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

See the view from atop The Cairo

The Cairo is DC's oldest and tallest residential skyscraper. When it opened in 1894, policymakers were so troubled over its height that they soon enacted the District's famous height limit. 121 years later, The Cairo still towers over Dupont so much that it offers one of the city's best views.

Scroll right to view panorama. Click for larger version. All photos by the author.

The first panorama begins looking north. The patch of trees at the extreme left edge of the image are in Meridian Hill Park. Scrolling right the view shifts to look east, then turns to straight south and downtown DC. The panorama's right edge looks southwest, with the peaks of Rosslyn in the background.

This second panorama continues to pan west. Beginning with downtown on the left edge, scrolling right yields views of Rosslyn, Q Street rowhouses, and eventually the National Cathedral.

Scroll right to view panorama. Click for larger version.

Here's the view directly north:

Zoomed in on Meridian Hill:

Straight south, with the White House peeking around a corner, and the Potomac River in the distance:

16th Street downtown:

Rosslyn:

Q Street looking west:

Q Street looking east:

Scroll right to view panorama.

The Cathedral of Saint Matthew:

Scroll right to view panorama.

For more photos, see the complete album on Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

CaBi cures downtown dockblocking with new bike corrals

One of the biggest problems limiting growth of Capital Bikeshare in DC has been that downtown docks fill up early in the morning rush hour. That won't be a problem after Thursday, when two new bikeshare corrals open, offering unlimited bikeshare parking.


Bike corral at the 2013 Obama inauguration. Photo by jantos on Flickr.

The two parking corrals will be at 13th and New York Avenue near Metro Center, and at 21st and I near Foggy Bottom. Once the regular bike docks fill up, a Capital Bikeshare staffer will be on hand to accept bikes and log out riders.

The bike corrals will be open every weekday morning this summer, beginning Thursday, May 14, and ending in September. If the service proves popular, CaBi may extend it into autumn.

Corrals will only be open during the morning rush hour, and only at those two locations.

Bigger redistribution truck

The corrals aren't the only Capital Bikeshare improvement coming this week. The agency has also acquired a larger redistribution van, allowing them to move bikes from full stations to empty ones more quickly.

There's no word yet on just how big the new bigger redistribution van is, but check out what Montreal uses:


Montreal redistribution truck. Photo by the author.

Hooray for more reliable bikeshare!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

When Metro's busiest pinch point shut down today, what did you do?

Thousands of commuters faced gridlock at the peak of rush hour today when smoke at Foggy Bottom station forced Metro to close the crucial Rosslyn tunnel. With trains shut down and many alternatives overwhelmed by the flood of Metro riders, how did you cope?


Metro riders at Rosslyn this morning. Photo by @ABouknight on Flickr.

What happened

Around 8:00 this morning, an insulator along the third rail between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn Metro stations began giving off heavy smoke. From around 8:15 until about 11:15, WMATA suspended all Orange and Silver Line service between Virginia and DC. Blue Line trains diverted to the Yellow Line bridge.

The good news is nobody was hurt. The bad news was a hellish morning commute.

The Rosslyn tunnel is one of DC's most crucial transportation pinch points. It's one of the worst places for Metro to have to shut down service. And this morning's event happened at the worst possible time, at the peak of rush hour, too late for WMATA to plan adequate backups, or for many commuters to seek alternate routes.

With no trains, and with buses, bikeshare, taxis, and roads overwhelmed by cast-off Metro riders, it was a particularly bad day.

How did you get to work?

My office is in Court House and I live in DC. Bikeshare wasn't an option for me this morning, so my first thought was to take Metrobus 38B, aka the "Orange Line with a view". But when I heard reports of how long lines were for buses, I figured the 38B would be uncomfortable at best.

Instead, I Metro-ed down the Yellow Line to the Pentagon and took ART 42 from there to my office. Happily, it was running on time and there were plenty of seats.

By the time I arrived at work, I'd been traveling an hour and a half. Bad, but not nearly as bad as many others.

How did you get in?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

In 1968, this brochure is how people learned about Metro

WMATA adopted its initial plan for the Metrorail system in 1968. Between then and the beginning of construction in 1969, the agency published this brochure, to teach people about the coming system.


WMATA 1968 brochure. All photos from Reddit user Globalwrath.

Reddit user Globalwrath discovered the brochure, and it's a fascinating trove of historic thinking.

The last benefit on this page sounds suspiciously like sprawl.

Note future options for suburban extensions in virtually every direction, and a subway under Columbia Pike in Arlington.

"The Metro will be among the best in the world." And it was, when it was new.

What stands out to you?

Friday funny: This town ain't big enough


Image from BeyondDC.

I mean, can anyone definitively say the gunfight at the OK Corral wasn't to settle a zoning dispute over pop-up condos?

The Takoma Langley transit center is rising from the ground

Construction is progressing rapidly at Maryland's Takoma Langley transit center. Take a look:


Construction progress as of Saturday, April 18, 2015. Photos by the author unless noted.

