Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Metrorail Silver Line phase two opening this week

It's tradition for WMATA to hand out pennants to early riders on the day stations/lines open.

Advance coverage ("Silver Line extension to Dulles Airport opens at tough time,"WJLA-TV; "Silver Line’s second phase was to be different. It fell into the same trap," Washington Post), reminds me that some of my earliest substantive blog writings concern WMATA and the Silver Line.  

First, Virginia's focus on privatization, which is why the Silver Line was not built by Metro ("Silver Line delays: maybe the real lesson is that contracting out construction to the private sector doesn't always work so well," 2014).  

This led WMATA to get rid of its long range engineering and construction unit, and losing decades of experience in building and running the system ("Metro Construction Projects Creak to Halt; Economic, Political Changes Cancel Expansion Plans, Spur Job Cuts, Early Retirements," Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post, July 13, 2003. pg. C.01).

Second, how DC never seized leadership to leverage the Silver Line as the way to create "the separated blue line" in DC which would have added service to Georgetown, a more eastern line in DC, another line to Union Station, and service out H Street ("Blinking on urban design means you limit your chance for success," 2006, "If DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019). 

DC does not understand its "unique selling proposition" or "core competency" is being transit- and sustainable mobility-centric.

But the failures in planning extend beyond DC ("Silver Line Metro expansion a classic example of the need to have true regional transportation planning," 2011).

Intriguingly, the proposal was for a double stacked tunnel, which would have allowed for express service too.

Third, was the pro-tunnel effort, which failed, and the desire to have a better connection to the Dulles Airport Terminal, more comparable to National Airport ("Winners and losers with the Dulles subway project," 2007).

Fourth, that average pundits didn't understand the point of the Silver Line, which was to repattern land use in its transit shed for the 21st century ("Short term vs. long term thinking: transit, the Washington Examiner, Fairfax/Loudoun Counties vs. DC," 2011, "Silver line reshaping commercial office market in Fairfax County," 2015,  and "Without the right planning "controls" you can't stop change: Loudoun County and rail service in Northern Virginia," 2012).

Fifth, that activists and elected officials sure didn't understand how to be proactive ("The Silver Line WMATA story that WJLA-TV missed," 2014).  You don't complain about system problems when it opens, but before.

Sixth, and belatedly, that the Silver Line taxed the system's infrastructure in ways that have made degradation of service quality standard practice ("More on Redundancy, engineered resilience, and subway systems: Metrorail failures will increase without adding capacity in the core," 2016).

Complementary transit network improvement program for NoVA.  A few years ago, in line with the writings about how to leverage the Purple Line as a way to drive complementary improvements across the transit network ("Codifying the complementary transit network improvements and planning initiatives recommended in the Purple Line writings"), I wrote a similar piece on the Silver Line, "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?," which listed 2 system planning and 27 network improvements, for a total of 29. 

But it's really a broader program than could be accomplished in the time frame of constructing the Silver Line.

More network improvements. After that post was written in 2017, I continued to have related ideas: (1) a Tysons surface rail streetcar system, (2) extending the Blue Line further south (spurred by a conversation I had with a guy who lives near North Capitol Street and the Washington Hospital Center, who had lived in Virginia previously), and (3) dealing with ferry services, would make a total of 32 items.  

Plus, somehow I missed extending the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Alexandria and Springfield in Virginia.  So that's 33 items.

Yet another, but more from the standpoint of thinking of Metrorail as a commuter railroad, at least in the distant suburbs, would be extending it to Leesburg.  That would be 34 items.  Paul and I talked about it, but I never wrote anything about it.

Fantasy planning and the Paul Meissner maps.  The concept of "complementary transit network improvement planning" was triggered in part by work I was doing with Paul Meissner, in creating a map showing the various rail services as an integrated system and a separate map with ideas about expansion beyond existing services.

It was a mutual process.  I wanted elements he didn't and vice versa.  But a key organizing principle was including items that had been officially recommended at some point.  

Unfortunately, we weren't in a position to improve the map(s) iteratively as I expanded on some of the principles.

Adding a Tysons tram system to that list.  Later, I realized that along the lines of thinking about transit as a network operating at different scales

I propose a metropolitan scale as the foundation, usually heavy rail and railroad, and then center city and suburban (sub)networks within it.  But the concept of primary, secondary, and tertiary networks applies at multiple scales

that Tysons needs a surface level streetcar/tram/light rail system to really be able to create "a city." 

