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Housing


Should a "historic gas station" keep new housing units from going up in Dupont?

A new building with housing and ground-level retail was set to go up just west of Dupont Circle, but the project has stalled because some DC officials say it would harm a historic gas station building. There's often tension between wanting to preserve historic buildings and needing to build more housing for a region that will continue to grow. We asked our contributors what they think should happen in this situation.


The Embassy Gulf Service Station. Image from Google Maps.

Marx Realty & Improvement Company recently proposed potential designs for a nine-story, 34-unit residential building with ground floor retail at 22nd and P Streets NW.That address is also home to the Embassy Gulf Service Station—today a Sunoco—that was built in 1936.

The building was designated a historic landmark in 1993 because it's a particularly good example of the neo-classical design used by many urban gas stations during the 1930s to make the car-oriented buildings more palatable to planners and zoning officials of their day.

In all three of Marx's design options, the plan was to slightly move the gas station building so there was more room for the new one, and to adapt it for retail use. In some of the plans, there was to be a connection on the ground level between the old and new buildings.

Marx submitted these options to DC's Historic Preservation Review Board, which decides whether new building proposals fit with the historic landmark. Technically, the HPRB is only an advisory board, but if it says no to a design, it's rare that the DC government issues a permit to build.

The HPRB said in its report that none of the designs would work because of the "disparity in height" between the single-story station building and the nine-story proposal:

This is the principle the HPRB staff operated on: Any adjacent new construction should be substantially lower in height than is proposed so as to not loom over the landmark.

Here's the HPRB staff's ruling: The disparity in height between the nine-story new construction and the one-story landmark is stark, discordant and incompatible, and would result in the gas station being left in shadow. While the open lot site to the south is under separate ownership and apparently not available for development, its presence adds to what is an unsatisfying urbanistic solution in which the weight of the new tower is pushed uncomfortably close to the landmark while a large open parking lot would remain on the other side.

It's somewhat confusing to hear that a nine-story building would provide an "unsatisfying urbanistic solution" when many nearby buildings, including a ten-story apartment building directly across the street, are around that height.

We asked our contributors to weigh in on the decision and the broader competing interests of preserving historic structures while allowing DC to grow for the future.

Several contributors, like Tony Camilli, disagree with the HPRB's ruling:

DC already has more than 18% of its property designated as historic vs. 4.7% in Boston, 3.6% in New York, and 2.2% in Philadelphia. Yet these other cities are over a century older than DC. This particular gas station is prime real estate in an area with many other transportation options and was built long before Metrorail and bike lanes came about.

Modern cities have to change over time to remain relevant (see Detroit and other rust-belt cities for examples of failures to adapt). DC has gotten very expensive and needs more housing, so 1-story gas stations located in densely-populated areas with many transportation options should not be saved even if the architecture and use are historic. Document the station and archive its existence yes, but don't hold DC hostage to the change it needs to be a 21st century city.

Dan Malouff simply tweeted the following:

David Alpert sees a double standard when it comes to building designs and building heights, and argues that DC needs to take advantage of limited infill housing opportunities:

I support having historic preservation. I think we have many wonderful buildings which add architectural and historic diversity to the city and are worth keeping.

But the preservation office says new buildings should be "of their time" in terms of architecture (look contemporary, not like replicas of old buildings) even if that means a super modern building is next to an old one, the thought being that such a move would just emphasize the historic. Okay, but then they say that new buildings should not be very different in size.

Why should a building be faux-historic in height but not design? Why shouldn't the new building be "of its time" in size? Wouldn't having a tall building next to a short one emphasize the historic height?

I think preserving valuable buildings is a great thing to do, but when we're talking about new construction on vacant land I think HP can be too restrictive about "compatibility."

Dan Reed raises the point that "preservation" is often about one group's definition of history, but not another's:
This makes me think about the fate of Phase 1 (before it Apex and Badlands), the gay club a few blocks away, which is being converted back to its "historic" appearance as a carriage house.

These preservationists don't just want to save the gas station, they want it its surroundings to look like it did when it was built, nevermind how the context has changed since then. As a queer person, I personally think the "recent" history of Phase 1/Apex/Badlands overrules the 1900s history that none of us were there for and can apply any meaningful context to. But we often privilege the "built" history over the cultural history because the built stuff feels more tangible.

