Archive for the 'Washington DC' Category

C-SPANistan and Other DC Neighborhoods

The Washington City Paper came up with this excellent fantasy map of Washington, DC for the cover of their most recent edition.  Georgetown becomes the Banana Republic Republic; Capitol Hill becomes C-SPANistan; Rock Creek Park is the Gary Conduit; and the Mall is Fannypackistan.  Click here or on the picture above to go to a full image of the map, on the City Paper’s site.

The paper’s website actually allows visitors to click on each neighborhood to see interesting places to see, shop, and eat.  It also ranks the neighborhoods in terms of power, with those in Southwest and Southeast DC coming in at the bottom of the rankings.


Lights Out in DC

The power is out all across downtown Washington, DC this morning resulting in major commuter delays, traffic accidents, and stranded workers.  These problems are being compounded by a pair of probably unrelated fires on DC’s Metro system.  Even the White House is running on emergency generator power.

The Washington Post has produced a map of the affected area, above.  The scale of the outage is enormous–approximately 40 blocks according to some reports.  Every subway line in the city has stations in the affected area.

Click here or on the picture above to see a larger map of the outage.

The American Meridian

Modern geographers measure degrees of longitude from the Prime Meridian running through Greenwich, England, but things didn’t always work this way.  In fact, America, like many other countries, long maintained its own “Prime Meridian” for domestic and international cartographic measurements and surveys.   This meridian was the basis for determining state borders and other domestic surveys, and formed a key part of demarcating a rapidly growing United States.

The map above, from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior, shows the major survey lines used to demarcate the boundaries of most modern U.S. states.  The borders of the first 17 states are not included on this map because they predate the establishment of the survey system.  Texas is also exempt as its boundaries were established by treaty.  Many of the secondary baseline meridians on this map were full degrees of longitude from one of several American meridians.  Click here or on the picture above to enlarge the map.

America actually had four separate prime meridians, all of which ran through Washington, DC.  The first was established in 1791 by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the planner who designed the new capital city.  L’Enfant established America’s first prime meridian running through the center of the U.S. Capitol Building, and used this as the basis for his original plans for the city. 

L’Enfant designed his city around a giant right triangle, with vertices at the Capitol, the White House, and the Washington Monument.  The leg of the triangle between the White House and the Washington Monument became America’s second prime meridian in 1793, as surveyed by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  Stones marking this meridian can still be found on the National Mall today.

The second meridian persisted until 1850, when Congress established a new, third meridian explicitly for domestic surveys while adopting the British Prime Meridian for all nautical calculations.  The new American meridian would run through the old U.S. Naval Observatory, now the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, in DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.  This meridian persisted until 1897, when the U.S. Naval Observatory moved to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue.  Visitors to the area can find a small monument showing this meridian on the grounds of the George Washington University.

The third meridian was, by law, used for all domestic surveys from 1850 to 1897–the years of some of America’s greatest territorial expansion.  As such, many of the Western states have borders based on this third meridian.   Both the eastern and western borders of Colorado and Wyoming, for example, are demarcated at fixed, full degrees from the 1850 meridian.  The table below shows all state boundaries based on this meridian:

Degree    Boundary
25°         W Kansas (29 January 1861) as a state 
               E Colorado (28 February 1861), NE not dependent on Kansas 
               SW Nebraska
27°         E Montana (3 March 1863) as Idaho Territory
               E Wyoming (3 March 1863) as Idaho Territory 
               NW Nebraska
               W North Dakota as Dakota Territory 
               W South Dakota as Dakota Territory
32°         W Colorado (28 February 1861)
               SE Utah
               E Arizona (24 February 1863)
               W New Mexico
34°         SW Montana (26 May 1864) 
               W Wyoming (25 July 1868), SW not dependent on Montana
               SE Idaho
               NE Utah
37°         E Nevada (5 May 1866) as a state (39° → 38° → 37°) 
               W Utah
39°         NW Montana (26 May 1864)
               NE Idaho

America’s fourth meridian, running through the new U.S. Naval Observatory, was used for several decades.  It wasn’t until the International Meridian Conference in 1884 that most countries, including the United States, agreed to standardize their meridians on the British line.

Power Tables

Anyone who’s ever visited Washington, DC knows that the halls of power extend far beyond the alabaster walkways of the Capitol and the White House.  K Street lobbying firms, NGO offices, and the infamous “smoke-filled room” all play a part in DC’s wheeling and dealing.  There’s even a deserted parking garage thrown in once in a while.   But though all these locations all play important roles in the politics of the capital city, no one should discount the impact of a small number of choice restaurants on the DC political scene. 

The map above, entitled “Power Tables,” is from the interactive features website of Conde Nast’s  It shows the most important of the restaurants that meet at the crossing of money, power, politics, ambition, and delicious food.  These restaurants, naturally, center around the White House and Penn Quarter areas of Central DC, within walking distance of many political offices.  Click here or on the picture above to see the full map.

The map is interactive, as well: click on any of the fork-and-knife icons, and the map will tell you not the name of the restaurant, but also which notable figures can be found there and what they eat.  For example, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton dines at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel three times a week, and generally partakes of the Mediterranean food.  Want to “accidently” bump into Secretary of Defense Robert Gates?  You should reserve a table Morton’s on Connecticut Avenue.  And you can walk over to The Source, beneath the Newseum, to find Nanci Pelosi and Harry Ried.

Zoning Out

Today is May 1.  To most folks around the world, that means Labor Day or May Day.  To most Americans, it’s just another day.  Except if you live in Washington, DC, where May 1, 2008, means Meter Day.

On October 17, 2007, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the city’s cabs would be switching from the old zone system, established during the Great Depression, to a meter-based fare system.  To those unfamiliar with DC’s zone-based fare system, it’s a simple concept: the city is divided into zones, and taxi fares are calculated based on the zones covered rather than a true distance covered.  Click on the picture above to see the full zone map from the website of the DC Taxicab Commission.

The major benefit of the system was that riders weren’t penalized for their cabs getting stuck in DC’s notorious traffic, and drivers had an incentive to take riders on the fastest route to their destination because the on-the-ground distance or drive time didn’t matter.  The downside, though, was that visitors to the District had no knowledge of the zones and were sometimes (perhaps frequently) cheated by unscrupulous cabbies.  Some riders (myself included) are also guilty of taking a cab to a zone line and walking a couple of extra blocks to save a buck or two instead of crossing the line and incurring an additional charge.

Cab drivers in DC have generally been opposed to the idea of meters–partly becuase they can be pricey and the drivers will have to provide them at their own expense, and partly because it alters a system that, quite frankly, most DC residents had grown accustomed to.  The District has required that all cabs be running on meters by today, and fines for noncompliance are as high as $1000. 

Regardless of the outcome, it looks like the familiar zone maps in the back of each DC cab are going the way of the dodo.  Farwell, zones!

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