Greater Greater Washington

Play Pac-Man on the street grid

Each year right around this time, Google adds some joke features to its products. Today, Google Maps just got a "Pac-Man" mode, where you can turn any street grid into a little pellet-eating, ghost-chasing game.

Pac-Man around downtown DC.

Depending where you pick, the game can be really hard or easy. Good luck winning a round around Dupont Circle.

Pac-Man around Dupont Circle.

The game ignores dead-end streets (since you can't escape if a ghost traps you there), so if you pick a neighborhood that's almost all cul-de-sacs, it'll say you can't play Pac-Man there. Another disadvantage of unwalkable street designs?

What are some of the best spots you can find for a fun Pac-Man game around the Washington area?

You don't need a car to run a successful small business

Owning a small business can be tough, but going car-free doesn't have to make it any harder. My wife and I have lived in DC without a car for four years and we're making our small business work, even with places to go and products to deliver.

CHIQs team. All photos by the author.

We run CHIQS, a local artisan food business that produces baked chickpea snacks. You might have seen our product at Glen's Garden Market, Localteria, or on the Nicely App.

Admittedly, choosing transportation options that are convenient, affordable, and sustainable for our small business requires a little more thought than doing it in our day-to-day lives outside of business, but it's still very possible.

We chose a kitchen we can access car-free

Food businesses are legally required to operate out of a commercial kitchen. When we started CHIQS last year, we were committed to staying car-free, so our first challenge was finding a kitchen accessible without a car.

After reviewing our options, we chose Union Kitchen, a culinary incubator in NoMa. Union Kitchen has great resources to help us produce our product and services to help us grow our business, which is important.

But equally important for us was that it's near the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a Metro station, and a Capital Bikeshare station, making it easy for us to commute back and forth from our home in Logan Circle.

Union Kitchen's emphasis on building community and supporting its members was the deciding factor for us, but the accessibility of the kitchen was essential. If we were starting our search today, we'd have more options to choose from, as food incubators have opened up in transit- and bike-friendly Edgewood and Adams Morgan.

Our first challenge: farmer's markets

When we initially began the food business, we sold freshly-made, gluten-free flatbread sandwiches at the Columbia Heights and CityCenter Farmer's Markets. We had to transport multiple stoves, tables, a tent, and a cooler to and from the markets each week.

The CHIQS (formerly Seasonal Socca) team at the Columbia Heights farmer's market.

While we would normally get to Columbia Heights and CityCenter using our own bikes, Bikeshare, MetroBus, Car2Go, or walking, needing to transport all of that of heavy equipment definitely shrunk our car-free options. The best solution we found was UberXL, which could fit both of us and our equipment. Many drivers even offered to assist us with unloading.

Wholesale orders and grocery stores

Today, for wholesale orders close to the kitchen, we deliver by foot, bicycle, or Metro. For larger orders, we use Union Kitchen's distribution program. As part of the program, Union Kitchen owns one truck and distributes products for 40 different businesses to 35 different stores all directly from the kitchen, which is certainly a big help.

Focusing distribution on local groceries stores helps, too. Stores like Glen's Garden Market and Each Peach, among others, put a strong emphasis on stocking local products, which helps businesses like ours do more sales in a smaller geographical footprint. Operating a business car-free has forced us to focus on stores within a smaller area, but we have made it work in further-flung locations. For example, we took the T2 bus to the Market at River Falls in Potomac, Maryland to do a sampling of our product there.

Car-free makes good (business) sense for us

When we started our business, we were concerned that we would have to sacrifice our values of sustainability and car-free lifestyle to build an economically viable business. Instead, by selecting a transit- and bike-accessible commercial kitchen space and taking advantage of a system that makes it easy to share a distribution truck, we can operate our business in line with our personal values.

In doing so, we also avoided some of the large capital expenditures of traditional food businesses. That's allowed us to spend our resources on developing new products, working with a designer on branding and packaging, and sampling and marketing our product to new customers. In turn, our business has been more successful with fewer costs.

