Greater Greater Washington


Events roundup: Walking tours, zoning, and microbrews

Now that September is here, calendars are filling back up. The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours are back in session, our own monthly happy hour is around the corner, and the DC Zoning Commission is hold its (hopefully) final round of public hearings on the zoning update. Mark your calendars - it's going to be a busy month!

Photo by Fairfax County on Flickr.

The Silver Line, Reston, & Tysons: A New Chapter: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of the Silver Line and big changes at the Wiehle-Reston and Tysons Corner Metro stations. The tour will visit new mixed-use developments, look at bicycle, pedestrian, and bus links, check out new public plazas, and hear about the opportunities and challenges of retrofitting the suburbs. CSG tours are free and open to the public, but RSVP is requested. Planners, AICP credit for this tour is pending.

After the jump: the DC Zoning Commission hears more public input on the zoning update, and there are a whole lot of events happening on September 10.

Testify for the DC Zoning Update: The DC Zoning Commission has scheduled additional public input hearings on the proposed DC zoning update starting Monday, September 8. Even if you have already given in-person testimony, you can testify again as long as you focus your remarks on the proposed amendments. Signups are on a first-come, first-served basis. CSG has a handy signup tool and other resources for people who want to testify here.

Grab a local microbrew and BBQ with GGW: With summer coming to a close, it's time to resume our regular happy hour series. Join us at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring for drinks, food, and conversation on an outdoor patio within sight of the Red Line next Wednesday, September 10 from 6 to 8 pm. You'll find Denizens at 1133 East-West Highway, one block west of Georgia Avenue. Here are more details on how to get there.

Metro art exhibit opening: Is art more your style than beer and BBQ? Also on September 10, join Boston Properties at The Heurich Gallery for the opening of Roberto Bocci: Metrorail, an exhibition featuring recent work by the Washington-based artist. Metrorail, Roberto Bocci's newest body of work, is a multidisciplinary project that explores urban environments in and around the Metrorail system. Head over to the calendar for more info.

Tour Dunbar High School: Not a fan of microbrews or art? Join CSG at Dunbar High School for another of their popular walking tours. While NW DC's Dunbar HS has a reputation as one of the region's best known historically African-American high schools, for many years the school's design and layout were far from an urban gem.

All that changed last year, with the unveiling of the new Dunbarwith a green design more welcoming to the community, abundant natural light, a LEED platinum rating, and a much smaller footprint on a reconnected street grid. Hear from the building's designers and local school and community representatives about how smart growth design principles can transform not only a building but the surrounding neighborhood as well.

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


Could traffic changes produce a new village square?

Where Kennedy Street meets Missouri Avenue in Northwest DC, there's a dangerous tangle of turn lanes, cross traffic, and leftover plots of useless land. DDOT plans to remake the intersection to be safer for car traffic, but with a few simple tweaks the plan could produce something even better: A village square.

Kennedy Street at Missouri Avenue, where DDOT is considering closing a turn lane.
Image from Bing.

Kennedy Street NW is one of DC's forgotten main streets. It's the biggest east-west commercial street between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring, though its sparse collection of shops is a far cry from the hustle of Georgia Avenue.

One of the problems on Kennedy Street is its intersection with Missouri Avenue, where the existing road design prioritizes cars over pedestrians, and divides what otherwise might be the walkable heart of Kennedy Street's business district.

Except the intersection isn't safe for cars either. Dozens of collisions in recent years have resulted from drivers travelling southeast on Missouri Avenue cutting across oncoming traffic to turn left onto eastbound Kennedy Street.

DDOT's long-delayed plan to fix this problem would close the eastbound lane of Kennedy Street between Missouri Avenue and 2nd Street. Drivers hoping to go east on Kennedy would instead turn left off Missouri onto 2nd Street, then immediately right onto Kennedy.

This change may reduce car collisions by preventing drivers from turning across traffic. But it does nothing to help pedestrians, on a street where they desperately need help.

Close one more lane to get a village square

DDOT's plan to improve safety at the intersection leaves the westbound lane of Kennedy Street as-is. But what if that lane were closed as well?

