Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Dan Malouff

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

The Dutch government is trolling DC over marijuana, bike lanes, and streetcars

As marijuana legalization took effect in the District of Columbia, Mayor Muriel Bowser said DC would "not become like Amsterdam." We talked about the differences yesterday, including on bicycling and transit, but the Embassy of the Netherlands has playfully responded with this infographic comparing our two capital cities.


Image from the Embassy of the Netherlands. Really.

The embassy also created a Q&A comparing marijuana laws in the two cities. But bicycling and transit supporters might focus more on the bike lane and streetcar disparities. That "(almost)" hurts. Low blow, Netherlands.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC like Amsterdam? We can only hope

According to yesterday's Express, DC is starting to look a lot like Amsterdam, and not just because of marijuana. That's fantastic if true.


The top of yesterday's Express story.

Among the reasons the Express cites for DC's Amsterdamization are increasing bicycle use, the appearance of streetcars, and Georgetown's improving C&O Canal.

Amsterdam is one of the world's great bicycling and streetcar cities. It's a joy to travel along its extensive bikeways, and even lanes where cars are allowed are amazingly bike friendly. And Amsterdam's huge streetcar network (with streetcars in both dedicated lanes and mixed traffic) is a case study in successful urban transit.

DC's nascent bikeway and streetcar networks pale in comparison, but Amsterdam is a superb model for us to aspire towards.

And while it's true that we can never hope to have as many canals (short of a disastrous global warming-induced flood), we can at least ponder what might have been had the history of Constitution Avenue turned out differently.

Even more similarities

Transportation and canals aside, Amsterdam's overall urban design is actually incredibly similar to DC's. We're both predominantly rowhouse cities, with plenty of brick. Even our street grids are similar: Amsterdam has a relatively small core with twisty medieval streets, but for the most part it's a city of straight streets and radial avenues just like DC.

These scenes from Amsterdam wouldn't look all that out of place in Dupont Circle, U Street, or Adams Morgan, apart from how little street space goes to cars.


Amsterdam, but could be DC. Photos by the author.

Admittedly, Amsterdam beats DC in a lot of ways. But it's not Paris or Hong Kong, not so thoroughly alien. And DC is not Las Vegas. Amsterdam and DC aren't identical, but we're the same species of city, which means Amsterdam is better in ways that DC can practically emulate.

Plus, we've got Amsterdam Falafelshop.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC streets will get seven new miles of bikeways in 2015

DDOT has released a list of new bikeways it will add in 2015. Although most of the additions this year will be short, they're important. This year's work will specifically focus on closing gaps in the network, in order to make existing bike lanes more useful.


Planned bike lanes in 2015. Image from DDOT.

In total there are about seven miles of new bikeways on the list, including three short protected bikeways, about four miles of striped bike lanes, and two miles of sharrows.

According to DDOT's Darren Buck, "We're hoping to address several short but valuable network connection links that are easy to overlook on a map, but people have been requesting for years."

The new protected bikeways are all in Northeast, on M Street, 4th Street, and 1st Street. Collectively they'll begin to stitch together Northeast's existing patchwork of disconnected cycletracks into a more useful and cohesive network. An unprotected contraflow lane continuing along M Street will help that effort too.


Basemap from Google.

Besides the Northeast protected bikeways, other notable additions include a normal bike lane on 12th Street NW downtown, along with several east of the Anacostia and in Capitol Hill, and short but important connections on 11th Street NW, Ontario Road NW, 2nd and 3rd Streets NE, and crossing I-695.

This project list is separate from the list of ten car lane to bike lane conversions that came out in January. The bike lanes in January's list are still in planning, and will likely happen in future years.

Here's the complete street by street list of DDOT bike lane additions for 2015.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Here are America's largest bikesharing systems as of 2014

As US bikesharing continues to boom, it's fun to look back each year and see how systems have grown. Now that we're into the grind of 2015, let's look back on 2014 and see what changed.

2014 was a modest year for US bikesharing expansion, compared to the incredible boom of 2013. Overall, the number of bikeshare stations nationwide increased about 20%, from 1,925 in 2013 to 2,345 in 2014. San Diego Seattle launched the largest new system, with 117 49 stations.

Washington's Capital Bikeshare regained its crown as largest overall network, growing from 305 stations to 347 stations. Last year's champ, New York's Citibike, actually lost two stations and dropped from 330 to 328. Chicago rounds out the top tier, with the same number of stations it had last year: 300 exactly. No other system tops 200 stations.

