Greater Greater Washington

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You don't need a car to run a successful small business

Owning a small business can be tough, but going car-free doesn't have to make it any harder. My wife and I have lived in DC without a car for four years and we're making our small business work, even with places to go and products to deliver.


CHIQs team. All photos by the author.

We run CHIQS, a local artisan food business that produces baked chickpea snacks. You might have seen our product at Glen's Garden Market, Localteria, or on the Nicely App.

Admittedly, choosing transportation options that are convenient, affordable, and sustainable for our small business requires a little more thought than doing it in our day-to-day lives outside of business, but it's still very possible.

We chose a kitchen we can access car-free

Food businesses are legally required to operate out of a commercial kitchen. When we started CHIQS last year, we were committed to staying car-free, so our first challenge was finding a kitchen accessible without a car.

After reviewing our options, we chose Union Kitchen, a culinary incubator in NoMa. Union Kitchen has great resources to help us produce our product and services to help us grow our business, which is important.

But equally important for us was that it's near the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a Metro station, and a Capital Bikeshare station, making it easy for us to commute back and forth from our home in Logan Circle.

Union Kitchen's emphasis on building community and supporting its members was the deciding factor for us, but the accessibility of the kitchen was essential. If we were starting our search today, we'd have more options to choose from, as food incubators have opened up in transit- and bike-friendly Edgewood and Adams Morgan.

Our first challenge: farmer's markets

When we initially began the food business, we sold freshly-made, gluten-free flatbread sandwiches at the Columbia Heights and CityCenter Farmer's Markets. We had to transport multiple stoves, tables, a tent, and a cooler to and from the markets each week.


The CHIQS (formerly Seasonal Socca) team at the Columbia Heights farmer's market.

While we would normally get to Columbia Heights and CityCenter using our own bikes, Bikeshare, MetroBus, Car2Go, or walking, needing to transport all of that of heavy equipment definitely shrunk our car-free options. The best solution we found was UberXL, which could fit both of us and our equipment. Many drivers even offered to assist us with unloading.

Wholesale orders and grocery stores

Today, for wholesale orders close to the kitchen, we deliver by foot, bicycle, or Metro. For larger orders, we use Union Kitchen's distribution program. As part of the program, Union Kitchen owns one truck and distributes products for 40 different businesses to 35 different stores all directly from the kitchen, which is certainly a big help.

Focusing distribution on local groceries stores helps, too. Stores like Glen's Garden Market and Each Peach, among others, put a strong emphasis on stocking local products, which helps businesses like ours do more sales in a smaller geographical footprint. Operating a business car-free has forced us to focus on stores within a smaller area, but we have made it work in further-flung locations. For example, we took the T2 bus to the Market at River Falls in Potomac, Maryland to do a sampling of our product there.

Car-free makes good (business) sense for us

When we started our business, we were concerned that we would have to sacrifice our values of sustainability and car-free lifestyle to build an economically viable business. Instead, by selecting a transit- and bike-accessible commercial kitchen space and taking advantage of a system that makes it easy to share a distribution truck, we can operate our business in line with our personal values.

In doing so, we also avoided some of the large capital expenditures of traditional food businesses. That's allowed us to spend our resources on developing new products, working with a designer on branding and packaging, and sampling and marketing our product to new customers. In turn, our business has been more successful with fewer costs.

Plus, a central part of our message is that not only is our product a healthy snack, but that we produce and distribute it in a way that is healthy for the environment and the surrounding community. All of our employees are DC residents who walk or take public transportation to work, hired through the District's Project Empowerment Program. Being car-free ourselves feeds into that philosophy even more.

In the future

Going car-free has worked thus far, but we do face new challenges as we grow in volume and expand our reach. We will have to make tough decisions about whether or not to expand into new markets in different regions of the country, or to develop more products to sell in the Washington, DC area. We will also likely outgrow Union Kitchen someday soon, and may need to find an even bigger facility accessible without a car. But we're committed and optimistic that we'll be able to keep things up car-free!

Think you know Metro's neighborhoods? This quiz might surprise you

Yesterday, PlanItMetro posted maps showing what's within walking distance of each Metro station. Check them out (and maybe read up on what walk sheds are and how they differ across the region), then take our quiz to test what you know.


A map of the area around the Columbia Heights Metro station that's easily walkable. Images from WMATA.

