Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Aimee Custis

Aimee Custis is a policy wonk by training and a communicator by profession. She is the managing editor of Greater Greater Washington and the Communications Manager at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Weekends, you'll find her at home in Dupont Circle or practicing her other love, wedding photography

Summer sunsets 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.


National Cathedral. Photo by ep_jhu.



U Street. Photo by Clif Burns.


Rosslyn from the Memorial Bridge. Photo by Joe Flood.


14th St. NW. Photo by Clif Burns.


Dupont Circle. Photo by Miki J.

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! If you haven't checked us out yet, Greater Greater Washington is now on Instagram, so give us a follow!

Prince George's is getting a major new medical center. Will it make it easier to walk around?

Preliminary site plans for an upcoming regional medical center at Largo Town Center Metro station could do more to encourage people to walk around the new complex. Missing key elements of a more pedestrian-friendly design could suppress the site's potential as a new walkable downtown and for Prince George's County.


A mockup of the new medical center. Rendering from Dimensions Healthcare Systems.

Prince George's leaders and residents have high hopes for the new $655 million, 231-bed regional medical center, which continues through its approval process at the Prince George's Planning Board later this month. Officials have called the complex a game changer for Prince George's because it could spark a walkable new downtown for the county at the Largo Town Center Metro station.

With a projected 2,000 workers coming to the site daily, a well-designed new hospital could spur economic development around the Largo Town Center Metro station and create a new walkable downtown area and economic engine for Prince George's.

But preliminary site plan drawings show a wide, high speed road separating the hospital from a redeveloped Boulevard at Capital Centre. The overdesigned road creates a barrier to an inviting, mixed-use, walkable environment.


Image by the author.

A more appropriate street design for transit-oriented development would offer a moderately scaled street that knits the area together. This new road, along with all the new streets, could be designed to allow not only vehicle access, but also help people to walk comfortably, and cross the street to patronize nearby businesses, or walk to and from Metro.

If the hospital is an isolated enclave, it will do little to catalyze economic development in the area and miss the opportunity to use the site's great transit access and mixed use environment.

Friday is Bike to Work Day. Here's where to find a pit stop

Friday is the DC region's 15th annual Bike to Work Day. It's a great opportunity to build a few extra minutes into your commute to stop at one of the nearly-80 commuting "pit stops" on your way to work.


BtWD 2015 pit stops. Click for interactive map.

The pit stops offer refreshments, raffles, and free t-shirts to those who register. Each pit stop has something a little different: elected officials and entertainment will be at some, and some will be open in the afternoon for your commute home.

Bike to Work Day also encompasses commuter convoys, biking buddies, and other resources for first-time riders.

Last year's Bike to Work Day in our region attracted over 14,000 participants. Will you be joining this year? If so, don't forget to snap a photo or two and add them to our Flickr pool.

Topic of the week: Silver Line delays

This week, we learned that Phase II of the Silver Line is now 13 months behind schedule. We asked our contributors what they thought about this, a major delay to the region's largest transit expansion. What's the deal?


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Adam Lind pointed out this delay is likely for the best, long-term:

From what I understand, the 13 months of delay are for all the additional stormwater management that they are volunteering to do, to meet regulations under the new stormwater requirements. While this may cause delay in the short term, it is probably better for the long term impact of the project to the environment.

Matt Johnson drew some connections between the Silver Line delay and infrastruture building as a whole:

Everybody wants something out of the planning process. We all want different things, though. For decades, basically, motorists said, "we want wider roads", and by and large they got it. But now, things have changed. People want other things, too. We want bike lanes. And bus lanes. And transit funding. And sidewalks. And streetscape improvements.

And that's all great. But the environmental community also wants things. One of those things is on-site stormwater retention. Much of this is due to the extreme width of our roads because of decades of widenings to accommodate ever more motor vehicles.

And so when someone says, "we need a new bike lane," the environmental community says, rightly, "that increases the impervious surface. We need to deal with that." But if we insist that it be dealt with on-site, it often means wider roads with wide medians or wide swales that make the road feel wider, which causes drivers to go faster. And makes pedestrians feel smaller, especially when having to cross these roadways. And bus stops have a swale between them and the sidewalk.

