How To Complain in D.C. Or How To Be A Civic Minded Citizen

Since moving to D.C. I’ve slipped on ice, had bikes stolen, been stuck in Metro cars, witnessed friends feud with landlords, had parties busted due to noise, (almost) called 311 to bust up a noisy party and contacted the Homeless Services Program. My experience is common.

We do not live in the foothills of Kentucky (Justified season finale tonight!). We live in/near a metropolis. Therefore, there are numerous services meant to make you feel like you’re proactive. Is that 311 complaint you logged against the neighbors that refuse to shovel going to change anything? Probably not, but at least you did something.

This is not the end-all, be-all, bitch-about-everything-just-because guide. This is simply a reminder that there are ways to voice your grievance to make your city better.

 Everything

311 App

Available for the iPhone, iPad and Android supported devices, the D.C. 311 app makes reporting local issues a step easier by creating user profiles and showing nearby problems. The app uses GPS to track the user’s location, and offers a variety of different services, from reporting issues with photos to viewing profiles of other 311 app users in the area. Reported issues appear on the GPS-maintained map, alerting you to nearby problems that others have reported. You can even see how many people have reported a specific problem, vote on issues that should be fixed and read comments regarding the incident. Users also have access to metro and biking maps for the D.C. metropolitan area. Plus, you can build your profile and rack up civil points by reporting issues and posting comments. Not sure what the points are for, but at least you’ll know you’re doing your part. The top users have 60,000+ points, and each has reported over 2,000 issues, so if you want to be an extraordinary citizen, you better start reporting soon. Like, now.

Transportation

Washington Area Bicyclist Association

WABA does more than simply organize biking events and offer cycling classes. The association can be a great source for help with many of the everyday problems that arise. If a car hits you while you are biking, you can report the incident to WABA with their bicycle crash reporting form online. Alerting WABA to the crash helps them work with local law enforcement representatives to ensure that bicyclists are treated fairly when an incident takes place, and will aid their advocacy campaigns for protected bike lanes and fairness for crash victims. WABA also has a mobile app that bikers can use to record information at the scene of the crash, and it includes GPS to locate the nearest hospital, police station or bike shop. If you need legal advice, WABA can also recommend lawyers with experience representing bicyclists in crash disputes.

WMATA

The Metro is a fertile breeding ground for complaints. Between train delays and malfunctions in infrastructure, Metro riders certainly have plenty of concerns to voice. One way to do so, is to simply go to the WMATA website, and fill out the generalized customer comment form. Alternatively, you can file a complaint by mail or by heading down to the office in person. You can also call the customer relations number on weekdays from 8am-6pm at 202-637-1328, or to report waste, fraud and abuse, call the inspector general hotline at 888-234-2374 or send an email to [email protected]. There’s also a lost and found page to help connect travelers to their missing possessions. To report suspicious packages or a crime, call transit police at 202-962-2121.

16th Street Transit Study: Public Kickoff Meeting

We watch(ed) a lot of Parks and Rec. We always wondered what public meetings were like. So we sent an intern to find out. -ed.

I must have wore a confused look when I walked into the Mount Pleasant Library for the public kickoff meeting for the District Department of Transportation’s study of 16th St. bus lines. Immediately a woman with a warm smile caught my attention and flagged me over to check in for the meeting. She handed me a questionnaire and one of those half-pencils you use to keep score at mini-golf, and then pointed me toward the conference room.

Large interactive poster-board displays hugged the walls of the room with DDOT employees explaining them to clusters of attendees. I approached a map of 16th St. that spanned multiple folding tables. The DDOT worker hovering over the map instructed me to grab a couple Post-it notes that were color-coordinated to correspond with specific issues, and place them along the “S” bus route where I had complaints. I noticed that there were no complaint stickers at a stop a block down the street from my apartment. I grabbed a blue Post-it, which designated that the busses serving that stop frequently suffer from overcrowding, and placed it on the intersection.