1. Which of these stations has the most jobs within walking distance?

McLean
U Street
Pentagon City
Rockville

2. Which of these stations has the fewest jobs within walking distance?

Bethesda
Medical Center
Ballston
Federal Triangle

3. Which of these stations has the most jobs that are nearby, but not within walking distance?

Van Ness
Glenmont
West Falls Church
Franconia-Springfield

4. Which of these stations has the most households within walking distance?

Dupont Circle
Silver Spring
Columbia Heights
Court House

5. Which of these stations has the fewest households within walking distance?

Friendship Heights
Pentagon City
Crystal City
Georgia Avenue-Petworth

6. How many households live within walking distance of Metro?

95,322
190,631
321,240
458,273

7. Which of these stations has the lowest Walk Score?

Morgan Boulevard
Fort Totten
Arlington Cemetery
Van Dorn Street

8. Which of these areas has the smallest area within walking distance?

West Hyattsville
Southern Avenue
National Airport
Landover

Answers

1. U Street might not have many high-rise office buildings, but the medium-density neighborhood does have 9,034 jobs within walking distance. Logan Circle's density isn't just for residents: its lack of parking lots and high street connectivity mean that it also has plenty of economic opportunities nearby.

2. Federal Triangle, the very heart of the federal bureaucracy that built Metro to bring commuters into the city, has fewer jobs nearby than the three big edge cities it's grouped with. (That's partially because PlanItMetro's assessment is for non-overlapping walk sheds. This is why Federal Triangle has so few jobs: they're assigned to neighboring sheds.) Medical Center may not look like much from Wisconsin Avenue, but its 32,473 nearby jobs put it in a league with several Downtown DC stations.

3. At Franconia-Springfield, 92% of the nearby jobs aren't within walking distance. Springfield Town Center is beyond a half-mile walk, and the new FBI headquarters site even the site Virginia is promoting for the FBI is cut off from the station by a ravine. (At Branch Avenue, 96% of nearby jobs are outside the walk shed.)


Franconia-Springfield walk shed.

4. Columbia Heights just edges out Dupont Circle for this title, 10,842 to 10,636. Relatively low-rise Court House has the highest household concentration outside the District, with 8,100 within walking distance.

5. It's Friendship Heights, although all of these have between 4,071 and 4,623 households within walking distance. High rises don't always mean high residential density, especially if there are lots of offices and shops mixed in. Crystal City probably has a higher density, but its walk shed is also constrained by the George Washington Parkway.

6. 190,631. Contrary to what those ubiquitous "Steps to Metro!" real-estate listings might tell you, just 9% of the 2,091,301 households in the metro area live within a ten-minute walk of Metro.

7. Morgan Boulevard has a paltry Walk Score of 6. Even Arlington Cemetery's is somehow 15. Twenty five Metro stations are in locations with a Walk Score that's "car-dependent," and just 30 are in places deemed a "Walker's Paradise."

8. Landover. Hemmed in by a railroad and US 50 on one side and by its own parking lot and an industrial park on the other, its walk shed covers a mere 80 acres. That's not fair to the almost 1,000 households, mostly on the other side of 50, who are less than half a mile away but can't easily reach the station.


Landover walk shed.

How did you do?

0-3 correct: You're a Metro Newbie! While you're playing #WhichWMATA, step outside those stations and explore!
4-6 correct: You're a Metro Explorer! You've walked around many of Metro's stations, and always want to see more!
7-8 correct: You're a Metro Voyager! Are you sure you didn't download that 113-megabyte Atlas and take this quiz open-book?

It wouldn't cost much to make this Prince George's road safer for everyone

Suitland Road, a major thoroughfare in Prince George's County, offers nothing for people who walk, ride bikes, or take the bus. There's enough room to make the road nicer and safer for everybody, and the cost would be tiny.


WABA Proposal for Suitland Road. Illustration by the author.

Suitland Road is a rural-style, two-lane road that passes through a nondescript commercial patch on the way from DC to the Suitland Federal Center. It has no sidewalks or bike lanes between Southern Avenue in DC and Silver Hill Road in MD, and and its wide traffic lanes (16 feet in some places) encourage speeding. However, it will soon be the hub for new development next to the federal center and near the Metro station.


Suitland Road in its current condition. Photo by the author.

