The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


No plan today could ignore rising housing costs. Ten years ago, that wasn't the top issue.

Greater Greater Washington readers are reading DC's Comprehensive Plan, a document that lays out how we build our city, and discussing it as we go. Each week, we'll post a summary of the chapter we most recently read, along with some highlights of what our book club participants think about how the plan could change in the upcoming amendment process.

DC's Comprehensive Plan set out to help the city "grow inclusively." In its second chapter, it outlines how to do that. But, looking at it from 2016, people immediately noticed that it didn't really talk much about the central planning challenge of our era: how to keep housing prices from spiraling out of reach.

Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Last week, members of the book club read the first half of chapter 2, Framework (up to page 2-21). That section lays out the then-current trends DC: A 50-year population decline turning around, but DC still growing slower than suburban and exurban neighbors; a gradual loss of federal jobs; and shrinking family sizes as people marry and have kids later in life.

It says:

In 1950, Washington had 802,000 residents and was the 9th largest
city in America. By 2000, Washington's population had dropped to 572,000 and it ranked 21st in size among U.S. cities. Between 1970 and 2000 alone, the number of people living in the District of Columbia dropped by almost 25 percent. ...

Unlike the experience of other major cities, the loss of population in Washington was not the result of "white flight." In fact, between 1980 and 2000, African-Americans registered the largest decrease among the city's racial groups, dropping in population by almost 100,000. This drop was partially offset by increases in the city's Hispanic and Asian populations.

While population loss after 1950 was significant, the decline in the number of households has been much less dramatic. The number of households in the District declined by just 2 percent between 1980 and 2000, standing at 248,000 in 2000. Thus, population loss in the late 1900s was less a function of housing being abandoned and more a result of larger households being replaced by smaller households. In fact, the average household in Washington contained 2.16 persons in 2000, down from 2.72 in 1970. Middle-class families left the city in large numbers during this period and the number of school-aged children dropped dramatically.

Looking forward, the city expects household size to continue falling through 2010, and then stabilize. According to the US Census, the percentage of seniors is expected to increase as "baby-boomers" retire, and the percentage of foreign-born residents, particularly those of Hispanic origin, is expected to rise. The District is expected to continue to be a magnet for the region's young professionals and empty nesters. Its ability to attract families with children rests largely on its ability to improve the quality of public education and address basic issues like crime, service provision, and housing affordability.

Corey Holman calculated the numbers and found that household size may or may not have dropped depending on which Census survey you look at, while the percentages of baby boomers and Latinos have NOT risen.

We might be adding more families, and they'll need a place they can afford to live. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

What about costs?

The 2006 plan forecasts a lot about DC, but not housing costs. It mentions the danger of displacement as housing costs rise, but actually explores that quite scantily. Many of the members of the book club noticed this gap.

Stephanie Thomas said, "An honest assessment of housing costs is key, and I hope that the updated plan will focus more on what DC can do to control costs and contribute towards its stated goal of an inclusive city."

Cheryl Cort added, "Using an approach that looks at low, medium, and high growth projections rather than a 'right number' approach to forecasting population growth would better serve the region's and city's goals to be more sustainable, and better address housing demand." Education, too, didn't come up as strongly as some expected.

Yuki Kato observed that the plan "does mention that income divide as 'the biggest challenge facing the District as it planned for its future' (p. 2-5), but it is not clear in what ways ... this is going to be addressed."

Growth where?

Perhaps one reason rising costs became a big challenge is DC actually built 13% less housing than the plan predicted.

A part of the framework chapter forecasts growth by "planning area," large sections of the city. Here's a graphic of the housing projections:

Graphic by Peter Dovak.

Payton Chung pointed out last year that the growth hasn't actually followed this plan. Much more of it was in "Central Washington," basically downtown and NoMA; Southwest Waterfront; and the ballpark area. And the total fell short of the plan's estimates.

Chung wrote, "The District's other policies to 'conserve single-family residential neighborhoods' are doing too good of a job at keeping new housing out of the neighborhoods that were supposed to accommodate 70% of future housing growth—and keeping the District as a whole well below its housing growth projections."

