Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Smart Growth

Fun


"We built this city on: hot hipsters." Cards Against Urbanity wants to make you laugh

Nothing adds to any nerdy party better than the card games "Apples to Apples" or "Cards Against Humanity", but now thanks to a bunch of DC urbanists we may soon have "Cards Against Urbanity" with cards focused on all sorts of aspects of planning and urban living.


Image from the Kickstarter page.

The founders officially launched their Kickstarter drive with an event Tuesday night in Arlington. In order to make this game a reality, the group needs to raise $7,500. As of last night, they were already 43% of the way to the goal with $3,207 raised.

If you've never played Cards Against Humanity, you're missing out. It's a hilarious party game. The way it works is that each player takes turns playing the judge. He or she draws a black card with a question or phrase with blanks. The remaining players then select white "noun" cards from their decks and play the one they think fits best. Whichever card the judge picks determines who won that round.

Cards Against Humanity took its gameplay from the tamer party game Apples To Apples; Cards Against Urbanity is a spinoff and will focus on city life and planning.

You can see some of the examples of the cards on the kickstarter page. I can't wait to see what my friends throw down for "My city's economic plan includes _____________." Perhaps "a pink fixie," "dangerous minorities," "citizens for urban chicken keeping," or "Starbucks proliferation." Whatever the combo is, I'm sure it will make me laugh out loud.

At the launch event one card combo was, "We built this city. We built this city on ________" combined with "Housewife crying at public meeting."

Some of the answer cards that have been produced included "hot hipsters," "nude roof deck," and "rezoning s****storm." But the launch event was interactive. The organizers wanted suggestions from the attendees. If you have a suggestion for a card (either question or answer), make sure to leave it in the comments.

Although the game's language may be too salty for a civic gathering, it could definitely get more people to talk about local issues in a fun and silly way. And if you're already involved in planning, cities, or civic engagement, it can be a great way to poke a little fun at things you may encounter all the time; whether an overactive neighborhood listserv or draconian HOA rules.


The launch party. Photo by Lisa Nisenson.

Dying to get your hands on a set? Even if the kickstarter doesn't meet its production goals, the very first prototype set will be raffled off to an attendee at the Coalition for Smarter Growth's Smart Growth Social fundraiser on October 15so purchase a ticket to be one step closer to having your very own set.

Politics


David Catania's platform supports Metro, streetcars, bus lanes, bike lanes, transit-oriented development, and more

Mayoral candidate David Catania released a 66-page platform today, chock full of positions on issues from education to jobs to seniors. It includes strong statements on transportation and the environment.


Catania at a DC Council hearing.

Here are a few key quotes from the platform:

Metro: To ensure that Metro Momentum becomes a reality, the entire region will need to prioritize the plan's funding. As Mayor, David will ensure that the District leads the effort with our regional and federal partners to create a dedicated funding mechanism for this vital investment in our collective future.

Streetcars: David will seek to build both the East-West and the North-South [DC streetcar] lines, believing that the system must be sufficiently expansive in order to serve as anything more than a novelty or tourist attraction.

Bus lanes: David will work with community members, bus riders, and transit agencies to increase capacity and implement priority bus lanes on major arterial roadways and key transit corridors.

Bicycle infrastructure: David will expand bicycle infrastructure to all areas of the city, particularly in communities east of the Anacostia River that have yet to see such investments. This expansion can take place in a way that does not displace other forms of transportation. Many District streets are particularly well positioned for installation of protected bike lanes while maintaining sufficient car parking and driving capacity. David will also support the continued expansion of Capital Bikeshare.

Traffic cameras: There is little doubt that speed and red light cameras have contributed to the overall safety of our streets. However, in some cases the deployment of these cameras raises questions about whether the intent is purely to improve street safety or if the real motivation is to raise additional revenue through ticketing and citations. As Mayor, David will demand that the proper analysis is conducted to ensure that these devices are being used to target locations with street and pedestrian safety concernsnot simply as a means to raise revenue!

Vision Zero: David will pursue a street safety agenda in line with the Vision Zero Initiative. ... Vision Zero calls for the total elimination of traffic deathspedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle passengerthrough innovative street design, enhanced traffic management technologies, and education campaigns.

