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

Public Spaces


There's a "Washington" neighborhood in Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy's second largest city, has a neighborhood named "Washington." Its main street: Via Giorgio Washington.


Washington, Milan. Map by Google.

Washington Quartieri is about a mile from the center of Milan, outside its historic Renaissance core but very much in the midst of town. It looks like this:


Via Giorgio Washington. Photo by Google.

Milan isn't the only European city to honor Washington. At least one other, Paris, has a short Washington street near Champs-Élysées.

Both Milan's Via Giorgio Washington and Paris' Rue Washington are more likely named for George Washington himself than for our fair District of Columbia. But still, it's interesting to look at a map of a European city and see "Washington" in bold letters.

What other foreign cities have streets or neighborhoods named Washington?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Roads


How snow exacerbates the weaknesses of suburban road design

A lot of people had awful commutes Wednesday night, thanks to snow. And a lot of people had fine ones. One explanation for the difference: Suburban roads are far more susceptible to catastrophic breakdown than urban street grids.


Traffic congestion on Wednesday night. Image by Brendan Casey from Google Maps.

Snowstorms like Wednesday's highlight how easy it is to completely shut down suburban-style transportation systems. And conversely, how comparatively resilient are more urban systems.

Cities beat suburban areas on snow resiliency in two big ways: Multimodalism and network connectivity.

First and foremost, with transit, walking, and biking more convenient options, cities are simply much less reliant on having clear roads. Metrorail worked like a dream yesterday, and pedestrians had a lovely commute.

It simply didn't matter how bad the roads got for a significant percentage of DC's travelers, because they simply weren't on the roads while they traveled.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

But that's not all. Even for car drivers, urban street grids are more resilient than road systems focused around large highways, because of how they're laid out.

The great thing about interconnected grids is that if one street becomes blocked, there's another perfectly good street one block over. And another one block down.

If a wrecked car or fallen tree or whatever blocks the street you're on, you just take a different street. There might be some additional turns involved; it might not be quite as direct. But for the most part 28th Street isn't all the different from 29th Street.

Contrast that with suburban-style systems where all traffic in a particular area funnels onto one big highway. If that one highway becomes impassible, everyone in the area is stuck. Or, at best, they have to drive miles out of their way to find the next big highway.

This illustration shows how that works. If the "Collector Road" gets jammed, people in the top half of the image can still move around. People on the bottom half can't.


Suburban-style roads vs urban street grid. Image from USDOT.

That's part of what happened last night. There were a lot of accidents crashes. If they happened on arterial highways with no parallel roads, which a lot of them did, that road would succumb to gridlock.

Urban places aren't immune, but they're better off

To be sure, this storm was bad for roads all over the region.

Streets in Northwest DC were just as dangerous as those elsewhere, and DC's plowing response was bad. And buses were every bit as stuck in it as cars.

But there's no doubt that people who could travel via Metro or foot had a much better time, and there's no doubt that drivers who could use parallel streets were able to bypass some of the congestion on arterials.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Bicycling


America's most bonkers bikeway is in Clearwater, Florida

What do you do if you have active freight rail tracks running down the middle of a downtown street? Add bike lanes, of course!


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

This is East Avenue in downtown Clearwater, Florida. It's one of America's most unusually multimodal streets.

On the left: A one-way general purpose lane with normal car traffic. In the middle: Freight rail tracks. On the right: A major regional two-way bikeway, the Pinellas Trail. What could go wrong?

Actually, it's not as dangerous as it looks. Freight traffic on those tracks is relatively light, and extremely slow-moving. The train in this photo was moving maybe five miles per hour. And unlike cars, trains don't suddenly change lanes. There's zero danger of a CSX right hook.

In fact, the rail tracks are effectively a buffer between the bikeway and car lane. They make a bigger buffer than normal buffered bike lanes get. In a weird way, the tracks are a sort of protection.

So it's totally bonkers. But maybe it works.