There aren't as many traffic safety problems on the westbound lane. Closing it would eliminate direct car access to the struggling businesses in row houses along that block. It would also eliminate a bit of on-street parking.

But removing both lanes would create a sizable triangle of public land, which then could become the central public square Kennedy Street currently lacks. The square could become the heart of the Kennedy Street community, hosting gatherings, markets, and events.

If that happened, might the increase in pedestrian traffic make up for the decrease in car traffic?

Community activists push for change

The Kennedy Street Business and Development Association launched in January in part to push the city to fully fund and implement the 2008 revitalization plan for Kennedy Street.

In that plan, the Office of Planning recommended improving this intersection and the rest of Kennedy's streetscape, to help revive its pedestrian and commercial life.

DDOT's plan to improve car safety is a good start, but to make Kennedy a fully healthy and vital main street it's going to take more than tweaks to the traffic flow. We need a more pedestrian-friendly street, and hopefully a village square.


Breakfast links: Bike on

Photo by Ken_Mayer on Flickr.
Silver line biking: Bike parking at Wiehle has increased steadily since the line opened in July. Current counts would make it one of the most popular stations for bike parking, even though information on available parking is unclear or unavailable. (FABB)

Streetcar details: The H Street streetcar could provide a valuable connection to Metro for bar-goers. New proposed regulations suggest the line will run until 2 am on weekends. And, like Metro, bikes will be banned during rush hour. (DCist)

Cycle tracks for children: A cycle track in Austin helps kids bike safely to their elementary school. The project provides a safe connection from a wide neighborhood street to a new pedestrian and bike bridge. (Streetsblog)

Pedestrian error: Baltimore County has one of the highest incidences of pedestrian traffic fatalities in the US. Is "pedestrian error" or the county's design, with missing sidewalks and high-speed suburban roads, to blame? (NextCity)

After rent subsidies: Rapid Re-Housing provides temporary rental assistance to families facing homelessness in DC, but does it do enough? Subsidies end after one year and families are often placed in apartments where the rent is too high for them. (Post)

RFK plans: Are Washington's NFL team and the Olympic exploratory committee working together to build a new facility at the RFK site? Both have expressed interest in the site, and Olympic venues have been converted to team stadiums in the past. (Post)

Taxi times: In San Francisco, wait times for ride services like Uber are significantly shorter than wait times for taxis. Are ridesourcing apps' ability to connect passengers with the nearest driver driving their popularity? (CityLab)

Not there yet: Google's driverless car technology is far from ready for general use, and the remaining issues, like adapting to temporary conditions not in the system's database, may prove to be the hardest to solve. (MIT Technology Review, jimble)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Well-lit 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.

Logan Circle. Photo by Joe Flood.

National Mall. Photo by Joe Newman.

14th St NW. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

Greater U Street. Photo by Clif Burns.

14th St. Photo by DoctorJ.Bass.

Snapping some great images of the people and places in the DC region this weekend? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your photos!


Join us for happy hour in Silver Spring

With summer coming to a close, it's time to resume our regular happy hour series. Join us at Denizens Brewing Company in Silver Spring next Wednesday, September 10 from 6 to 8 pm.

Photo by Thomas Cizauskas on Flickr.

This month, we're headed to Denizens Brewing Company, the new brewery and beergarden in South Silver Spring, for drinks, food, and conversation on an outdoor patio within sight of the Red Line. You'll find Denizens at 1133 East-West Highway, one block west of Georgia Avenue.

One of the region's newest breweries, Denizens is the result of a new state law that allows microbreweries to sell to the public in Montgomery County without going through the county's Department of Liquor Control. They offer a couple of their own brews alongside a number of local favorites from breweries like Port City in Alexandria and Brewer's Art in Baltimore. BBQ Bus, the DC-based food truck, provides a selection of tasty picnic-style dishes.

