The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts by David Daddio

David Daddio is a master's student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Originally from Columbia, Maryland, David founded Rethink College Park while an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. He is currently the Second-Year Editor of Carolina Planning, the oldest student-run planning publication in the country. 


What makes some CaBi stations more used than others?

Open trip data lets researchers analyze bike sharing systems in detail. They are making useful discoveries about how culture and urban spaces affect the way people use bikeshare. These conclusions can help cities refine their bikeshare systems as they grow and mature.

Expected monthly Capital Bikeshare ridership based on October 2011 usage.

My recently completed master's paper analyzes the factors behind the number of trips at different Capital Bikeshare stations. I created a regression of trips in October 2011 that began at stations in the District. After controlling for 14 variables, the analysis concludes that 5 key factors primarily determine a station's usage:

  • The population aged 20-39
  • The level of non-white population
  • The retail density, using alcohol licenses as a proxy
  • Whether Metrorail stations are nearby
  • The distance from the center of the CaBi system
I measured each variable based on what's within a ¼-mile walk of each station. With that information, I created a "suitability map," above. For any spot in DC, it projects how much ridership a station would get if DC placed one there. You can also download the KML file to view the analysis in Google Earth.

The map shows that as you get farther from the main activity centers in central DC, there's a dramatic drop-off in station demand. Approximately 13% of Capital Bikeshare stations, as of March 2012, are located in areas where we would expect fewer than 18 trips a day. The actual usage data shows that a significant number of these stations at the edge of the system have even fewer trips.

There are equity reasons to place stations outside the core; policymakers want to make sure that money spent on Capital Bikeshare benefits more than just those who live and work in central areas, and it builds political support from councilmembers representing wards farther away. However, there are multiple areas around the District that are under-served by bikeshare today, yet highly suitable under the analysis.

Planners and policymakers should consider these areas as they build out and tweak the system in the coming years. The figure below shows the coverage gaps by overlaying the existing bikeshare stations and the suitability map.

Suitability gaps in the Capital Bikeshare system.

What can we conclude from this? The Washington region and other cities should consider the following issues when they plan and expand their systems:

Distance from the center matters. This variable accounts for 60% of the variation among station usage, by far the most of any factor. This matches a principle known as the "gravity model" in transportation planning, which predicts more trips between closer locations. Capital Bikeshare's pricing structure also encourages shorter trips by charging for using a bike over 30 minutes, which strengthens this factor.

Carefully weigh goals of equity and coverage against ridership. It's very important to provide active, multi-modal transportation options to low-income and minority communities, and this study does not dispute that. That being said, it is important to carefully assess the tradeoffs among various objectives, especially in light of the relative costs of providing other mobility options for individuals of lower socioeconomic status.

Suburbanization of bikeshare has opportunities and pitfalls. The prospect of a region-wide bicycle sharing system in the nation's capital is an alluring one to advocates. It is easy to imagine a robust, polycentric system around dense nodes like Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda, College Park, and Silver Spring.

However, some facts could temper that enthusiasm. Even some relatively close-in stations in the District have very low usage. Nearly 40 of the 97 stations in operation during October 2011 experienced 15 or fewer trips a day. Similarly, the densest parts of Arlington, with 18 stations during the same period, had 15% of stations system-wide but just 5% of trips.

To successfully expand bikeshare into the suburbs, planners need to choose station locations wisely, and elected officials need to invest enough to create a critical mass of stations early on. If we rush to build an inadequate suburban system, then it will likley not meet expectations and could act to blunt public support for the program, precluding a more economically sustainable system later on.

Stations can easily move as we learn more. Within a matter of hours, bikeshare operators can load stations on a truck and redistribute them to more suitable locations. While Capital Bikeshare operates year round, colder cities like Montreal and Boston take their stations away each winter. Planners there use the spring launch of the system to refine the location of their stations based on station performance the previous year. Capital Bikeshare should schedule an annual station redistribution.

Promote open bicycle sharing data. Having this data available to graduate students and anyone else promotes transparency, scholarship, and innovation. Bicycle sharing systems are proliferating rapidly, which is very encouraging, but few systems nationwide release trip data.

For instance, despite $4.5 million in grants from public sources ($3 million from the Federal Transit Administration), data from Boston's Hubway remains proprietary because of a private sponsorship agreement with New Balance. New York also hopes to fully fund its system with private dollars, which creates a danger that the same may happen there.

Like other North American cities, DC relied on international practices to plan its original system. Now, with an ample stream of data and more than $13 million in public funding committed to the regional system, it is time to strategically reassess station locations to ensure that bike sharing remains viable for the long term, as a true transportation investment.


"Dernoga money" stymied College Park growth

The Washington Post revealed Thursday that former Prince George's Councilmember Thomas Dernoga privately solicited contributions totaling about $1 million from developers for charity during his 8 years in office.

Photo by Jameson42 on Flickr.

