A sign of the times

Every day hundreds of commuters try to avoid traffic lights and congestion by using Capitol Hill side streets instead of main arteries like Massachusetts or Independence avenues. This practice totally ticks off the neighborhood.

The problem is particularly bad just east of Union Station, where cars with suburban plates turn off of 2nd Street N.E. and speed down F or E streets on the way home to Maryland during the evening rush hour.

There are signs indicating that only “LOCAL TRAFFIC” is allowed on these streets between 4 and 6:30 p.m., but at 6 p.m. on March 27, HillScape observed police officers standing idly by as suburban motorists ignored the sign.

There is confusion over the meaning of “local.”

Last month, Janice Reed, who lives at 5th and F, made the same turn onto F from 2nd that she’s made “every night of my life for the last 15 years.” A cop pulled her over.

“Are you aware of that sign back there?” the officer asked. She told him she was one of the people who helped put it there.
“What do you consider local traffic?” the officer asked, according to Reed.

“Me! I am local traffic,” was the gist of her reply. She lives three blocks away.

The officer wrote her a ticket.

“I was livid,” says Reed.

But soon enough the ticket was cancelled, and Reed received a copied letter of apology from the police to one of her neighbors, who had had a similar problem.

Reed and members of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), who all worked closely with the city to put up the “local traffic” sign, were under the impression that “local traffic” meant cars with D.C. license plates. They got this impression from a police commander, who reported getting it from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).
But the confusion persisted.

A police sergeant told HillScape that local traffic means “residents and people who work in the area.” This definition would make the signs meaningless, as people who work in the area — particularly at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building and the Securities and Exchange Commission, both right next to Union Station — constitute the bulk of the bad traffic.

That same day a DDOT official told HillScape that license plates do not determine localness, and the official was unsure whether area workers were barred from the side streets.

“We’re just trying to sort this out and it’s been much more complicated than I anticipated,” said ANC commissioner Terrence Heubert.

Fellow commissioner Karen Wirt insisted that there was no confusion; local means D.C. tags. She said that the previous day’s flyers were distributed inside the federal buildings informing employees that the police would be enforcing the local-only rule.

By the end of the day DDOT spokesman Erik Linden had an official answer, sort of: “DDOT posts the signs but leaves the enforcement up to [D.C. police].”

So, then, if First District Cmdr. Diane Groomes says she’s not going to allow suburban plates to use F Street or E Street during rush hour, then that’s the law. But Linden concedes that “DDOT realizes this is a very difficult sign to enforce.”
So there will never be a perfect solution, to the endless chagrin of the locals. “It makes your blood pressure go up,” Reed says.


Skelton bumped off


There are 1,772 registered Republicans in Ward 7, according to the most recent statistics from the Board of Elections and Ethics. But Marcus Skelton, the Republican candidate in the special election to fill Ward 7’s City Council seat, couldn’t find even 500 of them.

HillScape reported on Feb. 28 that an election with 19 candidates is ideal for a Republican in a D.C. Ward race. With all those candidates and only one Republican to soak up votes from the party faithful, that person could win, conceivably, with as little as 15 percent of a vote. The figure of 1,772 isn’t even close to 15 percent of Ward 7’s registered voters, but as any March Madness fan will tell you, nothing beats a scrappy underdog taking out the big-timers.

Unfortunately, it’s not a good year for underdogs. Skelton withdrew his candidacy soon after one of his 18 opponents, Julie Rones, raised questions about the signatures on his nominating petition.

You need to get 500 signatures to get on the ballot, and all of them need to live in the ward.

“He had only 512 signatures, and he had Maryland, he had Southwest, he didn’t really care who he had,” says Rones. “His wife is not even registered [in Ward 7].”

Skelton, who also ran for an at-large seat in November, yanked his name off the list before he would have had to deal with a hearing in front of the Board. He did not respond to requests for comment. D.C. Republican Party Chairman Bob Kabel, reached in Brazil, declined to comment.

Rones’s supporters have challenged at least six other candidates’ petitions, but only Skelton’s campaign has been sunk so far. She says the Board’s standards for reviewing nominating petitions are far too lax.

“You could say you were Mickey Mouse,” says Rones. “This process … really requires reform.”

Ken McGhie, general counsel for the Board of Elections and Ethics, says that court precedent prohibits the Board from initiating its own investigations of petitions. Doing so would be a conflict of interest. But if there is an incredibly obvious problem with the signatures on a nominating petition — like 500 Mickey Mouses — McGhie says the Board won’t wait for a complaint to initiate an investigation.

He points to the 2002 mayoral election, for which incumbent Anthony Williams was disqualified from the ballot because of signature fraud. McGhie recalls seeing Kofi Annan and various cartoon characters on Williams’s petitions. (Fake Billy Joel, fake Tony Blair, and fake Kelsey Grammer also supported the mayor.) 

“If Dorothy Brizill didn’t challenge it, that would not have happened,” counters Rones.

Either way, McGhie et al. were tough on Williams and his bogus-signature-gatherers in the end:

“The Board rejected those signatures and referred them over to the U.S. attorney’s office,” McGhie says. Beware, Skelton!


Residents strike again


On March 29 the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission (SEC), in partnership with the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, DDOT, and the Washington Nationals, held a public meeting in Southwest to offset resident concerns about imminent traffic insanity to be caused by the new baseball stadium.

The meeting consisted of soul-sucking PowerPoint presentations from officials followed by a thorough haranguing from residents, who know the stadium will cause problems regardless of the government’s careful planning.

“We’re gonna be sitting in our neighborhood unable to leave” because of game-day traffic, shouted one resident.

“Don’t forget the people living on Maine Avenue!” shouted a gray-haired woman in tight sweatpants, in the middle of a presentation on the SEC’s transportation plans by Lou Slade of Gorove/Slade Associates.

“Make prices high! Don’t let them park here!” shouted an elderly man. (A de facto commuter tax!)

The presentations dealt with plans to change roads, ramps and Metro stations. Slade discussed remote parking (at sites like RFK) and getting fans to walk from distant Metro stations. He also promised that the baseball crowd would not park on neighborhood streets.

The Nationals provided representatives for questions but decided against making a formal presentation, instead handing out free hats, lunch bags, and stacks of Post-it notes. A wise gesture, considering that almost everything else about the Nationals (not least the throngs of white Virginians riding the Metro on opening day) tells average D.C. residents, “This is not for you.”