Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Public Spaces

The Mount Vernon Trail is getting some TLC near National airport

Changes are coming to the part of the Mount Vernon Trail that runs alongside Washington National airport. While trail users will have to use a temporary path for during construction, the MVT will be safer and straighter in the future.

The Mount Vernon Trail detour under the Route 233 bridge. All photos by the author.

There are three major things happening to the trail: it's moving away from the George Washington Parkway where it passes under the Route 233 bridge, it's getting a new barrier wall under the Metro bridge that carries the Yellow and Blue lines into the airport, and it's moving around a large tree that forces a quick S curve.

"The goal of the project is to improve visitor safety while ensuring we protect the natural resources along the trail," says Aaron LaRocca, chief of staff for the GW Parkway at the NPS, on the planned work that is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2016.

The trail work is part of a larger effort to rebuild some of the entrances to National airport.

Trail users should expect detours

People on foot and bike will have to detour onto temporary mulch pathways during construction. The detour under the Route 233 bridge opened this week and will be used for two to three weeks, says LaRocca.

Overview of work planned to the Mount Vernon Trail. Image from the FHA.

Cycling over the mulch is challenging, with many riders dismounting and walking their bike through the detour during the morning commute on Wednesday. The temporary path is also narrower than the MVT, which could create a chokepoint for cyclists and pedestrians during busy times.

"When considering construction projects, the park strives to minimize impacts to the visitors," says LaRocca. "Unfortunately, there is little space for wider detours because the area is congested with car and trail traffic. [GW Parkway] doesn't use grass or paved detours because they create long term impacts for a short-term closure. In the past, mulch detours were used successfully along the MVT."

Trail users are warned of the detour well ahead of the split.

The detour around the Metro bridge will likely be the most onerous of the three for cyclists. Trail users will have to climb a mulch path up to the exit road from National airport to the GW Parkway.

Looking down the hill from the National airport exit road towards the MVT.

Trail users will then have to cross the road where cyclists will have to hop the curb on both sides of the street.

MVT Metro bridge detour crossing the National airport exit road.

They will then have to descend a narrow sidewalk back to the MVT.

The sidewalk MVT users will have to use to return to the trail.

The detour around the Metro bridge will be used for three months, says LaRocca. The agency has not determined when the detour will begin, he adds.

The detour to straighten the Mount Vernon Trail past the large tree at the southern end of the project area will only be used for two days, says LaRocca.

The southern detour to straighten the Mount Vernon Trail past the large tree in the center of the image.

This is going to make the trail better

The Mount Vernon Trail is a popular and critical piece of the region's trail network. Despite its popularity, the facility dates to the 1970s and includes a number of blind or difficult turns—including the one around the large tree near the southern end of National airport—that can prove difficult for cyclists.

In addition, the trail does not include the separation between cyclists and pedestrians and joggers that is common on newer trails around the world.

The bike trail and pedestrian walkway are separated in the new Gantry Plaza State Park in New York City.

There are lots of other ways to make the Mount Vernon Trail better. Ideas include straightening the sections just north of Daingerfield Island where the trail swings around a clump of trees and separating cyclists from pedestrians through Gravelly Point where there is a lot of congestion.

However, all of these ideas cost money that has yet to materialize in regional or federal trail funding plans.

It might be small, but the work the NPS is doing at the south end of National airport is great for the MVT.

Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail's six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.

Simple map of five main DC bus lines. Map by the author. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro's most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who's comfortable with Metrorail but hasn't taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you'd treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They're always there, and it's never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail's Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they're called the "30 series."

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they're hardly secrets. But if you're not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC is committing to cheaper, renewable energy

People in DC can expect both lower utility bills and more sources for clean energy in the near future. This is because the DC government is shifting its environmental focus toward renewable energy.

Photo by Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon on Flickr.

Last month, Mayor Muriel Bowser re-branded the District Department of the Environment to the District Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE). Beyond the name change, the department announced new subsidies for solar panels and that it would start buying electricity from a wind farm rather than Pepco, which largely uses coal.

At the press conference announcing the change, Bowser reaffirmed the city's commitment to renewable energy and vowed to make the District a national leader in the effort to tackle the effects of climate change. She also pledged to ensure that residents of all eight wards will be able to afford clean, renewable energy.

A first stab at this effort will be the city's purchase of wind power that will provide the District's municipal buildings with 35 percent of the power they need to operate, saving District taxpayers an estimated $45 million dollars over the next 20 years . This power will come through a power purchasing agreement with Iberdrola Renewables, who operate a wind farm in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Get ready to see more solar panels all across the city

But that's just the first step. Both the mayor and DOEE Director Tommy Wells have pledged to move beyond government buildings and make renewable energy options available to all District residents and businesses. They hope to install solar panels across the city, paid for through a mix of District funds from the initial energy savings from the Iberdrola deal and private investment from local banks.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

The first of these programs, DC PACE, provides 100 percent up-front financing for businesses to install clean energy upgrades in the form of solar panels, and is open to all businesses in the District. Since energy costs will be cheaper for businesses, the program could spur new development. New projects could offset a portion of construction and startup costs and existing businesses could be incentivized to expand with the savings realized by the installation of solar panels through this program.

All District residents should have access to clean energy

Of particular concern is making sure renters and low-income residents are able to access clean power and lower their utility costs in turn. DOEE plans to invest some of the savings on the government side into solar energy production.

The District plans to provide low-income homeowners with solar roofs and put another $6 million worth of panels on government buildings to generate community solar credits that residents can purchase. Every single District resident would have access to these credits, and the more panels that go up, the cheaper these credits will be for residents to purchase.

Besides a reduced reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels, these investments will lead to direct economic benefits for ratepayers because of the reduced transmission costs associated with local solar power generation.

Photo by Jim Girardi on Flickr.

Needless to say, an investment of this size can buy a lot of solar panels. If everything goes according to plan, we will begin to see more and more solar arrays pop up on the roofs of homes and businesses across DC.

If we can reduce the District's overall dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change by making this slight alteration to our built environment, we can also work towards improving public health and spurring local economic development in the District at the same time.

Park(ing) Day highlights the value of green, public space

On September 18th, the region celebrated Park(ing) Day with 33 pop-up parklets in DC, plus more in Maryland and Virginia. The annual event showcases alternative, human-friendly uses for urban parking spaces and is a reminder of the value of public land, no matter how small.

Photo by American Public Health Association on Twitter.

Park(ing) Day creatively humanizes the concrete jungle for a day, converting single parking spaces into concepts of what could be. It is celebrated on the third Friday in September.

Organizers define Park(ing) Day as an "annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into 'PARK(ing)' spaces: temporary public places.

"The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, Park(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world."

Photo by the author.

According to the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), 2015 was DC's "biggest #parkingday ever," with 33 officially permitted parklets. DDOT even tweeted an advance warning to "start planning your route (and your excuse for calling in 'sick' on Friday)."

Here are our favorite shots from the parklets we visited in DC:

Making a tasteful political statement, activists blended bike-powered smoothies at the Project for Public Spaces parklet.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

For an interactive version, see Jeff Miller's "smoothie operator" Vine on Twitter.

Prime real estate in front of the John A. Wilson Building became populated with people, politicians, parks, plants, and pedal power. Councilmembers Charles Allen and Elissa Silverman held meetings in the parcel, and bikes replaced cars in the parking spaces.

Photo of Councilmember Charles Allen by Councilmember Brianne Nadeau on Twitter.

Photo by the author.

Photo by the author.

Island Press built an urbanist library at M and 20th NW.

Photo by Abigail Zenner.

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy envisioned a grassy trail parallel to the New Hampshire Avenue bike lane in Dupont Circle.

Photo by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on Twitter.

There was a game theme at K NW, near 19th. Photo by Abigail Zenner.

Visitors played chess at Baked&Wired in Georgetown...

Photo by the Georgetown BID on Twitter.

...and learned about multimodal options at Metro Center.

Photo by the author.

Multitasking empowerment in the 600 block of I Street NW.

Photo by the author.

DoTankDC conducted a Vision Zero exercise with legos and sticky notes in NoMa.

Photo by the author.

The Mayor's Office on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs created a multilingual classroom.

Photo by the author.

Washingtonian Rudi Riet chronicled his 28-parklet marathon on Instagram.

Parklets sprung up in Virginia and Maryland, too:

In Silver Spring, MNCPPC hosted a parklet on Fenton Street.

DDOT loaned a bike corral for this Silver Spring parklet. Ten bikes fit into one car space! Photo from @MCBikePlan.

The head of MCDOT Parking, Jose Thommana, stopped by. Photo from @MCBikePlan.

A family waiting for a store to open chills in Silver Spring's newest park. Photo from @MCBikePlan.

A lesson from NoMa: It’s important to build parks early

NoMa has laid out an ambitious plan to invest $50 million into new parks in the booming neighborhood. But rapidly rising property prices are making it increasingly difficult to realize those plans.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

NoMa's 2012 public realm design plan includes everything from brightening the underpasses at the heart of NoMa, to a "mid-block alley"—aka a meanderfrom New York Avenue to K Street NE, to a "Pepco Park" on an empty lot north of New York Avenue that the utility owns. Last year, DC granted the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) $50 million to help make the plan happen.

NoMa's 2012 public realm design plan. Image from NoMa BID.

Some elements of the plan are moving forward. NoMa has selected designs for the underpasses on L Street and M Street NE and received commitments from developers to include the NoMa Meander in their plans from New York Avenue to Pierce Street.

The latest NoMa Meander plan. Image from NoMa BID.

"That's a place where the developers are providing privately-owned space, they're improving that space at their own cost — so there'll be kind of water features and everything in there and the city won't have to pay any money for it," said Robin Eve-Jasper, president of NoMa BID, on the meander in April.

NoMa is also finding creative uses for temporary public space. It has convinced developers to lend undeveloped land in the neighborhood for popular summer activites, including the NoMa Summer Screen and Wunter Garden.

Turning land into parks is expensive

Making space available for public use while it's waiting to be developed, however, is one thing; realizing plans for permanent parks is another. Ditto Residential, Sivan Properties, and Zusin Development recently outbid NoMa for an 8,720 square foot triangle plot bounded by Florida Avenue, 3rd and N Streets NE where they plan to build a new parking-free mixed-use building.

NoMa had hoped to build a new N Street Park on the plot. The proposed park would have served "the adjoining neighborhood, improve[d] pedestrian conditions along Florida Avenue and integrate[d] with development south of N Street," according to the design realm plan.

Proposed N Street Park. Rendering from NoMa BID.

Stacie West, director of parks projects for the NoMa Parks Foundation, says the BID submitted a "strong offer" for the property but that the owner accepted the offer from Ditto.

The loss of this plot, a small piece of NoMa's grand park plans, makes clear the need to set aside green space early when developing a neighborhood. You do not need to look far for a good example of this: Navy Yard.

DC has an example of how to do this right

Yards Park along the Anacostia River waterfront was planned early in Navy Yard's resurgence. The park opened in 2010, only two years after the opening of Nationals Park, which really sparked redevelopment in the neighborhood.

The park has become a focal point of Navy Yard. It has a wading pool popular with children, hosts a well-attended Friday night concert series and, as part of the Anacostia Riverwalk, is on the jogging routes of many runners.

Photo by Colton Brown on Flickr.

Development continues to go in around Yards Park. The Capital Riverfront BID estimated that only about 43% of the planned 11,981 residential units earmarked for the neighborhood were open or under construction at the end of 2014, its annual report shows.

Yards Park, and nearby Nationals Park, serve as the center of development in Navy Yard, even as most still-planned development will occur a few blocks in from the waterfront.

What can be done in NoMa now?

