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Posts from December 2009


Parking changes could fix holiday traffic on Rockville Pike

Reports of congestion near malls across the region this holiday season make it sound like the recession never even happened. They also raise questions about how we handle traffic throughout the year.

Photo by thecourtyard.

Many strip malls along Rockville Pike were built in the 1950's for local shoppers. Today, they've evolved into multi-story, multi-building campuses, drawing customers from across the region with a variety of high-end speciality goods. More shoppers means more cars, which has made Rockville Pike notorious for nasty traffic.

Here are some solutions property owners could implement in time for next year's holiday shopping season. They're meant to be completed with minimal public intervention, though they would require some cooperation among private developers. They will reduce congestion within the parking lot, at the mall's entrances, and on The Pike itself.

Drop the "walk-off" policy. It prevents nearby office workers or Metro commuters from taking up parking spaces. But it also means that someone visiting two adjacent shopping centers has to drive and park twice, creating congestion on the property and on Rockville Pike as well.

Last week, I went looking for a store in Congressional Plaza at Rockville Pike and Halpine Road. I then realized that the store was in the next block at The Shops at Congressional Village. Instead of getting back in the car, I walked two-fifths of a mile to the store, passing every other store in both shopping centers and stopping in a few of them.

Shopping centers could create a privatized version of Montgomery County's Parking Lot Districts in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Bethesda. Property owners may resist sharing parking and customers with other malls, but it could benefit them. Visitors would spend less time trying to park and more time spending money at a greater number of stores. Disabled shoppers or those with large packages may continue driving from place to another. But it would reduce traffic from those able and willing to walk the extra distance.

Raise awareness of all parking options. Each shopping center has a lot facing Rockville Pike, advertising to passing motorists that parking was available. But many shopping centers and even stand-alone stores and restaurants along Rockville Pike have additional parking areas that are often unknown to customers.

Half of Federal Plaza 's parking is in a rear lot facing East Jefferson Street. Congressional Plaza sets aside spaces in the garage of an adjacent apartment building. And Montrose Crossing (pictured above) has not one, but two parking garages. They all usually sit empty because visitors see the lot in front and assume it's the only one.

In a study of a Los Angeles neighborhood, UCLA professor Donald Shoup discovered that a lot of traffic comes from people looking for parking spaces. The same goes for parking lots along Rockville Pike. If motorists knew that were available in back or in a garage, they could go straight there rather than looking for a space in front.

Charge for the most convenient spaces. People will seek out free parking if they're using a space for hours at a time. But those in a hurry or running multiple errands will pay for the guarantee of open, easy-to-reach parking.

Install meters at (non-handicapped) spaces within the first few rows of store entrances, give customers thirty minutes to shop and charge fifty cents. These spaces will turn over quickly, meaning more shoppers can visit the center. Those staying longer can park in free spaces further out or in garages, which in many cases are just as close to the stores. Not only will people know about other parking options, but they have an incentive to use them.

Charging for all spaces could potentially backfire so long as a nearby shopping center still offers free parking. But it's a good way to ensure that parking spaces are available for customers. Both the City of Rockville and Providence, Rhode Island, which made public parking free during this year's holiday season, found that lots filled up with Metro commuters or office workers at the expense of shoppers who couldn't find a space.

Long-term plans call for turning Rockville Pike between Shady Grove and White Flint into a string of urban villages akin to those along the Orange Line in Arlington. This will deal with many of the current issues surrounding The Other Pike today as it becomes easier for people to live, work and shop along the corridor without a car. But until that happens, implementing creative ideas like those above could provide quick relief to frustrated shoppers come next Christmas.


Breakfast links: Put your hands up for Detroit

Photo by jbcurio.
Seed money: Can farming save Detroit? A man who lives in the Motor City thinks so, and he's planning to invest $30 million in a for-profit venture to bring large-scale food production within city limits. (Fortune)

Honey, I shrunk the city: Germany's Shrinking Cities Project has produced an infographic video showing the population sprawl and urban form changes that accompany shrinking and sprawling cities. The first and most dramatic city shown in the video is Detroit. (Vimeo via City Parks Blog)

Something to be MADD about?: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, despite seeming to agree that alternatives to driving can reduce the potential for drunk driving, does not take an official position endorsing complete streets, transit, or active transportation. Does the fact that five of the organization's six platinum sponsors are auto-related have anything to do with this? (

Spic-and-span: WMATA's $7.5 million revolving station enhancement program, which began in 1991, aims to keep Metro stations looking clean by repairing or replacing signs, tiles, railings, lights and kiosks. The latest round of improvements are scheduled to be completed in June. (Post, Cavan)

The year in development: A review of the region's real estate development projects in 2009. (DCmud)

Running away from consequences: The pedestrian killed Monday by a hit-and-run driver at 16th Street and Park Road has been identified as Angel Marie Bridges. Among the family and friends she leaves behind is a 14 year-old daughter. Although the car involved in her death has been recovered, the driver remains at large. In response, Council member Graham has repeated calls for DDOT to make changes to the intersection. (WJLA, Columbia Heights listserv)

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What's That? #6: The answers

A quiet week, no winner.

