Saturday, January 30, 2010

Possible Ride-On service reductions and fare increases

To help close a 680 million dollar budget shortfall Montgomery County, MD is considering reducing service on or totally eliminating some bus routes with the fewest riders or where alternative service is available. They also are considering raising fares by up to 20 cents.

There will be a public forum on Monday, February 1st at 6:30pm to get comments from the public on the service reductions only. This meeting will be at the Executive Office Building Cafeteria, Terrace Level, located at 101 Monroe Street, Rockville, MD.

There is also a public hearing on the proposed Ride On bus fare increase on Tuesday, February 4 at 7:30 pm in the 3rd Floor Hearing Room of the Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD. You can also email comments on the fare changes to

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pennies and Nickels

Pennies used to be made out of 95% copper and 5% zinc. Until 1982 that is. After that, they were made with 97.5% zinc and a copper coating. Why the change? cost cutting. Inflation made copper too expensive and zinc is much cheaper. Today, a pre-1982 penny has over 2 cents worth of copper in it. It is currently illegal to melt them down so there isn't much you can do with it. Some people do collect them and you can find them for sale on E-Bay as well as other places on the web. There have been times in the past where they have, for short periods, changed the composition, like in WWII when they made them out of steel. Zinc pennies only have about two thirds of a cent worth of metal in them.

There has been off and on talk about either making the penny out of a different, cheaper metal (like steel), or eliminating it altogether. How likely is it? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them change the composition. I expect them to make pennies for a long time to come though. Probably people will stop using them by choice long before the mint stops making them, similar to what happened to the half-dollar. I have been to a number of stores that didn't give pennies as change, they just round up the amount the give back to the nearest nickel.

The U.S. nickel has never been pure nickel, it has always been 75% copper and 25% nickel, an alloy called cupro-nickel. For a few years in WWII there (1942-1945) they made some nickels with 35% silver. They currently have right around five cents worth of metal in them. A nickel weighs 5 grams and been has ever since it was first made in 1866. The introduction of the 5 gram nickel was shortly before the Metric Act of 1866 made the metric system legal in the United States. Canadian nickels used to be pure nickel, then they changed them to cupro-nickel, and now, they are plated steel.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The building is taking shape

There has been a construction project going on Woodmont Ave between Hampden Lane and Elm Street in Bethesda, MD for most of last year. They tore down the old Ritz Camera building (Ritz Camera moved half a block down Woodmont Ave), dug a big hole, and now have put in the steel structure of the new building. I heard it would be four stories but it is three right now and doesn't look like they are adding another, I guess we will know soon enough.

Also of note, they have a long-term lane closure on Woodmont Avenue so they have more space to work on the site.

You can see the full coverage about this construction project.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why dimes are so small

Ever wonder why dimes are so small and half-dollars are so big? The United States used to be on a silver standard (and some of the time a gold and silver dual metal standard). Most coins were made out of 90% silver (pure silver is too soft and wears down quickly) and dollars were backed by silver. You could turn them in and get silver back. Since a quarter has 2.5 times the value of a dime, it had to contain 2.5 times as much silver. A 50 cent piece had 5 times the silver of a dime and a dollar coin (the old, big ones) had 10 times as much. Pennies and nickels didn't have any silver in them so weren't constrained the same way (well, the nickel did for a few years in WWII) I'll cover them in a later post.

Since money was based on silver and gold, the government couldn't print money whenever it wanted, it first had to get silver or gold to back it. This was both good and bad. It was good in that you didn't have much inflation, the money supply couldn't increase faster than gold and silver were mined. During times of war, the government did go off the gold/silver standard and print extra money and there was inflation then, and a couple of times the government re-valued the dollar to be worth less gold or silver which caused inflation. It was bad in some ways too. As the country grew, more money was needed for day to day transactions. When the need for money was growing faster than gold and silver were being mined, there was a shortage of money which resulted in deflation (the cost of things going down). Also, in times of recession or depression, the government couldn't prop up the economy by printing money like it is doing today (some people see this as a good thing, others think it is a bad thing, time will tell who is right).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Suburban Hospital gets a new logo

If you have gone down Old Georgetown Road recently, you may have looked up as you went by Suburban Hospital. And if you did look up, you may have noticed something was different. And, about the only thing that has changed recently is the logo, so that is probably what you noticed. If, however, you travels in Bethesda, MD don't take you down Old Georgetown Rd, then you probably don't know the logo has changed, or what the new logo looks like. In either case, the old logo is probably growing dim in your mind.

This logo is the same as the logo of Johns Hopkins medicine, which isn't a coincidence, Suburban Hospital is run by Hopkins medicine.

I searched my vast personal archive of photos and the best old-logo shot I had was a somewhat washed out camera phone picture taken in April of last year. Fixing the washed-outed-ness gave the bricks an darker than reality color, but made the logo look nice. As a backup, I searched for suburban hospital in the fickr bethesda pool, but it just said:
We couldn't find anything matching your search. Would you like to try a search about abandoned, baby, decay, asylum or urban instead?
Disturbing, isn't it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Major Red Line disruption this weekend.

This weekend there will be major havoc on portions of the Red Line. The fun starts at 10pm tonight and goes through closing on Monday. (MLK day). WMATA is doing track work at Grosvenor metro station and no trains will go through there. Buses will run between Medical Center and White Flint metro rail stations. Expect to add an additional 40 minutes to your ride. The reason for this:
During the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend, Metro will rebuild the trackbed, which means workers will install 1,400 feet of new rail, 310 new ties, 200 new tons of ballast, 300 new track fasteners, 600 new anchor bolts, repair 200 feet of grout pads on the aerial structure, and make track circuit upgrades between the Grosvenor-Strathmore and Medical Center Metrorail stations. In addition, workers will repair 60 to 80 water leaks in the tunnels and stations and install 300 new tunnel lights.

According to metro, "From Friday, Jan. 15, to Monday, Jan. 18, the last Red Line train departing the Shady Grove Metrorail station for the White Flint Metrorail station will leave 30 minutes earlier than usual." Of course, that isn't really true, the last trains won't leave earlier, they just won't run. This is metro's spin way of saying they are closing early.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

50 cents, a half dollar

Last month I picked up a few at the bank and decided to spend them around town. So far, I have spent them at a number of places in Montgomery County. One person commented she hadn't seen them in a long time, another person swapped them out for money in his wallet, the most amusing one was the person at Giant who looked at them hard for about 20 seconds then put them in the cash drawer, then, took them out again and looked some more. Everyone else has just taken them without comment.

You can join in too. Next time you go to your bank, ask if they have any. I'd love to see the half-dollar be a little less obsolete, at least in Bethesda. Post your experiences in the comments.

It doesn't have to be just a Bethesda, MD thing though, other Bethesdas can join. So can Rockville and Silver Spring if they want. In fact, lets open it up to the whole country. Hey everyone in the U.S., go get some 50 cent pieces and spend them!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bethesda Metro Station escalator to be refurbished

I know what you are thinking, the long escalators have been pretty flaky this year, but no, it isn't one of them. One of the short escalators between the platform and the mezzanine is scheduled for rehabilitation starting Wednesday and continuing for 10 weeks. Get ready to walk up and down the other one with all your fellow passengers. According to WMATA, it takes a long time to refurbish them because:

Metro is committed to running all available escalator units for customer convenience. However, mechanical parts may not always be off the shelf parts that are readily available, and some parts have to be custom-made or rebuilt, a process that typically adds time to the repair schedule. Some of the work required to repair the units is done off-site, such as refurbishing steps and rebuilding gearboxes and motors.
Now, for what you are really interested in, the long ones. According to Metro, the escalator between bus terminal and mezzanine is getting a major repair and won't be back in service until the end of the month. Remember, exercise is good.

Just a bit of trivia, the longest escalator on the Red Line is 508 feet long at Wheaton metro station. It isn't only the longest on the Red Line, it is the longest on the whole metro system. And it isn't just the longest in the whole metro system, it is the longest in the whole Western Hemisphere! Bethesda Metro Stations escalators are in second place at only 475 feet long.

[where: Bethesda, MD]

Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy for an inch

This is some of the lightest, fluffiest snow I have seen in a long time. A light breeze is all it takes to blow enough snow off the buildings to make it seem like it is snowing again, and, it is still individual flakes, not clumps.

It looks like we got about an inch in downtown Bethesda, MD. The Bethesda suburbs got closer to two inches. Enjoy it for a minute, before it all blows away.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bethesda Metro cleaning

Bethesda Metro station will be getting a thorough cleaning sometime in the first six months of the year. It is scheduled to have a "mini enhancement" which includes a pretty significant amount of work. According to WMATA:
A mini enhancement includes the cleaning of masonry surfaces, painting interior surfaces, repairing interior masonry surfaces, painting exterior surfaces, fabricating, installing or repairing signs, refinishing bus and station platform shelter benches and spot finishing bronze surfaces such as railings.

All work will be done at night when the station is closed and it will take a couple of months to finish.

Pay for parking by cell phone in Bethesda

Instead of using change at the parking meters on the street and in garages in Bethesda, MD you can now register at ParkNow and then call a phone number, enter you space (or location) number and the amount of time you want.
This convenience comes at a price though, in addition to the standard meter payment they charge 25 cents per transaction.

How to use it:
  • Register at ParkNow (
  • Call the pay by cell phone number with your cell phone which is listed on the meter sticker.
  • You will be prompted to enter the meter number or space number.
  • Select the amount of time you wish to park.
  • You will receive voice and text messages confirming the start of your parking session. Note: Time will not appear on your meter.

  • Depending on what meter you are at, there will either be a "space number" (like the picture above) or a "Location #"

    This sign at the entrance to Elm St garage says that it will save you money, but since they charge per transaction and you don't get a discount on the meter, I'm not sure how you save. If they would add time to the meter a nickel at a time until you called and canceled or if you could call before the meter was active in the morning then not start charging until it became active then I could see it saving money. I don't see how it is faster than putting change in either, although the convenience of not having to keep change in your car is a plus.

    Update January 30:
    As one person mentioned in the comments, this is currently limited to Bethesda Ave, Woodmont Ave near Bethesda Row, and Elm St. plus Garage 57 and the large surface lot across from the book store (Lot 31). According to DOT, this is just a test and it only runs through April 4th, after which the meters will no longer accept cell phone payments. Depending on how the test goes and what is approved in the budget, they may decide to get bids to do this over a wider area.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Pink Palm Coming soon

    Where Tickled Pink used to be (on the corner of Bethesda Ave and Bethesda Ln in Bethesda, MD) there soon will be a Lilly Pulitzer "Pink Palm" store. Now we can all get Florida style flower print dresses whenever we want. Tickled Pink didn't last long but they sure found a new tenant fast.

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Malicious Mischief

    I was walking down St. Elmo Ave near Old Georgetown Rd and saw that one of the windows at Wool & Knots (one of the many rug stores we have) was cracked from top to bottom. There was also a strip of tape covering the crack. I decided to take a closer look to try and identify the cause. Right in the middle of the crack I found this:

    A BB, still lodged in the window. It is good to know that Bethesda still has hooligan kids running around shooting BB guns. Windows this size are expensive, I hope they catch the kids and make them pay for the repair.