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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. Heís 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. 


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


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


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.


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


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

UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

Public Safety


In the last 72 hours, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Minneapolis a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, and then a sniper killed five police officers in Dallas. These tragic deaths, on the heels of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month, have left us reeling.

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At its core, Greater Greater Washington is about creating more livable communities and cities. Normally, we do this by discussing transportation, housing, development, public spaces, and other elements that make our cities better places to live.

Today, though we wanted to take a moment to pause and acknowledge that a basic prerequisite before we can even begin to talk about "livable cities" is to preserve human lives, and our society did not succeed for the victims of these events.

We invite you to take a moment, too. We don't want violence like this to go unmarked in our personal lives or in the communities we want to help make better.


Here's why DC's streets have the names they do

Earlier this month, we looked at Arlington's street naming system. There might be even more ingenuity behind the way the District's streets are named.

Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Washington is partially a planned city. The area north of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and south of Florida Avenue (originally Boundary Street) is known as the L'Enfant City. This area of Washington was the original city of Washington, laid out by Pierre L'Enfant and Andrew Ellicott. It is comprised of a rectilinear grid with a set of transverse diagonal avenues superimposed. Avenues frequently intersect in circles or squares, and the diagonals create many triangular or bow tie-shaped parks.

Washington is the seat of government of a nation. Believing that the structure of the government should inform the structure of the city, L'Enfant centered the nascent city on the Capitol, home of the Legislative (and at the time, the Judicial) branch of the government, the one the framers held in highest esteem. From this great building radiate the axes of Washington. North and South Capitol Streets form the north-south axis; East Capitol Street and the National Mall form the east-west axis. These axes divide the quadrants.

The axes also provide the basis for the naming and numbering systems. Lettered streets increase alphabetically as they increase in distance both north and south of the Mall and East Capitol Street. Numbered streets increase in number as they increase in distance both east and west of North and South Capitol Streets.

Many street names intersect in multiple quadrants. G Street intersects Sixth Street in all four quadrants, and each of these intersections is separated by over a mile. Western, Eastern, and Southern Avenues form in many places the land boundaries of the District.

North of Georgetown and Boundary Street (Florida Avenue), the area formerly known as Washington County, DC began to develop. For the most part, developers extended the grid as the most efficient way expand the growing city. Some areas, notably Petworth, recreated the principles of the L'Enfant plan, with avenues and circles intersecting the grid. In other places, geography made a rectilinear grid impractical.

As the city expanded, so did the system of naming streets. In the L'Enfant city, the highest lettered street was W Street (running between Ninth and Fifteenth Streets NW). Unlike numbers, the alphabet is not infinitely expandable. In order to continue to have an alphabetical progression of streets, the alphabet starts over. Only "streets" are subject to the convention. Avenues, roads, drives, and other minor streets do not conform to the alphabetical progression. "Places," on the other hand, usually appear one block north of the correspondingly lettered street and often share the same first letter.

After the first alphabet runs out of letters, street names restart alphabetically with two-syllable names. "Adams Street" follows "W Street." Once the second alphabet is exhausted, the system repeats with words of three syllables. "Webster Street" is followed by the third alphabet's "Allison Street." However, the Fourth Alphabet does not use words of four syllables. Instead, the Fourth Alphabet, most of which are in the Northwest quadrant (DC's largest), uses the names of plants in increasing alphabetical order. Thus "Aspen" follows "Whittier."

Map shows streets based on number of syllables (numbers excluded)

Typically, each of the other alphabets uses the same letters used by the First Alphabet (A-W, skipping J). However, there are some exceptions. The Second Alphabet has Yuma Street, there's a Jefferson Street in the Third Alphabet, and Xenia Street appears in the Southeast quadrant. East-west streets in the District are often discontinuous due to obstructions. Sometimes the street continues with the same name on the other side, and sometimes it changes to a different name. Shepherd Street NW, for instance, is split by Piney Branch Park between Fourteenth and Sixteenth Streets, but keeps the same name on both sides. However, on the other side of Rock Creek Park, in Upper Northwest, the two-syllable "S" street name is Sedgwick. Still, a look at the first letter of streets in the District easily shows the strata of the alphabets.

Map shows all streets starting with letters C, D, E, F, or G (numbers excluded)

The highest numbered street in the District is 63rd Street in the Capitol Heights section of Northeast. Southeast's nearby 58th Street is that quadrant's highest numbered street. In Northwest the ridges and valleys of the Potomac Valley cause numbered streets (and the grid) to give up the ghost at 52nd Street. And tiny Southwest sees its highest number with 23rd Street south of the Lincoln Memorial.

Map showing numbered streets in the District

Of course, without its state-named avenues, Washington would have a far less complex street system. But the avenues don't only add complexity, they also close the streetscape, provide vistas to monumental buildings, and create squares, plazas, and parks throughout the city. These famous streets are important ones in the city, but they don't conform to the system, and as a result are more difficult to find.

Except for California Street and Ohio Drive, all the states have avenues named after them. The shortest of the avenues is Indiana Avenue, found near Judiciary Square and the Archives. It stretches less than half a mile, exclusively in the Northwest quadrant. While no state-named avenue passes through all four quadrants, the longest, Massachusetts Avenue, passes through three. It stretches from border to border across the District, although it lacks a bridge over the Anacostia, and continues northward into Montgomery County, Maryland.

