Greater Greater Washington

Put a bird on it 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.


The Reflecting Pool. Photo by Dominic White.


Photo by nevermindtheend.


Tufted titmouse. Photo by Michael T. Ruhl.


Photo by Victoria Pickering.


Photo by Joe Flood.

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!

Making the Anacostia a place to have fun goes hand in hand with cleaning it up

More and more people are learning how much fun there is to be had on the Anacostia River. That could mean a cleaner future for the local waterway.


A view of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens from the water. Photo by the author.

On any given weekend, paddlers and rowers are speckled along the water—all in brightly colored watercraft looking like a pack of Skittles that was spilled. The recreationalists are typically spotted around the Georgetown waterfront on the Potomac River. Many are seeking an escape from the city or trying their balancing skills as they attempt yoga on a stand-up paddle board.

However, the Potomac isn't the only river people turn to; the Anacostia is making a comeback.

In the summer of 2013, Ballpark Boathouse opened by Yards Park, the first kayak rental business along the Anacostia River. The Boathouse offers both kayaks and canoes to the adventure seekers.

A little further upriver, the Anacostia Community Boathouse has been around for over two decades. This member-driven facility offers numerous community activities, from learning to paddle a kayak or row a Dragon boat to competitive regattas.

There's lots to see when you paddle up the Anacostia

What's an outdoor recreationalist to do once they find themselves floating on top of the Anacostia River? There are few interesting sites to see via watercraft.

Tucked on the eastern shore of the Anacostia River and on the border between DC and Maryland, sits a 700-acre National Park called the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. A maze of coves and inlets steers you through a rich landscape of cattails, water lilies, and other aquatic flora. Calm waters of these wetlands let you linger.

And although the carefully planned and maintained paths around the ponds by foot are exciting, especially when the lotus are in bloom, exploring the Gardens by kayak or canoe is a whole other world.


A blue heron stalks its next meal in the Aquatic Gardens. Photo by the author.

Downstream from the Aquatic Gardens, and a little closer if you are paddling from downtown, is a small dock for landing at the National Arboretum. Here, you can pull your watercraft ashore and explore the 446 acres or just take a break.

Landmarks, like the old columns from the Capitol building that stand erect resembling relics from an ancient civilization, are one of many things to see. Plus the extensive tree canopy keeps the temperatures cooler.

For those who don't have the stamina or the time to venture far upriver, Kingman Island is a nice reprieve that is inhabited with herons and turtles. Or just trolling around Yards Park will provide some interesting sites like the decommissioned Navy ship USS Barry, which will be dismantled and removed by next summer.

A waterfront renaissance is stirring up attention

Revitalization along DC's shoreline is gaining speed. The Georgetown Waterfront Park final phase was completed in 2010, providing a welcome outdoor space along the Potomac. Now a national park, the waterfront serves as a starting point for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal—a 184-mile landmark that follows the river and serves as a popular biking, running, and hiking destination.

Also, just a few weeks ago the Southwest Waterfront redevelopment project hit a milestone by completing the digging phase. The developers, PN Hoffman and Madison Marquette, have begun building what will be a 25-acre wharf and 3.5-acre waterfront park, when complete.

Development along the Anacostia River is also picking up. The Navy Yard neighborhood has been growing swiftly, with the now completed Yards Park an attractive place to sit on a chaise lounge and stare at the river or wade in the waterfall.

However, there are still areas along the Anacostia waterfront that are overlooked, like RFK stadium and parking lot, or the slow development of the Hill East District Waterfront.


Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

All of this redevelopment along the rivers draws attention to them-and hopefully, their rehabilitation. But redevelopment needs to be done with a focus on equity, sustainability, and reducing environmental impact.

Creating a healthy river for people to enjoy is not easy

District residents realizing how much more they could get out of their shoreline means more opportunities for communities to connect with waterways and take pride in wanting to clean them up.

Trash, a visible pollutant, is still prevalent along the Anacostia. There are local and federal efforts underway to start removing it, like the EPA using the Clean Water Act to establish a total maximum amount of trash that can enter the waterway. To keep trash under the limit, the EPA estimates that 1.2 million pounds of trash needs to be removed annually from the watershed.

