Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Smart Growth

Development


Upper Northwest hits peak NIMBY about a homeless shelter

Fifty short-term apartments for homeless residents are likely coming to Idaho Avenue in upper Northwest DC. At a community meeting last night, some residents showed just how much they think the poorest people in DC need to stay far away from their exclusive enclaves.

Helder Gil posted this flyer on Twitter, which people anonymously circulated at a community meeting Thursday night on a proposed homeless shelter next to the police station on Idaho Avenue, between Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights.

It includes the astoundingly offensive phrase, "Homeless lives matter; the lives of community homeowners matter too."

What's being proposed

Mayor Muriel Bowser set a very laudable goal of spreading out homeless shelters across all eight wards of DC. It's not best for homeless residents to all be concentrated in one small area, and puts the burden entirely on one neighborhood.

Most people expected people in some wealthy neighborhoods to fight the idea of any homeless people coming to their communities. But the flaws in how the Bowser administration executed on this plan, with seemingly too-high payments to property owners, some of whom were campaign donors, overshadowed any such debate.

Recently, the DC Council revised the plan to place all shelters on public property or land the District could acquire. In Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, the new site is the parking lot of the police station on Idaho Avenue. And now that the legitimate problems with the plan are past, some are indeed attacking the very idea that upper Northwest has to play any part in solving the need for homeless housing.

Many of the usual arguments against any project have come out in full force: the zoning doesn't match, our schools can't afford it, what about neighborhood security, this will up the traffic and down my property values.

Misconceptions abound

The anonymous flyer says, "We fundamentally oppose the Mayor's plan of equal distribution of homeless population—to build a shelter in each ward regardless of land availability and economic soundness." (The land seems to be quite available, actually, and economically, DC has to spend nothing to buy a parking lot it already owns.)

The letter, and people at the meeting, alleged that a shelter would harm property values. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson disputed that:

"There are plenty [of] empty public buildings in the city which can be renovated and used as shelters," the letter also says. First off, not really; second, this really is pretty much empty public land. What they mean is, "there are plenty of public buildings in someone else's neighborhood."

Talking about how the statements are wrong on their face is beside the point. The statements are morally wrong. Many people of DC's fancier neighborhoods, even ones who identify as Democrats ("liberal in the streets, NIMBY in the sheets") believe all of the city's need for housing, whether for homeless residents, the working poor, young college grads, or anyone else, should be solved somewhere else where "there's plenty of empty land."

Never mind that all of those other neighborhoods "over there" have people in them too, people who might be okay with some shelters or halfway housing or other social services but understandably don't want it all. Why should one part of the city get an opt out just because it's the richest part?

Not all residents of the area are hostile to the less fortunate:

Yes, to whoever said that, thank you.

Education


Gentrification isn't the only reason DC's test scores are rising

Student performance in the nation's capital has increased so dramatically that it has attracted significant attention and prompted many to ask whether gentrification, rather than an improvement in school quality, is behind the higher scores. Demographic change explains some of the increases in test scores, but by no means all of them.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

We drew this conclusion after analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card," which tests representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in mathematics and reading every two years.

NAEP scores reflect not just school quality, but also the characteristics of the students taking the test. For example, the difference in scores between Massachusetts and Mississippi reflects both the impact of the state's schools and differences in state poverty rates and other demographics. Likewise, changes in NAEP performance over time can result from changes in both school quality and student demographics.

DC's school demographics have changed substantially since 2005. The NAEP data show that the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined. The question is whether DC's sizable improvement is the result of changing demographics, as some commentators claim, or improving quality.

Changing demographics are only part of changing test scores

Our analysis indicates that, based on the relationships between demographics and NAEP scores in 2005, demographic changes predict a score increase of four to six points between 2005 and 2013 (the data needed to perform this analysis on the 2015 results are not yet available).

But the actual score increases have generally far outpaced the gains predicted by demographic change alone. For example, in fourth-grade math, demographics predicted a four-point increase, but scores increased 17 points.

The figure below shows predicted and actual score increases for all four tests for DC schools overall (including charters) and the traditional school district (DC Public Schools). Only in eighth-grade reading scores at DC Public Schools do demographic shifts explain more than half of the score increase.


Graph from the Urban Institute.

To be sure, our analysis does not account for all potentially important demographic factors. In particular, we do not include any measures of family income. Though researchers often use eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for determining income level, changes to who is eligible make this measure unreliable. With the eighth-grade scores, we did attempt to use parents' education as a proxy for socioeconomic status, but our results did not appreciably change: changes in demographics still did not account for changes in academic performance.

The bottom line is that gentrification alone cannot explain why student scores improved in Washington, DC, a conclusion that echoes previous analyses using publicly available data. DC education saw many changes over this period, including reform-oriented chancellors, mayoral control, and a rapidly expanding charter sector, but we cannot identify which policy changes, if any, produced these results.

And despite the large gains, DC NAEP scores still reveal substantial achievement gaps—for example, the gap between average scores for black and white students was 56 points in 2015; the gap between Hispanics and whites was 49 points.