Yuki Kato worried about how this would affect areas with lower incomes and lower levels of education. She said, "More urgency could have been placed on these projections to seek ways in which the Comp Plan can ease the concentrated burden on some of the areas."

The framework chapter also talks little about transportation, and book club members noticed that too. This is because, Cort said, "In 2006, there was no city transportation plan, and DDOT has only been around for a few years at that point (established by DC Council in 2002)." DC now has created the MoveDC plan, and the current Comprehensive Plan amendment process will incorporate MoveDC (all or in parts—specifics aren't out yet).

This half of the Framework chapter looked at trends and projections. The second half is where the plan starts taking a stand, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. We'll be discussing that next, followed by the Land Use chapter, which is similarly pivotal. If you want to be a part of the book club, fill out the form below!


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 86

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-sixth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week we got 31 guesses. Fifteen got all five right. Great work, Alex C, Solomon, dpod, Peter K, JamesDCane, J-Train-21, Steven Yates, Chris H, Stephen C, Patrick, skildpadde, DavidDuck, R2-JL, We Will Crush Peter K, and Peter K is a nice guy, don't be hatin' on him!

Image 1: Vienna

The first image was fairly simple, showing a view of Vienna station from westbound I-66. Metro has a few stations in the median of a freeway, but only Vienna and Wiehle Avenue have bridges across to both sides of the roadway. Wiehle Avenue's bridges are a different design, with brighter metal. Additionally, Wiehle's parking is located only on one side of the station, unlike at Vienna, where there are garages on both sides.

All 31 of you knew this was Vienna.

Image 2: McLean

The second image looks down into the lower mezzanine at McLean station. The design elements and the newness of the concrete and fixtures should have told you this was a Silver Line station. Since we're looking down into the mezzanine, this can only be one of three Silver Line stations with a mezzanine below the tracks: McLean, Tysons Corner, and Spring Hill.

However, you can eliminate Spring Hill because there's no roadway visible to the left, meaning this isn't a median station. At Tysons Corner, the lower entrance has a completely different escalator and elevator arrangement, and from this direction, the exit would be straight ahead, not out to the right.

That leaves McLean, which 21 of you figured out.

Image 3: Morgan Boulevard

The third image was taken looking up at the roof above the mezzanine from the platform at Morgan Boulevard. The canopy here is clearly one of the Gull II designs, present only at the three stations opened in 2004. However, at Largo and NoMa, the mezzanine is below the tracks, not above as it is at Morgan Boulevard.

Twenty-two came to the correct conclusion.

Image 4: Dupont Circle

The fourth image shows the view looking through the escalator canopy at Dupont's southern entrance. The art deco building visible here is 1350 Connecticut Avenue (though viewed from the 19th Street side), which was built in 1928 20 years before even the underground trolley station at Dupont Circle opened. Your best clue to answering this one was to recognize the building.

Twenty-four were able to come to the correct conclusion.

Image 5: L'Enfant Plaza

The final image shows the eastern mezzanine at L'Enfant Plaza. This mezzanine, which leads to the Constitution Center entrance on the southeast corner of 7th and D SW, is closed on weekends. Knowing which stations have closed entrances on weekends would have been a start to solving this picture.

An additional clue is the "_AND AVENUE" text on the sign, which refers to Maryland Avenue. L'Enfant Plaza has an entrance at 7th and Maryland, and that entrance is open at all times. Maryland Avenue doesn't come close to any other station.

The word could also have potentially been "Rhode Island," however the Rhode Island Avenue station is above ground, and while Rhode Island Avenue comes close to Farragut North and Shaw, signage at those stations doesn't refer to Rhode Island Avenue.

Twenty-six sussed out the right answer.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with another quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Thank you to these GGWash supporters!

Without financial support of foundations, readers like you, and local businesses, Greater Greater Washington couldn't keep building informed and civically engaged communities who speak up for livable places for all. Thank you!

Image by Moeez via Wikimedia Commons.