In 2009, the 5-cent bag fee was implemented. Since then, the revenue has been spent on tools to clean up the Anacostia such as education, grants to communities to install rain gardens or impermeable surfaces, and trash traps installed in key locations along the Anacostia watershed.

But trash is still quite visible along the river. And whether it's trash or invisible pollutants, the District's rivers still have a ways to go until they are swimmable.

Investments along the waterfront, especially in parks and other multifunctional spaces, bring people to the river's banks. Increasingly, recreationalists are venturing onto the water. And more recreation along the river is a sign that we are on a trajectory to restoring them to a more healthy state.

In Silver Spring, cutting travel lanes doesn't make traffic backups worse

Last year, a segment of Silver Spring's University Boulevard shrank from six lanes to four to accommodate work to replace the bridge that passes over the Capital Beltway. There's less room for cars to pass through the work zone, but traffic congestion hasn't gotten worse.


The University Boulevard Beltway bridge under construction in May. Right now, the roadway is four lanes wide so it can accommodate the project. Photo by the author.

Prior to the construction project, University Boulevard had six total travel lanes, three that ran east and three that ran west. There was also a 14-foot wide exit lane onto the Beltway.


University Boulevard before work began, with six travel lanes and an exit lane. August 2010 image from Google Earth.

To replace the bridge, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) had to make room for demolition and replacement work on the bridge deck. It did so by shifting all the traffic onto one side of the bridge and by narrowing the four remaining lanes to 11 feet.


University Boulevard reduced to a 4 lane undivided road during construction. October 2014 image from Google Earth.

Traffic congestion hasn't gotten worse

Because it connects to the Beltway, this stretch of University Boulevard is one of the road's busiest segments. According to SHA traffic counts from 2014, this part of University carries ~43,000 vehicles per day. Before the project began, some nearby residents were concerned that fewer lanes would mean backed up traffic.

But over a year into the project, that hasn't happened.

I live in a nearby neighborhood and use the bridge daily to get to downtown Silver Spring. Even when schools are in session (Blair High School and Eastern Middle School are both on this segment, and the road sees heavy school bus traffic), I have not encountered any significant delay when passing through the bridge's work zone.

Evan Glass, the immediate past president of the Indian Spring Citizens Association, the organization which represents the residents of the neighborhood adjacent to the bridge, hasn't noticed any serious congestion issues on the bridge either.

"I haven't experienced any major problems from the bridge reconstruction, aside from some noise due to nighttime work," he told me. "I drive across the bridge regularly and drivers quickly learned to follow the new traffic pattern."


Even on weekdays, traffic on the bridge is often light. This picture was taken on a Monday afternoon around 4 PM. Photo by the author.

This is a noteworthy outcome for the State Highway Administration

This construction project presents a rare opportunity to study the effects of narrowing an arterial road from six lanes to four.

An official study of this segment during this construction project could confirm and quantify what seems to be the case: that making a road narrower hasn't made congestion worse.

It is generally accepted that adding traffic lanes actually makes congestion worse because it induces demand. Conversely, it's not uncommon for less volume to travel on a road after you reduce its number of lanes (within reason).

This happened on Riggs Road in Chillum, with traffic volumes dropping 20% from 2010 to 2011 after the road shrank from six lanes to four (see page 31 of each PDF).

If such a well-traveled section can lose a travel lane in each direction without issue, concerns over congestion seem even less credible when applied to lesser-used parts of the road.


It's not uncommon to see large stretches of University Boulevard empty, even at rush hour. Photo by the author.

Other nearby roads have been narrowed without adverse traffic impacts

Two nearby roads nearly identical to University Boulevard have been narrowed from six lanes to four lanes without problems.

Riggs Road got narrower a few years ago, with it's former right travel lanes becoming bike and parking lanes. Queens Chapel Road in Hyattsville was narrowed about 10 years ago by closing the left lanes with striped paint, and it is currently undergoing a construction project to make the changes permanent.

This construction project has shown the University Boulevard is a good candidate for a similar lane-reduction treatment.

Why isn't College Park a better college town?

