Live More, Commute LessLive More, Commute Less

Apr
23

Armenian and Catalan Food and Craft Highlighted at 2018 Folklife Festival

From a Smithsonian Press Release

Photo by Sossi Madzounian, Smithsonian Institution.

Visitors to the 2018 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will have a unique opportunity to experience the cultural
heritage of Armenia, a small country nestled at the crossroads of Asia and Europe. The 2018 Festival, which runs from June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to 8, will feature hundreds of artisans, designers, musicians, and cooks from Armenia, Catalonia, and other locations to highlight the importance of cultural heritage enterprise in the face of change.

Presented through ten days of workshops, demonstrations, participatory experiences, and discussion sessions, the Armenia: Creating Home program on gastronomic and artisan craft traditions will allow visitors to learn about how Armenian communities have integrated heritage into their own strategies for economic and cultural sustainability.

“The exuberant hospitality of Armenian cooking, eating, and drinking is a source of cultural pride,” said Halle Butvin, one of the program’s curators. “We hope to convey how its deep history, a tradition of feasting, and innovations in technique are energizing Armenia’s food scene.”

Visitors will learn to make the staples of an Armenian feast: breads, cheeses, and barbecued meats (khorovats). While tasting and toasting with Armenian wines, visitors will learn about the recent discovery of a 6,100-year-old winery in a cave in Armenia, and how winemakers in that same region are reinvigorating the industry through their production, from cultivating ancient varietals and aging wine in traditional clay pots (karas) to a winery incubator model encouraging the growth of small labels.

Participants will share their experiences with traditional Armenian recipes and the ways in which
food-and-wine-related enterprises have shaped Armenia’s cultural identity and created a pathway
for exchange—both within the country’s boundaries and through its many diasporas.

Photo by Narek Harutyunyan, Smithsonian Institution.

Continuing the Festival’s ongoing exploration of creativity, change, and resilience, a participatory program highlighting the revitalization of Armenian craft will showcase the intersection of technology and handmade traditions. Visual artists and artisans will work together to build interactive installations juxtaposing tradition and innovation. Visitors will engage with Armenian designers and artisans – learning, observing, and trying their hand at weaving, embroidery, and carving. Discussion sessions will explore the function of craft, not only its utilitarian and economic value, but as a continually evolving cultural expression—a way to make meaning.

“Throughout Armenia’s history, and especially in periods of marked change, these traditions are a life-affirming testament to the longstanding power of social and cultural life,” Butvin said. “Memory and experience are interwoven into Armenian food and craft, and we invite visitors to explore this firsthand this summer on the National Mall.”  

Armenia program partners include the Department of Contemporary Anthropological Studies at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, the My Armenia Cultural Heritage Tourism Program, funded by USAID and implemented by the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Embassy in Armenia and the Embassy of Armenia to the United States of America.

Apr
23

Biking for Gold

Whether a novice, a weekend warrior, or an everyday bike commuter, you have probably noticed the plethora of new biking facilities being established in the DC region.  In Fairfax, almost every new paving project includes bike lane striping; in Alexandria and Arlington, bike connections to employment centers and other transit hubs have been a priority for years.  The District has been creating new bike lanes and trail facilities on what seems like a daily basis.  

Bikeshare, bike friendly buses and a host of new bike oriented facilities are transforming this region, and the hard work is now paying off.  In early March, the League of American Bicyclists awarded the District a Gold rating for bicycle friendliness.  This is rarified territory, as only 30 other communities have been designated Gold, and DC represents the first metro area on the East coast to receive such a designation.

In a recent Washington Post article, it was noted that:

Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, said the District moved up  from Silver status by showing commitment to adding miles of bike lanes and offering bicycling education, including ensuring that every second-grader in the city gets bicycling classes, and by  integrating bike-sharing and working to making biking accessible in every neighborhood.

The last State of the Commute Survey (2016) found that bicycle commuters account for almost 5% of all commuters in DC.  This level of bike commuting ranks DC as the second highest in the US, following only  Portland, Oregon. 

According to the Washington Post article:

“The growth in the number of people biking is a reflection of ‘the bicycling culture’ in the city,” said Nesper, who presented the District’s Bicycle Friendly Community award at the annual National Bike Summit…in March.  

The next level of achievement, which only Portland currently merits, is Platinum.  

Highlighting the progress that has occurred, the Post article mentions: 

Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, said reaching Gold status recognizes the city’s transformation into a bike community in the past decade. From 2008 to 2018, he said:

The number of people biking to work more than doubled from 7,000 to 17,000.

The city’s SmartBike DC system, the first municipal bike-share system in the country with 10 stations and 100 bikes, became Capital Bikeshare, with 270 stations in the District alone, 400 stations throughout the region and 4,000 bikes. And, there are hundreds more bikes through the dockless bike systems.

The bike lane network grew from 30 miles to more than 80 miles, including eight miles of protected lanes.

New bike racks in downtown went from 700 to more than 3,500.

And this year, he said, plans are to add more protected bike lanes in multiple locations, including Virginia Avenue SE and in Georgetown.

“In 2008, we were number six in the country for biking to work by city residents. Now we are number 2,” Marootian said.  “That’s really just the beginning. We are not even close to done.”

