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

Posts by David Alpert

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

History


Was your neighborhood "obsolete" in 1950?

The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.


"Problem areas" and "obsolete characteristics" according to NCPPC, 1950.

That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.

What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.

There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:

Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:

Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.

They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).

Many of these decisions were efforts to segregate

It's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District when the 1958 zoning code was written. Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods.

That's just one reason to be pleased that last January, DC's Zoning Commission adopted a new zoning code that will take effect on September 6th, doing away with the code that came from this era.

This post originally ran in 2012, but since the history hasn't changed and the new zoning code goes into effect soon, we wanted to share it again!

Fun


There's a word for that

On a recent post about short bike lanes near intersections, a discussion started up about whether we should use a technical term or simpler ones. To help you learn some transportation lingo, here are some recently-discovered, never-published verses to the Barenaked Ladies' children's song, A Word for That. Listen below first, then read along:

There's a word for that
But I can't quite recall
When cars wait at a corner and I go around them all
The word for that
Some drivers are annoyed
But others say it's safe and isn't something to avoid

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(The word you are looking for is "filtering.")

There's a word for that
It sure is aggravating
To not remember what's the term for how long I am waiting
The word for that
In sun or snow or rain
How far apart arrivals are for any bus or train

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Do you mean "headways"?)

There's a word for that
It's different every day
Sometimes I walk or ride a bus or go another way
The word for that
When traffic engineers
Ensure the road is safe no matter what your type of gears

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Are you nuts, it's "multimodal.")

History


The Red Line could have had amazing views over Rock Creek

Between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park, the Metro Red Line runs in a very deep tunnel to get under Rock Creek. But early plans would have put it inside the bridge that carries Connecticut Avenue across the ravine.


Drawing by Weese & Associates.

The blog Architect of the Capital chronicles the history of many battles between WMATA and the National Park Service. NPS vetoed a track through the structure of Connecticut Avenue's Taft Bridge and another, later plan to actually use the bridge for a station:

A station would not have been a very good idea, as much of the half mile "walkshed" would have been wasted on parts of Rock Creek instead of maximizing the number of residents, businesses, and other destinations near the station.

As Zachary Schrag explains in The Great Society Subway, WMATA ended up using a deep tunnel to get under Rock Creek; that is the reason the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park stations are so deep.

Transit


Ending Metro's late-night service is a bad deal for DC and the region

Since 2007, Metro has stayed open until 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays, and midnight on Sundays. This important service helps workers at late-night businesses return home, brings tax revenue to the District and jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia, and keeps people out of cars who aren't in a condition to drive.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Many peer public-transit systems operate late hours or even 24/7 service. But Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld wants to close Metro at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and 10 pm on Sundays. That is not in the best interest of the District and our region.

Late-night service has been a boon to the District and other jurisdictions in the region. The District's restaurant and bar employment grew by 24,300 jobs between January 2000 and this July (from 27,900 to 52,200), and its annual tax revenue from restaurant and alcohol sales has grown by $261 million between fiscal 2000 and fiscal 2015 (from $176 million per year to $437 million per year), according to calculations by the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District.

The proposed cuts could reduce employment in the District by 2,000 to 4,000 jobs and reduce sales tax revenue by $8 million to $12 million per year. There would be a similar effect in Silver Spring, Bethesda, North Bethesda, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, Crystal City and Alexandria.

Continue reading our column in the Washington Post.

Transit


"Ludicrous" ruling could delay or scuttle the Purple Line

Just four days before Maryland was set to sign a key agreement to build the Purple Line, a federal judge blocked the project, saying declining Metro ridership requires re-studying all of the projections for the light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton (which will not be built or operated by WMATA).


This would destroy the environment, right? Image from the State of Maryland. (Governor Hogan has cut the grass tracks and many trees from the plan to save money, in an ironic turn for Purple Line opponents who supported him.)

The decision, from US District Court judge Richard Leon, says that the federal government "arbitrarily and capriciously" violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by deeming it unnecessary to do another, supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Saving the environment, or protecting an exclusive enclave?

