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Peter Shapiro is nominated for a seat on the powerful DC Zoning Commission

Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated Peter Shapiro, a resident of the Chevy Chase neighborhood of DC, to the board that decides DC's zoning and rules on many large development projects.

Image from Prince George's County.

Shapiro would replace Marcie Cohen, a former affordable housing and community development professional. Cohen has been a strong advocate for zoning that allows more overall housing in DC, speaking about the need for more housing many times.

Shapiro's day job is head of the Prince George's County Revenue Authority, an entity which acquires and helps develop land in the county to boost its economy. He used to live in the Prince George's town of Brentwood, where he served on the town council for two years and then the county council for six.

He helped bring community members, developers, businesses, and others together around a vision for the Route 1 corridor just east of DC, which ultimately led to the Gateway Arts District spanning four towns (and including Bird Kitchen, the site of our extremely successful recent happy hour with County Executive Rushern Baker).

Left to right: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Chief of Staff Glenda Wilson, Communications Manager Barry Hudson, and Revenue Authority Executive Director Peter Shapiro. Photo by the author.

Shapiro later moved back to DC where he ran unsuccessfully for DC Council against Vincent Orange four years ago, winning our endorsement but splitting the anti-Orange vote with Sekou Biddle. (Our endorsed candidate Robert White beat Orange this year.)

He has long been a proponent of better transit and transit-oriented development. Way back in 2001, he endorsed the Purple Line and supported running it through existing communities with people who need to get to jobs, such as the area he represented.

He served on a Maryland "Special Task Force for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)" in 2000, chaired the regional Transportation Planning Board in 2003, co-chairs the Urban Land Institute's Regionalism Initiative Council, and is part of a joint ULI Washington and Baltimore TOD Product Council. He is an elected member of his neighborhood's the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, but says he would resign that seat if confirmed to the Zoning Commission because both are very time-consuming, volunteer jobs.

Nomination, take two

Mayor Bowser initially nominated developer David Franco for the seat, but DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson refused to hold a hearing.

Mendelson told the Washington Blade that he's concerned about having developers on the commission. Franco is very civic-minded and more supportive of affordable housing than most developers, but according to the Blade, Mendelson opposed confirming any developers, period.

Shapiro does not have the potential conflicts of interest that a developer would, but as someone with long experience with how well-designed development can enhance communities and boost the economy, he would be a valuable member of the Zoning Commission. Mendelson will hold a hearing on Shapiro's nomination at 1 pm on Thursday, November 10.

What is the Zoning Commission?

The Zoning Commission is far more powerful than planning boards in other jurisdictions. When DC got home rule, Congress did not want to give the local legislature full authority over land use. Instead, the Zoning Commission has the final say (other than potential court appeals) over zoning and development decisions in DC.

The DC Council can guide the future direction of growth through the Comprehensive Plan and smaller plans, which the Zoning Commission is required to follow. But when it comes to changing zoning rules or approving particular developments, it has no authority; all councilmembers can do is write letters expressing an opinion.

There are actually two zoning boards in DC, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Zoning Commission. Mainly, the BZA handles smaller individual projects; it grants variances and special exceptions to zoning rules for unusual circumstances. The Zoning Commission makes bigger-picture policy, like changing a neighborhood's zoning or a citywide zoning rule. It also reviews Planned Unit Developments, generally big development projects which need more flexibility and also provide more community benefit. The BZA is somewhat more legalistic, while the Zoning Commission focuses more on policy.

The Zoning Commission has three members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council, as well as two federal members, one from the National Park Service and one from the Architect of the Capitol. This makes DC's three appointees even more crucial.

While the federal representatives serve as part of their jobs, locally-appointed Zoning Commissioners are not paid for their service. Yet, they have to attend two (often long) meetings most weeks and also sit on some meetings of the BZA, which has a seat for a rotating Zoning Commission member.

This makes it tricky to find someone with experience and knowledge who is not also a developer. The city would be lucky to get Shapiro, with his regional perspective, experience with development, and positive vision for DC.


This map illustrates DC's new zoning rules

Zoning is the legal framework that shapes just what can be built where in most cities, and DC just enacted a new zoning code. It's pretty detailed, but we're in luck: the the District's Office of Zoning made this interactive map to illustrate where different zones are, what they mean, and why they're organized it that way.

Click to explore DC's new zoning map, including its quick descriptions of each zone.

The map is one of many the zoning office has published to explain the changeover. If you click the image above, you'll see a sidebar that shows the eight categories that define how land in DC can be used: Residential; Residential Flat; Residential Apartment; Neighborhood Mixed Use; Mixed Use; Downtown; Production, Distribution and Repair; and Special Purpose.

Clicking on the individual colored areas will bring up will bring up the specific "zone district," one of the three parts of zoning that regulate the use and shape of a building. The others are the rules that apply everywhere in the city and processes that give the regulations flexibility, like Planned Unit Developments. But zone districts are the rules that shape specific neighborhoods, and it's usually what people are talking about when they mention zoning.

Residential Flat (RF) is one of three types of Residential zones. Below, you can see examples of the others. Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

By breaking down the official map into the big categories and color coding them, you can see patterns. For example, the yellow and orange shapes show areas where only houses, flats, or apartment buildings can be built. At a glance, over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family housesthat's conservative, since most other zones also allow single-family houses.

Image from DC's Office of Zoning.