The transit center will feature bus bays and rider amenities, covered under a great curving roof that's sure to become a local landmark.

Fow now, the bright white frame looks more like something out of a sci-fi movie than a bus station.

Here's what it will all look like once construction is done:


Rendering of the final station from the State of Maryland.

Langley Park needs this

Langley Park, at the corner of University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue, is the busiest bus transfer location in the Washington region that isn't connected to a Metro station.

Eleven bus routes stop on the side of the street at the busy crossroads, serving 12,000 daily bus riders. That's nearly as many bus riders per day as there are Metrorail riders at Silver Spring Metro, and it's about double the number of Metrorail riders at Takoma station.

Corralling all those bus stops into a single transit center will make transfers vastly easier, faster, and safer for bus riders.

Heavy construction began at the transit center last year, and is scheduled to be complete around December 2015.

If the Purple Line light rail is built, Takoma Langley will become one of its stations, boosting ridership even more. The light rail transitway and station would have to be added later, and would fit snuggly in the median of University Boulevard.


How a Purple Line station would fit. Rendering from the State of Maryland.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area

Using a consistent apples-to-apples counting method, Demographia ranked the world's major urban areas by population. With nearly 38 million residents, Tokyo is by far the world's largest, and is nearly twice the size of New York's 21 million. DC clocks in with about 5 million, good for 77th in the world.


Tokyo is the world's largest city. Photo from reddit user panic_switch.

Cities are hard to measure

It's actually quite difficult to compare urban populations on any kind of consistent basis. City populations that follow municipal boundaries are arbitrary and inconsistent—some cities include their suburbs, while others do not.

Metropolitan areas are likewise difficult to nail down. In the US, the Census defines metro areas based on county boundaries, resulting in huge geographic disparities, especially in the west where some counties are the size of eastern states. Other countries use totally different methods.

Generally, the only way to build an apples-to-apples comparison is to map out the continuous built-up area of a region, and then measure the population within that area. With good enough data and consistent cut-off points, meaningful comparisons are possible. That's called an urban area, and enough countries publish data on them that it's possible to build a reasonably consistent world list.

Demographia did the leg work of stapling together government population data from countries around the world to build this list. Demographia is owned by famous sprawl proponent Wendell Cox, and pushes a generally pro-car/anti-transit ideology. But numbers are numbers, and these are interesting numbers.

The ranking

Demographia's complete list covers every urban area in the world with a population above 500,000. It's about 1,000 cities long.

Tokyo tops the list with almost 38 million people. Jakarta is second with about 30 million. Delhi, Manila, and Seoul round out the top five.

New York has 21 million and is the largest urban area outside of Asia, good for 9th worldwide. Los Angeles has 15 million and is 18th. Paris is 29th. London is 32nd.

In Maryland and Virginia, Baltimore is 206th with 2.3 million, Norfolk/Virginia Beach is 336th with 1.5 million, and Richmond is 485th with about 1 million.

What surprises you? What stands out?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

A bikeable suburban highway? One Ohio town pulled it off

Wide suburban highways lined with big boxes and strip malls aren't usually places one finds protected bikeways. But Stringtown Road in Grove City, Ohio is such a place. Check it out:


Stringtown Road. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Since a curb protects the bikeway from the road, it's technically a sidepath, a sidewalk that's for bikes instead of pedestrians.

And as you can see in photos from Google Street View, it's nicer than riding in the street with fast-moving cars, but it's still not exactly pleasant.

Huge curb cuts interrupt the bikeway, so cars don't need to slow down much before pulling into the giant parking lots lining the road. There's certainly a risk that careless drivers will turn without watching, and hit people on bikes.

But that's a risk that will exist for any car-oriented highway. At least this one puts the bike lane front and center, just about as visible as it can be.

There are some sidepaths along large roads in the DC area, like Route 50 in Arlington or along Benning Road near RFK, but those aren't commercial highways lined with shops, and their sidepaths aren't right against the curb like Stringtown's. This particular layout is pretty unusual.

As more and more suburban communities evolve to become more multimodal, experiments like this will help everyone around the country understand what works and what doesn't. Grove City is near Columbus, where it's not the only suburb experimenting with urban retrofits.

What do you think? Will this design work? Tell us in the comments.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Review says H Street Streetcar will be able to open

An outside review of the H Street Streetcar found no fatal flaws in the project that would prevent it from opening.


Photo by the author.

The American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) peer review of the streetcar on "whether there's a pathway to passenger service" is in, and the answer is yes, the streetcar can open.

In its letter to DDOT, APTA recommends a list of additional training and new procedures for the streetcar, but none appear to be major problems. The list includes more training for maintenance staff, reviewing operations and maintenance procedures, and augmenting DDOT staff with more experienced personnel.

DDOT is now analyzing the results and establishing a schedule to complete the recommendations. There is still no opening date for streetcar passenger service, but it appears likely that question is now one of "when" rather than "if."

Here is APTA's full letter to DDOT.

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