I have a goal to visit all 50 state houses. I am in Boston for a few days, so I was able to visit the Massachusetts State House. The State House is very pretty with a whole lot of marble. There is a definite sea theme in it, with waves and fish in many different areas. There is a large fish in both the House of Representatives and the Senate Chamber. The main portion (or pretty area as one worker there called it), is smaller than I originally thought it would be. However I guess the actual working area is generally more functional, not as pretty.
I went to the Women’s March on Washington today. I have only been to one of rally in my life, and that Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Clearly, I generally don’t go to rallies or protests, but this was one I really felt I had to go to. The day started out how I was sort of worried it might: a line to get into the Metro. I do have to compliment WMATA staff though. The trains were packed, but the workers were doing their best to keep things moving and helping people. They were helped by all the people going to the rally were in a really good mood and patiently waited for the train. Three trains went by where maybe one person could board because they were already full. Finally the fourth came, and there was barely anyone on it, and everyone in the station cheered and quickly got on. Then we got to L’Enfant to exit for the rally. We had to wait in line to get out. I think part of the problem was that all the escalators were off, which I think is a safety function when there are too many people. It wasn’t really a problem because we just started rallying in the subway station.
Then after getting to the surface, it was a slow walk towards the rally stage. I think I got as close as a block or so. After reading the news this evening, it was amazing I could get that close as all the streets were full. The published schedule was that the rally would be from about 10-1, and then the march would start. The march was supposed to be down Independence Ave, then turn down 14th St., then turn down Constitution Ave, and walk to The Ellipse. I got to the rally area around 12:30 and could halfway hear the speakers. Everyone was happy and joining in chants. After about 1:30, we started our own chants like “let us march” or just “march.” People were tired of listening to people and just wanted to march. Some time after 2:30, they said that there were too many people, so we would end on Constitution Ave, not The Ellipse. Then we thought we would march, but no, there were more speakers. There were many, many speakers. Then finally around 3, they said the route had changed, and now we would walk across 4th and then turn onto Constitution Ave. Finally a bit after 3, my area of people just started marching. Honestly I have no idea how many people had already started marching well before. I just followed people. When I was able to move, I moved. Evidently the people I followed either didn’t know where Constitution Ave was or didn’t care because everyone just kept walking to Pennsylvania Ave. There were people on Constitution Ave, and they all seemed to be walking back to join the people on Pennsylvania. So we marched on Pennsylvania, and people sat in the bleachers from the inauguration parade and cheered us on. People were in buildings all along the street cheering. I have to give props to DC police, National Guard, and everyone else out there who has to keep order. We were an orderly, happy, loud bunch, and they let us be. I am quite sure we were not supposed to be on that street, but they let us march. We chanted, clapped, and waved to people and let ourselves be known. One of the chants that I liked the best was “this is what democracy looks like.”
Last month while in New York, I spent some time walking around Gowanus Canal because I’m an environmental engineer, and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to visit a body of water, infamous for being incredibly polluted. The Gowanus Canal is a Superfund site due to contamination with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, and metals. However, the Gowanus Canal is also polluted with more ordinary pollutants such as bacteria from untreated wastewater from combined sewer overflow outfalls and other urban pollutants from surface runoff (and possibly illegal outfalls). The area residents are understandably pushing to get the canal cleaned up quickly, and the cleanup is a joint effort between the city, state, and federal government. The area around the canal is an interesting mixture of industrial, art galleries, and up and coming residential. It is actually a nice area. There is a Whole Foods Market next to the canal that has a nice little canal walk on the property, which features signs that say “This is the greenest supermarket in New York State. No smoking, please.” I will take them at their word about being the greenest supermarket, as I did notice solar panels and wind turbines in the parking lot. However I still had to laugh at the irony of the sign. On the bright side, the Gowanus Canal is not so polluted that should someone smoke near it, it is not in danger of catching on fire, like the Cuyahoga River did in 1969. While I was walking along the canal, I spotted a small boat with two people who seemed to be monitoring the water and also two people in a canoe. I guess the canal is safe to canoe on, if you just make sure you don’t touch the water to your skin and most definitely don’t let any get into your mouth, nose, eyes, or any other orifices. The canal does not look that polluted. There are areas with floating trash, but there are very few places where I saw a sheen. When I was there it did not smell either, but evidently especially in summer, it can smell. However, it is a good example of how appearance is not a good way to tell if something is polluted. If you want to read more about the Gowanus Canal, this article in Popular Science is pretty interesting.
I have already written how nice a town Burlington, Vermont is and how much I love its colorful houses. I just had to add one more post with a few photos of some of fun, arty, and unique things that I saw there that help to make it a cute town.
First, on Church Street, there is this water fountain which is probably one of the most unique and beautiful public water fountains that I have ever seen.
Then there is this box on Church Street where you can put donations for the less fortunate, and it is of course designed to look like Champ, the famous monster of Lake Champlain.
Then there are these paintings on a commercial building that are by far the best way to incorporate electrical boxes into the exterior design of a building that I have ever seen.
