Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Public Spaces

Government


The plastics industry says trash is not a problem in the Anacostia River. DC councilmembers disagree.

The DC Council could vote to ban foam food containers on Monday. The plastics industry is hoping otherwise.


Foam packaging along the Potomac River. Photo by Cheryl Williams, Surfrider Foundation

The plastics lobby descended on the Wilson building this week to make a last-ditch push to block a proposed polystyrene ban, up for a final vote on Monday. The bill passed the council unanimously on June 24.

Led by Dart Container and the American Chemistry Council, the industry lobbyists want to delay the ban until more study is done on trash in the Anacostia River, even though research has been ongoing for more than five years.

The Anacostia Watershed Society has been tracking material caught in Nash Run, near the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, since 2009. By volume, foam is typically about a quarter of the floatable trash they capture.


Trash, by volume, collected from the Nash Run Trash Trap. Image from the Anacostia Watershed Society.

The proposed ban is part of Mayor Vincent Gray's Sustainable DC plan, and is included along with ten other measures in the Sustainable DC Omnibus Act of 2013. The ban would cover expanded polystyrene foam food containers like cups, clamshells, and plates that you might get at fast food or carryout restaurants.

While it doesn't take effect until 2016, the District is already preparing to support businesses with a list of vendors of alternative materials, and coordinating cooperative buying arrangements to help lower costs. Many small businesses already use compostable or recyclable packaging, knowing that their customers prefer sustainable alternatives.

Polystyrene foam bans are already in place in more than 100 cities around the country, in response to research on plastic pollution in the oceans and persistent litter in neighborhoods. Even Congress tried to get rid of polystyrene in its cafeterias under former Speaker (now Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi's watch. DC would be the first in the region to pass such a ban, though Baltimore has been debating one for several years.

As plastics go, polystyrene is one of the worst. Styrene itself is a possible carcinogen, with a risk of transfer particularly via hot foods. Once in the water, polystyrene behaves like all other petrochemicals and absorbs fertilizers and pesticides, but at ten times the rate of other types of plastic. If a fish eats those tiny piecesor a volunteer picks it up at a river cleanupit can be exposed to toxic chemicals.

The bill is on the agenda for Monday's legislative meeting. For more information, and to contact your councilmember, see banthefoam.org.

Transit


Metro considers labeling trains as Northbound, Southbound, etc. as part of new sign concept

You might soon be catching a Southbound Green Line train to L'Enfant Plaza and transfer to an Eastbound Orange Line train, if Metro goes ahead with a concept to revamp signs and navigation in the rail system.

The agency took a fresh look at its wayfinding signs because of a number of problems, including accessibility for people with disabilities, really confusing designs, and more. Officials came up with a new concept, ran it by people internally, and last night shared it with the Riders' Advisory Council.

North, south, east, west

The biggest change would be to drop the system of identifying directions by the ends of the lines. Instead of taking a Green Line train toward Branch Avenue or Greenbelt, you'd take it northbound or southbound.


Left: Current pylon design. Right: New concept pylon design.

Certainly this direction system can be confusing for many people, especially new riders, for whom these ends of lines mean little. It's particularly easy to get mixed up with the Red Line, where trains can go to Glenmont, Shady Grove, Grosvenor, and Silver Spring. But the two "S" directions aren't on the same side, nor are the two 2-word directions.

On the other hand, the Red Line makes a U shape, so telling someone to get on the Westbound Red Line at Wheaton, when the tracks really head south and a bit east, might still leave some room for confusion. Riders from Franconia to Pentagon would have one track for both Eastbound Blue Line trains and Northbound Yellow Line trains. The Blue Line train also heads west before it heads east, though the trains do ultimately go east and north.

Matt Johnson examined this possibility in a post in 2010, but also noted the above issues. Other possibilities include "inbound/outbound," as Boston's T does, picking a spot (such as Metro Center) where the directions flip; or listing the next major stations, as Munich does.

The strip maps would also get simpler and just show stations you can reach with a one-seat ride from the current platform, like Matt recommended. There would be only a few different signs; and stations with the same lines would all have the same signs, with the current station marked with a white background.


Current strip map (for Rosslyn).