Transit-oriented development: The District's density is one of its greatest economic competitive advantages. Recent studies have found a clear connection between the higher concentration of residents and greater economic output. As Mayor, David will harness this economic potential in a way that creates healthy and livable urban communities, by focusing development around transportation hubs including Metro stations, bus lines, protected bike lane infrastructure, and Streetcar corridors.


Speck. Image from the Catania platform.
A lot of this reads like something a smart growth and sustainable transportation advocate might write. Maybe that's not such a surprise, as the section starts out with a big picture of Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City and a local smart growth champion. Jeff and Alice Speck are strong supporters of Catania, and probably suggested a few ideas.

There is a lot about the environment as well in that section, such as LEED buildings, tree canopy, and water quality, as well as on many more topics in the full document. What do you agree or disagree with in the platform?

Transit


New Tysons Circulator bus routes get mixed reviews

When the Silver Line opened, Fairfax County also launched three new bus routes to help people get around Tysons Corner. How are they working? Jenifer Joy Madden had a good experience on the buses, but Navid Roshan says that the meandering route makes the bus slow for many trips.


Photo by Jenifer Joy Madden.

Madden writes,

Recently, two family members and I biked from our home in suburban Vienna over quiet streets and neighborhood trails to Spring Hill, the closest of the Silver Line stations. Our final destination was the Tysons I mall, but instead of continuing by bike or Metro, we parked our bikes, walked over the Route 7 Metro pedestrian bridge, and caught Fairfax Connector 423.

For walkers and cyclists, the bus is a great solution for bypassing or crossing the Tysons core. The 423, like the other new Fairfax Connector circulator buses, runs every ten minutes from morning until night. The cost is only 50¢ per ride or free if you transfer from Metro. The ride to the Tysons Corner Metro station bus stop took less than 20 minutes, about the same time it would have taken by bike.

However, Navid Roshan points out that while the bus takes a fairly direct route between Spring Hill and Tysons, it winds circuitously around the rest of Tysons, making it less useful for many trips.


Map from Fairfax Connector.
Unfortunately, the [North Central Tysons] residents who would rely on the 423 would see an approximate 8 to 10 minute bus ride from the Park Run region to Tysons Corner station. That is only 2 minutes shorter than walking. Add in the average headway wait of 5 minutes (half of 10 minutes) and it makes more sense for the thousands of residents in this community to walk instead.

That being the case, it's not shocking that ridership on the 423 is so pathetic, especially considering the very strong ridership from this same neighborhood on the 425/427 series to WFC... which used to take only 4 minutes more than the 423 to get to the Metro station.

That's just the morning. Forget about riding the bus if you want to take it home after work. Due to the 423′s one way loop around Tysons, grabbing the bus from Tysons Corner Station to get to the center of the North Central residential region will take between 14 and 18 minutes. All of this is being caused by the serpentine and over stretched nature of the 423.

Roshan says that initial plans called for four Circulator routes, but Fairfax combined them to save money. He suggests re-dividing the 423 into two routes, one mostly using the north-south roads to and from the Tysons Corner station, and one more east-west to Spring Hill.


Map from Fairfax Connector modified by Navid Roshan.

That would mean the bus wouldn't serve the specific trip Madden took. but since that was between two Metro stations, the train is available except during rush hours when bikes are prohibited on Metro. Meanwhile, she has her own suggestions to improve the circulators:

It would be useful if a circulator route could ferry cyclists and pedestrians past the dangerous Beltway/Dulles Toll Road interchange. Also, the circulators should have their own design and colors. Right now, they are indistinguishable from the external buses and their purpose isn't clear. I think that's why the 423 isn't being used as much.
Have you used the Tysons buses? What do you think of the routes?

Transit


DC Circulator is such a great brand it's expanded to Ohio

Earlier this year Columbus, Ohio launched CBUS, the Columbus Circulator. It's a special overlay bus route running along the main street through the city's densest, most urban neighborhoods. It comes every 10 minutes, has a low (actually free) fare, and limited stops. Sound familiar?

Oh, and here's a photo:


Photo by Darius Pinkston on Flickr.

Look familiar? That sweeping line, the destinations labeled on the side, "CIRCULATOR" in a modern sans-serif font right in the middle. It looks nothing like Columbus' standard bus livery, but it is all very reminiscent of the DC Circulator.

In fact, Ohio transit advocates had the DC Circulator in mind during planning for CBUS.

