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

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.  


Breakfast links: Half or double?

Photo by graciepoo on Flickr.
Transit benefit will shrink by half: The federal commuter tax benefit will be cut in half January 1 even as parking perks increase. Riders nationwide are campaigning to preserve the higher limits. (Patch, Examiner, Forbes) ... Contact your representatives!

DC taxi rate may double: Soon after Arlington raised taxi rates, the DC Taxi Commission may do the same. Per-mile charges could almost double, but all the other fees for extra passengers, luggage and more would go away. (Examiner)

Watergate Safeway, 1966-2011: The store closes this week, leaving elderly residents without accessible groceries and college students without affordable groceries. Are Whole Foods and Trader Joe's the only urban model grocery? (Post, GW Hatchet)

Mall parking 60% empty: The weekend before Black Friday, typically a busy shopping time, shopping mall parking lots were only 40% full. That's a lot of land devoted to being 60% empty or more almost all the time. (Getting from here to there, Michael P.)

Replace fringe malls with downtown growth: The economics show that fringe suburbs won't be as popular as they used to be. Regions should encourage downtown growth, connect employment with transit, and stop paving farms. (NYT) ... Perhaps they could start by just allowing downtown development. (Yglesias)

Why's it hard to shop locally?: Despite "Small Business Saturday," it's not easy to shop in neighborhood commercial areas. Why? There are many such corridors with few retail stores, while there's greater demand for restaurants in neighborhoods. (RPUS)

Mickey Mouse is out: Disney backed out of plans for a 500-room hotel and casino at National Harbor. Only 1/3 of the planned development has happened, largely due to the economy. Will the county now focus more on developing its Metro sites? (Post)

Slower speeds safer, but practical?: 15-mph speeds on residential streets save lives in when crashes happen, but are hard on automatic transmissions. How about redesigning streets with lower design speeds? (TheWashCycle)

And...: A man is dead after a weekend shooting outside Dupont's Heritage India. Should ABRA be more proactive about places with known problems? (Post, Shaw Deserves Better) ... Governor O'Malley plans an ambitious agenda including marriage equality and gas tax hikes. (Post) ... Arlington sees some parking lot rage. (ARLnow)

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Breakfast links: Where's the money?

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
It's a start for South Cap, MoCo BRT: DDOT got $68 million in federal money to purchase land for a South Capitol Street bridge rebuild, which would ultimately cost $806 million. (DCMud) ... A Rockefeller grant provideed $260,000 to plan Montgomery's BRT system; it would cost $2.5 billion to build. (Post)

ICC has made Maryland "road-poor": The ICC has seriously strained Maryland's transportation finances, tying up large amounts of funding and making further road or transit projects unlikely. If federal transportation spending declines or ICC toll revenues fall short of expectations, that problem can further worsen. (Post)

Supermarket tax credit is fishy: Many supermarkets that qualify for DC's tax credit for aren't applying, while some ineligible ones got the exemption aimed at underserved areas. Would a mobile grocery get extra credit? (City Paper, Atlantic Cities)

McKay "likely" off WMATA Board for Dyke: Fairfax will likely lose a seat on the WMATA Board, and Arlington's voting rep will become an alternate, when McDonnell appointee Jim Dyke joins. Riders should watch carefully to see if the board becomes less responsive, though Dyke has taken some good steps. (Examiner, Post)

Alternative waterfront plan untenable: Alexandria City staff rejected an alternative waterfront plan developed by a group opposed to current plans. Staff said the proposal is far more expensive and is mainly an attempt to stop growth. (Patch)

Where are the trees still bright?: Casey Trees created a map of DC street trees, filtered for species like pin oaks and ginkgos that retain color late into the fall.

