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Politics


Trump claims to want to save our cities, but his and his party's policies would do the opposite

On Thursday, I turned on the TV to hear from the Republican nominee for President. As an urbanist, I was particularly struck by Donald Trump saying he's the candidate who can save failing cities. That's ironic given that he seems to loathe most of the people in cities, and his party convention approved the most anti-urban policy platform in recent memory.


Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

This specific part really stood out to me:

This Administration has failed America's inner cities. ... It's failed them on education. It's failed them on jobs. It's failed them on crime. It's failed them on every single level. When I am President, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally, and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America? Any other child.
Trump would have us believe that he's the man who can fix America's cities, despite his lack of policy specifics and a seeming hatred for the diversity that makes our cities (and our country) truly great.

Yet he's running for the presidency from a party whose platform is the most anti-urban it has ever been. Their platform gets to this pretty early on, on page 5 of 66:

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to "coerce people out of their cars." This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund's spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.

... We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California's high-speed train to nowhere.

[Emphasis added]

It seems that while Trump claims he can save America's cities, the GOP wants to make them impossible. That's not good for city-dwellers or anyone else in the country, since cities are the economic engines that power America.

Trevor Noah really summed up the conundrum of the GOP's urban policy in a Daily Show episode on Tuesday. The key part starts around 3:50 in the video.

Yes, many of our communities have broken homes. But often it's because the parents have to face huge hurdles just to get by. Taking two buses to get to their first job, or unable to get to good jobs in the suburbs because there is no transit. Other times, maybe it's because fathers (and sons) were arrested or killed over minor traffic infractions.

And many of these situations are built upon a history of segregation and separation that were the direct result of redlining and a lack of fair housing laws and access to opportunity. Apparently, laws meant to help disadvantaged people find housing or jobs are "social engineering."

Trump went on to describe a horrifying scene in America's cities. Not only have our policies failed urban dwellers, but crime is up, up, up. It's up 17% in America's 50 largest cities, he says.

And that's true. Crime did increase from 2014 to 2015. According to Trump, "that's the largest increase in 25 years."

The fact, though, is that it's the only increase in 25 years. Crime has been falling since 1991 in those 50 cities. In 2014, it hit the lowest point in decades. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric serves only to frighten people into voting on their baser instincts, and it marks a particularly despicable turn in our nation's politics.

Even with a 17% increase in 2015, crime was still lower that year than it was in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

There was a lot to be frightened of in that speech—especially cities and immigrants and Muslims, if Trump is to be believed. That was by design.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of the damage that Trump and the GOP could do to our cities than I am of anything mentioned in Trump's list of terrors of the night. The candidate's xenophobic remarks and his party's disregard for anything or anyone remotely related to cities is horrifying.

I think we should talk about what a Trump/Republican presidency might mean for our cities and our community.

Photography


Heat wave 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.


Woodridge Elementary, Vista and Central Avenues NE DC. Photo by James Crane.


Union Station. Photo by Jordan Barab.


Herzog's Restaurant (c. 1938), Old Fish Market, SW Waterfront. Photo by StreetsofWashington.


Photo by Ted Eytan.


Bladensburg & Montana Avenue NE. Photo by James Crane.

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!

History


This video compares LA's streets of 70 years ago to today's

How does a street change in 70 years? In some ways a lot, and in others, not at all, as this video of Los Angeles from the New Yorker shows.

Beyond the increased build-out along the streets, in some places the older streets seem more welcoming to people walking; in others today's streets seem friendlier. While this video is of LA, one can imagine a similar then-and-now for DC.

Would you be willing to create something like this, but for DC? For example, you could grab a Go-Pro and follow the route of the 82 streetcar today.

What else do you notice about the video? Tell us in the comments.

History


Not everyone agrees on where DC's Chinatown is

While DC's Chinatown officially spans roughly two square blocks in the city's central downtown area, a number of long-time residents have different ideas of the neighborhood's boundaries. This map shows how "Chinatown" means different things to different people.