-- "A thought about an intra-district transit network for Tysons," 2020 
-- "Tysons (Corner) 10 Years after the plan to make it more walkable: the necessity of implementation mechanisms," 2020
-- "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transit planning, 2011
-- "Intra-neighborhood (tertiary) transit revisited because of new San Diego service," 2016

Models would be how Bilbao added a surface tram network, complementing the subway, to provide better service to major attractions like the Guggenheim Museum between subway stations ("Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain"), surface transit in Toyama City, Japan ("Brief follow up to intra-district transit proposal for Tysons: Toyama City Compact City initiative (Japan)"), and a proposal to extend transit service to a part of Ottawa, Ontario by extending the proposed light rail for Gatineau, Quebec, across the river.

Flickr photo by Clagmaster of the Bilbao Tram leaving the Guggenheim Museum.

I feel even more strongly about that now, especially in response to the Post article, "After Silver Line, Tysons makes progress in becoming less car-centric," because Metrorail in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties doesn't operate at the right spatial and service scale necessary to drive on-the-ground urban design, sustainable mobility, and placemaking improvements in a substantive way ("Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning").

The Silver Line has station spacing more like commuter railroad--4 miles or more between stations,.  By contrast, DC and Arlington have strings of stations--3 to 4--over a 2 to 2.5 mile distance.  At the larger scale, urban design and placemaking benefits from transit are minimal.

Blue Line to Potomac Mills/Quantico.  Something we missed in the Meissner/Layman transit expansion map was an extension of the Blue Line south in Virginia.   Although we did send the Yellow Line down that way, but not as far, to Fort Belvoir.

-- "A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for the Metrorail Blue Line," 2020 

To deal with this planning wise, it's important to think about intra-district versus inter-county transit service.  To plan both for connection to the center city, but also how can the benefits be captured within Prince William County (the same conversation as for why I suggest a Tysons tram).

-- "Making the case for intra-city versus inter-city transit planning," 2011

Ferry service.  Another element that could be included, in terms of comprehensiveness, is ferry and water taxi services, even though they are pretty niche ("Metrorail shutdown south of AlexandriaNational Airport would have been a good opportunity to promote ferry service," 2017).   

There's been some use of ferries in response to the recent Yellow Line shutdown south of National Airport ("Alexandria looks to bicycles and boats to help replace Metro during shutdown," AlexNow).

But the Potomac River "isn't well situated" vis a vis activity centers to make ferry services foundational in the way that they can be in more port cities like Seattle, Sydney, or San Francisco, or when rivers are well situated in places like New York City and London (in other words those cities developed around their rivers while DC did not).

Purple Line to Virginia.  I first read about the PL concept in December 1987.  Almost 40 years later, a segment will open between Bethesda and New Carrollton.  There is zero planning to extend beyond that segment.  
If it takes 40 years for each segment, then any expansion that happens will be long after I die. 

But there should be planning for it now, especially from New Carrollton to Virginia ("Backwardness of transportation and land use planning: National Harbor, Prince George's County, Maryland | Why isn't high capacity transit access required from the outset?," "Prince George's County's newly announced transit oriented development program for the Blue Line," 2022). 

Extending the Silver Line to Leesburg.  It's about 8 miles from Ashburn, the end of the line of the Silver Line to Leesburg, the county seat for Loudoun County.  From the standpoint of "heavy rail" transit service, it makes no sense, but after Reston Town Center, the Silver Line Metrorail is more of a commuter railroad, so it's reasonable to consider, the same way it can be reasonable to extend the Blue Line to Quantico.

Note: these writings are all pre-covid.  The centrality of the center city as the foundation of the transit network is changing.

Improvements recommended in the original Silver Line program blog entry

 Overarching recommendations:

1.  Create the DMV Transport Association ("The answer is: Create a single multi-state/regional multi-modal transit planning, management, and operations authority association ")
2.  Create regularized transportation funding mechanisms for the metropolitan area and region that transcend individual operators like WMATA ("DC area transit commission board member thinks he has a brilliant idea on how to fund Metrorail: sales taxes," 2022)

Network improvement program

1. Separating the Silver Line from the Orange Line by extending the line south to Rte. 50 and then east along the street to Rosslyn. That would provide six new stations: West Street; Falls Church; Seven Corners; Arlington Forest; Ashton Heights; and Fort Myer. Continuing the Silver Line from its endpoint at Ashburn to Leesburg should be considered also, which isn't depicted on the above map.

(There would be plenty of benefits for DC, discussed here, ""If DC had visionary elected officials and planners it could use the new WMATA "BOS" study to push through the development of a separated Silver Line in DC (and Northern Virginia)," 2019).

