visits, seeing many of the same cars parked for free.

According to the “Metro Employee Parking Policy – Reminder” memo sent to all employees last January and obtained by ABC7 News, “Metro employes must pay the Board-approved parking fees to park personal vehicles at Metrorail stations and Metro parking facilities.”

But what about the parking passes, vests and even a police patch seen on the dash boards of more than a dozen vehicles parked at expired meters?

Employees were told, in writing, those items “do not relieve an employee of the responsibility to pay parking fees and parking meter charges.”

“I work for Metro and I don’t think I should have to pay, period,” says one Metro employee.

Some Metro customers disagree.

“They shouldn’t be cheating the system,” says John Joyce. “I have to pay just like anybody else. I’m a paying customer.”

“I’m definitely paying to park,” says Moses Muldrow. “They should pay to park.”

In a statement to ABC7 News, WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel says:

“This is an issue that comes up from time to time, and one that requires occasional reinforcement with employees… employees parking their personal vehicles must comply with all applicable parking fees and regulations. I have forwarded the complaint to MTPD who will step up patrols at Anacostia to resolve the issue.”

The transit agency says it also received a complaint from a rider about the situation at the Anacostia parking garage and promised the Transit Police would step up patrols.

On ABC7’s next visit, nearly every Metro employee’s vehicle parked at an expired meter had a $25 citation on the windshield.

State apologizes for damage to homes along I-270

WASHINGTON – Maryland highway officials apologized Tuesday after several people living along Interstate 270 in Rockville and Germantown reported their windows were broken late last week by ice and rocks that apparently came over the highway’s 20-foot tall sound barrier.

“This is not normal, it’s not acceptable, and we believe it was a contractor using a snow thrower, so for anybody who’s had damages to their home or property, they can file a claim to get reimbursed,” says Valerie Burnette Edgar with the State Highway Administration.

These types of insurance claims are handled through the Maryland State Treasurer’s Office, using a “Notice of Claim” form.

Homeowners with damage can also call the Treasurer’s Office at 800-942-0162.

“If it is indeed, we believe, our contractor, the state will seek to get the damages covered by the contractor,” Burnette Edgar says.

About 70 percent of SHA snow-removal workers are part of contract crews who go through much of the same training that state employees do.

“We’re also going to take a look at what happened, and make sure we work with the contractor and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she says.

Normally, Burnette Edgar says extra snow would be pushed onto wide shoulders, space between the highway and ramps or other spaces, but the overwhelming amount of snow led to the use of snow blowers to keep the pavement clear for drivers.

“Snow piled up in a big mound on the side of the road is a hazard, so they needed to get that off the shoulders and out of the way, particularly on a high-speed interstate. It’s obviously not acceptable to have it go into a residential area like that, and we truly regret and apologize for that inconvenience and problem for the residents,” she says.

In Rockville, Mary Plummer said it sounded like an avalanche.

In Germantown, Joseph Belcher and his wife Kristi say their 3-year-old son was right next to a window when the rocks came flying.

Burnette Edgar says SHA is not aware of any similar reports of issues on any other interstates or other state roads during the recent storms.

“Thus far, it seems to be an isolated incident along I-270. Every storm where we get a lot of accumulation, there’s some mailboxes and things like that that we have to repair, and we just ask for patience, and that you please file a claim with us,” she says.

Some of those smaller claims can be submitted through the SHA’s own online form. But that is not considered valid notice to the state for anyone who may be interested in filing an insurance claim through the Treasurer’s Office.

Towing company breaking state law by staking out parking lot

WASHINGTON — Towing companies in Maryland are continuing a predatory practice, despite a recently passed law meant to stop it, according to a NBC Washington report.

Legislation went into effect in 2012 prohibiting “spotters.” Those are employees hired by towing companies to stake out a certain location and look for cars they can haul away.

“Somebody who just stands on the street or hides in a garage or building just waiting on someone to walk off the property, one false step, waiting for someone to exceed the limit by one minute,” Eric Friedman, an investigator with Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, tells NBC Washington.

NBC Washington’s investigative team watched as spotters perused the lots at Blairs Shopping Center in Silver Spring. Signs are posted around the parking lot saying “Walk Offs Will be Towed,” which means drivers can’t park in the lot and leave the property.

Moments after drivers left the property, spotters snapped photos of the car and towed them in many cases. In one instance, the spotters incorrectly identified a man leaving and towed his car though he was legally parked there.