The lines on the map represent 17 different definitions of where Chinatown begins and ends, along with DC's official boundaries. Map by Molly Carpenter, Pranita Rahbhise, Katy June-Friesen, and Dr. Willow Lung-Amam.

The map is part of a larger recent project by graduate students at the University of Maryland who wanted to better understand the rapid changes to the neighborhood and what they have meant for those in the Chinese American community with long term connections to it.

The researchers conducted 16 interviews with people who have long-term connections to Chinatown, either because they live there or are involved in the neighborhood through business and cultural organizations. They also interviewed eight people they met on the street or in restaurants or coffee shops. They asked those they spoke with to draw their own map of Chinatown and identify the places that were important to them.

While some identified Chinatown as a narrow strip of shops and restaurants along H Street, others saw the neighborhood as stretching from E Street to M Street. Meanwhile, others saw Chinatown as part of the larger Gallery Place or Penn Quarter neighborhoods.

Those more familiar with the neighborhood tended to see Chinatown as a shrinking span of restaurants along H Street NW, while newcomers or visitors tended to point to the Verizon Center and Gallery Place as the defining features of the neighborhood. And while many interviewed acknowledged that Chinatown has been shrinking, others recognized that the community has also spread out to the suburbs and is not dying.

Katy June-Friesen, one of the researchers, offered her take on why the people she interviewed had such varying definitions of Chinatown:

I think the way people understand the space, the neighborhood, depends on how they use and experience it. So for some elderly residents of Wah Luck House who speak little English, the neighborhood feels like it is shrinking, because there are fewer services and shops for them, such as a Chinese-speaking doctor or Chinese grocery store. Others (of Chinese background) who have long-term connections to Chinatown but don't live there may feel the place is more symbolic of history, culture, and traditions, but the boundaries or size of the neighborhood itself don't matter as much. A restaurant worker might think of Chinatown as just the strip of Chinese restaurants on H Street, while a non-Chinese newcomer to the area might not frequent those restaurants and might think of the neighborhood as "Gallery Place" or something other than "Chinatown."
Chinatown used to be in a different place, and it has seen a lot of change

First established in the 1880s at Pennsylvania Avenue and 5th Street NW, DC's first Chinatown was displaced in the 1930s by the Federal Triangle complex. As a result, Chinese immigrants began to settle in today's location.

In this new location, the community continued to grow through the mid-1960s, establishing schools, clubs, and other community organizations. However, by the mid-1960s, the population of the community began to decline, with many residents moving to the suburbs. Despite this decline, the population of Chinatown was 3,000 in 1970.

In subsequent years, the neighborhood has been the site of a number of revitalization efforts, including the construction of the Gallery Place Metro station and a new convention center (not to be confused with the current convention center), the establishment of a downtown historic zone, which includes Chinatown, as well as the later construction of the Verizon Center.

Recent years have seen changes to the neighborhood accelerate with the continued loss of Chinese residents and businesses. Much of this has been attributed to neighborhood affordability and buyout offers for local residents and business owners as part of a broader trend of redevelopment in the city.

Today, most of Chinatown's approximately 300 Chinese-American residents live in Wah Luck House and Museum Square, two subsidized housing complexes in the neighborhood.

Despite the diverse views of what constitutes Chinatown, all those interviewed expressed concern about keeping alive what the neighborhood means to them, namely Chinese culture and traditions.

Links


Breakfast links: Build that housing


Photo by Jay on Flickr.
Permit effects on housing: Permitting delays could be a big factor in how much new housing gets built in cities, and therefore how affordable that housing is. Long delays make building new housing more risky for developers. (Post)

H Street's newest connection: In the 1980s, developers built the suburban-style H Street Connection strip mall as a response to crime in the neighborhood. Now the strip mall will give way to a mixed-use development with ground-floor retail and over 400 apartment units as the neighborhood again changes shape. (Post)

Mixed income with a community pool: Plans for a multigenerational mixed-income housing development in Silver Spring will include a community pool to help promote interaction between the general public and residents. (Bethesda Beat)

Development east of the Anacostia: There is a lot of development planned for east of the Anacostia River, with office space, ground floor retail, and a big mix of affordable and market rate housing. (UrbanTurf)