The EIS is the way federal law ensures that public works don't harm the environment, or at the very least, that the government analyze their environmental effect. It's an important way to be sure the environment isn't ignored (and that low-income areas don't bear all the brunt of environmental harm), but it's been widely misused as a way for wealthy communities with lots of legal resources to block projects.

Nobody seriously believes that saving the environment is the goal of the wealthy plaintiffs, most of whom are from the Town of Chevy Chase and who have been fighting the project in the courts and in the political sphere for many years. The Purple Line will run along the edge of the town, in an old railroad right-of-way that is now the unpaved Georgetown Branch Trail and will be part of a forthcoming Capital Crescent Trail extension.

The trail will remain, next to the Purple Line, but in a less forested setting. It will, however, finally connect to Silver Spring, making it usable for far more Montgomery County residents than today. That's not a boon to the few wealthy homeowners who have monopolized this transportation-dedicated land for their own semi-private use.

They have, however, repeatedly cast about for environmental excuses to block the project. For a while, that was the Hays Spring Amphipod, an endangered species of tiny, sightless crustacean found only in Rock Creek in the District. Chevy Chase opponents paid a researcher to try to find evidence of the amphipod near the Purple Line's proposed route in hopes that would stymie the line, but to no avail.

Now, they seem to have hit on an argument that worked at least with one judge: that Metro's woes mean the Purple Line, which will connect four branches of the Metro, won't get as many riders. The EIS uses ridership projections to justify the line, including why it should be light rail as opposed to the "bus rapid transit" that Town of Chevy Chase opponents have pushed for (since a bus wouldn't go through their town). About a quarter of the Purple Line's riders are expected to transfer to or from Metro.


Image by Peter Dovak and David Alpert.

Metro is suffering. That doesn't make the Purple Line a bad idea.

Metro ridership has been declining for the last few years thanks in large part to the system's maintenance, safety, and reliability problems. This, the Purple Line opponents argue, calls into question the calculations in the EIS. Leon bought that argument.

The federal government said that Metro ridership isn't sufficiently connected to the Purple Line. Metro won't operate the Purple Line and it uses different technology (light rail versus heavy rail), so there's no reason to believe the Purple Line would have similar maintenance problems. But Leon said Metro's dropping ridership still counts as a "substantial change[] in the proposed action that [is] relevant to environmental concerns" and that dismissing the issue is "arbitrary and capricious" on the agency's part.

This is, as AU Law professor Tony Varona put it, "absurd." Once could as easily, and perhaps more credibly, argue that Metro's struggles will get more people riding the Purple Line as an alternative to Metrorail.

Regardless, the judge is impermissibly substituting his own judgment for experts' when he decided that Metro missteps create a "substantial change." Ben Ross said, "Metro's current problems will have absolutely no impact on a forecast of 2040 ridership made by FTA-approved models. FTA regulations require that the models must be based on COG demographics and the transportation network in the [Constrained Long-Range Plan]." The FTA also argued that Metro should have its problems under control by 2022, and even if the judge thinks otherwise from what he hears at cocktail parties and in the media, that's not a basis for a legal decision.

Finally, even if ridership will drop, the Purple Line will not harm the environment. Quite the contrary, it will move many people from cars to a more efficient, lower-polluting mode of travel, and likely reduce congestion as well. There's no serious argument that this ridership change could harm the environment, and protecting the environment is the purpose of NEPA.

Transit gets held to an unreasonable standard

Sadly, too often, road projects sail through NEPA while transit has to repeatedly justify its value. Some of this is because people used to believe new road projects relieved traffic, and people driving faster pollute less. This is false; instead, new highway capacity induces some driving demand, increasing the total amount of driving and thus pollution.

That hasn't stopped people from (mis)using NEPA and other laws, like California's even tougher CEQA, to block anything that inconveniences drivers. In San Francisco, a judge held up the city's bike plan for four years because bike foes argued that lanes would add to traffic and thus pollution; they similarly tried to stop the city from charging at parking meters on Sundays under a similar chain of reasoning.