Many major state universities have "college town" areas right near them, with walkable neighborhoods that serve the student population. Charlottesville, Virginia; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Berkeley and LA's Westwood, California are a few well-known examples. College Park, by contrast, doesn't have this feel. Why is that?


Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

This isn't a new topic of conversation around the region, but after it came up in a recent comment thread, we asked our contributors to weigh in on this.

Jeff Lemieux pointed out the single most significant factor many people point to: the surrounding roads are far too car-oriented.

A sewer runs through it. University Boulevard bounds the campus to the north as a divided highway with no bike or pedestrian access and no development potential. Route 1 is getting better but is still treated more like a suburban strip arterial then a commercial street. College Park should be a paradise for walking and biking. But it has a ways to go.

Route 1 and Calvert Road near UMD. Image from Google Maps.

Dan Reed thinks location and the number of commuters contributes:

[This is] exacerbated by UMD's history as a commuter school. ... Even kids who live on campus but grow up in the area frequently go back home to visit friends or family, to work, etc.

I do think this is changing as 1) Maryland's national reputation means it draws more students from out of state and 2) more students live on campus, which means you have a bigger base to support shops and restaurants in the area, which in turn gives people more of a reason to stick around, which in turn supports more activity. I don't know if that's enough to support the kind of businesses that we associate with a "college town," like the awesome College Perk coffeehouse which closed many years ago, but it's a start.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Partap Verma also thinks College Park is improving:

College Park has always been divided into two main areas—the downtown area with restaurants and bars that's not too far from the dorms, and the overall Rt. 1 area. In recent years the downtown has seen some new development with new apartments/retails/restaurants and actually looks pretty decent. And then you have the larger Rt. 1 area that is filled with strip malls and car dealerships that are slowly going away and being replaced by much needed apartments and hotels that serve UMD.
Commenter dcer52, on the thread that started this discussion, pointed out how an often-contentious town-gown relationship has also held back the growth of a college town area:
Here is one famous example that sums it up. When the Green Line station in College Park opened in the 1990s, the University planned to run a shuttle bus from campus to the station. However, the extension of Paint Branch Parkway was not built yet so the bus would have to run through surface streets in the City of College Park. The University offered to allow any College Park resident to ride the bus for free (not just students), but the city refused to allow the shuttle buses to ride on city streets to access the Metro station.

When the College Park Metro station opened, about six blocks from the edge of the University of Maryland campus, the University was prohibited from running a shuttle bus to the station (as was Metro and PG County The Bus). So instead students, faculty, and others had to take a shuttle bus to the Greenbelt station.

When I was a student there in the 90's I tried to take an active role in city issues. I changed my voter registration to College Park only to find that for persons living on campus or in student housing neighborhoods, the assigned polling place was not College Park city hall (downtown and walking distance from everything) but some other building that required a drive (or cab ride) from campus. Some colleges actually have polling places for students on campus, College Park put theirs as far away from campus as possible. Message sent.


College Park Metro. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Gray Kimbrough summed up some of the major reasons for the problem:

UMD has a pretty perfect storm of:
  1. A nearby community that is relatively hostile to the university and its students, as others have already mentioned.
  2. A location near, but not really in, a fairly major city.
  3. A campus that is relatively suburban and spread out, in addition to having little interface with the surrounding community.
  4. Its large size, especially relative to its town.
  5. Its lack of a medical center, which can often provide a built-in need for communication between the university and the community (and all the positive results that flow from that).

A road on the UMD campus. Photo by Matt Chan on Flickr.

Payton Chung added some context and a possible quantitative metric, Floor Area Ratio (FAR):

Some universities have successfully built their own college towns—like UIC, a postwar commuter school. That UMD hasn't is probably a semi-conscious decision, both due to a commuter school mentality on behalf of the administration (and students) and a snobbish suburban mentality on behalf of the town (as dcer52 retells).

As Gray points out, the commuter school mentality results in a campus that isn't all that dense, and is isolated from walkable retail. From the middle of McKeldin Mall to the nearest off-campus restaurant is about 0.4 miles away—an eight-minute walk one way, or too far to manage a roundtrip within a 15-minute break between classes. Contrast that to 0.07 miles from the middle of the Court of North Carolina (at NC State) or 0.2 miles from the middle of Polk Place (at UNC).

