Mayor Vincent Gray recently signed a measure to let the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) spend $50 million in parks and public realm funds for the neighborhood.
The first of the parks is planned for the underpasses under the tracks approaching Union Station, on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE. The NoMa Parks Foundation is evaluating at least four more sites for future green space in the area.
Green space is sorely needed in NoMa. Aside from the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT), the only available park lands are privately-owned lots that are sometimes available for popular neighborhood events.
For example, the NoMa Summer Screen outdoor movie screenings attracted up to 1,200 people per viewing in 2013. However, the screenings happen on an undeveloped lot on 2nd Street between K and L NE. Toll Brothers City Living owns the lot, and plans a mixed-use development there in the future.
Since there's no public land available for parks in the neighborhood, Mayor Gray's budget includes $25 million to buy land, and another $25 million for physical park construction.
Many blame zoning for the lack of parks, as the city failed to buy property for future green space in NoMa before it upzoned the territory. This significantly raised property values, making a park far more expensive.
But the lack of parks hasn't detracted new residents or businesses. More than 3,000 people live in NoMa, with 714 additional residential units scheduled to open in the 2M and Elevation developments this summer, according to Doug Firstenberg, chair of the NoMa BID Board of Directors.
"NoMa as a residential neighborhood continues to grow," Firstenberg said at the neighborhood meeting. "It's really delivering on our goals to become a mixed-use neighborhood."
On the commercial front, NPR moved into a new headquarters building on North Capitol Street last year, and Google is scheduled to move into new offices at 25 Massachusetts Ave NW later this month.
NoMa BID data shows that 49% of planned square footage is undeveloped property. This includes about 6,247 residential units, roughly 548,349 square feet of retail space, and 9.32 million square feet of commercial space.
"It's absolutely phenomenal what is happening right now in the District of Columbia," said Gray, who said that NoMa is the largest part of the city's overall growth. "We're adding 1,100 to 1,200 people a month here in the city."
Other progress in NoMa
First Street NE is on schedule to reopen with a new separated bike lane in May, says NoMa BID President Robin Eve-Jasper. The opening will conclude a year of construction work that turned arguably the neighborhood's main street into a maze of potholes and construction barriers. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has repaved the street, begun striping, and is adding the bike lane. A block party is planned for the street's reopening next month.
However, major road construction in NoMa is far from over. DDOT is evaluating options for a significant redesign of Florida Ave through NoMa's northern section, to make it a more pedestrian and bike-friendly thoroughfare. No timeline for the project has been set.
NoMa BID also unveiled a free outdoor wi-fi system on select blocks earlier this month. The system can handle up to 1,000 users at a time and will continue to be expanded and improved, according to Eve-Jasper.
While they say there's not enough money to increase bus service, Montgomery County transportation officials propose to throw millions of taxpayer dollars at oversized parking garages.
In White Flint, the county wants to use $21 million in proceeds from a land sale on a new parking garage. The garage would replace the parking lot at the Bethesda North Conference Center while adding more parking spaces. Officials haven't said how many spaces the garage would create.
If the garage serves a real need, then it ought to be fiscally self-sufficient. Marriott, the operator of the conference center, currently charges $5 per hour or $15 a day for parking. At those rates, a parking space that costs $600 a year to operate could easily generate annual revenues approaching $5,000, yielding handsome profits for operators.
If big weekend or evening events at the conference center occasionally need extra parking, valet parking could use empty spaces in the Metro garage across Rockville Pike. No subsidy would be needed.
The county Department of Transportation asserts that under an agreement with the Maryland State Highway Administration, the proceeds of the land sale can only be used for this garage. But a letter from former state Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley suggests otherwise. Swaim-Staley wrote that the state's interest in parking relates to its investment in the existing conference center. As long as parking is sufficient for that building, the state could free up the land sale funds for other transit-oriented projects.
Now, a pedestrian-friendly street network in the White Flint area certainly fits that bill.
This is not the first time the county's parking division has tied its own hands through real estate contracts to promote public parking. In both Bethesda and Silver Spring, sales of parking lots were structured so that the proceeds went directly into parking garage construction without ever appearing in the county budget.
A 6-level, $80,000-per-space public parking garage under construction in Bethesda. Photo by the author.
Meanwhile, the budget currently before the County Council keeps garage parking free in Silver Spring after 6 pm. Extending the payment hours until 10 pm would add substantially to Silver Spring's current $10 million per year parking revenues.
In past years, proposals to charge for evening parking conflicted with a contract between the county and Foulger-Pratt, the developer of the shopping area on Ellsworth Drive that was critical to the downtown revitalization program. That contract guaranteed free parking in two adjacent garages. Some downtown merchants worried that paid parking at the garages nearer to their stores would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
But the contract with Foulger-Pratt ends May 7. The Silver Spring parking district is heavily subsidized with a perversely designed tax that encourages landowners to build more parking than their customers are willing to pay for. Free parking in county garages after 6 makes things even worse.
