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Posts from December 2012


New Year's Eve links: Encourage cycling

Photo by jaymallinphotos on Flickr.
GW provides parking for bikes but not cars: A planned George Washington University 900-bed residence hall will have 132 parking spots for bikes but none for cars. (WBJ)

WABA seeks funds for woman riders: WABA is fundraising to encourage more women cyclists with a $4000 matching supporter. Today is the last day to donate and they are a little more than halfway to that matching goal. You can give here. (WABA, Certifried)

Brace yourself bicyclists, winter is coming: Winter weather can bring hazardous conditions but you can still bike in them as long as you stay safe by increasing your stopping distance and be aware of drivers who can't stop. (Patch)

Still not great for young black men: While the murder rate overall in DC was down, black men in their 20s had a 1 in 734 chance of being murdered this year. While that may be a record low, they are still not good odds. (R.U. Seriousing Me?)

Tops in 2012 transportation: The Post gives their top 10 transportation stories of 2012 which include Rush Plus and the L Street bike lane. Richard Layman responds and has his own list of top stories.

Not your typical day on Metro: Metro had an eventful Thursday evening and Friday morning with a woman going into labor, a train striking a deer, and a driver in a stolen car crashing into a Metrobus. All of this was in addition to the foiled bank robbery getaway. (Post)

How not to build light rail: The light rail line in San Jose has the fewest riders, relative to cost of construction and operation, of any in the country and the blame can be laid on the area's spread-out land use pattern. (San Jose Mercury-Times, Ben Ross)

Tea Party weakens: After suffering electoral defeats and seeing its political influence wane, the Tea Party will focus on narrower issues like opposing Agenda 21. (NYT)

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Transit fights crime

A lot of suburban areas around the nation once (and, in some places, still) opposed building transit lines because they feared it would bring crime. We know that's bogus, but got another piece of evidence today.

Photo by alesacm on Twitter.

DCist reports that a man robbed a Wells Fargo bank on K Street this morning, then tried to get away by Red Line train. MPD asked Metro to hold the trains, and the agency promptly robbed the man of his choice of getaway vehicle.

This is an example of what was already obvious to most thinking people: transit is a less appealing mode of transit for robberies, not an invitation to commit them. Generally, the people who used (or still use) this argument against transit were (or are) white suburbs afraid of they darker-skinned people they associated (or still associate) with transit.

They warned that a rail line to a wealthy town would lead people from the scary inner city to take the train up, rob people, then speed away by train. This ignores the obvious fact that any criminal who tries to escape by transit is putting himself in a perfect container for police to close off and capture him.


Best of 2012 in the Flickr pool

This year, terrific photos flowed into the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, helping us showcase the best and worst of the Washington region. Here are 10 of our favorites submitted in 2012.

Chinatown. Photo by Dan McQuade.

Four Corners Safeway - Silver Spring. Photo by Andrew-Benson.

Taste of DC. Photo by caroline.angelo.

U Street Metro. Photo by pablo.raw.

Prosperity Avenue - Merrifield. Photo by thisisbossi.

Fairlington. Photo by Michael T. Ruhl.

H Street. Photo by mosley.brian.

Georgetown. Photo by Caitlin H. Faw.

Sheridan-Kalorama. Photo by randomduck.

Union Station. Photo by Vileinist.

If you have pictures that depict the best or worst of the Washington region, we encourage you to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos.


Breakfast links: Transportation projects for the new year

Image from VDOT.
VA's Outer Beltway coming: Officials displayed plans to build Virginia's portion of the Outer Beltway, from Loudoun to Prince William. Nearby landowners are eager to build new sprawl subdivisions along its length. (Post)

What counties want: Both Montgomery and Prince George's want more transportation funding from the coming state legislative session, for the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and roads at National Harbor. Rushern Baker also hopes to win right to levy a 5¢ bag fee. (Post)

More info on Jack's: The Park Service says they canceled Jack's boathouse lease
because the owner's name isn't even on it and they want to switch to a modern concession contract. The owner says NPS didn't return calls or letters about it over the past few months after first giving conflicting information. (Post, City Paper)

Arlington peaking?: Despite 3 decades of growth, and continuing development, a University of Virginia study projects Arlington's population will fall in each of the next 3 decades. What trends account for that prediction? (Sun Gazette)

Year's most annoying in development: The City Paper dubs the zoning rewrite "much ado about nothing" (lots of conflict for a tiny change), parking exceptions "most tedious" (they're almost always granted, but only after a very long process), and Howard Town Center's $11 million abatement the "least-necessary tax break."