Maryland will appeal the ruling, and hopefully the DC Circuit will quickly reverse Judge Leon's ridiculous ruling. The delay will surely cost money; if it's enough to derail the line is yet to be seen, though certainly what the plaintiffs hope.

If the appeals court doesn't smack Leon down rapidly, it seems someone could sue in DC District Court to overturn every single EIS for a road anywhere. After all, it's not just Metro whose ridership projections have fallen; the government has over-estimated the amount of driving nationwide for at least a decade.


Image from Transportation For America.

While flat VMT does counsel against adding or widening highways, it wouldn't mean Leon ought to block every road on this basis. It'd be interesting to see what he'd do if someone tried, though.

Transit


For Metro's plans to cut late-night service, big questions remain unanswered

If you were waiting for a big debate over eliminating late-night Metro service at Thursday's WMATA Board meeting, you'd be disappointed. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld presented the same information he'd announced publicly, the board asked no questions, and that was it.

Officials definitely heard from riders loud and clear, however. Riders have sent over 2,400 emails through our petition to Wiedefeld, Chairman Jack Evans, and the board. You can still contact them using this form or just sign up for updates as this issue progresses here.

This wasn't the meeting to really debate the (very bad) proposal. That would come later. Before any proposal would take effect, as I understand it, several things would have to happen:

  • Paul Wiedefeld would more formally propose the change as a board agenda item.
  • A board committee (presumably the Customer Service and Operations Committee) would discuss the issue further. This is where board members would hopefully ask the tough questions.
  • The committee would send it to the full board, which would also discuss it.
  • The board would have to vote to start the formal public hearing process.
  • Metro would organize public hearings around the region.
  • Separately, Metro would have to do a Title VI analysis to be sure the change doesn't unduly burden lower-income riders. That's far from a foregone conclusion—Boston's MBTA is facing federal scrutiny for not doing this analysis before cutting its late-night service.
  • The board could then vote to cut the late-night service, if it chose.
One major hurdle: DC could veto this (as early as the first board vote). Under Metro's compact, at least one vote must come from each of DC, Maryland, and Virginia for any proposal to pass. Both of DC's voting members, Jack Evans and Corbett Price, have publicly stated their opposition. Unless one of them changes his mind, the cuts can't happen.

(Meanwhile, Maryland rep Michael Goldman has said he's for it. Goldman is also the same guy who refused to put money in a fund for retirement benefits, refused to pay Maryland's share of the 5A bus to Dulles, and opposed using new 7000 series cars to make more 8-car trains.)

Here are the questions that need to be asked

The public needs and deserves much more information so we can weigh in before board members start debating this. It's too bad some of the members didn't take the opportunity of Thursday's meeting to ask, but riders can, we can (and will), and board members will have more chances later.

There are three major questions right now:

  1. Why is closing the ENTIRE system necessary, as opposed to targeted closures? What are the other options here? Could Metro close one line, or one segment, early on each weekend (or, heck, close it all weekend) for repairs? Metro workers won't be on every bit of track at once, right? So why does this have to be a blanket thing?
  2. What would be the best alternative? Let's say Metro persuades us that ending late-night service is necessary. How can Metro still provide a way for workers and entertainment patrons to get home safely and affordably, without using rail? A robust night owl bus network whose routes mimic the rail routes as much as possible? Or what about companies that are trying to offer more flexible, on-demand shared van transit especially for low-ridership scenarios?

    Wiedefeld said he's not secretly doing this to cut costs. But it's true that running Metrorail late is expensive. With all or even just some of that money, what's the best way to get people where they need to go?

  3. What about big events? Also, though, late night service is not always low-ridership. When there are sports contests, major concerts, and other big events on weekends, huge mobs enter the system at places like Navy Yard or Gallery Place at once. Rail can handle this; buses can't. Will event organizers pay to extend service? Would Metro even allow them to, if closing the whole system every weekend is supposedly necessary for maintenance?
I, at least, don't want to ever say "no way, I won't hear it" from Metro about anything. But neither is "we need to, just because, and no we don't have an alternative plan" sufficient. I hope before moving forward with any proposal, Metro officials will thoroughly and publicly study other scenarios for closing less, and alternatives that still achieve transit's purpose if closing early really is necessary.