New strip maps (for Pentagon City)

More dots on the map?

Another part of the presentation shows tweaks to the system map. Metro officials spent months agonizing over how to show stations where multiple lines all stop, since the old system of one small circle in between two lines doesn't work for three lines.

The agency eventually settled on a scheme of using the same small circles but with little white "whiskers" linking it to the lines on each side. It seems they aren't happy with this in the Jackson Graham Building, because the new concept tosses this out and instead puts a separate circle on each line.


New concept system map.


The current system map.


Alternate "pill" option from 2013 redesign.

To me, this looks really busy and messy. What do you think? Another problem is that transfer stations still have a single small-ish circle, so it might even look like Silver and Blue trains don't stop at L'Enfant Plaza. Certainly the transfer stations are now much less prominent, which is the opposite of what should be.

In our 2011 map contest, someone actually did suggest something like this scheme: Matt Johnson, whose entry used pairs or triples of dots. However, he used bigger dots that link together, which I at least think looks much nicer than this. He made the transfer stations much larger, though the problem still exists on his version.


Matt Johnson's map contest entry.

The ends of each line now say "West Terminus" and so forth. It's a minor thing, but "terminus" seems like an unnecessarily technical word to use. There's also got to be a more elegant graphical way to include those labels.

What do you think about using north/south/east/west and the map concept?

Events


Events roundup: Tree care, electric buses, and more

Meet the people who care for DC street trees over happy hour drinks, then join them to help trees in Lansburgh Park. Tour an all-electric, zero-emissions bus of the future, and learn the history of Fire and EMS services in DC.


Photo by whiteknuckled on Flickr.

Join Casey Trees for happy hour: The DC non-profit committed to preserving and enhancing tree canopy will hosting a happy hour tonight from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Nellie's Sports Bar, 900 U Street NW. Enjoy drinks and learn more about Casey Trees' mission.

Talk about Montgomery's recent elections: Also tonight, Action Committee for Transit hosts reelected County Councilmember George Leventhal for a talk about last month's primary election as well as upcoming issues for the council. That meeting's from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building (One Veterans Place). Click here to learn more.

After the jump: Calling all Millennials to Bethesda, and other upcoming events around the region.

This isn't your father's public meeting: Next week, Streetsense, JBG, and Clark Construction are co-hosting Untapped Perspective to help the Montgomery County Planning Board receive feedback on their Downtown Bethesda Plan. They are in need of millennial input, so this event is geared toward 21-35 year olds who have some affiliation to Bethesda. They've got beer, food, and giveaways to make it worth your while. The event is Wednesday, July 16 from 5:30 to 8:30 pm at Streetsense, located at 3 Bethesda Metro Center. RSVP by July 14 to untappedrsvp@streetsense.com.

See the bus of the future: Come see the future in public transportation with ProTerra, makers of next-generation electric buses. ProTerra will be at several DC locations tomorrow, Wednesday, June 9th, displaying its quiet and emissions-free V2 40-foot buses. RSVP to Will Hansfield to attend.

The schedule of tours is as follows:

  • 8:30 am-10:30 am - USDOT, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
  • 11:00 am-12:30 pm - DDOT, 55 M Street, SE
  • 1:00 pm-2:30 pm - The Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
  • 3:00 pm-5:30 pm - Union Station, 40 Massachusetts Ave NE
Learn the history of firefighting in DC: Also tomorrow, July 9, join the staff of the DC Fire and EMS Museum in the Washingtonian Room of the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G St. NW, from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm for a panel discussion on the history of the DC Fire and Medical Emergency Service Department. Historians will discuss 150 years of DC firefighting history, and share photos and stories from DC's biggest fires. For more information contact Lauren Martino or call 202-727-1213.

Take care of trees in Lansburgh Park: Do your part to improve the health of DC's tree canopy at Casey Trees' second Thirsty Thursday event of the summer on July 10th. Weed, mulch, and water the 18 young trees planted in Lansburgh Park during its spring community tree planting season, to help them through their first few years. The event will be held in Lansburgh Park, 1030 Delaware Avenue SW, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

Women bike, too: Join women's health expert and roll model Laurie from Proteus Bicycles on Sunday July 13th for a skillshare on women's health and biking. Learn how biking benefits your health and the health of our communities. Laurie will be meeting participants at the Georgetown Library, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Bicycling


The 15th Street cycletrack will soon continue up the hill to Columbia Heights

When the 15th Street cycletrack opened in 2010 with great fanfare, bicycle planners talked about extending it farther north. But attention shifted to other important projects. Now, it's coming back, and the cycletrack should lengthen from V Street to Euclid Street sometime in 2015.


