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

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. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 

History


Here's how DC's state-named avenues got their names

Earlier in the summer, we re-visited the reasoning behind why Washington, DC's street naming system. From A Street to Verbena Street and from Half to Sixty-Third, DC's lettered and numbered streets make it difficult to get lost with their logical progressions.


Photo by the author.

But DC's transverse diagonal avenues confound everyone from tourists to suburban motorists. Not only do they break all the grid rules, they even manage to break up the grid itself in many places, like H Street, NW at New York Avenue. And to make matters worse, they often skip across parks, rivers, even entire neighborhoods, before starting up again, sometimes even on a different heading.

Locals have mostly figured out where the avenues are, at least the major ones. Maryland residents use many of these broad streets as their connections to downtown, but a short street like North Dakota Avenue goes unnoticed by almost everyone outside the immediate neighborhood.


Penn. radiates from the Capitol
In fact, when the city was first established, the organized naming system extended to state-named avenues as well. It was not quite as intuitive as the numbered and lettered streets, but with only nineteen avenues, it was still easy to understand.

As I noted before, the plan of the city was meant to reflect the structure of the government. For that reason, the city's quadrants are centered on the Capitol Rotunda. The state-named avenues are no exception. Being the major streets of the city, L'Enfant's plan placed many of them so that they emanated from certain points. In this regard, they provided long unobstructed views toward the icons of our nascent government.


Yellow denotes sections which have disappeared.

From the Capitol, North Capitol Street stretches northward, followed in a clockwise direction by Delaware Avenue, Maryland Avenue, East Capitol Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, New Jersey Avenue, South Capitol Street, Delaware Avenue, the Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, and New Jersey Avenue.

From the White House, Sixteenth Street forms the major axis. In fact, Thomas Jefferson intended it to become the Prime Meridian, which is where Meridian Hill Park gets its name. Moving clockwise, one encounters Vermont Avenue, New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, New York Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue.


Yellow denotes sections which have disappeared.

Today, some avenues are more important than others. This is due, in large part, to where it is they connect to, not any particular naming convention.

The grand avenue, home to everything from Inaugural Parades to festivals of all sorts, is Pennsylvania Avenue. Connecting the Legislative and Executive branches, it was always meant to be the heart of Washington. In the southeast, it continues as a major roadway toward central Prince George's County, Maryland.

Similarly, Connecticut, Georgia, and New York all are major thoroughfares to outlying parts of the region. Another important street is Wisconsin Avenue, running from M Street in Georgetown to the Beltway north of Bethesda; it was an important road long before the name was applied. As late as 1903, it was still called the Georgetown and Rockville Pike. This historic name is the basis for two streets in suburban Montgomery County: Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike, the straightened version.


Virginia @ 6th SW
Some feel that certain states got short shrift. Tiny Delaware has a fractured, relatively unimportant street. However, the main reason that it is less important today is because of its strategic importance as a transportation corridor. To the north, Amtrak, MARC, and Metro's Red Line trains use Delaware Avenue to enter the L'Enfant City. Similarly, Maryland and Virginia Avenues in Southwest and Southeast now have above-grade railway embankments carrying trains along streets intended to be grand public avenues.

But street-naming doesn't have anything to do with importance to the Revolution or the prestige of any one state, at least not directly. State names were assigned to avenues based on their geographic location within the United States.

For that reason, one found Georgia Avenue in the southernmost portion of the city. Running from what is now Fort McNair across the southern side of Capitol Hill, we know it today as Potomac Avenue. Near the northern edge of the city, the avenue named after the then-northernmost state, New Hampshire, passed through Washington and Dupont Circles, just as it does today.

Vermont joined the union in 1791 as the fourteenth state, while Kentucky joined in 1792. It was during these years that Washington was being laid out. For that reason, they both received places within the system. Tennessee gained statehood in 1796, and its avenue became the first glaring error. After all, Tennessee forms the southern boundary of Kentucky, yet Kentucky Avenue lies entirely south of Tennessee Avenue.