We'll be doing more actions on this issue as it progresses. If you want to stay up to date on that so you can speak up at the right time, fill out the form below.

History


An 1886 plan would have built atop Rock Creek

An 1886 Washington Post article outlines a plan to put Rock Creek in a tunnel from about M Street to just north of R Street, fill in the ravine, and create city blocks between Georgetown and Dupont.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Proponents estimated it would create 50 "squares" (generally city blocks) of space, for a cost of about $600,000 to $650,000, or about $15-16 million in today's dollars.

By keeping Rock Creek, DC has not only a surface waterway but a number of park spaces on the banks, such as Rose Park. Unfortunately, a different plan ultimately greatly marred the creek: Rock Creek Parkway, which dominates this section of the creek valley.

At any spot, someone trying to enjoy the edge parks or trail has to contend with a large freeway creating most of the noise and taking up much of the ravine floor. National Park Service management practice in this part of Rock Creek prioritizes motor vehicle traffic over any other user. Features in the park, like signs that tell trail users to yield to cars when crossing the on- and off-ramps, further make clear that nature and recreation come last here.

Here is the map from the article:

Tom from Ghosts of DC also posted an excerpt from the story:

"From what I have seen in the papers," said Capt. Symonds, when asked by a POST reporter for his opinion regarding the cost and practicability of the proposed Rock Creek tunnel, "I should consider it a perfectly practicable and feasible scheme, and I should think that the benefits resulting would fully justify the outlay necessary."

"How long would be the tunnel?"

"From the location as described it would require a tunnel about 2,000 feet long with some open cut work at the ends."

"What would be the cost?"

"Its cost would depend largely on the nature of the rock encountered. It would probably be necessary to arch it over throughout its length and if the excavated rock were suitable in quality it could be used for this purpose. In this case I should estimate the cost of the tunnel, with a sufficient water-way for all floods, to be about $250 per lineal foot. This would make the 2,000 feet of tunnel cost $500,000. Another $100,000 would cover all the open work at the ends, and all engineering expenses, etc. If it was found necessary to use brick for arching the cost would be about $50,000 more. This would make the cost from $600,000 to $650,000, which I believe would cover all expenses for the work proper without including any question of right of way. The excavated material would be used for arching in the form of rubble masonry, not in the form of concrete. The bed of the creek could not be used for a dumping ground. It could not be filled up directly with the excavated material, for it would have to be kept open for the passage of water until the tunnel was completed.

"It is not at all improbably," continued Capt. Symonds, "that a sufficient amount of good material would be excavated to arch the creek over from the lower terminus of the tunnel to the outlet of the canal. In this way the improvement could be made more far-reaching and beneficial. The creek would be blotted out of sight from Lyons' Mill to the mouth of the canal. I should think that the best use for the excavated material, beyond that used for curbing the tunnel, would be in building embankments across the valley of the creek connecting the streets of Washington and Georgetown, thus doing away with bridges and uniting the two cities. The spaces between the embankments could gradually be filled in. If properly managed it would be a splendid improvement.

We originally ran this post in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we wanted to share it with you again!

Transit


Metro proposes ending late-night service PERMANENTLY. That's a terrible idea.

Metro may never again be open after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and would close at 10 pm every Sunday, under a plan General Manager Paul Wiedefeld will propose to the WMATA Board this Thursday. Please ask the board to reject moving this proposal forward right now.


Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

What is Wiedefeld proposing?

Metro closed at midnight every night before 1999, when it extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays to 1 am and midnight Sundays. The Friday and Saturday close extended further to 3 am in 2007.