2. Extending the Orange Line west, adding four stations: Fairfax City/GMU; Fair Oaks; Fair Lakes; and Centreville.

3. Extending the Yellow Line south on Rte. 1 to Fort Belvoir, adding four stations: Beacon Hill; Hybla Valley; Mount Vernon; and Fort Belvoir.  (This should have been done as part of BRAC planning, something I first suggested in 2005.)

4. The map also acknowledges the planned infill Potomac Yard station on the Blue and Yellow Lines, and proposes an infill station, called East Potomac Park, serving the west side of the National Mall near Jefferson Memorial, within DC.

5. A new Pink Line rapid transit line (subway) is proposed serving Northern Virginia in the Columbia Pike corridor, with service to DC, adding eight stations in Northern Virginia.

6. Integration of various Bus Rapid Transit improvements into a unified network (shown on the map as green lines).

7. Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the integration of the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line into one combined railroad passenger service line ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").

8.  Introduce bi-directional railroad service between DC and Fredericksburg in association with the combination of the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines into one integrated service.

9. Integrate the Crystal City railroad station into the ground transportation system of National Airport ("A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service").

10. Integrate VRE/MARC fares into the SmarTrip/ CharmCard fare media system.

11. Extend the Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to Tysons, using dedicated right of way, including on the American Legion Bridge.

12. Consider a redesign and rebranding of the the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated family of transit agencies linked by a common graphic design treatment, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area.

13. Implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for the DC metropolitan area.

14. Provide integrated train arrival information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations.

15. Provide integrated bus arrival and departure information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and VRE/MARC stations and bus-only transit stations.

16. Incorporate quantum improvements in bicycle facilities across the mobility network in association with the launch of the Silver Line and Purple Line  ("Bike to Work Day as an opportunity to assess the state of bicycle planning: Part 2, building a network of bike facilities at the regional scale")

17. Rearticulate transportation demand management programming and services including a unified network of "customer information centers"

18. WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters (I know this happened at Springfield).

19. Create sustainable mobility districts and corridors as appropriate, complementing the transit network improvements, especially in the Tysons area, which is planned, but far behind in implementation. (See the writings on Silver Spring in the Purple Line series.)

20.  Railroad improvements are dependent on reconstruction and expansion of the Long Bridge (which is happening, "An early look at plans for new rail, pedestrian bridges over the Potomac," Washington Post).

21.  I would add a heritage streetcar service for the National Mall including service to Arlington Cemetery and Rosslyn ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall" and "New DC Circulator route serving National Mall reminds us that we are neglecting connections from west to east and fail to adequately connect Georgetown to the National Mall").

22.  Georgetown BID's gondola proposal connecting Georgetown DC with Rosslyn in Arlington County, Virginia (Although I'd rather focus on a separated silver line)

23. Adoption of the City of Alexandria wayfinding signage system as a regional best practice, and porting the system to other jurisdictions.

24.  Incorporate the proposed VRE system improvements plan into this program.

25. Incorporate transit services associated with the I-66 project, Transform 66, into this program.

-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Outside the Beltway: FAQs
-- Transform 66 in Northern Virginia - Inside the Beltway 

26. Improve funding for local transit in Prince William County ("With sustained reduction in gasoline prices, will suburban transit systems lose ridership and revenue?")

27. Integrate the long distance commuter bus network into a unified system.

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At 7:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Silver Line extension opens, adding six stations, Dulles connection after years of delays

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Washington Post: Opinion | Decades in the making, the Silver Line reaches its destination.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Richmond just got closer to Dulles as Metro Silver Line opens to airport.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Wrt my point about repatterning land use:

WTOP: New Silver Line stop could spark development in 2 counties.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

As Governor of Maryland, Hogan cut bridge tolls and didn't endeavor to make bridges multi-modal infrastructure.

The Washington Post: Dulles Toll Road users will pay more next year to fund Silver Line.

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Some pushbak on land use.

I think "pundits" were pushing out the land-use connections quite a bit. The mistake was tying a 1960s plan for rail to subway with the plan to "downtown" Tyson's Corner.

It's a bad hybrid. The only real winner there is Reston Town Center.

That said, will push Dulles along and but it is a far more competitive position than BWI. I agree the number of people coming from DC or MD who will use Metrorail to Dulles will not be large, and probably price conscious. But it helps.

The amount that will use from Tysons and Reston and Ballston is much higher.

Like it or not, working airports do tie your economy to the national service sector.