The new code organizes zone districts for residential use by building type: single family houses (R), flats in small apartment buildings and subdivided rowhouses (RF), and large apartment buildings (RA).

Residential Apartment (RA). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Residential (R). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Zooming in on Historic Anacostia, the map below shows the denser RA and RF areas closer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE, with the area uphill restricted to townhouse, duplex or detached houses by their R-3 zone designation.

It might also look like there's a lot of land across the city that's zoned RA. But looking closer, a lot of this land is for campuses like those of American University, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, or built out with low-rise garden apartments in areas like McLean Gardens and Congress Heights.

Commercial zones saw a bigger change

The new code has no purely commercial zones. The downtown zone districts (D), meant for the dense core at the center of the city, don't exclude apartments. Some even incentivize residential buildings by letting apartments be denser.

Downtown (D). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Farther out, medium-density commercial areas are now called Mixed Use (MU), to reflect that the code encourages both commercial and residential in those areas. That's not new, but the name of old districts like "C-2-A" suggested otherwise.

Mixed Use (MU). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

A good example can be found around Mount Vernon Triangle and Northwest One: it's mostly zoned D and MU, and many of the new residences built there are not in residential zone districts.

H Street NE was one of several areas used to have "overlays" added to modify the standard zone districts in a geographic area. Sometimes those modifications were the same across commercial and residential properties, but often they laid out custom rules for every single zone district the overlay touched. To figure out what was allowed on a given property, you'd first look in one chapter of the code for the "base zoning," then flip to another chapter for the overlay.

H Street's old zoning.

Now, each of the existing combination of zones has been given its own subsection. Small commercial strips like H Street fall into distinct moderate-density neighborhood mixed use (NC) zones, meant to create a special character for individual neighborhood main streets, like Georgia Avenue and Carroll Street in Takoma.

Neighborhood Mixed Use (NC). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Now, the overlay and base zoning information is all in one place, from the statement of purpose to technical restrictions. The same is true for the Special Purpose customized zones, used meant to give big areas like Uptown Arts on U and 14th Streets (ARTS), or at Walter Reed (WR) unique characteristics.

H Street's zoning under the new code.

Zoom in on the map and click on a parcel, and the map will show a quick description of the site's zoning. This little chunk of Howard University's campus is one of the few remaining industrial (PDR, short for Production Distribution & Repair) zones in DC's northwest quadrant.

Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR). Photo from DC's Office of Planning.

None of these have industrial uses anymore; this lots is a development called Wonder Plaza, with fast-food eateries and no heavy machinery.

Perhaps this PDR designation was just kept by inertia; I'm not sure I would have noticed that without this map.

For me, the new organization of the code and the Office of Zoning's map help with understanding not only what someone could build on some plot of land, but also how earlier planners shaped the the city and what might need to change. What does this map help you see?

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family houses. That isn't the case; over half the land is zoned exclusively for single-family houses, but not detached single-family houses.


We know where most of DC's population lives. Does Metro run through those places?

The maps below show where DC's most densely-populated pockets are, as well as where its Metro stops are. It turns out they aren't always the same places, or in other words, DC isn't building enough around transit.

Highest density census tracts comprising 50% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay. Map by John Ricco, overlay by Peter Dovak.

Back in July, John Ricco created a pair of maps showing that 50% of DC's residents live on 20% of the land, and a quarter of the population lives on just 7% of the land. Peter Dovak, another Greater Greater Washington contributor, did me the favor of overlaying John's maps onto the Metro system.

Looking at the map above, which shows where 50% of the population lives, there are some obvious areas of overlap between density and Metrorail access, including the Green/Yellow corridor through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Petworth. The southern area of Capitol Hill also has multiple Metro stops and is relatively dense.

But what stands out are the dense places that aren't near Metro. The northern end of Capitol Hill, including the H Street corridor and Carver Langston, as well as the areas to the west around Glover Park, a few tracts to the north near Brightwood, and two larger areas east and west of the Green Line in Ward 8, near Congress Heights and Fort Stanton Park.

All of these places show that DC's growth isn't being concentrated around its transit (its transit isn't being extended to serve dense areas either, but that's harder to do).

Of course, Metro is far from the only way to get around. Residents of high density, Metro-inaccessible neighborhoods rely on buses and other modes to get where they need to go; specific to northern Capitol Hill, for example, there's also the DC Streetcar). Also, some areas next to Metro stops are low density due to zoning that restricts density or land nobody can build on, like federal land, rivers, and parks.

Still, it's useful to look at where DC's high-density neighborhoods and its high-density transit modes don't overlap, and to understand why.

25% of DC's population lives close to metro... mostly

Really, the S-shaped routing of the Green Line is the only part of Metro in DC that runs through a super dense area for multiple stops.

Looking at the map that shows 25% of the District's population, the Green/Yellow corridor helps make up the 7% of land where people live. But so does Glover Park, Carver Langston, and a tract in Anacostia Washington Heights near the Maryland border—and these places are a long way from a Metro stop.

Highest density census tracts comprising 25% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay.

There are historical reasons for why things are this way

According to Zachary Schrag in The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Metro wasn't meant to be an urban subway; it was always meant to be a regional rail system. It explicitly bypassed the relatively few people in DC's high-density areas, in favor of speeding up rides for the greater number of through-commuters. Apparently, DC had little say in that decision, which is evident in the map.

On the other hand, the citywide streetcar plan was meant to bring rail access to many more DC residents—partly because, well, it was to be built by DC's government, for DC's residents, which Metro was not.