And...: A 1978 Arlington bus map has a few differences from today. (BeyondDC) ... Authors of the report on the MLK Library accidentally used a picture of Silver Spring. (JUTP) ... Vienna gets new bike racks. (PlanItMetro)

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Breakfast links: Put it in the burbs

Photo by silautumn on Flickr.
FBI should head for suburban pastures: Hoover might be hot with a new film, but the FBI building is not worth fighting to keep downtown because of security needs. Should they relocate to the suburbs near Metro? (Post, RPUS)

Maintain streetcars at NVCC: Northern Virginia Community College wants to locate the maintenance yard for the Columbia Pike streetcar at its campus, and train students in streetcar maintenance. This would require extending the line beyond its planned terminus. (Alexandria Gazette Packet)

Cafritz project still in fierce debate: A zoning decision on the proposed Riverdale Park Whole Foods was delayed a month at the request of local officials, concerned about parking demand at the mixed-use development. (Examiner)

Crimefighting tool or privacy invasion?: License plate readers (different from traffic cameras) are popping up all over, and help police solve crimes, but they also bring privacy concerns about constant surveillance of the public. (Post)

What Washington could have been: The new National Building Museum exhibit, "Unbuilt Washington," shows what DC might have been, from neighborhood-destroying ideas to ones making architecture more interesting or the Mall more enjoyable. And it recalls a time when the nation cared about having a great capital. (Post)

Make way, NBA players and owners, for WMATA: Worker fatigue and overtime limits
will figure prominently in contract negotiations between WMATA and the agency's largest union when they will likely begin in January. (Examiner)

Dial 522-3333, pay more: The Arlington County Board approved taxi fare hikes. Instead of increasing the flag drop and extra passenger fees, as staff recommended, they added 10¢/mile and let kids under 12 ride free, up from 6. (Post)

Getting off the hill and into the mayor's office: Mayor Gray has hired 2 congressional staffers to try to turn around his communications shop and executive office. (Post)

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Breakfast links: Relentless pursuit

Photo by justindc on Flickr.
6 stores, 1800 jobs, no CBA: 4 planned Walmarts have become 6, added Fort Totten and Skyland. The urban design is not as bad as it could be. Mayor Gray pushed for the new stores rather than a community benefits agreement. (DCist, City Paper, Post)

Town makes land grab: In a rare move, the town of Haymarket, VA, wants to annex neighboring parts of Prince William County. The town wants to boost its tax base, but Prince William County is skeptical the move will make a difference. (InsideNova)

Get baked or eat fried: A medical marijuana dispensary wants to open on Barracks Row, in the space currently housing a Popeye's. The applicant originally eyed Ward 5 but switched after substantial community opposition there. (DCist)

DC likely to stay occupied: Occupy DC protestors have noticed increased police presence in McPherson Square since raids Monday in NYC and Oakland, but DC councilmembers say they see little reason to remove the protestors. (Post, Examiner)

Bike share ads: Is there really a free lunch?: Baltimore wants its bike sharing system to be entirely free, relying on ad revenue. But even if it can get that, is the price too high of over-commercializing public space? (RPUS)

DC preserves Chinablock/town: DC is trying desperately to help Chinatown retain whatever Chinese identity it has left. But when does cultural preservation become Disneyfication? Will more dragons really help? (City Paper)

Maryland businesses want transportation: Many Maryland business leaders support raising the state's gas tax and significantly expanding transit options. Even still, a gas tax hike faces public opposition. (Gazette)

Washingtonians are footloose: Area residents are moving around more so than residents of other regions. Also, the number of residents moving from Virginia to Maryland nearly equals the number of people moving the other way. (Examiner)

And...: At age 75, Marion Barry entered the twittersphere as @marionbarryjr. (Post) ... Prince George's punted on slots. (Examiner) ... There was 27 times as much demand for TIGER III than available funds. (Streetsblog)

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Breakfast links: Do your civic duty

