Posts by Ben Thielen
Election season must be getting underway. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), normally a strong proponent of Smart Growth, has proposed spending public money to build a parking garage in Cleveland Park.
Despite having a Metro station in the middle of its commercial corridor, some local merchants and visitors want to see a parking garage built in this walkable section of Connecticut Avenue.
According to the Current (huge PDF), "Cheh initially thought a garage could go next to Ireland's Four Fields, a bar at 3412 Connecticut Ave., where a small parking lot fronts Connecticut, with businesses in the rear."
This is a spectacularly bad idea. With an operating deficit of nearly a half-billion dollars, the District should not use scarce public funds to subsidize driving. According to a study for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the cost for above-ground structured parking is $26,000 per space.
In recent years, including under the leadership of current DDOT Director Gabe Klein, the District has prioritized investments such as the Circulator bus routes, streetcars, and SmartBike, which give residents and visitors in the region an alternative to driving. These steps are more appropriate uses of public funds to draw customers to Cleveland Park than the more expensive and traffic-inducing proposition of building a parking garage.
Instead of the circuitous approach of attempting to alleviate parking issues by subdizing driving and creating more auto congestion, DDOT and Ward 3 residents should look at demand-management strategies instead that will avoid a costly and permanent dead-zone on Connecticut Avenue.
In the article, ANC Commissioner Leila Afzal suggests another way to address Cleveland Park's parking problems: make the Residential Parking Permit (RPP) privileges only apply to actual residents of the area, rather than residents from as far away as the Maryland border. The original intent of RPP was to stop people from driving to a Metro station and parking on nearby neighborhood streets, but in Cleveland Park and Woodley Park, that's still endemic.
As area ANC Commissioners have often suggested and David Alpert discussed last year, creating sub-zones in certain areas like Cleveland Park could reserve more of the area's parking for residents and shoppers instead of distant drivers looking for free commuter parking.
Better alternatives than using taxpayer money to subsidize driving include extending the Circulator bus to Cleveland Park. Currently, the Circulator ends at Woodley Park. Assuming the proposed parking garage contains 30 spots built at DDOT's estimate of $26,000 per spot, this would cost the District
$7,800,000 $780,000, plus ongoing maintenance costs which parking fees might not cover.
Similarly, another alternative that deserves consideration is extending the proposed streetcar from Woodley Park to Cleveland Park. It is only 0.8 miles between the two Metro stations. At the estimated cost of $40 million per mile for the streetcar, this extension would cost $32 million. The amount saved from not building a parking garage and revenue gained from a performance parking district in Cleveland Park can be used to fund this potential extension.
Finally, the District could help struggling businesses in Cleveland Park's commercial corridor by allowing greater density in that section. Moderate-sized residential buildings line Connecticut Avenue to the north and south of Cleveland Park, but the main commercial strip, especially the Park and Shop, is almost entirely just one and two story buildings. Building 2-3 levels of new residential units above these retail establishments and restaurants would bring new residents to this area, immediately next to the Metro station, and adding more built-in customers for the restaurants and shops of Cleveland Park.
Ben Thielen is the founder and spokesperson of the Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition.
DDOT is recommending pedestrian improvements, bike lanes, consolidating bus stops, two-way streets, a Wisconsin Avenue median, performance parking and more in their recently-completed Glover Park Transportation Study.
Toole Design Group conducted the study on behalf of DDOT. They conducted a survey of residents, which found that 33% commute by bus compared to 20% by car, and 75% walk to shops along Wisconsin Avenue compared to 25% driving. Here are some of their most important recommendations:
Pedestrian improvements: The study provides recommendations to improve pedestrian safety at various intersections, especially along busy Massachusetts Avenue. They include new graphic "turning vehicles yield to pedestrians" and "stop for pedestrians in crosswalks" signs, leading pedestrian intervals that let people start crossing before turning traffic, new crosswalks near bus stops, and HAWK pedestrian signals.
Sidewalks: The report also recommends completing sidewalks on both sides of every street, starting with parts of Cathedral Avenue, Watson Place, and Fulton Street.
Bike lanes: The report proposes creating new bike lanes on New Mexico Avenue and Tunlaw Road. A bike lane on the northbound side of New Mexico Avenue heading towards American University would let cyclists more comfortably climb the steep hill more slowly than traffic, while southbound cyclists can merge with traffic as they go downhill at comparable speeds.
Another recommendation is creating a new bicycle route from 39th Street to Idaho Avenue and Porter Street. Additionally, the report recommends adding new bike racks along the Wisconsin Avenue commercial corridor and other key locations in Glover Park.
Consolidate bus stops: The study recommends consolidating some duplicate bus stops on Wisconsin Avenue. This could greatly improve the reliability of the 30s buses. It suggests repositioning "the bus stop on the southbound side at the Chevron gas station to the near side of the intersection with Calvert Street. Northbound and southbound bus stops on Wisconsin Avenue between Edmunds Street and Davis Street (adjacent to the Russian Embassy) should then be eliminated."
