Greater Greater Washington

Events roundup: Get active

Get active, both outside and in. Take a meaningful walk to learn about Gaithersburg, collect bike data, or have some impromptu fun in Farragut Park. Then, chime in on conversations about Columbia Pike, Prince George's Metro, and development around Union Station.

Photo by ehpien

Get out in Gaithersburg: Historic Gaithersburg has big plans for a transit-oriented and walkable future. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour this Saturday, May 2, to explore and learn about the community's progress. Make sure to RSVP!

After the jump: future of Columbia Pike, peds at Prince George's Plaza Metro, input on Union Station, and more…

Future of Columbia Pike: With the Columbia Pike Streetcar cancelled, what's next for the corridor? The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization is hosting a panel of community leaders to answer questions about the future of Columbia Pike on April 30 at the Salsa Room on Columbia Pike. The reception starts at 6 pm and the panel is at 6:45 pm. RSVP today.

Walkable Metro: Right now, it's hard to imagine a walkable East-West Highway at Prince George's Plaza Metro. But a new transit district development plan could get us there. Join the conversation at a Community Open House this Tuesday, April 28, from 5 pm to 8pm at Prince George's Plaza Community Center at 6600 Adelphi Road in Hyattsville.

Bicycle counts: Ever wondered how many people ride bikes in Alexandria? The city needs volunteers to help find out. The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is conducting counts on Thursday, May 7 (5-7 pm) and Saturday, May 9 (12-2 pm). Be sure to sign up if you can help!

Fun in Farragut: Need more outdoor activities this summer? Starting this Friday, May 1, join the Golden Triangle BID for Farragut Fridays, a free-all-day, all-summer event at Farragut Park that includes a pop-up outdoor office, "Picnic in the Park" with lawn games and live music, and outdoor movies. For a full listing of events and movies, check out the website.

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

Tomorrow's special election candidates talk streetcar, bus lanes, and more

The DC chapter of the Sierra Club asked candidates in tomorrow's Ward 4 and Ward 8 special elections about their stances on transportation issues. The Club heard back from Brandon Todd in Ward 4 and from Eugene Kinlow and LaRuby May in Ward 8.

Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

The questionnaire, which covered bus lanes, streetcars, parking, and bike trails, was part of the Sierra Club's endorsement process. In total, the Club reached out to one candidate in Ward 4, Todd, and to three in Ward 8—of all the candidates in the mix, that's how many it deemed to be running viable campaigns.

In the Ward 4 race, Brandon Todd's campaign answered "Yes" (but didn't elaborate) to all four of the Club's questions. That means he's in favor of endorsing "parking cash-out" so that employees can choose not to drive to work, creating transit-only travel lanes on key corridors downtown, fully funding DC's 37-mile streetcar plan, and reallocating District resources to complete major off-street trails.

The Kennedy Street Development Association also polled Ward 4 candidates on transportation and smart growth. KSDA's Myles Smith noted:

No candidate supports a Streetcar on Georgia Avenue, though they do support other transit investments: all back $2 billion in funding for the Metro Forward plan. Andrews, Todd, and Toliver support 16th Street bus lanes, adding new bike lanes even at the cost of parking, while Bowser opposed.
Oddly, on the Sierra Club questionnaire, Brandon Todd endorsed the full streetcar network—including… a streetcar on Georgia.

In the Ward 8 race, Eugene Kinlow's campaign answered "Yes" to three of the Club's questions, but "No" regarding the streetcar. "I still have doubts about the benefits of this investment and believe that other transit opportunities such as small area circulators and increased access to affordable biking options may prove more worthwhile for the ward," he said.

LaRuby May's campaign answered "Yes" to the Club's questions about parking cash-out and about bicycle trails. In response to the question about the streetcar, the campaign wrote that May "supports the creation of alternative transportation methods to better address the connectivity issues faced by Ward 8 residents. Whichever method most efficiently gets the people I serve to where they need to go is the one I will support." The campaign also wrote a similar response about bus lanes.

The Club contacted Marion C. Barry's campaign several times but got no response.