Local architects Ayers Saint Gross have a cool "comparing campuses" tool with figure-ground plans and statistics on many academic and medical campuses. Overall, FAR isn't the most useful metric for something as big as an entire campus (which might include athletic fields, research farms, etc.), but UMD's campus has an overall FAR of just 0.22. By contrast, "urban" campuses like UCLA and VCU have FARs in the 0.8-0.9 range. All FARs are not created equal, but it's not for nothing that LEED awards points for FARs above 0.5/0.8. In my experience, few truly walkable places have FARs much below 1.0; there's just not enough other destinations within walking distance.


Route 1 and Knox Rd. in 2010. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Dan Reed discussed the pros and cons of the FAR metric and the issue of just where the downtown area is located relative to campus:

I like Payton's discussion about FAR, which makes a good point about the walkability of a campus itself and its ability to contribute to the surrounding area. But I would note that a golf course takes up like half of the 1200+ acres UMD has, and the part of the campus closest to "downtown" College Park (aka South Campus) is fairly dense, walkable, and somewhat oriented to Route 1 and Knox Road where all of the bars are.

That said, South Campus is predominantly upperclassmen dorms and apartments, which is great for the bars, but sucks for anyone trying to grab students going to and from class. Most of the academic buildings are either in the middle of campus (far from Route 1) or on North Campus (very far from Route 1. When I was in architecture school we drove (!!!) to Route 1 for lunch because otherwise it was a 20 minute walk.

UMD's been talking about East Campus for a decade now and their plans to put retail and housing and a hotel on Route 1 are good. But this discussion makes me wonder if they should also put some academic buildings there instead of cloistering them far away from the rest of town.

College Park clearly faces some obstacles to be a better college town (including disagreement among residents about whether it should be at all). It's not the the only place where some or many of these factors apply. Our contributors also discussed other towns which are grappling with these same issues, and other universities that lack a good physical connection to their surroundings. We'll have more of this contributor discussion, moving beyond College Park, Maryland, in an upcoming article.

Breakfast links: Future visions


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Data-based sting: DC has started using crowd-sourced data from its Vision Zero program to enforce traffic laws in problem spots, starting with Georgia Avenue and Lamont Street NW last weekend. (City Paper)

Affordability counts: A new 18-person "strike force" will strategize on how to keep 8,000 DC housing units affordable after their federal subsidies expire in the coming years. DC has also funded construction for 1,000 new affordable units. (WAMU)

Keep the warehouses: Prince George's County wants to transition into an office-based economy, but warehouses are still its most valuable real estate. The push toward same-day delivery models means that's not likely to change anytime soon. (WBJ)

Hard choices: The Leesburg Town Council was faced with a choice: demolish four historic buildings to expand the Loudoun County courts, or keep the buildings but lose the county seat. The Council decided to preserve its status as the county seat. (WBJ)

Schools shift credit: This fall the DC State Board of Education will determine whether testing and course equivalents, like internships, can replace classroom time and bring up graduation rates. (Post)

Highway funding fixes: Congress passed yet another 3-month extension for the Highway Trust Fund to keep money flowing to road, bridge, and transit projects. The Senate also passed a long-term, bipartisian highway bill. (USA Today)

I hate the interstate: Conservative pundit Reihan Salam says we should stop pouring federal money into our highways. States should manage highways so they can then set transportation priorities and funding mechanisms, he argues. (Slate)

And...: A study shows that commuter ferries between Alexandria and DC are feasible. (Alexandria Times) ... A San Francisco police captain's promised crackdown on bicyclists coasting through stop signs had one unintended effect. (SF Weekly) ... Check out the 100-year-old infrastructure that runs the New York City subway. (Gizmodo)

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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 61

On Monday, we posted our sixty-first photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. Reader Mr. Johnson took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 46 guesses. Eight got all five. Great, work, JamesDCane, Peter K, Andrew, Russell Harris, RyanS, MB, FN, and cythrosi!


Image 1: Minnesota Avenue

This week was a themed week. Each of the stations has a state in its name.

