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Posts from December 2010


Candidates short on details as DCDSC ponders appointment

Amid biting budget forecasts, endemic unemployment in struggling neighborhoods, bursting juvenile crime and many other burdens, DC will fill Kwame Brown's at-large seat as he becomes chair. It's a very important position, one of just 13 men and women who will steer a city of 600,000 through tough times.

Photo by samdupont on Flickr.

The city's Democratic clubhouse of about 80 people, the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC), is in charge of anointing this next at-large councilmember. They'll choose an appointee on January 6. You won't get a crack at voicing your preference for the seat until the citywide special election, open to candidates of any party stripe, on April 26.

For the most part, the candidates for the temporary appointment do not appear to know what they'll do in that seat, for this city, in these challenging days.

That's the cold but unavoidable summary of a recent evening spent with the leading candidates for the DCDSC appointment. Seven candidates presented themselves before the holiday break to a standing-room-only crowd of DCDSC members, guests from the public, and members of the media.

Bruce DePuyt of TBD valiantly attempted to tease out their views on grappling with endemic unemployment, education reform, juvenile crime, the threat of a meddlesome GOP House, the threat of a rattling piggy bank, and every other malady of governance known well to District residents.

With the exception of Sekou Biddle, a member of DC's Board of Education, the candidates presenting themselves simply stated their repeated beliefs that serious issue X or Y "should be looked at," "needed to be addressed," "must be discussed," and more.

I'm fairly certain that looking at tough issues, addressing tough issues, and discussing tough issues were the reasons Bruce DuPuyt and every other soul in the room gathered that evening. Exactly what the candidates thought should be done about any of the serious issues, however, remained a mystery by nightfall.

Most stunning is that these vague rhetorical outputs too often emitted from candidates Vincent Orange and Kelvin Robinson, a former member of Council, and a former Chief of Staff to Mayor Anthony Williams, respectively.

DC's record-setting HIV/AIDS infection rates? Not a word about the struggle to keep reforms moving forward at DC's long-troubled Office of HIV/AIDS Administration—a struggle literally of life or death for thousands of District residents, especially in the wake of the departure of the reformist Dr. Shannon Hader.

Affordable housing? Not a mention of a single policy idea or tool. Versions of "The Rent is Too Damn High" seemed to suffice, as opposed to, say, any mention of inclusionary zoning, defending percentages in new developments for affordable units, protecting displaced residents at locales such as Barry Farm, or perhaps beefing up DC's Office of the Tenant Advocate.

Juvenile crime? The candidates wish to break the news to you that it is occurring, and that troubled youth would probably benefit by way of some options in filling their recreational time. Congratulations to the candidates, however, for actually referencing an agency name in this instance: DC's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. Specifics, it seems, may wait.

Biddle provided the evening's only standout policy suggestion: that earmarks from members of Council should perhaps die, having too often wallowed in a lack of programmatic accountability. Biddle also stood out for articulating the cold truths of unemployment in the District: that job growth is actually not the most serious challenge, rather it is a question of hacking away at literacy and other achievement gaps in equipping more residents for steady employment.

Council business that is finished and done, such as the bag tax or street cars, provided light piñata fare for some. Meanwhile, legislative fantasy appears on the horizon for others, like a special tax for Members of Congress, shutting down the 14th Street Bridge until we achieve a commuter's tax, erecting a massive public hospital with God-knows-what funds that simply don't exist, and doing something or other about the prices of all those new condos around town.

Through the cold fog of all this, what emerges for now: Sekou Biddle holds the greatest promise, but must demonstrate policy grasp beyond his comfort zone of education. Kelvin Robinson and Vincent Orange manage to convey the impression they haven't previously wrestled with the city's challenges, policy solutions, or even agencies.

Former ANC1B Commissioner Stanley Mayes puts forward rhetoric equal in quality to that of Orange and Robinson (take from that what you may). Civic activist Calvin Gurley is able to chew the notional fat in a somewhat engrossing manner, and School Board member Dorothy Douglas brings a big heart and the homespun flavor. Saul Solorzano's candidacy only raises the question of DC's latino population deserving a stronger place in our fabric of governance.

The one selected by the DCDSC on January 6 will have a tremendous leg up on competitors for the citywide election in April. The tragedy and the promise of the District teeter on a fulcrum right now. The DCDSC's decision, and then yours in April, could scarcely be more important.


