Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


How big of a "moat" would the FBI need if it stayed downtown?

The FBI and the General Services Administration (GSA) are searching for a site to house a new consolidated FBI headquarters. Though no sites in DC remain in consideration, there are a few who wonder why they don't just reuse the existing Hoover Building site on Pennsylvania Avenue.


Photo by the author.

One of the strong preferences in the GSA's site location criteria is for a 350 foot "security buffer zone" surrounding the new headquarters building. Though this is apparently not an outright requirement, the GSA and FBI have said that they strongly prefer sites that can offer such a buffer.

The image above shows what such a 350 foot buffer zone would look like around the existing Hoover Building footprint.

As you can see, this would seriously impact buildings on almost every block adjacent to the Hoover Building. It would affect the IRS headquarters, the Justice Department, and especially the historic Ford's Theater. It would also have a minor impact on the Navy Memorial.

From a transportation perspective, it would block E Street, 9th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, all major streets in the DC core.

A version of this post originally appeared in Just Up the Hill.

Transit


A silver lining in the whichWMATA answers

On Monday, we posted our sixteenth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of the five new Silver Line stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 46 guesses on this post, and a whopping 43 of you got all five correct. Great work, everyone!


Image 1: Wiehle-Reston East.

The first image is, of course, a view of the Wiehle station from the mezzanine above the tracks. While it has the same superstructure as Tysons Corner and Greensboro stations, this one is unique for being located in the median of the Dulles Toll Road.


Image 2: Tysons Corner.

The second image shows Tysons Corner station. While it has the same roof design as Greensboro and Wiehle, Tysons is distinctive because it's the only one of those stations that has anything below the platform.


Image 3: Spring Hill.

From this view, the station itself could be either McLean or Spring Hill, since those stations are nearly identical. But the context, including the new residential tower to the left, narrows it down to Spring Hill station.


Image 4: Greensboro.

Image 4 is a picture from the platform at Greensboro. There's not much context in this photo. But since the 3 other Tysons stations are high above the streets, and Wiehle Avenue is in the middle of a freeway, this can only be Greensboro. The entrance structure and the pattern on the wall make it clear that it is one of the Silver Line stations.


Image 5: McLean.

The final image was intended to be a little trickier, but it didn't fool you. There's also not much context in this photo, but the windscreen around the exitfare machine makes it clear this is a Silver Line station. And there's a reflection in the screen of a baseball field, which neighbors McLean station.

Congratulations to the winners!

Next Monday, we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Public Spaces


A greener Eastern Market plaza may be on the way

Where today the parks around the Eastern Market Metro are mostly tired expanses of grass with a few trees, the parks soon could contain an expanded library, formal playground, cafe-style tree bosque and several stormwater management features. The roads and sidewalks around the square could also get a better layout.


The Metro entrance, library entry pavilion, and water feature on the southwest parcel. All images from Esocoff & Associates unless otherwise noted.

The $45 million redesign has gone through years of planning and outreach. The project originally started as a Congressional earmark to Barracks Row Main Street, which funded the Capitol Hill Town Square study in 2008 that considered ways to redesign the intersection, including possibly rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue around a square similar to Stanton or Lincoln parks.

Any changes to Pennsylvania Avenue ran into fierce opposition from immediate neighbors. But the project team continued studying ways to redesign the parks and started a new round of public engagement in 2013, this time assuming Pennsylvania stayed where it is.


The plaza now. Image from Bing Maps.

Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates recently revealed a final design coming out of numerous community meetings and feedback on two concepts from January.

The most dramatic change would be on the southwest parcel with the Metro entrance. A new pavilion would lead to a massive below-ground expansion of the Southeast Library, across the street from the square. A long courtyard and a water feature would connect this pavilion with the Metro.


Staircase for the new pavilion.

The parcel would also get a shaded tree bosque (an urban grove of shade trees similar to the one at New York's Lincoln Center) with a crushed gravel surface, movable furniture, and an open space along the "desire line" path where people most often walk between the Metro station and Barracks Row.


Artist's rendering of the bosque.

A straight pedestrian path along the South Carolina Avenue axis would divide the northeast section, the largest parcel. A fenced-in children's play area and an open lawn would flank it on the each side. The play areas include a landscape with "Anacostia Hills," a "Floodplain," a "Valley," and a "Ridge," and on that landscape, children will find a tree house, water pump, a pair of jungle gyms and a swing set.


The playground and promenade.

The wide median of Pennsylvania Avenue would become a pair of bioswales surrounded by wrought iron fencing. The bioswales will absorb up to 70% of the stormwater runoff from the inside portion of Pennsylvania Avenue during most storms. Meanwhile, the fences prevent pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the block.