The first version of this post said that a tract was in Anacostia, but it's actually in Washington Heights.


Worldwide links: Does Seattle want more transit?

Seattle is about to vote on whether to expand its light rail, stirring up memories of votes to reject a subway line in the late 60s. In San Francisco, people would love to see subway lines in place of some current bus routes, and in France, a rising political start is big on the power of cities. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by VeloBusDriver on Flickr.

Subway in Seattle?: Seattle is gearing up for a massive vote on whether to approve a new light rail line, and a Seattle Times reporter says the paper is, on the whole, anti-transit. Meanwhile, lots of residents haven't forgotten that in 1968 and 1970, voters rejected the chance to build a subway line in favor of a new stadium and highways. (Streetsblog, Seattle Met, Crosscut)

Fantasy maps, or reality?: Transit planners in San Francisco asked residents to draw subway fantasy maps to see where the most popular routes would be located. They got what they asked for, with over 2,600 maps submitted. The findings were also not surprising, as major bus routes were the most popular choices for a subway. (Curbed SF)

Paris mayor --> French president?: Sometimes labeled as the socialist "Queen of the Bohemians", Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has quietly moved up the political ladder, and she's now a serious candidate to be France's future head of state. Hidalgo did the unthinkable by banning cars from the banks of the Seine, and her ability to make change at the local level makes her believe cities are, in many respects, more important than the countries they inhabit. (New York Times)

How romantic is the self-driving car?: In the US, driving at age 16 was a 20th century right of passage. But what happens when we take the keys away? What happens to people's love affairs with cars if cars drive themselves? Does turning 16 mean anything in terms of passage into adulthood? In this long read, Robert Moor wonders how the self-driving car will affect the American psyche, and especially whether older drivers will ever recover. (New York Magazine)

Pushing back on art in LA: Local activists in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles, are pushing back against artist spaces they feel are gentrifying the neighborhood. Research shows that the arts aren't necessarily a direct gentrifying agent, but planners do watch art spaces to analyze neighborhood change. (Los Angeles Times)

Quote of the Week

We've had this concentrated population growth in urban areas at the same time that people have been doing an increasing percentage of their shopping online. This has made urban delivery a more pressing problem.

- Anne Goodchild on the growth of smaller freight traffic in urban areas. (Associated Press)


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 6

There's a lot to Ward 6. On one end, you can be standing in Navy Yard, outside of Nationals Park, while on the other you're in Shaw. And as you travel between the two, you might pass the Supreme Court! Ward 6's neighborhoods have experienced a lot of change recently, and many of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission races are hotly contested. We looked through these races and found seven candidates to endorse.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

Photo by Ryan Blanding on Flickr.

In ANC 6A we endorse Yair Inspektor and Stephanie Zimny

ANC 6A is the northeastern corner of Ward 6, including the neighborhoods east of 8th Street between East Capitol Street and Florida Avenue/Benning Road. Sections of the H Street Corridor and Lincoln Park are part of this commission. Maryland Avenue cuts diagonally across the ANC, meaning commissioners will have a chance to influence the outcomes of the ongoing Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project, a multi-year process by the District Department of Transportation to fix the corridor which has "a history of hazardous conditions for pedestrian travel."

For ANC 6A05, directly in the middle of this neighborhood, we endorse Yair Inspektor. Citing examples from many conversations with neighbors about the Maryland Avenue Project, Yair is cautiously "in support of the plan," though he does believe that"additional traffic mitigation and diversion strategies should be considered." He claims that as commissioner, his "aim is to build relationships with and between all of our neighbors, and to insure that Capitol Hill remains a home for people of various incomes and backgrounds."

Yair's opponent did not complete our survey despite multiple attempts to reach him, and our one complaint of Yair is that he seemed at times hesitant to take firm positions on an issue. Nonetheless, we are impressed by Yair's commitment to community and his willingness to learn and engage with neighborhood issues.

Just north is 6A06. Here, we support Stephanie Zimny. Stephanie is fully in support of the Maryland Avenue project, and has years of experience addressing development in the neighborhood, serving on the 6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee. She believes that "a good working relationship with all community members and business interests, as well as a knowledge of zoning rules and development insight can lead to smart development that benefits the whole community." We're with you there.

In general, all of Stephanie's answers revealed a reasonable, well-informed, and capable candidate. We did not received a response from either of Stephanie's two opponents, but our readers pointed out that one, Peter Grant, has "been leading the effort to halt the Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project," and in fact "[s]topping the project may be the reason why he is running." We see Stephanie as a solid choice in this race.

Union Station. Photo by on Flickr.

In ANC 6B we chose not to endorse, and in ANC 6C there are no competitive races

ANCs in Ward 6 are generally known for being positive, productive, and reasonable, as many have spent years deftly negotiating important developments across the ward. 6B in particular has proven home to strong neighborhood leaders over the years, moderating the debate about the redevelopment of the Hine school and incorporating smart opportunities for housing and transportation developments throughout the neighborhood.

There is only one contested race in 6B: K. Denise Krepp and Cam Norris are vying for the 6B10 seat, with Krepp being the incumbent. Both candidates' surveys had some good points and some vague sections, and we didn't feel that there was a clear choice. Please read their responses carefully and make your own decision here.

ANC 6C includes much the area surrounding Union Station and is also home to many talented commissioners. This election, all of these candidates are running unopposed, so we did not offer endorsements here as per our process outlined here.