Full text of the questionnaire's transportation-related questions:

Subsidies for Parking and Driving: Subsidized employee parking favors commuters from the suburbs who disproportionately drive to work, as compared to DC residents. Employers would retain the authority as to whether, to what degree, and to which employees they provide a parking subsidy, sometimes called parking cash out.

Q: Will you support legislation requiring DC employers that choose to subsidize employee parking to offer an equivalently-valued subsidy to non-driving commuters?

Reallocation of Road Space: The District has limited right-of-way for travel and access. A disproportionate amount of this right-of-way is taken up by lone travelers driving on unrestricted travel lanes and on-street parking, with the result being poorer air quality in the District and less attractive transportation options than if such right-of-way were to be rebalanced.

Q: Will you support DC Department of Transportation creating bus-only travel lanes on 16th, H, and I Streets NW, and placing further streetcar lines in transit-only lanes?

Streetcars: The District has planned for a 37-mile streetcar system, including lines along Georgia Avenue NW and Martin Luther King Avenue SE and Wheeler Road SE, which would put nearly half of DC's population within walking distance of rail transit. Last year, the Council cut funding levels for the streetcar, and the reduced eight-mile network that DDOT has now proposed to put out to bid, as a single construction contract, would serve neither Wards 4 nor 8.

Q: Do you support raising taxes or reallocating funding to restore full funding for the 37-mile streetcar plan?"

Bicycle Trails: The Capital Crescent, mainstream Rock Creek, Oxon Run, and Suitland Parkway bicycle trails are all in need of major repair and maintenance. The Metropolitan Branch and Anacostia Riverwalk are left at various stages of completion.

Q: Will you demand that the DC Department of Transportation allocate the resources and energy to complete the rehabilitation and construction of those trail segments and reallocate resources, even at the expense of other projects, to complete?

The author is a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club.

What DC's two most sought-after schools have in common

A recent post analyzed the waitlist numbers for DC's traditional public schools and charter schools. Jessica Wodatch, executive director and one of the founders of Two Rivers Public Charter School, sent us this response.

I agree with Natalie Wexler that "school waitlist data can tell us what families want." But Wexler didn't point out what the two schools with waiting lists of over 1,000 students, Two Rivers and Mundo Verde public charter schools, have in common: Both are Expeditionary Learning schools.

Photo from Two Rivers School.

Expeditionary Learning is a model that emphasizes interactive, project-based learning along with student engagement and character development. EL schools are powerful learning communities where students learn by doing.

What does that mean? Two Rivers' eighth-graders recently studied genetics and ethics. But instead of reading chapters from textbooks and filling out worksheets, their expedition asked the question, "Who owns my DNA, and under what circumstances would I share it?"

Students read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, delved into the genetics behind DNA, and ultimately wrote the script for a mock trial of Johns Hopkins Hospital, which used Lacks' DNA without her or her family's permission. The students shared their learning with the author of the book and were invited to meet her and several members of the Lacks family.

This type of learning not only cements the basic facts about genetics, but also allows students to develop and grow their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Our younger students engage in the same approach. Recently our first-graders tackled a study of economics through the following problem: "Students at the local homeless shelter don't have books. How can we help them?"

Our students set out to open a store to raise money. They surveyed the school to find out what they should sell (popcorn won), wrote letters to families asking them to invest in the store, purchased supplies, wrote jingles, created posters, and advertised and operated their store.

Students were in charge of making the sales and keeping track of the money. At the end of the expedition, they returned investors' money with interest and created an economics coloring book they shared with other students.

They raised more than $200, which they used to purchase books for the shelter. Our six- and seven-year-olds learned valuable and complex lessons about economics by engaging with difficult and meaningful tasks.

At a time when many schools have taken the joy out of learning, Expeditionary Learning schools put it front and center. By asking students to be leaders of their own learning and engaging them in purposeful inquiry, we help them acquire not only basic skills but also the critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills required for success in life. And they have fun doing it.

We at Two Rivers are humbled by the waitlist for our school. We are opening another campus this fall to help address it. But we are not surprised at the demand for this educational approach and are encouraged to see more schools around the city embracing it.