Fourteen Thirteen new bikesharing systems opened nationwide, and four small existing ones closed, bringing the US total up to 49 active systems.

Here's the complete list of all US systems. New ones are marked in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

RankCity2013 Stations2014 Stations
1Washington (regional)305347
2New York330328
3Chicago300300
4Minneapolis (regional)170169
5Boston (regional)132140
6San Diego0117
7Miami Beach9794
8Denver8183
9San Francisco (regional)6770
10San Antonio5153
11Seattle049
12Austin1145
13Boulder2238
14(t)Fort Worth3434
14(t)Miami034
16Chattanooga3333
17Columbus3030
18(t)Madison3229
18(t)Cincinnati029
20Houston2928
21Indianapolis026
22Omaha825
23(t)Nashville2224
23(t)Charlotte2124
23(t)Phoenix0~24
26Ft Lauderdale (regional)2521
27(t)Kansas City1220
27(t)Salt Lake City1220
29Aspen1215
30Long Beach, NY1314
31Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA)911
32Milwaukee010
33Greenville, SC68
34(t)Oklahoma City77
34(t)Tampa0~7
36(t)Des Moines66
36(t)Ann Arbor06
38Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)45
39(t)Univ of Califonia Irvine (Irvine, CA)44
39(t)Spartanburg, SC44
41(t)Tulsa43
41(t)Louisville33
41(t)Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY)33
44(t)Kailua, HI22
44(t)Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR)22
44(t)Hailey, ID2
~2
44(t)Rapid City02
44(t)Savannah02
44(t)Dallas02
44(t)Orlando0~2
Fullerton, CA (closed)100
Georgia Tech (Atlanta, Ga) (closed)90
George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA) (closed)70
Lansing (closed)40

Systems marked with a ~ are stationless bikeshare networks, in which each bike contains a lock and can be docked anywhere. The number of "stations" listed for three of these four systems (Phoenix, Tampa, and Orlando) is approximate and was calculated by dividing the overall number of bicycles by eight. The fourth system, Hailey, has only six bikes but they're located in two distinct clusters, so it seems most appropriate to report two stations.

Counting the number of bikes rather than stations would be a more accurate way to rank systems, but that information is more difficult and time-consuming to obtain.

Correction: This post originally reported that San Diego's bikeshare network opened in 2014. It was originally scheduled to do so, but delays pushed its opening to 2015.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Where to go wireless: The next big streetcar question

Now that DC's oft-delayed H Street streetcar is hopefully near opening, DDOT officials are planning the next wave of lines. One of the biggest emerging questions (besides the role of dedicated lanes) is where the streetcars should run without wires.


Current law prohibits wires under the Whitehurst Freeway. Should that change? Image from Google Maps.

DC has important monumental views that wires could impact. Therefore, DDOT has been promising hybrid streetcars that can run off-wire for part of their route since 2009. It could mean wires along some roads but not at major intersections, crossing state avenues, or across the National Mall, for example.

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh is convening a public hearing today to discuss the question with District Department of Transportation (DDOT) officials including new director Leif Dormsjo.

Where wires are legal

Current DC law prohibits overhead wires in the central L'Enfant city (basically everything between Florida Avenue and the Anacostia River) and Georgetown, except on H Street. In 2010, the council exempted H Street from the law, specifically to permit streetcars there.

But only exempting H Street was never a permanent solution. It was a stopgap to let H Street move forward while giving DDOT time to study wire-free planning in more detail. Now it's time for a broader plan.


Wires on H Street. Photo by the author.

Is wireless technology ready?

The 2010 law also required DDOT to study wireless streetcar technology before building any other lines, so leaders could make an informed decision about other exemptions.

DDOT completed that study in mid-2014, and in it concluded that off-wire technology is still only practical for short distances. Batteries, ground-based power supplies, and various other wire-free systems do exist, but they're vastly more expensive and vastly less reliable than traditional overhead wires. Hybrid streetcars that operate on-wire part of the time, and off-wire at other times, remain by far the best option.

Moving forward, the DC Council could opt to change the wire law in one of four ways: 1) Keep the existing law allowing wires only outside the core; 2) Prohibit wires everywhere; 3) Allow wires everywhere; or 4) Allow wires in certain additional locations, but not others.

DDOT's report proposes an approach in line with option 4:

In the near term, proven overhead contact system (OCS)-based technologies will form the basis of the system, with limited application of off-wire technologies in the most sensitive areas to the extent possible. As technologies advance, the amount of off-wire operations will be gradually increased.
This option makes sense. Most people agree that the north-south streetcar line should be wireless when it crosses the National Mall, but it would be absurd to demand the K Street line be wire-free when it runs under the Whitehurst Freeway.

Others worry that DDOT will not actually "gradually increase the amount of off-wire operations" once wires are in the ground. If DC buys streetcars that can handle only limited off-wire operation, it would cost money to upgrade, and that might not happen for a long time.

But wire-free technology still only works for short distances, so a hybrid is still the way to go. Modern streetcar wires can be relatively unobtrusive and won't mar the streetscape. Allowing overhead wires in some other areas while prohibiting them in the most sensitive spots is the rational solution.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

All the buildings and races of DC, Arlington & Alexandria on one map

This incredibly cool map shows the footprints of every building in DC, Arlington and Alexandria, colored according to the predominant race living on that block.


Map from Kenton Ngo at kentonngo.com.

By coloring blocks only according to the most populous race on each block, rather than showing everyone who lives there, this map sacrifices overall diversity to instead show simple majorities. That makes it less racially precise than the famous racial dot maps that have been floating around the internet in recent years.

But the dot maps are too cluttered to show buildings, so making that racial tradeoff allows this map to illustrate the built environment too. It's a good way to show two disparate pieces of information at the same time.

What pops out as interesting to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

What's the best way to protect a bikeway? How about a bikeshare station?

How's this for a natural idea: Locate bikeshare stations between a street's protected bikeway and car lanes.

That's exactly the arrangement in Crystal City, where the Capital Bikeshare station at 23rd and Eads helps to form part of the bikeway's protective barrier.


23rd and Eads. Photo by Euan Fisk on Flickr.

DC has at least one example, on 6th Street NE next to Union Market. You can also find this arrangement in New York, Paris, and a ton of other cities.

It's just a nifty, straightforward idea that's too sensible not to use.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Ottawa has a four mile ice skating highway

Ottawans probably don't get a lot of snow days off work. Not with winter commuting options like the Rideau skateway, a four mile long highway for ice skaters.


Rideau skateway. Photo by Ted Court on Flickr.

The skateway runs along the Rideau Canal, from downtown Ottawa to the south, cutting through some of Ottawa's densest urban neighborhoods.


Rideau skateway. Basemap from Google.

During most of the year, Rideau Canal is liquid. It's an actual, functioning canal. But in the winter it naturally freezes over, so Ottawans take advantage.

For the most part the skateway is recreational. Crowds of teenagers and happy couples play there, and advertisers bill it as the "world's longest ice skating rink," not as a commuter route.

But at least one person commutes on it, and that's such a cool idea that there are surely many others.

It's almost enough to make you wish DC winters got a bit colder.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Accounting for population, the world map looks totally different

This is a world population cartogram, a false-geography map that resizes countries according to their population. It's an interesting way to view the world, and compared to common projections perhaps more accurate, in its own way.


Map from Reddit user TeaDranks

The United States is the world's fourth largest country by land area, and third largest by population, so it's not particularly distorted compared to geographic projections. But many other countries are.

China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) visually dominate, being by far the world's two most populous countries. Others that stand out with seemingly oversized populations are Nigeria, Bangladesh, Japan, and the Philippines.

On the other end of the spectrum, the world's two largest countries by land area are much reduced. Russia's population of 146 million is still good enough for 9th highest globally, but that appears unimpressive against its normally huge area. And Canada, the world's second largest country but only its 37th most populous, is just a tiny sliver.

What stands out to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dormsjo says no more arbitrary deadlines for DC Streetcar

DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo says he's hitting the reset button on the often-delayed H Street streetcar.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

What that really means: Safety certification will continue, but DDOT won't announce any more opening dates until they're sure. And Dormsjo will reorganize DDOT's streetcar management team.

Several times under former Mayor Gray, DDOT announced potential opening dates for the streetcar. But in all cases those dates were goals, and at least some of them were clearly based on political wishful thinking. But the public perceived them as solid deadlines, and missing them has contributed to souring public support for the project.

Now, Dormsjo says that's over. DDOT will no longer make public predictions about the coming opening date. That's probably good news.

On the other hand, there's a lack of trust between DDOT and the public right now, and clamping up entirely will not repair it. It's well and good for DDOT to cease making poor predictions, but "trust us, we're working on it" won't be a satisfactory answer for long.

What sort of reorganization Dormsjo has in mind is not yet public info.

WAMU reporter Martin Di Caro is live-tweeting streetcar news today, and will likely have the full story later.

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