Looking south from 15th and W. Photo by the author.

Since 15th Street is one-way northbound except for bicycles in the cycletrack, the only legal way to get on it at its northern end is using V Street from the west. People riding from farther north or east have to take busy 16th or U Streets or, as many do, ride illegally the wrong way on 15th or V.

Finally, a regular intersection for 15th and New Hampshire

In addition, the intersection of 15th, W, New Hampshire, and Florida has been waiting for a larger overhaul. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) added temporary bulb-outs in 2009 to narrow what was a huge intersection and a dangerous place, especially for pedestrians.

In the summer of 2012, DDOT unveiled potential designs to permanently rebuild this intersection and extend the cycletrack through.

Where 15th now widens into a huge sea of concrete feeding into 15th, W, and Florida, it will become a narrower, more classic intersection. There will be new trees and pedestrian medians including bicycle signals. The rest of the space will become bioretention basins to improve storm water runoff, water quality, and the walkable feel of the area.


Plans for 15th from V to W and surrounding streets. Image from DDOT.


Rendering of the cycletrack with curbs and bioretention. Image from DDOT.

Up the hill

After passing W/New Hampshire/Florida, the cycletrack hits a very steep hill along the east side of Meridian Hill Park, one of the steeper hills in northwest DC. Now, 15th has a pair of bike lanes, both going uphill, one on each side of the street.


The hilly and awkward dual one-way bikes on 15th Street. Photos by the author.

This design has never made much sense. Two bike lanes are redundant. Plus, it is dangerous to try to use the east side bike lane, because cyclists have to cut across fairly high-speed traffic to get to it. With this project, there will instead be a two-way cycletrack like 15th farther south.

Being allowed to go down the hill on 15th Street next to Meridian Hill Park will be a welcome change. Still, cyclists riding uphill will get a serious workout, while those riding down will have to take care not to build up more speed than is safe, particularly around the curve at Belmont Street and approaching the intersection at the bottom of the hill.


The space for the cycletrack is already there; it just needs to be reconfigured.

Reaching the top

After Euclid, there will still be a painted bike lane on the right side of the street. Goodno said DDOT will add a bike box (not currently shown on the plans) at 15th and Euclid to let cyclists headed north safely switch from the new cycletrack on the left side to the existing bike lane on the right.


The northern terminus point for the project at 15th and Euclid Streets, NW.

Drivers will not lose travel lanes and little if any parking. The parking on the west side of 15th will shift over to go next to the cycletrack, as elsewhere, but will just take up the space previously occupied by the old bike lanes. The parking on the east side of 15th won't change.

DDOT Bicycle Specialist Mike Goodno said,

This will be an extraordinary connection between existing bike lanes on V St, W St, and New Hampshire Avenue. There will be improvements for pedestrians with the hard medians. Cyclists will have 10 feet of space, versus 8 feet in the rest of the cycle track south of V St, and be protected by curbing. It will extend the reach of protected cycling north to Euclid Street, and there will be bicycle signals as recommended in the 2012 bicycle facility evaluation report.
DDOT has selected a final design and plans to put the project out to bid within the next few months. Construction should begin in 6 to 12 months, once a contract is awarded.

Development


How do you fix Ballston mall? Make it less like a mall

Problem: The Ballston Common Mall isn't working very well. Solution: Open the mall up to the surrounding streets, so it becomes the center of a lively community rather than a walled-off separate place.


Concept for the Ballston mall renovation. Images from Forest City.

Ballston is one of the smallest malls in the region. It can't compete well against bigger centers with more stores, like Pentagon City or Tysons Corner. Instead, the mall generally only draws customers from a small area nearby, and thus makes less money than other, bigger malls.