Buzzard Point. Photo by Geoff Alexander on Flickr.

In ANC 6D, we endorse Gail Fast, Cara Lea Shockley, and Katelynd Mahoney.

If you live anywhere in the growing areas around the Navy Yard, Waterfront, and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations, you probably live in 6D. These neighborhoods have experienced extraordinary amounts of growth and change in recent years, and commissioners there need to be sharp and active to keep pace and keep neighbors informed.

Two waterfront developments dominate conversation in these neighborhoods: the redevelopment of Buzzard Point around the new DC United Soccer Stadium, and the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park, an elevated park reminiscent of the High Line in New York City that will span the Anacostia River.

Four candidates are running for a seat in 6D01, the area in between 14th and 4th Street SW and from Independence Avenue to the Washington Channel. Out of the two who returned our questionnaire, we really liked Gail Fast.

Gail in unafraid of the many changes happening around the area, acknowledging that redevelopment in all of Southwest "is already in full swing, and done correctly should be a benefit to all the City, with increased tax revenue from new development, added housing, and better use of the waterfront for all of the community."

Gail is supportive of the plans for Buzzard Point but gives an entirely thorough explanation of why she believes "that there is a lack of monitoring and enforcement on the part of the city" and that "there could be (if there isn't one already) a public health threat" in the area, primarily from pollution.

Gail is also excited about the workforce development proposals incorporated into the 11th Street Bridge Park plan, seeing the project as a chance "new employment, for social integration, and for social equity." She vows to strongly advocate for more affordably housing among all the construction in the area, and has experience serving on many planning committees for the neighborhood.

Opponent Wes Ven Johnson also completed our questionnaire, but did not impress us as much as Gail. When asked about accommodating more housing in his district, Wes's primary concern was "that the new buildings blend in with current buildings and do not block out their views." He also was against the recent Bard development, which would have brought both cultural space and housing to the area. He says he advocated for the proposal that cut the buildings floors from nine to four or five. The other two candidates here did not respond to our survey.

The area generally surrounding South Capitol Street south of Independence Ave is 6D02, and there we endorse Cara Lea Shockley. Like Gail, Cara is most excited about the job opportunities present in the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan, only she hopes these promises are made good this time around, as similar local hire proposals have not been upheld in the past. At Buzzard Point Cara was unique among candidates in sharing that she thinks "putting the soccer stadium there is a mistake," providing a dire analysis of the traffic impact she imagines it will bring.

Transportation is a key issue for Cara. She thinks "[b]ike lanes are extremely important," and wants "to see fewer cars" in the neighborhood, in part by advocating for adding more car sharing locations. On parking: "I've seen cities work which have little or no street parking, and I think it should be the direction we move in." We didn't get a response from Cara's opponent, and we like a lot of what we see in Cara's responses.

11th Street Bridge Park Proposal. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan (click for link).

Finally, the southern tip of the ANC encompasses much of Buzzard Point and Fort McNair. Here there is another highly-contested race, with four candidates running for the seat of 6D05. Three of these responded to us, and while two seem strong, we decided ultimately to endorse Katelynd Mahoney.

It's not every day that you find a commissioner who describes the "influx of housing coming to all corners of the neighborhood" as "[a] major blessing." You had us at hello.

But seriously, Katelynd's detailed and researched answers were good on a lot of points. She has particular recommendations for bike infrastructure and sidewalk improvements, and even though she claims both bus transit and parking are "severely lacking in ANC6D," she is willing to prioritize the needs of the bus system over more parking. Last, while she has some specific reservations, Katelynd supports both the controversial homeless shelter planned for the area and the redevelopment of Buzzard Point.

At least one reader is also very excited about the prospect of Katelynd winning this election: "Katelynd is the perfect example of what an ANC commissioner should be." That's a very high bar to clear, Katelynd!

In this race, Dana Lutenegger also seems like a reasonable candidate, but again, we felt that Katelynd was the strongest in the end. Dana wants to strongly advocate for more affordable housing, and had great answers on how to address crime and add new bike lanes. She He did seem reticent to remove any parking even to improve bus service, and was unsupportive of the the Bard development, saying it's too tall.

The incumbent, Roger Moffat, also responded to our questionnaire, but he did not articulate clear stances on many issues. What is more, many readers wrote in that they were unimpressed with Moffat's tenure, saying he did not always attend ANC meetings, was not responsive, and was more focused on parking than any other transportation issue.

All in all, we strongly favor Katelynd for ANC 6D05.

Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr.

In ANC6E, we endorse Alexander Padro and Lily Roberts

This northwestern arm of the ward stretches narrowly out into Mount Vernon Triangle and Shaw. A large portion of this area is called Northwest One, and it's the former site of a collection of troubled low-income housing developments that was demolished to make room for mixed-income housing. Today it's mostly parking lots, though one remaining cooperative, Sursum Corda, is progressing with plans for redevelopment.

In the far northwest of the ANC, 6E01 is the neighborhoods surrounding Rhode Island Avenue between 11th and 7th Street. Incumbent Alexander Padro earned our endorsement for this seat.

During his tenure, Alexander negotiated to ensure Sursum Corda residents have a right to return after the redevelopment of their cooperative and was able to secure over $500,000 in community benefits for the surrounding recreation centers and service facilities. He is very experienced and knowledgeable (eight terms as commissioner), and had solid answers about housing and transportation in the neighborhood, including clear support for the controversial bike lanes along 6th Street.