Currently, along the 30s line routes, some locations have multiple bus stops on the same block. This reduces the operating speeds of the buses as they have to merge into/out of the curbside lane to pick up passengers. Frequently, the buses also get stuck at traffic lights after picking up just one or two passengers at these redundant stops. Additionally, the merging buses create congestion for other vehicles in the traffic flow, further slowing down other buses along Wisconsin Avenue.
Combining these stops in Glover Park would also result in a higher number of riders at the newly consolidated locations. This would justify improved passenger infrastructure like covered bus shelters at these stops, further encouraging new ridership.
Off-board fare collection: Another important transit recommendation is to work with WMATA to install off-board fare collection equipment at busy bus stops. Such locations include all stops at the Massachusetts/Wisconsin Avenue intersection and all stops within the Glover Park commercial district on Wisconsin Avenue. Cities with successful bus rapid transit have installed ways to pay prior to boarding the bus, improving the operational efficiency of these routes.
Two-way streets: The Glover Park study also recommends converting one-way streets into two-way streets. In more suburban neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs increase vehicle miles traveled and walking distance by prohibiting direct access to major arterial streets. One-way streets create the same issue. Motorists have to drive farther with one-way streets since more direct routes to their destinations are not possible. Additionally, the study notes that the one-way streets in Glover Park create wider lane widths, encouraging people to drive faster than they would with two-way streets and narrower lanes.number of alternatives for the road, and settled on a configuration adding a median along the entire length, with the median ranging from 6' without trees to 10-11' with trees, and 4 travel lanes in most sections with some non-rush-hour parking, some full-time parking, and some center turn lanes.
Performance parking: To strengthen the commercial district, the report suggests a performance parking district for Glover Park. Residential streets would be resident-only (no 2-hour free parking for non-residents) on one side and metered on the other, while commercial streets would be metered on both sides.
The Postal Service wants to convert a single-
Our society has been shifting communication towards electronic media such as email, relying more on parcel services such as FedEx and UPS. That has created challenges for the Postal Service. This also creates an opportunity, however, to reuse USPS facilities that are no longer necessary because of reduced demand for mail service.
This past summer, the Postal Service announced that it is considering closing nearly seven hundred post offices nationwide. Instead of closing their Georgetown office, the Postal Service wants to sell its valuable property on 31st Street while still maintaining operations on the first floor of the two-story building. EastBanc plans to convert the basement and second floors of the Post Office building into condos, and later hopes to build town homes on what is currently a surface parking lot next to the historic stone building.
This proposal is very sensible for an agency that is struggling with declining customer demand. It lets the Postal Service maintain a branch in the community while leveraging its valuable real estate to gain much needed revenue.
The Georgetown location isn't the only opportunity for the Postal Service to partner with developers to rebuild its facilities and better utilize its property in walkable areas. Redeveloping the Friendship Station post office at 4005 Wisconsin Avenue, which is actually in Tenleytown, would greatly enhance Smart Growth along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. The current Post Office consists of a surface parking lot and a one-story building that has a largely walled-off front along Wisconsin Avenue.
The buildings surrounding this post office on Wisconsin Avenue are moderately dense. Directly north on Wisconsin Avenue is a five-story residential building. Across the street and a bit north is a garish postmodern office building set back from the street and mostly walled off to surrounding pedestrian traffic. Immediately across the street on the western side of Wisconsin Avenue from the post office is a five-story office building with retail on the first floor. Fannie Mae's suburban-style headquarters and Sidwell Friends school are located to the south.
Left: area around the post office from Bing Maps.
Right: The post office. Image from Google Street View.
As with the Georgetown Post Office, USPS should seek a private developer for this facility that would allow the Postal Service to better utilize a valuable property that is just slightly over a half-mile from the Tenley metro station. A new residential building could be built that eliminates the surface parking lot on the north side of the parcel while maintaining the presence of the Post Office on the first floor of the new mixed-use property. Such creative partnerships are being used to rebuild the fire station in Southwest and potentially provide new police and fire stations in the West End.
The proposed Giant project and a Safeway in Tenley that actually utilizes the great potential of two nearby metro stations will significantly improve the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Providing new housing for the neighborhood while maintaining the presence of this Post Office will also greatly enhance Tenleytown.
Last night, Giant representatives presented to ANC 3C their proposal for a mixed-use development including a new Giant supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue. Approximately 75 people attended, and like the meeting in October, the room was sweltering. Critics, who seemed out outnumber supporters this time, focused on loading impacts and asked for more parking.
Giant has made some changes to minimize the impact of trucks servicing the supermarket. Residents of Idaho Avenue, which is primarily a residential street are concerned about the noise and traffic from these trucks. Giant proposes requiring the trucks to enter the loading facility via Wisconsin and Idaho Avenue (right side of the image below). Street-Works, the developer, will install a new traffic light at this intersection (which currently lacks a signal). It will also put in new crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. Additionally, to improve traffic flow on this section of Idaho Avenue, Street-Works has been working with the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) to make Idaho Avenue a two-way street from Newark to Wisconsin Avenue. This section is currently a one-way street.
