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Posts from November 2009


Top 10 missed Metro stations

What parts of the Washington region ought to have a Metro station, but don't?

Image from Google Maps.

I have long maintained that our region should be more open to transit modes other than Metrorail. Metro is great, but with its extremely high price tag and with over a hundred miles of it already in service, what our region needs most now is better network coverage. At this time, a billion dollars would be better spent on 10 new streetcar lines than one new suburban Metro extension, for example.

But that having been said, it's still interesting to look at Metro's missed opportunities. Considering its contemporaries, Metro is a shockingly well-planned system, but it obviously could have been better. So putting aside questions of maintenance, funding, operations, engineering, etc, and assuming the completion of the Silver Line, here are the top 10 places that deserve Metro stations. They generally fall into two categories: activity centers and dense walkable neighborhoods far from an existing station.

Number 10: Kalorama
Aka the Hinckley Hilton. Although you can get to this spot halfway between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park easily enough, the gap between those stations feels enormous. This is the sort of station that would make Metro more of an urban subway and less of a commuter operation.

Number 9: Cardozo
Same deal as Kalorama, except it's more important at 14th and Euclid because of the escarpment between Clifton Street and Florida Avenue, and because the neighborhood isn't as wealthy. There aren't many places so near the regional core that a strip mall could have survived so long. It wouldn't have if there were a Metro station nearby.

Number 8: Starburst
H Street will soon have a streetcar, lest the most isolated-from-Metro of the District's neighborhoods would have to be higher on the list.

Number 7: Brightwood
The Georgia Avenue corridor is the city's longest, and in some ways its most urban. A station at Brightwood would fill the long gap between Petworth and Silver Spring left by the Green Line's sudden turn east.

Number 6: Langdon Park
There is a tendency to think of everything in the triangle between North Capitol Street, New York Avenue, and Eastern Avenue, NE as "Brookland" and call it a day. Actually, the Rhode Island Ave corridor is a lot like the Georgia Avenue corridor. A station at Rhode Island and 18th, NE would open up dozens of city blocks to the primary transit network, and drastically improve Rhode Island Ave itself.

Number 5: Old Town Alexandria
The only non-District location in the top 10, this one is kind of a no-brainer. Only the most dedicated pedestrians walk from King Street Metro, and that fake trolley is a little embarrassing, on top of being slow.

Number 4: Adams Morgan
One of the city's biggest nightlife destinations as well as one of its most walkable neighborhoods. Adams Morgan is a natural. It might be even higher on the list if it weren't already relatively easy to access from Woodley Park and Columbia Heights.

Number 3: Truxton / Bloomingdale
Too big, too dense, and too close to the core not to have a direct connection.

Number 2: Lincoln Park
The Orange/Blue tunnel serves the southern part of Capitol Hill very well, but leaves the central part uncovered. A station exactly at the midpoint of the Capitol, the Anacostia River, H Street, and the Southeast Freeway - that is, right at Lincoln park - would serve the entire greater Capitol Hill area. It would be the go-to station for at least 100 of the city's most walkable blocks.

Number 1: Georgetown
Could number one on the list be anything else? Washingtonians have been lamenting the lack of a station in Georgetown for as long as I can remember, and for good reason. A Georgetown station would serve an area as large and walkable as Lincoln Park, and as much of a regional nightlife destination as Adams Morgan. It's the perfect storm of transit want.

I still think that streetcars, BRT and improvements to commuter interurban rail would be a better investment at this time than expanding Metro, but if nothing else fun exercises like this can inform us about what gaps in the system need to be filled, via Metrorail or other modes.

Honorable Mentions: Historic Anacostia, Glover Park, Cathedral Heights, Logan Circle, BWI, Shirlington.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC, where it is part of an occasional series of "Top 10" lists concerning DC-area urbanism.


Bonus links: Parking extravaganza

Image from ACT.
$80,000 a space for another DC USA?: ACT and the Sierra Club are calling on Montgomery County to scale back the $89 million, 1,100-car garage it plans to build up to seven stories below the current surface lot across from the Barnes and Noble. This will cost $80,000 a space, and assumes a greater percentage of people driving to work than currently, even before the Purple Line stops a block away.