I moved on to the next interactive board, where a woman handed me three little stickers and told me to place them in three of the eight boxes correlating to the issues that mattered to me most. I put a sticker in the boxes labeled “Pedestrian Safety Accessing Bus Stop,” “Bus Arriving On Time,” and “Enough Room On The Bus To Stand Comfortably.” Many other people placed their stickers in “Total Travel Time” as well.

The last interactive board made less sense. It encouraged those in attendance to chart out their commute on a map pinning pieces of string to the board. By the end of the meeting, the board was an indecipherable mess of red yarn, negating any usefulness it might have had.

At this point, the crowd of citizens filled all of the room’s chairs, and DDOT project manager Megan Kanagy began the Powerpoint presentation. She addressed some common issues with the “S” busses and ways to remedy them. The study, aims to assess and resolve riders’ frustrations with one of the busiest streets in the district by formulating a plan to improve the bus routes’ efficiency. The DDOT scheduled the completion of the study for the beginning of 2016, at which point they will implement the research-based improvement plan.

She announced a futuristic plan to implement a multitude of systems to help busses get through traffic lights, including sensors that would give busses the priority for a green light. She also mentioned installing road-facing cameras to help enforce bus lanes.

Unlike the marathon town-hall sessions Leslie Knope faced as Pawnee Councilwoman, the presentation only lasted about a half-hour, after which Kanagy took only a few questions from the crowd.

The most straightforward question also proved the most challenging: a man asked, “Why is there so much congestion between Spring and U?”

Kanagy smiled and replied, “That’s a million dollar question. It has to do with supply and demand, as my economist husband would say.” A few members of the crowd chuckled before she continued: “I hope to have a better answer as the study goes on.”

Overall, the meeting was informative and easygoing. I spoke briefly with a friendly woman who expressed surprise at the amount of young adults at the meeting. She seemed to refer to a handful of white 20-somethings gathered near the center of the room, though a diverse melange of people made up the crowd of about 50-60 people, representing a wide range of ages. I even noticed a child pouring over the map at the end of the meeting.

The meeting comforted me; the presentation addressed my complaints before I even voiced them, and the people in attendance gave off a positive, caring mood. Even though I spotted some frustrated faces as I looked around the room, I recognized that these passionate people are the exact kind of passengers you want to ride the bus with. -Michael Young

Housing

TENAC

The D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition has your back when you feel that your landlord is trying to screw you over. TENAC aims to help establish tenant associations to protect renters from abuse at the hands of their landlord. The group, which advocates rent control, developed a hotline for tenants to reach out and learn more about their situation and how to remedy it. You can reach the TENAC hotline at 202-288-1921, so don’t hesitate to pick up the phone if your apartment’s rent spikes, or your house’s owner refuses to help pay for an ages-old mold problem. TENAC’s website also provides helpful links for dealing with subletters and roommates.

Office of the Tenant Advocate

Offering similar information and services as TENAC, D.C. government’s Office of the Tenant Advocate resolves conflicts between renters and owners. The website offers services like legal representation for tenants over housing issues, as well as emergency housing for people displaces by natural disasters or government action. The site also contains a host of important legal information for tenants to gain a better understanding of their rights and possible courses of action. You can reach the OTA on weekdays between 8:45am-4:45pm at 202-719-6560.

Noisy Neighbors

The best route to take when disturbed by a neighbor’s noise, is to be forthright and to address them directly. We realize this may make you uncomfortable and that makes sense. No one likes to bust up fun. However, if you can’t tell which neighbor is being disruptive or you just REALLY don’t want to put pants on, a good way to go is to call your landlord or your apartment building’s personnel and have them deal with it. But that won’t happen at 1 a.m. You could also call 311, but be mindful that they will likely send a police unit out to your neighbor which might foster a rocky relationship with them but do this because who has to know it’s you? This is one of the few times anonymity is a plus.