Will smart growth or sprawl win in 2011?

In our last post, we talked about the top 5 smart growth victories of 2010. More and more people are looking for vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods where walking, biking, and transit are real options.

Photo by Civil War Preservation Trust on Flickr.

In the year ahead, will our leaders maintain the momentum for smart growth? Or will they make decisions that mean a return to sprawling development, more traffic, higher energy use and the continuation of the east-west economic divide?

Our pick for the top threat of 2011: Location decisions made in a vacuum, as highlighted in this Post story. These decisions include BRAC, Science City, and other government, corporate, university and hospital location decisions that lack adequate transit, increase traffic, and are simply unaffordable and unsustainable. Couple this with the push in Maryland and Virginia to spend billions more on highways that don't reduce congestion, and we have a recipe for more sprawl.

Our one wish for 2011: That officials and civic and business leaders will continue to implement transit-oriented communities with better linkages between jobs and housing, invest more in transit, walking and bicycling, and set us firmly on a course to become the most energy efficient, and environmentally and fiscally sustainable region in the nation.

With all those things in mind, here are what we see as the biggest opportunities and challenges in 2011:

The Region: The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) made great strides with its Region Forward sustainability plan and studies (study one and study two PDFs) that show a network of walkable/bikeable, transit-oriented centers reduces the amount we have to drive and offers more options for getting around. Two things need to happen in 2011:

  1. COG's update to its Regional Activity Centers has to focus on transit-oriented centers, revitalization of older commercial corridors, and walkable urban design.
  2. We have to stop stapling together state transportation project wish-lists and instead produce a plan based on the transportation projects that meet COG's sustainability goals.
Meanwhile, expect John "Til" Hazel's 2030 Group to announce a renewed push for an outer beltway, for a regional transportation authority led by unaccountable appointees, and for dedicating more funding to highways, not transit.

Focus has to instead be on adequate funding for Metro and other transit, maintenance and operations of our existing roads and transit, and those new projects that best support transit-oriented, energy efficient development patterns. We also hope our local officials will maintain a central role in governing Metro and that the attempt to shift power to less-transit friendly state authorities in Virginia fails.

Prince George's County: With new, reform-minded leadership at the helm, we look forward to progress on a number of fronts. Certainly we'd like to see implementation of the housing reforms highlighted in our Building Stronger Communities report. We also have high hopes that all sectors are coming together to make transit-oriented development happen at Prince George's 15 underutilized Metro stations, as highlighted in our Invest Prince George's report.

Governor O'Malley, Metro, Prince George's officials, the business and smart growth communities, and the federal General Services Administration are coming together to finally get TOD on track in Prince George's. Among the new initiatives is the federal Housing and Urban Development grant for planning redevelopment along the southern Green Line Metro corridor to Branch Avenue.

TOD and moving forward with the Purple Line must be a higher priority than the types of sprawling, traffic generating developments recently approved outside the Beltway in Prince George's. Concurrently, we hope to see a more transparent, unbiased, and consistent approach to development review to give the public and private sectors greater confidence in the process, and attract more investment.

Montgomery County: A pioneering leader in planning for transit-oriented development, preservation of agricultural land, and inclusionary zoning for affordable housing, Montgomery County often seems pulled in different directions today.

Major highway expansion is proposed including widening I-270 at a cost of $3.4 billion, extending the Mid-County Highway and building the 28/198 connection (ICC 2?), and development approvals have included both the transit-oriented White Flint and the far flung "Science City." And with a new upcounty hospital proposed, will it be in a walkable, mixed-use center?

In 2011 we need to ensure that transit-oriented development returns as the top priority for funding and incentives, that more jobs are encouraged at transit-oriented locations on the underserved east side of the county, that the Purple Line and a set of bus-priority corridors moves forward, and that the Agricultural Reserve receives expanded protection and investment in value-added production.

The county's Department of Transportation will need to be more supportive of complete streets, local street networks and transit-oriented communities.

Fairfax County: We're all excited that the Tysons Corner Plan passed, but now it's time to get moving. We need to get the urban design details right, to make sure Tysons is a great place for pedestrian life at the street level. Routes 7 and 123 are still planned as 8-lane virtual highways through the heart of Tysons. We urgently need to shift to a boulevard design.