Washington Area Bicyclist Association Prince George's action committee has made transforming Suitland Road into a bike friendly space a top priority for 2015. The committee published a proposal to repurpose Suitland Road's wide traffic lanes, center turn lanes, and shoulder space to a street with protected space for biking and walking on either side. There'd be no need for additional asphalt, or even sidewalk paving.


Suitland Road between Maryland and DC. Image from Google Maps.

All things considered, the suggested changes are cheap

Adding the protected bike lanes and walk space that are in WABA's proposal would cost between $80,000 and $165,000, with annual maintenance costs of less than $10,000. Of course, actual sidewalks, along with bus platforms and landscaping, would be nice. But the idea is to calm traffic and make Suitland Road safer for people on bikes and foot as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

WABA's proposal uses flexposts, a "soft" bike lane protector that's common in DC, rather than more expensive curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes. The cost estimates also cover bike symbols, lane and buffer striping, and changing existing pavement lines.

There are two main approaches to lane striping. The first, thermoplastic lines (hot tape), would cost about $165,000 to install. They'd carry an annual maintenance price tag of about $1,200.

The other option would be to use white paint for the lane markings. This would cost about $80,000 upfront, with $9,600 in annual maintenance.

On a per-mile basis, these cost estimates are considerably lower than most types of roadway improvements. The estimates, meant to provide ballpark figures rather than specifics, are from an engineer familiar with the proposal.

The Maryland State Highway Administration, which maintains Suitland Road, recently added road design guidelines that include buffered striping for bike lanes along with curbed protection features. WABA's proposal uses flexposts, a "soft" bike lane protector that's common in DC, instead of curbing or a raised roadbed for bike lanes.

The Suitland Civic Association, WABA, and local bike shops are planning a community walk to advocate for a better Suitland Road on April 4th.

Cities Skylines takes over SimCity's mantle as top city-builder

Those of you who've dreamed of having their own city to build from the ground up now have a new virtual way to make it happen: A computer game called Cities: Skylines.


Gameplay in Cities: Skylines. All photos by the author.

Like in the popular SimCity franchise, the player acts as the mayor, responsible for building the infrastructure needed for the city to work. That includes building streets, a power grid, parks, schools, public safety, and zoning land for development.

As your city reaches population milestones, additional features are unlocked. These, in turn, make it possible for your city to continue to grow.


Streets and buildings aren't limited to right angles.

Skylines comes from the team responsible for the well-received transit simulation games Cities in Motion and Cities in Motion 2. With Cities: Skylines, they've taken the step up from transportation simulation to full city-builder.

After the disappointing release of SimCity 5 in 2013, this game is a welcome improvement in the genre.

Like SimCity 5, roads are no longer bound to a strict 90-degree grid. Players can build curved roads or grids that are skewed at different angles, which helps give cities a more realistic appearance.


Bus and subway lines shown when in the transit menu.

On the other hand, one big change from SimCity 5 is the ability to draw bus lines and build subways and commuter rail. In the most recent SimCity, players could place bus stops, but buses just drove randomly to stops based on where the most people aboard wanted to go.

In Cities: Skylines, players can draw actual bus and rail lines. Buses will actually follow the lines you draw, and stop where you designate stops. One limitation, though, is that while you can set overall service levels for all buses throughout the city, you can't add additional service to any one line.

Another important change from SimCity 5 is that in Skylines, the subway is back. Many SimCity players were disappointed when SC5 came out without the ability to build subways. But Skylines does have subway stations and players can draw subway services just like bus and commuter rail lines.


The game has zones for residential, commercial (retail), industrial, and office.

Like other city-builders, Skylines includes zones. In addition to the traditional SimCity set of residential, commercial, and industrial zones, Skylines has added an office zone to the mix, which allows you to provide jobs for educated workers.

The residential and commercial zones have a low-density and a high-density variant.

Unfortunately, like the city-builders that have come before, Skylines does not have a mixed-use zone. While most cities in the real world have residential or office over retail, Skylines (and SimCity) still only recognize single-use zones.

However, it is possible to create mixed-use districts. When I build a neighborhood, I invariably put a commercial zone in the center, surrounded by residential. If demand warrants, I'll sometimes sprinkle office in as well.