Jacqueline Drayer says that on the other hand, historic gas stations are extremely unique:
Very, very few gas stations in the US are protected (for good reason) - but they represent an integral part of 20th century US history. This one has both an unusual style and speaks to the lost practice of actually creating inspired station architecture. It is perfectly reasonable to maintain the spatial qualities of the still functioning gas station.
Steven Yates agrees, and wondered if a shorter building would work:
I'm OK with the gas station being historic. It is in fact fairly old (dating back to 1936) and a style we don't see anymore (and not bad looking either). But to say a tall building is incompatible with it really ignores the context of the surrounding neighborhood (like across the street). And at what height does it no longer tower over? It's only a one story building so would three stories still be too high?
What do you think? Should a building go up as long as the gas station isn't harmed? Is moving the gas station to face another way ok? Should the gas station stay around at all?

Links


Weekend links: Montreal's attempt to slow growth

Montreal's city council is limiting the number of new restaurants in one neighborhood in hopes that the move will slow rising prices. The buildings we live and work in shape how we think, and designers are hoping that's just the tip of the iceberg. Some argue that our urban policies of the last two decades drove down city voter turnout earlier this month. Read about this, and more, from world of transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by La Belle Province on Flickr.

Of Montreal: In an effort to fight gentrification, the city of Montreal has determined that a street in a booming neighborhood will not open any new high-end restaurants. The law passed by city council states that a new restaurant cannot open within 25 meters of an existing one, while other stores are more than welcome. This has drawn complaints from merchants but has pleased residents that think the move will keep rents in the city lower than in contemporaries like Vancouver and Toronto. (Guardian)

Messing with your mind: Stop for a second and look around. The place where you are reading this could be controlling your mind. Interiors and exteriors of buildings have a strong influence on how humans feel. Designers are working to learn more so they can do things like build hospitals that heal people more quickly or prisons that do a better job of rehabilitating. (Curbed)

Blame urban policy: Is our country's urban policy of the last 25 years the reason fewer urban voters turned out this year than in 2008? Commentator James DeFilippis thinks so, saying that policies that are too market focused, help people that already have capital, and outsource community action have failed to make a noticeable positive difference in the lives of many city dwellers. (Metropolitics)

Car, car revolution?: Ford's CEO Mark Fields believes that cars aren't the future of his company. At the recent Automobility LA conference, Fields said he wants to focus on moving people rather than moving vehicles. A focus on urban transportation modes and partnerships with cities would be a welcome shift for anyone hoping we'll cut back on our car dependence. (Los Angeles Times).

Three paths for self-driving cars: Some people see three different scenarios coming to pass once electric autonomous vehicles are really a feasible option: dense, high-income places where people share self-driving cars the way we do with ride hailing services now, sprawling places where most people buy their own, and places where the technology just doesn't work because the infrastructure isn't good enough or there are too many unpredictable pedestrians. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

The psychology behind why we're OK with sitting in traffic

Most people hate traffic, yet we are willing to sit in it for long periods of time to get to where we are going. Have you ever wondered why you put up with it? In this episode of Transit Trends, Dr. Bob Duke and Dr. Art Markman, the hosts of the podcast Two Guys on Your Head and recent authors of a book called Brain Briefs, sit down with host Erica Brennes to discuss the psychology behind sitting in traffic.

Architecture


Building of the Week: The Wonder Bread Factory

If you walk down S Street in Shaw, you'll pass the Wonder Bread Factory between 7th and 6th Streets NW. Though its fašade still boasts "Wonder Bread" and "Hostess Cake," today the building is full of retail space and offices. It's a great example of adaptive reuse, which is repurposing a historic building for a new function.


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

The oldest portion of the 641 S Street NW property dates to 1913. The building was an expansion of Dorsch's White Cross Bakery. Wonder Bread acquired the company and its property in 1936, and may have used the space principally to bake Hostess Cake products.

While many longtime Washingtonians remember the delicious smell the factory emitted, Wonder Bread moved its operations in the 1980s, closing the factory. The building's ensuing vacancy hastened its decline, and by the time Douglas Development Corporation bought the property in 1997, collapsed roofing and structural instability were part of the package. There was widespread rust, buckling floorboards, and a patina of general neglect.

The building was—and still is—full of fascinating architectural features.

One of the most distinctive is the white crosses that festoon the original three story brick building. According the Douglas Development's website, these "were meant to relieve fears that their bread might not be safe to eat after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle struck fear into people that factory food was unsanitary."