According to Friedman, spotters are most active in areas around shopping malls.

“A lot of consumers don’t realize that somebody is watching them in many cases,” Friedman tells NBC Washington.

NBC Washington reports at least one company, G&G Towing, is suing the state, claiming the law is unconstitutional and oppressive.

Drivers who suspect they have fallen victim to a spotter should report the incident.

Metro beats driving for the morning commute

Metro subway during a morning commute in Washington. (REUTERS)

In the Feb. 2 Commuter Page feature “Franconia to D.C.: Go!” Robert Thomson and Mark Berman compared taking Metro to driving on a trip from Franconia to the District. Both needed roughly the same amount of time en route, but their “final thoughts” mentioned the value of enjoying the comfort of one’s own car (albeit in slow-moving traffic), rather than waiting on a chilly platform for a Metro train.

In fact, the quality-of-life differences between the two commutes are far more stark than that. Riders who board Metro at the end of the line (i.e., Franconia-Springfield) are likely to get a seat for the whole ride. Unlike drivers, Metro riders waste no mental energy attending to stop-and-go traffic or asking a GPS for an alternate route. The long-distance Metro passenger is free to do a crossword puzzle, read, check e-mail or even take a nap — arriving at one’s destination potentially less stressed and fresher.

As our region continues to grow, providing our residents with less stressful options as they move around the region is good for all of us. More transit riders mean fewer cars on the road.

Mary Hynes, Arlington

The writer, vice chair of the Arlington County Board, is a member of the WMATA board of directors.

Tips on clearing out after snowstorm

Snowy street

You may be clearing your driveway before the plow reaches your street. Push snow to the right, so plows won’t cover your work. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

Most people in the D.C. region will begin their post-storm travels as pedestrians, whether they like it or not. Here are some tips for getting around.

Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. The District, for example, has a rule that sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice within eight hours after the end of a storm. They don’t expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing driveways, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow back across the driveway entrance.

When clearing your own sidewalk, think about neighbors who may be elderly or disabled, and save a little energy for their walkways.

Metro doesn’t clear the bus stops or the areas around them. Metro does clear areas around rail station entrances and the above-ground platforms. Some platforms have a new type of paving tile that is less slippery, but some still have the original, slip-prone paving tiles.

Before starting to clear snow, try using Pam or car wax on the shovel blade, so the snow will slide off more easily. With a heavy snow like this, give your back a break by skimming off a top layer first, then making a second scoop down to the pavement. Think twice about parking in a street space your neighbor just cleared out. That probably won’t end well.

If you are driving, be extra careful of pedestrians. They’re more likely to be walking in the streets in the immediate aftermath of a storm.

Highway departments generally don’t clear bike paths.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state’s numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Highways in the D.C. area are in much better shape as of 10:45 a.m. than they were at dawn, but road surface conditions vary a lot across the region. Many drivers will have difficulty getting out of their neighborhoods. The initial goal for the plows working the neighborhood streets is to make them “passable.” That doesn’t mean you’ll see bare pavement soon.

If you are planning to drive to an airport in the D.C. area, be sure to check on your flight first. Many Thursday flights from Dulles, Reagan National and BWI airports have been cancelled.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.

Waiting for transit. Most of the D.C. region’s bus systems suspended service for Thursday morning. So did MetroAccess, the paratransit service. Watch for updates on restoration. This is the link to The Post’s storm updates. Metrobus’s Next Bus system, designed to provide real-time information on when the bus should arrive at your stop, doesn’t perform well during weather disruptions. So even as bus service is restored, don’t count on the accuracy of the prediction system.

See storm updates from the Capital Weather Gang.

Metro weekend track work: Red line station closures, delays on orange and blue

WASHINGTON (AP) – Riders will have to wait longer some Metro trains this weekend and into Presidents Day.

Metro says beginning Friday night and continuing through Monday, trains on the blue line will operate every 20 minutes. Orange line trains will operate every 10 to 20 minutes.

On the red line, buses will replace trains between Woodley Park and Metro Center. Trains between Shady Grove and Woodley Park will operate every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and every 15 to 20 minutes at other times. Red line trains between Glenmont and Metro Center will operate every 15 minutes.

The green and yellow lines will have normal weekend service.

On Monday, Presidents Day, the system will operate on a Saturday schedule. It will open at 5 a.m. and close at midnight.

Report: Speed cameras reduce crashes, injuries in D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new report from the D.C. Department of Transportation finds that speed cameras are doing a good job at reducing accidents, injuries and slowing drivers down.