We empathize with Alexander's characterization of parking as "[t]he 'P' word" in neighborhood politics, and while we get it that "[o]pposition to removal of on street parking is almost universal among residents," we hope he endeavors to try and find ways to ensure bicycle and bus infrastructure get appropriate priority as well as automobile needs. Alexander's opponent did not respond to our survey.

Truxton Circle and the district north of New York Avenue near Dunbar High School comprise 6E04. This is another four-candidate race, and we think Lily Roberts is the best of them.

Lily strongly advocates for "[a]dding housing at multiple price points," and wants to see the large surface parking lots throughout the area removed in favor of diverse housing and development options. She is excited about the work being done at Sursum Corda, though she thinks there are "far too many parking spaces (about 4x the required number)" included in the plans "in one of the most walkable parts of the city." Lily is also adamant that the government move faster this time around compared to how it acted with places like neighboring Temple Courts.

Her answers on transportation showed an in-depth understanding of the issues and her neighborhood, and she self-reports that she is not afraid to get wonky on things like "data-driven parking regulations." Join the crowd, Lily.

As one reader put it, "Lily's understanding of planning issues is both granular and global, and as both a social worker and a policy analyst, she has the right combo of brains and heart to do the job right."

One other candidate, Phil Tsolakidis, also completed our questionnaire. Phil had good and thoughtful answers to many of our questions, but he was unwilling to consider removing any street parking to improve bus service. Overall, we believe Lily is the best candidate between the two.

Last but not least, ANC 6E05 is Mt. Vernon Triangle, formed by New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and 4th Street. Both candidates here responded to our questions, and we had a hard time choosing a clear winner for our endorsement.

Incumbent and chairperson Marge Maceda did not write much, but was generally supportive of bike lanes (including those proposed on 6th Street) and other transportation improvements. Challenger Alex Marriott clearly understands the benefits of, and favors, adding more housing. He also promises to increase communication between the ANC and residents. Both candidates were opposed to removing street parking under any circumstance.

We couldn't identify a clear choice here; both say some good things, and neither raised any red flags for us. We encourage readers to look carefully at their options and make what seems like the best choice to them.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 6 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 6. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail might close temporarily, but that just means a big opportunity

Part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) near the NoMa Metro stop may close for several months to make space for building construction, meaning there will be no direct route to avoid the treacherous intersection at Florida Avenue and New York Avenue. But what if there's a way to make the intersection far safer for walking and biking?

The MBT could be closed during construction of an adjacent development. Image by Aimee Custis.

The closure would be for construction of the second phase of the Washington Gateway, which is slated to be 16 stories tall with 372 residential units, 8% of which will have rents capped at affordable levels for people who quality.

"There will be a period of time when we have to pick up the asphalt and put in a better MBT," said Fred Rothmeijer, founding principal at developer MRP Realty, at an Eckington Civic Association meeting. Improvements will include repaving the trail, new landscaping and better light, he added.

The location of Washington Gateway with the section of the MBT in question. Image by MRP.

Michael Alvino, a bike program specialist at DC's Department of Transportation, tacitly confirmed the closure at the meeting, saying, "we're still trying to determine exactly what the impacts on the trail will be, certainly it's not going to be closed for an extended period of time—we're going to push for that to be open as much as possible."

Right now, the trail lets cyclists avoid a perilous intersection

This is a critical section of the MBT. The trail is the only car-free alternative to the congested "virtual circle," as DDOT puts it, intersection at Florida Avenue, New York Avenue and First Street NE.

Also called "Dave Thomas Circle" because it's home to a Wendy's, the intersection has narrow sidewalks along frequently backed up streets, primarily on Florida Avenue and First Street. It's unenjoyable for pedestrians and unsafe for cyclists in the roadway. In addition, the lights are timed to prioritize through traffic on New York Avenue, giving people on foot and bike little time to cross the six-lane wide thoroughfare.

In other words: the MBT is your safest and most practical route if you're headed to the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station or the First Street NE protected bikeway.

The closure could be an opportunity

What if DDOT used the potential MBT closure as an opportunity to improve the pedestrian and bike connections through the virtual circle?

The agency is already studying ways to improve the circle as part of a planned redesign of Florida Avenue NE. It proposed two possible alternatives that include direct pedestrian and bike connections through the intersection in the final report it released in 2015.

The orange lines in both options below represent new "pedestrian areas," though the report does not go into detail on exactly what kind of walking and biking facilities these would include:

One potential redesign of the virtual circle at the intersection of Florida Avenue and New York Avenue NE. Image by DDOT.

A second potential redesign of the virtual circle. Image by DDOT.

Right now, DDOT's potential redesigns of the circle face a significant stumbling block: they require the acquisition and demolition of the Wendy's restaurant at its center. DDOT has yet to set a timeline for this, or for redesigning the circle.

An interim solution to allow cyclists a safe path through the circle would be to build a protected bikeway that begins at R Street NE, heads south on Eckington Place to Florida Avenue, then continues briefly on Florida before turning south on First Street NE, crossing New York Avenue and then connecting with the existing bikeway at M Street NE.

Route of a possible protected bike lane from R Street NE to the existing facility on First Street in NoMa. Image by MapMyRun.

