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Posts from May 2008


West Coast cheers and jeers


Photo by minwoo on Flickr.

Want transit? Build housing: Toronto has a new policy to only build transit in neighborhoods that zone for enough housing units within walking distance. The Bay Area already does this, and Antioch, CA may even move its stop so it can be near more housing. (The Overhead Wire)


Radical idea: hailing cabs: It's illegal for cabs to pick up people who hail them in LA. The city is considering changing that. But only in two neighborhoods and only if it doesn't slow down the real cars, of course. (Streetsblog LA)


Visions of an energy-efficient future

We're going to make the transition from a cheap-energy world to an energy-efficient world whether we like it or not. Will we have to suffer Kunstler-esque "long emergency" disasters or reorient our economy before it's too late?

Photo by 4563_pic on Flickr.

Ryan Avent dreams of a sensible transportation policy:

Imagine a world where the city established dedicated bus and bike lanes, free from automobile traffic. Imagine that drivers who did want to come into the city had to pay a daily toll, and that the proceeds of that toll went toward increased bus, streetcar, and rail capacity in the city and out into the burbs. Does it not seem that everyone, drivers included, would get where they were going a lot faster? That those without cars would enjoy greater mobility, and that the metro area as a whole would spend a lot less on gas?
Vanshnookenraggen sees hope and pain down the road:
Because of high energy costs, living on large lots in the exurbs will no longer be affordable to the middle class. New policies will go into effect that support infill development in older city centers. As the populations of central cities grows again this will put a strain on already fragile infrastructure. Cities will begin rebuilding mass transit systems they ripped out long ago in favor of the car. ...

This will not have come easy. Much like the riots that flamed white flight in the 1960s, new class riots will erupt as the inner city poor feel the pressures of a society that they cannot afford to live in while being pushed out by much wealthier whites.


A better Columbus Circle

A new design for Columbus Circle is close to becoming a reality, as I learned at the Union Station Intermodal meeting. Here's the latest design, courtesy of the engineering firm Parsons (click for a larger version):

Compare this to the current layout on Google Maps.

The stupid extra loop, which forces taxis to drive all the way around from the west side to the east side just to get on Mass Ave going back west, is gone, and the public plaza enlarged. Also, it looks like there are now pedestrian paths across from Louisiana Ave and 1st Street; right now, those grass berms require pedestrians to walk up and down a little hill to cross.

This drawing doesn't show traffic lights or crosswalks very clearly. The Parsons engineer told me there will be a light at the corner of E Street (where taxis will now exit onto Mass Ave). I assume there will be crosswalks across Mass from E, Louisiana, Delaware, and 1st, though we can't see here, and can't tell if there will be lights. Ideally, there would be, to enable pedestrians to cross Mass Ave safely to reach any of the roads across the circle.

I think many of these intersections could have been tighter, especially at E. Corners instead of wide rounded turns provide less of a feeling of crossing a huge expanse of concrete and slow traffic more. Still, the design is a big improvement. Now if we could only replace those stupid Congressional parking lots that blight the path from Union Station to the Capitol.


Meet the new route through DC

If you ask Google Maps how to get from Baltimore to Richmond (or New York to Raleigh, or Boston to Miami), it suggests taking the Beltway around through Bethesda and Tysons to circumvent DC. But that may change.

There's no all-freeway route that goes through DC's center. According to Google Maps, the alternate route along the Anacostia Freeway to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge is only a minute more; taking the eastern half of the Beltway is three minutes more. The most direct route on a map is to take the Anacostia Freeway to the Southeast Freeway. But there's no direct connection, and drivers have to get off the freeway to cross the river. That encourages people to go around instead.

Unfortunately, DDOT's split personality on traffic has come down on the traffic-speeding side with the redesign of the 11th Street bridges. Under the laudable goal of better connecting neighborhoods east and west of the river, the Fenty Administration and DDOT have thrown their weight behind spending $500 million of local money (not federally matched money) to widen the road and connect the southbound Anacostia Freeway to westbound Southeast Freeway (and vice versa).

Traffic is simple. When you increase capacity at a bottleneck (which this is), you increase overall capacity, and when you increase overall capacity, you get induced demand, people driving who wouldn't have driven before. There's little doubt that more people will be driving along this stretch who didn't before. And the Sierra Club has numerous other objections which project officials have so far ignored.