County leaders tell the state that Montgomery needs more school construction funding. Spending the county's own money on an unneeded garage hardly helps their case. And it's hardly fair to give away parking for free in Silver Spring while bus fares and state bus aid are used to cut real estate taxes.
Montgomery County doesn't have money to throw around, and its urban areas are growing up. As they mature, they need to be gradually weaned from dependence on subsidized parking.
The latest future population projections forecast that by 2040 the District of Columbia will have a population of 883,600. That would far eclipse the historic high of 802,178, from the 1950 census.
Despite that growth, DC would still rank as only the 4th most populous jurisdiction in the region, behind Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's. But the next 26 years could narrow that gap considerably. Demographers project that only Fairfax will add more people than DC. Prince George's will add fewer than half as many.
The forecasts come from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which is sort of a United Nations for local governments in the DC region.
COG's forecast report has a treasure trove of fascinating demographic info, not only about population, but also jobs and households. For example, by 2040 COG's demographers expect DC to have over 1 million jobs.
Of course, these are only projections. Nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy. COG's forecasts often fail to predict the biggest peaks during booms and lowest dips during busts. But all in all they've historically been reasonably accurate.
So get ready for more neighbors.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
A team of professionals looking at DC's zoning concluded that the 1958 code was hopelessly outdated, and found an urgent need for a new code. That report was in 1973. Four decades later, the code will continue getting older, as Mayor Vincent Gray asked the DC Zoning Commission to wait until September before deliberating on the proposed zoning update.
After over five years of public hearings and meetings to write a new code, the DC Office of Planning submitted it to the Zoning Commission, the hybrid federal-local board which has the final say over zoning in DC, last year.
There have been seven months of hearings already, with exhaustive chances for everyone to learn about the code and speak their minds. But Gray now wants changes, including ones that will add housing and help people age in place, to wait even longer.
The commission "set down" the code for public comment and hearings on September 9th, 2013. There were public hearings in November, but when some residents said they hadn't had enough time to read the new code, the commission added another set of hearings in January and February. There are two more hearings, for Wards 7 and 8 on April 21 and citywide on April 24, to give people yet another chance to speak.
But this week, the Gray administration decided to ask for even more delay, and the Zoning Commission extended the deadline to September 15, over a year after they set down the proposals.
The delay was almost another year longer than that. Gray wrote September 15, 2015 in a letter, but the zoning commissioners decided to assume he meant September 15, 2014.
Some commissioners argued that the process had gone on long enough, while others welcomed even more time. Rob Miller, a Gray appointee to the board, said, "Going through this process for seven years, what's another six months?" By that token, what's another seven years? The code has sorely needed revision for over 40 years.
Major problems with the zoning code were evident in 1970
In a July 1970 report, planning consultant Barton-Aschman Associates looked back at the code from the far side of highway protests, racial tension, riots, environmentalism, urban renewal, and the Metro system.
They didn't like what they saw. Despite some patches after Home Rule, the language was outdated and the code had major flaws. The study said,
A considerable number of provisions are archaic or substandard and need to be systematically reviewed and modernized. New techniques should be developed to accommodate changing market demand, technological advances, and new social conditions and programs.Studies for the original code by its principal author, Harold Lewis, predicted that 870,000 people could live in DC under his zoning regimen. But that assumed people continued to have large families and drove everywhere, and that no historic neighborhoods would be preserved. The 1970 report criticized these assumptions as already out of date.
The 1958 code also did not plan for a city with Metro, with the lower dependence on driving and greater densities that made possible. The 1970 report argued,
Perhaps the Metro system alone is a sufficiently important factor to justify a complete review of policies assumed in the 1956 Zoning Plan and reflected in the existing Zoning Regulations.In 1976, 18 years after the zoning code was written, a panel of citizen representatives agreed that a zoning code which separated residential from commercial uses was harming the city:
The rigid separation of uses contemplated by our existing zoning is no longer desirable in many instances, and indeed, the separation of residential and commercial uses contributes positively to the increasing deadening of Downtown after dark.The Special Citizens Advisory Committee on Urban Renewal included the 1958 code as part of the policies of an unrepresentative government that had decimated the city with slum clearance and highway construction. In the same period, the city made some additions to the planning laws, including Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and the Planned Unit Development process.
Downtown got new zoning in 1991 and amendments in 2000, and DC has added overlay districts to tweak zoning in many residential neighborhoods, but for most of the city, the zoning remains substantially the same as in the 1968 plan, and many of its problems were never solved.