This solution would not require the acquisition of private property but it would likely require taking some of the traffic lanes for the roughly 150 feet the bikeway would be on Florida Avenue and the roughly 300 feet on First Street NE north of New York Avenue. There is no on-street parking in either of these stretches of roadway.

The protected bikeway could be created by reorganizing the traffic lanes and parking spaces on Eckington Place north of Florida and First Street NE south of New York Avenue.

Now is the time to speak up

MRP is in the process of modifying its planned unit development (PUD), the agreement where it commits to certain community benefits in exchange for DC Zoning Commission approval of a project, to include changes to Washington Gateway. These include converting one of the planned buildings to residential from commercial, as well as changes to a controversial "bike lobby."

The Zoning Commission has yet to set a date for a hearing but a modified PUD could include specifics for how the developer works with DDOT to mitigate the likely MBT closure during construction.

You can find out more by searching here for case number 06-14D.


WMATA is considering scrapping the Metroway BRT

Ridership on Metroway, the BRT route that runs from Braddock Road to Pentagon City, has been climbing since the service started in 2014. Yet WMATA is still considering shutting it down to save money. That'd negate years of planning and construction and sour public opinion on transit.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2014, WMATA introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) service called Metroway, whose MW1 line runs between Braddock Road in Alexandria and Crystal City in Arlington. As our region's only BRT, Metroway runs in its own lane parallel to Route 1; its ability to skip traffic makes it a reliable transportation option.

Metroway ridership has been growing since it first opened. WMATA's 9S bus, which it replaced, had a daily ridership of 1,091 in its final year running. But by June 2015, Metroway ridership was at about 1,400 people per day, and as ridership grew, Metroway expanded it's service to the Pentagon City Metro station.

Image from the City of Alexandria.

At the heart of the MW1 route (which remains Metroway's only line) is Potomac Yard, a former 295-acre rail yard, which used to be on EPA's list of hazardous sites but has been growing into a great example of transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade. As large apartment buildings in Potomac Yard have gone up, so has the number of people riding Metroway.

In 2016, Metroway saw a roughly 50% increase in ridership over the same months in 2015. In June of 2016, the average daily ridership topped 2,000 for the first time.

Metroway is quite cheap compared to other WMATA concerns

Last week, WMATA released several radical ideas to close the gap between its operating budget and allocated funds for Fiscal Year 2018.Included in a collection of ideas to save $10 million on bus service was eliminating 20 bus routes that WMATA has to subsidize because fares don't cover costs. In Metroway's case, WMATA pays $3.5 million extra per year to run the service, which is nearly three times the amount of money the 20 routes averaged together.

To put that in perspective, WMATA projects a budget gap of $275 million for FY 2018, and that number is likely to grow in the future. While we typically talk about rail in terms of decades and in magnitudes of billions of dollars, BRT offers options for smaller areas at a fraction of the cost-- a $3.5 million compared to hundreds of millions, for example-- and time.

For instance, the Silver Line was part of the original Metro planning during the 1960s, and the construction cost for Phase II alone is $3 billion. The Potomac Yard Metro Station also has roots dating back to the original Metro planning, was in various forms of development beginning in the early 90's, and will be complete in 2020 at an estimated cost of $268 million.

On the other hand, the time between the completing the conceptual design for the Metroway BRT Route and the grand opening was only 41 months at a cost of only $42 million for construction.

Beyond that, Metroway is just getting started. Why cut it off now?

Metroway has a growing ridership, as it serves an area that's growing. In fact, it has far more riders than the other 19 bus lines proposed for elimination, with the average ridership among the others being less than 500 riders per day. Only one other route, Oxon Hill-Fort Washington, has more than 1,000 riders per day.

Also, recent numbers Metro used to evaluate Metroway for its recent budget report were distorted: During SafeTrack surges 3 and 4 in July, anyone transferring from Metro was allowed to ride Metroway for free, which pushed ridership from being over 2,000 paying customers per day down to around 1,300. The next month, though, ridership was back over 2,000.

If Metroway stays around, ridership will grow and Metro will come closer and closer to breaking even on Metroway. With the next wave of development starting to kick off in the north end of Potomac Yard and Oakville Triangle, even more potential riders will have a chance to use the service..

That brings up another point: Metroway has come on board to serve the TOD of Potomac Yard. Eliminating the line would add more congestion to the Route 1 corridor, defeating the purpose of TOD. It could also drive up automobile ownership among residents who relied on the system.

Also, WMATA has already invested in the infrastructure needed to run BRT, and while it was far cheaper than a rail project, it's still a lot to simply throw away. The years of planning and construction are in place, which represent a cost 12 times greater than the annual subsidy, which should decrease as development continues. Shutting down these lanes would be another black eye for WMATA.

Finally, residents' opinion of BRT matters, as other jurisdictions begin to develop their own systems. Montgomery County is planning a 14 mile stretch along Route 29 that is part of a larger 80 mile system. Eliminating this line would sour the public opinion and possibly derail other local jurisdictions from developing their own.

As WMATA continues to face ridership declines from what it calls "poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents" that plague the rest of their system, it would be foolish to cut this growing asset.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 5

Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, Fort Totten—these are a few of the neighborhoods included in Ward 5, which covers much of northeast DC. There are a lot of contested races for the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions this year, with well over 50 candidates total. We found eight who deserve your vote.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes—Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

The historic seminary building, as seen from 13th Street NE. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In ANC 5A, we endorse Will Gee and Gordon-Andrew Fletcher

Much of ANC 5A is made up of Michigan Park, Fort Totten, Catholic University and the Old Soldier's Home. This ANC covers the areas east and west of the Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten Metro stations. One of larger controversies in the area is the development of 90 new row houses at St. Joseph's Seminary. Some neighbors have argued vociferously against this development, saying the buildings will "irrevocably damage [the] community" and destroy green space, even though the land is currently private.

