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Posts in category Public Spaces

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!

Bicycling


Arlington's Fort Myer will soon be much more bike and pedestrian friendly

On August 1st, a long-closed gate at an Arlington military base will re-open for pedestrians and cyclists. The change will make it so you no longer have to take a huge detour to leave that part of the base, meaning travel by walking or riding a bike will be much more appealing.


The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance, pictured in 2012. Image from Mobility Lab/Google Maps.

Located at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (JBMHH) and known as Henry Gate because the road it sits on becomes Henry Place once it enters the base, the gate is where Arlington Boulevard (US-50) meets North Pershing Drive. The change comes as a result of recommendations from a study by Mobility Lab and Arlington Transit Transportation Partners.

Pershing is popular amongst both drivers and cyclists, running east-west through the quiet neighborhoods of Lyon Park, Ashton Heights, and Buckingham. Pershing is scheduled to receive bike improvements in the near future, and the stretch near the intersection with Arlington Boulevard already features bike lanes and a recently-completed mixed-use development called The Shops at Pershing.

On the other side of the fence, the barracks located just behind Henry Gate house hundreds of young soldiers, many of whom do not have easy access to cars and could really put transit, bike, and pedestrian networks to use. Nearby, there's a CaBi station, a Metrobus stop, Zipcars, and the Arlington Boulevard Trail.

However, because Henry Gate has been closed since 9/11 as part of a wave of increased security, the soldiers in these barracks have to live within yards of these amenities without being able to easily reach by any way other than driving. A base resident would have to walk 33 minutes and 1.6 miles out of their way to reach them without a car, utilizing the main gate at 2nd Street South.


Detour that pedestrians and cyclists would have to take to reach The Shops at Pershing due to Henry Gate's closure. Image from Google Maps.

However, that's all about to change thanks to Mobility Lab and Arlington Transit Transportation. After surveying 467 residents and people who work at JBMHH, ATP found that 88 percent of the commuting population drives to work alone. Once the surveyors solicited ideas from participants on how to combat this issue, the idea to reopen Henry Gate to pedestrians and cyclists caught on with base officials.

After numerous meetings between Mobility Lab/ATP and JBMHH staff, Henry Gate is finally scheduled to reopen on August 1st. The new access point will only be open to pedestrians and cyclists, giving them a convenient way to access the amenities located directly outside the gate and connecting them to the wider transit network via the Metrobus stop and bike trail.

Additionally, keeping the gate closed to cars will ensure that there won't be any new congestion along Arlington Boulevard or Pershing as a result of this decision. It's an incredibly welcome improvement for bike and pedestrian access to one of the county's most expansive military installations.


The Henry Gate pedestrian entrance, the adjacent Metrobus stop, and newly-improved Arlington Boulevard Trail. Image from Google Maps.

A few other recommendations for improving access to Fort Myer for people who don't drive came of Mobility Lab and ATP's survey. For instance, because the vast majority of work trips to JBMHH are made at the same time, the study recommended making employees more aware of carpooling and vanpooling through a service like Commuter Connections.

Also, in conjunction with the reopening of Henry Gate, the base hopes to create a "geofence"—a set pickup location across the street from the gate—where taxi, Uber, and Lyft drivers can pick up and drop off passengers without having to physically drive onto the base, which is currently seen as an inconvenient option due to heightened security measures.

Improving pedestrian and bike access for the soldiers that live at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is certainly a noble goal. But reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips to JBMHH (and thereby reducing congestion) will not only benefit the base's residents and workers, but also Arlington County as a whole. See Mobility Lab and ATP's full presentation on their JBMHH Transportation Survey here.

Development


The peculiar fight over density at the Bethesda Metro

Clark Enterprises, a company that formerly owned the biggest road construction contractor in Montgomery County, is fighting against a new building planned atop the Bethesda Metro station.


The plaza above the Bethesda Metro station. The former food court is behind the fountain. Photo by the author.

Brookfield Properties owns a failed food court on a platform above the station's bus waiting area, which it wants to replace with a high-rise containing homes or offices. Brookfield would also bring more light and air into the bus bays by cutting into an underused plaza that occupies the remainder of the platform.

This site, in the center of Bethesda directly above the Red Line entrance and bus terminal, is ideally situated for transit- and pedestrian-oriented development. No new parking will be built. The downtown master plan now under review by the Planning Board recognizes the value of this location by allowing building up to 290 feet high.