Plus, a central part of our message is that not only is our product a healthy snack, but that we produce and distribute it in a way that is healthy for the environment and the surrounding community. All of our employees are DC residents who walk or take public transportation to work, hired through the District's Project Empowerment Program. Being car-free ourselves feeds into that philosophy even more.

In the future

Going car-free has worked thus far, but we do face new challenges as we grow in volume and expand our reach. We will have to make tough decisions about whether or not to expand into new markets in different regions of the country, or to develop more products to sell in the Washington, DC area. We will also likely outgrow Union Kitchen someday soon, and may need to find an even bigger facility accessible without a car. But we're committed and optimistic that we'll be able to keep things up car-free!

Think you know Metro's neighborhoods? This quiz might surprise you

Yesterday, PlanItMetro posted maps showing what's within walking distance of each Metro station. Check them out (and maybe read up on what walk sheds are and how they differ across the region), then take our quiz to test what you know.

A map of the area around the Columbia Heights Metro station that's easily walkable. Images from WMATA.

1. Which of these stations has the most jobs within walking distance?

U Street
Pentagon City

2. Which of these stations has the fewest jobs within walking distance?

Medical Center
Federal Triangle

3. Which of these stations has the most jobs that are nearby, but not within walking distance?

Van Ness
West Falls Church

4. Which of these stations has the most households within walking distance?

Dupont Circle
Silver Spring
Columbia Heights
Court House

5. Which of these stations has the fewest households within walking distance?

Friendship Heights
Pentagon City
Crystal City
Georgia Avenue-Petworth

6. How many households live within walking distance of Metro?


7. Which of these stations has the lowest Walk Score?

Morgan Boulevard
Fort Totten
Arlington Cemetery
Van Dorn Street

8. Which of these areas has the smallest area within walking distance?

West Hyattsville
Southern Avenue
National Airport


1. U Street might not have many high-rise office buildings, but the medium-density neighborhood does have 9,034 jobs within walking distance. Logan Circle's density isn't just for residents: its lack of parking lots and high street connectivity mean that it also has plenty of economic opportunities nearby.

2. Federal Triangle, the very heart of the federal bureaucracy that built Metro to bring commuters into the city, has fewer jobs nearby than the three big edge cities it's grouped with. (That's partially because PlanItMetro's assessment is for non-overlapping walk sheds. This is why Federal Triangle has so few jobs: they're assigned to neighboring sheds.) Medical Center may not look like much from Wisconsin Avenue, but its 32,473 nearby jobs put it in a league with several Downtown DC stations.

3. At Franconia-Springfield, 92% of the nearby jobs aren't within walking distance. Springfield Town Center is beyond a half-mile walk, and the new FBI headquarters site even the site Virginia is promoting for the FBI is cut off from the station by a ravine. (At Branch Avenue, 96% of nearby jobs are outside the walk shed.)

Franconia-Springfield walk shed.

4. Columbia Heights just edges out Dupont Circle for this title, 10,842 to 10,636. Relatively low-rise Court House has the highest household concentration outside the District, with 8,100 within walking distance.

5. It's Friendship Heights, although all of these have between 4,071 and 4,623 households within walking distance. High rises don't always mean high residential density, especially if there are lots of offices and shops mixed in. Crystal City probably has a higher density, but its walk shed is also constrained by the George Washington Parkway.

6. 190,631. Contrary to what those ubiquitous "Steps to Metro!" real-estate listings might tell you, just 9% of the 2,091,301 households in the metro area live within a ten-minute walk of Metro.

7. Morgan Boulevard has a paltry Walk Score of 6. Even Arlington Cemetery's is somehow 15. Twenty five Metro stations are in locations with a Walk Score that's "car-dependent," and just 30 are in places deemed a "Walker's Paradise."