Tenleytown Safeway too suburban: The large, suburban parking lot behind the proposed Tenleytown Safeway was one of the resident objections raised at last month's ANC meeting. Also, while the plan has stores along 42nd Street, they will face the inside of the store. ANC members also suggested adding some housing above and possibly townhouses in the rear. (Цarьchitect)

Three parking bills, one hearing: There's another DC Council hearing December 10th on the parking bills to reserve one side of the street for residents only. This hearing includes the Ward 5 bill not covered previously, in addition to the Ward 1 and Ward 6. I've previously written about it here and here. (JDLand)

Free holiday meters?: Salt Lake City is making all meters free for the holidays, which costs them about $225,000. Spokane's Public Parking and Policy Manager responds to a letter calling for the same there, the noting that most cities simply found the meters filled up all day by employees. (Deseret News, Spokesman-Review)

Free transit for some Chicago shoppers: The transit-accessible Andersonville district in Chicago provides free transit rides to shop there in addition to free parking. Shoppers just have to print out a page from their Chicago Card Plus account (whose website allows users to see their ride history) and send it in with the receipt. (Michael P)

Potomac Yard station still just out of reach: Alexandria is still about $32 million short in public and private money to finance a $240 million new Metro station at Potomac Yard. Even that figure is for a station along the current line, which isn't the ideal location. Planners and officials are still optimistic they can make it happen. (Examiner)

A Green City but without green transportation: Developers hope to rebuild St. Charles, a planned community in Waldorf, to enlarge it and make buildings much more energy efficient. Still, it's 22 miles from DC, an dcan't be a true "Green City" if everyone drives in single cars to central jobs. Scott points out, why not do the same for other older communities in inner Prince George's County? But if you're going to build in Charles County, this is at least a better way to do it. (Post, Scott, Cavan)

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Public Spaces

It Takes a Village 2: Walkable urbanism is good for seniors

Earlier this year, I wrote about how human-scale walkable urban places empower adolescents to experience the world without needing parental chauffeuring services. The same applies to seniors who have stopped driving for health or other reasons.

photo by R. Duran.

This Thanksgiving, I visited my grandparents in their new apartment in a senior community in New Jersey. Heath Village is a quiet, suburban retirement community, similar to Leisure World in Olney. My grandparents' new home is a good facility with more than adequate staffing and opportunity for recreation. It also has plenty of parking.

While all that parking is great for someone who owns a car and has a valid driver's license, what about those senior citizens who, for a variety of reasons, do not drive? When my mother and her brothers first started to help my grandparents find a smaller living space, they hoped to find a community in a town environment. My mom isn't a Smart Growth activist and transit nerd like me. She had read my previous post but hadn't really analyzed it too much. Yet she immediately thought that a walkable urban town environment would be most appropriate for my grandparents' new apartment, despite not being able to articulate why. To her, it just "seemed right."

My grandfather just bought a brand new Ford Focus and is a very competent and capable driver. My grandmother gave up driving at least 15 years ago. Even still, they have no problems living in a car-dependent place. They had lived in the car-dependent outskirts of an historic small town in Northern New Jersey since the early 1960s. Despite my mother envisioned a walkable urban town as the best environment, in the end, they couldn't find a retirement community in a town environment and chose Heath Village instead.

But what would happen if, for some reason, my grandfather couldn't drive anymore? My grandparents would be stuck. They wouldn't be able to get groceries, fill out paperwork related to their house, or go to visit anybody. I can't imagine how frustrating and depressing such a scenario would be for my them. My grandmother didn't retire until she was 90. She would not take well to being housebound. Sadly, they would be disconnected from the outside world, dependent on others to take them outside of the apartment community.

There are many senior citizens who are in such a situation. The loss of driving privileges stands between them and disconnection from the outside world. My other grandmother did not drive for most of her adult life. My grandfather always did the driving. It was how their marriage worked and how they supported each other. However, once he died, she had to learn how to drive because they lived in a very car-dependent place. She drove as little as possible, even after becoming proficient at it. It was very stressful for her. As time went on, she got out less and less. It was very sad to see from 300 miles away. I kind of think that again, a human-scale town would have been a better place for her to live out her retirement, especially after my grandfather died.