Regulations make alley living pricey: Toronto tried to legalize alley dwellings that could be built for only $100,000 per unit, but laws and review boards added fees and restrictions that can add hundreds of thousands to the cost. (Toronto Star)

DC faces higher fiscal cliff: DC's concentration of federal government jobs mean that the area would be the hardest-hit in the event of a "fiscal cliff." According to Mayor Gray, DC tax revenue could fall by $50 million. (WAMU)

And...: Ike Leggett wants to start funding BRT studies. (Gazette) ... Richmond gives the Redskins training camp final approval. (WBJ) ... SoberRides will be available through New Year's Eve. (Examiner) ... One of Annapolis' "trolley" tour operators is shutting down to avoid having to give tours to same-sex married couples. (DCist)

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Greatest Greatest Hits: Your favorite posts of 2012

Greater Greater Washington published 824 posts and 285 breakfast (or other) links so far in 2012. What were your favorites? Here are the ones that racked up the most pageviews, comments, tweets and likes:

Photo by Elly Blue on Flickr.

Most commented: After a man riding a bike hit and killed an elderly woman walking on the Four Mile Run Trail, we discussed what we could do to make trails safer, including how cyclists should properly warn pedestrians they are passing. You responded with 390 comments.

Rob Pitingolo's musings about fringe suburbs in decline generated 236 comments. When Herb Caudill refuted arguments that District policy is "anti-car" you had 211 things to say, and there were 208 comments on Dan Reed's discussion of millennials' housing needs and a reader's report that WMATA didn't take her seriously after a bus driver hit her while she was cycling.

Images by David Daddio.

Most read: David Daddio analyzed how people use Capital Bikeshare, and since April, this one post racked up over 51,800 views to the post page itself (not counting people who read it on the home page and RSS feeds). It got attention on Planetizen, Reddit, Next American City (now Next City) and more.

Runners-up for highest-traffic posts include Dan Reed's millennial post which also scored #4 on most-commented, an analysis and map of dying malls by Dan Malouff, Bradley Heard's summary of the Cafritz project in Riverdale Park and how it fits into Prince George's TOD strategy (or lack thereof), and historic names for DC neighborhoods, such as "Pipetown" and "Bloody Hill," by Kimberly Bender.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Most tweeted: Over 204 people retweeted Herb Caudill's amazing essay on so-called "anti-car" policies, including folks from all around the country, since his points are just as salient in almost every other city as they are here. It's worth a read at any time.

The Twitterati also clearly are very into open data. They got very excited about the real-time arrival screens Eric Fidler put together on a fellowship for Arlington County Commuter Services and Capital Bikeshare agreeing to release data in an anonymized form that enabled all kinds of people to put together great visualizations; these clocked in at #2 and #3 on total tweets.

Rounding out the top most-tweeted articles are ones by Christine Green on how planners are advancing public health and a very short post on a clearly hot-button issue, the fact that DC now has more people than Vermont and Wyoming, but 3 fewer votes in Congress than each state.

Photo by allison_dc on Flickr.

Most liked: Some different subjects interest people on Facebook than on Twitter, while others interest them all. The top "liked" post was the one on DC being bigger than Vermont, and it was also the 5th most tweeted.

However, 673 people liked Dan Reed's post on the National Labor College going on the market, while only 5 people tweeted it. (Maybe that's because the original title, which Facebook shows, is "College for Sale" (intriguing!) while the tweet was "National Labor College move presents development opportunity for Hillandale" (eh!))

You also really liked the historic neighborhood names like Pipetown (by Kimberly Bender), the recent revelation of Montgomery County school officials freaking out over a 5th grader riding Ride-On to school, and, once again, Herb Caudill on car-dependence.

Many thanks go out to all of these contributors and the many, many more who submitted posts that might not have made the top 5 in one of these categories, but which still informed, entertained, engaged, or energized readers about one of many important topics.


Hill East changes tune on commercial strip

Do you want "commercial" uses in your neighborhood? Proposals for corner stores or commercial zoning can yield some great enthusiasm or strong antipathy. Often, this seems to depend on whether their experiences with local businesses have been good or bad.

Pretzel Bakery. Photo by Brian Flahaven.

In one part of Capitol Hill, residents once wanted to rezone 15th Street SE to eliminate an existing commercial strip, but 10 years later, many feel much more affectionately about the neighborhood businesses that have opened, and might prefer to keep the commercial strip around.

