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Posts from March 2009


Afternoon links: Getting it done

Photo by jdcohen.
Teenager gets hometown onto Google Transit: Two years ago, a 15-year-old transit aficionado wanted his hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts to join Google Transit. So he joined the town's transit advisory board, persuaded officials to go along, and helped out himself. According to the article, Boston's much larger MBTA will be joining Google Transit in July. (The Boston Globe, Jaime)

What happens when you park in a bike lane: A bus took the turn a little too tight at Thomas Circle, hitting a utility truck that looks to have been illegally parked in the bike lane. The Circulator drivers are going to have to get used to their routes, and maybe utility employees can get used to not blocking bike lanes.

Smart Growth bill passes Maryland house: "The measure, which was approved Monday on a 95-42 vote, is designed to encourage local governments to steer development to areas that already have infrastructure." It will take effect in 2012. You can read the bill here. Will it work? Maryland seems to have a history of passing Smart Growth laws that accomplish little. (ABC7, Jaime)

The wheels on the bus go... away: To fight obesity, pollution, and traffic, an Italian town has replaced its school buses with volunteers and paid staff leading groups of schoolchildren along the old bus routes. Could this program even work here in the States, what with the abysmal pedestrian conditions along many school bus routes? (New York Times, Adam S.)

BRAC getting more expensive, governments can't afford to keep widening roads: BRAC's massive shift of defense jobs to auto-dependent exurban locations is moving quickly, despite rising costs. Meanwhile, local governments' tight road budgets mean they can't afford all the intersection widenings they'd planned, deepening fears of a traffic apocalypse thanks to poor transit to Forts Meade, Belvoir, and the other regional BRAC sites. (Post, Jess H.)

Why all you can do at a Virginia rest stop is rest: Marc Fisher writes more about the reasons Virginia rest stops can't sell food, which would make back their costs and much more. As several commenters noted, a federal law prohibits this outside toll facilities, with Maryland using some creative loopholes. The best solution would be to just make Virginia's main freeways toll roads and market price them.

Suburban mansions going up in Foxhall: DCmud profiles a new development of "'estate homes' with sprawling 9,000 to 17,000 square foot lots" starting at $1.5 million in the Palisades. Ryan Avent wishes we could better utilize the scarce land so close to downtown.

You've totally wished you could do this: Today's xkcd draws out a fantasy that's flashed through many parkers' minds:

It'd have been an even better comic if Hat Guy had been on a bus or bike that was stuck behind a double parker.

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Live chat with Councilmember Kwame Brown

Please join us in welcoming DC Councilmember At-large Kwame Brown at 2 pm.

Live chat with Kwame Brown(03/31/2009)
GreaterGreaterWashington: Hello and welcome to Greater Greater Washington's live chat session. Thank you all for joining us.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Today's guest is DC Councilmember Kwame Brown. Brown is one of four at-large Councilmembers. He's also Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, which oversees development deals in DC.
GreaterGreaterWashington: We'll be starting in just a few minutes, at 2 pm. In the meantime, you can submit your questions in the box at the bottom of the chat. Once Councilmember Brown arrives we can start asking them.
GreaterGreaterWashington: As before, please remember to be courteous. We're not trying to "gotcha" the Councilmembers. If you don't like something he's done, say so and then ask a question about it. We have a lot to learn from Mr. Brown and should focus on asking him about things we'd like to hear about. Thanks.
GreaterGreaterWashington: The Councilmember is just getting out of a meeting and should be with us in a few minutes.
Kwame Brown: Hello everyone. Thanks for having me. Sorry for the late start.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Welcome, Councilmember Brown! Michael will be moderating our chat today. Let's get started.
Michael Perkins: Thanks for chatting with us, Councilmember.
[Comment From David Alpert]
Councilmember Brown, thanks for participating. Many people don't really know what the Economic Development Committee does on the Council. Can you explain its role? How does it differ from the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which also is often involved with development?
Kwame Brown: One key aspect of the responsbilities of the Committee on Economic Development is the disposition of land. Without the disposition of public property, what I like to call "the people's land", no development by a private entity can occur.