Map shows each of the state-named roadways in Washington

This post first ran back in 2009. Since the history hasn't changed, we thought we'd share it with you again!


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 86

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-sixth 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 31 guesses. Fifteen got all five right. Great work, Alex C, Solomon, dpod, Peter K, JamesDCane, J-Train-21, Steven Yates, Chris H, Stephen C, Patrick, skildpadde, DavidDuck, R2-JL, We Will Crush Peter K, and Peter K is a nice guy, don't be hatin' on him!

Image 1: Vienna

The first image was fairly simple, showing a view of Vienna station from westbound I-66. Metro has a few stations in the median of a freeway, but only Vienna and Wiehle Avenue have bridges across to both sides of the roadway. Wiehle Avenue's bridges are a different design, with brighter metal. Additionally, Wiehle's parking is located only on one side of the station, unlike at Vienna, where there are garages on both sides.

All 31 of you knew this was Vienna.

Image 2: McLean

The second image looks down into the lower mezzanine at McLean station. The design elements and the newness of the concrete and fixtures should have told you this was a Silver Line station. Since we're looking down into the mezzanine, this can only be one of three Silver Line stations with a mezzanine below the tracks: McLean, Tysons Corner, and Spring Hill.

However, you can eliminate Spring Hill because there's no roadway visible to the left, meaning this isn't a median station. At Tysons Corner, the lower entrance has a completely different escalator and elevator arrangement, and from this direction, the exit would be straight ahead, not out to the right.

That leaves McLean, which 21 of you figured out.

Image 3: Morgan Boulevard

The third image was taken looking up at the roof above the mezzanine from the platform at Morgan Boulevard. The canopy here is clearly one of the Gull II designs, present only at the three stations opened in 2004. However, at Largo and NoMa, the mezzanine is below the tracks, not above as it is at Morgan Boulevard.

Twenty-two came to the correct conclusion.

Image 4: Dupont Circle

The fourth image shows the view looking through the escalator canopy at Dupont's southern entrance. The art deco building visible here is 1350 Connecticut Avenue (though viewed from the 19th Street side), which was built in 1928 20 years before even the underground trolley station at Dupont Circle opened. Your best clue to answering this one was to recognize the building.

Twenty-four were able to come to the correct conclusion.

Image 5: L'Enfant Plaza

The final image shows the eastern mezzanine at L'Enfant Plaza. This mezzanine, which leads to the Constitution Center entrance on the southeast corner of 7th and D SW, is closed on weekends. Knowing which stations have closed entrances on weekends would have been a start to solving this picture.

An additional clue is the "_AND AVENUE" text on the sign, which refers to Maryland Avenue. L'Enfant Plaza has an entrance at 7th and Maryland, and that entrance is open at all times. Maryland Avenue doesn't come close to any other station.

The word could also have potentially been "Rhode Island," however the Rhode Island Avenue station is above ground, and while Rhode Island Avenue comes close to Farragut North and Shaw, signage at those stations doesn't refer to Rhode Island Avenue.

Twenty-six sussed out the right answer.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with another quiz.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


What if Metro had stopped building in 1986?

In 1986, a report from the Federal City Council warned that Metro needed to focus on keeping the system in good repair rather than expansion. Metro didn't listen, but what if it had? What would the system look like if building had stopped then?

The Metro as it looked in 1986. Map by David Alpert.

If you listen to WAMU's new Metropocalypse podcast (and you should), you may have heard the discussion in Episode 5 about the critical decisions in the late 1980s and early 1990s to continue to focus on expansion rather than maintenance. The episode pinpoints 1986 as a turning point in Metro's history, and may be where the problems we're facing today trace back to.

So how would a decision in 1986 to stop expansion and focus on upkeep have affected the system map?

In 1986, ten years into Metro's life, four of the six lines had opened. That year, the Orange Line reached its full length, with an extension from Ballston to Vienna opening on June 7. But the other lines were all still shorter than planned. The Green Line wouldn't appear for another five years, the Silver was still eighteen years away.

If Metro had decided to change tacks in 1986 and focus more on maintenance rather than expansion, it's certainly possible that by now, more stations would have opened, though probably later than they did in actuality. But it's difficult to say. With ballooning costs and competing priorities, it's possible that much less of the system would have been completed.

As it was, it took another fifteen years to complete the Adopted Regional System.

Metro historian Zachary Schrag correctly points out in his Metropocalypse interview, that it would have been difficult politically to propose delaying the rest of the system. The pieces that were still missing in 1986 were those promised to the communities who most needed better transit.

And the population in those neighborhoods tended to be poorer and less white. Cancelling the Green Line would have left some of the most disadvantaged parts of the region, including the Mid City, Southeast, and southern Prince George's without rail service.

So, for better or worse, Metro pressed on with its campaign to build the full system. But that came with a cost; one we're paying today.

Now, the transit agency is focused more on maintaining the system than on expansion, though the Silver Line's second phase continues to move toward completion.

If you're curious to see how the entire Metro system came together, and on what timeline, here's an animated slideshow that we first published two years ago:


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 86

It's time for the eighty-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the 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 note: We have a slightly earlier deadline this week. Please be sure to have your answers in by 9 am on Thursday.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

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