I'd love to know why DDOT is doing this. Does Deputy Chief Engineer Kathleen Penney (who I'm told has a bridge-building background) come from the more-lanes-more-cars school of traffic management? Is Mayor Fenty, unlike his predecessors, just clueless on traffic (as on Klingle)? Are our suburban Congresspeople (Hoyer, Van Hollen, Davis, et. al.) pushing for this to shove more traffic through the poor, black neighborhoods of DC and make commuting easier for their constituents (as happened when the NPS considered closing Beach Drive during some off-peak times)?

People in Wards 7 and 8 support this at the moment because it'd be convenient to cross the river without getting on and then off the freeway. There's also the potential to get some traffic off their neighborhood streets that gets off the freeway to cross the river since there's no direct connection; but traffic calming those streets, a better solution, isn't an alternative in the EIS.

I suspect that if built, five or ten or twenty years from now residents will be agitating to remove it, as environmental justice advocates are pushing for the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx. Is increased asthma and loss of parks and a boathouse worth $500 million and the convenience of a quicker trip to Capitol Hill?


Open space versus parks

And Now, Anacostia rebuts Marc Fisher's criticism of a soccer stadium at Poplar Point. ANA and my commenters make several points, including that the money would be for infrastructure like roads rather than for the stadium itself (unlike with the ballpark), or that Fisher simply prefers baseball to soccer. Ryan Avent, though, is still skeptical.

The plan for Poplar Point.

One of the most interesting issues to me is the question of open space. ANA writes, "Poplar Point is not parkland. It is vacant land, with a few buildings on it currently used by the National Park Service." Clark's plan for Poplar Point contains a park called "The Preserve" (as maintaining some parkland was a requirement for all bids).

Many debates over development include arguments between keeping a larger amount of less usable open space versus creating discrete parks within a developed area. In Takoma Park, opponents are decrying the loss of "open space" that's mainly WMATA parking lots and a few tree-covered berms, while the development plan would create a "village green" that's smaller, but more actually usable. Likewise, anti-development forces in Brookland are centering their complaints around open space, which others call a "trash-strewn chain-link blight."

The design for Poplar Point seems to do the best with what it has. Making the stadium stimulate activity in the neighborhood depends upon generating foot traffic to and from games rather than simply a lot of car trips to parking next to the stadium. The deck over the 295 freeway is a key piece, connecting the new neighborhood with the old one and the Metro station. The stadium is near the deck and from the drawing, I don't see any surface parking lots.

If the deck doesn't get cut for cost reasons and the stadium can in fact draw more events beyond the 33 professional soccer games a year, this will be good for the area. If the project morphs into something like NYC's Atlantic Yards, where one building after another gets "postponed" and acres of "temporary" surface parking will last for ten years or more, then we'll prove Fisher right. I hope not.


Union Station Intermodal meeting recap

Dan from BeyondDC, Ralph of Sierra Club DC, reader Steve P., and many others attended the Union Station Intermodal Transportation Center public meeting last night.

Photo by StarrGazr on Flickr.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who secured the three Federal earmarks that are paying for this project, spoke briefly about the many years she's been working on this in Congress. Union Station was once "a slum owned by the Federal Government," and this project gives us the opportunity to turn it into "the centerpiece of a true intermodal system."

The DDOT people are going to consider every need in this study, from pedestrians to cars, emergency egress to delivery trucks. Streetcars will definitely be factored in, to give the future H Street line a place to turn around and service vehicles.

I asked about the potential new Blue Line. The project reps had only learned about that project yesterday, didn't have specific details (yet) and suggested speaking to WMATA. Of course, WMATA would do the actual engineering, but we should minimize the chance that something built from this study further complicates the future task of building the Blue Line.

As for Columbus Circle, there is actually already a detailed engineering design done by Parsons (the same consultants working on this project) that's awaiting NCPC and Architect of the Capitol approval. I'm working on getting a copy of that design.

Dan asked about bike sharing; the DDOT folks assured us that they are working hard on creating a bike sharing facility on the west side of the station.

There was a usual crop of "antis" there to push for as few people walking around the neighborhood as possible and as many lanes for traffic as possible. One resident complained that the Technical Advisory Committee was weighted toward those with an interest in "getting more customers in, getting more people to the Capitol." What a tragedy if we get more people going to the Capitol! Every public meeting I've been to also included a few people complaining that they didn't get enough notice about whatever is being discussed, and this was no different.

