Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

Here are some original answers to whichWMATA week 44

On Tuesday, we posted our forty-fourth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 37 guesses. Twenty-five of you got all five right. Only twelve of those, though, figured out the theme. Those twelve are: JamesDCane, Mike B, Andrew, Peter K, mklkmkwk, coneyraven, endash, Maris, JPJ, RyanS, Julian, and MDL. Great work!

Image 1: Metro Center

A lot of you guessed the theme to be that all five stations were on the Red Line. It's correct that they are, but that wasn't the theme. These five stations were the first five Metro stations in the system to open. When Metro opened its doors to passengers on March 27, 1976, the Red Line ran from Rhode Island Avenue to Farragut North. Tomorrow is the 39th birthday of these five stations!

In case you're confused, the reason two stations in this stretch are absent is because they didn't open with the rest of the system. NoMa didn't come along until 2004, when it became Metro's first infill station. And Gallery Place didn't open until December 15th of 1976 because a court injunction prevented the station from opening without a working elevator.

The first image shows the crossvault at Metro Center. You can tell this is Metro Center rather than L'Enfant Plaza because the triangular coffers go all the way to the center of the vault rather than stopping short. We taught you how to tell the difference between transfer stations in week 5. All 37 of you knew this was Metro Center.

Image 2: Farragut North

The second image shows the mezzanine at Farragut North. It should have been very obvious that this was a Red Line station since you can read "Shady Grove" and "Grsvnr" on signs. This has to be Farragut North because of the configuration of the mezzanine, which is above the tracks but open above the platform. This is the inverse of the arrangement at all the other underground stations, where the mezzanine stays above the platform, leaving the tracks open to above. Thirty-four of you got this one right.

Image 3: Judiciary Square

This image shows the station entrance pylon for the eastern entrance to Judiciary Square station. In addition to the red stripe telling you this was a Red Line station, the main clue is the building in the background, One Judiciary Square. The same façade was featured in week 34. Thirty-four of you guessed correctly.

Image 4: Rhode Island Avenue

The fourth image shows the path leading to the pedestrian bridge over Rhode Island Avenue, taken from the north end of the eponymous station. This path is distinctive because it's nearly perfectly circular and is easily visible from trains on the Red Line. Thirty-one of you recognized it.

Image 5: Union Station

The final image shows a sign at Union Station. While there aren't many other clues here, the sign and its orientation should have been enough. The only "waffle" stations on the Red Line are the six in the stretch from Union Station to Dupont Circle. Of those stations, only two have island platforms, which you can tell must be the case here given the direction of the arrow and the vantage point near the center of the vault.

It can't be Farragut North because that station has an almost full-length mezzanine (see image 2). Thirty-two of you figured this one out.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.

Cities Skylines takes over SimCity's mantle as top city-builder

Those of you who've dreamed of having their own city to build from the ground up now have a new virtual way to make it happen: A computer game called Cities: Skylines.

Gameplay in Cities: Skylines. All photos by the author.

Like in the popular SimCity franchise, the player acts as the mayor, responsible for building the infrastructure needed for the city to work. That includes building streets, a power grid, parks, schools, public safety, and zoning land for development.

As your city reaches population milestones, additional features are unlocked. These, in turn, make it possible for your city to continue to grow.

Streets and buildings aren't limited to right angles.

Skylines comes from the team responsible for the well-received transit simulation games Cities in Motion and Cities in Motion 2. With Cities: Skylines, they've taken the step up from transportation simulation to full city-builder.

After the disappointing release of SimCity 5 in 2013, this game is a welcome improvement in the genre.

Like SimCity 5, roads are no longer bound to a strict 90-degree grid. Players can build curved roads or grids that are skewed at different angles, which helps give cities a more realistic appearance.

Bus and subway lines shown when in the transit menu.

On the other hand, one big change from SimCity 5 is the ability to draw bus lines and build subways and commuter rail. In the most recent SimCity, players could place bus stops, but buses just drove randomly to stops based on where the most people aboard wanted to go.

In Cities: Skylines, players can draw actual bus and rail lines. Buses will actually follow the lines you draw, and stop where you designate stops. One limitation, though, is that while you can set overall service levels for all buses throughout the city, you can't add additional service to any one line.

Another important change from SimCity 5 is that in Skylines, the subway is back. Many SimCity players were disappointed when SC5 came out without the ability to build subways. But Skylines does have subway stations and players can draw subway services just like bus and commuter rail lines.