The "Future of Fairfax" and other area counties will be found in the vast parking lots of their strip commercial corridors. These are the places where we can create walkable communities that absorb growth while protecting suburban neighborhoods, protecting forests and streams, and reducing traffic.

We hope the County will move forward with a major vision-planning initiative for Route 1, linking transit, land use, housing, economic development and the environment. Investment initiatives also need to accelerate for Springfield, Bailey's Crossroads, Annandale, Seven Corners and Merrifield.

New county directors of planning and transportation will be hired. They need to be committed leaders in implementing smart growth and transit-oriented communities.

Loudoun, Prince William, Frederick and Charles Counties: The real estate crisis hit the outer counties hard and the powerful demographic and market shifts seen by the real estate industry (PDF) could mean more challenges ahead. Market demand for large suburban houses in distant locations will remain weak.

The key to future competitiveness is protecting invaluable scenic and historic landscapes, restoring historic downtowns, and creating a few mixed-use, walkable centers in the right places. Examples include Loudoun's two future Metro stations, Woodbridge, Manassas and the Innovation center in Prince William, continued revitalization of downtown Frederick, and the mixed-use plan for Waldorf's sprawling commercial strip corridor.

Unfortunately, both Loudoun and Prince William counties are on course to plan and approve far too many centers than the market can support. Loudoun also proposes an unaffordable $2 billion road expansion plan. Prince William keeps pushing for the Outer Beltway. They call it their "road to Dulles," but it lands miles west of Dulles whose entrance is on the east side.

The highway, called the Tri-County Parkway, 234 Bypass, Battlefield Bypass and Western Bypass, would destroy the setting of Manassas National Battlefield on the eve of the 150-year anniversary of two of the most significant battles of the Civil War. We should focus should instead on street networks for local activity and on transit investments for the radial commuting corridors of I-95 and I-66. VRE, HOV/slugging, and rapid bus transit are the keys to accomplishing these goals, not necessarily the conversion to private toll roads as proposed by the state.

District of Columbia: A lot of people are wondering if the new mayor and council will continue the momentum started by the last two administrations for cyclists, pedestrians and transit users. These progressive policies not only need to continue, but they must benefit all areas of the District, including east of the Anacostia. DC's economic competitiveness and ability to attract people from around the world is tied to its expanding sustainable transportation and planning initiatives.

Ensuring that there are affordable housing and job benefits from major projects like waterfront revitalization and St. Elizabeth's development should be a top priority. Protecting the social safety net, continuing education initiatives, and restoring and expanding affordable housing programs are essential.

The city's housing trust fund needs to be restored, affordable units preserved, and new affordable workforce housing built in conjunction with new development. D.C. is emerging as one of the world's great, diverse and green cities. Let's ensure everyone benefits.

Arlington, Alexandria, College Park, Rockville, Falls Church and more: Arlington County continues its cutting-edge sustainable growth and Alexandria plans a transit future. Meanwhile, many of the smaller cities and towns within our region share similar goals.

Our historic towns have the fabric to support the sort of walkable, bikeable and transit-accessible communities that are so much in demand, but they need to welcome development designed to the right form and scale, invest in "complete street" networks, adopt the right parking policies, and ensure the right mix of uses.

Do these communities have adequate funding support from the states and the flexibility they need from state and local departments of transportation? There's Route 1 in College Park, Broad Street in Falls Church, Rockville Pike, Maple Street in Vienna, Old Town City of Fairfax and their Route 50 "Boulevard," and more. Will 2011 be the year where we solve the puzzle and move forward with the right development and transportation solutions?

Will we see more smart growth or more sprawl? What do you think?


Is Rhee's new project on the right track?

Several weeks ago, former DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee topped off her media blitz by unveiling her new venture, StudentsFirst, on Oprah. With this grand annoucement, local residents got a peek at her vision to take her agenda to the national level.

Photo by angela n. on Flickr.

At times, I've been a fan of Rhee's passion and drive, but on some occasions, her methods have pushed me towards skepticism. Unfortunately, this newest venture has only amplified my hesitation.