I'm not sure if it's that it got tougher or the light holiday traffic, but no one guessed any of the What's That? images from Sunday's game.

Here are the photo clues from this week's contest with a more inclusive picture below each one. The locales are: The fountain at Theodore Roosevelt Island, entrance to the Center Building at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, and The U.S. Department of Agriculture building in DC (notice the corn plant tops on the columns).

You can see the comments from What's That #6 here.


Reusable bag incentive begins in two days

Friday won't just start a new year and a new decade: It also will start a new era in environmental economic incentives as the nation's first bag charge goes into effect in DC.

Image by DDOE.

Starting Friday, residents will pay 5 cents for each paper or plastic bag, with the revenue going partly to the retailer, partly to administration, and the rest to clean up the Anacostia River.

We stopped in Trader Joe's on the way home from the airport today, and the cashier confirmed they'll be charging. "It's the law," he said, but warmed when I told him I supported the policy. He said he likes it because the money goes to "green programs."

According to the cashier, TJ's will give out free reusable bags during the first week, and will generally offer shoppers a five cent discount for each bag they bring in and use for their purchase. (The law gives retailers 2 cents per 5-cent bag instead of 1 cent if they offer this 5-cent discount.)

Other retailers are getting on board as well. Despite their earlier opposition to the bill, Giant has now gotten on board, appointing a "Green Captain" for each DC store to find opportunities for environmental improvement, offering an estimated 250,000 free reusable bags during the first week in January, and also retaining the 5-cent credit they already offer.

Councilmember Tommy Wells released a list of some of the stores offering promotions tied to the bill. Harris Teeter will give free bags to customers who use their VIC cards and spend more than $20 in January. CVS is distrbuting some of DDOE's reusable bags at various locations and will also give shoppers a $1 coupon for every four times they bring reusable bags. Safeway is distributing bags through local nonprofits. And Target will offer the 5-cent credit for bags customers bring in.

DDOE will continue to distribute its bags throughout January. According to Wells' office, Capitol Hill's business association CHAMPS created bags featuring art by children in Hill schools coinciding with a series of lessons on pollution in the Anacostia. Hill businesses will be selling the bags and using the proceeds to fund more bags and more environmental lessons through the Capitol Hill Green Schools Initiative.

For those of you in DC, what are your local stores saying they will do about bags? Are there other local bag initiatives in your area?

Virginia Delegate Adam Ebbin (D-49th, southern Arlington/Arlandria/Bailey's Crossroads) and Maryland Delegate Al Carr (D-18th, Chevy Chase/Kensington/Wheaton) plan to introduce similar legislation in their states' legislatures shortly after the New Year. Both introduced the bills last year as well, but neither got out of committee.


Breakfast links: Cry me a river, build a bridge

Image courtesy DDOT via JDLand.
Ch-ch-ch-ch changes: DDOT announced yesterday that parking meters will be operational on Saturdays, downtown enforcement will continue until 10:30 PM and most meters will increase the hourly rate to $2 beginning in mid-January. Calling free Saturday parking "one of the city's sweetest freebies," Washington City Paper's Christine MacDonald now fears the possibility of getting to her favorite transit-accessible coffee shops for some Saturday loafing without a car. Boo hoo? (Post, Chris R, City Paper, David A)

Streets are for cars, dummies: Looks like DC has its very own Veronica Moss in Wendy Gordon, who believes that after a snowfall people who get around by bike and on foot - "two-wheeled travelers on a four-wheeled street" - should stay indoors until the white stuff has melted. That way, drivers won't have to be careful enough to avoid hitting them. (The Georgetown Dish)

A safer city: DC's murder rate has dropped 25 percent since last year, continuing a trend seen in most major American cities, including New York and Los Angeles. (MPD-5D Listserv, NY Times, LA Times)

Too old to drive?: Since independence equals automobility in the suburbs, the generation that built suburbia is finding its lifestyle choices have become a prison in old age. Some have put down the keys; others refuse to drive at night or in bad weather. Those who continue to drive are often in danger: AAA reports that, other than teenagers, senior drivers have the highest crash-related death rate per mile. (Post, Abraham M.)