Then finally there is this sign that I spotted several copies of on Church Street. I have no idea if the second part is actually written into the Burlington ordinance, but it would be awesome if it was.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is one of those places that you must go to if in Iceland for good reason. It is historically significant as the place where the original Iceland government met, and it is amazing and beautiful site to see. It is also geologically fascinating because it sits where two major tectonic plates are spreading apart. Also, if you watch Game of Thrones, you will evidently recognize it. The very tall rock wall you can walk along side is known as Almannagjá, and it is just one of things you need to do in person to really grasp the awe of it. I found this to be a good source of information on the geology of the area.
Why do I love Google? Because I can search on “deep throat garage rosslyn,” and Google will immediately give me websites about the garage where Bob Woodward met Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, Virginia. The only way Google failed though is that it would not pull up the location in Google Maps. I had to get the address through one of the articles.
Why do I love Arlington? Because there is an actual historic marker outside the garage entrance describing this “historical” location. I mean really, who wants to visit the location of a Civil War battle or the Capitol of the United States when you can visit the exact parking spot on the lower level of a garage where a reporter met the second in command of the FBI about the Watergate Scandal? The column next to the parking spot even has a “temporary historical marker” for which there is evidently a “fine for removal or defacement.” I have never seen a historical marker that was paper covered rather badly by a lot of clear tape and bordered by lovely yellow and black tape. The “temporary historical marker” clearly gives this historical location the solemn respect it deserves. However, please be aware, if you want to visit this historical location, plan to do so in the next year or so. There are plans to tear the buildings there down. [Read the comments on that article. Some of them are truly hilarious.] There outside historical marker would evidently stay though.
You can read more about the site here. The garage is located at 1401 Wilson Blvd. in the Rosslyn area of Arlington. The parking spot is on the very bottom level in the southeast corner right next to stairwell, which was apparently one of the reasons why that spot was chosen. I don’t know how many visitors it gets. However, when I went there on a Sunday afternoon, the garage was under going repairs, such that I didn’t immediately realize there were multiple levels because I couldn’t see the car ramps. One of the contractors walked up to me and asked if I was trying to park. I said no, I was trying to find a particular parking spot, the Deep Throat parking spot. He knew what I meant and told me how to find it. So, it is a tourist attraction of sorts!
I moved to my new house and metro area about a year and a half ago. I paid a premium on my house because it is in a municipality that is very close to the main downtown area and is a downtown area onto itself. My house is a block from a street, which I will call CP, that is a major bus corridor. A bus comes by my stop on CP every few minutes to various subway stations. I can take the bus home until rather late in the evenings and really late on weekends. I can take the bus to the grocery and as I indicated in a previous post, I can take my cat to the vet on it. I take public transportation to church on Sundays. I absolutely love it. I can go weeks without using my car. I know many people who can’t bear to not use their car, but I’m not one of them. Yes, I have to wait for a bus, but I get exercise walking around, and I don’t have to deal with the absolutely insane traffic in the area.
For the most part I love my new area and specifically my municipality. I think for the most part, the municipality is designed to support those of us who like to walk and bike. I have had one annoyance for a while that has to do with the above mentioned street CP. When crossing CP at most, if not all, intersections, you have to press one of those buttons to get the pedestrian walk symbol and countdown. However you only have to do this when actually crossing CP and thus walking in a north or south direction. If you are crossing one of streets that intersect CP, thus you are walking parallel to CP or in a east or west direction, then you automatically get a pedestrian walk symbol and countdown when it is safe. I have yet to figure out a logical reason for this. I have to cross CP every weekday morning to get to my bus stop to go to work. I also cross CP and its intersecting streets at various intersections at other times. As far as I have observed, just as many people cross CP as cross its intersecting streets. Because of the way the bus stops are located, essentially diagonally across the intersections, you would expect people to be going in all directions. Obviously I have thought about this for a while, and I would like to get it changed so that when crossing CP, the pedestrian walk symbol automatically comes on. Too many times, I have had either had to wait out an entire traffic light cycle because I wasn’t sure if I had enough time to cross, or I have had to gamble and quickly get across the intersection watching the traffic light the whole time to see if I need to run. To me, this is a safety issue. Too many people cross CP to catch a bus, and I would bet that there are constantly people crossing when it is not safe because they don’t realize how little time is left.
Thus, I am determined to see if I can get things changed. I have no delusions that I could just call someone up at the municipality and get things changed in a couple of weeks. However, things don’t get changed if no one tries. I have been searching for a while with whom I need to talk. Last week I met someone who gave me the name of a municipality staff person who might be able to help. I also found out that there is a citizen pedestrian advisory board. I decided the best place to start was with this board.
