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

Help us rebrand and relaunch our website with a short survey

Yesterday, we were so excited to share the big news that Greater Greater Washington is growing. We're also (thanks in part to our new resources) starting on a site redesign. Can you help us by taking a very short survey?

Redesign image from Shutterstock.

The last time the site got a major facelift was 2009, and it's high time we got another one. This project will take several months, and we'll be sharing our progress and asking for your feedback at many points along the way.

To kick things off, we're starting by thinking about our brand and logo, a first step to redesigning the site. We hope you will take the survey below. Thanks so much!

A development on Florida Avenue would add affordable housing, but the DC Council is stalling

Around Florida Avenue and 9th Street are large superblocks of mostly-vacant land. Current plans to redevelop one long-debated parcel would bring activity to the area, a grocery store, and substantial new affordable housing—but only if DC Council moves on the project.

Rendering of 965 Florida Ave. NW by MRP Realty.

The project, led by MRP Residential in partnership with The JBG Companies, will include 352 apartments including 106 affordable units, anchored by a ground-floor Whole Foods.

The affordable housing will meet the requirements of a new law passed this spring to increase the city's affordable housing supply. Under the law, when the District sells off public land for new housing development, 30% of that housing must be affordable to "deeply affordable" levels. This is especially important here, since the site is so close to a Metro station and major bus lines.

Accordingly, 106 of the project's 352 apartments (30%) will be permanently affordable for households earning below 50% of the area median income (AMI) and 30% AMI. For example, a two bedroom apartment affordable to a family earning 30% AMI would rent for $722 rather than the market price of more than $3,000.

The project is also slated to incorporate support for a number of job training and local business assistance programs. These will include a Community Grants Program to support local non-profit organizations provide employment training and skill development for DC residents, as well as a Local Retailers Assistance program to provide rent subsidies for nearby small businesses.

The surrounding area. Image from Google Maps.

Community members support the project, but it hasn't moved forward

The DC Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) reached an agreement to sell the land to developers MRP and Ellis Development in 2013, but it was then modified to comply with the new law requiring substantially more affordable housing at deeper levels of affordability.

Despite agreement on the revised plan between the development team and the mayor, the DC Council hasn't yet approved the deal. According to the Washington Business Journal, if they don't move soon, Whole Foods could pull out of the project.

On Thursday night, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, where the project is located, passed a resolution encouraging the council to move the project forward. "965 Florida is critical to continuing the growth in our neighborhood, and meeting the expectations of our neighbors, numerous civic and neighborhood associations, two Mayoral Administrations and their agency offices, and the current and previous Ward-1 Council members," said Commissioner Robb Hudson, who chaired the evening's meeting.

Councilmember Brianne Nadeau has introduced an emergency resolution aimed at pushing the project ahead. The bill, which is expected to come up for a vote at the DC Council on Tuesday, would both declare the land surplus and approve of its sale.

Bills to declare the parcel surplus and approve the sale to MRP and Ellis Development have been before the Council's Committee of the Whole since May, but haven't been brought up for vote. If the emergency legislation passes Tuesday, the development team's next step will be to take their plans through the review process at the DC Zoning Commission.

Paying for more affordable housing is the sticking point

The sticking point for Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Mary Cheh (ward 3) may be the proposed sale price of $1.4 million, given that DC government appraisal has valued the property at $27 million.

Despite the District frequently selling DC land for a nominal price in exchange for public benefits, this proposal seems to have caught the attention of some decision makers. As Rebecca Cooper reported, at a hearing in June, Cheh said, "[It] seems so paltry, compared to the other valuations. I'm trying to find out that the District [is] getting proper value for this property."

But DC is getting more value than just $1.4 million; it's getting substantial affordable housing which it would otherwise pay money for. According to Matt Robinson of MRP Realty, the sale price was reduced thanks to the increased affordable housing components earlier this spring, when Council passed the new law mandating 30% of public land deal projects be deeply affordable. That requirement increased the number of affordable units from 65 to the current 106, and made them even more affordable.

Regardless, given the community's strong support of the project, and the urgent need for additional affordable housing stock close to Metro, advocates say the Council should move the project forward.

"Political battles should not be fought over this well-discussed and well-settled development," said ANC Commissioner Hudson. "It's costs are real, but 965 Florida Ave should not fail just because some on the Council are not comfortable with the unintended consequences of last year's affordable housing legislation—namely moving the price of affordable housing from essentially a line item in the budget and into the land valuation of public parcels up for development—we all must pay for it somewhere."

In advance of Tuesday's expected vote, the Coalition for Smarter Growth is hosting an email-writing campaign to the Council in support of the project.

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, 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

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 Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

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