By the time Congress first met here in 1800, there were three diagonal avenues left to be named. Ohio and Indiana fit into the system well enough, but Louisiana was sorely out of place.

With the first nineteen states represented in the city, Washington ran out of avenues. Maps from the 1800s available on the Library of Congress' website show that Maine and Missouri had short avenues within the bounds of the Mall, but it is unclear exactly how all the new states were represented as they came on board.

In 1890, Boundary Street was renamed after the twenty-seventh state, Florida. Despite being farther south than any other state (it would remain so until 1959), it got the street forming the northern boundary of the city.

Yet by the time the twentieth century got going, Washington was expanding into the hills and dales above the Fall Line. As the street grid expanded, new avenues were added, and old ones obliterated. Around 1914, the citizens of Brightwood managed to get Brightwood Avenue renamed after Georgia. They had hoped to curry favor with senator Augustus Bacon, but he promptly died, and never had a chance to affect the fortunes of these suburban pioneers. The construction of the Federal Triangle complex in the 1930s eliminated Ohio's avenue and shortened what had been Louisiana Avenue. Louisiana's name itself had moved a few blocks east to a new street constructed as part of the changes brought by Union Station and Columbus Circle in 1907.

Today, one can still see some geographic order to the state-named avenues. However, much of that is due to the age of certain regions. After all, New England hasn't had a new state since number twenty-three, Maine, joined in 1820. For the most part, states on the East Coast can be found downtown. Alaska Avenue is the northernmost avenue (in its entirety). Mississippi, which is at least in the south, is the southernmost state-named avenue. But the similarities largely end there.

This post originally ran in 2009, but since the history hasn't changed, we thought we'd share it again!

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 90

On Tuesday, we featured the ninetieth challenge to see how well you knew the Metro system. Here are the answers. How'd you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Nine of you got all five. Great work, Peter K, J-Train-21, Stephen C, Solomon, AlexC, JamesDCane, dpod, Travis Maiers, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: L'Enfant Plaza

The first image features a Metro pylon directing passengers to the western entrance to L'Enfant Plaza. This entrance is inside the L'Enfant Plaza shopping concourse, and isn't the easiest to find from the street. This pylon bridges the gap between the traditional M-capped pylon on D Street and the mall entrance.

The main clues for this image are the brutalist buildings in the backgound. They're very iconic and should have been easiily recognizable as parts of the L'Enfant Plaza complex. 20 got it right.


Image 2: Grosvenor

The second image shows the pedestrian bridge over Tuckerman Lane connecting Grosvenor station to the Strathmore Arts Center. The curve of this bridge was a clue, since few pedestrian bridges in the system are curved. The two obvious choices are New Carrollton and Grosvenor, which have bridges like this.

However, the bridge at New Carrollton has a sharper curve. The colored lights here are also very distinctive, but if you haven't used the bridge at night, that might not have been helpful. 11 figured it out nonetheless.


Image 3: Braddock Road

The third image shows some new-ish signage at Braddock Road. We discussed these new platform decals in a post several months ago. This is the only station in the system with these markings.

Additional clues include the Alexandria Peak roof style (only King Street has the same canopy) and a blue marker on the train's destination sign. 14 figured it out.


Image 4: Deanwood

This picture shows the north end of the platform at Deanwood. The surroundings here should help you eliminate all the other possibilities. The catenary masts in the background mean this must be one of the Orange Line stations on the eastern end of the line. But the lack of wires eliminates Landover and New Carrollton.

The island platform eliminates Cheverly. The houses mean that this can't be Minnesota Avenue, since DC 295 is just west of the station. That leaves Deanwood. 21 worked out the logic correctly.


Image 5: Naylor Road

The final image shows a view from the platform at Naylor Road. The perspective here means this is an elevated station. The buildings in the distance, Lynhill Condominiums, were another clue.

Aerial images might have helped you narrow this down, by locating the bus loop and park-and-ride. 18 came to the correct conclusion.

Great work, everyone. Thanks for playing!

