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

Posts in category Public Spaces

Development


This graph shows which parts of our region are walkable, affordable, and equitable

The Washington region is blessed with many walkable places. But with more and more people hoping to live and work in them, some are more affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people than others. A nifty analysis from GWU looks at which walkable areas in the region are the most affordable and equitable over a wide variety of factors.


Scatterplot by the author.

The scatterplot above shows the combined economic and social equity score for 50 walkable urban places in our region, or WalkUPs, a phrase my research group coined when we first started measuring this in 2012. The chart below summarizes how we find and define WalkUPs.

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

These places are the site of the most intense and rapid development and demographic pressures and changes in our region, and it often seems like these two metrics are in direct conflict in those circumstances. However, we've identified some special places in our region that are at a "sweet spot" for both investors and residents. Those places are in the upper right quadrant of the plot.

Places in the upper left quadrant have relatively higher rents than the region as a whole, but lower social equity scores. But it's interesting to note that there are places, even in the geographic northwest of DC, that score high on both indices, such as Friendship Heights. In these places, while rents are high, lower transportation costs help keep them within reach for average renters (note: this analysis does not include for-sale housing).

The quadrant where walkability, lower rents across product types, and equity meet is in the lower-right hand corner. Silver Spring scored number one of established WalkUPs on equity, and it's affordable too! Housing hunters, take note.

This plot is a snapshot of 2015. The really interesting question is where our region is trending. The future sustainability of many of these places, especially suburban TODs, and many "emerging" WalkUPs that we've identified, hinge on the future of transit in our region. As Metrorail struggles and the Purple Line remains tied up in court, where market demand for walkability will land is an open question. Local jurisdictions whose budgets are supported by property taxes should take note, however, that walkability and value remain inextricably intertwined. All the places on this plot are walkable, and command significant premiums over a region that is mostly...not...yet?

If you'd like to hear more about this analysis, I'll be presenting these findings at an Urban Land Institute event this Wednesday, September 21. Or, stay tuned for a forthcoming report.

Public Spaces


When you turn parking spaces into parks, it looks like this

On Friday, September 16th, greater Washington gave some parking spaces a facelift and converted them into miniature parks for Park(ing) Day, an imaginative international event to show what else could be done with curbside parking spaces.

Thanks to readers who tweeted pictures and uploaded to our Flickr pool. Here is some of what you submitted:


Photo by Joanne Pierce.

The Anacostia Waterfront Trust collaborated with the DC Council and several other organizations to create a superblock-long parklet at the John A. Wilson Building along the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue otherwise reserved for councilmember parking.


Photo by the author.

Councilmember David Grosso biked to eight DC parklets. Above, he's pictured at center, with Greater Greater Washington contributor and chief of staff Tony Goodman to his left. They're talking to BicycleSPACE co-owner Erik Kugler at the shop's Mount Vernon Triangle parklet while a staff member lunches.


Photo by @bestpixelco.

The National Park Service turned asphalt to water for imaginary canoe trips along F Street NW.


Photo by Payton Chung.

GGWash editorial board member Payton Chung enjoyed the Urban Land Institute's effort to strike the right balance between the natural and built environment.


Photo by Jim Chandler.

GGWash reader Jim Chandler took this picture to say aloha from Hyattsville's University Town Center, where the city created a "temporary tropical oasis."


Photo by Melissa E.B. McMahon.

Reader Melissa E.B. McMahon captured the fun and games at one of Arlington County's five parklets.

Our write-ups from throughout the years of Park(ing) Days are here.

You can also view more Park(ing) Day 2016 scenes in Washingtonian, the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock, Channel 4, and Channel 7.

Pedestrians


National links: Ancient ruins that nobody visits

There are ancient ruins in the United States but people don't treat them as tourist destinations like they do ones in other countries. Also, not everyone gets to weigh in on how their city is planned, and Ford Motor Company is trying out a different transportation strategy. Check out what's going on in the world of housing, transportation, and cities around the globe.


Photo by John Fowler on Flickr.