Other appealing features include the Wonder Bread sign and large multi-pane windows in the front of the building.

Attention also went into restoring finer details of the landmarked building. Open bar joists, which are triangulated lightweight steel trusses, were used to support floors, instead of simpler but anachronistic concrete decks.


The factory's open bar joists. Photo from Douglas Development.

Douglas considered a number of uses for over a decade after it bought the building in 1997, including a boutique hotel and apartment complex. In 2010, a mixed use development with retail on the first and second floors and offices on the upper floors prevailed.

Building rehabilitation went on between 2012 and 2013, and which meant a number of changes to the structure. Those included the addition of a fourth story to the factory's rear, excavation on the S Street side of the building, and a basement excavation, which created space for underground parking. A rooftop terrace also went in, and while much of the building had to be stripped to its hardy skeleton, the open spaces that characterize its original industrial use were retained.

All of these amenities attracted new tenants, like WeWorkDC, Event Space DC, and Youth for Understanding USA. When iStrategyLabss signed a lease in 2014, the building was 100 percent occupied.


Photo by Patrick on Flickr.

It may have taken a while to turn the Wonder Bread factory into a new building, but today's tenants are clearly proud of their spaces. WeWork devotes an entire paragraph to describing the history and renovation of the building on the location's webpage.

More broadly, while the tech industry tends to be a forward-thinking one, it clearly finds value in historic places. At its peak, web-based coupon service LivingSocial boasted six offices in Washington, many in adaptively reused or renovated buildings. Also, Twitter's San Francisco operations are headquartered in an old furniture mart, and AirBnb renovated a warehouse nearby.

Adaptive reuse is also useful in difficult or expensive construction markets. While Washington lacks San Francisco's zoning nightmare, rehabilitating a building still has financial incentives here. These come principally in the form of Historic Preservation Tax Credits. This federal program grants certain buildings that are listed on the National Register 10 or 20 percent tax credits for reusing a structure based on the Secretary of the Interior's standards.

The Wonder Bread Factory is an example of an architectural gem successfully repurposed for 21st century economic needs and philosophical desires.

History


Gas stations were much better looking in 1924

Most gas stations these days are pretty garish, but gas stations weren't always so. Check out this vintage 1924 station, from Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park.


Lord Baltimore Filling Station. Photo by the National Photo Company, via the Library of Congress.

This is the Lord Baltimore Filling Station, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Ordway Street NW. It may not be truly typical of the era, but it's hard to imagine seeing as sharp-looking a gas station today.

It's not only the nice architecture that make this notable. It's also the urban design. This isn't as great for sidewalk life as a row of main street-style shops, but it's a building that fronts on the sidewalk. It could be a lot worse.

Do you know of any unusually good-looking gas stations? What makes them interesting?

We originally ran this post last year, but since the history hasn't changed we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Links


Worldwide links: Is the future in Finland?

The future of urban transportation may live in Finland, Berlin is taking cars off of its most famous street, and light rail won't run from Norfolk to Virginia Beach. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Raimo Papper on Flickr.

"Mobility" has a new meaning Is Helsinki, Finland the home of the future of transportation? The city is testing self-driving buses on increasingly difficult routes and is at the forefront of the "mobility as a service" movement, which essentially would make buying your mobility like buying a phone plan: you'd pay by the month (rather than by the call) for a spectrum of options. (New York Times)

Pedestrians coming soon: Berlin will be taking cars off of its most famous street, Unter Den Linden, which used to be the city's major parade route and is its current museum strip. The move away from automobiles began with the construction of a new subway segment under the street. The route once carried 30,000 cars a day but is now down to 8,000, and it's likely to be one of the first pieces of the car-free central city that leaders envision happening by 2019. (CityLab)

Stop that train: A measure to build a light rail extension in Virginia Beach failed Tuesday evening, leading the state's transportation secretary to ask local transit planners to stop working on the project. The $155 million already set aside for the project will be redistributed to projects based on the state's new transportation investment scoring system. (Virginian-Pilot)

Building more earth: Humans are constantly shifting the earth below them, both as they build and destroy. For example, after WWII, 75 million tons of rubble from bombed out buildings in Berlin was collected and taken to a dumping site that now forms a not-insignificant hill called Teufelsberg. Anthropologists are studying these man-made base levels of cities, referring to them as an earth layer called the Archaeosphere which, in Sweden's case, can mean extracting raw materials left behind. (Places Journal)