The game has zones for residential, commercial (retail), industrial, and office.

Like other city-builders, Skylines includes zones. In addition to the traditional SimCity set of residential, commercial, and industrial zones, Skylines has added an office zone to the mix, which allows you to provide jobs for educated workers.

The residential and commercial zones have a low-density and a high-density variant.

Unfortunately, like the city-builders that have come before, Skylines does not have a mixed-use zone. While most cities in the real world have residential or office over retail, Skylines (and SimCity) still only recognize single-use zones.

However, it is possible to create mixed-use districts. When I build a neighborhood, I invariably put a commercial zone in the center, surrounded by residential. If demand warrants, I'll sometimes sprinkle office in as well.

That sort of development pattern does make a difference, because the sims in the game will walk or take transit when that's the best mode, and will drive when things are too far.

Of course, even when you try to build suburban-style development with far-separated uses, the buildings in the game are largely urban-format, with facades built right up to the sidewalk. You won't see a sea of parking surrounding big-box retail uses. That's not part of the simulation.

Mayors can annex additional territory as their cities grow.

Unlike SimCity 4 and 5, Skylines does not feature a region mode. Each map has just one city. However, a key improvement is that mayors can "annex" land as their city grows.

Many players of SimCity 5 were disappointed that each city was in a little pod off a freeway, with no ability to draw connections across the city limits. In Skylines, your city will start off about the same size as one of SimCity 5's individual cities.

But as your city reaches population thresholds, you can add adjacent tiles, and you can build connections across the (former) boundary. If you don't like the freeway connecting your pod to the outside world, you can annex that territory and rebuild it to suit your fancy.

You can't annex unlimited land, though. You can only add eight or nine additional squares to your city. But your city can be shaped oddly to take advantage of natural features or resources.

Players can create and name districts.

I think one of the coolest features is the ability to paint and name districts. The simplest use for this feature is just to name neighborhoods.

But there's actually more functionality than that. The player can actually define policies for each district. For example, you might make transit free in the Downtown district. Or you could ban high-rises in leafy Chestnut Hill. Or if you want to incentivize small businesses in LoDo, you can give them tax breaks.

Another use for districts is to allow industry specialization. If you have an oil field under part of your city, you can paint a district which will focus oil-specialized industries. But if you don't do that, your industries will just import the resources they need.

Every person in the game has a real home and job and can be followed.

One very cool feature, which has been carried forward from the Cities in Motion franchise, is the ability to follow sims around. And these sims are semi-permanent features of your city. As long as you don't demolish their residence, once they move in, you can follow them forever. They'll go to school or find work. They'll shop and recreate.

Following them around may help you figure out how to improve the transportation network. Or it may just give you a sense of the complexity of the simulation. You can also rename them if you want. Almost everything in the game can be renamed.

This contrasts very sharply to SimCity 5, where the sims are not permanent. In that game, the sims will leave work and go to the first unoccupied residence. And then they'll cease to exist. Until the next day when they go to the closest available job (which may not be the same as the day before).

Mayors still have to manage public facilities.

Of course, managing public services is an important part of the mayor's job. Making sure that there are enough classrooms in the school district is something common to most city-builders. Skylines is no different.

The game does have one drawback over SC5, though. In the most recent SimCity, you could expand most public facilities. For example, you might build an addition onto a school.

In Skylines, you cannot do that. You just have to build a new facility to meet the demand.

Data views are well-designed. Here's the fire coverage map.

Also like in the new SimCity, Skylines has great data visualization tools. The screenshot above shows fire protection coverage. The individual fire stations are shown in light purple, and every building is colored based on its fire risk.

If only it was this easy to see data in real life!

There are two additional features that really put this game head and shoulders above the SimCity franchise.

The first is the ability to make your own maps through a map editor. The editor is extremely detailed, especially with regard to mapping water, which really acts like a fluid. This is important, since hydro power in the game depends on the strength and volume of water.

The other feature is that the game is set up for modding and asset creation. I haven't attempted to do any of this myself, but I have downloaded several mods and assets (buildings, parks, interchanges, and the like). But in the two weeks since the game's release, there are already thousands of user-created mods and assets available for download.

Many of us were disappointed at the rollout of SimCity 5, not only because it was plagued with problems, but because the actual gameplay seemed like a setback from SimCity 4.

Cities: Skylines, on the other hand, is a worthy heir to the title. If you were disappointed in SimCity 5, you will probably find Skylines very satisfying.