Denizens is a short walk from the Silver Spring Metro station (Red Line). If you're coming by bus, it's a few blocks from the 70/79 stop at Georgia and Eastern avenues, or the S2/S4/S9 stop at Georgia Avenue and Kalmia Road. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station one block away, at 1200 East-West Highway, and if you're driving, there's metered street parking and the Kennett Street Garage one block away.

In the past few months, we've met up at Metro-accessible bars Bethesda, Ward 3, and Tysons Corner. Where would you like us to go next? We're especially interested in suggestions for a future happy hour in Prince George's County.


The biggest bikeshare station in each US city

Throughout 2014, DC and New York have jockeyed back and forth over which city's bikeshare system has the most stations in the United States. But who has the biggest stations?

New York’s 67-dock station. Photo from Google.

DC currently leads in the number of stations race, 335 to 324. But the number of stations only tells part of the story. New York's stations are vastly bigger than DC's, and by far the largest in the US.

New York's biggest station, which is outside of Penn Station, has a whopping 67 docks. It's almost 50% larger than the next city's largest station.

Here's the number of docks at the biggest station in America's main big-city bikeshare systems:

RankCityLargest stationDocks at largest station
1New YorkPenn Station67
2BostonSouth Station46
3WashingtonDupont Circle45
5MinneapolisCoffman Union and Lake/Knox32
6Miami Beach46th/Collins31
7tSan FranciscoMarket/10th and 2nd/Townsend27

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Some see the DCPS-charter relationship breaking down, but charter leaders disagree

Shortly before the advisory committee on school boundaries and feeder patterns released its final proposal, the DC Public Charter School Board's representative resigned in protest over one of the committee's recommendations. Does that move reflect a deepening rift between the charter and traditional public school sectors? It depends on who you ask.

Photo of arguing fingers from Shutterstock.

There's been a lot of brouhaha surrounding the committee's recent recommendations, their adoption by Mayor Vincent Gray, and their repudiation by both of his likely successors. The resignation of Dr. Clara Hess, the PCSB's official representative on the committee, has gotten somewhat lost in the shuffle.

But in interviews, members of the committee candidly expressed anger and dismay at Hess's resignation, seeing it as one more step in the apparent deterioration of the relationship between DC's charter sector and DC Public Schools.

"Everybody was disappointed," said Faith Hubbard, a member of the committee who lives in Ward 5. "It was like, all this work we did over a year, and you want it to come down to this?"

Others disagree that the once cordial relationship is breaking down. "I think actually relations between the sectors are better than ever," said Scott Pearson, executive director of the PCSB. "And I think the level of collaboration will continue to grow."

Priority for at-risk students

The recommendation that prompted Hess's resignation focuses on "at-risk" students, a new designation that includes kids who are homeless, in foster care, eligible for food stamps or welfare benefits, or a year or more below grade level in high school. The category includes 43% of DC students.

Beginning this school year, the DC government will provide additional funding to schools based on the number of at-risk students they enroll.

The committee recommended that all public schools, including charter schools, with fewer than 25% at-risk students give priority to such students for 25% of the seats they allocate through a lottery each year.

Pearson said the committee hadn't sufficiently analyzed the impact of that recommendation. The committee did produce data showing how many schools would be affected (19 DCPS and 13 charter schools) and how many seats at each school would be set aside for at-risk students (between two and 38).

But Pearson said the committee should also have analyzed whether at-risk students would displace others who are economically disadvantaged but don't fall into the at-risk definition.

PCSB's authority to bind charters

More fundamentally, Pearson said the PCSB did not have the authority to agree to a recommendation that would bind individual charter schools. There were no representatives of individual charter schools on the committee.

Hubbard argued that it would have been impossible to have representatives of all DC charter schools on the committee, just as it was impossible to have all DCPS schools represented. There was one representative from DCPS, she said, just as there was a representative from the PCSB.

But Pearson said those representatives were not equivalent, since all of DCPS is a single Local Education Agency, while each charter operator is its own LEA.

Part of the problem was that the committee didn't begin focusing on charter schools until fairly late in its 10-month process, so there wasn't time to canvass charter leaders on the at-risk issue. The committee's initial mission was to redraw boundaries and feeder patterns for DCPS schools.