Meanwhile, being an enclosed mall that serves mostly local traffic, it saps sidewalk retail away from Ballston's neighborhood streets. Stores that would otherwise be on the sidewalk are instead bottled up in the mall.

To fix this, developer Forest City plans to face more stores to the sidewalk, and give them more inviting storefronts. It will replace nondescript mall doors with open-air plazas that naturally extend the street into the mall. Capping the building will be a new 29-story residential tower.


Concept for the open-air plaza.

Forest City still needs to work with Arlington County to finalize and approve plans. For now, these are just concepts. But if all goes well, the 1980s-style Ballston Common Mall will transition to become the contemporary Ballston Center in 2017 and 2018.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Confusing Park Police rules scuttle Fort Reno concerts, Mall food trucks

The National Park Service's difficult and sometimes inscrutable regulations for events in parks may have claimed another victim: Long-running summer concerts in Fort Reno. The same day, Park Police also cracked down on food trucks along the Mall.


Photo by Dale Sundstrom on Flickr.

The organizer of the Fort Reno concerts, Amanda MacKaye, announced yesterday that the concerts are canceled for this year. She says that's because the National Park Service and the US Park Police changed their requirements at the last minute in a way that would double the cost to host the free concerts.

The park, located in Tenleytown in upper northwest, had hosted the concerts since 1968 and was always a showcase of regional talent for a wide variety of bands. The shows were put on by volunteers and are generally low-key affairs even if the bands themselves are loud.

But in a note on the series' website, McKaye said instead of receiving the expected permit like in years before she was told that organizers had to pay for an extra US Park Police Officer to be at every concert. She says,

Park Police cited differing reasons as to why this had come up after all these years. The reasons felt vague and when asked for specifics, none were given.

I requested a sit down meeting with NPS and USPP with the hope that our long standing (very good) relationship with NPS coupled with people seeing that we are just folks having a small community related event would bring about a better understanding and resolution.

Two messages to schedule went unanswered and when I did reach someone, a meeting was scheduled for the next morning (yesterday). The meeting happened but none of the invitees attended except myself and one extremely kind NPS employee who works in the office where meetings are held but despite being familiar with the park and the concert series as being an annual event, knew nothing about why the permit was being stalled.

She went on to say that she was not aware of any announcement of a policy change over the past year that would have alerted her to this.

There are valid reasons for requiring measures like extra police presence at events. Large crowds can potentially be dangerous, and many different venues require them all the time. But organizers deserve to know about these requirements up front, and hear well in advance if something has changed from one year to another.

In a statement, NPS spokesperson Jennifer Mummart said,

Today, the National Park Service (NPS) was notified by the permit applicant for the Fort Reno concert series that she intended to postpone the concerts. The United States Park Police (USPP) reached out to the applicant today. The NPS and USPP are reviewing the details of previous permits and previous law enforcement needs related to the concert series. Our primary goal is public safety. Both the NPS and USPP recognize the importance of the concerts to the community and look forward to further discussions with the permit applicant.
If McKaye's account is accurate, this wouldn't be the first time NPS' bureaucracy has created confusing policy or frustrated volunteers trying to use parks for community gathering spaces. The Dupont Festival is a group of people who volunteer their time to organize many kinds of events in the Circle. Just yesterday, they packed the circle to watch the US men's World Cup team play Germany (they lost, but the US did well enough to advance out of its group anyway).


Photo by John Jack Photography on Flickr.

The Dupont Festival folks have gotten a handle on navigating NPS' arcane and complex permitting processes as well as built relationships with permit officials, but when they were getting started they ran into many obstacles that sound a lot like the Fort Reno ones. Besides requirements for police, NPS also imposed last-minute requirements like insurance, didn't get the details of their permit until the last minute, and yelled at an organizer for showing up early.

The Park Service has been making many big and positive strides to be more responsive to residents and more open to making DC's parks, from the Mall to ones in neighborhoods, actually serve the functions of urban parks, such as including playground or welcoming people for special events.

Though food remains a problem. Yesterday, Park Police also drove away food trucks which park along streets like 7th Street as they cross the National Mall. While DC gives permits to the food trucks, NPS officials claim that trucks parking along streets with federal property on both sides is subject to federal rules rather than local ones.