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 44

It's time for the forty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

This is a themed week. For bonus points, identify the theme when you answer.

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: The answers are here.

We're revising our comment policy. Here's what's changing

In January, we announced plans to revise our comment policy. You responded with your thoughts on the matter. Today, we're putting the new policy in place.

Photo by Tyler on Flickr.

The policy we're leaving behind, which we introduced in August 2011, served us fairly well. In fact, that's what most of you said in the comments on the recent post. You like the comment policy and don't see anything wrong with it.

The editorial board is not making any major changes. The point of our revisions is largely to fill in some gaps that we feel have been causing problems over the last few months. Largely, those problems are the result of what we believe to be deliberate attempts to derail threads through trolling and comments which are unreasonably off-topic.

The basic elements of the comment policy are still in place. We have made a few minor tweaks to some of the language to clarify a few points. But regardless of the individual items in the comment policy, here's the basic rule: be civil to one another.

We value the comment threads. And we've heard from you that you value them too. The reason they're so valuable is because so many of you are dedicated to creating a civil, educational dialogue about how to build a better region. You don't all agree on how to do that, and that's okay. The dialogue is what is important.

The comment threads are not the place for vitriol and sniping. You shouldn't be trying to prove yourself right, everyone else be damned. You shouldn't be attacking someone because they disagree with you. Remember, you're not going to convince everyone. When that becomes apparent, agree to disagree.

If you can't be civil, you chill the debate, and that means that everybody loses.

So, here are the basic changes.

Trolls live under bridges, not under blog posts

The most common complaint you cited was trolling. We don't like it when someone intentionally tries to disrupt the debate, and neither do you.

I'm confident in saying that we don't have too many trolls in our comment threads. But there do appear to be some. What's tough is figuring out when someone is being intentionally disruptive as opposed to merely being passionate about an issue that is very difficult.

As a result, we will probably deal with suspected trolls by watching for patterns over time. If someone disrupts several threads over a short period, we will consider holding their comments for approval.

I do want to be clear: Just because you disagree (or think you disagree) with the basic mission of Greater Greater Washington does not put you at risk for having comments moderated. We want comments from all sides of every issue. You will not be moderated for disagreeing. You will be moderated only if you cause disruption. Remember, be civil.

Stay on topic

We understand that many of you are more interested in certain issues than others. But just because you care deeply about one issue or the other does not mean that it's appropriate to post about that issue in threads that are not about it.

Lately, this has been happening more often. Derailing a thread to talk about something off-topic makes it harder for people to talk about the issue at hand.

This doesn't mean that we're going to clamp down on anything even slightly off-topic. Sometimes threads do shift to related issues. That's okay. But if your comment is egregiously off-topic or completely unrelated to the subject of the post, we will delete your comment.

Fair enforcement

Several of you also said that you wanted fairer enforcement of the comment policy. And we agree that having impartial moderation is absolutely essential.

Again, I can assure you that we do not moderate comments simply because we disagree with the ideas being espoused. And we are not more lenient for commenters who tend to agree with us. We moderate people from all sides.

However, much of our moderation is complaint-driven. Our moderators strive to review every comment. But we simply cannot read them all in a timely fashion, so sometimes attacks slip through.

That's why we've created the "report comment" feature.

The "report" link is at the bottom right of each comment.

When someone attacks you, don't respond in kind. Report the comment. Let our moderators do their job.

When you aggressively respond to an aggressive comment, you just make the thread devolve, and it makes it harder for the moderators to step in and get the thread back on track.

We will continue to strive for impartiality. But you have to help us. If you see a comment that you think violates the comment policy, don't assume we left it there because we agree with it. It's probably there because we haven't seen it. Help us out by reporting it.

Here are the colorful answers to whichWMATA week 43

On Tuesday, we posted our forty-third photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 42 guesses. Nineteen of you got all five. Great work, iaom, RyanS, dc transit nerd, Peter K, Maris, Joey, Alex B, Spork!, Harry L, Fran, Mr. Johnson, JamesDCane, JPJ, Megan, Timbs 212, and R2-JL! And Mike B, Justin...., and FN who were inadvertently omitted from the list when the post went live.

Image 1: Greensboro

In case you haven't figured it out yet, this week's theme was color. All of the featured stations have color names in their titles.