But at community meetings on the first round of proposals in April, parents repeatedly called for comprehensive planning that would include both sectors, according to committee members.

Pearson said those meetings, held at DCPS schools and organized according to DCPS feeder patterns, didn't adequately represent charter school parents. Committee members responded that parents often switch back and forth between sectors, so there was more charter representation than was apparent.

"To say charter parents weren't represented in the process is erroneous and is convenient if you don't like what came out of it," said Eboni-Rose Thompson, a Ward 7 resident who was on the committee. Thompson has also been a contributor to Greater Greater Education.

The DCPS-charter relationship

The more important question, especially now that the future of the committee's recommendations is uncertain, is what the disagreement means for the DCPS-charter relationship. Thompson and Hubbard were pessimistic, feeling that a generally positive process had ended on a sour note.

But Pearson was more upbeat, pointing to another recommendation that calls for a task force to be set up by the end of December that will focus on collaboration and planning across school sectors. The PCSB still supports that recommendation, he said.

His perspective was echoed by Emily Bloomfield, a committee member and former board member of the PCSB who is in the process of launching a new charter school.

"I'm very optimistic about collaboration partly because I've seen more of it over time," Bloomfield said, citing the common school lottery and an annual school fair that used to be limited to charter schools and now includes DCPS.

But those who have called for collaborative planning generally envision a process that would impose some limits on charter growth and location. As Pearson has made clear, the charter sector is adamantly opposed to any limits that aren't voluntary on its part.

Hubbard feels that attitude will be a problem for the task force that the recommendations call for. "Charters have been allowed to grow without much oversight," she said, "and this task force is going to infringe on that. Anytime, they could say: we're going to take our ball and go home."

Both Hubbard and Thompson, an alumna of a charter school, say that things have changed since charters were a small part of the educational landscape. Now that they educate nearly half of DC's students, Thompson said, charter autonomy shouldn't be seen as sacrosanct.

"Now it should be about how we ensure we're making a good faith effort to serve all students," she said, "and not just buying into words that sound attractive like 'innovation' and 'autonomy.'"

Perhaps, as Thompson predicts, the DC Council will soon be ready to impose limits on charter growth, although so far there have been few signs of that. Or perhaps, as Bloomfield suggests, charter operators will be willing to voluntarily adjust their plans in exchange for a better way of obtaining suitable buildings from the DC government.

What's clear is that many in both sectors share a sense of mission about improving the quality of education for DC's low-income students. But they don't always agree on the best way to achieve that.

Let's hope the task force, which is scheduled to begin meeting before Gray leaves office, will provide a better forum than the advisory committee for hashing out differences between the sectors. Unlike the committee, the task force will most likely include representation from charter school operators, and it will be clear from the outset that its mission is cross-sector planning and collaboration.


Breakfast links: Purple Line lawsuits

Photo by eddie welker on Flickr.
No lawsuit from Chevy Chase: The Town of Chevy Chase has chosen not to file a lawsuit to stop the Purple Line. However, the town said it could still file a brief in support of the lawsuit filed earlier this week. (Post)

Eminent Domain for Purple Line?: A Montgomery Circuit Court is hearing a case over whether a homeowner can keep a fence on the shoulder of the Georgetown Branch Trail. The outcome will determine whether the MTA will need to use eminent domain to build the Purple Line. (Post)

Fannie Mae selling headquarters: Fannie Mae will sell its iconic headquarters on Wisconsin Avenue, along with two other buildings, and consolidate within DC. The three properties are worth $172 million, according to DC property records. (City Paper)

A new Ward 5: Ward 5 has long complained about being DC's dumping ground. A plan unveiled this week envisions a new future for the ward while recognizing the needs of the industrial businesses in the neighborhood. (City Paper)

Stop blocking the streetcar: Parked cars on H Street are proving to be a problem along the streetcar route. Since streetcar testing began, the Department of Public Works has issued 143 tickets and towed eight cars for blocking the tracks. (WAMU)