What do you think?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Development


Not building enough housing is morally equivalent to tearing down people's homes

According to the California housing champion who's suing communities that don't allow enough new development, not building needed density is morally equivalent to tearing down people's houses.


Photo by .Martin. on Flickr.

Sonja Trauss, founder of the SF Bay Area Renters' Federation sums up the housing problem affecting nearly every growing American city today:

"Most people would be very uncomfortable tearing down 315 houses. But they don't have a similar objection to never building them in the first place, even though I feel they're morally equivalent. Those people show up anyway. They get born anyway. They get a job in the area anyway. What do they do? They live in an overcrowded situation, they pay too much rent, they have a commute that's too long. Or maybe they outbid someone else, and someone else is displaced."
Trauss hits the key points: The population is growing, and people have to live somewhere. If we refuse to allow them a place to live, that's just like tearing down someone's home.

Someone else is displaced

Trauss' last sentence is particularly important. It explains how the victims of inadequate housing often are not even part of the discussion. She says "Or maybe [home buyers] outbid someone else, and someone else is displaced."

Here's how that works: One common argument among anti-development activists is that new development only benefits the wealthy people who can afford new homes. That's wrong. It's never the wealthy who are squeezed out by a lack of housing. Affluent people have options; they simply spend their money on the next best thing. Whenever there's not enough of anything to meet demand, it's the bottom of the market that ultimately loses out.

Stopping or reducing the density of any individual development doesn't stop displacement or gentrification. It merely moves it, forcing some other person to live with its consequences.

Every time anti-development activists in Dupont or Georgetown or Capitol Hill reduce the density of a construction project, they take away a less-affluent person's home East of the River, or in Maryland, or somewhere else. The wealthy person who would have lived in Capitol Hill instead moves to Kingman Park, the middle class person who would have lived in that Kingman Park home instead moves to Carver Langston, and the long-time renter in Carver Langston gets screwed.

As long as the population is growing, the only ultimate region-wide solution is to enact laws that allow enough development to accommodate demand.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Demographics


Watch the world's urban population explode on one map

The number of urban areas in the world with a population over one million has exploded since 1950. This map shows just how extreme that explosion has been.


Image from KPMG.

On the map, from KPMG Demographics, you can see how in 1950 the world's scant million-plus cities were heavily concentrated in western Europe, the northeastern United States, and Japan. Since then, not many new ones have popped up in those places, but the rest of the world has caught up big time.

By the 1980s, China, India, and southeast Asia are challenging the west's dominance. By the turn of the millenium, the middle east and central Africa join the party. South America keeps up a slower but steady pace the whole time.

What jumps out to you?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Development


Benning Road's building boom begins

While H Street NE has boomed in recent years, nearby Benning Road has lagged. That's about to change, with at least two big Benning Road redevelopments coming down the pipeline.


The proposal at 17th and Benning. Image from Capital City Real Estate.

Benning Road NE is, for all intents and purposes, an easterly extension of H Street. East of Starburst the name changes, but Benning more or less functions as the same road, streetcar and all. Except that while H Street has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, Benning Road has not.

But now it appears the H Street boom is jumping to Benning.

On December 17, developers officially filed plans to build a 180-unit multifamily building at the northeast corner of Benning Road and 17th Street NE, across 17th Street from Hechinger Mall.

It's the first big, H Street-style proposal to see the light of day on Benning Road.

But it's not the only one. Half a block away and across the street, near 16th and Benning, another developer is proposing a 250-unit building. There are no renderings yet, but rumor purports it will be similar to The Maryland at Maryland Avenue and 14th Street NE.

Together, these developments show how the impending Benning Road boom isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Properties along Benning are too enticing, demand for new housing in DC is too ravenous, and the streetcar, for all its faults, is too much of a draw. Benning is about to boom, and it won't be the same.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Development


5 amazing cities from the Star Wars universe

Part of the appeal of the cultural juggernaut that is Star Wars has always been its fantastic settings, including its cities. As The Force Awakens arrives in theaters this week, here are the five most fascinating cities from the six previous live-action Star Wars movies.