That sort of development pattern does make a difference, because the sims in the game will walk or take transit when that's the best mode, and will drive when things are too far.

Of course, even when you try to build suburban-style development with far-separated uses, the buildings in the game are largely urban-format, with facades built right up to the sidewalk. You won't see a sea of parking surrounding big-box retail uses. That's not part of the simulation.


Mayors can annex additional territory as their cities grow.

Unlike SimCity 4 and 5, Skylines does not feature a region mode. Each map has just one city. However, a key improvement is that mayors can "annex" land as their city grows.

Many players of SimCity 5 were disappointed that each city was in a little pod off a freeway, with no ability to draw connections across the city limits. In Skylines, your city will start off about the same size as one of SimCity 5's individual cities.

But as your city reaches population thresholds, you can add adjacent tiles, and you can build connections across the (former) boundary. If you don't like the freeway connecting your pod to the outside world, you can annex that territory and rebuild it to suit your fancy.

You can't annex unlimited land, though. You can only add eight or nine additional squares to your city. But your city can be shaped oddly to take advantage of natural features or resources.


Players can create and name districts.

I think one of the coolest features is the ability to paint and name districts. The simplest use for this feature is just to name neighborhoods.

But there's actually more functionality than that. The player can actually define policies for each district. For example, you might make transit free in the Downtown district. Or you could ban high-rises in leafy Chestnut Hill. Or if you want to incentivize small businesses in LoDo, you can give them tax breaks.

Another use for districts is to allow industry specialization. If you have an oil field under part of your city, you can paint a district which will focus oil-specialized industries. But if you don't do that, your industries will just import the resources they need.


Every person in the game has a real home and job and can be followed.

One very cool feature, which has been carried forward from the Cities in Motion franchise, is the ability to follow sims around. And these sims are semi-permanent features of your city. As long as you don't demolish their residence, once they move in, you can follow them forever. They'll go to school or find work. They'll shop and recreate.

Following them around may help you figure out how to improve the transportation network. Or it may just give you a sense of the complexity of the simulation. You can also rename them if you want. Almost everything in the game can be renamed.

This contrasts very sharply to SimCity 5, where the sims are not permanent. In that game, the sims will leave work and go to the first unoccupied residence. And then they'll cease to exist. Until the next day when they go to the closest available job (which may not be the same as the day before).


Mayors still have to manage public facilities.

Of course, managing public services is an important part of the mayor's job. Making sure that there are enough classrooms in the school district is something common to most city-builders. Skylines is no different.

The game does have one drawback over SC5, though. In the most recent SimCity, you could expand most public facilities. For example, you might build an addition onto a school.

In Skylines, you cannot do that. You just have to build a new facility to meet the demand.


Data views are well-designed. Here's the fire coverage map.

Also like in the new SimCity, Skylines has great data visualization tools. The screenshot above shows fire protection coverage. The individual fire stations are shown in light purple, and every building is colored based on its fire risk.

If only it was this easy to see data in real life!

There are two additional features that really put this game head and shoulders above the SimCity franchise.

The first is the ability to make your own maps through a map editor. The editor is extremely detailed, especially with regard to mapping water, which really acts like a fluid. This is important, since hydro power in the game depends on the strength and volume of water.

The other feature is that the game is set up for modding and asset creation. I haven't attempted to do any of this myself, but I have downloaded several mods and assets (buildings, parks, interchanges, and the like). But in the two weeks since the game's release, there are already thousands of user-created mods and assets available for download.

Many of us were disappointed at the rollout of SimCity 5, not only because it was plagued with problems, but because the actual gameplay seemed like a setback from SimCity 4.

Cities: Skylines, on the other hand, is a worthy heir to the title. If you were disappointed in SimCity 5, you will probably find Skylines very satisfying.

Tysons will get its first bike lanes this summer

Some of Tysons' main streets are getting a makeover this summer, and that's going to make them more bike-friendly.


Map of the changes coming to Tysons, including how the bike network will connect with the Spring Hill, Greensboro, Tysons, and McLean Metro stations. Image from Fairfax County.

Along with getting new pavement, stretches of Tyco Road, Westbranch Drive, and Greensboro Drive are going on road diets. That means they'll get new paint jobs that take them from being four through lanes wide to having two through lanes, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on each side.


Before and after cross sections for roads in Tysons. Image from Fairfax County.