Direct route delayed: A rail tunnel linking the current Caltrain terminus to the new Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco will not be complete until 2026. Lawsuits related to the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, which has started to lean, are holding up money for new tunnels. The tunnels are expected to be used by Caltrain and High Speed Rail once they're finished. (SFist)

Quote of the Day

"Regionalism is a Trojan Horse term right out of the lexicon of the 1970s. So-called regionalism was never a compromise. It was always a stealth tactic, an abandonment of the city, which was considered half dead anyway by the city's own leadership. Regionalism was always a ruse to shift resources to the suburbs."

- Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze discussing whether the city's long term health is better off building more suburban transit, or focusing on the core with a new subway line. (Dallas Observer)

Architecture


Twenty-five gorgeous but non-famous US train stations

America has abundant famous train stations, from New York's iconic Grand Central, to Denver's fabulously remodeled Union Station. DC is blessed with a particularly lovely one. But if you only know the famous stations, you're missing out.

Here are 25 gorgeous train stations from around the US that you may not have seen before.

1. Worcester Union Station


Worcester Union Station. Photo by C Hanchey on Flickr.

Some of the buildings on this list are still active train stations, and some aren't. But all were originally built as gateways to their city.

(A note: the reason so many train stations are called Union Station is because when they were built, that's what they called rail depots where multiple railroad companies shared the same location.)

2. Albuquerque Alvarado Station


Albuquerque Alvarado Station. Photo by Karen Blaha on Flickr.

3. Omaha Union Station


Omaha Union Station. Photo by Chris Murphy on Flickr.

4. Buffalo Central Terminal


Buffalo Central Terminal. Photo by Bruce Fingerhood on Flickr.

5. Richmond Main Street Station


Richmond Main Street Station. Photo by rvaphotodude on Flickr.

6. Barstow, CA Harvey House Station


Barstow, CA Harvey House Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

7. San Bernardino Santa Fe Station


San Bernardino Santa Fe Station. Photo from Oakshade on Wikipedia.

8. Kansas City Union Station


Kansas City Union Station. Photo by Ron Reiring on Flickr.

9. Boise Union Pacific Station


Boise Union Pacific Station. Photo from Doug Kerr on Flickr.

10. Scranton Lackawanna Station


Scranton Lackawanna Station. Photo from Andrew Baskett on Flickr.

11. Utica Union Station


Utica Union Station. Photo from Carol on Flickr.

12. Nashville Union Station


Nashville Union Station. Photo from Megan Morris on Flickr.

13. Indianapolis Union Station


Indianapolis Union Station. Photo from the.urbanophile on Flickr.

14. San Diego Santa Fe Station


San Diego Santa Fe Station. Photo by Penn Station University Library on Flickr.

15. Salt Lake City Union Pacific Station


Salt Lake City Union Pacific Station. Photo from SounderBruce on Flickr.

16. Ogden Union Station


Ogden Union Station. Photo from railsr4me on Flickr.

17. Springfield, IL Union Station


Springfield Union Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

18. Tacoma Union Station


Tacoma Union Station. Photo from SounderBruce on Flickr.

19. Louisville Union Station


Louisville Union Station. Photo from Pam Culver on Flickr.

20. Saint Louis Union Station


Saint Louis Union Station. Photo by Dustin Batt on Flickr.

21. Oklahoma City Union Station


Oklahoma City Union Station. Photo from Raymond Woods on Flickr.

22. Topeka Overland Station


Topeka Overland Station. Photo from Ron Reiring on Flickr.

23. Cheyenne Union Station


Cheyenne Union Station. Photo from railsr4me on Flickr.

24. Chattanooga Terminal Station


Chattanooga Terminal Station. Photo from Andrew Jameson on Wikipedia.

25. San Antonio Sunset Station


San Antonio Sunset Station. Photo from Tony in WA on Flickr.

We initially ran this post last year, but we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Replacing the FBI building won't work without plans for a new Pennsylvania Avenue

A mixed-use development is due to replace the FBI building in Penn Quarter. Right now, the rules that will guide that six-acre redevelopment are stalling over a few issues. The biggest problem is the risk that the current draft ignores the best possible outcome: a Pennsylvania Avenue that devotes enough space to pedestrians.


Schematic (in beige) of the height and volume planners envision for the site. Image from NCPC.