Ancient ruins ignored: The US has a number of ancient cities, including Cahokia near St. Louis and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. But we don't visit the same way we do places like, say, Machu Picchu. Part of the reason may be that ancient ruins in the US don't exactly mesh with the narrative that this land was uninhibited, waiting for Westerners to simply come and put it to use. (Pricenomics)

Not so representative: Metropolitan planning agencies are notorious for overlooking the opinions of people who live in dense urban areas, especially people of color and women. According to researchers in Austin, Texas, while 63% of their regional population is white, white board members represent 90% of the technical advisory council and 85% of the transportation policy board of region's metropolitan planning organization. Women make up 33% and 30% of these same two boards even though they make up half of the total population. (Streetsblog USA)

Will Ford change urban transportation?: The Ford Motor company is making urban travel part of its business model. The company has bought Chariot, a transit-like company that shuttles people from home to work in large cities, and is paying to bring 7,000 bike share bikes to San Francisco by 2017 (there are 700 now). The company says its goal is to drive down the cost of mobility for everyone. (Medium)

Is "out" the only way forward?: Cities that spread outward have produced more housing than those which have curbed the sprawl, according to a Berkeley economist. More units in sprawling areas has meant lower prices, which means cities will face a hard decision going forward: contain development while production in the core lags and prices go up, or sprawl into the outer areas of the region, a solution that brings high transportation costs and environmental damage. (Wall Street Journal)

Crosswalk, redesigned: A series of crosswalks are being redesigned in San Francisco to promote safety, taking into account the fact that drivers hit three people each day. The idea is to make pedestrians easier to spot by using multiple zebra crossings and raised curbs, but also to make the crossings more park-like. (Curbed SF)

Our transportation habits are wasteful: When writing a book on garbage, Edward Humes noticed that we waste a lot of space and resources on transportation, so he wrote a new book called Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation. The fact that vehicles designed for five people ferry around one person, for example, led him to think the car is a social, economic, and health problem that needs to be solved. (New York Times)

Quote of the Day

"If you look at legal requirements on levels of nitrogen dioxide in particular, Oxford Street gets in the first week of January what it should in an entire year. That's one of the reason why there's an urgency to air quality plans."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who himself has adult onset asthma, discussing the air quality problems London faces thanks to endless streams of diesel buses. (CNN)

Public Spaces


Car-free travel idea: Backpacking via Metro

Sure, the Metro can take you to many places, but did you know that you can take it to go backpacking? Parks in both Maryland and Virginia have campgrounds that are less than a one-hour hike away from Metro stations.


Greenbelt Park has family-friendly hiking trails. Photo by Brian Vallelunga on Flickr.

Greenbelt Park in Greenbelt, Maryland

This 174-site campground sits atop a heavily wooded ridge between two small streams that feed into the Anacostia River, within a National Park Service-run park that also has nine miles of hiking trails. It's a two-mile walk from the east entrance to the College Park Metro, about half of which is on sidewalks (going near the College Park Aviation Museum) and the other half on trails; NPS even provides convenient turn-by-turn directions.

The park is also about three miles south of Old Greenbelt, an experimental town built by the federal government during the Great Depression.


Lake Fairfax Park's group campground. Photo by Adam Theo on Flickr.

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia

The three campgrounds near Lake Fairfax are run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The hike from Wiehle Metro to the nearest campsite is just under two miles, both along suburban streets and along the uppermost reach of the Difficult Run trail, which ultimately leads to Great Falls Park. Besides the recreational lake, the park also has a skateboard area and an "activity pool" with waterslides and a lazy river.

Reston was also built as an experimental planned community, albeit in the 1960s, and the campground is three miles from Reston's original "village center."


Lockhouse 6, one of six cabins for rent along the C&O Canal. Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.

C&O Canal National Historic Park in Brookmont, Maryland

If a cabin with a kitchen and water views is more your style, Lockhouse 6 is a restored cabin right along the C&O canal that you can rent out for $150 per night. Built almost 200 years ago for canal employees, it's now decorated in a 1950s style and includes a kitchen and bathroom.

Getting there takes either a three-mile walk from the Friendship Heights Metro—or just a five-minute walk from RideOn's bus route 23, which runs Monday through Saturday and stops at Broad Street and Maryland Avenue in Brookmont. A campsite that convenient does have one drawback: the cabin backs up to busy Clara Barton Parkway.

Parking


For a day, we're getting a bunch of tiny new parks

Friday, September 16th is Park(ing) Day! Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event where people turn parking spaces into miniature parks for a day, prompting impromptu public gatherings and calling attention to our need for more open spaces.


Landscape architecture firm Oculus' 2013 Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

Here's a list of where some of the miniature parks (aka "parklets") will pop up tomorrow:

District parklets

DC's official list of parklets is here. More than 25 locations will serve as pop-up parklets, including locations near Metro stations like NoMa, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, Gallery Place, McPherson Square, and Shaw-Howard.