In other words, much work remains to be done.

Here's how we drew our conclusions

Our analysis of student-level NAEP data from DC, including students from charter and traditional public schools, compares the increase in scores from 2005 to 2013 with the increase that might have been expected based on shifts in demographic factors including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and language spoken at home. The methodology is similar to the one used in a new online tool showing state NAEP performance (the tool excludes DC because it is not a state).

We used restricted-use, student-level data from NCES to generate these results. (That means that researchers have to get special permission to access files that have scores on a kid-by-kid (but de-identified) basis, whereas most people would have to use data that averaged for entire states and cities (by subject and year).

We measured the relationship between DC student scores in 2005 and the student factors of gender, race and ethnicity, age, and frequency of English spoken at home. We then predicted what each student's score in 2013 would have been if the relationships between demographics and scores were the same in 2013 as they were in 2005. We then compared the average predicted score of the 2013 test-takers (relative to the 2005 average score) to the actual 2013 score (also relative to the 2005 average score).

We tried model variants that included special education status, limited English proficiency status, and eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. Including these variables tended to lower the predicted score change (indicating that an even larger portion of the score changes came from non-demographic changes). However, because these variable are also subject to district and school-level definitions (direct certification/community eligibility may have increased the numbers of FRPL-eligible students, for example), we chose not to include these variables in our prediction, and focused only on demographic changes.

Crossposted from the Urban Wire.

Transit


Montgomery County will build bus rapid transit in four years

After nearly a decade of debate, Montgomery County wants to build a bus rapid transit line in four years, for 20% of the originally estimated cost. While it'll be a better bus service, it may not be so rapid.


Montgomery County could get this, sort of. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Last month, the county announced its plan to build a 14-mile BRT line along Route 29 (also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike) from the Silver Spring Transit Center to Burtonsville. It's part of a larger, 80-mile system that's been studied since 2008 and was officially approved in 2013. County Executive Ike Leggett wants to have this line up and running by the end of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The county also says they can do it for $67.2 million, compared to the $350 million county planners previously predicted.

How? Most bus rapid transit systems, like the new Metroway in Northern Virginia, have a separate roadway for buses that gets them out of traffic and provides a shorter, more reliable travel time.

On Route 29, the county envisions running buses on the shoulder between Burtonsville and Tech Road, where it's basically a highway. Further south, as Route 29 becomes more of a main street, the county would turn existing travel lanes into HOV-2 lanes for buses and carpools. For about three miles closer to downtown Silver Spring, buses would run in mixed traffic. This setup allows the county to build the line without widening the road anywhere, which saves on land and construction costs.


Map from Montgomery County.

The line would have other features that can reduce travel time and improve the current bus riding experience. Each of the 17 stations would feel more like a train station, with covered waiting areas, real-time travel info, and fare machines so riders can pay before getting on. At some stoplights, buses would get the green light before other vehicles. Buses would come every six minutes during rush hour, and every 10 minutes the rest of the time.

County officials estimate that 17,000 people will use the service each day by 2020 and 23,000 people will ride it each day in 2040. The line, which would be part of the county's Ride On bus system, would replace express Metrobus routes along Route 29, though existing local bus routes would remain.

Montgomery County would cover half the cost of building the line, while the other half would come from the US Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program for small-scale transportation projects. In addition, the grant would include money for sidewalks, bike lanes, covered bike parking at stations, and 10 bikesharing stations along the corridor. The county will find out if it's won the grant money this fall.

The project could give Montgomery County somewhat better transit now

This plan could bring better bus service to East County, which has been waiting for rapid transit since it was first proposed in 1981. The Metrobus Z-line along Route 29 is one of the region's busiest, with over 11,000 boardings each day, but riders face delays and long waits.

East County lacks the investment that more affluent parts of the county enjoy, and so residents must travel long distances for jobs, shopping, or other amenities. Residents suffer from poor access to economic opportunities: according to the county's grant application, 30% of the area's 47,000 households are "very low income." County officials hope that better transit could support big plans to redevelop White Oak and Burtonsville.

While not having dedicated transit lanes makes this project easy to build, it also makes it hard to provide a fast, reliable transit trip. Enforcing the HOV lanes will be hard, especially south of New Hampshire Avenue where the blocks are short and drivers are constantly turning onto Route 29 from side streets. And without dedicated lanes in congested Four Corners, buses will simply get stuck in traffic with everyone else, discouraging people from riding them.

The route also includes two spurs along Lockwood Drive and Briggs Chaney Road, each of which serves large concentrations of apartments where many transit riders live, but would force buses on huge, time-consuming detours. One possibility is that some buses could go straight up Route 29 while others take the scenic route. But that's basically how the existing bus service on the corridor already works.

This could make the case for rapid transit

This might be a temporary solution. The county and state of Maryland will continue planning a "real" bus rapid transit line that might have its own transitway, but that could take several years.

In the meantime, the county needs to build support for better transit. BRT has broad support across the county, but many residents are still skeptical. Supporters and opponents alike have been confused and frustrated by the lack of information on the county's progress in recent months.