All of these achievements and indices are positive signs that our region is embracing the DATA mantra that we all need to Live More and Commute Less!  Give it a try this May 18 and participate in Bike to Work Day – you may find it is a lot easier to do than you think.

Apr
23

Metro Matters: Rail and Maintenance Yard at Dulles Airport Progresses

By Marcia McAllister

A bird’s eye view of the rail yard looking west February 2018. Photo by Hensel Phelps.

Have you wondered what all that construction is along the east side of Route 606 (Old Ox Road) at the western edge of part of Washington Dulles International Airport?

It’s construction by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority of a 90-acre rail yard and maintenance facility to be turned over to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) when Phase 2 of the Silver Line is completed.

The vast complex will be a huge mechanics shop designed to serve not just the Silver Line but the WMATA’s entire regional rail system. Rail cars will be serviced, cleaned, inspected and stored at the site located across Route 606 from the Mercure Business Park.

The Airports Authority is building the facility on land dedicated by the Authority, a hefty contribution by the authority in support of the rail project which will connect Dulles airport and Ashburn with downtown DC, Reagan National Airport and the region’s existing Metro System.

Tysons-based Hensel Phelps Mid Atlantic District is building the rail yard, which is 73 percent complete through February, as part of the Airports Authority’s construction of the Silver Line. A separate contractor, Capital Rail Constructors, is building the rail system itself—the tracks, rails, stations, etc.

Five structures as well as storage tracks, comprise the yard, including: a service and inspections building, a maintenance building, a train wash facility, warehousing space and a building that could be used for security. These structures are already in place but the interiors are not completed.  “Each building has a specific purpose,” according to HP leaders.

Those buildings each will hold complex machinery dedicated to Metro train operations. In addition, a 14,000-square-foot train wash facility is now 50 percent complete.

How will trains get to this facility since it is not directly along the Phase 2 alignment?  Lead tracks from the main alignment extending to and from the Dulles Greenway snake through Dulles Airport, following a heavily wooded path to the yard. The connecting tracks required the construction of a major bridge over Horsepen Road.

Yard contractors have worked closely with Virginia Department of Transportation crews who are widening Route 606 at the same time yard work is done. Many commuters have faced traffic backups during this work.

Rail Project officials expect the Silver Line to be completed in 2020. The rail yard must be completed before the entire system can be tested.  HP officials predict that will happen on schedule.

Charles Stark, senior vice president of the Airports Authority, this month said all crews area “plugging away to get this project completed.” While the winter weather has slowed down some work, contractors agree that time can be made up, according to project officials.  

Marcia is the Communications Manager, for the Dulles Corridor Metro Rail Project.

Apr
23

Smart Companies Use SmartBenefits®

By Jim Bongiorno

With Metro’s Silver Line servicing customers all the way to Wiehle-Reston East, and construction of the Phase 2 extension into Loudoun County more than 75 percent complete, now is the perfect time to start learning about Metro’s SmartBenefits® commuter benefits program.

SmartBenefits® is Metro’s free commuter benefits program, which offers an easy way for employees to save on commuting costs and employers to save on payroll taxes. The program allows employees to save thousands annually by paying for transit with pre-tax dollars. Think of it like a healthcare flexible spending account (FSA), but for transit.

Cut your tax bill with Metroís SmartBenefits®

For employers, SmartBenefits® is a simple, no-fee way to reduce your payroll taxes while allowing your employees to commute tax-free. You can offer SmartBenefits® as a direct employee benefit, a pre-tax deduction, or a combination of both. 

Whether you have one employee or thousands, every company in the National Capital Region can benefit from SmartBenefits®. It’s a powerful tool for helping you recruit, retain and motivate employees. Plus, you can save hundreds per employee each year on payroll taxes. That means the more employees that sign up, the more you save! Over 260,000 commuters receive SmartBenefits every month.

For employees, SmartBenefits® is an easy way to save on commuting costs. Employees can use SmartBenefits® to pay for transit and parking anywhere Metro’s SmarTrip® card is accepted, including Fairfax Connector, Loudoun County Transit and Metrorail parking lots. With SmartBenefits®, they’ll have the option to set aside up to $260 for transit and $260 for parking at Metro lots each month using pre-tax funds from their paycheck. If an employee maxes out these benefits, they could save more than $1,600 in income tax each year!

Using SmartBenefits® is simple. Employees that already ride transit just keep on riding like they currently do – they can even keep their same SmarTrip card. You just need to enter their card and benefit amount into Metro’s SmartBenefits® system. At the beginning of each month, the SmartBenefits® will automatically activate. It’s that easy! And for employees that have never ridden transit, SmartBenefits® provides the perfect opportunity to start. All they have to do is purchase and register a SmarTrip® card and they are ready to ride. 

If you’d like to learn more about SmartBenefits® or are interested in opening an employer account, send an email to smartbenefits@wmata.com or apply at wmata.com/SmartBenefits and a Metro representative will get in touch with you shortly.
Metro’s dedicated SmartBenefits® account representatives are prepared to answer all your questions and guide you each step of the way.

Enrolling is easy, and remember, Metro doesn’t charge a fee to participate in SmartBenefits® so there’s no risk to signing up!  

Jim is Director of SmartBenefits® & Business Sales for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority – Metro.

Mar
6

Telework Week March 5-9