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      Metro Facts Machine
    Send your questions.
    Rent Control,
    Trash Patrol
    and HOV Harleys

    Updated Friday, June 11, 1999

    Welcome to's Metro Facts Machine, a human search engine delivering the information you want about the capital region. Have a question about something in the news? Just ask us at

    Q: I recently moved to Washington, D.C. from out of state. I was able to find a very nice apartment for a good price. Is there rent control in Washington, D.C.?
    Mo S.

    A: About 80 percent of District apartments are under rent control, which means landlords can raise rents only by a limited amount – usually less than 2 percent a year.

    Rent-control laws, which have weathered occasional attacks in recent years, exempt only landlords with fewer than four units, or with apartments built after 1975. But the lease should clearly state that the apartment is exempt from rent-control regulations. A Post story in March tackled this and other questions of interest to renters.

    Q: Who is the D.C. Public Works director?
    David H.

    A: Mayor Anthony A. Williams filled the position this month, tapping Vanessa Dale Burns, who held a similar post in Evanston, Ill. The job is crucial: Public Works' 1,400 employees are the ones responsible for such tasks as fixing potholes, clearing trash and removing snow.

    Q: What is the official population of the District?
    Beth D.

    A: As of last July, 523,124 people called the District home, according to the D.C. Office of Planning. That's down nearly 84,000 since the beginning of the decade. But the road out of town might not lead too far. Between 1990 and 1996 the D.C. metropolitan region grew by 438,000 people, to 7.1 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    Q: Where can I find a map on the web that clearly defines the city's political wards?
    Donald B.

    A: We know of two Web sites with maps of the District's political wards. One is the D.C. Board of Elections (click on a ward to get get detailed boundary information). The other is our own 1998 D.C. Elections special report, which includes maps, statistics and profiles of each of the wards.

    Q: I understand that we who live in the states can call our senator's or congressman's office for White House tours. What is the case for the foreign visitors?
    Chiaki A.

    A: Members of Congress are free to give passes for the guided tours for anyone, including foreign visitors, according to a White House spokesman. But most visitors opt to wait in the regular first-come, first-served tour line at the entrance near 15th and E streets. More information is available by calling (202) 456-7041 or by visiting the White House tour Web page. Also check out's tours page and our listing for The White House.

    Q: May single-passenger motorcycle riders use the Maryland and Virginia HOV [high-occupancy vehicles] lanes during [rush-hour] traffic hours?
    Patrick O.

    A: Motorcycles are welcome in the carpool lanes of both states at any time, transportation officials say.

    "Motorcycles are really the only exceptions" to the rule preserving the lanes for cars with two or more passengers, says Joan Morris, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportion. Virginia once banned them from the carpool lanes but changed its policy in 1992 to mirror federal HOV regulations, which are cycle-friendly.

    The only other limited exception is on Westbound Route 66, which permits single motorists traveling to Dulles International Airport to use the road during its HOV-only hours.

    Q: Is the polite voice on Metrorail that tells the passengers the doors are closing computer generated or a real person?
    Sara P.

    A: The voice you hear belongs to Sandy Carroll, a Southwest Washington resident and Metro rider whose memorable soundtracks, including "Doors opening," and "Doors closing. Please, stand clear of the doors!" were first recorded during the winter of 1995-96.

    Now playing on more than 700 trains, they've been heard by millions of passengers.

    Some riders complained that one of the messages was too harsh, so Carroll returned to the mike in late 1996 to re-record it. A Post story at the time detailed the saga.

    -- By staff writer John P. Martin and intern Kyle S. Hanlin.

    Send your questions.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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