8. Landover. Hemmed in by a railroad and US 50 on one side and by its own parking lot and an industrial park on the other, its walk shed covers a mere 80 acres. That's not fair to the almost 1,000 households, mostly on the other side of 50, who are less than half a mile away but can't easily reach the station.

Landover walk shed.

How did you do?

0-3 correct: You're a Metro Newbie! While you're playing #WhichWMATA, step outside those stations and explore!
4-6 correct: You're a Metro Explorer! You've walked around many of Metro's stations, and always want to see more!
7-8 correct: You're a Metro Voyager! Are you sure you didn't download that 113-megabyte Atlas and take this quiz open-book?

Breakfast links: Mad for development

Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.
Calling all developers: Mayor Bowser requested proposals to develop properties around the District. In a new initiative, the administration is seeking public input from the community before asking the developers. (City Paper)

Pop-up less: The Zoning Commission voted to limit pop-ups to 35 feet in row house neighborhoods. But they also voted in favor of allowing up to four units in a building. The split decision did not address design issues. (Post)

Use a barge: Old Town Alexandria's waterfront plan is moving forward. The Virginia Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit against the plan, and a developer has agreed to remove construction debris from a project by barge, rather than by truck. (WBJ)

Excellent X2: Metro boosted ridership on the X2 bus. Strategies like headway management helped improve performance and lower crowding, but transit supporters say infrastructre improvements like bus lanes are still needed. (WAMU)

A tiny tiff: The founders of the original collection of three tiny houses in DC have split into two groups, with one starting a new project and the others looking for another site. DC did not approve of the project, sciting concerns about sewage. (UrbanTurf)

Cherry blossom Metro: Metro wants to help you beat the crowds at the Cherry Blossom Festival. The secret? Plan your trip to avoid the busiest times and stations during the festival. (PlanItMetro, PlanItMichael)

Hand in hand: Housing affordability interacts with transportation costs. Some parts of DC where housing is expensive turn out to be more affordable when considered along with the cost of transportation, especially if you don't own a car. (Post)

Citi upgrades: New York's Citi Bike is getting an overhaul. The system's new owner replaced its software, is fixing up bikes and docking stations, and adding valets to busy spots. They also plan to expand to new parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. (WNYC)

And...: Business services, health, and leisure are the fastest-growing industries in DC. (Washingtonian) ... Philadelphia could run its regional rail more like a subway. (Next City) ... Donald Shoup, the performance parking guru, will retire this summer. (Streetsblog)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Events roundup: Accessible urbanism

Discover tactical urbanism and how it's making cities better, advocate for faster bus lanes on 16th Street, weigh in on the future Potomac Yard Metro station, and join the WABA Action Committee to encourage more complete streets.

Photo by Steve Rhodes

Tactical urbanism: Creative, low-cost projects, from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives, can inspire long-term change that means more walkable and inclusive neighborhoods.

On April 21, join Mike Lydon, one of the founders of the tactical urbanist movement, for a discussion of how creative, low-cost projects can build support for permanent work. Greater Greater Washington will co-host Mike at a forum with the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Island Press from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Smith Public Trust at 3514 12th Street NE.

After the jump: bus lanes, Potomac Yard Metro, a safer Suitland Road, and a mini-conference.

Pressure for bus lanes: After last year's advocacy campaign for a 16th Street bus lane, DDOT is kicking off a the next required step, a year-long study, on Tuesday, March 31. Public involvement will be critical in ensuring that the study leads to action, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth is organizing supporters to attend the kickoff at the Mt. Pleasant Library (2160 16th St NW).

Potomac Yard Metro: Alexandrians awaiting the infill Potomac Yard Metro station can rejoice: the next step is here! Last week, officials released the draft environmental impact statement for four alternative locations being considered.

Public comment on the alternatives is open through May 18, then City Council will vote on which to make the preferred alternative. So be sure to weigh in at one of two upcoming public meetings tomorrow (Tuesday, March 31): the Community Open House from 5 - 6:30 pm, and the Implementation Meeting directly following. Both meetings are at Alexandria City Hall (301 King Street).