A similar battle is unfolding nearby at the Takoma Metro station, which is just outside of 5A. There, a large underused parking lot has been slotted for redevelopment for years, but some community members have stalled it. One stop down, the mixed-use Cafritz development near the Fort Totten Metro is already under construction, but has been the source of community pushback in the past.

In situations like these, strong, reasonable, and proactive ANC leadership is desperately needed.

One leader we like is Will Gee, a candidate for 5A03, the district at the northeastern corner of the ANC on the Maryland border.

Will had smart and nuanced answers regarding the different developments in the area. For example, regarding Cafritz: "This is the kind of density around a Metro stop that we should be encouraging, though such a large-scale development is bound to have significant consequences, both good and bad." He similarly is excited about working with the developers at St. Joseph's, saying it is an "excellent place to add more housing" and a "critical opportunity for the Michigan Park community."

Will is a solid supporter of alternative transit, and was one of the few candidates who took our survey who unabashedly supported removing street parking if it meant improving bus infrastructure. This is a courageous and smart stance in a neighborhood where, as he puts it, such parking is "sufficiently available" and the change would be in the "neighborhood's best interest." Let's get this man a seat already.

Directly west lies 5A08, the area adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro station. Here, we endorse Gordon-Andrew Fletcher. Gordon-Andrew is also impressed by the efforts at St. Joseph's, and is "a firm believer that these townhomes will be a benefit for the area." He also envisions bike lanes along South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. To us, Gordon-Andrew seems like a thoughtful and responsive choice for commissioner, and we hope he gets a chance to serve his community.

Photo by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr.

In ANC 5B, we endorse Henri Makembe

North and east of the Brookland-CUA Metro stop lies Brookland and the rest of ANC 5B. Besides the development at St. Joseph's, neighbors here have their eye on the revitalization the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, and they want to know what commissioners will do to address public safety in their area.

There are only two contested races in 5B. For the first (5B03), we like Henri Makembe. Henri says that one of the reasons he is running is because he believes the "neighborhood should be thinking about how we want we want to grow in the future and go after it," and he sees Rhode Island Avenue as key to that growth. He also is supportive of developing more housing, "especially those suited for families.

Henri also envisions better connectivity between bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and wants to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve community policing.

Finally, Henri voiced his approval for the controversial homeless shelter proposed for Ward 5. While he agrees that "legitimate questions have not been answered and the process thus far has been opaque," he is unwavering in his support. We appreciate his rational, positive, and firm approach to these issues.

The other contested race is 5B04. This is an important district for any supporters of transit-oriented development, as it runs directly adjacent to the Red Line between the Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue Metro stops.

Unfortunately, we cannot endorse either candidate here.

The challenger, Carolyn Steptoe, has long been an opponent of development in the area. Her extraordinary comment here praises the neighborhood group known as the "200 footers," who won an incredibly impactful court case halting the construction of housing on the vacant property at 901 Monroe Street.

As further proof of Carolyn's consistent opposition to smart growth, she told us that "5B04 is fully saturated" when it comes to housing, and was against the very idea of accommodating new growth and residents."

Incumbent Rayseen Woodland is not any better. Frankly, this quote in response to our questionnaire astounded us:

I am not for too much housing. The more housing that come to the community, the more changes. People bring their own perspectives and they may not match with ours. I would not like to see residential parking become more of a disaster.
We cannot support a commissioner who, rather than address the needs of our growing city and citizens, values parking and keeping new people with different ideas out. We hope you won't support such a commissioner either.

If you live in 5B04, we encourage you to get involved in your ANC (though we wish you luck), and if you're interested in running for a seat next election, make sure to let us know.

New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. Photo by Randall Myers on Flickr.

In ANC 5C, we endorse Carlos Davis and Sumner Shaw

Further south, ANC 5C is a heavily industrial area with housing mixed throughout, including neighborhoods like Brentwood, Fort Lincoln and Woodridge. It is bordered on the south by the National Arboretum and Mount Olivet Rd, and in the north it lies mostly below Rhode Island Avenue.

Rhode Island Avenue's future is critically important to many of these neighbors, but perhaps more immediately pressing are the continuing controversies and stories coming from Brookland Manor, a large block of low-income housing that is set for redevelopment but is under scrutiny because of allegations of discriminatory practices.

The strip of land running north along of Bladensburg Road and bordering Brookland Manor is 5C02. In a close race, Carlos Davis struck us as the strongest candidate for this seat.

Carlos is in favor of bike lanes along Bladensburg, and is frustrated by the many missing sidewalks in his neighborhood, something he will work to fix. He envisions walkable urban villages for his neighborhoods, something he thinks is readily achievable with consistent "community and developer engagement."

Opponent Kevin Mullone seems generally reasonable, but he believes "the city is over saturated with new apartment units" and was against removing any street parking even if it meant improved bus services. We encourage you to give Carlos your vote.

Geographically the largest district in the ANC, the southern edge of the area bordering the National Arboretum is 5C04. There are three candidates running for the same seat here, and we think Sumner Shaw is a good choice.