According to the National Council on Aging, suicide is more common among seniors than any other age group in the United States. Isolation is one of many possible causes of depression and suicide. What is more isolating than living in a car-dependent place alone, without access to car transportation? Seniors need stimulation, something to work on and something to look forward to just as much as anyone else. They crave a sense of belonging to a community just as much as anyone else. Most of them grew up in a human-scale walkable urban place and remember it fondly.

Rather than isolating senior citizens in a single-use pod, there should be opportunities for them to live as part of a mixed community with everyone else. Many seniors have much wisdom and experience to pass on to the rest of us. It is not possible to learn from them if they are not a part of the community but rather isolated to their own residences. Our society would be much richer both from our individual senior citizens' improved stimulation and sense of purpose, and from everyone else learning from their experience and wisdom.


Comment on Greater Washington's future

Today is the last day to comment on the Greater Washington 2050 report.

Rising regional pollution is "gibberish"? Image from Region Forward (PDF).

Here's what I submitted:

The Greater 2050 report is a huge positive step for COG and the Washington Region. This policy will meaningfully connect our growth policies to the region we want, where people can easy travel from close-knit communities to good quality jobs and education amid clean air and water.

While this is a good first step, COG should find ways to add "teeth" to this plan, tying future TPB approval of transportation projects to their contribution to these goals. The plan should also further promote growth in a smaller number of more significant activity centers instead of spreading it out to every one, some of which are very far-flung and cover a large area with few people and jobs.

I was shocked to see Lon Anderson of AAA call "community connectivity and walkability and minimizing ecological harm" "gibberish." People travel using all modes in our region, and the only crazy policy has been COG's past practice of making those modes distant stepchildren to car-dependent planning. We should not stop making roads a part of our region's transportation network, but it's telling how outraged some people have gotten at the mere thought of making other modes a core part of the planning paradigm as well.

We can address congestion in two ways. We can build ever-larger rings of freeways, which past experience here and elsewhere has proven will simply generate even more crushing traffic burdens. Or, we can design around a mix of driving, transit, walking and bicycling, and expand the great success of our Metro system and the low-traffic, walkable and bikeable growth in DC, Arlington, and Bethesda to all jurisdictions throughout the region.

Whether you agree or disagree, I encourage you to submit a comment. You can also email them directly; according to NVTA, comments form the Web form will be posted publicly while emailed comments will not. Your comment can be just a few sentences; short comments are very helpful.


Breakfast links: Water water everywhere

Image via Nikolas Schiller.
Metro migraines: Two Metro trains collided in a rail yard, mildly injuring three employees and damaging at least three $3 million cars beyond repair. Metro will pay $200,000 for accidentally discharging acid into a sewer in 2003. (Post) And Farragut North has some "major ceiling cracks." (Examiner)

The Mall Map: In 1897, Senator Cannon proposed creating a 230-acre scale map of the United States in the area that's now West Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin. (Nikolas Schiller, The Daily Render)

Two-driver car replaces driverless cars?: Two people drove a car into the Anacostia River, says the WUSA headline. It's still unclear how that happened (following a GPS, maybe?), but they're okay. After chuckling in amusement, note how the headline not only puts them in control of the car, but suggests that both of the people were "driving," in contrast to all the "car hits pedestrian" driverless headlines.

I was wondering that too: After January 1, grocery checkout clerks will have to add 5 cents for each bag you use, but how will that work with self checkout stations? Safeway and Giant say they're trying to figure that out. (City Paper)

Right hand, meet left hand's billboard: Shaw residents and DCRA officials have been trying to get rid of four billboards at 4th and P, NW of uncertain legal status. In the meantime, the Department of Health advertised HIV testing on one of them. (Examiner)

Driving on the left in Missouri: Springfield, Missouri is trying an innovative freeway interchange, the "diverging diamond," where traffic briefly switches to the left side of the road. At least it's innovative here; France has used it for decades. Amid the gushing over moving cars, it'd be nice if the story at least explored whether it's good for pedestrians and cyclists too; the interactive graphic notes that pedestrians will walk along the median but doesn't mention cyclists. (NPR)

Not Rhombus Heights: BeyondDC challenges us to name the 8 Metro stations with shapes in their names, or for a tougher one, all the metro areas over 1M people.