Columbus isn't alone, either. "Circulator" is spreading as an increasingly common brand choice for short-distance, high-frequency buses in mixed-use areas, especially near DC. There's a Bethesda Circulator, a Tysons Circulator, and a Baltimore Circulator.

Just how far will this brand spread?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Roads


A traffic engineer and a planner both study a closed freeway segment. Their conclusions are wildly different.

Let's say you have a closed piece of freeway along your waterfront. What should you do with it? Ask many traditional traffic engineers, and they'll likely answer with some variant of "build a lot of car lanes, maybe with some path for walkers and cyclists if there's room." Ask an urban planner, meanwhile, and the answer could be a more nuanced mix of buildings, parks, roads, or other pieces of a city.

Just look at what traffic engineers versus planners came up with for the piece of DC's Southeast Freeway between the 11th Street Bridge and Barney Circle:


Four-lane road with parking and overpasses. Image from DDOT.


Concept extending DC's street grid into the freeway. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Advocates of "urbanism" or "livable streets" or "smart growth" often deride the "traffic engineer mindset." This is the attitude of some (but not all) engineers who primarily build and maintain roads. These folks tend to hold an ingrained assumption that more roadway lanes are basically the answer to any mobility problem.

Meanwhile, graduates of most planning schools today will bring a wide variety of tools to the table. They'll often look not just at how to move vehicles or even people, but whether more motion is really the best way to use some land. If people are encountering more traffic to get to jobs, one solution is to build a big transportation facility, but another approach is to create more opportunities for the people to live near the jobs, or to put the jobs near the people.

For one of the starkest illustrations of this "lane engineer" versus planner mindset dichotomy, look at the Southeast Boulevard studies in DC. There used to be a freeway running along the edge of eastern Capitol Hill to Barney Circle. Long ago, plans called for it to connect to a new bridge over the Anacostiathe Barney Circle Freeway, and part of an "inner loop" of freeways around downtown. That would have been a very damaging plan for both DC's environment and its congestion.

DDOT's study thinks very narrowly

In 2005, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) came up with a somewhat better scheme, to essentially widen the 11th Street Bridge by building a new parallel local bridge and convert the freeway segment from a four-lane freeway to a four-lane urban boulevard.

DDOT then conducted a 2014 study of options to replace the freeway segment. The study devised xis options, but all of them basically looked like near-freeways. While pedestrians and cyclists could cross to access the waterfront, and cars could turn on and off to nearby streets in some options, all of the options turned a huge expanse of pavement and empty grass into other huge expanses of pavement and empty grass, sometimes also with tour bus parking.

DDOT's options still primarily focused around moving cars fast, and would all have created big empty spaces that would not create any actual sense of place and would be, at best, unpleasant to cross on foot.


Map of Concept 2. Images from DDOT.


Concept 2.


Concept 4A.

Planners think more creatively

Residents, led by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Brian Flahaven, were not happy with the narrowness of DDOT's analysis. Instead, at Councilmember Tommy Wells' urging, the Office of Planning stepped in to do a more open-minded study of how to use the space.

OP's options still look at four-lane boulevards and even four-lane parkways, but with much more appealing designs like a big park next to and partly on top of the road:


Concept C2. Images from the DC Office of Planning.

Or just extend the street grid right through the site with new townhouses like the old ones:


Concept A2.

Or a new avenue fronted by larger buildings:


Concept A1.

Or a hybrid:


Concept B1.

Why 4 lanes?

But even OP's study assumed that there need to be 4 lanes of traffic, as that's what DDOT insists on. OP's presentation points out that 4 lanes of traffic can be a part of residential boulevards, like New Hampshire Avenue in Petworth or East Capitol Street near Lincoln Park. However, these roads still feel much wider than others. Drivers tend to move faster here, often too fast to safely mix with other neighborhood users. New Hampshire Avenue north of Dupont, in contrast, is just one lane each way.

So why do there need to be 4 lanes of traffic? DC just effectively widened the 11th Street Bridge, adding car capacity there. Can't there be a reduction on an adjacent street? More than that, there haven't been any lanes for years now. It seems that a traffic pattern with zero lanes works fine.