Clark has opposed building here before

In 2008, Clark helped defeat a plan to build on the Metro station platform, and it has been fighting Bookfield's proposal since it emerged two years ago. A new structure would interfere with the view from the building where Clark's executive offices are located. As one of the building's tenants wrote, the new building would "obstruct views from our existing space." A second tenant acknowledged the same objection.

The construction firm, a relentless promoter of highway widenings elsewhere, has renewed its efforts over the last month with two mailings each sent to thousands of Bethesda residents. They call on the public to "protect open space" and suggest that the plaza could be expanded by demolishing the food court and turned into an attractive park.


Clark's first mailer.

The mailers' attractive photographs of grassy parks surrounded by trees have little in common with any possible upgrade of the plaza—tree roots can't grow on the platform—and even less with the dingy bus bays below. Indeed, Clark's proposal could make the bus bays even worse than now.

In their second mailing, the builders argue that the plaza should be made "street facing." What currently separates the plaza from the street is the one opening that penetrates the deck above the bus bays. Decking over that opening would further deprive transit riders of light and fresh air.


Top: The image from Clark's mailing opposing the new building. Bottom: The Bethesda Metro entrance. Lower photo by the author.

It's easy to laugh at a situation some have described as "builder turned NIMBY," and one might think Clark has little chance of success. But plans to build on this ideally located site have already been derailed once. Montgomery County's decision on the Bethesda Metro plaza will test its commitment to development near transit.

Correction: The initial version of this post referred to Clark Construction as the company opposing the building. Clark Enterprises, the parent company, sold Clark Construction to its executives in January 2016. However, as of this article's initial publication, the Clark website still listed Clark Construction as a subsidiary (but it was subsequently updated after this article ran).

Public Spaces


National links: Hockey as a harbinger

What does outlawing street hockey in Canada say about public space? Germany is building super highways for bikes, and Oakland is getting its first Department of Transportation. Check out what's happening around the country (and beyond) in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Dave Kuehn on Flickr.

Game Off!!: Fewer people are playing street hockey in Canada. People playing have received tickets for doing so on neighborhood streets, and some kids say a lot of the hockey they play these days has so much supervision and structure that it's boring. Hockey is one thing, but the bigger issue is that kids feel less welcome in public spaces, like streets, than they used to. (Guardian Cities)

Bike super highways: Germany is building a series of bicycle super highways that will soon connect ten cities and is predicted to take 50,000 drivers off the road. The paths are 13 feet wide and fully separated from car traffic, even at intersections. There's a hope that this kind of infrastructure will usher in alternatives to crowded road and transit systems. (Guardian Cities)

New department in town: Oakland, California doesn't have a Department of Transportation, but it's starting one up this month. The interim director says the new agency will lead the way in answering questions about how to design transportation equitably and inclusively and how to design bike infrastructure without putting drivers on the defensive. (Next City)

Urban growth measures: We often compare cities by their population growth over time. Houston has overtaken Chicago as the third largest city in the US, but that's because counts include suburban growth and annexation, not just central city infill. Analysis by Yonah Freemark shows how central cities have changed since 1960, and that we should consider differences in how cities have grown when we talk about transportation policy. (Transport Politic)

A dense definition: The word "density" makes different people think of different things, and it's pretty unclear what it means relative to cities Are we talking about the density of buildings? People? Another quantifiable statistic? Perhaps the best kind of density is when the result is places where people want to go out and be around one another. (City Metric)

Quote of the week

"These are public streets, and navigation apps take advantage of them. Waze didn't invent cut-through traffic, it just propagates it."

Aarian Marshall in Wired Magazine discussing the neighborhood animosity towards the Waze App.

Public Spaces


Silver Spring could get a big, new, temporary park

Downtown Silver Spring could get a big new park as part of a massive redevelopment of the Blairs, an apartment complex across the street from the Metro. The park will be temporary, but eventually several larger parks will take its place.


Plan of the new park from the Montgomery County Planning Department.

First built in the 1950s, the Blairs are a complex of apartments, offices, and a strip mall across from the Silver Spring Metro station. Owner Tower Companies will redevelop the 27-acre superblock over the coming years, replacing a massive parking lot with 1400 new apartments (there are 1400 there now), new retail, and four acres of new parks.

The first new apartment tower, called the Pearl, is under construction, but much of the new stuff won't arrive for a decade. In the meantime, Tower wants to create a park over one acre in size on the site of a future apartment building.


The Pearl under construction. The temporary park would go in front of it. Photo by the author.

Located near the corner of Eastern Avenue and Blair Mill Road, the new park would have a big lawn and a wood stage for performances. A playground and adult-sized fitness equipment would let people of all sizes work out, while a "fitness trail" would loop around the entire site. The park would also include a community garden and a temporary building that might house a leasing center.

While the park is set to go on private property, it would be open to both Blairs residents and the surrounding neighborhood. The park would be a welcome addition for neighbors who have clamored for more open space in the past. Silver Spring doesn't lack for parks, but many of them are either too small or designed to be unusable.


One of several new parks that will eventually come to the Blairs. Image from Tower Companies.

This wouldn't be the first temporary park in downtown Silver Spring. Over a decade ago, residents and visitors alike fell in love with "the Turf," an artificial grass lawn on Ellsworth Drive, and protested when it was removed to build Veterans Plaza. Possibly hoping to avoid the same result, Tower Companies will place signs at "visible locations" around their temporary park "informing both residents and visitors that the temporary green is the future location of a residential building, and that it is not permanent."

Bicycling


N Street NW has new bike lanes

If you've biked down N Street just north of Thomas Circle recently, your ride may have been more convenient than it used to be thanks to new contraflow lanes. Even though the lanes only stretch two blocks on either side of 14th street, they provide valuable new options for travelling east-west in this part of downtown.


Image from Google Maps.

Previously, these two blocks only allowed for one way traffic heading towards 14th street. The new lanes make two connections possible:

1.Cyclists can go east on the 1300 block of N, making for a straight shot connection from 14th Street to the NoMa metro. Even though most of N doesn't have painted lanes, the low amount of vehicle traffic allows for a relatively low-stress connection between two important parts of the city core.


The new contraflow lanes, looking east along N Street NW. Photo by Matt Friedman.

2.Being able to go west on the 1400 block of N allows for an easier connection to the M Street protected bikeway, which currently ends on the western side of where Massachusetts Avenue meets Thomas Circle. Before, biking from 14th and N to the M Street bikeway required navigating Thomas Circle.


Looking west along N Street. Photo by Matt Friedman.

N Street joins a handful of other contraflow lanes that have been popping up around the city, like those on G and I Streets NE.

This relatively quick and easy project shows that DC hasn't yet run out of "low-hanging fruit" for places to install bicycle infrastructure. These contraflow lanes are fairly non-disruptive to both parking and car traffic.

What other streets might be ripe for this treatment?

Bicycling


Near National airport, the Mount Vernon Trail is new again

A number of changes to the Mount Vernon Trail near Reagan National airport just wrapped up. The National Park Service installed a new railing where the trail comes close to the parkway as well as a much-needed water fountain, and removed a sharp turn from the trail.


The new water fountain on the Mount Vernon Trail. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

The water fountain, which is already working, is the only water stop on the trail itself in the eight mile stretch between Jones Point Park in Alexandria and the trail head in Rosslyn.


Running water from the Mount Vernon Trail's new water fountain.

The park service installed a new railing between the trail and the adjacent George Washington Memorial parkway where the two are just feet apart under a bridge at the southern end of National airport.


The new railing between the trail and parkway.


The new railing is located under a bridge that carries cars from National airport to the parkway.

The park service also shifted the trail away from the parkway under the bridge that connects Crystal City and National airport.


The trail under the Crystal City-National airport bridge today (left) and at the beginning of work in October (right).

Finally, the sharp turn in the trail around a tree south of both bridges is now gone.


The newly realigned trail is on the left and the old route around the tree on the right.

Weather postponed the completion of the improvements to the Mount Vernon Trail to June from the spring, says Aaron LaRocca, chief of staff of the park service's division responsible for the parkway and trail.

The trail work has been a long time in coming. The number of users continues to increase, especially since the beginning of the SafeTrack work on the Metrorail system. The Yellow and Blue lines are scheduled for a full closure between Braddock Road and Pentagon City - the section of track that parallels this part of the trail - for much of July.

Many users continue to seek more improvements to the Mount Vernon Trail. Among the various ideas are a bike bypass at Gravelly Point and snow removal in the winter.

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