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What's That? #2

What's That? is back for week #2. Each week, I'll show small close-up photographs of three different well-known places in Washington, DC. The first person to get all three will win recognition of his or her genius when I reveal the answers a few days later.

Here's the set for this week:

The comment settings are worked out, so post your guesses in the comments. Comments won't appear by default to avoid spoilers, but you can click to see them (ideally after you take a guess yourself).


Scenes of Washington: Glen Echo Park

Open thread

Thanksgiving weekend open thread

Several people have emailed recently about issues they'd like to discuss or questions they'd like to bring up, but which don't have recent relevant posts as a proper home for that discussion.

Some blogs create this opportunity with open threads, where readers can comment on and discuss any topics of interest. Some have also suggested a forum or other separate area. What would you like to see?

Meanwhile, use this an open thread to discuss whatever issues are on your mind.


Traffic on and around WAMU

On Wednesday, Diane Rehm talked traffic with Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt, Deputy US Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, and Brookings fellow Robert Puentes.

WAMU. Photo by Mr. T in DC.

They discussed how much of the increased congestion in recent decades comes from non-work trips, like parents driving kids to work where once they walked, and because land use became more spread out. Porcari touted big stimulus projects like freeways in Southern California, but also talked about how a "transportation system"—not just roads alone—and TOD are key to mobility. Tom Vanderbilt also added that traffic congestion isn't really that bad compared to many other nations and that 90% of roads are not congested 90% of the time.

Vanderbilt brought up the issue of congestion pricing, which Puentes said our international "competitors" are experimenting with (note the phrasing there). Porcari brought up the ICC as an example of congestion pricing, noting it's easier to do it for new facilities than existing areas like New York. The panelists also touched on the decline in carpooling, the pros and cons of roundabouts ("modern roundabouts," not the circles like Dupont), and distracted driving.

As for new infrastructure investment, Puentes noted that a lot of congestion comes from crashes blocking up the road network, and that we have to think bigger than just adding infrastructure. He said, "We have to stop thinking that we're going to be b able to build our way out of congestion." On transit, Porcari said that USDOT is encouraging new transit, streamlining the approval process, and trying to improve the cost effectiveness calculations.

Porcari arrived a few minutes late, saying that while he rode Metro to work, he "made the mistake of driving" to WAMU, two blocks from the Tenleytown Metro. When WAMU invites you to be a guest on a show, they offer a free parking pass. Not a Metro pass, just parking.

Before my last appearance on Kojo, I asked why they can't give out free Metro passes as well; the producer noted that it's easy for them to email out parking passes for their garage, but not to offer free Metro passes. Once Metro upgrades SmarTrip to allow people to check and reload their cards online, perhaps they should consider a program to let organizations email free ride coupons that people can redeem and load onto their SmarTrips via the Web site.


Lights brighten mezzanine at Judiciary Sq

On November 24, Metro announced that they were testing new lighting at Judiciary Square's F Street Entrance.

Detail of new mezzanine lights.

These new lights brighten the mezzanine, which is particularly dim. If the lights are successful, Metro will likely expand the format to other stations.

Metro's original designer, Harry Weese, indended for the Brutalist vaults to remain blank, lit entirely by indirect lighting. However, over the years, Metro has added accoutrement to the vaults, from station signs to security cameras. In most stations, supplemental lighting was added in mezzanines, which tend to be in perpetual shadow.

Old lighting at Fourth Street Mezzanine

New lighting at the F Street Mezzanine

The new test lighting strikes a medium between the extremes. It adds lots of light to the mezzanines, while still providing light to the vault. At the same time, the fixtures' design limits the encroachment of the light supports on the vault.

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