At this point, I should explain that before I moved to this new metro area, I lived in a small college town. The college being where I got my Ph.D. I love this little town, and during my seven years there, I got involved in numerous ways. One way I got involved was by being a member of the town pedestrian and bicycle advisory board for five years. Being a member of this board is an unpaid, partially thankless job, that many people would hate, but that I liked. Members are appointed by the town council and are citizens of the town and surrounding areas. Like other advisory boards, we reviewed special use permit applications for things under our purview. Staff would have already reviewed the applications, but we looked at them for the standpoint of, for example, they have the required number of bicycle parking spots but are they in a safe and useful location. We did other things and worked with other boards and departments, but the goal was to help give input as active cyclists and pedestrians to improve our town. Our meetings were always open, and on a regular basis, citizens would come to our meetings to complain about something or seek our support on something else. We couldn’t always help, but we always listened and tried our best to see what could be done. Many times things would come down to limited funds. Many times things would come down to reality or legalities.
In my old town, getting the advisory board’s support added more weight to its importance with the staff and town council. So when I found out that my new municipality has a citizen pedestrian advisory board, I thought this was the best place to start. They meet once a month, and there was one tonight. It started at 7, so I went straight from work. I was hoping to say my peace, perhaps stay for a little bit to see how things worked, then catch a bus home and get dinner. Oh the best laid plans of mice and men. . . I made some assumptions that the meeting would be at least partially like my old town’s. The town was a municipality of less than 60,000 people, and there were nine members of the advisory board. The first thing on our agendas was to welcome new people and ask if there was a specific reason they were there. They were of course welcome always, but most of the time people come to the meetings for a specific reason. My new municipality has a population close to 220,000. I figured the board might be larger, and the meetings have a larger attendance. Then, I got to the meeting, and there are six other people there. One of those people was actually presenting something to the board and wasn’t a member. Another person walked in late, and I never found out who he was. At the beginning of the meeting everyone introduced themselves, I said I had lived here for a year and a half, and I am one of those annoying citizens with a demand (or something to that effect). I said it with a laugh and a smile, and everyone took it as a joke. The staff person then introduced himself as a staff person who deals with annoying, demanding citizens. The meeting started with a person presenting information about an ongoing project. He then left, and the chair immediately brought up another item on the agenda. They discussed several items for quite a while, and most of the time I didn’t understand what they were talking about as they were issues with which I was not familiar. At no point, did they ever ask me why I was there. They never asked me what my demand was that I had joked about when I introduced myself. It just didn’t seem to occur to them. I have to wonder if they ever get members of the public just show up at their meetings. They were nice to me, but evidently they thought I was just there to watch them. I have no idea.
I finally had to leave the meeting at 8:40. I needed to catch a bus that only came every half hour. I was really hungry, and I had no idea if I would ever be allowed to speak about why I was there. When I got up, the chair thanked me for coming. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I finally asked when do they allow for items not on the agenda for people like me. Again, I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I got the impression that 1. they don’t get many people like me wanting to discuss something not on their agenda and 2. if someone like me shows up, they are just supposed to say their peace when they get there. I have no idea if that is really what they expect. Their meetings are really informal, and perhaps they don’t actually vote on anything. Perhaps because on my old town’s board, we did vote on things, we had an agenda and followed, or tried to follow, Robert’s Rules. I was never given an agenda for this meeting, so I have no idea when I would have had a chance to talk, or when this meeting would end.
Once I finally had the board’s attention, as I was leaving, I stated in a vey polite manner that I had served on my former town’s bike and pedestrian advisory board for five years, and the first item on the agenda was always people who randomly showed up. I said that since they were a citizen advisory board, I would assume they want citizen input. If they want a meeting conducive to welcoming citizen input, then when someone new shows up, they need to ask them if there is a specific reason why they are there and give them time to speak. Perhaps other people would just interrupt, but I am not like that. You can’t expect someone to sit through an entire meeting waiting for a chance to speak, especially if that person is never given an agenda and never informed when they can speak. All of them seemed quite surprised and perhaps to an extent concerned by my comments. I think they would have welcomed my concerns, it just didn’t occur to them that they should ask me for them. I am quite surprised by all this. This is quite a large municipality, and I can’t believe no one shows up with a concern. Then again, it took me forever to find out about this board, and I was actively searching. Perhaps barely anyone else knows they exist. Once I shared my annoyance and disappointment with the board, they then seemed to want to know what my concern was. I had previously given the chair my e-mail address, so he asked if he could email me. I said of course, I just had to leave to catch a bus.
So now I am annoyed. I wasted two hours of my life and got nothing accomplished. Not only did I not get to talk to the board or anyone else about my concern with pedestrian walk lights, I am now annoyed with the way this particular board operates. I want to know if other citizen boards work like this. How do they expect to get input from the public if they don’t make their meetings conducive to receive input? How are concerned citizens even supposed to find these boards when they are not advertised all that well. So now, I have a new quest. Besides getting pedestrian lights changed, I now want to change how this board operates. I want my municipality to advertise these citizen boards better. So who do I have to talk to about this?
Thus my new municipality, I am putting you on notice. Geeky Girl Engineer is annoyed. I did not sit idly by when I get annoyed. No, I go annoy other people until I get things changed. I am a persistent little bugger, too. You have been warned.