The first image shows the platform at Minnesota Avenue. One clue is the wooden surface, which is present while Metro replaces the platform. Another way to narrow this down is the presence of the freight tracks on the left and the catenary supports on the right. Only two stations have that setup, the other being Deanwood.

You can narrow this one down to Minnesota Avenue because the tracks rise in the distance in order to climb over DC 295 and meet the Blue and Silver Lines.

Thirty-three got this one.


Image 2: Rhode Island Avenue

The second picture is of Rhode Island Avenue, looking north. The view from here is distinctive because of the station's height above the surrounding terrain. At left, you can see the Metropolitan Branch where it crosses under Franklin Street.

Thirty-five knew this one.


Image 3: College Park—University of Maryland

The third image is from College Park, which is appended with the name of the University of Maryland. At left, you can see the College Park Post Office. Another clue to help you figure this one out are the railroad tracks in the foreground, which carry MARC's Camden Line.

Forty guessed correctly.


Image 4: Georgia Avenue

This image shows the mezzanine at Georgia Avenue. From the ceiling, you can narrow this down to one of the five arch II stations.

It can't be Columbia Heights, since the coffers at that station are very shallow. You can also rule out Glenmont and Congress Heights because they're only served by one line, and this picture shows several line bullets.

Of the remaining two possibilities, it can't be Mount Vernon Square because the end of the mezzanine there has a stair and escalator rather than a pair of escalators. Therefore, this has to be Georgia Avenue.

Fourteen figured this one out.


Image 5: Virginia Square

This is Virginia Square. This one was a bit harder, though the process of elimination should've helped you figure it out. First, this is a side platform station, which narrows the field considerably. The waffle architecture and side platforms means this can only be one of nine stations.

You can also see that there's only one mezzanine, which cuts the field to five. At right, you can just see the Blue and Silver lines on the sign, indicating that this is an eastbound platform. Since WMATA's new signage includes lines that share later on, all the Orange/Silver and Blue/Yellow stations show the Blue/Silver interlining, too.

It can't be Ballston, Pentagon City, or Crystal City because those mezzanines each have three pairs of escalators, instead of just two. You can rule out Clarendon because the bridge from the mezzanine to the vault wall is over the Largo/New Carrollton track. At Clarendon, it's above the Vienna/Wiehle track. So this must be Virginia Square.

Thirty-three guessed Virginia Square.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing! And a special thanks to Mr. Johnson for supplying the photos this week.

If you have pictures you think would be good fits for whichWMATA, please send them to whichwmata@ggwash.org.

People walking and biking will get a new connection from L'Enfant Plaza to the waterfront

At the south end of the L'Enfant Promenade is a circle, Banneker Circle, atop a hill overlooking the waterfront. Unfortunately, the only way to get down to the water on foot or by bike requires a circuitous and unpleasant route. That will soon change.


Conceptual rendering of a connection from the SW Ecodistrict Plan. Image from NCPC.

Today, there is a narrow and cheaply-built path that cuts diagonally over to the intersection of 9th Street and Maine Avenue. People bicycling can either take that or ride along a road that feels a bit like a highway off-ramp to 9th Street. This makes people go fairly far out of the way, especially for those who want to then go north along the waterfront.


Banneker Circle and Banneker Park. Images via NPS unless otherwise noted.

As part of its package of amenities to get zoning approval, the Wharf project will build a new, temporary, direct pedestrian connection. The connection will consist of stairs and a new at-grade crossing of Maine, but include an ADA ramp that will work for cyclists.

The scoping document for the environmental impact statement says,

The temporary project also includes landscaping, improvements to pedestrian crosswalks, lighting installation, universal accessibility, and stormwater management. The purpose of the project is to provide a safe, functional, and aesthetically pleasing pedestrian connection between the overlook at Banneker Park and southwest waterfront. The project is needed to improve urban connectivity by providing greater accessibility between the waterfront, Banneker Park, the National Mall, and surrounding areas.
There are two concepts for the project and, to me, the better of the two is a no-brainer.


Concept 1.

Concept 1 would try to create a direct path down the hill. This would require a switchback ramp and stairs down the hill from a point a little way from the bike/ped access to the Case Bridge, the bridge that takes I-395 over the Washington Channel.