In the Newsweek piece that complemented her televised pitch, Rhee says that she was "stunned" when Fenty lost the election. Really? It's remarks like these that cost her points when it comes to communicating political savvy, casting further doubts on her ability to effectively steer what seems like a lobbying organization.

During her tenure, Rhee did make efforts to listen to the community and hear from parents, teachers, and principals. Although the media spin paints her as completely disconnected from the ground level, she and her staff did spend a hefty amount of time outside the central office.

I'm glad that she isn't crawling away into the shadows. Her ability to grab the spotlight helped her fundraise and drew well-deserved attention to the issues facing our schools.

The problem is that her mantra of putting the needs of students before the needs of grown-ups is too polarizing. You're either with her or against her. And while her action-oriented leadership may have its benefits, it doesn't leave much room for those who may have a different (but potentially valid) perspective towards what's best for their children.

For the most part, I found myself agreeing with those who suggested that her vision might be well intentioned but overly simplified, failing to deeply examine what it is that she's promoting and the nuances behind her claims. The type of education that she'd like students to have can't be boiled down to test scores, or a glut of bad teachers, or vague notions of equal access.

The issues are more complicated than her mission allows us to explore. How can I sign up to support her cause if I'm unable to understand exactly what she's intending to do, other than raise money and generate additional rhetoric?

If she can achieve her goal of gaining a million supporters and raising a billion dollars in just one year, she will certainly have solidified her image as a powerful force within education reform. A piece of me hopes that she will be successful. After all, I'm happy anytime the country starts to care more deeply about the type of experience students are having within our schools, or tries to energize others around these problems.

Her famous quote that "collaboration and consensus-building are quite frankly over-rated" recognizes that waiting around to get every last person on the same page can greatly impede progress, especially when trying to get past self-serving interests. But is she the right person to transition into a grassroots advocacy role, after earning a reputation as a tough-as-nails executive?

Here's what I'd like to see her do, improving on areas where she fell short within DC:

  • Generate conversation with like-minded organizations. I don't see many solid partnerships prominently listed on her site, which screams "trail-blazer" much more loudly than anything else.
  • Channel funds towards boosting the infrastructure of school districts that are ill-equipped to maximize the value of the information they are collecting, fully implement promising initiatives, and operate more efficiently.
  • Encourage ongoing collaboration with research and evaluation experts that can help her understand the evidence for or against policy decisions, rather than taking data at face value.
  • Follow through on her emphasis on parental and community engagement, showing the world that she's more willing to connect than they might think.
For right now, however, my mouse will continue to hover over the "join" button on her home page, waiting to see how her big announcement plays out. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it ends up benefiting kids everywhere.


Walmart shows conceptual renderings for Ward 7 store

Following Walmart's announcement that they will build four stores in the District of Columbia, few details were available about the Capitol View location, until recently.

Image from Walmart.

Walmart's Keith Morris presented at a forum held by Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander on December 18. While most of the community concerns centered on living wage jobs and contracting with local businesses, there was little discussion of the renderings Walmart provided.

My initial thought was this would look great on my alma mater's campus more than near the Capitol Heights Metro. It may not look like a typical suburban Wal-mart, but neither does anything indicate that this is an urban area.

The property, located at 58th St and East Capitol St NE, is surrounded by townhomes and a senior housing. Between the existing landscape and the development potential at the Capitol Heights Metro located steps from the proposed site, I expected more of a town center look and feel.

Top: upper walkway and main entry. Bottom: lower walkway entry. Images provided by Walmart.

The first community-led meeting will be tonight, Wednesday December 29, 2010, 6:30 to 8:00 pm at Maya Angelou Charter School (Evans Campus) at 5600 East Capitol St, NE. Assuming cellphone reception, I will live tweet from @Dizzyluv25.