A road diet was successful on Lawyers Road in Reston, where Virginia Department of Transportation data say car crashes are down a whopping 70%. After five years, nearby residents, people driving cars, and people on bikes are happy with the arrangement.


Lawyers Road before and after its diet. Image from VDOT.

More than in Reston, Tysons needs to plan for people on foot. VDOT gets that, so the agency is lowering speed limits to 35 mph, which fits with Tysons' urban design standards.

Depending on their widths, some roads in Tysons will get sharrows while others will get climbing lanes. On Westbranch Drive, there will be a buffered bike lane like those in Arlington.

VDOT's Randy Dittberner said his agency may consider painting the bikeway bright green so it's more visible, but it won't happen at the start.

Dittberner also said that the new pavement markings are only going in places "where we are 100% sure it won't do anything to traffic conditions."

Fairfax County is taking comments until April 1st, and VDOT will begin its final planning stage after that.

Correction: The original version of this post said Westbranch Drive will have a protected bikeway rather than a buffered bike lane.

An entire student neighborhood bites the dust in College Park

New investment is pouring into College Park, seeking to turn this town known for undergrads and traffic into an urban hub for all ages. As part of that transformation, the famous Knox Boxes student neighborhood is transforming from the ground up.


College Park's Knox Boxes are just a memory. All photos by the author unless noted.

For decades, the Knox Boxes epitomized the University of Maryland's image as a party school. The cluster of 25 low-rise 1950s-era brick apartment buildings was just south of the campus, behind the seedy bars and pizza joints on Route 1.


The same intersection (Guilford Drive and Hartwick Road) in 2006.

For many undergrads, a Knox Box apartment was their first taste of living on their own, and the small backyards and proximity to other neighbors made for comfortable college living.

But they were also cheaply built and poorly maintained. During my freshman year at Maryland, two students died in separate Knox Box fires.

As Maryland became known more for academics than basketball riots, the university and the City of College Park started looking at ways to redevelop the Knox Boxes.

Getting multiple landlords to sell was difficult, but by 2013, a single owner had purchased most of the Knox Boxes. That year, the city approved a plan from developer Toll Brothers, usually known for suburban McMansions, to replace the Knox Boxes with Knox Village, a luxury student apartment complex for over 1,500 students.


The future Knox Village (as seen from Guilford and Hartwick). Image from WDG Architecture.

Like most of the new student housing going up in College Park, Knox Village's apartments and townhomes will have gourmet kitchens and amenities like a pool, gym, and covered parking garage. The complex will have a series of courtyards with a grand staircase (which Toll Brothers compares to the Spanish Steps in Rome...), and two spaces for shops and restaurants.

Mayor Andy Fellows called the vote a "landmark occasion." Construction began last summer, though a few of the Knox Boxes whose owners didn't sell remain.

Change in College Park goes well beyond the Knox Boxes

Knox Village is just one piece of a bigger plan to recast College Park as more of a college town, hoping to attract post-graduates or even families. The university and the city recently opened a charter school to keep more faculty in the area. In a reversal from 10 years ago, when the administration opposed the Purple Line running through campus, president Wallace Loh has been a strong supporter.

More high-end student apartments are going up on Route 1, and last week Target announced plans to open one of the nation's first Target Express stores inside one of them. The university itself has been buying up properties in downtown College Park, and they're partnering with developer U3 Advisors to buy a former bar and turn it into a branch of Milkboy, a Philadelphia music and art venue. Even Ratsie's Pizza, a longtime favorite of the drunk and hungry, will become a Nando's Peri-Peri.


Even as new development comes to College Park, bits of the old remain.

Not even six years since I graduated from Maryland, much of College Park is unrecognizable. Having lived on Knox Road as an upperclassman, I admit I'm a little nostalgic about losing the Knox Boxes. It's also worrisome that so much of the new student housing is very expensive and might make the already high cost of attending college even higher. On the other hand, thousands of new student apartments are coming in, and as the supply increases, rents are likely to fall.

When I lived there, College Park could be frustrating if you weren't into the party scene. There wasn't even a grocery store within walking distance of campus. It's exciting to see College Park develop into more of a college town. That's not only great for students and faculty, but also for neighbors who aren't even affiliated with the university.

Check out these photos of the Knox Boxes in 2006 and today.

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