Distracted driver kills cyclist, pays $313: And that's after the driver asked for (but did not receive) a fine reduction. "I just didn't see him" is apparently a good enough excuse for killing someone in Maryland because you had a foggy windshield and were looking for your cigarette lighter. TheWashCycle and Baltimore Spokes have the details.

One road begins, another ends: Yesterday DDOT kicked off construction on the $300 million 11th Street bridge, which will provide a new local connection between the Navy Yard and historic Anacostia, as well as new ramps between the Anacostia and Southeast-Southwest freeways. Also yesterday, Mayor Fenty cut the ribbon on the reopening of Champlain Street through the Marie Reed Community Learning Center in Adams Morgan, which includes a contra-flow bike lane. (JDLand, Housing Complex, David A)

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Then and Now: Anteater statue at the National Zoo

Anteater statue unveiledAnteater statue at National Zoo

The giant anteater statue in front of the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo has been at that location since it was unveiled on March 25, 1938. The historic image captures the moment shortly after that unveiling. The bronze statue is six feet long and three feet high. The participants at the unveiling are identified (from left to right) as sculptor Edwin Springweiler, Dr. Alexander Wetmore of the Smithsonian Institution (who unveiled the sculpture), Head Keeper William Blackburn, and Dr. William M. Mann, Director of the National Zoological Park.

Historic image from the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection.


Growth policy must talk about building community, not formulas

This is a new house for sale.

It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a one-car garage, and a small but flat yard. It's located in an established community with well-kept homes and top-rated schools that look like something out of a movie.

It is affluent, but middle-class by D.C. standards, and it's not very different from other D.C. suburbs with detached houses and lots of cars.

Yet this neighborhood has all the conveniences of a small city. There are two supermarkets within ten blocks. Six blocks to the Metro, bus routes, and a proposed light-rail line. Five blocks to Barnes & Noble, along with two movie theatres, three ice-cream shops, and dozens of restaurants. Four blocks to the high school. Two blocks to a trail leading to the Potomac River and Rock Creek Park.

When you have to drive, the car trips can be short. There are two shopping malls, a major university, premier research facilities, and even national parks within fifteen minutes. The traffic can be bad, but it's not always an issue because everything is so convenient.

Brookville Road, Martin's Additions
Current laws make it nearly impossible for small-scale retail to locate in residential
neighborhoods, like this block of shops in Martin's Additions.

The best part is that you have choices. In this community, some people will travel by car, others by foot or bike, and still others by bus or train. Some will live in a detached house or a townhouse or an apartment. Some will shop at chain stores or independently-owned stores. Some will become involved in the community, while others will seek privacy. Some will choose not to live here at all.

But these choices are only available to those who can afford to live in a community like this. It could be North Woodside in Silver Spring, Del Ray in Alexandria, or Clarendon in Arlington. This house happens to be in the Town of Chevy Chase; over the summer, it was selling for two million dollars. There's so little supply of places like this, and so much demand, that they've become a luxury available only to those who can afford it.

But this lifestyle could be more affordable if it was available to more people within Chevy Chase or in White Flint, Wheaton, Langley Park, Gaithersburg or even in Calverton, where I live. We should be talking about the kind of community we want to live in—its built form, character, and lifestyle—and let those things determine how wide the roads are, the number of people or jobs, or the need for schools. Yet much if not all of the discussion I've witnessed on growth and development in Montgomery County over the past four years has done it the other way around.

Urbanism is not a numbers game. It's the collective result of individual choices made over a period of time. The kind of places we cherish in Montgomery County have largely happened by accident. The county's oldest neighborhoods - Takoma Park, Woodside, Kensington, and Chevy Chase—were created by individuals with ideas about how a place should be.

Bethesda Lane Bad Panorama
Do we prevent good development from happening by trying to legislate away bad development?

They weren't too different from a new planned community in Clarksburg or redeveloped neighborhood like Bethesda Row. But over time these communities could accommodate changes by other individuals with other ideas, giving them a unique, but unanticipated character.

You can't make that happen with formulas, figures and covenants. Nor can you preserve a great community in amber, as some of our civic leaders have tried. It's no surprise that we can't build Chevy Chase again. But it's disappointing that many people think we can by restricting the number of cars on a road, the number of kids in a school, or even the income of people who live there.

That's not to say that we should ignore the condition of our infrastructure. New development may not always cover the cost of new schools and roads, while existing neighborhoods may need public facilities but can't pay for them. Finding new ways to get the amenities we need while allowing our communities to grow and change—as they inevitably will—is the only way for us to move forward.

It doesn't always cost two million dollars to live in a safe, walkable neighborhood with good schools, convenient shopping and excellent transportation. But these kind of communities are often out of reach for many people in this area. If we can stop relying on numbers and let our communities evolve as they must in order to stay alive, they won't have to be.