Everyone wants a share of the pie. But if the size of the pie is fixed, that means that we have to fight over how large everyone's slice is. The bikes want a slice of the pie. And so do transit users. And pedestrians want a slice of the pie, too. And the environmentalists want a slice. And motorists want six slices.

We have to deal with the environmental consequences of our transportation decisions. Virginia has decided to do that with their new regulations. And it is affecting this project. Maybe you think that's the wrong approach. Maybe you think the environmental community's slice is getting too big at the expense of the Silver Line. But that's irrelevant. Virginia has decided, and it affects the project. Decisions have consequences.

However, MWAA has clearly known about this for months. Why is the public only finding out about it now?

Edward Russell isn't very surprised about the delay, though he agrees that,
...it would have been nice if MWAA had notified the public sooner to the possibility of a delay. I always considered the 2018 opening date a bit ambitious but hoped it would happen.

Compared to the delays we've see with the DC Streetcar and what they see in New York (the LIRR East Side Access project is about a decade behind schedule), I think the Silver Line delay is minimal.

Dan Malouff also agrees:
This sucks, but it happens with complex projects sometimes. It's a sign that officials need to pay attention and make sure things move as smoothly as possible from here out, but it's not necessarily a sign that we need to panic or that there's anything seriously wrong with the project overall.
Payton Chung chimed in to express the thoughts of several contributors:
I always take opening dates on large infrastructure projects with a grain of salt—consider the numerous delays to the original Silver Line, for instance. It eventually happened, of course, and it's doing great.

What might be happening here is that the perfect is becoming the enemy of the good—a relatively straightforward project is seeing its scope balloon to encompass a bunch of other worthy but perhaps unrelated goals, like stormwater management. This scope expansion partially explains why American transit projects cost so much more than those elsewhere.

It's sad that we have come to expect that transit construction projects in America will always be behind schedule and over budget, but that's just the way things are these days.

What do you think about the delays? Par for the course, or reason for concern? Tell us in the comments!

Alexandria has identified locations for its next 16 bikeshare stations

The City of Alexandria might not follow through on plans to add 16 new Capital Bikeshare stations throughout the city this year. But if it does, city staff have identified the general areas the new stations are likely to go.


Capital Bikeshare stations overlaid on crowdsourced demand map (Click to enlarge). Map by the author from City of Alexandria data.

City staff presented the expansion information at the Alexandria's transportation commission's December. (The overlay map above reflects a slightly updated set of locations I received after reaching out to the city this week.)

The locations are based on the city's public crowdsourcing maps, connectivity to transit, proximity to mixed-use activity centers, and whether the location was within .25 mile of an existing station.

Technical considerations like direct sunlight to power the stations, adequate space, flat ground, and utility clearances will be important in choosing the exact site for each station.

The new stations would be primarily to the east, in Old Town, Del Ray, Potomac Yard, and surrounding areas. But three new stations would add to the cluster in Fairlington, and Eisenhower East will recieve a new station as well. Though there's definitely a demand for stations in West End, activity centers, density, and a lack of nearby stations could make it harder for stations in those areas to be successful.

What else do you notice about the locations?

Map: When and where Metrorail fares come from

Data fans, rejoice. Now you can see for yourself which Metro stations generate the most farebox revenue when, thanks to a new interactive data visualization released today by PlanItMetro.


Map by PlanItMetro. Click for interactive version.

As you'd expect for a system that serves as many commuters as Metrorail, terminal stations dominate in terms of revenue contribution in the morning, and core stations dominate during evening rush.

Union Station functions as an internal terminal station, since commuter rail and Amtrak connections to Metro are extremely important to the overall ridership and revenue picture.

What other patterns do you notice?

Events roundup: Get up and go!

Get outside and grab some exercise with these great events, or if you're feeling a little less active, mark your calendar for Metrobus meetings. Still too much for you? Take an online survey to give your feedback!


Image by the author.

New modes in New Carrollton: New Carrollton as a vibrant, multimodal hub? New Purple Line connections, pedestrian and bike-friendly development, and state of the art planning are all in the works to make that a reality. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tour to get your learning and exercise out of the way for the weekend.

After the jump: Bicycle counts, bike to work, the future of Columbia Pike, Metrobus meetings, and more...