In the next decade, the FBI will leave their downtown headquarters, swapping its current home at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW with a developer in exchange for for a vast campus in either Virginia or Maryland. Right now, government agencies, led by the National Capital Planning Commission, have to clarify what the government will allow the future developer to build on the land.

The new FBI headquarters will be expensive. The larger the development rights are, the better the deal the government will get. A bigger offer means the federal government will pay less money out of pocket, or even recover a surplus. So the government agency negotiating the swap, the General Services Administration, wants NCPC to permit as much leaseable floor area as possible.

While working on the guidelines for the swap, NCPC is also working with designers to re-imagine Pennsylvania Avenue as a lively mixed-use street with performers and sidewalk cafes. A busier street requires wide sidewalks. The FBI site does have a wide sidewalk now. However, that's on space borrowed from the lots the FBI building was built on in the 1960s. The GSA wants that space back for the deal.

NCPC's planners struck a compromise: they'd give GSA about half of the space back, which would mean GSA getting a feasible building that leaves generous room for outdoor restaurant seating, similar to I Street between the Foggy Bottom Metro and Whole Foods. Not satisfied, the GSA is fighting the guidelines, threatening to use an escape clause that lets it set its own rules.

This fight is missing the point: the only reason sidewalks are tight is because the roadway in Pennsylvania Avenue is ridiculously wide. Everyone involved knows this. They're thinking of changing it, but the planners have to act like it will stay the same.

Autocentric visions reshaped Pennsylvania Avenue


Pennsylvania Avenue cross section, if L'Enfant's vision existed today. Image by author with Streetmix.

At founding, Pierre L'Enfant and later surveyors laid out Pennsylvania Avenue's right-of-way to be 160 feet wide, with 40-foot sidewalks under a canopy of two rows of trees. That didn't last. By the 1902, the sidewalks had narrowed to 27 feet.

You can see how cramped this gets on the north sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue, between 6th and 7th Streets, especially where retail windows project into the street.


Between the Victorian "projections" and the 1970s trees set usually far from the curb, the sidewalk between 6th and 7th gets cramped.

In the 20th century, planners reimagined the street as an active monumental promenade with sidewalks bigger than L'Enfant imagined. They also assumed that space given over to solely cars could never decrease. So they borrowed space from the properties on either side of the right-of-way, demolishing the older buildings and mandating that new buildings rise a prescribed distance from the property line.

On the south side of Pennsylvania, Federal Triangle's designers went with 30-foot setbacks for a total of 50 feet of setback. In the 1960s, planners decided a large federal building should sit on the northern side 50 feet back from the property line, creating a plaza-like space of 80 feet. The current FBI building is the only part of that vision that was completed.


The 1960s plan imagined a vast promenade flanked by federal buildings. Image from SOM, created for the President's Council on Pennsylvania Avenue.

By 1974, planners had started to see how mixed uses bring activity to streets. So, the 1974 Pennsylvania Avenue Plan added residential, commercial, and arts buildings, but kept the setbacks for aesthetic reasons.


At the FBI building, the sidewalk is wide enough to allow three rows of trees. Image from Google Maps.

At the same time, historic preservation laws blocked demolition on the remaining old buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue. That leaves the north side as it is today: massive sidewalks running discontinuously for half of the length of the road, and narrow sidewalks where the historic building still stand. It will never be complete.


In this diagram of Pennsylvania Avenue, dark green stretches are setbacks of 75 feet or more, light green are about 50 feet, pink are between 26 and 44 feet, and red are 25 feet or less.
Image from NCPC

The only way to make the sidewalks consistently wide would be to narrow the vehicular roadway. For the avenue-wide plan, planners are considering doing that. The catch is that because nobody has approved an avenue design with wider sidewalks, for the FBI site guidelines, NCPC has had to assume that building back at the legal lot line would leave only the narrow 27-foot sidewalk.

The full setback has some influential defenders: DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson, the Committee of 100, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the landscape architects Elizabeth Meyer and Elizabeth Gilbert sitting on the Commission of Fine Arts.

Developers and the notable architect Richard Rogers have backed the GSA's request for a bigger building. The DC Historic Preservation Office has backed a building at the lot line as well. They don't care about the square footage, they want the plan to follow the L'Enfant Plan exactly as surveyed in the 1790s.