Safer Suitland: Suitland Road, a major thoroughfare in Prince George's County, could be better for people in cars, on bikes, or on foot. WABA's Action Committee is hosting a community walk to show people how. Join their stroll on Saturday, April 4 from 10 to 12:30 pm at 4724 Suitland Rd in Suitland, MD.

Bodies and Boundaries: NYU is hosting a mini conference in DC on how boundaries, both real and imagined, impact daily living. Bodies and Boundaries will start with a movie screening on Friday, April 2, at 6:30 pm, followed by a short day of panels and speakers from 8:30 am to 3:15 pm on Saturday, April 3. Both events are at 1307 L St NW. Registration is recommended.

Affordability with APA: Talk affordable housing for Montgomery County next Tuesday 4/7 at 5:30 pm with Praj Kasbekar, of the Montgomery Housing Partnership. The event is part of the American Planning Association's Tuesdays at APA" series at 1030 15th St NW.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at

DC's charter schools boost learning for poor and minority students

DC's charter schools do a better job than its traditional public schools when it comes to educating low-income and minority students, according to a recent national study. But the study indicates that white and Asian students fare better in the traditional sector.

Photo of classroom from Shutterstock.

The study ranked DC's charter sector sixth in the nation among 41 urban school districts for its positive impact on student learning.

Overall, students in charter schools have had bigger gains in both reading and math than similar students enrolled in the DC Public School system, especially when it comes to middle school math. And while charter schools are still far from closing the achievement gap, it's smaller for charter students than for those enrolled in DCPS.

The study, conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), looked at data from the 2006-07 through 2011-12 school years. It matched "virtual twins," students with similar backgrounds and test scores, some of whom went to charters and some of whom stayed in the traditional public school system.

Researchers then compared rates of growth for the "twins" in each sector, as measured by increases in standardized test scores.

Nationally, the CREDO study found that students in urban charter schools gained the equivalent of 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days in reading.

It's harder to quantify the gains on the local level, which the CREDO report frames in terms of standard deviations (SDs) rather than days of learning. But overall, charter students had gains of 0.09 SDs in math and 0.13 SDs in reading over their DCPS counterparts.

Results for different demographic groups in DC

Generally, the strongest positive results were for students who were poor and black or Hispanic, as compared to white non-poor students in DCPS. Charter students who were eligible for free and reduced price lunch, a frequent measure of poverty, were only 0.02 SDs below non-poor students in math. The equivalent gap for low-income DCPS students was .09.

The charter sector also improved the performance of Hispanic students and students learning English as a second language, as well as students who qualify for special education services, although the gains were not as large.

White and Asian students in the charter sector didn't fare as well. Both groups actually did worse than their peers in DCPS, by 0.06 SDs in reading and about 0.10 in math.

There are two possible explanations for that, according to Anne Herr, director of school quality for FOCUS DC, a charter advocacy organization. One is that the sample sizes are small. White students make up 12% of DCPS's student population and just 5% of the charter school population.

It's not clear how many Asian students attend DC's public schools, but the number is low. Last year, Wilson High School was the only one in the District with ten or more Asian students scheduled to graduate.

The other reason is that the DCPS schools with large numbers of white students are generally high-performing, so the base of comparison is much higher.

The negative results for white students in charter schools are consistent with CREDO's nationwide data. Nationally, those students lost the equivalent of 36 days of learning in math and 14 in reading, compared to their peers in traditional public schools.

The CREDO study praised DC as one of four cities that had few low-performing charters and also a majority that outperformed traditional public schools in both math and reading. The other three cities in that category were Boston, Detroit, and Newark.

Another recent report labeled DC's charter sector the healthiest in the nation. Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS DC, says the two studies prove the value of DC's charter schools.