Concept 2.

Concept 2 would build a curving connection directly from the Case Bridge access point along with an ADA compliant sidewalk on the east side. The west-side stairs would connect to a new signalized crossing of Maine Avenue.

Both projects include landscaping, crosswalk improvements, lighting and stormwater management.

Concept 2 is the better design because of the way it removes switchbacks, allowing for a more fluid connecton, and the way it connects into the Case Bridge access.

The design should include a curb ramp from the L'Enfant Plaza roadway, as well as a bicycle-friendly transition area where the three connections meet—one with lots of room and natural curves as opposed to sharp turns.


The path to Maine Avenue (left) and to the Case Bridge (right) have no curb ramps. Photos from Google Maps.

Right now, there is no curb ramp to get from the roadway to either the path down to Maine Avenue or the path to the Case Bridge; a cyclist riding on the wide, very low-traffic L'Enfant Promenade instead of the sidewalk then has to get over the curb to go on either path.

The stairs should also include a bike trough, the ramp next to steps that lets people walk their bikes up or down the stairs, and there should be signs directing users to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and East Potomac Park via the Case Bridge. Also, the sidewalk along the south side of the circle should be widened for trail traffic from the bridge to the "new ADA compliant ramp."

If only it would include a fix to the Case Bridge access that didn't require the ridiculous switchback that's there today.

In the long run, the National Capital Planning Commission's Southwest Ecodistrict vision includes completely redoing 10th Street from a wide, empty promenade into a street with pedestrian activity, green plots, and festivals. That plan calls for completely redoing Banneker Park into a usable park instead of a traffic circle atop an empty hill. That redesigned park would also let people on foot and bike connect more directly to Maine Avenue and the waterfront.

The National Park Service will host a meeting on this project on August 11th, 6-8pm at the Wharf offices, 690 Water Street, SW and they will be accepting comments on the scoping document until September 2nd.

A version of this post was originally posted on TheWashCycle.

A senseless skirmish in Toronto is a welcome reminder to share street space

Two people in Toronto, one on foot and one on a bike, recently got into a fight after nearly colliding. The altercation happened on a street that's supposed to give pedestrians and cyclists their own dedicated lanes, and is a reminder of how important it is to share space.

A video posted by the Toronto Star shows the two men exchanging words before throwing punches, with the one on foot saying the one on a bike almost ran him over.

The video is barely more than a minute long, and we don't know what happened before the camera started rolling. But it's safe to say that the tension was at least partially rooted in a universal dilemma: on crowded city streets, pedestrians and cyclists have to vie for space.


Queens Quay. Photo by Waterfront Toronto.

The incident happened on Queens Quay, which runs along Toronto's waterfront and opened with space for pedestrians, cyclists, streetcars and automobiles in June. While local blogs have widely lauded the design, they have also noted its unique challenges.

"It seems that drivers, pedestrians and cyclists aren't heeding the standard signs, signals and line painting that are there to guide them through the street's new intersections and driveways," wrote Waterfront Toronto, the agency responsible for the street, in a recent post. "So, we're working on a few small changes to make these cues even more clear and to make the street as safe as possible."

We face similar issues in Washington

While our region continues to build more protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from cars and pedestrians, things can still get tense. For example, mid-block crossings by pedestrians have plagued cyclists using the protected bike lane on M Street NE, something that Twitter users hope new green paint will help deter.

It's always good to remind one another that whether we're on foot or on a bike (or using any other mode of transportation), respecting each other's space can help us avoid altercations like the one in Toronto. The video above is a good reminder of what can happen when we forget this.

Denver's beautiful Union Station mixes old and new

When Denver needed a new transit hub, city leaders naturally looked at the city's aging Union Station. Now after a massive expansion, Union Station is a monument to multimodalism, and a beautiful architectural mix of ornate old and shimmering new.


Denver Union Station. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

The new Denver Union Station combines five transit modes with expansive new and refurbished public spaces, and a brand new transit-oriented neighborhood.