If there's new development, it would need a road and some lanes to get to it, but to say we need 4 because we already had 4 is circular reasoning without logic, unless you assume that more lanes are always better, and any lane once built must always remain to eternity. That's the ingrained belief of many traditional traffic engineers, and it's the answer I got from Ravindra Ganvir, DDOT's deputy chief engineer, when I asked in February of 2013:

The constrained long range plan (CLRP) traffic model is assigning traffic volumes that would exceed the capacity of a two-lane facility and is showing Southeast Boulevard as a four-lane arterial facility.
Traffic models "show" traffic on a link that varies depending on what kind of link you have built, so to say that the model shows a four-lane boulevard worth of traffic when you have a freeway or boulevard in the plan is again circular. Or, as one contributor wryly paraphrased, "We are building a big road because we need a big road because there was a big road there before."

DDOT needs to re-examine its reflexive assumption that 4 lanes is the only possibility. Regardless, this area now stands a good chance of becoming an excellent urban place now that people who think about spaces broadly and creatively got involved.

Pedestrians


One strip mall's owners block, but then restore, a pedestrian path to the neighborhood

In suburban, car-oriented neighborhoods, simple footpaths can do a lot for people who don't or can't drive. When the owner of a Rockville shopping center inadvertently closed a popular footpath to nearby apartments, residents spoke out and were able to keep it open.


The path to Federal Plaza. All photos by the author.

Federal Plaza is a car-oriented shopping center on Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro station. Its owner is Rockville-based Federal Realty, which owns other strip malls nearby but also develops urban, mixed-use projects like Bethesda Row and Pike + Rose, currently being built in White Flint.

South of Federal Plaza are an apartment complex, the Apartments at Miramont, and a condo complex, the Miramont Villas, where my parents live. Until recently, residents used a short, unpaved footpath that connects the apartments to Federal Plaza and lies on both properties. Long-time residents say they have used this path since the Miramont buildings were built in the mid-1980s.

But in the middle of July, a six-foot-tall wooden fence suddenly appeared along the south side of Federal Plaza, blocking the footpath. Miramont residents now had to walk out to five-lane East Jefferson Street, along a narrow sidewalk with no buffer, and back into the Federal Plaza parking lot via the driveway entrance. The detour added about 1/5 of a mile to the trip each way.

This was a serious inconvenience for many Miramont residents. The Miramont condos are a naturally occurring retirement community, with a relatively large proportion of elderly residents and residents with disabilities, including mobility impairments. But Miramont apartment residents now also had to make the detour while pushing strollers, pulling shopping carts, or carrying groceries. The detour was even a big problem for some of the residents of an assisted living facility another block south who also used the footpath.

And the detour wasn't just inconvenient. It was also dangerous. Drivers entering the Federal Plaza driveway from East Jefferson Street cannot see pedestrians in the driveway. And pedestrians now had to walk the full length of the parking lot, in a county where roughly one-third of collisions with pedestrians occur in parking lots.


The restored footpath. View from Federal Plaza to the Miramont buildings.

After the fence went up, it took a few days to figure out who had put up the fence and why. But it soon turned out that Federal Realty had put up the fence to respond to Southern Management, the manager of the Miramont apartments. Miramont residents shook their fists at the fence, met, talked, signed a petition, and called and sent e-mails to Federal Realty to explain the problem and ask Federal Realty to solve it.

Federal Realty promptly committed to solving the problem. And two weeks ago, roughly six weeks after the fence went up, Federal Realty removed the section of fence that blocked the footpath. Miramont residents are once again able to use the footpath to get to Federal Plaza.

In addition, Federal Realty installed a curb cut from the parking lot to the footpath. They also marked a crosswalk across the driveway entrance on East Jefferson, another crosswalk along the driving lane from East Jefferson to the west side of the Federal Plaza building, and a crosswalk from the footpath to the long crosswalk, across the driving lane.


New crosswalk from the footpath at Federal Plaza.

Unfortunately, Federal Realty's willingness to keep the path open appears to be the exception among commercial property owners, not the rule. In Wheaton, the owners of Wheaton Plaza are trying to block a popular footpath, saying it will bring crime to the surrounding neighborhood.

Federal Realty's response is good news for Miramont residents and Federal Plaza customers, of course. But it's also good news for Montgomery County overall. Pike + Rose is surely not the only commercial property in the county that Federal Realty intends to redevelop from car-oriented shopping plaza to mixed-use, walkable development. Their quick and effective reaction to the small problem of the fence bodes well for their bigger plans for the future.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC