Posts by Moira Gillick
|Born in DC, Moira grew up in Arlington and became an avid urbanist after studying and living in London. She is currently a fellow with Smart Growth America, working on the Governors' Institute on Community Design program.|
will figure prominently in contract negotiations between WMATA and the agency's largest union when they will likely begin in January. (Examiner)
This past weekend, a tour led by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Councilmember Tommy Wells offered a chance to see and hear how H Street NE is coping with its new status as an up-and-coming hotspot.
H Street would not become another Adams Morgan, Wells made abundantly clear. Instead, the city and the neighborhood are putting a framework into place to foster a diverse cultural, retail, and residential district.
Despite the dreary Saturday weather, about forty people turned up for the walking tour of H Street NE. Wells led the group through the burgeoning neighborhood with Charles Allen, his chief of staff, and Anwar Saleem, head of H Street Main Street.
A zoning overlay creates 3 distinct sections in the neighborhood. The area between 2nd and 7th Streets NE is designated for "urban living," 7th Street to 12th Street encompasses retail shopping, and 12th to 15th Street is an arts and entertainment district.
In the corridor, over fifty new businesses, including many bars, have opened in the midst of the economic downturn. Streetcar tracks and stations have been installed. It is this development that has sparked apprehension that the neighborhood might become a single-use nightlife district.
In order to diversify the businesses, the city is now looking to support small businesses through a grant program called the H Street NE Retail Priority Area Project. The grant program, exclusively for businesses with H Street frontage, will provide awards up to $85,000 each to foster growth of small businesses. Service businesses such as restaurants, bars, liquor stores, hair salons, and barber shops are ineligible for the grant.
Its intent is to develop businesses such as home furnishings, apparel, books, art, groceries, and general merchandise goods to specialized customers. Successful applicants can use the funds to improve the property or purchase equipment, but not to purchase inventory.
Bars are being actively discouraged. The local ANCs, 6A
and 6C, are considering a moratorium on liquor licenses.
Wells discussed new financial disincentives for vacant properties. The Vacant Property Disincentivization Amendment Act of 2010 went into effect October 1 of last year. It enabled the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to tax vacant properties at rates of either $5 per $100 of assessed value. Those that are literally falling apart will be billed at $10 per $100 of assessed value (the "blighted value"). There are currently 11 properties with an H Street NE address on the vacant properties list.
The newly constructed streetscape features planter boxes, Capital Bikeshare stations, and bike racks. The bike infrastructure is already insufficient for nighttime demand. A performance parking zone was recently created to better handle the high demand for parking on nights and weekends.
The new residents and entertainment venues of H Street are attracting other business. In the urban living zone, the impending development will include a new "urban model" Giant on the north side of H Street between 3rd and 4th Streets.
H Street is trying to balance recent and future development with the existing historic character of the built environment and social fabric of this neighborhood, before moving forward with the next stages of development. The most significant challenge for this development strategy is reclaiming vacant property and opening the corridor's streetcar line.
According to Councilmember Wells, the streetcar won't happen until 2013. While the wait is disappointing, perhaps it will give the neighborhood a chance to come to terms with this first wave of new development.
Correction: ANC 6C previously considered a moratorium but rejected the proposal. 6A, which represents the eastern half of H Street, will be discussing a moratorium this fall.
Replacing and expanding CSX's Virginia Avenue tunnel in southeast Capitol Hill will be no easy task and is likely to cause more than a few headaches for local residents. Last night, CSX and DDOT kicked off the formal public involvement process, asking attendees for comments, concerns and potential alternatives.
The project scope is virtually unchanged since CSX first unveiled its plans to widen and deepen the tunnel that runs under the eastbound lanes of Virginia Avenue, SE.
The biggest difference since initial talks began in late 2009 is that CSX has chosen not to wait for any additional public funding and will cover much of the additional cost with $160 million of its own capital.
Tonight's event officially started the NEPA environmental evaluation process. The federal review process is being led by the Federal Highway Administration because of the project's potential to impact traffic flow on and off of I-295.
Construction may require temporary closure of the 295 Eastbound on-ramp at 8th Street and Virginia Avenue. This would force drivers heading across the 11th Street Bridge to use the on-ramp at 11th and N Streets.
As part of the NEPA process, CSX and DDOT will hold several public meetings, and this first one was billed as a "scoping meeting." Here's the presentation.