Historic depot building

The station is anchored by the beautifully renovated 1894 depot building, with its lovingly restored, bright, airy waiting room. The ground floor includes popular restaurants and bars, along with table shuffleboard sets and occasional live music performances. The upper floors now host a boutique hotel.


Waiting room. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

Plazas surrounding the outside of the depot building are well-landscaped, and integrate nicely with the bustling LoDo neighborhood across the street. They form the northern end of Denver's 16th Street pedestrian mall, and are a vast improvement over the surface parking lots that formerly occupied the same space.

Multimodal transit

The station brings together Amtrak, commuter rail, light rail, and local and intercity buses.

New commuter and light rail lines are the major components of Denver's impressive FasTracks plan, which is adding about 100 miles of new rail to the city's transit network. Union Station will be the hub.

Immediately behind the historic depot lie the new platforms for Amtrak and commuter rail. They're partially covered by the grandest train shed in America.


Intercity and commuter rail platforms. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

For now there's only a slow trickle of Amtrak trains using these platforms. But starting in 2016 when Denver's new commuter rail lines begin to open, it will bustle.


Denver's coming transit lines. Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

Beneath the train shed lies Union Station's subterranean bus depot, the closest thing Denver has to a subway.

The bus depot serves as both a transit terminal and a pedestrian walkway between the main station and the light rail platforms, further beyond the train shed. It's a long walk from one end to the other, but it's an attractive space.

At the far end, Denver's light rail. The city has had light rail since 1994, but it's expanding under the FasTracks program.

Beyond the light rail, active freight rail tracks pass by to the northwest.


Entrance to the bus terminal and light rail station, with freight tracks to the right. Photo by the author.

Transit-oriented development

While the station itself is finished and open to the traveling public, the surrounding land is only half-complete. The former industrial railyards behind the station are being redeveloped as a new high-rise neighborhood.

Millions of square feet of development are planned, with thousands of new housing units in the pipeline. Multiple blocks of mixed-use infill development are under construction.

Denver is undergoing a population and building boom, so planners and developers anticipate high demand for the new units. The South Platte River Valley just to the north is also a fun and attractive part of the city, popular with tourists, cyclists, and shoppers visiting REI's flagship store on the left bank of the river, housed in the former power plant for Denver's streetcar system.

When it's all complete, Denver will have an impressive new urban neighborhood, fully integrated with and surrounding its new transit hub.


New buildings going up. Photo by the author.

A model for DC

The plan to redevelop Washington Union Station is, if anything, even more ambitious and complex than Denver's.

But as the DC area prepares to make that plan a reality, we can draw lessons from Denver's successes. Colorado's experience shows that it's possible to integrate multimodal planning and strong land use decisions, to a beautiful result.

Breakfast links: May the odds be ever in your favor


Photo by Chris on Flickr.
Arlington's falling behind?: Victor Hoskins, now the economic development director for Arlington, says the county is "getting crushed by DC" and that residents have to realize "that they have ceased to be the innovators" like they were back when Arlington was a leader in TOD around Metro. (Post)

Credits for renters: Montgomery County is urbanizing and may attract more people renting rather than buying homes. The county council approved tax credits for low-income renters to make new apartments near Metro more attractive. (WAMU)

Going down: We're sinking. As a result of an ancient icecap, DC is expected to sink up to 8 inches in the next century. The sinking inevitably will lead to flooding issues, forcing planners to be proactive now on how to minimize damage. (WTOP)

See you in court: Did the White Flint Mall's owners break a contract when they shut down the mall to redevelop? Or is Lord & Taylor, which says yes, just trying to squeeze the mall's owners for money? The dispute has now gone to trial. (Post)

Trash truck art: Taking out the trash is about to get prettier. The DC Department of Public Works is turning service trucks into public art by painting them with colorful designs. DPW plans to repaint nine trucks as part of the program. (Citylab)

Move it: As a cyclist, nothing is more frustrating than an object blocking a bike lane. When a car blocked his path, this man simply picked it up and moved it. Super strength not your thing? Learn how to safely pass and report. (Citylab, WABA)

Don't hate, embrace: Arcata, California is creating the first "medical marijuana innovation zone" in its zoning code. The zone would keep the smelly cultivation out of residential areas while promoting the weed related economy. (Next City)

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