"I don't see how people can try to ignore anymore that the DC charter movement is thriving," Cane said. "It's a combination of some really brilliant people who have started schools and a really good authorizer that's willing to close schools that are not closing the achievement gap. We also have a very good law that gives charters a lot of freedom of action."

Reasons to question data on charter success

While Cane has a point, some would counter that charters enjoy certain advantages that high-poverty DCPS schools don't: for example, a self-selected group of students that is more likely to be motivated, and the option of denying admission to students who arrive midyear.

And while DC may rank sixth in the CREDO study, it lags pretty far behind the top charter sectors. Boston ranked number one in both reading and math gains, with 0.324 SDs in math and 0.236 in reading. The comparable figures for DC were 0.134 and 0.097.

And, of course, given that these are comparative measures, even a charter sector that isn't doing a great job can look good against the background of a low-performing traditional school system.

Another cause for concern is that charter success, both locally and nationally, is greater in math than in reading, and seems to stall at the high school level. In DC, the highest gains were in middle school math, with charter students gaining 0.23 SDs. For middle school reading, the figure was only 0.02.

The gains for DC charter high schools weren't statistically significant, but at the national level high schools provided their students with the equivalent of 32 additional days of learning in math and only 9 in reading. As in DC, the highest gains nationally were in middle school math, with 73 additional days of learning.

It's generally easier to raise the performance of low-income students in math, probably because math doesn't require the background knowledge and vocabulary that reading comprehension does. But literacy skills are arguably more important, since they're fundamental to understanding all other subjects—including, to a certain extent, math.

While it's not clear from the report why gains drop off in the higher grades, one likely reason is that high-school-level work requires more sophisticated reading, writing, and analytical skills. And it's possible that even high-performing charter middle schools haven't really been preparing their students to handle them.

With the advent of the Common Core and its more rigorous standardized tests, which students in DC and elsewhere are taking for the first time this year, those deficiencies may soon become apparent at lower grades as well.

DC has much to be proud of in its charter schools, and many low-income students have received a better education than they otherwise would have thanks to their existence. But the achievement gap is fundamentally a literacy gap, and the jury is still out on how much progress the charter sector has really made in closing it.

Cross-posted at DC Eduphile.

It wouldn't cost much to make this Prince George's road safer for everyone

Suitland Road, a major thoroughfare in Prince George's County, offers nothing for people who walk, ride bikes, or take the bus. There's enough room to make the road nicer and safer for everybody, and the cost would be tiny.

WABA Proposal for Suitland Road. Illustration by the author.

Suitland Road is a rural-style, two-lane road that passes through a nondescript commercial patch on the way from DC to the Suitland Federal Center. It has no sidewalks or bike lanes between Southern Avenue in DC and Silver Hill Road in MD, and and its wide traffic lanes (16 feet in some places) encourage speeding. However, it will soon be the hub for new development next to the federal center and near the Metro station.

Suitland Road in its current condition. Photo by the author.

Washington Area Bicyclist Association Prince George's action committee has made transforming Suitland Road into a bike friendly space a top priority for 2015. The committee published a proposal to repurpose Suitland Road's wide traffic lanes, center turn lanes, and shoulder space to a street with protected space for biking and walking on either side. There'd be no need for additional asphalt, or even sidewalk paving.

Suitland Road between Maryland and DC. Image from Google Maps.

All things considered, the suggested changes are cheap

Adding the protected bike lanes and walk space that are in WABA's proposal would cost between $80,000 and $165,000, with annual maintenance costs of less than $10,000. Of course, actual sidewalks, along with bus platforms and landscaping, would be nice. But the idea is to calm traffic and make Suitland Road safer for people on bikes and foot as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

WABA's proposal uses flexposts, a "soft" bike lane protector that's common in DC, rather than more expensive curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes. The cost estimates also cover bike symbols, lane and buffer striping, and changing existing pavement lines.

There are two main approaches to lane striping. The first, thermoplastic lines (hot tape), would cost about $165,000 to install. They'd carry an annual maintenance price tag of about $1,200.