I also have oversight of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Devleopment, (DMPED), the Department of Small Local Business Development (DSLBD), Commission on Arts and Humanities, Washington Convention Center Authority, Boxing Commission and the Office of Motion Pictures. The committee ensure that the budgets and programs for these agencies are spent wisely and consistent with intended purposes.
[Comment From Lynda]
Let's talk about the budget debate. What's being cut, and what's being increased for the next year. What should DC residents expect?
Kwame Brown: There are definitely tough choices that have to me made in this year's budget because of declining revenues. People are having a difficult time finding employment, as your readers may have seen, unemployment is approaching 10% in the District which also has a major impact in the budget. I have been fighting for job training for adults to help address this important issue.

I am working with the administration and other members of the Council to identify funding for this because it's an investment can't afford to overlook.

As it relates to the committee on Economic Development, the Neighborhood Investment Fund dollars have been redirected under the Mayor's proposed budget. During my hearing yesterday, I brought this matter up because I believe it's critical that the funds are spent in areas that need it most, which are defined in statute.

In general, we are researching how the Mayor is using dollars so that when we have to make cuts it is in the best interests of the city.
Michael Perkins:

Thanks for that.

Kwame Brown: I'm excited about being here.
[Comment From Jaime F]
There are various development plans in Ward 5, including the Brookland/CUA Small Area Plan, McMillan, Rhode Island Avenue Metro, and the Florida Market (dubiously dubbed "New Town"). How are these projects progressing and would you like to see any changes to what's planned?
Kwame Brown: There are many projects there and they're all important.

Brookland: Councilmember Harry Thomas worked with the community to ensure that their concerns regarding green space, transportation, density were incorporated into the overall plan. I'm now working closely with his office and the office of planning to ensure that the community's concerns are actually implemented.

McMillan: The developers and the Deputy Mayor have been holding public meetings to discuss the ideas for developing the site. Once there is a plan that the public is behind, I will be sure to hold a roundtable to gather feedback from District residents.

The Deputy Mayor's office has staff dedicated to Rhode Island Ave Metro and Florida Market. This budget cycle I have posed questions to them about where we are with these two projects and what dollars in FY10 will be dedicated if any.
Michael Perkins: I have a somewhat question from a reader about charter and public schools. What's your position on charter schools getting right of first refusal for unused DCPS buildings?
Michael Perkins: somewhat LONG question, I meant
Michael Perkins: She has additional comments about raising DCPS facilities funding while cutting back charter schools facilities funding. Do you think this might be an attempt to close charter schools by drying up funding?
Kwame Brown: Improving public schools is one of my top priorities. I'm a native Washingtonian and a graduate of DC public schools. I was also in the Mayor's Youth Leadership Insitute. My kids attend public schools, so this is very real for my family.

I'm concerned about the public disposition of schools as a whole. There needs to be someone who is focused on how we best use our surplus property looking at this from across agencies. There may be ways to save dollars for education through an efficient use of our property. I have always believed that the letter of the law should be followed.

In addition, the kids attending charter schools are DC kids. In fact, 36% of our student population attends charter schools and they need a solid education and adequate funding. The Committee of the Whole will be working to address this during this budget cycle and while officials may have different appoaches, I believe we all have the students' best interests at heart.
[Comment From David Alpert]
The city has promised to ensure that its development projects on public land include aff affordable housing, local hiring and environmental protections. How do we ensure this happens? How can this be a more transparent process?
Kwame Brown: Promises made, should be promises kept. Too often, developers have come to DC, developed sites and the city has had no way of enforcing the promises they made. I believe that's wrong. If all of the promises of affordable housing were kept, we wouldn't have an affordable housing crisis.