Breakfast links: Stepping up

Photo by elstudio on Flickr.
Tysons working to be more bikable: Fairfax County is implementing a long-term plan to improve cycling conditions across the county, starting in Tysons. They will place bike racks and lockers at the four Tysons Metro stations, lanes & other markings on streets and possibly even bike-safety questions on driver's license exams. (Post, Paul C)

Escalator work accelerating: Metro will repair 8 escalators, 4 each at Gallery Place-Chinatown and Union Station, on an accelerated schedule, using two shifts of workers to shorten repairs from 12 to 8 weeks. (Dr. Gridlock)

Cold keeps shelters full: 2010 has been significantly colder than last year, and that has kept homeless shelters busy and nearly overwhelmed. The upside is that agencies can offer other counseling and various assistance while people are in the shelter. (WAMU)

DC Schools' COO departs: After 18 months as chief operating officer at DCPS, retired Brigadier General Tony Tata is leaving to become Superintendent of the Wake County, NC school system. A number of other Michelle Rhee hires have left in the past few weeks, but key Rhee advisors Kaya Henderson, Jason Kamras, Erin McGoldrick, and Abigail Smith have stuck around. (Post)

Others find same DC population shift: NeighborhoodInfo DC has crunched ACS data to come up with demographic estimates for each of DC's Wards. Their estimates for population change match the analysis we published two weeks ago. If the estimates that Ward 1 shrank while Ward 6 has grown the most are inaccurate, it must come from margins of error in the original data. (Rob Pitingolo)

Travel options on New Years Eve: Metro will be open until 3 am on Friday (and Saturday) night, but will operate on Sunday headways. SoberRide will offer free cab rides home, though these or any other taxi can be nigh on impossible to snag. (TBD)

Norton will fight through 2012: DC's Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is proud of her accomplishments during the last 2 years of Democratic control. Though she expects to lose her vote in the Committee of the Whole in the new House, she will continue to push for voting rights for DC. (WAMU)

And...: Residential property values in Maryland dropped a whopping 22% over the last three years. Outer exurbs in Prince George's saw drops of 35%. (WTOP) ... The New York Ave. bridge in Northeast will get an arboreal accent come 2012. (City Paper) ... Victor Ramirez, state Senator-elect from Prince George's, will sponsor a bill to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. (WTOP)

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Downtown posts big gains in housing units

Recent American Community Survey data reveal strong growth in the number of housing units in downtown Washington and adjacent neighborhoods. Of the 10 census tracts that saw the greatest net increase in units, 9 are located within the area covered by the L'Enfant Plan.

After comparing the housing unit numbers from the 2000 census and the recent ACS averages for 2005-2009, we found that Wards 3 and 7 barely changed overall while all the other wards gained a significant number of new units.

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2005 - 2009.

The change in housing units is a important number because it signals where residential real estate development is occurring in the city. The greater the net increase in units, the greater the investment during the past decade.

While each of the eight wards must by law contain one-eighth of the city's population, the graph above shows that the number of housing units per ward varies significantly. The greater the number of units in a ward, the smaller the average household size. Despite the fact that Ward 1 gained housing units, the same ACS data found that the ward's population and occupied housing units actually fell, thus suggesting the replacement of large families with small families and singles and a slow transition of residents into new housing units.

The latest data also reveal that the greatest increases in housing are occurring in some of the densest areas of the city. Since DC is nearly all built out, new housing usually appears when bigger buildings are built on old sites and where existing buildings (often rowhouses) are converted into multi-unit residences.

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2005 - 2009.

Whereas much of the housing growth in the suburbs and exurbs comes in the form of single-family houses, DC's big growth centers are adding apartment and condo buildings.

A single project has the ability to increase the population of one city block significantly, especially in the areas where zoning laws permit taller buildings. Recall that much of the city is zoned to restrict building heights far below the Federally set height limit.

Downtown, for instance, is far better known for its restaurants, offices, and entertainment venues than for its housing. Even still, the two tracts that cover Metro Center, Penn Quarter, Chinatown, and Judiciary Square were some of the biggest winners of new units.

The neighborhoods immediately north of Massachusetts Avenue NW and east of 16th Street NW saw big gains, too. These areas include Logan Circle, Mount Vernon Triangle, parts of U Street, and the area west of the Convention Center.

These neighborhoods are already walkable and well served by transit and an emerging bike infrastructure. The reason that the number of units increased sharply in places like Logan Circle but very little in Dupont Circle and Georgetown is that these latter areas have been built-up for several decades now. The past decade, in contrast, has seen development expand eastward and these housing numbers reflect this shift.

Keep in mind that these numbers only reflect the averages for the years 2005-2009. When the Census Bureau releases tract-level data for Census 2010 in the coming months, we expect to see areas like the Navy Yard posting sharp gains.


Will Thomas push for local business and good urban design?