The other option would be to use white paint for the lane markings. This would cost about $80,000 upfront, with $9,600 in annual maintenance.

On a per-mile basis, these cost estimates are considerably lower than most types of roadway improvements. The estimates, meant to provide ballpark figures rather than specifics, are from an engineer familiar with the proposal.

The Maryland State Highway Administration, which maintains Suitland Road, recently added road design guidelines that include buffered striping for bike lanes along with curbed protection features. WABA's proposal uses flexposts, a "soft" bike lane protector that's common in DC, instead of curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes.

The Suitland Civic Association, WABA, and local bike shops are planning a community walk to advocate for a better Suitland Road on April 4th.

Stockholm is looking beyond Vision Zero

Sweden, the country that gave birth to the idea of Vision Zero, is eying its next step. Enter Vision Zero 2.0.

In this video from Streetfilms, officials in Stockholm talk about looking beyond just safety measures. They want to make humans and health a centerpiece of transportation planning.

Stockholm officials' overall message is that people need to be able to negotiate space with each other whether they drive, bike, or walk. They're considering taking road space that's traditionally been used for driving and designating it for cycling and walking.

One official noted that this kind of negotiation can only happen at slower speeds. Moving more slowly and sharing space with one another does not just make a city safer; It also pushes people to behave in ways that are healthier and more efficient in a densely populated city.

As DC Mayor Muriel Bowser looks at enacting the ideas of Vision Zero here in the District, it's fascinating to consider a city that has lived with Vision Zero for 20 years.

This video is one part of a longer film about moving around in Stockholm. Other parts show what it is like to walk, bike, and drive in the city.

Breakfast links: Kids these days

Photo by Paul Townsend on Flickr.
My car is a bus: Marriott's move to a transit-accessible location reflects a trend. Businesses need to be near transit and walkable areas to attract millenial talent. Montgomery County is taking note and hoping that its Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit plans will move forward to compete with DC and Northern Virginia. (Post)

Teens and police talking: In Baltimore's Inner Harbor a group of teenagers regularly meet with police. The Inner Harbor Program hopes to open a dialogue to foster better understanding between the police and young people. (Post)

Candid camera: In-car video of crashes by 1700 teenage drivers found distracted driving responsible for 60% of them. Now policy-makers need to address the denial among drivers and car manufacturers who are adding more features. (NYT)

Get off my lawn: A recent analysis finds that wealth inequality is due to housing costs, rather than other investments growing faster than wages. In most places, restricting denser housing can exacerbate inequality. (Medium)

Diversity please: Even though people of color make up 42% of Fairfax County's population, candidates for office are overwhelmingly white and male. The challenge will be in integrating the party machines. (Post)

Cost of Columbus: The City of Columbus has been trying to recruit some of DC's younger residents, but is life there more affordable? Not by much, and even less so if one forgoes a car or lives alone. (District Measured)

Declining towns: Around the country and the region, historic towns built by freed slaves are disappearing, as young people move out and development encroaches. Meanwhile, a new crop of entrepreneurs is trying to revive rural towns. (Post)

Temporary urbeerism: A local brewpub is raising money for a 100,000 sq.ft beer garden next to Nationals Park that will also feature a dog park and bike store. It's only temporary since new development is planned for the space. (JDLand, WBJ)

Occupy London: Throughout London residents are occupying buildings set for redevelopment to protest high housing costs or loss of neighborhood character - and winning in many cases. (CityLab)

And...: A San Francisco company has launched a bus service with $6 fares that looks more like your living room. (The Guardian) ... A new taxi service provides a space safe from street harassment. (Post) ... Moody's downgraded WMATA's credit rating due to its mishandling of federal grants. (Post)

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Backward and forward in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

90 bus. Photo by Caroline Angelo.

7000 series. Photo by nevermindtheend.

Rosslyn. Photo by Casey Labrack.

14th Street. Photo by Joe Flood.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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