ANC 6B01 Commissioner Dave Garrison asked about tour buses dropping people off at Union Station who are going to the new Capitol Visitors Center. DDOT Mass Transit Director Freddie Fuller spoke up to "dispel innuendo" and assure people that they "have not designated Union Station as the primary transfer point for the Capitol Visitors Center." They have increased headways on the N22, which runs from Union Station right past the Capitol on its way to Eastern Market and the ballpark.

Anyone want to illuminate exactly what the issues are here? Do residents want the buses at Union Station or do they want them driving down to the Capitol? Is having the buses stop in the garage at Union Station and people walk the four blocks to the Capitol undesirable? It seems it would minimize traffic compared to having buses go down First Street and end up turning around/idling in the neighborhood. And I'd think residents would be pushing for the buses to be at Union Station while the tour operators would want to drop people off right at the Capitol. Can anyone shed more light on this?

Finally, on the topic of Greyhound, Akridge may be building facilities for Greyhound as part of the project, but Rick Rybeck of DDOT added that they are pushing for the buses to go to Union Station right away rather than waiting the 10-15 years that Burnham Place will take to build. The bus deck in the garage currently has extra room, Rybeck said, and they're looking to move Greyhound operations there. (One resident piped up about not sacrificing any public parking spaces. Rybeck explained that the bus deck has no public parking to lose. Though, if moving Greyhound to the train station meant losing a few parking spaces, I wouldn't shed any tears.)



Commenters today raised some great ideas for DC USA's completely unused parking level. Alex B. suggested we convert it into roller hockey or an indoor skatepark. Along those lines, maybe mini golf?

A win-win for DC USA and the Zoo? Idea courtesy
of reader Bianchi. From Google Maps.

Bianchi had the cleverest idea of all: instead of building parking at the Zoo, let's use that garage and run a free shuttle (or aerial tram) the 0.8 miles to the zoo (which would have the added benefit of enabling visitors to use the Green Line in addition to the Red). I'm sure the shuttle would cost less than the parking (above-ground garages cost $25-30,000 per space and over $30 per space per month for maintenance).

Any better ideas for how to use the empty space?


Biking on sidewalks is legal in DC

On today's Kojo Nnamdi show with Roger Lewis, at 23:14 into the segment a caller complains about bicyclists riding on the sidewalk and says that she's "pretty sure" it's illegal in DC. Lewis talked about how it's often reasonable to ride on the sidewalk, but didn't address the specific law.

A lot of people think riding on the sidewalk is illegal, but actually it's not true. You are allowed to ride on sidewalks except in the central business district, which is basically everything between Mass Ave and the Mall.

A map from DDOT:

Riding on sidewalks is legal in DC outside the gray area.

Public Spaces

The war on pedestrians continues

The latest casualty in Frank Winstead's war against pedestrians is Politics and Prose, which had to remove its outdoor bench. One step closer to making Chevy Chase a people-free zone.

No pedestrians and that's how Winstead
likes it. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Roger Lewis discusses the value of sidewalk tables, benches, chess games, and ping pong in his latest appearance on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. There's a particularly good discussion starting at 19:09 12:27 about the value of sidewalks in older suburbs and misguided opposition to sidewalks in newer ones.

If you listen to the whole thing, start at 6:40 to skip past the hot air coming from the Virginia Republican Senate candidate who believes that we can fix transportation without paying for it by simply gathering together some scientists and engineers to come up with solutions. News flash: transportation costs money, and I didn't hear him talking about cutting road funding. Update: They've corrected the audio stream to begin at the start of the Lewis interview instead of six minutes before.


Another good project and annoying press

DCist covers DDOT's proposal to convert 15th Street to two-way operation which I covered when it was first announced in January. DDOT presented it to the Council yesterday.

The 15th Street "urban freeway". Image via DDOT.

There are many reasons one two-way streets are better, and according to WTOP, Councilmembers Jack Evans (who we already know is good on traffic issues) and Muriel Bowser (who believes Rock Creek park's primary purpose is to speed Ward 4 drivers' commutes) both expressed support for additional one-way to two-way conversions.

WTOP's story, though, would have been a lot more impartial without an inflammatory headline like "Controversial traffic plan could slow your commute." Sigh.

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