A map of where parklets will pop up in DC. Click for an interactive version.

The DC Department of Transportation is hosting a parklet and commuter spa at Farragut North, complete with a reading nook and a professional masseuse.

Several organizations promoting Anacostia River revitalization, including Waterfront Trust, Living Classrooms, Nature Conservancy, Washington Parks and People, and DC UrbanGreens will host a parklet in front of the Wilson Building.

Virginia parklets

Alexandria City will have five parklets throughout Old Town Alexandria, including City Hall and the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech.

Arlington will host five parklets, including one at Courthouse Plaza that will feature art by Kate Stewart.


A shot from Park(ing) Day 2013 in Arlington. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

Maryland parklets

Montgomery County will host pop-ups in Wheaton, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Takoma Park. Docs in Progress, a group that teaches documentary filmmaking, will be interviewing residents at its Silver Spring parklet.

Hyattsville will host four parklets, including an evening parklet from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Municipal Building, which will have lawn games, food, beer, and live music.

Help us crowdsource PARK(ing) Day 2016

If you know of a parklet we've missed or if you see a parklet tomorrow, let us know in the comments. Share any photos of parklets and add them to the Greater Greater Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll post photos in a roundup next week.

Bicycling


The Park Service plans to connect key bike trails on the Mall, in Arlington, and elsewhere

A 15th Street protected bikeway that extends through the Mall and a Mount Vernon trail with more connections are two of the many changes that a new plan from the National Park Service (NPS) would make to the region's trails.


The Mount Vernon Trail near National airport. Photo by the author.

In its recently-released Paved Trails Study, NPS makes 121 recommendations for improvements that include everything from bridge access to safety and closing missing gaps in the trail network. It prioritizes 18 projects for implementation in the next two years, including:

  • Extending the 15th Street NW protected bikeway about a mile, across the Mall to the 14th Street bridge. It currently ends at Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Connecting the Mount Vernon Trail to the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge, which would make it easier to get between the trail and the Mall by using the existing path on the bridge that ends on the west side of the Potomac River.
  • Studying the possibility of a protected bike lane from Rock Creek Park to 16th Street NW along Military Road, a stretch of road that is like a four-lane highway with scant shoulder and no sidewalks or bike lanes.
  • Studying the possibility of an off-street connection between Oxon Hill and the planned South Capitol Street Trail that would connect to National Harbor and the Woodrow Wilson bridge path. Closing this gap in the trail system east of the Anacostia River would provide cyclists and pedestrians with access to job and activity centers in Prince George's County and Virginia.
  • Improving safety at the "intersection of doom" where cyclists and pedestrians on the Custis and Mount Vernon trails must share space with cars at the corner of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street in Rosslyn.

Map of NPS and other trails in the Washington DC region. Image by the NPS.

NPS will make prominent trails easier to get to

Extending the 15th Street protected bikeway to the 14th Street Bridge would close a prominent gap between the District's burgeoning bike lane network and one of the busiest bike crossings of the Potomac River. The bridge saw an average of 2,400 to 2,500 cyclists on weekdays during June, July and August, Bike Arlington's counters show.


The route of an extended 15th Street protected bike lane to the 14th Street Bridge. Image by the NPS.

The lane would replace parking along 15th Street north of Constitution Avenue NW, be built in the space between the curb and sidewalk from Constitution to Independence Avenue SW, and replace a southbound traffic lane on Maine Avenue SW to the bridge, the report says. It would be built in partnership with the DC Department of Transportation.

The other planned connections listed above also close gaps in the regional trail network. One of the more exciting is probably the off-street trail to Oxon Hill that would provide District residents who live east of the Anacostia River an off-street bike route to jobs and activities in National Harbor and in Virginia. It would also create a new bike loop on both sides of the Potomac River using the 14th Street and Woodrow Wilson bridges.


The proposed off-street connection between South Capital Street and Oxon Hill. Image by the NPS.

A fix is coming to the "intersection of doom"

The Park Service plans to work with Arlington County to improve safety at the busy intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn, otherwise known as the "intersection of doom."

The intersection is one of the most frequent sites of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, Arlington County Police data has shown. Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon trail to the Custis trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge, must pass through the intersection, sharing the space with two lanes of auto traffic that is trying to turn onto the Key Bridge from I-66.

The recommendation includes "clearly separate" spaces for bikes, pedestrians, and cars at the intersection, as outlined in Arlington's Realize Rosslyn Sector Plan, the report says.


Concept plan for the intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn. Image by Arlington County.