Despite concerns from residents on Idaho Avenue, it seems that worries about the impacts of trucks are overstated. Street-Works and its traffic consultant are making sure the geometry at the entrance of the loading dock will only allow turns onto Idaho toward Wisconsin Avenue, sparing residents on this street. The trucks going to and from the loading docks would pass the police station, the row of new townhouses, and a section that currently contains a multistory building and a surface parking lot. This will prevent the trucks from significantly impacting the existing single-family residences on Idaho Avenue.
Project opponents also objected to the amount of parking. The current Giant has a large surface parking lot. The proposed project would have two levels of underground parking, and reserve three spaces for a car-sharing program. Currently, many of the patrons at the nearby restaurants park on the Giant property. Someone said last night these establishments use 70 spaces.
There's no need for 70 spaces dedicated only the restaurant, however. Opponents seemed unable to understand the concept of shared-parking arrangements. The retail component of the project on the south parcel will have parking available for patrons and customers. There is also parking available for the professional/office space on the second floor above this retail. The offices will use their spaces during the day, while the restaurants need parking in the evening.
Plus, as a concession to neighborhood residents, Giant will provide 30 free parking spaces in the South Parcel parking garage for customers of retail and restaurants along Wisconsin Avenue and Macomb Street. The representative from Street-Works said these spots will cost nearly $40,000 each, meaning Giant will spend over $1.5 million for this "benefit" to the community.
Unlike past Ward 3 development fights, there is a well-organized group of supporters organizing to in favor of this development. The main showdown will take place on February 19th, when the Zoning Commission takes up the case. The ANC will take a position on the project at its January meeting.
Please welcome GGW's newest correspondent and frequent past commenter, northwest resident Ben Thielen.
Existing Wisconsin Avenue Giant. Photo by Ben Thielen.
Last night, residents and ANC commissioners discussed plans for a new Giant grocery store at Wisconsin and Newark Avenues, NW. The development will also include about 140 residential units, 55,000 square feet of small retail space, and 14,000 square feet of general/professional office space on the second floor. About sixty percent of the attendees supported the proposal, but opponents of the project fought hard, arguing that there's not enough parking (I think there should be less) and the project would attract people and traffic from more than a mile away (it won't).
Last night's meeting was sponsored by ANC 3C09 Commissioner Nancy MacWood, an avowed opponent of this project. At least 75 people attended including ANC Commissioners Trudy Reeves (3C06) and Lee Brian Reba (3C01). Joel Lawson, Jennifer Steingasser, and Maxine Brown Roberts, all of the D.C. Office of Planning, answered questions from the audience about the planning and zoning process for this development. The meeting quickly shifted, however, to a discussion of the arguments for and against this project.
The existing supermarket is very dated and insufficient, with a large surface-level parking lot. The area on the opposite side of Newark Avenue has street level retail on the first floor and general professional space (law office, insurance, etc) on the second floor. Steingasser said this project, which will change the zoning to allow a little more density and height, is not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan for the area (approved in 2006) and this project will not be at the maximum density. The Office of Planning supports this project and believes that the parcel now is currently underutilized.
One lady in attendance asked the OP representatives if it is the District's policy to increase density. I responded that while I don't know if it is a goal of the District to increase density, the District has clearly supported smart growth and transit-oriented development. I said that this project is well-served by numerous buses (several 30s-line buses, H4, 96, etc) and that this will allow residents to walk to amenities and destinations instead of driving.
Someone said that the new Giant will be destination retail and will attract people from more than a mile away. This is entirely nonsensical. The development of a new Giant is a local project, to meet local needs. Here is a list of other supermarkets in nearby neighborhoods:
- Tenley has a Whole Foods and a Safeway.
- Friendship Heights has a Giant and will soon be getting a Whole Foods
- Van Ness has a large, modern Giant
- Glover Park has a Whole Foods and a Safeway
- Woodley Park has a Safeway and a new Harris Teeter nearby in Adams Morgan.
The suggestion that this new Giant will be a destination store for people living outside this neighborhood, thereby generating traffic, is defied by even a casual look around all of the other supermarkets in Northwest.
Wisconsin Avenue Giant parking lot. Photo by Ben Thielen.
There was also the usual chorus of complaints that this project would not provide sufficient parking and neighbors would have to park far away from their residences. According to Trudy Reeves, "An underground garage for 396 cars is proposed under the Giant... the residential units in the north parcel will all have one parking space each under their building (DC law only requires one space for every two units, so they are providing double the requirement). The eight townhouses on Idaho will each have 2 parking spaces (only one is required)."
In a letter I sent to Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) I suggested the developer reduce the number of parking spaces. This project can utilize shared parking arrangements to accommodate the surrounding restaurants. Since the employees of the professional office space in this project will have different work hours than the peak hours for the surrounding restaurants, this provides and excellent opportunity for shared parking arrangements. Additionally, I was told at a previous meeting that this parking for the residential units will also include at least one space for Zipcar parking.
I left before the end to watch last night's other debate, but according to the City Paper, Steingasser said a hearing is coming up soon, with building possibly starting by late next summer.
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