With funding from the Open Philanthropy Foundation and McIntosh Foundation we're increasing the number of posts about housing, creating maps to help visualize the housing affordability problem, and launched a book club to read and discuss DC's Comprehensive Plan to prepare for the upcoming amendment process.

Readers like you

So far this year, 295 readers have donated $29,000! Kyle M. and Melissa J. starting giving $5 and $10 to GGWash every month. Elizabeth W. and William H. made one-time donations of $25. Robert W. contributed $500. We'd love to recognize each and every of the 291 other individuals, but we just don't have space.

Reader donations help make sure GGWash can publish the information you rely on like updates and analysis about Metro, endorsements to help you cast your vote in support of transit-oriented policies and candidates, and stories like this one and this one that capture the experience of living in the Washington DC region.

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So far in 2016, Chevy Chase Land Company and EYA have provided $3,500 in sponsorships to support GGWash's activities. Capital Bikeshare, goDCgo, Island Press, and TransitOriented donated goods including CaBi memberships, books, and posters to use as prizes for our 8th Birthday Party in March. Tate and Tryon provided pro-bono accounting expertise to help GGWash file its first tax return.

Read about how GGWash will and won't work with corporate sponsors here.


Last but not least, we couldn't be Greater Greater Washington without the more than 125 volunteers who donate their time to bring you thoughtful, data-informed information about the forces shaping our region. Community volunteers write the majority of the posts that appear on GGWash. Each year, our volunteers donate tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of time to Greater Greater Washington.

The Washington, DC region is great, and you all help make it greater. Thank you!

If you would like to support Greater Greater Washington through a corporate sponsorship or by volunteering, I would love to hear from you!


What if Metro had stopped building in 1986?

In 1986, a report from the Federal City Council warned that Metro needed to focus on keeping the system in good repair rather than expansion. Metro didn't listen, but what if it had? What would the system look like if building had stopped then?

The Metro as it looked in 1986. Map by David Alpert.

If you listen to WAMU's new Metropocalypse podcast (and you should), you may have heard the discussion in Episode 5 about the critical decisions in the late 1980s and early 1990s to continue to focus on expansion rather than maintenance. The episode pinpoints 1986 as a turning point in Metro's history, and may be where the problems we're facing today trace back to.

So how would a decision in 1986 to stop expansion and focus on upkeep have affected the system map?

In 1986, ten years into Metro's life, four of the six lines had opened. That year, the Orange Line reached its full length, with an extension from Ballston to Vienna opening on June 7. But the other lines were all still shorter than planned. The Green Line wouldn't appear for another five years, the Silver was still eighteen years away.

If Metro had decided to change tacks in 1986 and focus more on maintenance rather than expansion, it's certainly possible that by now, more stations would have opened, though probably later than they did in actuality. But it's difficult to say. With ballooning costs and competing priorities, it's possible that much less of the system would have been completed.

As it was, it took another fifteen years to complete the Adopted Regional System.

Metro historian Zachary Schrag correctly points out in his Metropocalypse interview, that it would have been difficult politically to propose delaying the rest of the system. The pieces that were still missing in 1986 were those promised to the communities who most needed better transit.

And the population in those neighborhoods tended to be poorer and less white. Cancelling the Green Line would have left some of the most disadvantaged parts of the region, including the Mid City, Southeast, and southern Prince George's without rail service.

So, for better or worse, Metro pressed on with its campaign to build the full system. But that came with a cost; one we're paying today.

Now, the transit agency is focused more on maintaining the system than on expansion, though the Silver Line's second phase continues to move toward completion.