I introduced the Compliance Unit Establishment Act of 2008, which is now law, which requires the DC Auditor to audit all completed NCRC/AWC projects to ensure that community benefits are delivered such as affordable housing, local business participation, and green inititatives. The auditor has already begun to audit projects.

We expect the auditor to release reports publicly as they're completed. I also intend to continue to hold hearings, where the public can participate by attending the hearing or adding feedback to my blog "Tell Kwame Live" at

I appreciate getting questions to pose to the Deputy Mayor's office and I strongly encourage you to participate. The next hearing is Wednesday, April 8th at 10a.m. I look forward to hearing from you.
Michael Perkins: Speaking of your blog, do you actually get comments from constitutents during hearings? How does that work?
Kwame Brown: Yes. People do people participate. It's very easy to participate. A link to Tell kwame Live is on my home page. Just click on the link to the hearing you want to comment on. You can post comments anytime before, during or after a hearing but a live stream of the hearing is made available when it's televised on Channel 13. Staff keep me updated on questions as they come in.
Michael Perkins:

Here's that link:

[Comment From Peter]
Curious if Mr. Brown has general feelings about express bus service vs. BRT vs. light rail. There has been recent talk about light rail.
Kwame Brown: My focus has largely been on the small businesses who are impacted by transportation infrastructure construction like that on H Street. I talk with small business owners across the city and we need a comprehensive plan for dealing with these issues, so that these business owners can continue to stay in business. Especially in areas where residents need places to eat, shop and work and these types of transportation would be most effective.

I'm all about creating more opportunities to improve our transporation system in the District but we have businesses that are struggling to survive and keep residents employed.
[Comment From Citizen]
How can we incentivize small business in the District? It's currently ranked 51st for small business (according to some magazines) due to the DCRA bureaucracy and high taxes & rents. Is the government looking to creator any "incubators" for small business or incentives to encourage small businesses to open up here instead of other states and cities?
Kwame Brown: I've read the report on small businesses that you discussed, and I was also a panelist recently for the DC Chamber of Commerce. I am working with Jack Evans on legislation that would address tax issues for businesses and I am specifically working to address the issue I just previously descibed by targeting areas under transporation infrastructure construction.

Looking ahead, we have to provide incentives for businesses who want to get into emerging markets like the green collar economy. My committee held a first of a kind hearing on this subject in October of 2007 with guests from across the country. President Obama's stimulus package has $750 million targeted for high tech and emerging industries. Much of this funding is competitive, which makes it more important that ever, that the city is prepared and is preparing its residents for these jobs. Not to mention, the billions of dollars that will be spent greening federal buildings.
Michael Perkins: That's certainly exciting. Do you know the timeline for when a lot of these jobs might start?
Kwame Brown: They have to start immediately because of the way stimulus dollars are allocated. I'm working with the executive to ensure the training begins this year for adults at facilities we already own and operate like Phelps, Cardozo and Roosevelt. I proposed that these facilities remain open on nights and weekends for adults.

The Green Buildings Act requires that all District buildings are modernized with green technology. It also is the first law in the country to require private buildings to do the same starting in 2011. This will create permanent jobs.