The smaller triangular parcels on the southeast and northwest sides would become green space with stormwater management gardens and trees surrounded by an outward facing bench. The southeast parcel would be further expanded by closing D Street in front of the Dunkin' Donuts and adding the land to the park.


Site plan for the smaller triangular parcels.

Around the square, the plan would make changes to street directions and sidewalks to provide better flow and greater pedestrian safety. The segments of D Street along the northeast and southwest edges would reverse to carry traffic away from 8th Street instead of toward it. 8th Street would get a new left turn lane for those turning west onto D Street south of Pennsylvania.

To aid pedestrians, many intersections would get curb bump outs and pedestrian islands. The northbound bus stop on 8th would move south of Pennsylvania, while southbound buses would stop just across the street from that spot, closer to the Metro station.

Building the parks and plazas will cost an estimated $13,500,000, while the expanded and renovated library would cost $22,800,000. With DC management fees, a maintenance endowment and other costs, the project team estimates the whole project would need a budget of a little over $45,000,000.

The team is still accepting comments and will issue a final report in September. Barracks Row Main Street has some money to help pay for development, but from the (somewhat vague) statements from the project team, it appears they would be looking for city funding to help make the project a reality.

Links


Breakfast links: Bye, FBI


Photo by HettieLP on Flickr.
Down to three for the FBI: The GSA narrowed the list of potential FBI sites to three: Greenbelt Metro, the Landover Mall, and Springfield, though Greenbelt still seems most likely. None are in DC; Mayor Gray called that news "kind of a win-win." (WBJ, DCist)

Gun ruling stayed: DC's ban on carrying handguns in public will remain for 90 days, after the District filed to stay a judge's ruling that the ban is unconstitutional. Tommy Wells' office created signs for businesses that don't want guns on their property. (City Paper, Post)

White Oak plan approved: The Montgomery County Council approved the plan for White Oak that clears the way for the "LifeSci Village" town center. The plan also calls for funding BRT on Route 29. (Post)

Silver Line anticipation: While the Silver Line is years away, Loudoun County got a new bus depot near where the Route 606 station will go. A video shows that the Silver Line's opening did not impact rush hour traffic on Monday. (BeyondDC, Post)

Projects that didn't make it: The Silver Line opened after decades of planning, but many other ideas never became reality, like a helicopter from Union Station to Dulles and BWI or a Ponte Vecchio-like bridge on the Southwest Waterfront. (Post)

Ducking debate: Muriel Bowser will not participate in debates until Sept. 18 when she will take part in an American University forum. Ward 4 ANC Commissioner Doug Sloan tried without success to reschedule a debate featuring Bowser. (City Paper)

Benches for Ballston: New benches are coming to Ballston, after the property manager modified planters near the Metro to prevent people from sitting on them. The company said people waiting for the bus were damaging plants. (ArlNow)

And...: Houston will use utility line corridors to create "bicycle interstates." (Streetsblog) ... When brownfield sites are cleaned up, housing values can rise dramatically. (CityLab) ... Michael Brown and Harry Thomas Jr. will end up in the same prison. (City Paper)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Transit


Ask GGW: Why is there a Metro tunnel in Tysons?

Several years ago, as the Silver line was being planned, there was a debate about whether to build the line underground through Tysons Corner. Eventually, the elevated option was selected, but there's still a tunnel. Reader Dennis McGarry wants to know why.


The tunnel portal. Photo by Dan Malouff.
Why is there a short tunnel on the Silver Line with no underground stops? Why not just build the entire track above ground? It seems like such a huge undertaking with little payback.
There are two short tunnels in Tysons (one for each track). They run about 1700 feet between Tysons Corner station and Greensboro station. The reason they exist is to cut through the highest point in Fairfax County, at 520 feet above sea level.

The tracks through Tysons are already high above the streets, and the climb between McLean and Tysons Corner is noticeable, especially from the front of a westbound train. Because trains are limited in the grade they can ascend, crossing this hill with an elevated viaduct would make the stations at Tysons Corner and McLean obscenely high.

In addition to the engineering and aesthetic challenges that a super-high viaduct would have caused, trying to keep the line elevated would have probably been much more expensive. So it was probably cheaper for the contractor to build these short tunnels than it would have been to keep the line elevated over the hill.

As a result, riders at McLean get a soaring view of the Tysons skyline (and in fact, you can see Bethesda, too), but a few minutes later, they find themselves riding underground, ever so briefly.

Pedestrians


Many Silver Line riders have no way to safely reach their offices

Tysons now has four Metro stations, but workers trying to get from those stations to nearby offices often have no choice but to cross wide, high-speed roads without any crosswalks.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

I saw several Tysons Corner workers walking across streets with up to 9 lanes of traffic in order to take the Silver Line this morning, due to the continued lack of crosswalks in Tysons. It's a matter of time before a Silver Line rider is struck by a car in Tysons Corner.