I remember going to a meeting who then Post's executive editor -- Steve Coll -- who laid out the Post's three priorities . Rise of tech in DC, suburban traffic and immigration.

I very much doubt Silver Line will do anything on traffic.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. Not about traffic. About the connection to the airport, and Tysons and Reston. Outside of the airport (and a James Monroe estate I got to stay at a couple times) I don't know enough about Loudoun to know the effect beyond the airport.

But yes, in the past we've discussed the importance of airports. You mention BWI as secondary. I wonder if the nature of the positioning--international versus domestic, and the discounters--plus being close to Baltimore and a straight shot from DC makes a difference in opportunities.

OTOH, versus "NoVa" the military and IT/tech where NoVa has an advantage and proximity to DC doesn't matter. But those of us who are DC centric don't see how Greater Dulles has its own momentum.

I think the 2015 entry quotes a CEO of a firm in Reston saying their more comfortable in the suburbs versus the city. That's an issue to, what we might call high income urbanism lite, limited low income representation.

Plus we've often discussed DC hasn't done a good job of re attraction to the city of suburban based businesses the way that Chicago has.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Rail fare revenue remains down but Silver Line gives Metro optimism

Hardly anyone used the Silver Line before covid. Dulles will make a difference but probably not huge.

Charlie's point in the previous comment about travel between Ballston (+Rosslyn?) Tysons, and Reston is interesting.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

My laptop and home network are increasingly incompatible (I might need a better network card) so I haven't been writing.

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Unfortunately , routers seem to need an upgrade/replacement every 3 years.

And yeah, you start to feel old with what should be easy technical problems. I'm trying to migrate Signal to a new computer and it's a bear. Likewise there is some giant memory leak in my OS.

RE: live easier. Yep. And it's a problem when the new strategic thinking is "lets make urbanism more urban and only useful for people under 35" when that population group is dropping hard.

Offtopic but something we referenced before:

also this:

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Will read. Today it works fine. The other devices in the house work fine. It's xfinity. We have changed the router this year for that very reason on. Bit yesterday even plugged directly into the router the signal was rarely operative.

Will read the cites. Thanks for sharing.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Pretty pathetic ridership, which is typical of line extensions so far from the core.

For Dulles, Silver Line extension comes as airport begins makeover

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm sure you saw this:

Again DC leadership has a hard time of thinking itself as a transit loci.

The "Vison Zero" is doubling down on that, pushing money towards streets not rails.

More than enough money in that pot to start a separate blue line, or another urban metro line.

Re: ridership. Will take a long long time for transit numbers to recover. Again anecdote but everyone in my building is now a car owner; pre covid maybe half.

At 11:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

"With Silver Line now open, United Airlines eyes Dulles airport expansion"

At 12:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

No I didn't see that. Thank you.

I've written tons about undergrounding North Capitol and 695. The original idea for 695 came from now deceased planner Joseph Passonneau, although he suggested creating a boulevard.

It wasn't my idea, but a guy trying to do some development work for Anacostia River Trust before it crashed and burned suggested that DC 295 be undergrounded, which I took up, as it fits with the other writings.

In fact, in all the hullabaloo about a bike lane on Connecticut Avenue, I saw a piece about an ANC Commissioner "being rude" and that someone from Brothers Sew and Vac in Cleveland Park argued that a bike lane will hurt their business.

I have mentioned undergrounding on 16th Street and Connecticut for the same reason as North Capitol or the Southeast-Southwest Freeway, that much of the traffic is inter-city, from the suburbs to the central business district, or out of the city altogether (695) and to mediate the impact on the neighborhoods, move the traffic off the surface.

... I even mentioned this in terms of Hogan's big push on HOT lanes. You could integrate a DC underground commuter road network in it too.

BUT with transit also. At the very least, limited stop exclusive lane BRT under streets like 16th.

wrt "leadership" one of the people I correspond with is a lifelong Washingtonian and fed up with Council, especially the new crime bill and what I tend to call the nullification of the responsibility for criminality.

But in the context of talking about the issues, I said and I've said it with you here too, there isn't really even one City Councilmember who understands what DC's core competencies/competitive advantages are, let alone a champion for transit. Cheh is closest, but she wasn't as good as any of the Arlington Councilmembers at their period of peak "transportation demand management," let alone like Chris Zimmerman.

I'm glad to see here the point on undergrounding, but I can't see it ever happening, because they just don't have the vision, let alone the money.

E.g. this is a photo before and after of the Big Dig.

