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Posts from May 2011


Replace paper card fares with a single fare table?

Spend any time in a Metro station and you'll see them: Befuddled tourists, trying to decipher the fare table posted on the ticket vending machine.

Photo by Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie on Flickr.

Often, they know where they want to go, but Metro's complicated format gives them three different choices on how they should pay. They have to refer to another table to figure out which one is correct. It's akin to making tourists fill out a 1040 form just to buy a ticket. They may not even know exactly what time they're going to take a return trip, which complicates purchasing round-trip fares.

This is the most visibly confusing part of our fare structure, which has three time periods, fares that vary based on distance, and surcharges for paying cash.

One way to simplify fares for tourists and people who don't have SmarTrip cards would be to simply make a fixed fare, equal to the peak-of-the-peak fare, that applies all the time to paper farecards. With this, Metro could also eliminate of the paper farecard surcharge.

Such a move would not be without drawbacks. SmarTrip card usage is high for bus (78%) and rail (82%), but there are still barriers for people with disabilities and limited incomes that prevent them from using SmarTrip cards. Any move to reduce the discounts available on paper farecards should be implemented alongside improvements that allow everyone to use SmarTrip.

But a table with just one, instead of three, columns would simplify the system particularly for those visiting DC, who are very likely to buy paper farecards. Since everyone knows (or should know!) what station they're going to, it makes the decision easy. You no longer need to know what time you're going or returning. If you're traveling during the peak of the peak, there's even a small discount compared to today because the fare for paper and Smartrip are the same.

There's still an incentive to get a Smartrip card, since they're convenient and offer discounts for off-peak rides. They protect your balance and offer transfer discounts to buses throughout the region.

There are currently six different fares between any two stations. This change would reduce that to three (Peak of the Peak/Paper farecard, Regular, Reduced). Only one of these fares would actually be listed on the fare machines. That's much simpler.


Map contest winners, part 5: Commuter rail and short turns

While the jurors in our map contest tended to lean toward maps with the familiarity of Wyman's design, the voters in the peoples' choice element sided with maps that took a fresh look at the system. The third place finisher in the people's choice voting was Map B, by Andrew Duggan.

Map B, by Andrew Duggan.

Andrew's design uses thin lines, which he describes as "delicate", in contrast to the "fat" lines of Wyman's original design. Several maps took this approach, and it does seem to offer a cleaner, less cluttered design.

Another innovation of this map was showing the region's commuter rail lines. The current map only shows commuter rail connections at intermodal stations. Map B took the approach of inserting the actual lines on the map. This map wasn't the only one to show commuter rail lines, though only a few contestants chose to include those lines.

Map B had one attribute in common with the third place finisher in the jury contest: showing short-turn points using a "spur" at the terminal. This feature calls attention to places like Silver Spring, where half of all Red Line trains terminate.

Overall, the map offers a clear design, though it does include one major flaw that needs to be addressed. Perhaps illustrating the difficulty in describing Metro's soon-to-start Franconia-Greenbelt service, the author of this map seems to have misunderstood the mechanics of the shift. He shows the Blue Line reroute as a service that runs from Franconia to Largo by way of the Yellow Line bridge, rejoining the Blue Line on the lower level of L'Enfant Plaza.

In reality, when this new service starts next year, trains on the Blue Line reroute will not rejoin the current Blue Line at L'Enfant Plaza, but will continue northward along the Yellow/Green Line to Greenbelt.

In spite of that error, the map represents a great attempt at a redesign. And it proved popular with voters, receiving 118 first-place votes.


"Jackmandered" redistricting puts self-interest over sense

Last week, the DC Council redistricting committee issued its proposed boundaries, which included a strange and surprising line between Ward 2 and 6 which moves territory based on the personal and political self-interest of one person, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.

At-large members Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson have let themselves be complicit in this clear conflict of interest by unquestioningly accepting this line, which has been dubbed a "Jackmander." They should look for objective ways to draw the line fairly rather than letting one colleague pick and choose his own boundaries.

Proposed redistricting changes in NW and SW DC.
Image by Geoff Hatchard.

In the above map, thick yellow lines represent current ward boundaries. Medium burgundy lines represent tract boundaries. Wards are colored red (1), green (2), purple (5), and blue (6). Areas moved are dark blue (from 2 to 6), dark green (from 6 to 2), and dark purple (from 6 to 5).

To address population changes since the 2000 Census, wards 7 and 8 both had to grow and 2 had to shrink. The most logical change to Ward 8 reunited the Fairlawn neighborhood, and the committee chose that. To grow Ward 7, they made the widely-anticipated yet very unpopular choice to move much of Hill East from Ward 6 to 7. Residents of that area fought against the idea hard, and are expected to continue doing so at a hearing tomorrow.

The bigger surprise came in the boundary between Ward 2 and 6. To make Ward 2 smaller, moving Mount Vernon Square and/or Shaw to Ward 6 was the most logical change. But the committee also made substantial other changes, moving big chunks of the Penn Quarter and Judiciary Square areas from Ward 6 to Ward 2 and the southwest federal buildings from 2 to 6.