The first image shows the platform at Greensboro station. The detailing on the walls and the shape of the ceiling tell you that this is one of the new stations on the Silver Line. The mezzanine is above the tracks, so that rules out McLean and Spring Hill. You can also immediately eliminate Wiehle Avenue because of the tunnel portal visible in the distance. That leaves Tysons Corner and Greensboro stations, on opposite ends of the tunnel through the highest point in Fairfax County.

You can narrow this down to Greensboro because at Greensboro, the walls go all the way up to the mezzanine, as shown here. At Tysons, the walls aren't full height, and a viewer would be able to see outside the station. Also, at Tysons there's a crossover between the station platform and the tunnel, so the portal is not so close to the platform. Thirty-seven of you knew this one.

Image 2: Silver Spring

The next picture shows Silver Spring station. There are a couple of clues in the image. First, the station is elevated, which narrows the choices considerably. Also, the NOAA headquarters are visible behind the station, and they're easily recognizable. And for those who know trains, that's Amtrak's Chicago-bound Capitol Limited passing the station. The diesel locomotives tell you that this must be one of the stations alongside VRE or the MARC Brunswick Line, which host diesel-hauled Amtrak trains. Thirty-nine knew this was Silver Spring.

Image 3: White Flint

The third image shows the glass pyramid that sits over the mezzanine at White Flint. The pyramid itself is unique in the system, so that was the primary clue. But you can also see the headquarters of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the right. It is a fairly distinctive structure visible from Rockville Pike, so some of you may have recognized it. Thirty-four guessed right.

Image 4: Archives-Navy Memorial

The fourth image is a bit trickier. The system has four "basic" colors, so for a set of five photos, I had to reach beyond the common set. There are two more stations that qualify because "navy" is a shade of blue.

This is a picture of Archives, which has "Navy" in its subtitle. The easiest way to figure out which station this was was through the process of elimination. It's got a "waffle vault," and you can tell that this is a station on the Green Line.

From there, the crucial clue is that there is only one mezzanine, which is at one end of the station (you can tell because of the distance to the far wall). The only station that fits the bill is Archives.

Navy Yard, which several of you guessed, has two mezzanines; one on each end of the station. Twenty-five figured it out.

Image 5: Greenbelt

The final image shows the Lackawanna Street entrance to Greenbelt station. There's not a lot to go on, but again, the process of elimination should've helped. The "general peak" roof-type is present at only 11 stations. Of those stations, several are in an open trench, like Grosvenor, fully elevated like Naylor Road, or in a freeway median like East Falls Church. Greenbelt is the only station with a general peak that's at surface level but with entrances that are below the tracks. Thirty-seven got it right.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 43

It's time for the forty-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

This is a themed week. Figuring out the theme might help you get all five.

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: The answers are here.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 42

On Tuesday, we posted our forty-second photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 23 guesses, and over half of you got all five. Excellent work, Alex B, Doug, JamesDCane, Peter K, Robb, Fran, MZEBE, Justin..., FN, RyanS, Mr. Johnson, Spork!, and R2-JL.

Image 1: Greensboro

I took the first image at Greensboro station (on opening day, in fact). You should have been able to narrow this down to one of the five Silver Line stations immediately based on the architectural features. The pedestrian bridge and entrance in the distance is typical of those stations. The triangular window in the canopy also tells you that this is one of the three "gambrel" stations. Finally, the tower in the distance should have told you this was in the Tysons area. Eighteen of you knew this one.

Image 2: Silver Spring

These icicles are hanging from the canopy at Silver Spring. There are two primary clues here. The first is the PIDS (next train) sign. You can see two "no passenger" trains on either side of a Glenmont train. That should have clued you in that this was Silver Spring, where Grosvenor—Silver Spring trains terminate.

But in case that wasn't enough, I included another hint: the "Metro Plaza" sign on the building in the distance. Sixteen people got this one right.

Image 3: Vienna

The third image shows the northern parking garage at Vienna station. As a few of you noted, there aren't many stations with multiple garages, so that narrowed the field considerably. This garage is on the north side of I-66 and is fairly distinctive. Sixteen of you figured it out.

Image 4: Braddock Road

The fourth image shows a northbound train approaching Braddock Road station. There were a few clues to help you get this one. The buildings in the distance, combined with the ground-level track, mean it's definitely in Alexandria. Some of you may have even recognized a few of the buildings. Also, the overpass immediately beyond the station (Braddock Road itself) should have helped you narrow this one down. Eighteen of you were successful.