ANC Commissioner Brian Flahaven explains the history of zoning debates around this commercial corridor:

For most of the past decade, residents' experience with retail along this corridor has been negative. In the early 2000s, residents complained about crime and loitering around the now defunct New Dragon restaurant. And some residents also voiced concern that developers were taking advantage of the commercial zoning to build tall residential-only buildings along the corridor (C-2-A allows buildings up to 50 feet high compared to 40 feet for R-4).

In 2003, ANC 6B supported a request made by several frustrated 15th Street residents to rezone 15th Street SE from the commercial C-2-A to the residential R-4.

Current zoning in Hill East. Image from the DC Zoning Map.

The Zoning Commission did not change the zoning, but DC's Comprehensive Plan started showing the area as residential, rather than commercial or mixed-use.

Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use Map.

When the Office of Planning finishes the zoning update, it could be an opportunity to change the zoning. But do residents still want that? Flahaven thinks perhaps not:

This past year saw the opening of two popular food establishments along the corridor—The Pretzel Bakery and Crepes on the Corner. The Pretzel Bakery (340 15th Street SE) has been a huge hit. And while Crepes on the Corner (257 15th Street SE) unfortunately closed, most Hill East residents I've talked to enjoyed having a place to grab coffee and lunch in the neighborhood. Southeast Market (1500 Independence Ave SE) was also recently sold and renovated. All three of these establishments are or were positive additions to the neighborhood.

While 15th Street will never be a Barracks Row, I can certainly envision a future time when the corridor acts as a small neighborhood serving commercial zone located halfway between the heavier retail activity around Eastern Market and the future retail activity on Reservation 13. Rezoning 15th Street to R-4 would eliminate future opportunities for restaurants, cafes and shops along the corridor.

With a change in the retail mix, people can now see the commercial corridor as a positive contribution to the neighborhood rather than a blight. Attitudes about living near stores also are continuing to evolve, as more people who want to be within a short walk of shops and restaurants move into urban neighborhoods.

Hill East had a commercially-zoned area already, and since the effort to zone it out didn't succeed, that neighborhood still has the chance to welcome more beloved local markets and eateries. But in many neighborhoods, there aren't commercial corridors for new businesses to start in. Some, like Big Bear Coffee in Bloomingdale, end up occupying buildings that were once commercial but whose zoning is now residential, which sets them up for a big zoning fight when someone objects. More often, neighborhoods just don't get any stores.

The zoning update's corner store proposal will allow just a few of these—maybe too few. To some residents in the neighborhoods that could get them, the idea of commercial zoning conjures up images of problem shops, especially the ones that are mainly liquor stores and draw intoxicated customers. To others, it's the beloved local shop that adds to convenience and makes the neighborhood more appealing.

The corner store rules try to limit the actual impacts of commercial uses, such as trash (it can't be stored outdoors) or early morning or late night noise (stores can't be open outside 10 am-7 pm 7 am-10 pm). Any such set of rules, though, can't be perfect. If they keep out all of the businesses residents don't want, they'll also keep out many that they do.

Beyond the corner store rules, we also simply need to ensure there are enough neighborhood commercial corridors with real commercial zoning. There, businesses can open next to one another and benefit from each other attracting foot traffic. In Hill East, a commercial strip on 15th Street may become an asset to the neighborhood, and other neighborhoods need equivalents of their own.


Breakfast links: Where to put it

Photo by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.
Where to put industrial uses?: Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is fighting the many undesirable land uses concentrated in his ward. City officials say DC needs industrial land somewhere, but can some of it be outside the ward? (Post)

Georgetown boathouse may stay, after all: The National Park Service has pulled back from plans to evict Jack's Boathouse from its location along the Potomac in Georgetown. (Post)

Football opens doors?: Metro will stay open one hour longer this Sunday for the Redskins' final regular-season game. How about those Nationals' games? (Post)

Insure-as-you-go?: Occasional drivers often receive no discount for their infrequent car use, but a new Oregon car insurer has introduced a per-mile car insurance, marketed at car owners who don't use their car full-time. (Atlantic Cities)

2013: the year for budget autonomy?: DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says she is "optimistic" about DC's budget autonomy in the 2013 Congress. (WAMU)

Even truckers want transit: The owner of a trucking company tells Vancouver, Washington, that it needs a light rail connection across the Columbia River to Portland. (The Columbian, Ben Ross)