Harry Thomas, Jr. will lead the DC Council's Committee on Economic Development next year. In a press release, Thomas notes his plans to continue "building on what he has accomplished in this area for Ward 5." The trouble is, Thomas' development record in Ward 5 is spotty, at best.

Councilmember Thomas. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.

Suburban-style, big box-anchored retail development is scattered throughout Ward 5, such as Rhode Island Place, Rhode Island Avenue Center, and Hechinger Mall.

With part of Thomas' new duties including oversight of the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), one might expect him to focus on revitalizing the city's struggling commercial corridors. Instead, we have a Councilmember who has often championed more of the status quo.

In his November 15 testimony before the DC Zoning Commission on proposed car and bike parking regulations in the zoning code, Thomas said,

"I have recently spoken with representatives of several retailers who are interested in developing large, multi-tenant shopping centers in the District.... There are ... a number of locations in Ward 5 and other outlying Wards with blocks of land large enough to accommodate these developments, but without convenient access to Metrorail. Placing a cap on parking citywide, in a one-size-fits-all approach, would limit the desirability of these locations and have an adverse economic impact on the District."
We now know that Thomas was alluding to Dakota Crossing, with a planned 3,000 surface parking spaces, as well as the still developing plans for four Walmarts.

At the same time, Thomas knows very well what progressive urban infill looks like, and has helped usher it in during his tenure in Ward 5. Rhode Island Station, The Flats at Atlas District, and developments near Catholic University build on a multi- and mixed-use platform with retail space for small, local businesses.

While we continue to hear Thomas' lip service about the jobs and tax revenues that will be brought by new big boxes, our main streets continue to flounder. The Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets Initiative, for example, seems to have fallen off of DMPED's radar.

Can Thomas, who will have oversight of DMPED as Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, push for movement on a plan that could link the District's side of this important gateway with the revitalization that is happening just across the border in Mt. Rainier and Hyattsville?

While Brookland's 12th Street NE commercial strip received streetscape improvements, it still struggles to attract new businesses. North Capitol Main Street, Inc. continues to make strides in promoting local businesses, but will it find itself competing against a suffocating surge in big box, large-scale infill?

Will economic development East of the River under Thomas be focused on a blend of large- and small-scale development, or will bigger continue to be touted as better?

Thomas has proven an ability to work with developers and corporations on large projects. He knows the language of urban design and of Main Street commercial revitalization.

Unfortunately, a disconnect appears to exist between Thomas' advocacy for the bigger players and the smaller operators necessary to foster vital, dense cores in our neighborhoods. As he leads the Committee on Economic Development for the next four years, his actions will speak louder than words, particularly as we work our way out of the current recession.

Without a balance of both local and national retail outlets, small- and large-scale development, we will continue to see big box nodes favored to the detriment of our underutilized retail corridors, and we simply cannot afford that.


New streetcar brings gentrification fears to Lego City

Fifty years after they were first ripped out, streetcars returned to Lego City on Christmas Day. While they bring the promise of new jobs and increased mobility, fears of unwanted changes are building.

Photos by thecourtyard on Flickr.

"I know this is what you've been looking forward to," said Dan Reed's mom, newly-appointed director of the Lego City Department of Transportation, as the twenty-something graduate student assembled the bright blue tram. "Look at him playing with his toys."

The recently-opened Line 55, the first segment of a proposed citywide streetcar system, connects affluent Bricktown to Blocky Farm, a housing project in Southeast Lego City. Though they come every ten minutes, the seven-seat trolley is standing-room only throughout the day.

Nowhere are the effects of the new streetcar more evident than the Brick Street corridor, located near Lego City's main Public Transport Station. Since the trams started running Christmas Day, a skateboard shop, coffeehouse and gourmet pizzeria have opened.

Hip minifigures sip wine in sidewalk cafes as bright young toys on red bikes click by. Massive new condominiums built from Duplo blocks tower over the neighborhood's iconic, multi-colored rowhouses.

Ashley Lyman just moved to Brick Street and says her favorite part of the neighborhood is the activity. "I used to live in [suburban] Blockville and just sit in my big, pink house after dark," she says. "Here, there's always something happening! And I'm embarrassed to say it, but I hear [big box retailer] Blockmart is moving in and I can't wait."