Maryland Ave NE road diet: The long-awaited plans for a road diet for Maryland Ave NE are inching forward. The project will likely begin construction in mid-2017. (TheWashCycle)

Fight over Metro firing: After the fatal January 2015 smoke incident, Metro fired an employee who had lied about performing maintenance on a nonfunctioning tunnel fan involved in the event. Metro's biggest union fought and won a case to reinstate the employee, but Metro is fighting back. (WTOP)

Uber surges and SafeTrack: Uber is subsidizing how much it pays its drivers to keep up with demand during SafeTrack without high surge prices for customers. (WAMU)

Open gangways for NYC's subway: MTA will purchase new railcars with open gangways for the New York City subway system. The railcars increase capacity by making it easy for riders to walk between cars on the train. (MTA, Richard B)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Bicycling


Arlington's Fort Myer will soon be much more bike and pedestrian friendly

On August 1st, a long-closed gate at an Arlington military base will re-open for pedestrians and cyclists. The change will make it so you no longer have to take a huge detour to leave that part of the base, meaning travel by walking or riding a bike will be much more appealing.


The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance, pictured in 2012. Image from Mobility Lab/Google Maps.

Located at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (JBMHH) and known as Henry Gate because the road it sits on becomes Henry Place once it enters the base, the gate is where Arlington Boulevard (US-50) meets North Pershing Drive. The change comes as a result of recommendations from a study by Mobility Lab and Arlington Transit Transportation Partners.

Pershing is popular amongst both drivers and cyclists, running east-west through the quiet neighborhoods of Lyon Park, Ashton Heights, and Buckingham. Pershing is scheduled to receive bike improvements in the near future, and the stretch near the intersection with Arlington Boulevard already features bike lanes and a recently-completed mixed-use development called The Shops at Pershing.

On the other side of the fence, the barracks located just behind Henry Gate house hundreds of young soldiers, many of whom do not have easy access to cars and could really put transit, bike, and pedestrian networks to use. Nearby, there's a CaBi station, a Metrobus stop, Zipcars, and the Arlington Boulevard Trail.

However, because Henry Gate has been closed since 9/11 as part of a wave of increased security, the soldiers in these barracks have to live within yards of these amenities without being able to easily reach by any way other than driving. A base resident would have to walk 33 minutes and 1.6 miles out of their way to reach them without a car, utilizing the main gate at 2nd Street South.


Detour that pedestrians and cyclists would have to take to reach The Shops at Pershing due to Henry Gate's closure. Image from Google Maps.

However, that's all about to change thanks to Mobility Lab and Arlington Transit Transportation. After surveying 467 residents and people who work at JBMHH, ATP found that 88 percent of the commuting population drives to work alone. Once the surveyors solicited ideas from participants on how to combat this issue, the idea to reopen Henry Gate to pedestrians and cyclists caught on with base officials.

After numerous meetings between Mobility Lab/ATP and JBMHH staff, Henry Gate is finally scheduled to reopen on August 1st. The new access point will only be open to pedestrians and cyclists, giving them a convenient way to access the amenities located directly outside the gate and connecting them to the wider transit network via the Metrobus stop and bike trail.

Additionally, keeping the gate closed to cars will ensure that there won't be any new congestion along Arlington Boulevard or Pershing as a result of this decision. It's an incredibly welcome improvement for bike and pedestrian access to one of the county's most expansive military installations.


The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance, the adjacent Metrobus stop, and newly-improved Arlington Boulevard Trail. Image from Google Maps.

A few other recommendations for improving access to Fort Myer for people who don't drive came of Mobility Lab and ATP's survey. For instance, because the vast majority of work trips to JBMHH are made at the same time, the study recommended making employees more aware of carpooling and vanpooling through a service like Commuter Connections.

Also, in conjunction with the reopening of Henry Gate, the base hopes to create a "geofence"—a set pickup location across the street from the gate—where taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers can pick up and drop off passengers without having to physically drive onto the base, which is currently seen as an inconvenient option due to heightened security measures.