If you're curious to see how the entire Metro system came together, and on what timeline, here's an animated slideshow that we first published two years ago:


Breakfast links: Kaya calls it quits

Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.
Kaya Henderson leaving DCPS: Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DC's public school system since 2010, will step down from her position later this year. Many have praised her for her efforts to reform schools and to build a system that can continue reform, but there is quite a bit of criticism of her tenure too. (WAMU)

Streetcar going strong: The DC Streetcar has exceeded expectations for weekday ridership by 20%, on average, since the line opened in late February. (City Paper)

Hogan fights for roads: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he'll keep fighting the General Assembly for more road funding. The General Assembly recently passed a bill, and overturned the governor's veto on it, that calls for the state to grade transportation projects before funding them. (WBJ)

Library relocation: A much smaller space on K St will serve as the District's central library while the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library undergoes a 3-year renovation. (WBJ)

What's in a name?: As part of the current push for DC statehood, a commission settled on the name New Columbia for the state. It has a history, but many are not fond of the moniker. (Post)

Flow or foe?: A new Google service, Flow, combines Google Maps and Google Street View to make parking easier and more lucrative for city governments, and to push low-income transit users to ride hailing services. (Guardian)

And...: A pregnant woman was denied access to the restroom at the Shady Grove Metro station. (NBC4) ... A cyclist on Capital Bikeshare is in critical condition after a crash near Dupont Circle on Tuesday. (DCist) ... Most Americans think we're still in the middle of the housing crisis. (CityLab)

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A zoning change in Fairfax will allow more density

In Fairfax, the zoning code now allows buildings that are near Metro stations or that are part of certain commercial corridors to be denser than than before. The Board of Supervisor's decision to approve the change last week is emblematic of an effort to make sure that new housing and office space are paired with transportation options.

Tysons Corner is one of the densest places in Fairfax, but the county is prepping for demand in other places as well. Photo by Ryan Stavely on Flickr.

The thought behind Fairfax's changes is that putting more density in these locations will allow the county's population to grow without adding much more congestion because new development will put people close to existing and coming public transportation.

And the commercial corridors that aren't as close to a Metro station may become denser as a way to create more mixed use areas in Fairfax where people don't have to drive as much for basic errands. This will also make these places ripe for future transit projects or improvements as well.

The county plans to do this by increasing the limit of a new building's floor area ratio, or FAR. FAR is a typical tool in figuring out how dense a building can be rather than just designating a number of floors or lot coverage. Two buildings that look different could have the same FAR depending on how they're built.

This is not really what the county has in mind. Photo of Sao Paolo Brazil by Kalexander2010 on Flickr.

The higher the FAR, the bigger and denser any building is allowed to be. Fairfax's new zoning will allow FARs up to 5.0 in designated areas, which is more than the current maximums of FAR 2.0 or 3.0 in many of the areas slated for rezoning. That means if a building takes up 100% of a building lot, the building can be built to a maximum of five stories. If the building takes up half the lot the building can be ten stories. Either way, the building is at FAR 5.0.

Here's what opponents said

The zoning changes did meet opposition from people who said that a FAR of 5.0 would be too extreme a jump from what has been allowed. Even some very urban places, like Rosslyn, which is home to some of the region's tallest buildings, has an allowed FAR of less than 5.0.

Another issue is whether or not Fairfax is allowing developers to build without having to provide anything to mitigate some of the negative effects from their projects in neighborhoods pinpointed for the change.

On an episode of the Kojo Nnamdi Show last week, before the Fairfax vote, Terry Maynard of the group Reston 20/20 argued that Fairfax was giving too much leeway to developers and not doing enough to protect existing communities from possible negative impacts of new development.

Another contention was that while greater density is okay or even ideal around the county's Metro stations, increasing density in places without rapid transit would just lead to more congestion, which would be harmful. Opponents of the increase argued that Fairfax should instead wait to develop areas after new public transportation investments have been made.

That's because while various comprehensive plans for the targeted neighborhoods contain recommendations for both density and mitigation, for neighbors the bill in front of the Board of Supervisors would only allow new density, leaving both the county and developers off the hook for providing the amenities and infrastructure promised in the comprehensive plan.

Plus for a county as large as Fairfax, many contend that such a general change ignores the differences in specific areas of the county.

Zoning fights in Fairfax aren't new

This wasn't exactly Fairfax's first rodeo when it comes to debating how dense an area should be.

Seven Corners ,at the extreme eastern edge of Fairfax County, has already been one major flashpoint in the fight over density and development in Fairfax. The neighborhoods in Seven Corners are already pretty dense, and the tangle of roadways that lends the area its name makes it a difficult place to get around no matter how you're traveling.

