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

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.

Live in DC, see aurora borealis

The northern lights, aurora borealis, are usually only visible near the Arctic Circle. But every once in a while, when conditions are perfect, they make an appearance as far south as DC. I caught a glimpse early Wednesday morning.


Aurora over Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday morning. Photo by Dan Malouff.

On Tuesday news spread that a heavy solar storm was hitting Earth, and producing some of the strongest aurora in years. Maybe strong enough to see from DC.

Since the sky was clear, the moon below the horizon, and conditions perfect, my wife and I booked a Zipcar to the clearest northerly view I could think of: The northern tip of Kent Island, across the Bay Bridge, in the middle of the Chesapeake.

And there was the aurora. Barely visible, but there. Dim green flashes floated low against the horizon, flowing in great fast waves from east to west. It was nothing like the huge curtains of light you see in the famous pictures (we're too far south for that), but it was unmistakable nonetheless.

How you can see them next time

Aurora are sometimes visible from DC's latitude. But they may never be visible from inside the District of Columbia, because this far south they appear very dim, and only close to the northern horizon. To see them, find an extremely dark north-facing vantage point, with a clear sight of the horizon.

If there are street lights turned on or trees blocking the horizon, you probably won't see them even if conditions are otherwise right.

Since we live in the northeast part of the city, we decided Kent Island would be ideal. It's about an hour drive east of DC, assuming no traffic—usually a safe assumption after midnight.


Route to Kent Island. Map from Google.

You will need a car to get there. And since news of likely aurora this far south typically only comes the day of the event, you won't have much time to plan ahead. But in the age of car-sharing, even a car-free urbanite can get it done.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Check out this charming but incomprehensible 1975 DC bus map

Washingtonians hoping to catch a bus in 1975 consulted this friendly-looking hand-drawn map. Charming as it may be, the map has no lines. Rather, designers wrote the name of each bus route over and over along its path through the city.


Image from DDOT.

Transit riders and cartography experts can't fault the map designers too much. It was more challenging to illustrate detailed networks before the days of computers, and even in recent years some WMATA maps have been just as hard to follow.

Legibility aside, the map actually includes some very progressive elements considering its vintage. According to the legend, it only shows "all-day routes with frequent service," an incredibly useful idea that's picked up a lot of steam in the past five years.

Other progressive elements shown on the map include bike paths, although the Mount Vernon and Rock Creek trails appear to be the only ones, and much of its text is translated into Spanish.

The map also includes a fun vignette of the Metrorail system, which had yet to open but was less than a year away.


Image from DDOT.

On the other hand, some things never change. The legend for the Metrorail vignette notes Metro's first phase was scheduled to open later in 1975. In actuality it didn't open until 1976.

Finally, there are several other vignettes on the reverse side:


Image from DDOT.

The architecture firm John Wiebenson & Associates produced the map for the Bicentennial Commission of the District of Columbia.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Come and party tonight with GGW

Tonight is Greater Greater Washington's 7th birthday party! Join us from 6:30-8:30 pm at Lost and Found, 1240 9th Street NW, to mingle with your favorite contributors, commenters, and other readers.


Birthday image from Shutterstock.

The party is open to all and free to attend. There will be a cash bar, and delicious cake. Hope to see you there!

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.

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