Improving pedestrian and bike access for the soldiers that live at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is certainly a noble goal. But reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips to JBMHH (and thereby reducing congestion) will not only benefit the base's residents and workers, but also Arlington County as a whole. See Mobility Lab and ATP's full presentation on their JBMHH Transportation Survey here.

Development


DC makes some of its affordable housing serve less wealthy residents (but not the poorest)

DC requires new apartment and condo buildings to include a number of affordable housing units, in a program called Inclusionary Zoning. Wednesday night, DC's Zoning Commission voted to make Inclusionary Zoning serve the group of residents who most need the housing this program can provide.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

What is inclusionary zoning?

Inclusionary Zoning (IZ) is a market-based tool for creating affordable housing that serves people of moderate incomes. Private developers still build housing as they wish, but have to rent or sell a small percentage of units to people making less money. It's had some success, but debate about the program continues.

IZ proposes to diversify our region's housing stock. In a high-demand area like ours, the market will naturally provide more expensive housing for higher-income people rather than cheaper housing. This is not a simple case of developer greed. The owner of a piece of property in a desirable, expensive area will want to sell it to whoever will give them the most money. If one group offers the land owner more money for the land (because they plan to build and sell luxury units), that group probably wins the sale over other groups looking to build moderately priced housing, or who want to use tax credits to build below-market housing.

Right now, in DC, many people who use tax credits to build lower-income housing can't win the bidding for enough land to build on. Where land is cheap, there is enough to go around for people to build units with diverse cost and meet diverse demand, though even then, without tax credits they can't sell units for less than it costs to construct them. But where land is scarce and demand is high, the market, on its own, won't provide housing for even moderate-income people.


Photo by Sharron on Flickr.

IZ tackles affordability and supply

When I walk around town talking about our region's housing shortage, many stop me and say, "What do you mean?! What about all of those luxury apartments and condos going up EVERYWHERE?" Land values explain a piece of that. Yes, we are building more housing than most other periods of DC's history, but there is a lot of pent up demand for housing at different cost levels that currently isn't being met.

Say I want to build a 5-story building with 50 units in it. To buy the land, get financing, and cover construction costs, I have to plan to rent the units at luxury prices. IZ changes two things. First, it forces me to build a number of units for people at lower incomes. That increases costs and could make my building unprofitable to construct, so IZ sweetens the deal: I can build my building higher and denser than normally allowed (about 20% larger, though it varies by zone).

When it's all said and done, my new plan after IZ is a 6-story building, and 5 of those 60 units are going to be rented at more affordable levels.

It's a compromise, yes. But is also unique in that it addresses the issue of housing supply (we just added 10 more units to the region!), as well as housing affordability (we just built 5 otherwise non-existent affordable options).

Other reasons IZ is exciting

The fact that IZ tackles our housing shortage from both a supply and affordability standpoint is one reason why advocates are for this policy tool, but there are other good things about it.

For one, if we are serious about building an inclusive city and region, this tool helps to do just that. People of different incomes can live (and afford to live!) in the same buildings and neighborhoods when IZ is applied well.

Recent studies by Raj Chetty and Eric Chyn show that low-income children who grow up in mixed-income neighborhoods make more money throughout life—16%, in Chyn's study—than those in entirely low-income areas. Keeping poverty concentrated is a recipe for more poverty, while mixed-income living (which IZ pushes) could show a way out.

Another reason to like IZ is that it leverages the resources, knowledge and power of the private sector. There is an immense amount of money and expertise in the development field, and they are very interested in building more housing. IZ attempts to align for-profit development interests (build more) with broader community interests (build affordable), and advocates hope to harness the productive energy and capacity of the development field to meet the needs of a diverse and growing city.


Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

Spoiler alert: Not everyone is a fan of IZ

IZ offers both extra density (more money for property owners) and an expensive housing requirement (forced affordability constraints). Depending on the details of the program and the particular neighborhood or market conditions, the bonus could pay for the added expense, or not.

Further, IZ creates bureaucratic hurdles for the developer to go through. The process, paperwork, and the many legal and other experts required can add costs.