Plans to redevelop the area to build housing in existing commercial spaces and improve the road network (especially for pedestrians and cyclists) led to a major election challenge for Penny Gross, who represents the area on the Fairfax Board of Supervisors. The plan moved forward and Gross won her reelection last fall, but opponents still haven't given up and are likely to keep pressing the issue, especially as redevelopment begins in earnest.

More of this is coming to Fairfax. Photo by Dan Reed.

Reston is another big one. The area between the original development founded by Robert E. Simon and the Reston Town Center is already pretty dense, but Fairfax is planning for more growth to take advantage of the opening and further construction of the Silver Line. Those against more density say the area is already overburdened and Restonians are being asked to shoulder too much of the county's projected growth while developers aren't paying enough for the impacts of their projects.

Reston already looks like this. More is coming. Photo by Payton Chung.

More broadly, this is about Fairfax's fundamental approach to planning

For some, the thought of new businesses and residences in places with a lot of existing congestion is reason to be nervous. Many also feel that Fairfax is changing too much, and is no longer the suburban retreat that they felt like they bought into.

But some of Fairfax's current congestion and development problems stem from a history of growth that missed chances to mitigate congestion by building walkable neighborhoods and transit-oriented development. Keeping density low and sprawled out has ensured that many people have to drive for almost any trip they take, which is a problem Fairfax is now trying to fix.

An obsession with keeping car traffic moving is partly to blame for the zoning rules that actually make sure people drive more rather than less. That's especially true when development is contingent on whether or not a road is wide enough to handle expected traffic, as we know that widening roads usually just incentivizing people to drive.

Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth emphasized that point on that same episode of the Kojo Show I mentioned above. When the debate over whether or not FAR 5.0 would mean too much density, he was careful to point out that the way a building is designed is far more important than the actual density which can be configured in many ways.

It's also worth noting that a 5.0 FAR is just the maximum. Ultimately, the market will figure out how big a particular project should be, and not every building will be built to the maximum unless demand for development in these areas takes a very big, unexpected upswing.

Cities and neighborhoods thrive when they're allowed to change. That's why we still allow new construction even in neighborhoods with strict historic preservation rules. And its necessary to house a growing population as well. Embracing that and working with that knowledge in mind is being proactive about the future rather than accepting the inevitable.


Ten years ago, predictions for DC today were pretty spot on, except for a few key things

A lot has changed in DC in the last ten years ago. Planners knew it would, back then. But they had to make some predictions about the future as part of DC's then-new Comprehensive Plan. How did they do?

Crystal ball and city photo from Shutterstock.

Overall, the plan got a lot right. It predicted the 2010 population and the number of jobs in 2015 quite well. But DC started growing faster, and was in even higher demand as a place to live, than looked likely in 2005.

These and other predictions are part of the Framework chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, which we're reading in an online book club.

The group identified some predictions and then pulled current numbers to compare 2005 forecasts to reality.

Population: Even forecasting significant growth for DC was a big change in 2005, when the Comprehensive Plan was written. DC had lost population every Census from 1950 to 2000, but the trend had already started to turn around—and fast.

The plan's forecasts estimate 600,000 people by 2010. That was an amazing guess: the Census counted 601,721.

After that, the plan anticipated more growth, but reality far outstripped it. The Comp Plan predicted DC would reach 630,000 by 2015. Instead, the Census's estimate was 672,228. The plan forecast the population to hit 698,000 by 2025. We're surely going to get there much sooner; the mayor now talks about 800,000, not 700,000.

What happened? DC had started growing much faster than the forecasts, but the recession took a bite out and brought the growth numbers back down for 2010. Since then, people have continued coming to DC faster than the planners of 2005 imagined.

Population change from 1980-2000 (left) and 2000-2010 (right, by Corey Holman).The darkest shade of red represents the steepest decline, while the darkest green is the steepest increase.