However, beyond saying that the NPS will work with Arlington County on the plan for the intersection, the report does not detail exactly how they plan to clearly separate pedestrians and bikes from car traffic.

A change of heart from NPS?

The recommendations hopefully signal a change of heart for NPS. For years, the agency did not take bike travel seriously, instead emphasizing keeping existing auto-only roads as they were. For example, it took NPS 20 years to respond to trail user and resident requests for improvements to the popular trail through Rock Creek Park.

"Trail usage has increased significantly and as the area continues to grow in residential and employment population, walking and biking trips will also continue to increase," NPS says in the report. "These trends place increased pressure on the trail network, particularly the trail segments that form the backbone of the larger regional trail network."

The plan has one big hole: funding. None of the proposed improvements can be implemented in the timeline outlined by the report without funds to pay for them.

The plan does not gloss over funding entirely. It points out that NPS parks in the Washington region have been more successful at securing funding for projects from non-federal sources, like partnering with local jurisdictions, than parks elsewhere, but that it also receives fewer federal funds.

Such partnerships certainly present an opportunity for funding the 121 trail improvement recommendations but fall short of a firm plan that leaves the fate of many of the proposed projects in limbo.

Development


Laurel nearly became a pro sports metropolis. Here’s how it dodged the Bullets (and some other teams).

The city of Laurel prides itself on its small town charm and historic areas, but during the 1980s and 1990s, multiple sports owners made plans to build stadiums there. Fortunately for Laurel—and the region—it didn't become home to all of the region's professional sports teams.


Baltimore's Memorial Stadium during its eventual demolition. Photo by Mark Plummer on Flickr.

Early 1980's: Three teams, one dome

In 1981 the Baltimore Colts and Orioles were playing in an outdated Memorial Stadium. Originally constructed in 1922 and later renovated in the 1950's, the stadium had outlived its useful life and both teams were looking for a new home.

Forty miles south was RFK Stadium where the Washington Football Team was locked into one of the worst leases in the league, at least from the team's perspective, as almost all of the money that now goes to teams was going to the DC government.

Team owners hatched an idea to build a $125 million domed stadium halfway between Baltimore and DC, adjacent to the Laurel Park Race Track. Combining the two cities would create the 4th-largest TV market in the country.

The proposal, however, came at a time when the trend of shared professional stadiums was about to start being replaced by more lucrative single sport stadiums throughout the country. In Minnesota, for example, a similar stadium (the Metrodome) was built to house professional baseball and football teams. Within a decade of opening the baseball team was suing to get out of their lease based on the lack of profitability by the shared stadium.

Plans for the shared stadium were halted when the Colts owner, Robert Irsay, reached an agreement with the City of Indianapolis for a dome of his own. Fearing they would lose their last professional team, Baltimore began negotiations with the Orioles that would lead to the construction of their current stadium, Camden Yards.

Early 1990's: Capitals and Bullets (Wizards) look at Laurel

Abe Pollin, the owner of the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and Capitals, also had toyed with the notion of putting a team in Laurel when he was looking for a site for the Capital Centre in the 1970's. He ultimately chose Landover for his arena to house his NHL and NBA team that opened in 1973, but in the 1990's he began to look again at the idea of placing a team in Laurel.

The Bullets had a built-in Baltimore fan base since they had played in the city for a decade prior to the opening of the Capital Centre. But the flaw in Pollin's plan is that it came at a time when sports stadiums were being moved from the suburbs into city centers to spur economic growth and revitalization.

The proposed arena would be located in a largely suburban area and only served by MARC. Fortunately for DC, nothing came from the flirtation with Laurel, and the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) served as the catalyst for revitalizing Chinatown neighborhood.


The MCI Center, which is now the Verizon Center. Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

In 2002, the Capital Centre was demolished and replaced with a new mall called the Boulevard at Capital Centre.

1993: The Washington Football Team tries to unite two cities

In 1993, the Washington Football Team's billionaire owner, Jack Kent Cooke, began looking at Laurel again as a possible stadium site. With the Colts in Indianapolis, Washington's team would have two markets' worth of fans if it were closer to Baltimore.

The challenge the team faced was that in the decade since it last looked at Laurel, the area around the proposed stadium location had been developed, leaving less than 100 acres for the new stadium. In order to cram as many cars onto the site as possible. the team proposed making spaces smaller and removing most of the greenery around the stadium.


Laurel's stadium would have gone here, between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and I-95. Image from Google Maps.