The early years of DC's IZ program saw problems with how the government was implementing it, including federal rules which made it impossible for buyers of IZ condo units to obtain mortgages. (DC changed the rules to deal with that obstacle.)

It's not just the developers

Developers are not alone in their criticisms of IZ. Some other affordable housing and low-income advocates are concerned about the program.

For some, it is simply a question of scale. Even in the hypothetical situation above, you can see this argument play out: we get 55 units of luxury housing, and 5 units of more affordable housing? For some that is simply not good enough, especially if there is a tool that would allow the original 50 units to be all affordable, or some significant percentage affordable.

Over that last few years since its inception in DC, IZ has created over 900 below-market price housing units, which is great. It's also true that in that same amount of time 21,000 total units have been created, and as noted earlier in my street conversations, many, many of those units are at luxury prices.


Map of IZ Production under old rules

Another concern some have about IZ is that it does not create "affordable enough" units. IZ laws mandate that a unit be affordable for people making a certain amount of money based on the Area Median Income (AMI). DC's current rules require some units at 80% of AMI and some at 50% of AMI, but the vast majority were 80%.

For a typical one-bedroom unit, an 80% AMI unit would rent for around $1,600 a month, while 60% would be around $1,100 a month. For many groups working alongside the poorest of our community (for example those making 30% or less of AMI), this does not serve the people in greatest need.

It's unlikely that IZ can create units at 30% of AMI, since those are so expensive to create and maintain compared to 50-80%. So IZ advocates mounted a campaign to create more deeply affordable units than before.

What has changed

This new change now requires all new rental units to be 60% of AMI (while condo units would be 80%). Currently, most new rental units being built were at 80%, but three-fourths of people on waiting lists for IZ units were around 60%.

Members of the Zoning Commission recognized that this was not serving the needs of many lower-income residents. During one hearing, Commissioner Michael Turnbull remarked, "[80% median family income] is basically market rate. People are saying, we can't afford that. The city is being gentrified. The people who grew up in the city are being kicked out." Commissioner Peter May agreed: "The house is on fire, and we are using a garden hose."

Yet there was opposition from the Bowser administration and the DC Building Industry Association to the proposal to lower the income targeting percentage to 60%. They put forth an alternative proposal. Under current rules, not all zones in DC have to incorporate IZ; the alternate option would add IZ to four zones (two of which, C2A and C2B, have some significant development potential, and two, SP1 and W2, that have very little) while keeping other zones as they have been.

Late Wednesday night, the Zoning Commission voted in favor of the 60% requirement. There will then be a 30-day period of public review before a second, final vote. For many of the thousands of residents who apply for the lottery to get access to these units each year, this drop will add greatly to their affordable options.

History


In 1979, was your neighborhood "sound" or "distressed"?

DC looked very different in 1979. A map of neighborhood housing conditions shows just how much. In many DC neighborhoods that are now in high demand, the housing stock was in danger 35 years ago.


Image from the DC Public Library, Special Collections. Click for larger version.

This map is from a report by the Department of Housing and Community Development in June 1979, during Marion Barry's first mayoral term, entitled "Housing Problems, Conditions & Trends in the District of Columbia."

The report sounded the alarm for "Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River." Those areas already had, or were in danger of developing, "deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership."

Here is the explanatory text and key for the map:

This map clarifies neighborhoods according to the categories shown in the legend. They are based on the following factors which are illustrated in subsequent maps: ownership patterns, yearly income of residents, real estate sales and prices, welfare assistance and the condition of housing.

Sound [Yellow]: Residents in these neighborhoods have high enough incomes to maintain their properties without public assistance. Northwest areas west of Rock Creek Park are classified as sound neighborhoods together with Capitol Hill. The only sound neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are located south of Fort Dupont Park.

Distressed [Blue]: Residents require considerable assistance because of low incomes and poor housing conditions. Many of these areas also contain a concentration of public housing in need of significant improvement. Distressed neighborhoods west of the river include Ivy City and portions of the Southwest. East of the Anacostia River, the poorest housing conditions are found in Deanwood, Burrville, Northeast Boundary, Greenway, Anacostia, Congress Heights, Washington Highlands and Douglass.