At the Tysons Corner station, the entrance north of Route 123 (the side with most of the offices) is on the west side of Tysons Blvd between 123 and Galleria Drive. There's no legal way to walk east on Galleria Drive, because there are no crosswalks on the south or east side of the intersection of Tysons Blvd and Galleria Drive.


There are no crosswalks from Tysons Corner station for workers walking east along Galleria Drive. Base map from Google Maps.

Many Silver Line riders therefore walked across nine lanes of traffic on Tysons Boulevard.


The south side of Tysons Boulevard and Galleria Drive. Photo by the author.

My company's office is at 7900 Westpark Drive along with dozens of other tech companies. The main topic of conversation around the office this morning was the safest places to jaywalk to get to the Silver Line.

I've endured the lack of crosswalks in Tysons Corner for years as a pedestrian, but assumed that Fairfax County would add crosswalks before the Silver Line began operation. The county needs to create safe pedestrian pathways immediately, rather than waiting until someone gets hurt or killed.

Roads


After a crash, a dangerous Four Corners intersection could become safer

Where Colesville Road (US-29) passes through the Montgomery County neighborhood of Four Corners, it's a six-lane divided highway, but residents need to be able to cross the street on foot to access homes and businesses. Unfortunately, that can be very dangerous, as Greater Greater Washington contributor Joe Fox found out recently.


The crosswalk. All photos by the author.

Fox was crossing the road with his four-year-old daughter. Fox had just picked her up from daycare after a severe thunderstorm knocked out power. With a light rain falling, they approached this crosswalk, which has no traffic signal, to get to the bus stop on the other side of the road.

After waiting for several minutes and seeing no gap in traffic, Joe waved a book in the air to try to catch the attention of passing drivers. As one slowed to a stop, Joe stepped gingerly into the crosswalk, carrying his daughter tightly.

Fox wrote,

A large SUV (a Yukon or Suburban) in the left lane had stopped, and a small SUV following it rear-ended it with enough force that it folded its hood, and pushed the larger SUV more than 50 feet straight ahead."

If I had been crossing either the middle or left lane (I would have, at a normal walking pace after the right lane car stopped, but I waited, seeing what might happen), one or both of us would have sustained very serious injuries.

Because I had my daughter still holding on, I could not cross (again) back to the northbound lanes to see if she (the driver) was okay. I did not see her emerge from her car for the several minutes I was there. All I could do was call the MCPD and ask them to help.

This crosswalk gets frequent pedestrian traffic, as it is the only convenient way to walk between the neighborhoods of Indian Spring and North Hills of Sligo. To reach the closest signalized crossing, someone would have to walk a half mile out of the way.


The area, from Google Maps. The blue dotted line shows the route to cross the street with a detour to the nearest signalized intersection.

The bus stop which Fox was trying to reach is served by six heavily-used bus routes which travel to and from the Silver Spring Metro. The crosswalk also connects residents with community facilities and parks such as the Silver Spring YMCA, Indian Spring Recreation Center, and the popular Sligo Creek Park.

The crosswalk is a few hundred yards south of the Beltway interchange, along a stretch of Colesville Road with 40 mph speed limits. Here is a video of one attempt to cross. Note how drivers in some lanes do not stop even once I am in the roadway.

Making it even more dangerous, the road crests a hill just south of the crosswalk. That means a driver headed north coming over the hill may not see a pedestrian with enough time to stop.

A HAWK signal would make this intersection safer

This would be a good location for a HAWK signal, which stops traffic when a pedestrian asks to cross. This can let pedestrians cross safely without affecting drivers as a regular signal would.

There are pedestrian-activated signals on nearby University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, so there is ample precedent for one on a six-lane highway like Colesville Road.

Those signals are less-efficient "firehouse style" signals. The below video shows one in operation. Notice how a car runs the red light 10 seconds after it turns red, and just before a grandmother and her grandchildren cross the road.

If officials agree to use a HAWK signal here, as activists are requesting, this would be the first on a Maryland state-maintained road.*

Thanks to the efforts of Joe Fox and elected officials he reached out to, this dangerous crosswalk on Colesville Road may get fixed before anyone else is injured. According to local activist Jeffrey Thames, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), which controls this road, is currently studying the idea of a pedestrian-activated signal at this location, and expects to propose a solution within 90 days.

* The original version of this post said that a HAWK would be the first in the state. There is a HAWK on Gude Drive in Rockville, for example, but this is a county road. The State Highway Administration (SHA) has not installed any HAWK signals to date.