Such funds, which would normally be part of a formal developer or community benefits agreement, were instead extorted behind the scenes in a highly unethical (and perhaps illegal) donate-to-play arrangement designed to benefit Dernoga politically.

Community members, especially in his Laurel political base, were accustomed to seeing him present "Dernoga Money" at various back-to-school nights during his tenure in Upper Marlboro. Dernoga jokingly refers to himself as Robin Hood, according to the Post story. Unfortunately for him, moralistic pronouncements will mean little in the federal probe investigating the county, which many speculate he is caught up in.

"Most of the people want a favor. They want more density. They want more parking. They all want something. They seem to think they are entitled. You say you want the county to do you a favor that might be good for the county, but it is also going to make you a lot of money. But are you willing to support local needs?" ...

"You have these people making millions, and all this density and all the traffic [we'd] absorb on Route 1. You mean to tell me you have nothing to help out our schools?" Dernoga said. "I found it greedy on the part of the property owners."

Dernoga said that project would have cost the main developers $120 million and that $100,000 would have been a "drop in the bucket," he said.

Dernoga's shenanigans during the development review process have been a frequent problem for College Park, on issues like the Mazza GrandMarc impact fee waiver controversy and Route 1 form-based code debates. His total disregard of process, a surprising approach for a trained lawyer who ran for the county's top law enforcement post in 2008, stymied many a development project on Route 1 in northern College Park.

Perhaps most notable of these projects are two failed luxury condominiums just north of MD-193 to the east and west of Route 1. Joe Lasick, owner of one of the properties which was slated for a 200 unit mixed-use development, claims Dernoga held up his project for a $200,000 donation to local schools.

After multiple delays incited by Dernoga before the November 2007 donation request, Lasick refused and Dernoga decided to "revisit" the tax incentive on which the project proposal was based. Today, two downtrodden vacant lots on opposing sides of Route 1 in College Park, each a block long, face drivers as they pass through the derelict retail corridor.

College Park residents are paying the price for Dernoga's actions. The delays he introduced for developers, including for those who didn't make donations, meant that many parcels of land on Route 1 never got developed during the real estate boom, and we're stuck with strip malls, parking lots or vacant land instead of useful properties that house residents or shops and contribute to the city's tax base.

Fortunately, ethics legislation, which was signed into law April 12, bans Prince George's council members from asking anyone who is seeking development approvals to provide anything of monetary value. Hopefully that legislation will avoid a another Robin Hood in Upper Marlboro. Robbing from the future to fuel political ambitions is ultimately a losing proposition for Prince George's County.


Olson ignores smart growth basics on Book Exchange project

An array of officials who are usually reliably pro-Smart Growth have teamed up with College Park's Old Town Civic Association (OTCA) in an effort to quash the proposed Book Exchange project.

The 6-story mixed-use development could bring 830 student beds to downtown College Park along with roughly 170 beds geared towards grad students and young professionals. But opponents would prefer less student-oriented development on the site.

The debate has become almost farcical. Handpicked neighborhood committees are staking their positions and misinformation and hysteria abound in a way that we have not seen with any other project.

The developer has not even submitted formal plans yet or presented the concept to the City Council, yet the battle lines have already formed. Most key decisionmakers, including County Councilman and longtime Smart Growth proponent Eric Olson, have aligned themselves squarely against the project.

At the starting gate, the project seems almost destined for a court battle. It completely satisfies existing zoning, yet most of the local political establishment opposes it anyway. The demand for housing and policies in the Route 1 Sector Plan have taken a back seat to an anti-student hysteria brewing among a handful of the most politically active and vocal Old Town residents.

A letter dated October 1 from OTCA sums up adjacent neighbors' opposition:

We shall be completely marginalized and without hope should this project go forward. ...

OTCA believes the influx of up to 1,000 more undergraduates would symbolize "kiss of death," for College Park's downtown, as the likelihood of more upscale, adult-oriented eateries and shops would forever be lost to sandwich shops and fast food venues, the market of choice targeted to undergraduates. If downtown is completely dominated by undergraduate residents, it will not attract more diverse retail. If this project goes forward, the opportunity to change the nature of downtown will forever be lost. ...

We cannot support the proposed development at the Maryland Book Exchange, as it is likely to have grave and irreversible impacts on our community.

The basic premises behind opposition to the Book Exchange redevelopment are faulty. City Councilwoman (and supporter of the project) Chris Nagle puts the situation best:
The project will not result in an increased enrollment at the University of Maryland. Student housing at the Maryland Book Exchange location will provide students who want to live within walking distance of UMD and downtown College Park with an alternative to living in Old Town.

I thought that was what the residents of Old Town wanted: for students to move out of existing single family and into multi-unit student housing dwellings. The developer is working with residents and has sought their input into the commercial component of the project.

OCTA voted unanimously (24-0) on September 27th against the project. Unfortunately, people who are supposed to be voices of reason in the community are instead playing to its deepest fears. The neighborhood has convinced itself that its very future is in jeopardy.