And...: Metro's new real-time information screens are now on. (DCist) ... Did you know you can recycle Christmas trees? (WAMU) ... The elevators in the Bethesda Metro station are scheduled to open soon. (Examiner)

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Christmas Eve links: Coal

Photo by dissolved on Flickr.
Boathouse suddenly kicked out: The Park Service abruptly canceled the lease for Jack's Boathouse in Georgetown, which has rented boats since 1945. Jack's has to close by January 31, but NPS has publicly given no reasons. (Georgetowner)

MoCo competing for FBI: Montgomery County is making a play for a new FBI headquarters. The move surprised statewide officials who had been hoping Marylanders would unify to push for a Prince George's Metro site. That county has only 3.9% of leased federal office space but 25% of federal workers. (Post)

No CaBi at the Pentagon: Capital Bikeshare stations near the Pentagon would be a great way to connect the Rosslyn-Ballston and south Arlington clusters, but the Pentagon isn't open to it. Arlington is considering a station at the airport. (TheWashCycle)

More express: WMATA will expand express bus service with more hours for the S9 on 16th Street and Maryland's first MetroExtra route on New Hampshire Avenue. (Post)

No curbs for Alexandria street: Alexandria wants to build a "shared street" (or "woonerf"), where pedestrians and cyclists have equal priority to cars, in its waterfront development. Some residents who've never seen one think it's a bad idea. (WAMU)

Parking garages go mobile: Some commercial parking garages are using smartphone apps to help customers find garages with space for short-term parking needs and at off-peak times. Some new garages will also allow paying by phone. (Post)

Emissions kill: Thanks mainly to rising car ownership in China and India, air pollution is one of the fastest-growing causes of death in the world. (Motherboard)

A few cars have big impact: A study of Boston and San Francisco traffic showed that getting as few as 100 cars from specific neighborhoods off the road could dramatically reduce commute times. (WTOP)

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Board lauds 13th and U design, still balks at height

The Historic Preservation Review Board lavished praise on the architectural design for a proposed residential building at 13th and U Streets, NW, but demurred from approving the project yesterday, as they could not make themselves entirely comfortable with the building's size.

View from U Street. Images from JBG.

The 8-story building would replace the one-story Rite Aid-anchored strip mall at the corner of 13th and U. JBG, the property's owner, wants to build a distinctive residential building in a classic style that evokes many of the large buildings on streets like Connecticut Avenue.

JBG had originally proposed a hotel for the corner, but changed it to residences based on neighborhood pushback against a hotel. They also made the building slightly shorter and set back the top 2 floors. They also stepped the building down in the rear, toward the Wallach Place row houses across the alley to the south.

View from Wallach Place.

Based on these changes, ANC 1B approved the design, and Historic Preservation Office staff also were satisfied with the design, after working extensively with the architect. Preservation officer Steve Callcott explained at yesterday's hearing that since the U Street historic district was created, there has been debate over whether tall buildings belong on U Street at all, given the shorter row houses.

Ultimately, he said, most preservation staff and board members concluded that taller buildings did belong. After all, there are 100-year-old buildings of such heights near row houses in many other parts of the city today.

We don't tend to think of [the tall buildings] as incompatible with the row houses. We think of them as simply a different building type that relates very well and creates a dynamic urban environment, and I think our feeling is that this proposal would do the same thing. It's without a doubt larger than the buildings around it. It's unabashedly an apartment building. But the way the design has been detailed and organized and articulated, despite the disparity in scale and height, it could be a very appropriate neighbor and addition to the U Street historic district.
Some residents of Wallach Place, however, continued to argue that the building should lose one or two more floors. The site is not very deep, and there are smaller row houses immediately across. Since the building is to the north, it won't actually affect the light on their yards, but they objected to the scale of this building compared to others nearby.

View along 13th Street from the north.

Most preservation board members, while they roundly complimented architect David Schwarz on the design, verbally struggled with their decisions but ultimately couldn't agree with the building's size. Architect Graham Davidson, who frequently suggests removing one more floor from buildings that come before him, continued this pattern, but with trepidation.

The building would be a lot better if it were a story lower. The reason I'm conflicted about this is that there are other buildings in the neighborhood which are as high as this building, and have been approved, and have been built, and they're not nearly as good. And it pains me to have to consider penalizing this building, which has been designed so carefully and will be a much more successful building, and to require that it be reduced in size when there are other buildings that are this height and aren't as succcessful.
Davidson also talked about how the overall proportions of the building were so elegant that any reduction would disrupt the overall look of the building. Likewise, just cutting it down on 13th Street, which is the most residential end, would make it unbalanced and asymmetric.