The District doesn't lack jobs, what we lack is job training.
Michael Perkins: Thanks. Here's a question about development:
[Comment From Geoff Hatchard]
Councilmember Brown, there have been many meetings on the McMillan plan. I have attended most of the public meetings, and it's clear that there are some people who will not agree to any development at that site. While I applaud your goal to look for "a plan that the public is behind," the fact is that this is contentious enough that there will never be 100% consensus there. Will you be willing to push a vetted plan through that MOST of the community is happy with, helping us to avoid it being bogged down by trying to reach out to people who refuse to compromise in the first place?
Kwame Brown: I'm actively involved with the McMillan Advisory Group, which is made up of residents and stakeholders of the McMillan community and we are working hard to come up with a plan that makes sense for everyone involved. We need to have a plan that maxmizes the benefit to District residents and the use of District dollars and "the people's land."
Michael Perkins: It looks like that's going to be the last question. Sorry I couldn't get to more of them. If you still would like Councilmember Brown to hear your thoughts, you can send them to
Michael Perkins: Councilmember Brown, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us.
Kwame Brown: Thank you for having me today. I hope we can do it again sometime. I look forward to hearing more of your questions and hearing your feedback on my blog.
Michael Perkins: I have all the questions people submitted and I can send them to you.
Kwame Brown: That would be great. Please do.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Thanks so much Councilmember Brown for joining us!
Kwame Brown: Take care.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Feel free to continue the conversation in the comments and post your reactions to the Councilmember's thoughts.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Our next guest will also cover a topic pertaining to economic development, but from a very different perspective. Brett Abrams, author of Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC will talk about, well, the history of stadium and ballpark construction in Washington, DC. That's next Tuesday at 2 pm.
GreaterGreaterWashington: Thanks to everyone who joined today's chat!


Bike and ped safety fund is back, but will it survive?

Please welcome Adam Voiland, the newest member of GGW's contributor team. Adam also writes the DC Bicycle Transportation Examiner blog.

Councilmember Graham.

Mayor Adrian Fenty has proposed setting aside $1.5 million for a bicycle and pedestrian safety fund for fiscal year 2010, Chairman of the Public Works and Transportation Committee Jim Graham announced with unabashed satisfaction at a recent oversight hearing.

If approved, the funds could be used for traffic calming, sidewalk construction, intersection improvement, encouraging safe routes to schools, upgrading lighting, and purchasing equipment used to enforce traffic laws.

Last year, the money set aside for a similar safety fund, which Graham pushed hard to secure, was axed late in the budget process as the Council struggled with shortfalls.

Graham, of course, vows to support the new proposal enthusiastically. "I was extremely disappointed when this money was cut [last year]," he said. "Pedestrian and bicycle safety has to be among our highest priorities."

Graham was quick to point out, however, that the funding won't necessarily survive the budget process this time around. That's especially likely if the Council removes controversial revenue raising proposals, such as a plan to collect a streetlight user fee, from the final budget. "The mayor has put together a jigsaw puzzle that produces a balanced budget. If you take one of those pieces out it creates a hole that has to be filled," he said.

To protect the funds, he urged representatives of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC), who were at the meeting requesting $10,000 in operating funds for 2010, to work with cycling advocates to rally support for the fund. "There are a lot of cyclists who are very passionate about these issues. I think we need to alert them as to the essential need for them to show visible support for this," he said. "There is going to be an awful lot of pressure on the budget."


The new Circulators and the Metro map

Yesterday, DC launched two new Circulator routes. One connects Woodley Park, Columbia Heights, and McPherson Square Metros with the neighborhoods along Columbia Road and 14th Street, while the other runs from Union Station to Eastern Market and then to the Navy Yard and ballpark.

In honor of this new service, here is a Metro map that includes the Circulator routes.

Click to enlarge and see full map.

DC could make a map like this and post it widely, including in Metro stations, on bus stops, and in tourist brochures. Right now, most visitors to DC visualize the city using the Metro map. That gives them a good idea of the location of Gallery Place and the Smithsonian, but leaves out Georgetown, Adams Morgan (except for the name tacked onto Woodley Park), Logan Circle, and many other destinations. Nor does it help tourists reach most of the important museums and memorials.

We can shape visitors' perceptions of DC geography to include the places they need to know, and encourage more transit use, by widely disseminating an image of our geography that spans more of the city.

This map clearly shows how the K Street Circulator has too many stops. Plus, more of the stops ought to be on the same street in both directions. Mixing some local lines and some very limited-stop lines could create confusion as well. Users accustomed to the frequently-stopping K Street line might be surprised by the very limited-stop 14th Street service. We should brand the new lines with something like Circulator Limited, and add a K Street Limited alongside the K Street Stopping Every Block Local.