5. Theed


Theed. Image from Star Wars.

The Phantom Menace may have been a disaster of a movie, but its setting at the height of the galaxy's pre-Empire luxury showed us a strong contender for the most beautiful city in the franchise. Theed is Queen Amidala's home, and capital of the planet Naboo.

Picturesque Naboo is the Neoclassical Europe of the Star Wars universe. Its ornate buildings and grand, monument-strewn avenues are an idealized version of the Baroque Mediterranean. There's no visible traffic or industry, besides one spaceport at the bottom of a waterfall. Theed's citizens appear to do nothing but shop and picnic.

It's the Garden of Eden of the Star Wars universe. Perfect and naive, and out of place once the galaxy descends into evil and civil war.

4. Mos Eisely


Mos Eisely. Image from Star Wars.

The complete opposite of Theed, Mos Eisely is a frontier settlement on a poor and dirty planet, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. If Theed is Habsburg Vienna, Mos Eisley is Dodge City. Its famous cantina nothing so much as a wild west saloon.

There's precious little art of culture in Mos Eisley. Its hardscrabble populous struggles to survive, and its streets are full of pack animals, cargo crates, and industrial equipment.

3. Gungan City


Gungan City. Image from Star Wars.

Return to Naboo for the secret underwater Gungan City. It's beautiful, but like all things Gungan, it makes little sense.

With a fairly small number of orbs that appear to be mostly empty air, Gungan City is clearly more of a village than a metropolis. Maybe the Gungans prefer isolation, or maybe they're too clumsy to live many side-by-side. Hopefully we're never forced to sit through more Gungan scenes, and therefore never find out.

One would think that if Gungans are such great swimmers that they're happy to build underwater cities, they'd spread their city vertically as much as sideways. Guess not.

2. Cloud City


Cloud City. Image from Star Wars.

High-concept sci-fi at its best, Cloud City is an atmosphere-mining colony on a gas giant planet with no solid surface.

Its workers harvest gases for use in Star Wars' futuristic technologies, and its government is more corporate CEO than democratic president.

Being an expensive floating factory, Cloud City's layout and infrastructure are necessarily vastly different from a cobbled-together frontier town like Mos Eisley. As a single, purpose-designed mega-structure, Cloud City needs nothing so messy as parking lots, and piecemeal expansions are strictly not happening.

And if you approach it without an invitation, cloud cars shoot at you. It's the ultimate gated community.

1. Coruscant


Coruscant. Image from Star Wars.

One city that covers a whole planet. Coruscant is either the ultimate in sprawl, or the ultimate in extreme urbanization. Given what we've seen on-screen, it seems to be the latter.

Like Washington, the capital of the Star Wars galaxy clearly has a height limit, with a canopy of blocky same-height buildings rolling over the landscape, and monuments like the Jedi Temple (above) dominating the skyline. But unlike DC, Coruscant's city planners allow frequent skyscrapers to pierce the blocky canopy.

Unlike other Star Wars cities, Coruscant features busy air-highways, crowded with flying transports. But there don't seem to be enough vehicles to move around a population as dense as Coruscant's must be. Surely the planet is a public transit paradise.


Coruscant's galactic capitol building, with air-highways. Image from Star Wars.

What will we see next?

If the past is any guide, The Force Awakens promises even more aliens and sci-fi landscapes. When I see it, I'll be hoping to see some fun cityscapes too. And, I admit, a few light-saber duels.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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History


See Metro Center when it was still under construction

In the mid 1970s, Metro's first stations were under construction and on track for their 1976 opening day. This historic photo shows Metro Center station while it was under construction, circa 1975.


Metro Center in 1974 or 1975. Photo source unknown.