Stable / Declining [Green]: Neighborhoods are in stable condition, with households of moderate income and high ownership, requiring little or no public assistance; or, are beginning to show deteriorating building conditions because resident incomes are not keeping pace with increasing costs of home ownership. West of the River, neighborhoods in this category are south Petworth, Parkview, Columbia Heights, LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood and most of the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Transitional (early or advanced) [Red]: Neighborhoods in the early stages of transition are characterized by a surge in reinvestment and rehabilitation; whereas, neighborhoods in the most advanced stages are those experiencing extensive displacement of low and moderate income families by higher income households. Change began in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan and spread east into Shaw and north along 14th Street, as well as into LeDroit Park and Eckington. The change which began in Capitol Hill spread further east into Lincoln Park, south to the Southeast, and north to the Stanton Park. No radical changes are occurring east of the River, though real estate activity is becoming significant but at a lower level of intensity.

This map further serves to highlight the different characteristics between areas east and west of the Anacostia River. West of the River and west of Rock Creek Park, neighborhoods are in basically sound and stable condition. The most concentrated real estate activity is found in and around the central city. Displacement is, therefore, the major problem west of the River; whereas the main concern east of the Anacostia River is the declining condition of the housing stock. Also, the majority of distressed and declining neighborhoods are found east of the River.

It's also interesting to look at the neighborhood names. NoMA didn't exist; it was "NE 1," adjacent to "NW 1" across North Capitol Street. What we now call U Street is "Westminster." And "Stanton Park" extended all the way across H Street. East of the River, neighborhood names such as "Good Hope," "Buena Vista," and "Douglass" have fallen out of currency.

The Green and Yellow Metrorail lines had not yet opened, the Red Line didn't go beyond Dupont Circle, and the Blue Line stopped at Stadium-Armory.

What else do you notice? How was your neighborhood categorized in 1979? Would it be categorized differently today?

This post first ran in 2014. Since the history hasn't changed, we thought we'd share it with you again!

Transit


Is a gondola across the Potomac realistic? We're about to find out.

Is it a crazy idea to link Georgetown and Rosslyn by building a gondola over the Potomac? We're about to find out. A study of the idea has begun in earnest, and by the fall we should know more about whether building one is possible and how many people might use it.


Could the iconic Key Bridge get a new neighbor? Images from the Georgetown BID unless otherwise noted.

Here's what we know about the gondola thus far

The notion of an aerial gondola system linking Georgetown and Rosslyn first came to light in the Georgetown BID's 15 year action plan, which was published in 2013.

In theory, a gondola could pick up passengers right at the Rosslyn Metro (even, some have speculated, with elevators right from the Metro station) and take them to spots on M Street and on Georgetown University.

Because the topography is very steep in this area (for example, there's a big change in altitude between M Street and the university), a gondola might be able to offer more direct trips than even one on a roadway.

According to proponents, a gondola could quickly and cheaply provide transit instead of waiting for a Metro line to link Georgetown and Rosslyn, which is likely decades away from happening (if ever).

A gondola system can also accommodate a high capacity of passengers with efficient headways (more than 3,000 passengers per hour, per direction) and efficient travel time (approximately four minutes end-to-end).

Gondolas are a real transit mode in many cities

If a gondola system is to become reality in DC/Northern Virginia, one major hurdle to clear is that of public perception. The idea of a gondola system as a legitimate mode of transit is simply not one that many people take very seriously.

This is due largely in part to the fact that urban gondola systems are still a rarity here in the United States. In fact, there are only two active urban aerial systems in the country which are used for transportation purposes. Those systems are located at Roosevelt Island in New York City and Portland, OR.

That being said, there has been a significant uptick in urban gondola systems internationally since the year 2000, including three systems in Turkey, three in Africa (and a fourth currently under construction), and two in Spain

The Portland, OR aerial system specifically serves as a significant model of success. It's ridership reached ten million only seven years after opening, and it serves over 3,000 riders per day.


Portland's gondola, otherwise known as the aerial tram. Image from Gobytram.