Food

The Art of Bad Yelp Reviews

If you’re fed-up with a business, either because of rude staff and questionable food to poor practices, etc., the easiest way to get your opinion out is via Yelp. Signing up is a breeze, and you can auto-connect to your Facebook if typing out all your information is too much work. Writing Yelp reviews can be extremely helpful, and everyone is guilty of referencing Yelp reviews when deciding whether to visit or use a specific business.  There are only two times to contribute to Yelp, when something is amazing and deserves 5 stars or the business is so bad it should be shut down. THAT’S IT. DON’T WRITE THREE STAR REVIEWS. ONLY WEIRDOS LEAVE THREE STAR REVIEWS. No one cares about an OK salad or haircut or beer or you. 5 or 1. That’s it. Amazing or Gordon-Ramsey-SHUT-IT-DOWN. But there is an exception. It’s perfectly fine to give a 5 star deserving restaurant a 1 star review if it’s a big JK that’ll get a lot of LOLs. See our Andrew Bucket’s review of Rose’s Luxury:

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We included a screenshot of this rather than link to the Yelp review because Yelp took it down because Yelp doesn’t have a good sense of humor.

Better Business Bureau

If packing an online review with venomous invective isn’t really your bag, try complaining to the Better Business Bureau. The nonprofit organization seeks to resolve conflicts between businesses and consumers. For example, if you order a burger and a beer, and the restaurant charges you for 2 burgers, you can turn to the BBB if the restaurant’s manager will not budge. Simply go to the BBB website, and file a complaint. The BBB also gives businesses grades, so you can look up how good at managing consumer relations each business is. Since it doesn’t just deal with restaurants, the BBB is a valuable resource for determining the reputation of any business.

Food Poisoning

Did you eat something and now you’re somewhere between queasy and near-death? First, if it’s bad you should probably call 911 but don’t do that because you’re most likely a young person that can handle their shit so just handle your shit. Once that’s taken care of, make sure to report the incident. If you ate at a restaurant, you can not only write a scathing Yelp review (1 star, obviously), but also call D.C.’s Department of Health to report problems. Reporting these occurrences can help local agencies investigate any possible outbreaks, and maybe you’ll save a life along the way!

For food products that you consumed while not at a restaurant, the procedure is a little different. Different government agencies monitor separate segments of the food industry, and issues should be addressed to the proper division. General food (non-meat) issues should be addressed to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for D.C. (410-779-5713). Meat, Poultry and Egg Product issues can be reported either by phoning the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) or by filing a complaint form online. Note: You must keep the original container or packaging for the USDA to investigate any problem filed in a consumer complaint. So have fun keeping that yogurt with the bug around!

Community

Graffiti

To report graffiti, you can either use the handy-dandy 311 app (and include photos) or call 311 and give the operator your location, as well as a description of the graffiti in question. The Department of Public Works will remove the graffiti either by painting over it (color options are white, redwood forest green and grey) or by applying non-toxic solutions and power washing everything away. If the graffiti occurs on private property, the owner must fill out the Graffiti Removal Waiver and fax the signed form to DPW. Property owners can also fill out a paint voucher request, which allow the owners to obtain the paint and materials necessary to remove the graffiti themselves free of charge. Once an issue is reported, the DPW sends a service tracking number, and follows-up with a separate email when the agency has closed the request. Warning: there are a few reported graffiti spots on the 311 app that are still not fixed, and some go back over a year ago. But these could be private property incidents, and out of DPW’s jurisdiction. The official turnaround times given by DPW for graffiti cleanup are 10 days for removal and 7 days for incidents reported with a paint voucher request.

Homeless Help

Now that it’s spring the high numbers that homeless shelters reported last winter are predicted to fall while temperatures recover. On any given day there are over 7,500 homeless individuals in the District, and it’s important not to ignore those you might see on the street. If you see someone that seems to be in need of help, you can call 311 and they will dispatch a team to assist the individual. The Department of Human Services runs the Homeless Services Program, which offers services to homeless individuals and families.

tl:dr: download and use the 311 app