We're taking a break until the end of September. So take some time to study up and we'll see you on September 27 with week 91.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 90

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


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 89

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-ninth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 35 guesses. Nine got all five correct. Great work, Peter K, JamesDCane, Travis Maiers, AlexC, Solomon, PLKDC, Stephen C, dpod, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Dupont Circle

The first image was fairly easy to solve (and all of you got it right!). It shows the large bowl where the northern escalators emerge at 20th and Q Streets NW, which is the northern entrance of the Dupont Circle station. The rim of the bowl is visible, as are the plantings along either side. Those main clues helped you narrow down the choice. We've featured this entrance in week 22, week 33, week 38, week 40, and week 80.

Like all of the other pictures featured in this week's set, this image has a set of three side-by-side escalators.


Image 2: Huntington

The second image shows a view of the platform escalators and inclined elevator at Huntington's southern entrance. There are two unique features visible here. The first is the inclined elevator, which is one of only a few in the country. The other is the pair of narrow escalators on either side of the regular-width one.

The slanted glass roof is also a clue, though it's not unique since a similar one exists at West Hyattsville.

Week 12 and week 14 both showcase these features. 29 of you figured it out.


Image 3: Crystal City

The third picture shows the main exit from Crystal City station. The primary clue here is the "VRE Trains" sign, which directs customers to a doorway just out of frame to the right. The connection to VRE is made by way of the underground Crystal City pedestrian network, which intersects this Metro corridor just prior to the escalators pictured.

There are several VRE connection points to Metro, but only three are underground stations: Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and Crystal City. Union Station never has three side-by-side escalators, so it can't be that station. And while L'Enfant Plaza does have this arrangement, there's no VRE signage like this nor any electrical lockers in the corridor.

That leaves Crystal City, as 20 of you surmised.


Image 4: Farragut North

The fourth image was taken in the northernmost mezzanine at Farragut North station. I like the brutalist coffered ceiling, which mirrors the standard waffle vault treatment. Despite the design harmony, this type of mezzanine ceiling is only present at two stations, with the other being Stadium/Armory.

The three side-by-side escalators lead down to the northern end of the platform, taking up most of the platform's width (which is why escalators are usually just singles or doubles when going to the platform). We featured these escalators from the other side in week 22.

Stadium/Armory also has three escalators like this, however, they descend into the vault through an opening that nearly reaches the top of the vault. The pictured escalators have the lower sloped roof above them, meaning this must be Farragut North.

16 got the gold.


Image 5: Federal Triangle

The final image shows a set of three short escalators at Federal Triangle. This is part of the corridor leading from the station's mezzanine under 12th Street to the portico of the Ariel Rios Building. The station is located under 12th Street, but the street escalators are located about 150' west. Along this corridor, there's a short rise that these escalators climb. These are the shortest escalators in the Metro system and are therefore quite distinctive.

15 came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back August 23rd with another quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 89

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


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 88

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-eighth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Eleven got all five right. Great work, Peter K, JamesDCane, Stephen C, Solomon, J-Train-21, Justin..., AlexC, RBAP, Ampersand, dpod, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Federal Triangle

This week, each of the pictures featured a Metro elevator at street level. To solve the quiz, you needed to identify the surroundings visible in the background.

The first image shows the elevator at Federal Triangle. The Federal Triangle complex is visible in the background, and is a fairly iconic building. The curved facade could have been a help, since the entrance to Federal Triangle is in a semi-circular area west of 12th Street. Had the Old Post Office been torn down, as envisioned, a the opposite side of the street would also have a semi-circular facade.

Twenty-four got this right.


Image 2: New Carrollton

The second image shows the escalator canopy and pedestrian bridge at the west (Harkins Road) entrance to New Carrollton station. This canopy is unique in the system, so some of you may have figured it out that way. The bridge in the background leads to the IRS building. We've featured it before in week 21 and week 63.

Twelve made the correct choice.