Jobs: The 2005 Comprehensive Plan estimated 819,600 jobs in DC by 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists May 2016 employment as 784,700. James Denney said:

It's a pretty close miss for the 2005 plan. Considering just how hard the economic downturn hit the nation in the late '00s, and accounting for the 2013 sequestration, the fact that DC is only 35,000 jobs away from the 2005 projection is actually rather admirable. Even ignoring the recession, the sequestration of 2013 accounts for nearly all of the projection gap.

Persons 25 and over without a college degree, 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman).

Corey Holman looked at some other predictions in the Comp Plan and how they turned out.

Families are back. Prediction: "In fact, the average household in Washington contained 2.16 persons in 2000, down from 2.72 in 1970. Middle-class families left the city in large numbers during this period and the number of school-aged children dropped dramatically. Looking forward, the city expects household size to continue falling through 2010, and then stabilize."

Reality: Average household size in the 2010 census did continue to fall to 2.11, but the 2005-2009 (2.21 persons) and 2010-2014 5-Year ACS (2.22 persons) showed much larger household size.

Baby boomer boom? Prediction: "According to the US Census, the percentage of seniors is expected to increase as 'baby-boomers' retire."

Reality: The number of seniors is lower now that it was at the time the Comp Plan was written. In 2000 the 65+ percentage was 14.3%. In the 2010 Census it was 13.0% and in the 2010-14 ACS is was 11.3%. The 18-64 age group percentage increase dramatically while 0-18 showed decreases as well.

Immigrants come, but not as many Latinos. Prediction: "The percentage of foreign-born residents, particularly those of Hispanic origin, is expected to rise."

Reality: Foreign-born population did increase slightly from 12.9% in 2000 to 14.0% in the 2010-14 ACS. However, the percentage of people of Hispanic origin is actually lower now that it was in 2000.

Poverty rate in 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman)

So what?

The Comprehensive Plan governs DC government decisions, particularly land use and zoning. Many provisions suggest adding more housing while other provisions talk about "protecting" neighborhoods.

The way the plan underestimated population growth means other provisions may also be inapt for DC's current needs if they are predicated on lower housing demand than there really turned out to be.

We'll delve into more specific policy statements in the Comp Plan as the book club gets to those chapters. Want to be a part of the book club? Sign up with the form below!


We're getting closer to having a bike trail from DC to Baltimore

Last month, a 1.7 mile section of the WB&A Trail opened, bringing the separate parts in Anne Arundel and Prince George's County as close to one another as they've ever been. A few more additions to the trail would mean an uninterrupted bike route from DC to Baltimore.

Image from Google Maps.

The WB&A trail runs from Odenton to Lanham, with a gap at the Patuxent River. There are plans to bridge the river, extend it south to Washington and north to BWI and then onward to Baltimore, which would create a full trail between DC and Baltimore.

When the WB&A was first built, it was a state of the art, electric commuter railroad that ran on three lines connecting Washington, Baltimore, Annapolis and the B&O railroad at Annapolis junction. It operated from 1908 until 1935. Work on the WB&A trail began almost 20 years ago, when the bulk of the Prince George's section from Glen Dale to Bowie was constructed, and planning dates back to the early 1990s.

During the seven years after that first section opened, the trail was extended to the banks of the Patuxent River on the Prince George's side and 5.5 miles of the Anne Arundel section of the trail was built across the town of Odenton.

Work stalled after that, though, leaving a one-mile gap between the two sections of the trail.

The trail is expanding, but there's still a gap to bridge

In recent years, hope for connecting the trails has been rekindled. Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties have resolved the issue about how to close the gap, deciding to go with a detour that was the subject of a lot of debate. While this isn't ideal for trail users, and plans to build on the right-of-way make it worse, it does mean the stalled project is moving forward.

To that effect, this year Prince Geroge's County completed the WB&A Trail Spur, which extends the trail west along the old Race Track Railroad Spur. And last month, Anne Arundel County built the 1.7 mile trail extension. This brought both trails across the river from one another, albeit nearly a mile from where the train used to cross the river.

The newest section of the WB&A Trail along Conway Road in Anne Arundel County. Photo by John Ausema.