Breakfast links: Stalled and crashing, but not burning

Photo by muckster.
Pie in the Skyland: The Skyland Town Center mixed-use proposal for Alabama Ave and Good Hope Road SE recently went before the DC Zoning Commission, and delays on the long-planned project are likely to continue. (DCmud)

ACT calls out MoCo DOT: Action Committee for Transit issued a press release (PDF) yesterday outlining how the Montgomery County Department of Transportation has become systematically hostile to transit riders and pedestrians by delaying projects, diverting money and opposing constructive proposals. (Cavan)

More top ten, this time in Maryland: Michael Dresser lists the top ten transportation stories for Maryland in the last decade, and some honorable mentions. (Baltimore Sun)

Steps toward TOD: Steven Vance provides an example of transit-oriented development near a Metra commuter rail station outside Chicago, proving that TOD doesn't have to be complex. In this case, a residential development provides a simple and inexpensive connection to transit when other developments nearby do not. (Steven can plan)

A nickel and two dimes to save commuters time: Dulles Toll Road tolls rise Friday, the first of three to fund the Silver Line to the airport. Governor-Elect McDonnell has suggested tolls to fund future transportation, but NVTA's Bob Chase prefers a gas tax increase, though specifically to build roads rather than transit. (WTOP)

Crash course: Doug Landau, the personal injury attorney who represented eight cyclists ticketed in Loudoun County for failing to obey a stop sign during a charity ride, has published a book about bicycle crashes, how to avoid them, and what to do when they happen. It's available as a free download or a $12 paperback. (FABB)

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Ask GGW: How are the trails? And talk about traffic calming

Reader Simon asks,

Photo by M.V. Jantzen.
Do you have any updates on the status of non-car routes into DC? I understand that most footpaths are clear, thanks to the rain, but that the entrances and exits of such paths can still be blocked by piled up snow making it impassable for wheelchairs, and difficult for pedestrians.

As for biking, I understand that the Capital Crescent Trail is a disaster in the Maryland section, with lots of ice, and basically unusable for bike commuting. Rock Creek's roadway is OK, but the parallel bike/ped path still has a lot of ice, as far as I could see from my driving commute. Do you have any information on these items?

Do you regularly walk or bike on any of these trails and can fill in the status for other readers who might want to use them for commutes or recreation?

And here's another question from reader Kathy in Arlington:

My son, who is in middle school, is doing his science project on traffic calming (his idea, not mine!) and is looking for experts to interview.
If you know a bunch about traffic calming and are willing to talk to Kathy's son, email and I will put you in touch.


Afternoon links: Ending the year, beginning construction

Twinbrook Metro parking lot. Photo by M.V. Jantzen.
MARC explains why not: Michael Dresser gets an explanation from MARC on why they don't allow bikes, which he considers persuasive: they looked at vertical racks near the ends of cars, but that would have required removing some seats. (Baltimore Sun, David A)

Top ten for transit: Dr. Gridlock runs through his picks for the top transit stories of 2009, from the June Red Line crash to NextBus to ICC tolls. (Post)

Killed in Columbia Heights, injured in Rockville: Last night shortly before 1:30 AM, a female pedestrian was killed in a hit-and-run at the intersection of Park Road and 16th Street NW. Less than eight hours later, just before 9:00 AM, two female pedestrians were seriously injured on Champman Avenue in Rockville. The women, ages 20 and 63, were in a crosswalk near the Twinbrook Metro station. Police blamed driver distraction, but it remains unclear what exactly that distraction might have been. (, WJLA)

Great Streets construction: Construction on Pennsylvania Avenue was scheduled to begin this morning, covering two miles from 27th Street to Southern Avenue in Southeast. Among other improvements, one of the avenue's lanes will be turned into a median. View DDOT's Pennsylvania Avenue Great Streets project page for more information. (DDOT)

Free speech on the Metrobus: Stand for Marriage DC, the group headed by Bishop Harry Jackson, has placed ads on Metrobuses that call for a referendum on same-sex marriage in the District. This has led to a split within the city's GLBT community, with some calling on WMATA to remove the ads and others arguing for protection of this speech. (DC Agenda, Post)

Metro and the federal government, together forever: In a Post op-ed, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton notes that last week's snowstorm demonstrated the close relationship between the federal government and Metro, and the importance of ensuring that the federal government lives up to its obligation to fund $1.5 billion of capital costs for Metro.

Tax abatements for Donatelli: As turmoil continues in the real estate market, Ruth Samuelson notes that the DC City Council is set to give final approval on January 5 to tax abatements for apartment and condo developments by Donatelli Development in Petworth and Columbia Heights. (Housing Complex)

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