By getting something on the ground now, Montgomery County can show everyone how BRT really works sooner, rather than later. Despite the shorter timeframe, it's important to make sure this service actually improves transit, and that residents actually know what's going on.

Links


Worldwide links: California's crisis cause

According to California's governor, his state's housing problem isn't that it's not spending enough on affordable housing, but rather that it's way too hard to get a building permit. China is building lots of subway systems, and Jane Jacobs may not have paid enough attention to infrastructure. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Travis Wise on Flickr.

It's the permits: California Governor Jerry Brown wants to reduce how long it can take to build new housing in his state. He says there's already plenty of money going toward affordable housing, and that the real focus should be on making local permitting processes less lengthy. (Los Angeles Times)

Smaller metros get more metros: China has been on an subway building frenzy. 26 cities have systems, while 39 others have projects approved. The Chinese Government also recently changed the rules to allow cities with more than 1.5 million people to build new systems. The old minimum was 3 million. (Reuters)

Disadvantaged cities: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf says that state regulations across the country are hostile toward cities. With his state's budget discussions approaching, Wolf said the state has too often left cities to fund themselves, giving residents raw deals on things like school funding and utility rates. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Missing infrastructure: Jane Jacobs has taught us a lot about how to build great places, where walking around is easy. But she may have also had a a blind spot, as she often neglected to talk about systems and infrastructure, like transit and water pipes, that stitch neighborhoods together. (Common Edge)

Transit mapping tech: A few years ago, Tiffany Chu and some friends put together a program that would allow transit planners to map out routes and immediately see the impact of those decisions based on data. Today, Remix is the toast of planners everywhere who want an easier way to get more people to ride the bus. (Curbed)

The disappearing dive: Dive bars are disappearing at a rapid pace. At the same time, it's increasingly common to see bars that claim to be dives, but are actually washed out versions of the real thing. Many blame the gentrification while others say it's just pure economics, as $2 bottles won't pay the rent. (Eater)

Transit Trends

In this episode of Transit Trends, my co-host and I sat down with Iain Macbeth of Transport for London to discuss how the information from a connected car can improve transportation systems worldwide.

Bicycling


15th Street's protected bikeway is back!

It's a Bike to Work Day miracle! For the last few months, demolition of the old Washington Post building has squeezed people on both bikes and foot into the same narrow space. But as of this morning, there's both a protected bikeway and a sidewalk, meaning there's a safe way for everyone to travel.


A new protected bikeway on 15th Street. Photo by the author.

When Carr Properties started demolishing the old Washington Post building, at 15th and L NW, it was supposed to set up two separate temporary paths along 15th, one to replace the closed sidewalk and one to replace the closed bikeway. What actually went up, however, was just a single narrow chute. While there were signs saying it was only for bikes, people used it for walking because it was the only option on that side of the street.

This morning, though, I noticed both a temporary sidewalk and protected bikeway, with a barrier in between, running on 15th between L and M Streets. And on L, there are sharrows that make it clear that people on bikes can use the full lane—that may not be as nice as the protected bikeway, but it can work on a temporary basis.

Nice work, DDOT! This is great news for people who depend on the city's bike infrastructure to get around. Now, they don't have to deal with a major gap in the network, which people were fearing would last for the estimated construction time of two years.

The city, and the region, still has a ways to go in terms of providing safe paths for everyone when construction comes along. But this development, made possible by a little paint and some bollards that make things clear, is an encouraging sign.

Transit


An express bus line from downtown to Mount Rainier is one step closer to reality

Neighborhoods around Rhode Island Avenue NE were built to depend on transit. A new express bus, the G9, is one step closer to running along the corridor, from downtown to Mount Rainier.


If Far East Movement took the bus. Base photo by Dan Malouff.

WMATA first proposed the G9 in 2014, after studying the way transit use was changing along Rhode Island Avenue into Prince George's County. The DC Council made a huge push toward making the line a reality Tuesday night, with a unanimous first vote for a FY17 budget that includes $1.04 million for the G9.

"The proposed G9 bus line will service Rhode Island Avenue from 14th Street NW to just beyond the District's border at Eastern Ave NE, thereby filling that gap and alleviating congestion on the G8 and other bus lines that offer partial service to the Rhode Island Avenue NE corridor," said Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

Here's a full map of the planned route:


The proposed G9 route, from WMATA. A bigger version is on page 25 of this report.

This is extremely welcome news to residents of the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, who are looking at an almost one-month shutdown of their portion of the Red Line during SafeTrack.

As of press time, neither WMATA nor McDuffie's office had responded to questions about when, exactly, residents can expect the G9 to start running. We'll update the post as soon as we hear back.

But for now, let's take a moment to celebrate this bit of good transit news—it's a welcome bit of sunshine on a rainy horizon.

Popping bottles in the ice, like a blizzard
When we drink we do it right gettin slizzard
Sippin sizzurp in my ride, like Three 6 689
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9
Like a G6 G9, Like a G6 G9
Now I'm feeling so fly like a G6 G9

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