This is a different issue than concerts in local parks, and it's no sudden revelationNPS has been saying this for years, though it's not clear why there was a sudden crackdown yesterday. Hopefully NPS can find ways to accommodate food trucks, perhaps in select zones as DC has done downtown. They are a tremendous asset for hungry tourists.

Recently-retired NPS National Capital Region director Steve Whitesell said that the agency used to make "no" the default answer, and is evolving to work with people to find a way to "yes." Music fans will have to hope that the organizers and NPS can resolve their issues by next summer, while tourists on the Mall can wish for some solution to offer better food.

Public Spaces


An urban park won't succeed with suburban edges

A large urban park may be an oasis where the city feels distant, but to succeed, a good large urban park also ties in well with neighborhoods at its borders. New York's Central Park does this well, as does Patterson Park in Baltimore. Druid Hill Park, to its northwest, does not.


The wide roads at the edges of Druid Hill Park break the park into fragments and are a barrier to the adjacent neighborhoods. Images from Google Street View.


The borders of Central Park are clearly defined. Pedestrians easily cross into it and there is food available on three corners.

Druid Hill Park was built around the same time as New York's Central Park. Its beautiful 750 acres offer urban forest, fields, a zoo, a reservoir, and recreation.

However, at its edge, traffic engineers designed a tangle of speedy arterial roads with grassy medians not unlike route 175 that links Columbia, MD with Interstate 95. Unlike sprawling suburban Columbia, Druid Hill Park is surrounded by dense historic neighborhoods filled with row houses and apartments.


Big roads with fast moving traffic separate Druid Hill park from adjacent neighborhoods. Image from Google Maps.

Many of the people who live nearby do not own cars. The obese hard-to-cross roads do a good job of both being unpleasant for nearby neighbors and creating a barrier to accessing the park. Furthermore, the road slices into the park and leaves the park edges oddly fragmented.

The roads around the park have been engineered for speed to the detriment of nearby residents and families who might want to walk to the neighborhood park.

Compounding the problem, Druid Hill Park's many amenities, including the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, picnic pavilions, pool, athletic fields and courts, gardens, and playgrounds are buried deep in the center of the park. It is a long walk from the edge of the neighborhoods to the park's activity centers. To get to anything easily in the park, you have to drive.

Other large urban parks succeed where

Druid Hill's contemporary, Central Park in New York, did not abandon the urban street grid, and it functions well as both a neighborhood park and a destination.

The same goes for Patterson Park, five miles to the southeast of Druid Hill Park. It has a road network on its edges that work much better. Patterson Park is bordered by heavily trafficked Baltimore Street and Eastern Avenue, but these roads remain true to the urban street grid with regular T-shaped intersections.

All streets are only four lanes, including on-street parking. Traffic travels much slower. Crosswalks are more frequent. Neighbors can see ball fields, playgrounds, people enjoying the park right from their bedroom windows.

Patterson Park is much more intimate with its neighborhoods on all four sides. This design difference helps make Patterson Park, far more interwoven into the daily lives of the residents in the blocks across the street.


In Patterson Park, the activities in the park are easily viewed from bedroom windows, traffic is slow, and the roads are easily crossable. Photo by the author.

Design is psychology

Happy City author Charles Montgomery writes, "Cities that care about livability have got to start paying attention to the psychological effect that traffic has on the experience of public space." He explains that humans get anxious when speeds increase, because we know our bones cannot withstand a crash at more than 20 mph.

This makes places like the swift roads dividing Druid Hill Park with the neighborhoods of Reservoir Hill, Parkview, Liberty Square, and Park Circle unhappy places. It may also help explain why these neighborhoods' park-front real estate is so weak.

In 2010, Gerald Neily, writing in the Baltimore Brew, made some of the arguments made in this post. Since that time, very little has changed.

Cities and neighborhoods always have to evolve to prosper. The southern, western, and northern edge of Druid Hill Park are not working. The evidence is as clear as the vacant buildings and lots on the park's edge. New York's Central Park and Baltimore's Patterson Park can give direction on how to design the edge of a park in an urban setting. Druid Hill Park has unrealized potential to be a much better urban park. Retrofitting its suburban design will help.

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