Some established residents are frustrated by the changes, complaining that not every minifigure in Lego City benefits from them.

60-year-old Sarah Belk earned her nickname "the Mayor" for starting a neighborhood watch on Brick Street during the 1980's. "I've been a street sweeper, a doctor, and a pirate, but my taxes are so high, every brick I make goes right out the door again," she says. "What good is this new stuff for me? Lego City is trying to run us hard-working people out of here."

Henry Floyd, columnist for the Lego City Post and a resident of Brick Street, is opposed to the streetcar. He says the overhead arms and hands that power the tram ruins the area's "historic" viewsheds, but more importantly, that the entire project is a waste of money. "There are lots of ways to get around Lego City, but we can't all give them each their own lane," he says. "What's next? A lane for horses? For helicopters and boats and spaceships?"

"Kids in Lego City are being failed by our nonexistent public schools," he adds. "When is Dan's mom gonna buy him something useful, like a police station set?"

Some hope that minifigures on Brick Street will finally click the old and new together.

Local blogger Alex Block has lived there for five years, rehabbing old houses covered in childish crayon graffiti. "People like to focus on our differences," he says. "Some of us carry around giant phones. Some of us wear race car helmets. Some of us don't have eyebrows or noses. But we're all yellow and plastic on the inside."


Breakfast links: Feds pay up

Photo by WSDOT on Flickr.
Feds speed up Silver Line funding: The Federal Transit Administration announced early funding for Dulles Metrorail of nearly $20 million yesterday. With accelerated funding, the agency hopes to reduce costs, speed construction and provide regional investment. (Dr. Gridlock)

Congress orders feds to pay stormwater fees: Last week at the end of the lame-duck session, Congress passed a bill requiring federal agencies to pay local impervious surface area charges. DC Water was battling the EPA, arguing it couldn't meet requirements for stormwater quality without federal agency fees. (Switchboard, from NRDC)

Transit can never be fully secured: Policymakers and security experts acknowledge that mass transit will never be fully secured environment in the way air travel is. Some riders wouldn't mind more screening though, according to USA Today, which asked one man from Pennsylvania who took 24 trips on subway, Amtrak, and other trains last year, and who is afraid "a terrorist" could "demolish New York's Penn Station."

Glenmont getting garage: Metro will break ground on a new 1200-space parking garage at the Glenmont station. The current garage fills early forcing riders to drive to other stations to park and likely deterring some from riding at all. (Dr. Gridlock)

Silver Spring still debating library ped bridge: Advocates say the skywalk between the new Silver Spring library and its parking garage across Wayne Avenue is necessary to facilitate access for people with disabilities to the Disability Resource Center to be housed in the building. (TBD)

Car passenger pulls gun on pedestrians: When a mother had words for a driver who nearly hit her and her son in the parking lot of Potomac Mills Mall, the passenger of the car pulled a gun on the pair. (TBD)

Are film incentives worth it?: The new film How Do You Know, which received $1.4 million in DC tax dollars, was panned by critics and bombed in theaters. Should DC be spending money on film incentives, particularly given that states like Pennsylvania and New York can offer even the worst movies multimillion-dollar incentive packages? (TBD)

Buy America makes HSR costly: Buy America regulations essentially double the cost of acquiring high-speed trainsets, or any other rail rolling stock. (Systemic Failure) ... Stephen Smith is disappointed we cheer on HSR projects despite this. (Market Urbanism)

And...: $1.8 million in HUD grants will fund housing counseling programs to help the homeless and those facing foreclosure. (WAMU) ... The Federal Highway Administration has begun studying temporarily converting shoulders into traffic lanes. (WTOP) ... An appeals court ruled that Arlington did not violate the establishment clause by awarding affordable housing funds to an apartment building whose board is partially appointed by the adjacent church. (WTOP)

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Then and Now: Snow plows

Snow plows ca. 1925Snow Plows at RFK Stadium

Left: Ford Motor Company snow plow equipment ca. 1925 in front of the District Building. Photo from the Library of Congress. Right: DDOT snow plows in front of RFK stadium, November 5, 2010. Photo from the DDOTDC Flickr pool.

The image below, also from the DDOTDC flickr pool, shows a Caterpillar Loader used in snow removal efforts from February 9, 2010:

Snow Removal
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