Howze outlines streetcar improvements: Alan Howze, the Democrat running for Arlington County Board, outlined five ways that he would improve the Columbia Pike streetcar. Howze reiterated his support for a referendum on the streetcar. (ArlNow)

Bike lanes over car dependence: Downtown Pittsburgh has very little room for more car traffic. Instead of catering to cars, the city will begin building bike lanes to reduce car dependence. (Streetsblog)

Massive sprawl in Belgium: How did Belgium become the most congested country in Europe? Massive sprawl, a poor road network, and auto-centric policies in general are to blame, and there are few feasible solutions to fix the problem. (The Guardian)

And...: Former City Council candidate Jeff Smith will serve 60 days in jail for a false campaign finance filing. (DCist) ... The Memphis Airport is attempting to become an aerotropolis. (CityLab) ... To improve air quality, India's Health Minister wants to build bike lanes. (Streetsblog)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


No bike racks? Just park it in the car lane

It's a frequent sight around the city. Drivers who are ignorant or who just don't care park in the bike lane when they can't find a parking space. It's rude and inconsiderate, of course, but it's also dangerous for the cyclists who have to dart into traffic to pass. How would drivers react if cyclists started parking in their lane?

The poster above was produced by Canadian design and cities-focused magazine Spacing. The image is designed to be a little provocative and to make drivers think about how they'd like it. I suspect most of them wouldn't like it one bit.

I've always wondered why people think it's acceptable to park in the bike lane. Recently I was riding on the M Street cycletrack and as I approached one of the mixing zones, a UPS driver was backing his truck into the buffered part of the bike lane. At this point, it was already after the evening rush hour, and there were 4 lanes for cars, but only one for bikes. If the UPS delivery guy had parked in one of the car lanes, he'd be blocking 1 of 4 lanes. But by blocking the bike lane, he was blocking the only bike lane.

Why is it that drivers who would never for a moment consider blocking a car lane "just for a minute," while they run inside will, without even the briefest of thoughts, park in the bike lane?

Well maybe this image can be successful in making drivers give it a little thought.


This federal building is missing a corner. Here's why

The Department of Agriculture South Building an archetypal federal building: big, beige, and boxy. But it's missing a corner. Why? The L'Enfant Plan and a street that no longer exists.

The South Building, with the Jamie L. Whitten Building to the north. Image from Google Maps.

The South Building's façade stands about 30 feet back from Independence Avenue. The south entrance to the Smithsonian metro stop fits so cozily into the corner, it almost looks as if the notch was built just for it. Of course, that doesn't square with the history.

This building was an exercise in making efficient use of the land. Unlike Federal Triangle, or Southwest's modernist buildings, its walls run right up to the property line. With long, thin wings connected at the perimeter, the South Building was as efficient as an office building could be before air conditioning.

When completed in 1936, it was the largest office building in the world. Only the Pentagon would unseat it. On Independence Avenue, its facade runs for 900 feet of beige brick and green-painted steel.

The architect, Louis Simon, wouldn't have built the setback if he didn't have to. Looking at a satellite photo provides no clues. But, if you look at an older satellite photo, the reason becomes obvious.

The South Building in and its context in 2012. The missing corner is on the left side of the image.

The South Building in and its context in 1941.

Pierre L'Enfant's Virginia Avenue slightly clips the block. You can't see it now, because urban renewal replaced that section of Virginia Avenue with bas-relief urbanism and highway ramps. Ironically, the sightline the architects so carefully avoided was erased thirty years later.

And this brings up the last reason it's so mysterious: the architects went out of their way to hide the difference between the corners. Rather than clipping it diagonally along the property line, Simon's team designed an orthogonal setback that seemed like it was the natural place for the wall.

With two pedestrian bridges and a long walk in between each corner, it's really hard to notice the difference. I wouldn't have noticed it had it not come up in the dispute over the Eisenhower Memorial's setbacks.

For now, it's another one of DC's carefully hidden quirks, like the off-axis position of the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial sitting slightly to the south where Maryland Avenue would be. As Southwest is rebuilt, and Virginia Avenue returns, the purpose of the notch will become more clear.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City