The current SafeTrack rebuilding program moved closing times back to midnight temporarily. Now, Wiedefeld is proposing making that permanent, and further closing at 10 pm every Sunday, earlier than Metro has regularly closed in decades.

Any closing time is effectively earlier than the posted time, since the last trains leave core stations (where most late-night rides originate) with enough time to finish their runs at the closing time.

What are arguments for this?

The press release says,

Under the proposed schedule, the Metrorail system would be open 127 out of 168 hours in a week. Prior to SafeTrack, the system was open 135 hours per week. The additional track time increases safety and reliability by giving workers the time and space they need to keep Metro's infrastructure in a state of good repair.
I've spoken to transit experts who agree that Metro was not making enough time for maintenance. They say late night hours squeezed the repair work. Not only are there few hours, but it takes time to set up for maintenance, go through safety protocols to prepare the site, etc. and then again on the other end.

When SafeTrack was announced, Dan Stessel told me, "the need for late night service is lower since people are using [ride hailing] services" like Uber and Lyft, unlike before 2007. He said Metro serves only about 6,000 trips a night, and that number is declining.

Stessel argued that this service only helps "the nightlife crowd," because workers need service that's available 24 hours a day. (I'd say, except for workers in the nightlife sector, and there are many of those.)


Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.

Our contributors say, terrible idea

Matt Johnson said:

I understand the need for maintenance windows, however, I can't support additional service span reductions.

Metro already opens late on Saturdays and Sundays (at 7 am) and closes (at 12 midnight) earlier than basically all of its peer systems. In Atlanta, for example, train service starts at 5 am every day and the last trains leave the terminals no earlier than 1 am every day (not just Fridays and Saturdays).

It would be far better for WMATA to do targeted closings (or perhaps close parts) of the system. For example, if a particular area of track needed additional work time, to close that section earlier, but not close the entire system early.

Dan Reed:
This plan is unacceptable. Late-night transit is a lifeline for thousands of workers, from bartenders to security guards to caretakers—and of course everyone who goes out and supports our region's thriving nightlife. Early closing times were fine for SafeTrack but need to be rolled back as soon as possible. Wiedefeld is doing a great job, but this proposal is a bad idea.
Bradley Heard:
This is a horrible idea! Any long-term maintenance strategy should incorporate the idea of late-night service, particularly on weekends. Full-stop. Trains travel much less frequently on weekends. ... We can still have a "safety-first" culture while also maintaining a service level acceptable of a major urban region.
Pete Tomao:
These service reductions will only hinder WMATA's ability to attract more riders, and further it's fiscal problems. As the TransitCenter study pointed out last week, riders want frequent and reliable service above all else. By limiting hours we are limiting what riders want most. This also just penalizes folks without a car (like myself).
Gray Kimbrough:
Just about every system in the world (almost all of them only 2 tracks throughout) is open for longer hours than Metro—often many more hours per week. If they can't find a way to maintain regular service levels with those hours and scheduled larger disruptions where needed, there has got to be something uniquely wrong with Metro's maintenance processes.
Patrick Kennedy, ANC 2A commissioner, wrote in via email:
And before any change is made, they need to have a plan in place for late-night buses that cross jurisdictional boundaries. ... Without a satisfactory answer ... I think this is a horrible plan. Safety and maintenance activities can't be a blank check excuse for a continued degradation in service.
Finally, Travis Maiers:
In a larger sense, this proposal is just downright depressing because it represents an unbelievably pessimistic outlook. Instead of putting out a bold 3 year plan to really bring Metro up to the standards of a world class system, we're instead talking about cuts and permanent 10 pm closings! Where's the vision, the drive, the sense of making the system BETTER? Why is it we keep reducing standards instead of increasing them?

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The board should ask for more information before moving forward

Besides the poor logic of this move, Metro decision-making and communication is still in a similar rut from the past: The staff internally make a decision about what to do, then present it as the only possible choice.

When Metro proposed closing an entrance at Van Ness, officials said it was necessary without explaining why other options weren't as good. Maybe that's true, but the public needed to know more.