Finally, now that Circulator has four lines, do we need to start using colors or identifying letters on the buses and stops? More people will start to fall into the trap of the tourists I encountered who waited for the Georgetown Circulator, expecting it to go to the Mall. Maybe it's time for "Circulator Orange" or "Circulator D Line".

Have you ridden the new Circulators?

Update: I've added the H Street shuttle and the Georgetown Metro Connection, which both also run every 10 minutes and are targeted at least partly at non-commuters. Thanks to Paul S. for the suggestion. I also made a few minor tweaks based on comments.

Update 2: Here's a PDF version for those of you who'd like to print this out.

Update 3, April 4: I've modified the map based on your many great comments. The new version now appears here. Here's the original.


Then and Now: Esso station in Shaw

Then (left): The Esso station at the northwest corner of Rhode Island Ave. and 6th Street, NW, photographed sometime in the 1920s. (Library of Congress, #npcc 33542)

Now (right): Most of the structure is still there, as are the houses, but the property is fenced and closed. It would be great if the property could be restored.


Accokeek growth: A good idea in the wrong place at the wrong time

Located on the outer fringes of the Washington region, well outside the Favored Quarter, Accokeek is a very quiet, very low-density area of far southern Prince George's County. Since it is both low-density, and miles from the Favored Quarter it lacks many retail and employment amenities that residents in the core of the region often take for granted. It is no surprise that some residents are hopeful that a new mega-project could change the current status quo. However, development so far from the metropolitan core probably won't bring the benefits that the group, called the Accokeek Smart Growth Coalition, hopes.

Livingston Road at Indian Head Hwy.

First off, it's unlikely that the new Accokeek Crossing development would have a human-scale street grid. It is proposed as single-use retail, making the automobile the only way to travel to the stores. Secondly, how can it support retail activity in a place with so few potential customers? Finally, and most importantly, there is no transit planned for the Indian Head Highway corridor. Transit plans with light rail to Southern Maryland usually envision transit along the Branch Avenue corridor, to connect with the Metro at the Branch Avenue station. It runs the same risk as the Belward Farm proposal in Gaithersburg: supposed "Transit-Oriented Development" without the transit. It would have all the disadvantages of the National Harbor development without the true human-scale street grid (PDF).

Despite reservations about this proposal, I understand why a group of residents would be hopeful for new development in their area:

But members of the Accokeek Smart Growth Coalition [a group that is, ironically, pushing for something that is clearly not Smart Growth], a community organization pushing for development in the area, said the proposal would be a high-end project that would reduce shopping commute times, spark business growth and allow residents to spend more time closer to home. Hopes are high for restaurants and fine retailers for clothing and electronics, but no stores are lined up for the project, which is in the early stages of development.

"I'm tired of living in my car," said Chuck Clagett, coalition vice president. "We're all driving somewhere [far away in order to perform daily functions of life]."

Without knowing it, Mr. Clagett expressed one of the most compelling arguments against dispersed low-density car-dependent human settlement patterns. Just like residents of the Open Meadow Lane subdivision in Prince William County, he is describing the suburban/exurban trade-off between "affordable" housing and torturously long commute times. In the case of car-dependent places outside the Favored Quarter like Accokeek, and Prince William County, the trade-off is even more striking as residents have to drive far away for most retail, restaurant, and entertainment amenities in addition to the commute to work.

In the case of this specific proposal, it looks unlikely:

County planners said rezoning the area would be a hard sell because Accokeek was never meant to house large shopping centers and commercial developments. "Accokeek is not a growth area," said Wendy Irminger, a county planning coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. "Smart Growth requires a place where public money will go to support it."
Irminger is stating the the obvious in this case. During the bubble years in the middle of this decade, our nation saw far more suburban and exurban retail space built than it could use. Since then, the bubble popped and many developers are on the brink of insolvency because of all the unfilled retail space. However, these conditions bring up the question, "where we go from here?" The Prince George's County Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission would be prudent to not make the problem worse with this project.