There is no way to roll back the development that has already gone into—or is planned for—NoMa. According to Eve-Jasper, the neighborhood is expected to become the densest in Washington DC when it is fully built out.

But moving forward, the District government should budget more money for parks to serve NoMa's existing and coming residents. This would allow the BID to make more competitive offers for land, like the plot that was to become the N Street Park and other green spaces in the neighborhood.

NoMa BID also should continue its efforts partnering with developers to create open space in NoMa, as it has with the meander.

Through a combination of these and other tactics, hopefully NoMa can achieve the vast majority of its public realm design plan. Creating public spaces that will benefit the neighborhood and the city for generations to come.

Capital Bikeshare, Objet d’art

Capital Bikeshare is celebrating its fifth birthday next week. If the party balloons were thought bubbles, they'd have a lot to say. Wherever you look, it's plain to see that this two-wheeled public transit mode has permeated Washingtonians' collective psyche.

"City Rides" by Sar'där Aziz. Photograph from the artist.

In a measure of Capital Bikeshare's pervasiveness, it's even depicted in highbrow art. Having transcended the news pages and pop culture, it has captured the imaginations of artists and inspired the creative class to render its interpretations.

The bikes are the focal point of "City Rides" by local impressionist painter Sar'där Aziz.

The system is named in actor Ron Litman's one-man show, "DC Trash—Recycled," a native Washingtonian's culture critique expressed from the cab of a trash truck.

Litman's provocative social commentary is a broad-brush indictment of wealth, privilege, excess and indifference.

"So you say you wanna live in this town, then lay your money down
And I'll tell you 'bout the gold rush—it's very hush hush
Yeah, there's gold in them thar hills, and the government gonna pay your bills
So ride bike-share, use your smartfare. Take Uber, Zipcar, just get out there"
CaBi is newsworthy

On the pages of our news, reporters write stories when new CaBi stations are announced. In the features and lifestyle sections, the sturdy red bikes represent symbols of the modern metropolis.

Why, look, there's a Capital Bikeshare on the cover of Washingtonian's Best of Washington edition. The July 2015 issue pictures a Washington Nationals mascot on a Capital Bikeshare to illustrate the "150 local faves" inside.

Photo by the author.

And, look, there's a photojournalistic statement on the cover of the September 2014 MidCity DC News. No caption needed. The artsy picture by Jazzy Wright speaks for itself.

Photo by Jazzy Wright.

And there's Capital Bikeshare in a cheeky game of DC bingo created by Curbed DC. Among the quintessential Washington moments is the one in which you see a "Bikeshare Rider Wearing a Full Suit." Ryan Lovin photographed one such creature this past Bike to Work Day.

Photo by photo by Ryan Lovin.

Image from Curbed DC.

CaBi is everywhere

In the shadows of Union Station, a piece of Corner Bakery artwork tells a deeper story than it may seem. The chain restaurant at North Capitol and E Streets NW is filled with framed prints of city life. One stands out for the topical moment it unknowingly captures: the top half of the print shows two young boys eyeing cakes and the bottom half is a Capital Bikeshare station, again speaking for itself without comment.

Photo by the author.

The juxtaposition alone makes a poignant statement. Just as children are irresistibly drawn to sweets, Washingtonians are attracted to Capital Bikeshare. Today's youth are tomorrow's Capital Bikeshare members.

If those two boys were second graders in D.C. Public Schools, they'd be learning to ride bikes at school this year. DCPS has launched a precedent-setting program in which every second grader will be taught to ride a bicycle safely and skillfully. The school district has procured the bikes and developed the lessons, which include a half-day ride in the park for each student.

D.C. is the first U.S. school system to institutionalize comprehensive bicycle education, putting Washington on the leading edge of social change. The most bicycle-friendly European cities have long included bicycle education for schoolchildren. With this game-changing move, D.C. is paving the way for a radical behavior change in the next generation of urban commuters.

Between the children and the artists, a new transportation paradigm is emerging. It doesn't take a crystal ball to see that the future is now, and it most certainly rides a bike.

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