For decades, people have said the zoning code is out of date. The earliest response to the highway riots questioned the zoning produced at that time. Then, one of the first actions of an independent DC was to question the land use regulation that was tied up with urban renewal. They patched the regulations up, but didn't reconstructed them in a way that improved stability and quality of life over the long term.
Some people say that changes to the zoning code will only worsen existing problems. But many of those problems exist because of the way the zoning is written now. Perhaps the city has become comfortable with the problems it's known about for 40 years. The risk of short-term pain is not a good enough reason to delay a much-needed update any more.
On Monday, we posted our first challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took Instagram photos of 5 stations and we asked you to try to identify them. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
We got 40 guesses on the post. No one guessed all 5 correctly, but two people, Sand Box John and Phil, each got 4 correct. Congratulations!
The first image was of Prince George's Plaza. Half of you got that right. The station is in an open cut, and the southern end of the platform has nice terraced hedges. Those are visible in the picture from aboard a Greenbelt-bound train.
About a quarter of you guessed Arlington Cemetery, which was a good guess. That station also has side platforms and is in a cut.
Image 2 was a tough one. This is a photo of a skylight above the faregates at Greenbelt station. Next time you head for the B30, look up.
Only one person, Phil, got this one right.
NoMa is a newer station, which is clear in this photo from the clean, fresh concrete wall. NoMa also went through the signage update early, which is why the sign has new elements, but is missing the "RD" in the circle that is present in the newest signage. 13 of you got this one.
Several of you guessed subway stations for this one. Since the arrow is pointing up toward the platform, this one clearly had to be a station where the tracks were above the mezzanine, not below.
This is a photo of the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere, at Wheaton station. Of course, Metro has lots of stations with long escalators, so this one was a bit challenging. Even still, 15 of you got it right.
Other popular choices included Woodley Park (7 guesses) and Dupont Circle (4 guesses).
17 of you correctly deduced that it was Gallery Place. This one is a great example of how to use deductive reasoning to solve the clue. There were some hints of that in the comments. What do we know about the picture?
First off, this is a station that has side platforms and is underground. That immediately narrows it down to 13 stations. We can't see a cross vault, which takes Metro Center and L'Enfant Plaza off the list.
Given the length of the view and the position of the photographer, we can tell that the station has mezzanines at both ends. That narrows it down to 6 (Dupont Circle, Farragut West, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, McPherson Square, and Smithsonian). The platform is also missing pylons, which narrows it down to 4 stations, which don't have them (Farragut West, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, and McPherson Square).
Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!
There are more than 300 million people living in the United States today, but America is such a huge country that we still have staggeringly vast areas that are completely devoid of humans. This map illustrates those places. Everything colored green is a census block with zero population.
The eastern US is pretty well populated except for a few spots in mountains and swamps. But the west is a different story. It's covered with enormous stretches of land that are simply empty.
And Alaska's emptiness makes even the western contiguous states look densely populated. Those green areas near the Arctic Circle look bigger than most other states.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The simple Commodore Barry monument in Franklin Square gets lost among the many dead generals of Washington. The original design was very different, but was scuttled amid battles over how much a memorial in Washington, and immigrants in American society, should maintain a clear identity or assimilate into the conventional.
In 1906, an alliance of Irish-American groups decided they wanted a monument that would assert their participation in the founding myth of the United States. This had been denied; before 1700, the principal means of Irish immigration was through indentured servitude. The Irish, upwardly mobile and increasingly tired of their second-class ethnic status, were arguably making a bid to become fully a part of white culture.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a friendly society, saw the Revolutionary War naval hero John Barry as precisely the man to plug into the American foundation myth. The French had done it with Rochambeau and Lafayette. The Poles would do the same with Kościuszko, and the Germans with von Steuben.
The jury's eyes smiled upon an Irish-American devotee of Rodin, Andrew O'Connor. From Paris, he contrasted a naturalistic portrait of Barry with impressionistic depictions of Irish history. A freestanding personification of Ireland blends into a low relief depicting Irish history. After St. Patrick, the frieze turns quickly toward English oppression, until it terminates in tormented nudes looking west across the ocean to a new life. (R-L)
Situating Barry in a narrative of British violence was wildly unconventional, but completely accurate. Protestant landowners expropriated the Barry family farm when John was a child, casting him into even more abject poverty. He was at sea by 14.
The statue of Barry is tough, if not butch. He's leaning into the deck of a rocking of a ship, staring at a threat unseen. O'Connor exaggerated his hands and face to realize a psychological intensity that is present in only a few monumental sculptures in DC, Henry Schrady's Grant, and the Adams Memorial.
As far as I know, only the Eisenhower Memorial combines freestanding portraiture in front of bas-relief sculptures in a way that comes close to O'Connor's layering. The flickering of a radical direction for traditional sculpture appealed to artists steeped in psychology and modern philosophy but made enemies of Washington elites and populist conservatives.