Image 5: College Park

The final image didn't give you a lot to go on, but there was still enough. You can see that it's a Green Line train from the light on the front. The station has an island platform and is at ground-level, a setup you can only find at five Green Line stations. The adjacent parking garage eliminates Greenbelt, Suitland, and Branch Avenue. And the platform at Southern Avenue is in an open cut, so you can't see the garage there from the platform. That leaves College Park. Eighteen of you made the connection.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 42

It's time for the forty-second installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 41

On Tuesday, we featured the forty-first issue of our "whichWMATA" series. This week, all five photos were guest submissions from reader Peter K.

We got 34 guesses this week. Ten of you got all five right. Great job, Andy L, DAR, Justin...., Solomon, AGC, Mike B, Mr. Johnson, FN, Spork!, and Fran.

Image 1: Metro Center

The first three images looked hard. But despite one commenter who called them "too ambiguous," you had everything you needed to solve those three and the fourth even if you've never actually seen the subjects of these photos. The fifth image was a bit harder.

The first image is a picture of a sign at Metro Center. Two clues give it away. First, note how there are two colors on the sign: A dark gray at the bottom and a lighter gray above. In Metro's new wayfinding, the station and line name is in the darker color, and directions to exits from the station are in the lighter color. Not every station has undergone the signage upgrade, so that should also have helped you narrow this down.

If you knew that, you also knew that the text in the upper right refers to an exit rather than a station name or a line. You can clearly make out a 1, and it appears to be followed by another 1, so it must be an 11. You can tell that this sign is referring to the 11th Street exit from Metro Center because no other station has an exit to 11th Street. Twenty-three of you got this one right.

Image 2: Judiciary Square

From the text on the second image, you should have been able to narrow this down immediately to one of the four "Square" stations (we featured two last week). The other clue is the text at the bottom.

Several of you correctly deduced that it is the word "Silver." And from that, you guessed Virginia Square. But that's not right. You can also see the top of a capital "S," which means the text actually says "Silver Spring." Specifically, it's a line that says "To Glenmont via Silver Spring." And that makes this station the only "square" on the Red Line: Judiciary Square. Twenty-four guessed correctly.

Image 3: Archives

The next image was a little tricky. You can see a capital Q followed by the letter "u." The other clue is the vertical orientation. What does that tell us? Vertical text only appears on station name pylons, which means this must be a station name, so it's another way to know it doesn't refer to the Q Street exit from Dupont Circle in case you missed the "u."

Since this is a capital letter, it must be at the start of a word in a station name, not a letter in the middle, like a "square." And that means it's Archives-Navy Mem'l-Penn Quarter. Twenty-five of you figured it out.

Image 4: Pentagon

The fourth image was another one you could have guessed even if you've never seen this sign. With the exception of the new branch between the Orange and Silver at East Falls Church, a sign like this appears in all the stations right before lines branch.

From the photo, you can tell that this is the station right before the Blue and Yellow branch. It can't be King Street since this station is underground. And besides, the text on the sign is for Addison Road and Mount Vernon Square. So this must be Pentagon. The slope of the vault is the result of Pentagon's split-level arrangement, and is incidentally a clue as well. Twenty-nine got this one right.

Image 5: Capitol Heights

Finally, the last image was the hardest. This is Capitol Heights. There aren't many clues to help out with this one, but you can tell from the image that the station is not in a particularly dense area. The canopy could mean that it's an underground station, but some aboveground stations (like College Park and Brookland) have these canopies for their tunnel entrances.

Two clues make this definitive. First, you can see a generator peeking out from behind the pylon. If you were able to narrow this down to a few stations, you could have used Google Maps to confirm your choice by seeing if there was a generator next to the escalator entrance.

The other clue is the grass, specifically around the pylon. Almost all of Metro's exterior pylons sit on the sidewalk. Capitol Heights is one of the only places where the pylon isn't mounted on a paved surface. Also, because the pylon is farther from the escalator shaft than you'd find in an urban area, you can tell it's in a suburban setting. fourteen of you got this one correct.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next Tuesday.

Thanks again to Peter K for submitting photos. If you think you have what it takes, email your photos to

How well do you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 41

It's time for the forty-first installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

This week, all 5 photos come from reigning champion Peter K. If you're interested in submitting one or more of your own, please send them in!

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

I'd also like to give a special thanks to Peter K for submitting photos. If you think you have what it takes, email your photos to

Update: The answers are here.

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