What do the thousands of names on waitlists for Two Rivers and Mundo Verde tell us? That parents want educational models where students learn by doing, develop critical thinking skills, and are active participants in their education. That's the not-so-secret sauce of DC's most in-demand schools.

Cross-posted at DC Eduphile.

With Metro, "on time" doesn't mean what you think it means

There's a lot of wiggle room in how WMATA reports Metro's on-time performance. We need something more accurate.

Photo by RHiNO NEAL on Flickr.

Periodically, Metro reports its on-time performance to both the public and the WMATA board. In 2014, more than 90% of Metrorail trains were "on time."

But Metro doesn't arrive at those numbers in a way that makes sense for passengers, and its practices can lead to counterproductive moves like intentionally delaying trains to cook the books.

Metro counts a train as "on time" if it arrives somewhere close to within the scheduled headway, which is the block of time that passes between trains. During rush periods, the headway plus or minus two minutes counts, and during off-peak periods, it's one-and-a-half headways.

That means that when a lead train starts to slow down, Metro can slow down the trains behind it and still count them as being on time. There is no measurement that tracks how fast a train moves through the system. Besides how often trains break down, the only thing reflected in Metro's public data is the spacing between trains.

Also, only the trains that actually stop at a station are included in Metro's on-time performance data. Metro's reporting doesn't include trains that go out of service or skip stations.

There are more honest ways to report Metrorail performance

Metro needs a performance standard that reflects what's best for customers.

One way to achieve that would be to divide the amount of times a train stopped at a given station by the number of times Metro said one would stop there. This number would show all the service Metro hadn't delivered. If Metro said 20 trains would stop at a station during rush hour and only 15 did, that's a problem we should know about.

Another idea would be to use Smartrip data to track how many people got to their destination within a reasonable time. Metro publishes typical travel times for each possible trip. Going from Ballston to Eastern Market, for example, should take about 26 minutes.

After factoring in a reasonable walking time to and from faregates, along with time for transferring trains if necessary, Metro could report the percentage of customers who got between stations in the time Metro said it would take. This would emphasize the delays that happen when customers can't get on a train, have to offload, or are on trains that travel slowly.

Metro needs to improve its customer reputation. Honest performance metrics, even if they aren't particularly flattering, would be a good place to start.

Breakfast links: Reform needed

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
Similar but differen-T: Although both WMATA and the Boston T faced serious problems this winter, the pace of change at the two agencies is drastically different, primarily because of the many jurisdictions who have sway over WMATA. While WMATA's executive search drags on, the Massachusetts governor has already set massive reform in motion for the T's Board. (Post)

The safety dance: Workers, not just passengers, are worried about a lack of safety culture at WMATA. The employee injury rate is up and long suspensions for mistakes likely cause workers to underreport incidents. (WAMU)

Goodbye and good luck: The heads of Maryland's State Highway Administration and Transit Administration both resigned last week. At least one of the departures likely signals a change in priorities for the state. (Post)

New consensus on I-66: After lengthy negotiations, Arlington and VDOT have struck a tentative deal to first try tolls and transit improvements on I-66 inside the Beltway before considering widening of the road around the year 2025. (Post)

Standing still: The New Communities program is supposed to replace distressed public housing with developer-backed mixed-income units. But after years of delay in Lincoln Heights, some wonder if it's the right approach for all neighborhoods. (City Paper)

Driving the disconnect: Fractured bicycle networks in the US come from cities doing easy projects first or syncing construction with repaving schedules. But that also means small projects that bridge gaps can have a big impact. (Next City)

All AP all the time: While a recent list of "most challenging" schools featured schools where students take a dozen AP tests or more, one school has scaled back on AP courses due to the strain they put on the students. (Post)

And...: Here are all the transportation projects that the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority plans to fund next year. (WBJ) ... The economic recovery and cheap gas prices are leading people to drive more, but can the transportation system accommodate it? (WAMU) ... Leaving unwanted items on the curb for others to take can lead to fines in DC. (PoPville)

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Friday funny: This town ain't big enough

Image from BeyondDC.

I mean, can anyone definitively say the gunfight at the OK Corral wasn't to settle a zoning dispute over pop-up condos?

April showers 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.

National Cathedral. Photo by ep_jhu.