DDOT teamed up with engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to study 295 speed camera locations within the District of Columbia. These include existing, planned and proposed locations for the cameras. According to the executive summary findings, total crashes dropped 16.83 percent and the number of injuries 20.38 percent after cameras were installed.

“Using the analysis results from the speed data analysis and the crash data analysis, as well as reviewing the field assessment results, the team was able to determine the nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at most locations,” the report finds. “Overall, all of the results supported the nexus between traffic safety and the speed cameras at all 295 existing, planned and proposed locations.”

DDOT Chief Traffic Engineer James Cheeks, who co-authored the report, says the 100 block of Florida Avenue NW is a perf ect example. A camera was installed there in November 2011.

“We noticed people, prior to putting that camera there, would speed to try and go through the signals along that roadway. Now they’re more cognizant of the fact that there’s a park there, kids are crossing, parents are taking their children, there a lot of elderly people walking in the area. So drivers are being more cautious as they drive through that area,” he says.

At each location, engineers compared the number of crashes and the overall speed of drivers to determine the safety impact. Cheeks says drivers do slow down for cameras.

“Speeds were 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. We put in cameras and we saw the speeds one to five miles over the limit,” he says, although he wishes people would slow down more.

John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs, applauds DDOT’s detailed analysis.

“Given what has befallen the Baltimore automated traffic enforcement programs and the speed camera program in smaller jurisdictions in Maryland, such as Fairmount Heights and Morningside, this report delves into a salient and essential rubric. The nexus between crash sites and incidents data and speed camera location, and most of all, safety for motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, school children, seniors and joggers,” he writes in an email to WTOP.

Townsend says he hopes people in Morningside and Fairmount Heights and other small Maryland jurisdictions will read this report and make their goal about safety, not raising revenue.

However, if you look closer at the 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW speed camera, you’ll notice mixed results bring up an issue hotly debated in automated traffic enforcement. The report finds that while drivers are now traveling much slower than the speed limit, the number of crashes have increased since the camera went up in January 2010. In particular, a spike in the number of rear-end collisions.

Critics point out that such crashes often spike at red light and speed camera locations, when drivers slow down to avoid a ticket, forcing the driver behind to slam on his breaks. The critics add that when you increase rear-end collisions, such cameras are not improving traffic safety.

However, the authors of the report did not come to the same conclusion here.

“The increase in the number of crashes after the installation of the speed camera suggest an outlier and a more detailed safety analysis is needed to determine the cause of an increase in collisions,” says the report .

And yet the conclusion seems to back up the camera.

“The speed data analysis showed the mean and 85th percentile speeds to be lower than the posted speed limit, and the crash data analysis showed elevated number of speed-related crashes at this location. Due to the analysis results along with the specific site characteristics and pedestrian generators, there is a nexus between traffic safety and the speed camera at this location,” the report says.

Critics also point out that while drivers slow down when passing a camera, they often just speed back up once they pass it. So while 85 percent of drivers at 3500 Massachusetts Avenue NW went 12 mph in the 30 mph zone, drivers likely sped up short after passing the camera.

Nonetheless, Cheeks thinks the camera works and hopes that the new stop sign, pedestrian and intersection cameras recently deployed will help make roads safer.

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© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

Flyover bridge unveiled in Southeast D.C.


WASHINGTON – A new flyover bridge on Interstate 695 was quietly unveiled by the District Department of Transportation on Friday in Southeast D.C.

The new bridge provides a smooth connection between the eastbound Southeast Freeway and the outbound span of the 11th Street Bridge.

The 11th Street Bridge Project, the District’s largest road improvement project to date, is more than halfway complete. The new configuration sets the outbound side of the road in its final alignment on its approach toward the Anacostia River.

Additionally, a new on-ramp from 8th Street SE, pictured right, will allow traffic from the Barracks Row to merge onto the new bridge in the coming weeks.

Prior to Friday, eastbound drivers relied on a temporary traffic pattern, using a newly constructed inbound bridge. The inbound bridge is now closed. From the 11th Street Bridge, inbound drivers will continue to use an older flyover ramp to access the westbound Southeast Freeway.

DDOT hopes to have this ramp open within four to six weeks.

Chronic delays caused by the temporary traffic pattern have plagued morning commuters since the project began several years ago. By March, crews hope to have the freeway in its final alignment with a total of six lanes open to traffic.

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