Talk water with the White House: Early risers, join Samantha Medlock of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and other experts over breakfast to talk about the future of water infrastructure policy in the US. The breakfast is hosted by the American Planning Association. Breakfast is free, as long as you register.

Metrobus meetings and survey: WMATA and DDOT are studying how to improve service on the 60, 62, 63, and 64 bus lines, which are some of DC's most heavily-used routes. They are seeking public input via an online survey and public meetings on Wednesday, April 15 (5:30-7:30 pm at Petworth Library) and Saturday, April 18 (12:30-2:30 pm at Takoma Community Center). The study will wrap up in late 2015.

What is "Tactical Urbanism"? There's still time to sign up for our free book talk with Tactical Urbanism co-author Mike Lydon at 6:30 pm on April 21 in Brookland. We're co-sponsoring the talk with Coalition for Smarter Growth, CNU-DC, and Island Press, so be sure to mark your calendar and snag a space before they're all gone!

Future of Columbia Pike: With the cancellation of the Columbia Pike Streetcar, what's next for the corridor? Listen to and ask questions of a panel of community leaders about the future of Columbia Pike on April 30 starting at 6:00pm. The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization is hosting the event at the Salsa Room on Columbia Pike. Space is limited, so be sure to get the full details and RSVP.

Bicycle counts: How many cyclists ride in Alexandria? Advocates count just that 2-3 times per year, and this time, they're looking for volunteers to help! The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) is conducting counts on Thursday, May 7 (5-7 pm) and Saturday, May 9 (12-2 pm). If you can help, be sure to sign up for an assignment!

Bike to Work Day: On Friday, May 15, join over 10,000 area commuters for this year's Bike to Work Day. Be sure to register (it's free) to get your free t-shirt. 79 pit stops throughout DC, Maryland, and Virginia will host refreshments and raffles.

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

Ask GGW: Unusual items on Metro

People carry a lot of weird stuff on Metro. We asked our contributors what they've seen, and what Metro's rules are for carrying unusual items.


Photo by chricycle on Flickr.

We started in on the topic when contributor Ned Russell asked what the policy for skis on Metro is during our discussion on best projects from other places, adding, "I contemplated taking them on for a flight to Colorado earlier this winter but ended up just getting a ride."

Fellow contributor Nick Keenan had the answer:

You can bring your skis, your surfboard, your washing machine—if it fits it rides.

But the answer isn't quite that simple. Gray Kimbrough pointed out that in response to video footage of a mattress on Metro, last year, WMATA issued clarifying policy language:

Patrons may carry ordinary hand baggage and instrument cases, tool cases, folding baby carriages, wheelchairs, bundles, or packages which can be handled without inconvenience to other patrons. Such articles must not be permitted to remain in a position where they will interfere with entrance or exit, free use of the aisle, or the proper and safe operation of the vehicle. Patrons must remain with their possessions at all times. Unattended articles may be confiscated and/or destroyed for safety and security reasons.
Naturally, we devolved in a discussion of the craziest things you've ever seen on Metro.

David Cranor and Nick Keenan point us back to a washing machine, though whether or not it's Metro is up for debate.

Julie Lawson confesses, "I've taken my surfboard on Metro during rush hour. I also, a looooong time ago, took a life-size inflated emperor penguin on during evening rush. It sat on my lap. Not nearly as large as a washing machine but possibly more ridiculous-looking."

Home appliances... but no bikes?

"Metro has stringent regulations on bicycles but none on other large and bulky items," says Nick Keenan. "Your bicycle, even if it's in a cardboard shipping container, is restricted. Boxes of bicycle parts, on the other hand, are no problem."

Steve Seelig points out that this is a "huge gap in Metro policy with the rush hour bike ban. Seriously, I would ditch my car if I could use the system [with my bike] during rush hour. Rumor has it Metro is having ridership issues, and I recall last year one of their spokespeople mentioned they are trying to lure more cyclists onto the system. But he just meant the people, not the bikes."

What's the craziest thing you've ever seen on Metro? Tell us in the comments!

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Events roundup: More than just sunshine

As the weather is warming up, there's plenty more to do around the region than soak up the sun at a sidewalk cafe. (Though, you should do that too.) Mark your calendar for great activities around the region this week and beyond.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Affordability with APA: Talk affordable housing for Montgomery County Tuesday 4/7 (tomorrow) at 5:30 pm with Praj Kasbekar of the Montgomery Housing Partnership. The event is part of the American Planning Association's "Tuesdays at APA" series at 1030 15th St NW.