The next step is to build a bridge across the Patuxent River. Using a $560,000 state grant, the two counties plan to begin the design phase later this year on a bridge near the location of an old road crossing that disappeared sometime prior to 1945. Once the new bridge is there, the WB&A Trail, as officially planned, will be complete.

1908 Map showing location of old bridge between the railroads

South to Washington, DC

The recently drafted Prince George's County Trails Plan proposes dozens of connections to the WB&A and extensions, most notably extending the trail south along MD-704 all the way to DC's Marvin Gaye Trail and to the Anacostia Tributary Trails via US-50.

Though these routes differ from the ones proposed by WABA in 2015 and fleshed out in 2016, the general idea remains the same, connect the WB&A to Washington, DC and the Anacostia.

Extensions to the WB&A Trail proposed in the PGC trails plan

North to the BWI Trail

Subsequent plans to the original 1990's master plans for the WB&A, South Shore and West County (what the WB&A in Anne Arundel was called at the time it was planned) trails have taken the opportunity to expand and tie into it.

The 1995 West County Trail Master Plan included a sidepath along WB&A Road from the north end of the current trail all the way to the BWI Trail—the loop trail that completely encircles BWI airport. The 2002 Severn Small Area Plan included this same trail, built in four phases. Unfortunately, this trail extension is not included in the county's 2013 Master Plan.

Severn Small Area Plan bicycle and pedestrian map, showing the WB&A trail in red running north-south.

The BWI Connector Trail

In addition to the connection to Washington, the bridge across the Patuxent and the connection to the BWI trail, finally realizing the dream of a Washington to Baltimore bicycle greenway would require one other trail: the BWI Connector (formerly the Light Rail Trail).

This trail would extend the existing Light Rail Trail, which currently runs from the BWI Trail to Maple Avenue in Linthicum Heights, 2.4 miles north to connect it to either Baltimore's Middle Branch or Gwynn Falls Trails. Such a connection was one of the top priority projects in Maryland Trails: A Greener Way To Go, the state's 2009 statewide trail vision.

It was also one of five recommendations for a hiker-biker trail network in the 2003 BWI/Linthicum Small Area Plan and was a public recommendation in the Baltimore region's Maximize2040 surface transportation plan, though it's not mentioned in the plan itself.

A complete Washington-Baltimore Greenway could end up looking something like to this:

Four separate projects, all in different stages of planning and development, would have to come together to make this vision happen. But the small section opened last month in Anne Arundel County brings it slightly closer to fruition.


This new law would mean a better count of DC's vacant buildings

DC probably has a lot more vacant and blighted properties than its official count says, largely because of loophopes in the counting system. A bill before the DC Council is aiming to change that.

Residents proposed ideas for ways a long-vacant property could be put to better use. Photo by Myles Smith.

In February, Elissa Silverman introduced the Vacant Property Enforcement Amendment of 2016 to work in tandem with a similar piece of legislation she introduced in 2015. Both would shift the burden of proof from DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to the property owner, meaning it'd be on the owner to show that a buildint isn't vacant rather than on the city to show that it is.

This change would make building owners much more accountable, as well as strengthen DCRA's ability to enforce existing vacant and blighted properties laws.

First, a quick recap of the current situation

Under current law, properties determined that DCRA's Vacant and Blighted Enforcement Unit determines to be vacant are taxed at elevated tax rates of five percent of assessed value if vacant and 10 percent if the property is found to be blighted.

But the process for classifying a property as vacant or blighted and then maintaining the property's classification is onerous; District law states that the Mayor is the only person in the city who has the authority to list a building as blighted, and there are a number of loopholes in the law that allow negligent owners to avoid elevated tax rates.

A vacant building at 824 Kennedy Street NW. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Every six months, DCRA has to reassess the property and determine that it is still vacant and/or blighted. That means that when a building goes onto the list, chances are high that it will revert to the normal non-vacant, non-blighted tax rate even if the owner does nothing at all.