There are many questions still out there around SafeTrack, too. What will be different for riders at the end? Will Metro have fewer fires? Fewer cracked rails? How many fewer? Will there need to be fewer single-tracking maintenance windows after? These questions were surely considered internally, but not answered to riders.

Everyone agrees that Metro needs significant maintenance, which is why SafeTrack had strong public support. And we hire Metro officials to make decisions. But when those decisions affect the public, it's reasonable to ask them to show their work, to justify why this is better than other options. We don't think it is.

The board can ask these questions. It should. And members should not put any service cut on the docket at this time.

Wiedefeld said in the press release that any change to late-night closures would happen after a public engagement process in the fall—which is required under the WMATA Compact. That's fine, and maybe he'll do a really bang-up public engagement process. In the past, these have often been pro forma events which meet the legal requirements but not much more.

There's time to hear more about the idea before it's on a runaway Metro train moving toward an actual vote. Ask the WMATA Board to get information to riders before approving any formal hearing process. Ask them to insist on a menu of options from WMATA, not just one. Or just tell them you don't think this is a good idea, period.

If some change turns out to be necessary, it can always happen temporarily for an interim period. But we really don't think this is the right answer. It's a proposal that should not move forward.

Pedestrians


This may be DC's most ridiculous missing crosswalk

Walk through the heart of the GW campus, just a block from the Foggy Bottom Metro, and you might suddenly, bizarrely, run into an intersection where you aren't supposed to cross the street:


Photo by the author.

By DC law, any place where a street interrupts a sidewalk, there is a legal crosswalk. Even if there aren't any stripes marking it, there's still a crosswalk there. And the District Department of Transportation's official design manual requires marked crosswalks at all intersections. But that doesn't stop DDOT from sometimes designing intersections without crosswalks.

Often, the road's designers are putting the fast speed of traffic as their top priority and trading away the needs of people on foot. At Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue NE, for instance, engineers wanted a double left turn lane, and that's incompatible with a crosswalk. Then-director Gabe Klein intervened to insist on a crosswalk. That example turned out well, but many intersections get built without all of their crosswalks.

It's not right to force people to cross three times just to keep going straight. It adds a lot of time to each walker's trip and sends a clear message that people on foot are second-class citizens. Most often, this happens in complex intersections or in areas with low numbers of people walking, though even there that's not right (it just perpetuates the situation).

Most often, this situation crops up where diagonal streets meet the grid, like at 15th Street and Florida Avenue NW or 4th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW.

Here, though, this is a regular corner of two typical DC grid streets (22nd and I NW), and it's in a heavily-walked area on a college campus near Metro. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A chair Patrick Kennedy explained in a series of tweets:

This intersection was controlled by a 4-way stop until about ¾ years ago, when a light was installed to handle increased traffic relating to the new development at Square 54. All crossings were possible with the 4-way stop.

When the light was installed, DDOT updated the ADA ramps but determined that they couldn't them at this crossing because of the WMATA emergency access grates positioned at the curb on either side of the street. My suggestion was that they install a bulb-out here to extend the sidewalk into the curb lane and give them the additional space needed to add a ramp since there's no rush-hour lane here and no parking near the intersection.

As of yet, that suggestion has not been taken. Meanwhile, as you can probably imagine, people cross here all the time anyways.

Pedestrian Advisory Council member Eileen McCarthy said, "It's not the intent of the ADA to make crossings more difficult." She further argues that DDOT doesn't even have the legal authority to close this crosswalk.

DDOT Pedestrian Program Coordinator George Branyan said that DDOT is working internally and with WMATA to devise a solution. While that's great, DDOT should have either waited on the signal until the solution was ready or put in crosswalks anyway (as McCarthy suggests is legal) in the interim instead of putting up this sign banning walkers.

After all, DDOT's own manual says:

29.7 Pedestrian Crossings

Marked Crosswalks will be required at all signalized intersections, school areas, and high pedestrian areas.

That doesn't say "except if it will inconvenience drivers too much," though in practice, DDOT often abrogates this in the name of traffic flow, and then often without public notice or discussion.