After the jump: Tactical Urbanism, federal transportation policy, and more.

Tactical Urbanism: Spaces are filling up fast for our free book talk with Tactical Urbanism co-author Mike Lydon at 6:30 pm on April 21 in Brookland. We're co-sponsoring the talk with Coalition for Smarter Growth, CNU-DC, and Island Press, so be sure to mark your calendar and snag a space before they're all gone!

Federal transportation reauthorization: Talk about the upcoming reauthorization of the federal MAP-21 transportation program over wine and cheese at the American Public Transportation Association's Transportation Tuesday series, Tuesday 4/7 (tomorrow) at 5:00 pm. Hear from keynote guest Governor Jim Gilmore, President & CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (FCF). RSVP requested to cowens@apta.com.

Potomac Yard Metro: Alexandrians awaiting the infill Potomac Yard Metro station can rejoice: the next step is here! Last week, officials released the draft environmental impact statement for four alternative locations being considered. Public comment on the alternatives is open through May 18, so why not weigh in Wednesday, April 8 at 6:30 pm at the latest public meeting?

Purple Line in the legislature: At this month's ACT meeting on April 14, join Maryland Delegate David Moon (District 20) for a briefing on the latest about the Purple Line as this year's Maryland legislative session comes to an end. ACT meetings are the second Tuesday of the month at the Silver Spring Civic Center, beginning at 7:30 pm.

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

Local support is waning for building the Bi-County Parkway

A letter sent earlier this week is reviving the debate over whether Northern Virginia should build the ten-mile, four-lane Bi-County Parkway.


Photo by Yuya Sekiguchi on Flickr.

The Bi-County Parkway is the latest incarnation of what some have called an "Outer Beltway," which highway boosters have been pushing for decades. The proposed north-south highway comes with a $440 million price tag to link Loudoun and Prince William counties west of Dulles Airport.

Delegate Tim Hugo, who represents Virginia's 40th district where the project would largely be built, asked the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to clarify its position on the long-studied highway.

In response, VDOT officials dispatched a letter saying that for the time being, VDOT has suspended negotiations seeking National Park Service approval of the highway route through the Manassas National Battlefield Park, and that it has put a hold on completing the necessary environmental studies to move forward with the project.

"VDOT is not actively working on the project including pursuing the Programmatic Agreement or the environmental approvals from the Federal Highway Administration," the letter said.

Local support for the highway is waning

In response to the letter, Delegate Hugo and several other state and local elected officials gathered yesterday to announce it's time to kill the project for good, demonstrating the growing opposition to the project from elected officials and their constituents.

Smart growth advocates, who oppose the highway, say that if built, the north-south route wouldn't solve northern Virginia's mainly east-west traffic problems.

But the highway would open over 100,000 acres of the Rural Crescent in Prince William County and of the Transition Area in Loudoun County to sprawl-style development, which would hurt the environment and put additional stress on already overburdened east-west roads like I-66 and Route 50 as commuters travel to jobs.

Next week, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will introduce a resolution to remove the project from the county's comprehensive plan.

"This road, as we know it, is dead, or on life-support. And what we are saying is kill it totally, to remove the cloud that is hanging over all these constituents out here, all these citizens, homes, and churches," said Hugo. "The letter says they are not pursuing the programmatic agreement [with the National Park Service]. There is no way you build this road if they are not going to do it."

VDOT is keeping the project alive

While not pursuing an agreement with the National Park Service or completing the environmental studies at this time, the McAuliffe administration intends to evaluate the Bi-County Parkway through the project rating system outlined in legislation passed by last year's General Assembly, known as HB2.

The legislation requires that major transportation projects in the state be scored under a range of factors, to help determine which projects move forward. Those criteria are being developed, but are likely to be ready in June.

Smart growth advocates are working to offer input to those criteria, and are optimistic that the Bi-County Parkway will not score well in terms of congestion reduction, cost-effectiveness, or environmental impact. They are urging the Governor to simply cancel the project and direct transportation funds to the I-66 corridor, regional transit, and local road needs.

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