Image 3: Pentagon City

This picture shows the elevator at Pentagon City. The tower in the background is the Ritz Carlton hotel. If you look closely, just below the elevator canopy, you can see a portion of the Nordstrom sign. There aren't many Nordstroms in the region, so that would have been a useful way to narrow this down.

Seventeen guessed correctly.


Image 4: Archives

The fourth image shows the corner of 7th and Indiana NW entrance at Archives. The red brick building is fairly iconic, and adds texture to the area. The Starbucks logo helped at least one person narrow it down, but the easiest way was simply to recognize the building. Nineteen did.


Image 5: Farragut West

Finally, the last image shows the facade of 1875 Eye Street, also known as International Square. The building towers over the 18th Street entrance to Farragut West, including the elevator entrance. It opened in 1979, just two years after the Metro station. The blocky nature of the building and it's height was a clue to look in DC. But like image number 4, recognition was the easiest solution.

Thirteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back the second Tuesday in August with week 89.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 88

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


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Politics


Trump claims to want to save our cities, but his and his party's policies would do the opposite

On Thursday, I turned on the TV to hear from the Republican nominee for President. As an urbanist, I was particularly struck by Donald Trump saying he's the candidate who can save failing cities. That's ironic given that he seems to loathe most of the people in cities, and his party convention approved the most anti-urban policy platform in recent memory.


Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

This specific part really stood out to me:

This Administration has failed America's inner cities. ... It's failed them on education. It's failed them on jobs. It's failed them on crime. It's failed them on every single level. When I am President, I will work to ensure that all of our kids are treated equally, and protected equally. Every action I take, I will ask myself: does this make life better for young Americans in Baltimore, in Chicago, in Detroit, in Ferguson who have as much of a right to live out their dreams as any other child in America? Any other child.
Trump would have us believe that he's the man who can fix America's cities, despite his lack of policy specifics and a seeming hatred for the diversity that makes our cities (and our country) truly great.

Yet he's running for the presidency from a party whose platform is the most anti-urban it has ever been. Their platform gets to this pretty early on, on page 5 of 66:

The current Administration has a different approach. It subordinates civil engineering to social engineering as it pursues an exclusively urban vision of dense housing and government transit. Its ill-named Livability Initiative is meant to "coerce people out of their cars." This is the same mentality that once led Congress to impose by fiat a single maximum speed limit for the entire nation, from Manhattan to Montana. Our 1980 Republican Platform pledged to repeal that edict. After the election of Ronald Reagan, we did.

Now we make the same pledge regarding the current problems in transportation policy. We propose to remove from the Highway Trust Fund programs that should not be the business of the federal government.

More than a quarter of the Fund's spending is diverted from its original purpose. One fifth of its funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities. Additional funds are used for bike-share programs, sidewalks, recreational trails, landscaping, and historical renovations. Other beneficiaries of highway money are ferry boats, the federal lands access program, scenic byways, and education initiatives. These worthwhile enterprises should be funded through other sources.

... We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California's high-speed train to nowhere.

[Emphasis added]

It seems that while Trump claims he can save America's cities, the GOP wants to make them impossible. That's not good for city-dwellers or anyone else in the country, since cities are the economic engines that power America.

Trevor Noah really summed up the conundrum of the GOP's urban policy in a Daily Show episode on Tuesday. The key part starts around 3:50 in the video.

Yes, many of our communities have broken homes. But often it's because the parents have to face huge hurdles just to get by. Taking two buses to get to their first job, or unable to get to good jobs in the suburbs because there is no transit. Other times, maybe it's because fathers (and sons) were arrested or killed over minor traffic infractions.

And many of these situations are built upon a history of segregation and separation that were the direct result of redlining and a lack of fair housing laws and access to opportunity. Apparently, laws meant to help disadvantaged people find housing or jobs are "social engineering."

Trump went on to describe a horrifying scene in America's cities. Not only have our policies failed urban dwellers, but crime is up, up, up. It's up 17% in America's 50 largest cities, he says.

And that's true. Crime did increase from 2014 to 2015. According to Trump, "that's the largest increase in 25 years."