Links


Breakfast links: Riders make changes


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.
The Silver Line's weekday debut: Over 24,000 passenger trips began or ended at the five new Silver Line stations on Monday and Wiehle-Reston East was the 12th busiest morning-commute station in the system. But it appears that many of those riders used to ride the Orange Line, with ridership at West Falls Church down 66%. (City Paper, Post)

Plenty of (car) parking: Fears that the Silver Line would cause a parking nightmare appear to be overblown, at least for now. Parking lots at stations didn't fill up, but bike racks did. Many people found bicycle routes to the stations, though Fairfax can do a lot more to make the area better for cycling. (Post, FABB)

Bus change woes: The Fairfax Connector changed nearly 40% of its service on Saturday. 16 new routes were added and others changed to accommodate new Silver Line connections. But many commuters struggled to adapt to the new routes. (Post)

McMillan will get tweaks, not more: The DC Zoning Commission still has a few concerns about the McMillan project, like height of one building and the amount of transit, but won't substantially cut back development as opponents wish. (WBJ)

St. Elizabeths needs direction: Five companies have expressed interest in developing St. Elizabeths East Campus, but it's not the expected, big development firms. Did mixed messages from the city hinder interest in the site? (City Paper)

New bill could help cyclists: A new bill from David Grosso would eliminate contributory negligence for automobile-bicycle crashes, meaning a cyclist could still collect damages even if he or she were a small amount at fault in a crash. (DCist)

Why so few black cyclists?: African-Americans are less likely to bike commute than other groups. This could be because of fears about driver hostility and a view of cycling as a sign of poverty. (Streetsblog)

Breakthrough for bikeshare: New York's REQX Ventures may acquire Alta Bicycle Share and expand Citibike (and raise membership prices). It could also break the logjam blocking expansion in Washington and elsewhere. (WSJ, Streetsblog)

Friendlier fed streets?: The Federal Highway Administration now supports an urban street design that features bike lanes, bus lanes, and narrower travel lanes. Could federal approval of these designs mean more city-friendly streets? (Streetsblog)

And...: Federal hiring is at its lowest level in ten years. (WBJ) ... DC's first food boat started serving boaters and kayakers this weekend. (PoPville) ... For now, the Silver Line makes a trip to Dulles Airport only a little more convenient. (UrbanTurf)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Bicycling


Who needs Metro? Not (as often) Capital Bikeshare users in central neighborhoods

Regular riders of Capital Bikeshare have cut down on their use of rail and bus transit, a new study shows. This is particularly strong for those in neighborhoods a short bike ride from downtown DC.


CaBi's effect on Metrorail ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

In these maps, each circle represents one zip code in which researchers Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen surveyed CaBi users. The number shows how many responses they got in that zip code. Red is the percentage of those people who used that mode of transit less (rail for the map above, bus below). Green is for those who used it more, while yellow is those who didn't change.


CaBi's effect on Metrobus ridership. Images from the study. Click to see the full image.

It's not only transit which riders are using less. CaBi users also have cut down on car trips and probably even replaced some walk trips with bikeshare.

This isn't necessarily bad for transit. The places where this effect are strongest also happen to be the places where transit is most congested. On the busy Metro lines at rush hour, the trains are full into downtown DC; it's just as well if fewer people are hopping onto an already-packed train at, say, Foggy Bottom.

And many of the people who ride Bikeshare still use transit some of the time. They might still ride it in bad weather, but at other times avoid it at its most congested, or at times of poor service, like the very long waits on weekends during track work.

One potential danger, though, is that if there is lower demand for service on weekends (thanks to a bicycle alternative), that could make it less likely local jurisdictions want to pay for more frequent transit service at off times, even though not everyone can substitute a bikeshare trip for a transit trip.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis (which has much less rail transit), the study found that many people increased their usage of rail, perhaps because the bikeshare system helps them access transit much more easily.

Eric Jaffe writes in Citylab,

Overall, the maps suggest that bike-share, at least in Minneapolis and Washington, is making the entire multimodal transit network more efficient. For short trips in dense settings, bike-share just makes more sense than waiting for the subwayit's "substitutive of public transit," in the words of Martin and Shaheen. For longer trips from the outskirts, bike-share access might act as a nudge out of a carit's "complementary to public transit."

Honestly, once I started bicycling (first with Capital Bikeshare, and then more and more with my own bike) I personally cut down significantly on using transit. But I live in a downtown-adjacent area where it's a fast bike ride to many destinations; for others, that's not the case, and transit is best for their trips. I also still ride transit some of the time.

Some people in the survey also increased their use of transit. The more transportation options people have, the more they can choose the one that best matches their needs. The road network is already quite comprehensive (though often crowded). We need to offer everyone high-quality transit and bicycling as alternatives so that they can use each when it's the best choice at that time.

Transit


How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 16

It's time for the sixteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

Don't be discouraged if you find it a little hard at first. Reflect on your answers, and I'm sure you'll hit a home run.

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

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