So earlier this month, NCPC split the difference and decided new buildings on the FBI block would stand back 30 feet, for a 57-foot buffer similar to the one across the street at Federal Triangle.

This half-hearted compromise sets a precedent that will make it harder to fix the design of the street later. It will probably also result in a worse land deal. NCPC has stated that if, in the future, the avenue redesign gives sidewalks a bigger share of the roadway, they could rethink the design of the FBI site. But a change made 3-4 years from now, after closing on the deal would effectively give the developer a large amount of area for free.

If we can move buildings, we can move the roadway

The details of the deal hide the biggest assumption: that the amount of space given over to cars cannot change and the sidewalks could never get wider. But the massive roadway comes from 1900s guesswork. Now, a growing body of research based on the roads that guesswork has created says narrowing the roadway is the only sensible thing to do.

The thing is, Pennsylvania Avenue could have 40-foot sidewalks, double rows of trees, fill out the block as L'Enfant envisioned, and have a cafe, all without removing a single lane of vehicular traffic.


Cross-section of the street, if a new building were built at L'Enfant's lot line. Image by the author using Streetmix.

All of the lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue are 11 feet wide. That plus the 12-foot median-slash-protected bikeway adds up to the expansive, hard-to-cross Pennsylvania Avenue. Eleven feet is a big, suburban traffic lane. Lanes of that size are never appropriate for an urban setting, wide open views or not.

First, narrow lanes would be safer. Wider lanes encourage speeding, and streets too wide for many people to cross on time. Whatever their intentions, the current configuration is designed for moving traffic, not taking in the view as a pedestrian.

Imagine a street for tourists, not traffic

To show what's possible with only the 160' right-of-way, let's do a quick exercise. Assume each direction needs on 11' lane for buses and trucks. That leaves six feet, plus the 12-foot median up for grabs. Plus, the current road is four feet off center, and the sidewalk trees are set further in than most streets. That adds up.

Of course this will require professional study, but we can use Streetmix to understand what's possible for a 21st-century street.


Just narrowing the vehicle lanes slightly make the sidewalks wider and the road more symmetrical.

I like the double row of trees some blocks currently have. Every block could have that in this design. I like the idea of having some outdoor cafes on Pennsylvania Avenue. This design has room for that. The monumental views are important; this design keeps the avenue symmetrical by moving the Pennsylvania Avenue bikeway behind a barrier on the less compressed south side.


With six lanes at 9 feet wide, L'Enfant almost gets his road back. Image by author with Streetmix.

With a more adventurous nine-foot travel lanes, I was able to split out the road with bikeways in each direction, with barriers wide enough for bus stops, a roadway that's easier for people of all abilities to cross, and as a bonus, restore L'Enfant's dimensions.

And again, this is without eliminating a single vehicle traffic lane. Think of what the possibilities could be if that is allowed.

Narrowing the Pennsylvania Avenue roadway would allow for the sidewalks planners want for the FBI building site. It gives GSA a more valuable building to swap in its deal. And it restores consistency to the historic streetwall Pennsylvania Avenue had, before planners who'd never been stuck in traffic tore it up.

There's a joke in architecture that "there's nothing more designed than the site." That is, designers are used to working inside artificial parameters as if they're laws of nature. As a result, public is missing the only win-win scenario. Narrowing the road is the only way to meet historic, economic, and vibrancy requirements this project has.

At the least, the guidelines should include a stronger statement of support for a narrow road and a consistent streetwall to avoid setting this condition in stone.

No trends suggest 11-foot lanes are what DC needs in the future. The lack of this perspective by the leadership of the multiple agencies involved is a bad sign.

In the meantime, consider reimagining Pennsylvania Avenue with Streetmixand sent what you come up with to NCPC, along with any other comments on the FBI site's square guidelines: info@ncpc.gov

Transit


Why is there no Metro line on Columbia Pike?

Along the Metro tracks just south of Pentagon station, there are two dead-end tunnels that branch off in the direction of Columbia Pike. They were built so Metro could expand westward in the future, so why has the line never received serious consideration?


These Metro corridors got heavy consideration in the 1960s. Graphic by the author.

Columbia Pike, which runs southwest from the Pentagon to Annandale, passes through several residential and commercial areas, including Bailey's Crossroads at the intersection with Leesburg Pike. When Metro was in its initial planning stages in the 1960s, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the National Capital Transportation Agency studied routes on the Virginia side of the Potomac, and Columbia Pike was among the routes the agencies considered.