One of the reasons I was interested in the BLoomingdale neighborhood initiative was because of how f*ing appalling and pathetic it was that DC Planning and Transportation disavowed any responsibility for dealing with undergrounding NOrth Capitol in their area plan, they said pursue it on your own. That's a Big F*ing Infrastructure Project far beyond the capacity of a neighborhood!!! (the only infrastructure projects I know really pushed by citizens independent of officials was the streetcar in Tucson, and the modern streetcar in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood, although eventually DART took responsibility).

That is f*ing ludicrous.

Anyway, Big Dig was hugely expensive. But in my way of thinking, even though to approve new HOT Lanes in Maryland I would require (1) beginning planning of PL extension to Tysons and (2) MARC under I-270.

So having a true underground tunnel network like Singapore say, including SE-SW Freeway, DC 295, North Capitol, Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, Connecticut Avenue, and Rhode Island Avenue ain't gonna happen.

As discussed in the previous entry, DC is so short of vision.

Which is why the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Area Projects program is so impressive. (The Mick Cornett book, _Next American City_ and I've written about it a couple times.)

It's one of the rare examples of Transformational Projects Action Planning that really happens.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oh, yeah, wrt ridership, the model of transit frequency is broken because it's been based on transit as primarily a conveyance to and from work, with additional breadth and depth of service as a marginal benefit for the primary service.

Transit as a way of life alternative to the automobile is a totally different business model that has no possibility of being funded without significant subsidy.

Let alone it being "impractical" in most places because of deconcentrated development and land use.

I participated in a "senior transportation" focus group this week (I will write about it). I didn't expect the group--3 people use cars primarily, although one bikes some, 1 person transit dependent, and me--using car, bike and transit--would have a lot of interesting points but they did. (There were two groups, so I didn't hear anything said by the other group.)

Basically to be mobile as you age, you need to live in a different kind of urban form (like DC or NYC, etc.). And it's totally impractical to sell your paid off house and go live in a condo downtown. Not to mention that your "use value of place" (a la _Urban Fortunes_) is not set up at all for the urban setting.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oops, wrt Sew and Vac, yes they need car access, people aren't likely to lug vacuums and sewing machines on bikes or transit (then again wtf about "delivery and pick up"), but he is fooling himself about the value of the traffic passing his door. A huge portion is non DC, and they don't shop in DC for anything. Including vacuum and sewing machine service.

... he could set a bike-based pick up and delivery service, but it'd have to be electric, given the topography issues in his service area.

It'd be interesting to do a study of his credit card receipts, pull out the zip code information, and see where most of his customers are.

At 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don’t get the idea that tunneling a freeway is visionary or transformative. It doesn’t remove the cars. It's hugely expensive and offers little benefit.

A real vision would tear out the freeways and replace them with low volume streets and good transit. Now that’s bold. But there’s a reason nobody else has done the Big Dig.

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yep. A German integrated system if commuter rail, heavy rail, sometimes trams, and buses, offered as a network both wide and deep (London, Paris, Zurich and many others as comparable examples) would be better. But shifting inter city away from the surface is a plus for those neighborhoods that are forced to deal with it currently.

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's the thing: tunneling a highway doesn't meaningfully shift the traffic away from the neighborhoods at all.

If the problem is that these neighborhoods are forced to deal with the traffic, the bold vision is to eliminate the traffic.

Some modest deckovers are not a bold vision (particularly not the small number at immense cost that were shown in the documents circulated). It's slapping some wallpaper on an old house and pretending like it's a bold, innovative renovation.

Which isn't to say it wouldn't be an improvement. But it ain't a transformative change.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous h st ll said...

as far as i have seen "readjusting frequecies for all day service bc of a lack of peak demand" just means crappy all day service, not an increase in it. (obviously w/o the benefit of increased peak service during the morning and evening rush(es))

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Tunneling shifts the traffic from the surface in meaningful ways. But yes, in terms of Watzlawick it's not second order change.

From the standpoint of Engwicht, yep, reduce motor vehicle traffic, reduce the need for roadways.

Otoh, Marseille, Thessaloniki...

To be fair, I've argued for multi jurisdictional (really DC and Maryland) corridor management. MTA isn't into it for buses. DC and Maryland don't seem to think about it much generally.

Eg I 270, Wisconsin Avenue Rockville Pike, Beach Drive, 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, and parts of 495 as a system or network.

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Wrt WMATA I am finally at the point of WTF almost uniformly. There has to be good academic writing on broken to the point of unfixable organizations. Is Andy Byfird this generation David Gunn, or is it beyond fixing?

At 12:19 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...



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