Sumner has good ideas for the continued enhancement of Rhode Island Avenue, and seemed generally open to new ideas, as shown by his response about Brookland Manor: "I feel that progress in the form of development is a good thing as long as the constituents and their concerns are included prior and during said such progress."

More than anything, we think Sumner is a much better choice than his opponent Bernice Young. In reply to Brookland Manor: "No comment." Sorry, voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on perhaps the most public controversy in the ANC. Other answers were similarly terse and unhelpful. How would she like the neighborhood to look in 20 years? "I would like it to stay the same."

The third candidate, Jacqueline Manning, did not respond to our survey. Given the options, we think Sumner is the best choice here.

Trinidad. Photo by nauseaflip on Flickr.

In ANC 5D, we endorse Adam Roberts

Resdients who live in Ivy City, Trinidad, and Carver Langston live and vote in ANC 5D. It's a narrow district bounded on the southern edge by Florida Avenue and Benning Road, and on the north generally by New York Avenue.

Given those two thoroughfares, transportation is a big issue for the neighborhood. ANC commissioners will have opportunities to make their streets safer during their terms, as well as influence any work done around the Starburst Plaza at the end of the H Street corridor. We also wanted to know what prospective commissioners had to say about the ongoing redevelopment at Union Market, including the newer debates surfacing about historic preservation.

Within this ANC, the triangle in between Maryland Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Mount Olivet Road is 5D03, and for this seat we endorse Adam Roberts.

Adam's previous term has been busy, and he was proud to support "projects that have both positively activated space and met or surpassed the city's affordable housing requirements," including "13 brand new Habitat for Humanity homes" along Florida Avenue.

He recognizes that more can be done to expand the uses of the Starburst Plaza and looks forward to the coming redevelopment of the Hechinger Mall as opportunity to bring resources and vitality to the area. On transportation: "We do not need a six-lane highway running through Bladensburg; bike lanes are one way to slow down vehicular traffic, and get more visible people on the road, which I believe will certainly help deter crime."

Sounds good to us. We think Adam will continue to be a thoughtful, active and competent commissioner moving forward.

Eckington. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In ANC 5E, we endorse Hannah Powell and Michael Henderson

Along both sides of North Capitol Street are neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood, to name a few. This area is covered by ANC 5E. The well-fought-over McMillan Sand Filtration Site (what all those "Save McMillan Park" signs are about) is a huge issue for this ANC to tackle in the next few years, as well the substantial mixed-use redevelopment of the Rhode Island Shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro stop.

There's potential for a serious influx of housing and smart development in some of these areas, though it will take strong support from ANC leaders to help make that happen.

One person who has our confidence is Hannah Powell in 5E03, which is the eastern half of Eckington.

Out of the three candidates running in this race, two responded to our survey and we liked both. Hannah's opponent, Mike Aiello, had strong answers to our questionnaire on transportation, historic preservation, and housing. It is clear he has a strong grasp of the issues in the neighborhood, but he did not take as clear a stance on McMillan.

On the other hand, Hannah summarizes the situation at McMillan very well: "While it would be wonderful to turn the site back into the large park it was before WWII, it is readily apparent that there is simply no way the District can fund the needed repairs on its own. Absent a public-private partnership and compromises on all sides, the site will likely remain in disrepair and fenced off from the community, unusable by anyone."

She also supports the plans for the Rhode Island Shopping Center: "I am supportive of smart, sustainable development clustered close to Metro, and the MRP/Rhode Island Avenue development is, for the most part, a good example of exactly that," though she says that "[t]he developers stand to gain significantly by increasing the number of housing units through their" request for zoning relief, and the community "should also share in the benefits, including an increase in affordable housing units." Hear, hear.

One reader also respected Hannah's "desire to welcome new residents but to honor and maintain the diversity of the existing neighborhood," in particular regarding different housing types and options.

In the end, Hannah rose to the top our list for this district.

In the middle of the ANC lies 5E10, where we endorse Michael Henderson. This SMD abuts the Rhode Island site directly, and it was good to read that Michael is "happy to see the Rhode Island Shopping Center being redeveloped," though he promises to advocate for better access for residents in Edgewood Terrace, more affordable housing, and more green space as part of the project. He did not take a strong stance on McMillan, but at least seemed open to see some positive development happen there.

Readers wrote in that Michael's answers reflected his "thoughtful nature and his commitment to making Edgewood an even better place to live." We hope he lives up to that!

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by carfreedc on Flickr.

It is worth mentioning that there were many candidates in 5E that we chose not to endorse, primarily because of their answers about the McMillan site.

In 5E06, Katherine McLelland did not commit to much in her answers, and in particular on McMillan she refused to take a stance either way: "Whichever the direction that our ANC is in favor of, I am personally in favor of." In 5E07, Aravind Muthukrishnan wants a museum on the site, and Bertha Holliday had a host of concerns about the current proposal and seemed to threaten "delays, modifications, and increased costs." Finally in 5E09, Kirby Vining has been an outspoken "Save McMillan Park" activist for some time, and in our survey was against adding housing or bike infrastructure in his neighborhood.

The McMillan site is one of the few remaining large parcels of land in the District where we can significantly add to our housing stock and bring mixed-use amenities to the area. Having reasonable, compromising, and courageous commissioners nearby will make a real difference for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. We hope readers help vote some in.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 5 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 5. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

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