This gut emotional reaction stems from the development's proximity to the neighborhood, not on any reality of its potential impacts to the community. In fact, the project would create the exact reverse effect than what residents fear: it will contribute to draining students out of single-family homes.

We're not saying that there isn't room for adjustments around the edges. Rethink College Park has already proposed that the developer seek the Maryland Food Co-op as a tenant for the ground floor retail space. The developer should also look at ways to better ensure graduate students can comfortably occupy part of the complex.

If construction of student housing isn't the long term solution to what ails Old Town, what is?


Olson may scuttle new housing in College Park

A private developer plans to build student housing on the site of the Book Exchange, a high-profile site in downtown College Park just across the street from the front entrance to the University of Maryland. But county councilmember Eric Olson, siding with residents opposed to student housing, could thwart the project altogether.

Image from Google Street View.

According to the College Park Patch, Olson and developer Ilya Zusin, the proposal comprises a 6-story 334-unit primarily student apartment building with 14,400 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

It would have 109 units geared towards visiting professors, young professionals, and graduate students (mainly singles with some doubles) and 225 marketed to undergraduates (mainly quads).

While proposed as one building, the development would read like two with different facades and lobbies if constructed. There would be about 830 dedicated student beds all housed within the part of the site closest to Route 1.

The 109 unit building (roughly 170 beds) would have a different entrance and be located at the rear of the site backing up to Yale Avenue. 10,000 square feet of the retail space would be taken up by the Book Exchange itself with frontage on Route 1. Another store would locate on the College Avenue side.

Map of the site. Image from Google Maps.

According to the Patch and other sources, a small group of vocal residents are concerned about the addition of hundreds of new students in Old Town. They fear increased noise and traffic.

District 3 County Councilman and College Park smart growth champion Eric Olson, who ultimately determines what takes place on the site, seems to be leaning towards the view of long term residents who oppose student housing at the site. That's a surprising position for Olson given the pro-student and smart growth platform that swept him into office. Some of Olson's non-student constituents turned out for a meeting August 25th in Old Town College Park and stated their preference to see a "Trader Joe's, a boutique hotel, or even apartments aimed at area professionals" on the site rather than student housing.

While we agree that it's less than ideal that every residential product being built in College Park these days is student housing, it's difficult to deny the smart growth implications of such an infill project. The site is literally across the street from the main entrance to UMD at the corner of Route 1 and College Ave. It's also difficult to ignore the precedent being set here.

While projects like this can always be killed one way or another politically, there is really no legal ground to oppose it under the current zoning regime. This project conforms completely with the spirit and language of the Route 1 Sector Plan that was just updated by the County Council this summer. Politicians don't need to get into the business of deciding who can live where; especially given the character of established zoning and housing incentives in College Park.

It sets a bad precedent if Olson ultimately quashes the first development proposed under the updated Route 1 Sector Plan. We can't let latent and unfounded anti-student housing hysteria stand in the way of smart growth in College Park.

UMD has the wherewithal and momentum to build the non-student housing on East Campus that Olson and others desire for the community. One private developer with a 2.6-acre site does not. Indeed, UMD is refusing to build any undergraduate beds in its East Campus Redevelopment Initiative and will be bulldozing 650-beds of affordable undergraduate student housing over the next 5 years to make way for that project. UMD intends to infuse a critical mass of retail and high end residential that can draw in young professionals with the East campus Redevelopment Initiative that Olson and others desire. As more student high rises come online, the Old Town neighborhood will begin get drained of its student residents and houses will likely turn over to non-student young professional hoping to locate near the College Park metro station.

Artists' Renderings for East Campus
Most recent renderings of the East Campus Redevelopment Initiative.

The location of the Book Exchange site between Fraternity Row, a group of sorority houses and the entirety of the UMD nightlife scene makes it nearly impossible to finance a true residential product for young professionals at this point. Anything that departs substantially from what the developer has proposed here simply will not be built. There is no market for it. The 109-unit non-student section was already a pretty big concession for the developer to make considering the economy.

Furthermore, to blunt criticism the developer has offered to help the city annually to expand noise and code enforcement. They've also agreed to get the project certified LEED Silver or Gold and build an associated 150 bike space (covered). Because of traffic concerns, they will reserve spaces for car sharing (Zip Car) and provide free bikes for students that have none. Zusin would build between 141 and 315 spaces under the project depending on if the city lets him pay fee in lieu for space in their newly constructed garage just down the road.

The project will likely reduce traffic during rush hour given that almost all its residents will walk to campus or utilize Metro day-to-day. They'd be using the provided parking for car storage. To top it all off, the city currently receives $18,000 per year in property tax from the Book Exchange. They'll receive around $250,000 annually if the project goes forward.

What exactly are we fighting against here?

Cross-posted at Rethink College Park.

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