The NVTC envisioned a Columbia Pike Metro line running to Americana Fairfax at the Beltway via Little River Turnpike, which is where Columbia Pike ends in Annandale. The NCTA considered a route along Columbia Pike that was as an alternative to what would become the Orange Line. It ran from the Pentagon to the Barcroft neighborhood, where it turned north at Four Mile Run until it joined I-66 and continued west.

Ultimately, a number of factors led to this corridor being dropped from consideration, the largest being its price tag. To avoid tunneling and to minimize cost, Metro planners prioritized using existing rights-of-way, such as highway medians and railroads, for its potential routes.

This, combined with the desire to ensure Metro connectivity to north Arlington and Springfield, led to the Virginia getting Metro corridors along I-66 and the RF&P railroad (what would become the Orange and Blue lines, respectively).


Metro tunnels outside of the Pentagon. Graphic by the author.

The Columbia Pike line would have needed to be entirely in a tunnel all the way to Annandale, and its projected ridership was simply not sufficient to justify such a high cost. The cost also resulted in pressure from Maryland to prevent Virginia from having three lines, worried that the Columbia Pike line would reduce money available for the rest of the system.

There were some outspoken proponents of a Columbia Pike line, most notably the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Frederick Babson. Babson had campaigned on getting the Columbia Pike line built, and as such was very vocal at planning meetings.

In 1967, largely to placate Babson, WMATA did some informal studies on the Columbia Pike line as an alternative to the north Arlington line. These studies did not change the Board's decision, and to this day remain the last studies done on a Columbia Pike Metro line.

Likely as a consolation, the Columbia Pike line remained on WMATA's planning maps as part of several aspirational dotted lines for "future extensions." The corridor described by the NVTC appears on this 1967 proposed network with a modification to serve Lincolnia, but by the time the official Adopted Regional System was determined, the line was truncated there.


The Columbia Pike line on the 1968 Adopted Regional System. Image from DDOT.

In 1968, WMATA Board director Jay Ricks noted that the Columbia Pike line was ruled out with the understanding that it would have top priority for any future extensions, and that the line would be reinstated if the state of Virginia made more money available.

The Silver Line opened in 2014, so this obviously didn't happen. A Columbia Pike line has not seen any serious consideration since 1967. The Columbia Pike Transit Initiative did not include rapid transit as a possible alternative, and though WMATA has recently studied many theoretical routes as part of its long-term vision, a line along Columbia Pike is not one of them.

Is a Columbia Pike line possible in the future?

Though some residents along Columbia Pike were opposed to a Metro line because they didn't want the level of development and growth that occurred in north Arlington, such development has occurred regardless. There is much more residential density along Columbia Pike than there used to be, and job centers like the Mark Center have popped up along the corridor. The Skyline Center at Bailey's Crossroads was even built largely in anticipation of a Metro line.

Would this increase in potential ridership be enough to justify constructing the line today?


Bailey's Crossroads skyline. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Unfortunately, the cost of an underground Metro line remains a substantial hurdle. The proposed tunneled segments of the Silver Line in Tysons and Dulles Airport were rejected due to their high cost. Given that Arlington County had difficulty justifying the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar line, proposing an entirely tunneled Metro line may be a near-impossible task.

However, the most significant barrier to a Columbia Pike Metro line is capacity. How this line would integrate into the Metro system was never seriously considered. Simply building off of the stub tunnels at Pentagon would create the same capacity issue that planners are working to solve at Rosslyn, where there's a huge bottleneck, and like most proposed Metro extensions, a new downtown core line would need to come before any regional expansion because all possible routes the line could take after Pentagon are at capacity.


Metro's current capacity constraints. Graphic by Matt Johnson.

Metro's current long-term vision for future service downtown includes a loop line via Georgetown and Union Station with a supplementary station at Rosslyn and the Pentagon. The addition of the second Pentagon station could allow for a Columbia Pike line to exist, integrating into the downtown loop. I've created a hypothetical example of how this might work below, utilizing the alignment from 1967.


How a Columbia Pike line could integrate into the future Metro system. Graphic by the author.

The growth of the Columbia Pike corridor has made it a desirable line for many residents in the area, but its high cost and operational difficulties mean that we won't see such a line for many years, at least until Metro's downtown core capacity issues are resolved first.

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