We estimate that there are as many as 5,000 vacant and blighted properties in the District, a number far too large for the small staff of DCRA's Vacant and Blighted Enforcement Unit to keep a handle on.

Silverman's bills do four things:

It reduces from three years to two years the maximum amount of time a vacant property can qualify for an exemption from higher taxes.

  • Currently, property owners can get exemptions from higher tax rates for up the three years by filing for work permits that cost a fraction of the potential tax penalty. In practice, these exemptions can last much longer than three years, as David Sheon and I have documented in a number of cases. There is no requirement that any actual work be done to earn the exemption.

This vacant building at 5112 9th Street has been vacant for three years, but it regularly falls off the list and its owner doesn't get taxed at a higher level consistently. Neighbors complain of loiterers and drug activity on the property.

It shifts the burden of biannual proof that the building is vacant or blighted from being the responsibility of DCRA inspectors and onto homeowners.

  • As the law stands, DCRA has to inspect every one of the 1300 properties on the list plus any new properties every six months. This bill shifts the burden off of DCRA and onto the owners of vacant properties by making them demonstrate with utility bills that the properties are no longer vacant.
It raises fines for failing to register vacant properties or allow DCRA to inspect them.
  • Accepting a fine is often easier and less expensive than registering a property as vacant. This bill reverses those incentives, making it easier for DCRA to maintain accurate lists with up to date information and to take enforcement actions when necessary.
It provides positive incentives by allowing an owner of a vacant property who follows the law and fills the vacancy within a year to receive a rebate of one year of vacant property taxes.
  • There is currently no mechanism for reimbursing owners of vacant and blighted properties who remediate blight and fill vacancies. This law will provide a strong incentive for owners to move quickly and do the right thing.

A vacant building at 615 Jefferson Street NW. Note the stop work order in the window.

The DC Council will take the next steps in July

The Council has scheduled hearings on the proposed legislation for July 14. Hopefully, we'll see the bill brought up for a vote following the hearings.

While this bill does not address all of the loopholes, it does fix the most obvious flaws. We are pleased to see this development, and urge Council to add the additional amendments needed to address the above listed issues.


Breakfast links: Raising the rent

Photo by Craig Sunter on Flickr.
More rent than income: Incomes for DC residents have gone up 33% over the last 34 years, but that doesn't keep up with a corresponding 86% increase in rent. Rents have increased much more than inflation, and across the US nearly half of renters are considered "cost-burdened." (DCist)

Space > preservation: Alexandria is tearing down its historic Ramsey Homes, and will build 52 mixed-income apartments in their place. Removing all existing homes, versus keeping one for historic preservation, will create more open space for residents. (Post)

SafeTrack solution?: You might be able to take an express bus from Franconia-Springfield to Pentagon during the next SafeTrack surge. The Yellow and Blue Lines will shut down from National Airport to Braddock Road from July 5 -11. (Post)

Make way for drones: Flying drones can't make deliveries in DC because it's a no-fly zone. But starting this fall, DC will allow companies to test sidewalk drones to make deliveries. No other US city has permitted sidewalk drone testing. (Urban Turf)

Blame for the blaze: Monday night's electrical fire at the Gallery Place Metro happened because a loose rail fastener led to electrical arching. Metro has sent the equipment off for lab testing. (WTOP)

I-66 expansion, go: Virginia has the Feds' green light to expand I-66 outside of the Beltway. That means HOV lanes, new commuter lots for ride sharing, high frequency bus service, and express toll lanes by 2020. (WTOP)

Baltimore ships that: Bigger ships can now pass through the Panama Canal, and Baltimore is one of only 3 east coast ports that can handle the biggest among them. That could mean new jobs are on the horizon. (WTOP)

Maryland's fork in the road: With the economy pushing cities to be more dense, Maryland's cities must decide how to best meet the demands of residents young and old. Some will prosper, and it's quite possible some will collapse. (VA Pilot)

Walmart's new use: Nationwide, big box stores are becoming obsolete. But some places are turning the buildings into schools, churches, and office spaces. The 99% Invisible podcase goes in-depth on "ghost boxes." (99% Invisible)

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