While CSX provided plenty of nametagged people to talk to members of the public and address questions, the open format left more that a few people scratching their heads. A number of attendees expressed their disappointment that CSX didn't begin the meeting with some kind of general presentation about project basics, like tentative designs and schedule, need and potential impacts.
"I don't even really know what's happening," said one nearby resident. "Is this tunnel only one option? I'm not a shy person, so I have no problem asking questions of these people, but I could see how a lot of people can get intimidated."
That may indeed have happened. The organizers boasted about 100 attendees signing in, but it appeared that only half of those were in any way engaged in asking questions of submitting comments, with many others quickly scanning past the placards before heading off into the night.
What's more, the meeting had a decidedly superficial feel to it. The placards scattered about the room contained very little information beyond introductory NEPA facts, a very basic project scope, and a lot of pro-freight rail propaganda, including some nifty computer animations about the National Gateway project.
As David Garber, ANC Commissioner for the affected neighborhood, pointed out, the meeting was lacking in answers to residents' most important questions: what happens during construction and what does the community get out at the end? "Virginia Avenue is not a great public space currently," Garber said, "so there's an opportunity here to change that."
So while many residents were left wondering why they should be made to endure huge, several year long disruptions to their daily lives, there was no sign anywhere of CSX's proposed community amenities.
CSX is clearly making significant efforts to reach out to the community. They're going to need it to overcome an earlier snafu in which the railroad and its consultants used old satellite images for preliminary planning. The old photos left planners unaware that Virginia Avenue was no longer a strip of vacant parcels, but instead a burgeoning neighborhood of new row houses and a senior apartment building.
Still, this event did little to answer residents' questions or quell their fears that the project would be a major disruption to their daily lives. While asking for comments, questions and alternatives is a laudable effort, it is difficult for the public to make reasonable suggestions if they no so little about the actual impacts they can expect.
If you live or work near Virginia Avenue or frequent the SE-SW freeway, DDOT and CSX want to hear your concerns. The NEPA process requires a 30-day comment period, leaving interested members of the public until October 14th to submit their comments. Comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or via the project website.
Update: The boards from the meeting are now posted online.
A scrum of people in bike helmets and safety vests gathered at Gateway Park in Rosslyn yesterday evening to scrutinize the dangerous intersection where the Custis Trail crosses Lee Highway and North Lynn Street.
This intersection has has been a dangerous one for many years. Unfortunately, it will not see engineering improvements until 2013 or 2014 at the earliest.
The bike/ped trail, which is parallel to Lee Highway, crosses North Lynn Street here, just south of the Key Bridge. This was the site where a driver recently turned into the path of a cyclist, causing a crash which police ended up blaming on the cyclist.
The Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee (ABAC) organized the "site visit" to provide citizen input and fresh perspective on the dangerous crossing.
While engineering improvements are at least two years away, Dennis Leach, the Arlington County transportation director, promised his staff would further investigate in the upcoming week at least two of the suggestions that arose tonight regarding marking and signage.
One participant suggested painting the crosswalk wider and madke it more prominent. For signage, another suggested modifying the crossing signal to include a bicycle shape. This will help to alert drivers to expect both pedestrians and cyclists. Arlington could potentially implement both in the immediate term.
In the longer term, the Arlington County Division of Transportation team discussed future design changes to the intersection which will include removing lanes on Lynn Street and Lee Highway and creating a bump-out on both the southeast and northeast corners of the intersection.
Less likely to see further investigation by the county transportation engineers is a suggestion to install traffic cameras to increase enforcement of drivers violating the cyclists' right-of-way.
However, participants raised questions about enforcement to the Arlington County Police. The police called for cyclists to travel at a safe, controlled speed, especially when traveling downhill, on the Custis Trail. Cyclists requested greater enforcement of drivers violating the right of way and driving while distracted to create a safer environment for bicycling.
While the intersection is unsafe for even a regular bicycle commuter, this intersection is even more unsafe for less experienced or less regular cyclists, for example those traveling through this "Gateway" between Georgetown and Arlington on Capital Bikeshare bikes.
Improvements could take many forms, including behavioral changes, engineering work, or better enforcement. But perhaps the best question is not how to make the intersection safer, but when we can make the intersection safer. After this evening's site visit, perhaps the best idea is to avoid crossing here in the meantime.
The North Lynn Street Esplanade and Lee Highway/Custis Trail Safety Improvements project is fully funded. This site study is also part of the larger, Rosslyn Circle project which includes all four intersections surrounding Gateway Park, for which there will be a public meeting October 5 at the Arlington Temple Methodist Church.
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