The Hibernians balked at what they saw as a reification of hot-tempered Papist carnality. It's an altar behind a rail, for God's sake! And all that affliction was just so terribly 1545. It wasn't hard for the groups to push the stereotype further and see the statue of Barry as little more than a Bowery thug in Colonial duds. And those eagles...
The Hibernians wanted a statue that would include one of their own into the genteel pedigree of the memorial landscape. Looking around, that seemed to be mostly men in Classical repose with bald assertions of greatness. All this emphasis on misfortune and victimization was effete nonsense.
Controversy over the design went on for three years. A number of Beaux-arts sculptors and architects spoke out in favor of the design. In the end, the Hibernians reminded President Taft of their voting power, and he rejected the design on June 1st, 1909. The replacement is a competent statue by John Boyle, with an aristocratic commodore and a vacant female allegorical figure.
Like so many competitions, the winner judged by peers was brushed aside by the actual power behind it. After having a contest to make it look open and democratic, they put up whatever they actually wanted.
As one might expect, the appeal to respectability didn't work. At the dedication in 1914, Woodrow Wilson sniped at "Americans with hyphens" who wanted respect without shedding their identities.
Franklin Square, which seemed so promising at the time, never became a memorial ground like Lafayette Park. It never worked as a city park, either. Attention shifted elsewhere, leaving Barry adrift and alone.
Images: O'Connor design from Kirk Savage and the National Archives. Boyle design from the Commission on Fine Arts. A version of this post appeared on цarьchitect.
The National Park Service is trying to make the Mount Vernon Trail safer as it passes by the parking lot for Roosevelt Island. The agency devised four alternatives, but has already dismissed two, one of which which would have done more to fix the problem than the more conservative remaining ones.
In this area, the trail passes the entrance to the parking lot which drivers use to access Roosevelt Island. There is a lot going on in this area. Pedestrians and cyclists crowd the trail. Cars enter and exit the parking lot. Hikers cross to get to the Potomac Heritage Trail and Roosevelt Island.
To make matters worse, the trail crosses the parking lot with two sharp 90° turns. ADA ramps and at least one tree extend into the trail space, and the trail through the area doesn't even meet NPS' 9-foot trail width standard. As a result, there have been numerous crashes in the area, some involving cars, others between cyclists and pedestrians.
Besides improving safety, NPS wants to install a water fountain, more and better bike racks (since bicycles are not allowed on Roosevelt Island), and better signage.
Alternative 1 keeps the trail separated from the parking lot by a curb and widens it to 9 feet, with a 2-foot grass shoulder on one side and a 2-foot paved shoulder on the other. It also shifts the parking lot crossing to a gentler angle.
This makes it easier to navigate, but harder for cyclists to see oncoming traffic. It also elevates the trail crossing on a speed table (a wide speed bump) which forces cars to slow as they cross the trail. It would also remove an existing curb cut from the west end of the trail that cyclists currently use to go from the trail into the parking lot.
Alternative 2 lowers the trail to parking lot level, separating it from the parking lot by only a stripe of paint, similar to a bike lane. It also widens the trail to 9' and provides a separate 3'-wide pedestrian trail. Like Alternative 1, it changes the angle of the crossing but the crossing would be at parking lot level, rather than on a speed table.
Alternatives 1 and 2 are the options NPS officials are still considering. They also developed a 3rd and 4th, but discarded them.
Alternative 3 was the most aggressive proposal. It separated cars from cyclists and pedestrians entirely by eliminating the parking lot and trail crossing. It shifted the parking lot closer to the parkway and rerouted the trail to be entirely on one side of the lot. NPS dismissed this option because it would have eliminated 11 parking spaces.
Alternative 4 proposed moving the trail to cross the parking lot entrance and then run between the parking lot and the parkway. This would have been less safe due to the speed of traffic entering the parking lot from the parkway, and the bad sight lines at that spot.
What is best?
The reason many cyclists use the parking lot is to avoid congestion between bikes and pedestrians. Alternative 1 largely takes that option away, while providing only 1 foot of additional width to address the problem. The possibility in alternative 2 to separate bikes and pedestrians onto different trails is a nice step.
However, moving the trail to parking lot level could increase conflict between bikes and cars, as cars could back out of parking spaces directly onto the trail. The speed table from Alternative 1 seems to be a better approach.
It's too bad NPS didn't consider widening the trail beyond the agency's 9-foot minimum trail standard, despite the huge amount of bicycle and pedestrian congestion here. Nationwide, a 10' minimum is more common, and Arlington prefers 12 feet.
Also, Alternative 3 was the the only alternative that would fully separate cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic, but it has already been discarded.
To review the full details of the project, or to submit comments, see the project website. You can submit comments through April 22nd.
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