Could a gondola work in Georgetown?

Contributor Topher Matthews, a Georgetown resident who participated in the Georgetown 2028 action plan process, says not to scoff at the idea:

Currently the GU GUTS bus carries 700,000 people from Rosslyn to campus every year. That's just a starting point to what the gondola would expect in terms of ridership. I have no doubt the ridership from GU alone would increase substantially with a gondola. And that's before even considering a single tourist, resident or worker wanting to use it to get to M Street faster.

Lots of the eye rolling comes from supposedly more level headed pro-transit people thinking that a cheaper more effective solution can be found with less exotic technology. But with the exception of Metro (which the plan admits will make the gondola no longer necessary), all the ways to improve the Rosslyn to Georgetown/GU connection go over Key Bridge and through Canal Road. Do you really think transit only lanes on these routes is remotely politically feasible?

A study will answer many questions

We still don't know all that much about how much a gondola would actually help move people between Georgetown and Rosslyn, and there are many regulatory and cross-jurisdictional challenges that some view as difficult (if not impossible) to overcome. This is due in part to the fact that agencies in both DC and Virginia would need to sign off on the project, not to mention the National Park Service, which tends to be jealous about keeping overhead wires away from its parkland.

A feasibility study, which ZGF Architects is leading, will aim to find out how many people might actually use a Georgetown-Rosslyn gondola, as well as to gauge the system's ability to spur economic growth and development.
The study was funded from a combination of grants from DDOT, Arlington, the Rosslyn and Georgetown BIDs, and others. The study kicked off at a public meeting on July 7.

It will attempt to identify any major roadblocks or "fatal flaws" that would make the project a non-starter. These could include regulations or engineering requirements that are just too hard to get around.

ZGF will propose a couple of different layouts for the gondola. It will also study how the system could complement public spaces on either side of the river. From there, the firm will come up with strategies for logistics like funding and operating the system. ZGF will present its findings and recommendations this fall.

The bottom line is that the gondola is at least worth studying. If it turns out to be too costly in any respect, the idea can simply be dropped. But it might not be such a crazy idea after all.

Links


Breakfast links: Headlines, bread-lines blow my mind


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
Rent is outpacing income: Rents in our region are rising much faster than incomes, more than any other US city. Demand has outpaced supply in popular coastal cities while many incomes nationwide have remained stagnant. (Post)

Rent is lower than SF, NY: Washington area rents may be high, but they still aren't at San Francisco or New York levels. The average rent here is $1,715, while in the Bay Area it's $3,226 and in the NY area it's $2,893. Washington also has more vacant rentals than its competitors. (Washingtonian)

"Sue the suburbs" gets a win: Pro-housing activists are suing a SF Bay Area city for rejecting denser housing, under a little-used California law. Their lawsuit just cleared a key hurdle about whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue. (SFBT)

New wmata.com: Metro has released the beta for its new website design. The new layout should work better on mobile devices and has more and bigger images in place of dense text. (Post)

"Privatize" Metro?: A mysterious group held a protest advocating for Metro privatization. No word on what organization they were connected to or if they had any idea what privatizing Metro would even mean. (City Paper)

Bidding for paratransit: Metro is looking for a new contractor to run part of its paratransit service. The goal is reliable and equitable service for the elderly and disabled, but at a lower cost than the current very expensive contractor. (Post)

Car2go, the car killer: For every Car2go on DC's streets, there are as many as 7 fewer personal cars. That's according to a recent study, which also looked at how Car2go has cut how often people drive and impacted public transit. (CityLab)

Meals on wheels: Uber has extended its UberEats food delivery service to include deliveries by bike. The app errs on the side of employing a bike courier rather than a driver in dense areas, and the fees are the same. (Post)

Automation and safety: A self-driving bus in the Netherlands successfully navigated a 12-mile route along city streets. (TechCrunch) ... A (human) taxi driver hit a cyclist outside Union Station on Tuesday. (DCist) ... A Tesla's autopilot stopped the car from hitting a pedestrian on New York Avenue. (@elonmusk)

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