In the photo, the basic form of the station is in place. The vault is done, the track bed looks good, and the station's lights are on. But there's clearly a lot of work left to do, including most of the finishing touches.

It's an interesting 40-year-old look at one of our region's most important transit hubs.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Transit


DC recommends a rush-hour bus lane for 16th Street

It won't appear immediately, but DC took a big step toward speeding up buses on 16th Street by recommending a rush-hour bus lane and a package of other ways to make bus service better.


Photo by truthaboutit on Flickr.

16th Street is DC's busiest bus line, carrying over half of rush hour trips on the street. Advocates have been pushing for bus lanes there since at least 2010, and DDOT's moveDC plan supports the idea.

A detailed study considered over 30 strategies to speed up bus service in the corridor, including combining some bus stops, letting people pay before boarding, and building either full-time or rush-hour lanes.

According to information DDOT's Megan Kanagy presented at a meeting Tuesday night, DDOT is going with the rush-hour option. From 7-10 am, the curb lane heading south would be for buses only; from 4:30-7:30, it would be the northbound curb lane. The bus lane would extend from Spring Road down to Lafayette Park.


Typical lane configuration in Columbia Heights in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Images from DDOT.

DDOT would further analyze making 16th Street south of U Street, which right now is 4 wide lanes, into 5 narrow lanes so there could be a reversible lane. This would mean a reversible lane during rush hour for this whole stretch (the median north of Piney Branch wouldn't go anywhere).

Why not two-way, full-time lanes? One of the study's options created bus lanes in both directions from 7 am to 10 pm. However, the analysis showed that the effect on traffic was just too great, seriously jamming up 16th Street and likely spilling a lot of traffic onto adjacent streets.

Why not midday? Early presentations in this study showed that 16th Street buses also bunch up during the middle of the day as well as rush hours, and the bus is not faster outside rush either. The rush-hour lanes could continue into the day, but that would require forbidding parking during that time.

At previous community meetings, residents expressed a lot of opposition to that idea, which would mean 500 fewer parking spaces all along 16th Street during the middle of the day. While a bus lane would help transit riders, there aren't as many riders then, and DDOT appears to have decided this trade-off isn't worth the fight.

More than just lanes: Besides the rush-hour lanes, the study recommends converting the S1 bus into a limited-stop bus like the S9, and working on technology to let people pay before getting on the bus and (since they've paid) be able to use the back door as well as the front to get on.

Nine bus stops would be combined, where there are multiple bus stops in very close proximity, and some bus stops would get longer shelters to accommodate more people.

According to a handout from the meeting, this lane would speed up each trip along 16th Street by 2 and a half minutes, and the full package of changes would speed up service by 4-7 minutes (7 being for the S1 becoming limited-stop). A few minutes is quite a lot, especially across the 20,000 people a day who use the S buses.

In addition, the study team anticipates the changes will reduce bunching and make the bus trips much more reliable, letting riders count on a more consistent wait time and travel time.

More details will be coming in a meeting on January 21 from 3:30-8:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q. People will be able to stop by at any time to peruse posters showing the options and talk to planners, and they will give a presentation about the study at 4 and 7 pm.

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In Independence Day 2, aliens once again destroy DC

The movie trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence shows that when aliens invade Earth, DC is still their top target.


Image from Independence Day: Resurgence.

Independence Day was the biggest summer blockbuster of 1996. In the movie, aliens invade Earth and destroy DC, New York, and most of the world's major cities. Eventually Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum beat the aliens and save humanity.

Now, 20 years later, the aliens are back and our heroes (minus Will Smith) are at it again.

And, as this still from 1:21 into the trailer shows, DC eats it once again.

In the still, you can clearly make out the National Mall on the far right, with the Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial in order. Except apparently, post alien apocalypse, Arlington's surviving community leaders rebuilt the Pentagon in place of Rosslyn.

Watch the complete trailer:

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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