The fact, though, is that it's the only increase in 25 years. Crime has been falling since 1991 in those 50 cities. In 2014, it hit the lowest point in decades. Trump's inflammatory rhetoric serves only to frighten people into voting on their baser instincts, and it marks a particularly despicable turn in our nation's politics.

Even with a 17% increase in 2015, crime was still lower that year than it was in 2009, the year President Obama took office.

There was a lot to be frightened of in that speech—especially cities and immigrants and Muslims, if Trump is to be believed. That was by design.

Frankly, I'm more afraid of the damage that Trump and the GOP could do to our cities than I am of anything mentioned in Trump's list of terrors of the night. The candidate's xenophobic remarks and his party's disregard for anything or anyone remotely related to cities is horrifying.

I think we should talk about what a Trump/Republican presidency might mean for our cities and our community.

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 87

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-seventh challenge to see how well you knew Metro. We featured photos of five Metro stations taken by Peter K. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 34 guesses. Sixteen got all five. Great work, Matt D, JamesDCane, RyanS, Justin..., Josh, Gregory Koch, dpod, Transport., DavidDuck, Alex C, Stephen C, J-Train-21, Solomon, Ampersand, Chris H, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: NoMa

The first image was fairly straight-forward, showing the perspective looking south in the mezzanine at NoMa station. The "M St" sign was a major clue, since only four stations are located on or near M Street. Mount Vernon Square has an entrance at 7th & M NW, Navy Yard has entrances at New Jersey & M SE and Half & M SE, and Waterfront has an entrance on 4th Street SW just north of M.

However, those stations don't fit the bill because they're all underground stations, and this picture shows a stop with the platform above (note the escalators on the left side going up). The styling is also indicative of the three 2004 stations. That makes this NoMa, which 32 of you figured out.


Image 2: West Hyattsville

The second image shows the Metro guideway just south of West Hyattsville, viewed from the Northwest Branch Trail, which crosses under the Green Line here. This trail hosts the East Coast Greenway, a trail running from Florida to Maine. The Greenway crosses under Metro just south of National Airport and at the Fourteenth Street Bridge (on the Mount Vernon Trail), at NoMa (along M Street), and at West Hyattsville. However, only the setting at West Hyattsville fits.

The wooden obelisk that the sign is mounted on is actually an Anacostia Tributary Trail System trail marker used by the Prince George's County Parks Department, which may have also helped you narrow this down. Additionally, we featured a very similar perspective in week 47.

27 got it right.


Image 3: Pentagon

The third image was taken at Pentagon, but shh! Don't tell anyone! This station was probably pretty easy to identify, since it's the only station in the system where photography is prohibited. Other clues include the next-gen faregate and the shape of the vault here, which is indicative of the taller trainroom needed for the dual train levels.

31 properly classified the answer.


Image 4: Morgan Boulevard

Morgan Boulevard may have taken some googling to get to the right conclusion. When the station was constructed in 2004, a childcare center was included on site to make it easier for parents to commute. This is one of two on-site daycare centers in the system, with the other being located at Shady Grove.

The center at Shady Grove is different because it was constructed after the station was built, whereas at Morgan Boulevard the daycare was built with the station. Signage and the setting at Shady Grove are different, and it appears that most of you figured it out despite the similarities.

25 got it correct.


Image 5: Franconia-Springfield

The final station is Franconia-Springfield. A quick search of the WMATA website turns up the four stations with multi-day parking. Three of the four stations have decks, so you can eliminate Greenbelt off the bat.

Of the remaining three, the website gives the definitive answer by indicating that at Franconia, the multi-day parking is in row J, which is labeled in the picture.

21 were able to figure this one out.

Great work, everyone. We'll be back in two weeks with another quiz!

Thanks again to Peter K for letting us use his pictures for whichWMATA.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Photography


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 87

It's time for the eighty-seventh 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 were submitted by whichWMATA regular Peter K.


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Special thanks to Peter K for submitting photos. If you think you have what it takes, email your photos to mcjohnson@ggwash.org.

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

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