Starchitects design African-American museum

Six teams created conceptual designs for the Smithsonian's upcoming National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Devrouax + Purnell / Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Kling Stubbins

Foster + Partners / URS Group

Freelon Adjaye Bond / SmithGroup

Moody Nolan / Antoine Predock Architect PC

Moshe Safdie and Associates

According to the Post, the public can comment on the designs until April 6th at the Smithsonian Castle, but then a jury will pick a design without looking at the public input. NCPC and the CFA will then get to weigh in and probably modify the design before anything gets built. (The museum also has to raise money for construction.)

Update: some people have obviously been stuffing the poll above. My logs show a large number of clicks from a Facebook profile of someone with the last name Devrouax, for example (but not architect Paul S. Devrouax). Before the stuffing really got going, the Safdie "hull" alternative was in first, and "I don't like any of these" in second. I'm honored that some people consider our poll worth stuffing!


Morning links: Imagine and reinvent

Photo by Wayan Vota.
See, click, fix!: It's like a wiki version of 311. Residents post "fix it" items in their communities on SeeClickFix, like potholes or broken streetlights. Others can see them an comment. And in some cities, like New Haven where it started, the local governments see the issues and get them fixed. (JTS)

Maybe KFC will fix them: KFC is offering to patch potholes in exchange for the right to affix their logo to them. (Chicago Tribune) Even if few cities take them up on the offer, KFC has gotten a lot of free press for this proposal.

Post endorses Anacostia trash-reducing bag fee: The Post editorial board strongly endorsed Councilmember Tommy Wells' bill to reduce trash by creating an incentive to use reusable bags and giving free reusable bags to needy residents. (Post)

Circulator posts routes, starts today: The DC Circulator has posted information on the new routes. They soft launch today, with an official launch Wednesday. Actually, we think they soft launched yesterday: Reader Antonio saw and rode one yesterday morning, making him, according to the driver, the second person ever to ride the Woodley-McPherson line.

Route 7 light rail next?: Gerry Connolly isn't the only Congressman jumping on the "build more transit" bandwagon. Last week, Rep. Jim Moran told the Falls Church City Council he's working to get federal funds for light rail along Route 7 from Baileys Crossroads to Tysons. Can we get the Purple Line, Columbia Pike Streetcar, and this to use compatible technology to one day form part of a complete circumferential line? (Falls Church News-Press, Joey)

Stimulus no help for transit-dependent riders: St. Louis is cutting several bus routes, stranding many transit-dependent, elderly and disabled riders. While the government is spending hundreds of billions to stimulate the economy, the money has to go to capital projects, preventing Missouri from saving jobs and helping these vulnerable residents. (Jaime)

Time to "reinvent America's cities": Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff argues that we need "a bold urban vision" that's "more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects." (New York Times, JTS and Chris)

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Transit Time maps now include DC

Thanks to WMATA's recent release of transit information for software developers, DC is now part of Walk Score's "Transit Time" maps. They show the spots you can reach in 15, 30 and 45 minutes by transit and walking. Update: it looks like this only includes Metrorail so far.

Go here, then zoom way out to pan the map over to the Washington, DC area. They haven't updated the dropdown menu yet, but the mapping application works.


Then and Now: Granite and peaches

Then (left): The intersection of Georgia Ave., New Hampshire Ave., and Rock Creek Church Rd., NW, taken sometime prior to July 1994. Engine Company No. 24, located at 3702 Georgia Ave. is prominently pictured.

Now (right), March, 2009: Construction is nearing completion on the Park Place Apartment complex, Metro now stops at the intersection, and the fire station no longer exists. The façade was saved and located around the corner as the new chiller plant for the Metro station. For a brief history on the fire station, see this post.

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