In the ensuing Twitter discussion, people pointed out similar missing crosswalks at 9th and D NW and at the "Starburst" intersection where H Street NE meets Benning Road, Bladensburg Road, 15th Street, Florida Avenue, and Maryland Avenue.

What other missing crosswalks are near you?

Public Safety


How do our cities' decisions perpetuate racial bias? How do the choices we advocate for?

America's struggles with gun violence and police relations with communities of color have burst, again, into the headlines over the last few weeks. Our contributors and editors have some thoughts about these issues and how they relate to the decisions our cities make around housing, transportation, and much more.


Aftermath of the Philando Castile shooting. Photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.

Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. These and so many more incidents have repeatedly underscored how our society still doesn't truly treat black Americans equally. Americans who don't experience this injustice personally have had their eyes opened. And then, the occasional person reacts with reprehensible violence against the police and drives further wedges between Americans (most recently in Baton Rouge, previously in Dallas).

Not every social problem is related to the way we build cities and better urban design can't single-handedly solve some of America's deepest social ills. Still, our society's struggles with racial bias, whether from police or others, actually is deeply connected with the way American cities work and the decisions their leaders make. Here are some of our contributors' thoughts.

Dan Reed said,

This is about who feels safe and who public spaces are created for. We haven't experienced the worst of this here, but we've had a tumultuous demographic shift in recent years. As a person of color who grew up here, I feel unwelcome sometimes in a place that was once familiar.

This isn't just about police brutality. It's about the pervasiveness of racial bias, however subtle or unintentional, that appears in all of the policy decisions we make in education, transportation, housing, health care, and so on. It's about making sure that everyone in our community the ability to live safe, dignified lives with access to the economic and social opportunities that many of us take for granted.

Gray Kimbrough discussed how public policy has explicitly created divisions:
The built environment has long been intertwined with racism in the US. Housing policy is a clear example, with the underlying racism ranging from completely blatant redlining or other policies that excluded non-whites (e.g. the postwar explosion in VA and FHA-backed loans).
And then there's infrastructure. Growing up in North Carolina, I noticed that things like sidewalks were much less likely to be provided in predominantly black parts of town. Transportation infrastructure and transit networks have often also been used to maintain the status quo rather than to mitigate the impact of institutional racism.

Limiting the housing options for people of color and underfunding infrastructure in those areas contribute directly to limiting opportunities for whole classes of people. As a side effect, racial segregation of housing limits people's experiences with members of other groups.

This tends not to be a problem for white people, who generally don't have to fear police officers unfamiliar with people like them acting in overly aggressive ways. It can absolutely have devastating effects for people of color when police officers are more likely to see them as criminals by default, at least in part because of a lack of basic interaction due to residential segregation.

Nick Keenan added some specific policy examples:
It ties into two things I've read about Ferguson [Missouri]. One is that people in Ferguson were reluctant to walk places, even short distances, because they were afraid of being hassled by the police if they did. The other is that the municipal budget in Ferguson was dependent upon fines and fees from motorists, and that a grievance of the residents was that you couldn't drive anywhere without risking getting pulled over and ticketed for a minor infraction.

Many experienced cyclists have stories of interactions with police officers where just the fact of operating a bicycle seemed to set the cops off. There was a blog post last summer that got a lot of coverage about how for many people riding a bicycle is the closest they will ever come to not having white privilege.

Tracy Hadden Loh added,
It's all about who has access to what planning processes - whose outcomes are measured, voices are heard, values represented, needs prioritized, etc. Planning is all about navigating tradeoffs to maximize access and efficiency of public goods in a world where most of the acreage/square footage is private. ...

We [all] have our own often unstated assumptions about *how* to achieve planning goals [and] I don't think [we] ask enough hard questions about who the winners and losers will be.

Let's try hard to think about who winners and losers will be as we discuss the many choices cities and counties in our region make. How do the events of the last few weeks, and few years, affect how you think about urban spaces and the issues we discuss?
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