Nancy Metzger noted that the Ellington, a building of similar height, has greater setbacks. Where it borders townhouses, HPRB forced it to have a smaller end piece. But here, Davidson noted, it's difficult to make one end look like a separate building. (Personally, that end piece has always looked awkward to me, like we almost built a whole building but not quite.)

Metzger seemed to feel she needed to support residents in asking the architect to remove more from the building, but couldn't figure out what. "It is a very elegant building," she said, "And it is very hard as I've been sitting here to say, okay, what is out of it? And I guess I would come down to the point where I think maybe a story needs to come off maybe because it is so big."

Bob Sonderman, the archaeologist member on the board, said,

I just feel like the little country boy from Capitol Hill. We're just not used to big buildings,and this is a really big building. I am fully in support of the architectural design. It's fantastic, it's gorgeous, the proportions are wonderful. It's just a really attractive building, and I think the U Street corridor should be pleased to have an architect of this quality to design a building in this corridor.

It's a huge improvement over many other buildings that this board, and me, have approved in the past. I'm loathe to suggest a reduction in height, but I think that would help a bit. The 13th st facade is great, I love the curves and the corners, but that is a long facade of work there. It's big; but it's pretty... big.

View from U Street Metro.

Andrew Aurbach, on the other hand, raised a question of whether it was appropriate for the board to be trying to decide the overall size. "Maybe these are more zoning concerns than they are preservation concerns," he said, referring to a frequent statement by board members that they only consider what's historic and don't get into zoning matters. Aurbach suggested finding a way to adjust the 13th Street end to reduce the impression of height without actually shrinking the building.

Newly-elected board chair Gretchen Pfaehler also wasn't disturbed by the overall density, but wanted some significant changes. She suggested the architect add more of a "reveal" which conceals some of the mass and girth of the building from some angles.

The traditional style of the building draws upon the critical details, the proportions, the window openings [of precedent in the area]. it's a beautiful building. I think that to me it's a matter of the height along the edge which gets into scaling and massing.

I would push to go just a little bit farther in terms of reveal and pulling away, not only from the pedestrian perception. One thing that makes the Ellington, the Mayflower, the hotel on 14th and K that we just landmarked, even though very large buildings, do have this reveal.

I would propose to my colleagues on the board that I don't think it's an issue of the height as much the proximity of the height along the length of the street. I'm comfortable with the height and I wouldn't direct the applicants to remove a story, but there needs to be more variation in the proximity of the heights to the street. That would give you relief but allow you to have the density that you need.

Pfaehler also acknowledged how the board has to balance "preservation" concerns with the needs of a growing city, especially in this rapidly changing neighborhood.
It's not just the preservation of the heritage that's there, but there needs to be viable infill that provides the affordable vitality that these communities need in order to keep them moving & living. Otherwise we have a museum set, and that's not what DC is about.

View along 13th Street from the south.

Pfaehler proposed a resolution to give the applicant the direction she had outlined, which passed unanimously. It's not entirely clear, but that seems to mean that they don't have to take off any floors, but should look for ways to give the 13th Street end some architectural features which break up its height a bit and let the view people see evolve as they approach on 13th Street from the south.

Ultimately, this case highlighted very starkly the different pressures within preservation for large-scale new construction. How much of it is about a good architectural design that respects the historic context? How much is HPRB just another hurdle which forces projects to shrink down a little more from what they already had in negotiating with the ANC? How much do board members want to actually be making zoning decisions even though they supposedly aren't?

Here, we had a building which the neighborhood generally approved of, the preservation office supported, and for which board members had nothing but the highest praise for the design. Yet 4 members still felt an irresistable pressure to make the building smaller.

Pfaehler might have turned them away from that course for now, and perhaps the architect can accommodate their concerns in a way that doesn't disrupt the opportunity to create a building that future residents will cherish as a highlight of the neighborhood rather than another chimeric compromise.


Holiday cheer in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Dupont Circle farmers market. Photo by ekelly80.

Sculpture Garden. Photo by sharynesque.

Chinatown. Photo by sharynesque.

Georgetown. Photo by ekelly80.

Downtown Holiday Market (8th and F St, NW) Photo by sharynesque.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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