King Street station. Photo by nevermindtheend.

Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by Joe Flood.

March to Justice. Photo by Joe Newman.

Emancipation Day fireworks. Photo by Victoria Pickering.

Ballston's "Blue Goose."
Photo by John Sonderman.

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!

Walkability by Metro line, graphed

Transit succeeds when stations are within walking distance of living spaces and jobs. Using recently-released walk shed data from PlanItMetro, we developed an interactive visualization that shows which Metro lines and stations are most accessible by foot.

Graphic by John Ricco and Steve Bronder. Click for interactive version.

Each dot on the charts represents one Metro station, and you can view different variables using the "line" and "indicator" toggles at the top.

At first glance, these charts confirm conventional Metro wisdom: stations in DC's dense northwest neighborhoods have the most households in walking distance, and downtown is a walkable job center.

But there are other interesting patterns to uncover here, too. For instance, we see that stations with multiple entrances tend to have larger walk sheds. It's also clear that Tysons has a long way to go in its transformation.

What else do you notice in these graphs?

There's history to behold on some of DC's manhole covers

The District has thousands of manhole covers, and a lot of them offer a glimpse into the city's history. This one, for example, is from a 19th Century streetcar company that hasn't existed in over 100 years.

An extant manhole cover from the Anacostia & Potomac River Railroad. Photo by the author.

The "A&P RR" refers to the Anacostia and Potomac River Railroad, which was the fourth streetcar company to begin operation in DC. A&P ran from 1876 until 1912, when the Washington Railway and Electric Company bought it.

The manhole was almost surely for below-the-street electrical power access. A&P was the last company to switch from horse-cars to electric power, making the switch in 1900, so we can reasonably assume this cover to be from between 1900 and 1912.

This cover is on 11th Street SE, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Lincoln Park. I've seen three covers like it in the area, and another on Maryland Avenue NE, just east of 14th Street by the Checkers. Those are the only ones I know about. These locations are a bit surprising since the A&P didn't run on these streets, nor did any other streetcar. The A&P did run in 11th Street SE, but only south of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Know of any interesting manhole covers in the DC area? Mention them in the comments!

Breakfast links: Metro changes

Photo by Kevin Harber on Flickr.
Safety strides: Metro will institute four safety measures after January's smoke incident: fix all tunnel light fixtures, clear tunnels of debris, create an audit system for testing ventilation systems, and review underground alarm protocols. (DCist)

New addition: Governor Hogan has appointed Keturah Harley to the WMATA Board. Hurley served as general counsel for the DC Public Employee Relations Board and will bring labor expertise to the Board. (Post)

Red light, green light: DDOT will begin a month-long campaign to reprogram traffic signals at 650 intersections downtown. DDOT wants to improve traffic flow and pedestrian safety but does not include plans for bus signal prioritization. (Post)

Evict-ory for tenants: Residents won't need to pay $250 million to avoid eviction from a Chinatown building. The owner was required to give tenants a chance to buy the property but a judge ruled that the owner's selling price was too high. (City Paper)

Balancing act: Two bills before the DC Council offer differing views on the role of the newly elected attorney general. Attorney General Karl Racine wants a voice on legislation and contracts, while Mayor Bowser wants to curb the office's power. (WAMU)

Education budget in limbo: Education Committee Chairman David Grosso said he will not support the current capital budget at a Committee hearing to debate Mayor Bowser's budget that delays funding for nearly 20 school renovations. (Post)

Reset: Montgomery County wants to move away from traffic efficiency standards that lead to wider roads. County Councilmember Roger Berliner wants planners to focus on lowering commute times and getting people to live closer to work. (BethesdaNow)

Funding mass transit: Only 20% of the highway trust fund goes to mass transit, even as ridership is growing nationwide. With newer members of Congress who do not support transit funding, the fight to maintain funding is getting more difficult. (CityLab)

And...: The West Heating Plant in Georgetown was not designated as a historic landmark. (UrbanTurf) ... Montgomery County is planning a bicycle network around the Corridor Cities Transitway. (TheWashCycle) ... The International Spy Museum unveiled designs for a new building in L'Enfant Plaza. (WBJ)

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