The stadium site was also located outside of the reach of Metro and only served by MARC. As a result this would lead to massive congestion at the site on gameday, a problem that would have taken $186 million in infrastructure improvements to solve.

Despite these drastic measures, the team still fell well short of the number of parking spaces the county required, and neither the team nor the state was willing to pick up the transit costs. Despite the project having the backing of the governor, County Zoning Official Robert Wilcox effectively killed the project calling the team's data "high selective and self-serving" while the impact of traffic was "vastly understated".

In this case, Laurel escaped a would-be traffic nightmare.

Without a stadium, Laurel emerged victorious

Stadiums represent massive expenditures from both public and private funds. While they can mean the opportunity for teams owners, municipalities, and states to be successful, it's good that none of these ideas came to fruition.

The three team stadium would have failed because it would have been built at the tail end of the era of shared stadiums, dooming it to a fate similar to that of the Metrodome: a relic financed with state funds looking to be replaced shortly after opening.

The would-be Capitals and WIzards arena, which would have gone up in the early 1990's, would have come at a time when suburban arenas fell out of favor in comparison to those that were reinvigorating downtowns throughout the county.

And the Washington Football Team's proposed stadium in 1993 would have been a nightmare for local traffic as the team would try to cram a stadium on half of the needed land.

Not building any of these proposed stadiums was a win for Laurel.

History


Part of the US Capitol building is in Rock Creek Park

There are heaps of sandstone in the heart of Rock Creek Park that used to be a part of the Capitol Building. They were taken down in 1958 when part of the iconic building was expanded and rebuilt in marble. Now, they've kind of been forgotten.


Photo by the author.

J. George Stewart, the architect of the Capitol, wanted to see the eastern front rebuilt in marble. The old facade was cracking, it didn't line up with the Senate and House extensions that went onto the building in the 1850s, and he thought marble was just nicer.

Steward, a former one term congressman from Delaware, had never actually received any architectural training, and he faced a huge uphill challenge convincing people this was a good idea. A bitter war played out in Washington's editorial pages over the following months between the sandstone purists and the marble backers.

Powerful Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn liked the idea. But the American Institute of Architects blasted the proposal, calling it a "desecration" and labeling Rayburn as a "historic barbarian."

Rayburn pushed the plans forward in any case.

On December 13, 1958 the Daytona Beach Morning Journal wrote that "Workmen are saving everything, even the debris and rubble, and storing it safely on the Capitol grounds".

The old Aquia Creek sandstone facade was taken apart piece by piece by the John McBeath & Sons company. They finished the job in seven months, dutifully cataloging each stone and stacking them by the House of Representatives.

In their place went Special Georgia White marble, provided by the Georgia Marble Company for $2.8 million. The new front was 33 feet farther than the original, and lined up with the House and Senate stairways.


Image from the Architect of the Capitol.

What to do with the stones?

According to the Washington Post, when the project started nobody had thought through what to do with the stones. "Eventual disposition of the dismantled portions is to be determined [at a later date] by the Commission for Extension of the Capitol, headed by House Speaker Sam Rayburn."

Steward and Rayburn consulted with the advisory architects who suggested donating the stones to the Smithsonian, or reconstructing them into a new museum. However, Steward (who was being crucified in the press during all of this) had spent the last year trying to convince everyone about all the ways in which sandstone was deficient.

Highlight the stones in a new museum? No way! He wanted the blocks out of sight and out of mind.

The stones first traveled to the Capitol Powerplant, where they sat until 1975 when facilities there expanded. That's when they made their way to a National Park Service facility deep inside Rock Creek Park.

At the time, they were under the custody of the now-defunct Commission on the Extension of the United States Capitol. According to a 1982 Washington Post article, possession of the stones then passed to the House and Senate office building commissions.

Present day

The stones have been sitting in Rock Creek Park for the last 40 years, slowly gathering moss and sinking into the ground.

The United States Capitol Historical Society has been cutting up a small number of the stones and selling them as bookends (with permission from the Speaker of the House). The stones are also occasionally used for small restoration jobs in the Capitol and White House.

The 22 corinthian columns from the old east front were rescued from obscurity in 1984 by DC local Ethel Garrett, who successfully lobbied to have them moved to a more fitting location. Today, they stand sentry over a reflecting pool and 20 acres of meadow at the National Arboretum.


Photo by Fred Dunn on Flickr.

Cross-posted from ArchitectoftheCapital.org. If you enjoyed reading about the capitol stones you might also like the old Civil War fort hidden in Rock Creek Park.

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