Photo by mooniker on Flickr.
VA party control in the balance today: Republicans take the Virginia Senate if they pick up 2 seats today. The 13th (primarily Loudoun) and the 39th (Fairfax/Prince William) are competitive. Prince George's and Montgomery also have elections. (Examiner, Loudoun Times, WAMU, Post)

Senate transpo bill has good and bad: A draft Senate transportation reauthorization bill moves dedicated ped/bike funds and Safe Routes to School into a smaller CMAQ. It also bans earmarks and improves a popular loan program. Another provision bans biking on roads where there's any kind of path nearby. (Streetsblog, TheWashCycle)

Homeless Orleans on the ballot: Homeless man, but still undisputed Greenbelt resident, Bill Orleans is running for city council. The ACLU can't recall any past homeless candidates. Orleans is also a fixture at many WMATA and COG meetings. (Patch)

Occupiers protest MPD: Occupy DC protestors say police didn't adequately investigate the incidents where drivers hit protestors (like many other insufficiently investigated crashes). Cathy Lanier responds by promising even rougher tactics. (WAMU)

From food court to grand court?: 6 redevelopment proposals for the Old Post Office include a Waldorf Astoria hotel and a Trump hotel. GSA will make a final selection by November 17. (Post)

Dutch kids get drivers'/cyclists'/peds' ed.: Dutch children in Utrecht learn about car, cyclist, and pedestrian safety in a "traffic garden," a miniature street network that simulates roadways, bike lanes, and sidewalks. (Streetfilms)

And...: A driver struck a cyclist in Arlington. (ARLnow) ... Zimmerman explains induced demand. (WTOP) ... How does removing parking meters close a deficit (and make a city "friendlier")? (Detroit News) ... A higher Maryland gas tax is very likely. (Baltimore Sun)

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Breakfast links: Bumper weekend

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
Driver strikes 3 protestors... intentionally?: A driver hit 3 protestors outside the Convention Center on Friday. Police say protestors jumped in front of and on the car, but the victims say the driver deliberately sped up to hit them. (Post)

WMATA wants to break radio silence: In recent emergency situations, such as the Orange Line meltdown following a suicide last month, WMATA communications were impacted by radio dead zones. Comprehensive fixes will take time. (Examiner)

Borrowing is the new stealing?: A Metro employee stole some stuff, and Prince George's refuse to prosecute. That's old news, but what's not old news is that the employee claims it's just "borrowing," not stealing. Okay. (Post)

Attend a town hall by hashtag: The latest town hall meeting for DC's sustainability strategy is digital: OP and DDOE are hosting a Twitter town hall today at noon.

Gentrification, or more diversity?: Amidst all the angst about changing demographics within Greater Washington, one commentator sees "gentrification" as a good thing: a trend of increasing diversity that strengthens neighborhoods. (The City Journal)

DC Democrats become less democratic: The DC Democratic State Committee has replaced elections for its members with a caucus. Party leaders say the new election date makes it necessary, but others say it's an attempt to strengthen insiders. (Post)

RI Ave ped/bike bridge moving forward: DDOT has started seeking bids for the pedestrian and bicycle bridge to Rhode Island Ave Metro. This will help people on the Met Branch Trail and neighborhoods west of the CSX tracks reach the station.

And...: The NRA thinks Tommy Wells should buy an SUV, after his deer collision. (City Paper) ... A new stretch of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail opens. (MyFoxDC) ... The Purple Line will only take 8½ minutes from Silver Spring to Bethesda. (ACT)

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H Street works to balance old and new development

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.

Photo by the author.

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.

Photo by author.

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.

Soon to be H Street's first supermarket.

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.


CSX begins Virginia Avenue Tunnel evaluation process

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.

Photo by HerrVebah on Flickr.

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.

Left: NEPA process overview. Right: NEPA schedule.

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 or via the project website.

Update: The boards from the meeting are now posted online.


Cyclists, officials inspect dangerous Rosslyn intersection

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.

Photo by author.

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.

Photos from yesterday's event by the author.

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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