This is particularly odd since most of the changes directly contradict principles in the committee report. The report rejects the option of moving Carver-Langston from Ward 5 to 7 because it "draws new neighborhoods into redistricting" and is "not as compact" as the other option.

However, the proposed change draws many new neighborhoods into redistricting and is not as compact. Had the committee only moved the tracts east of 7th Street to Ward 6 and left downtown alone, they would have ended up with a more compact map. Likewise, they could have moved the western Shaw tract and just the Penn Quarter area west of 5th Street and again ended up with a more compact map that affected fewer neighborhoods.

Two alternate Ward 2/6 lines. Left: most compact, affecting fewest neighborhoods. Right: Unifies more Census tracts.

The committee report pats itself on the back for several changes that reunite some split Census tracts. Moving the southwest federal buildings to Ward 6 does make sense, since those are in the same Census tracts as the neighboring parts of Southwest Waterfront and are in ANC 6D. Likewise, the plan moves the small piece of Ward 6's "chimney" northeast of New York and New Jersey Avenues to Ward 5. That also reunifies a Census tract and makes geographic sense.

Why do Census tracts matter? For one, the law requires redistricting to try to keep Census tracts together. The current committee seems to have ignored that dictate. Also, a great deal of data is reported on the Census tract level. When government agencies compute statistics for wards, they save time and money if ward boundaries primarily conform to tracts.

Yet the plan leaves 3 blocks from 9th to 11th between P and O in Ward 2 while moving the rest of tract 49.01 to Ward 6. It moves 2 other blocks from 7th to 9th between N and O into Ward 6 despite not moving any more of tract 49.02. And it grabs an arbitrary-seeming half of tract 59, around Judiciary Square, excluding the small triangle between 5th, H, and Massachusetts.

Jack Evans represents Ward 2, and was the only ward-specific member on the 3-person committee. He always has coveted having downtown in his ward, because of the many businesses in the area. Representing the region gives him fundraising power and some authority over more of the city's activity out of proportion to his ward's size.

Evans even admitted much of this at the markup on Thursday. The boundaries move most of ANC 2C and the Mt. Vernon Square Neighborhood Association (MVSNA) to Ward 6, but circumnavigate the Convention Center. Jack Evans said at the markup, "Nobody has done more for the Convention Center than me."

Convention Center Community Association head Martin Moulton posted this picture, advocating for the Convention Center to be kept with the Shaw neighborhood as it moves to Ward 6:

Image by CCCAPrez on Twitpic.

It seems that the other two members of the committee, at-large councilmembers Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson, simply let Evans draw his own lines. Evans even introduced two amendments during the markup the day after the map was released. Brown and Mendelson simply let them through without discussion or debate, even though one of the amendments as Evans explained it on the dais mistakenly moved part of Ward 1 into Ward 6. Mendelson is usually the most attentive to detail, but that day, he seemed to be napping.

On committees I serve on, such as the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council, many members are extremely careful to avoid doing anything that benefits one member in any way. Members have even been reluctant to do things that might benefit this blog, even though I get no remuneration from the blog and its goals are aligned with those of the RAC. There's just a strong aversion to even allowing an appearance of a conflict.

Having a ward member on the redistricting committee is already a dicey proposition. Members justified it because Evans is the longest-serving member of the Council and has participated in two redistrictings. But it should have been obvious to Brown and Mendelson that they must avoid an appearance, let alone the reality, of letting Evans manipulate the decisions for his own gain.

They should have identified some objective criteria for choosing the 2/6 boundary, whether that's keeping Census tracts whole, or neighborhood associations whole, or changing the fewest blocks, or maximizing the happiness of residents using the metrics in our own Redistricting Game analysis (which they used in the report to justify some changes while making other changes directly contrary to the data).

They should have kept Evans out of that part of it, and decided on the Ward 2 boundaries without giving him an extra voice. Instead, they apparently outsourced all decisions about the 2/6 boundary to Evans himself, oblivious or uncaring about the clear conflict of interest.


Park trails can increase bike usage east of the river

Road design, topography, and the arrangement of parkland make biking east of the Anacostia River difficult. However, that parkland also creates an opportunity to add miles of bike trails to stand in for the connectivity that on-street routes are unable to provide.

Bike in Fort Dupont Park. Photo by dannyfowler on Flickr.

In fact, there is the potential to add trails east of the Anacostia river that would equal more bike trails than the rest of DC combined. Despite this, the area's history is unfavorable to bike usage.

Most of the infrastructure east of the river was planned after the widespread adoption of the automobile. As a result it is fractured, with a discontinuous street grid which makes for traffic sewers and circuitous routes. Furthermore, the width and scale of the roads were designed around cars, making it difficult for DDOT to add in bike lanes without taking out traffic lanes or parking.

In the oldest parts of the city, DDOT has been able to add bike lanes by narrowing one wide general-purpose lane into a normal-sized lane plus a bike lane, as they did on Q and R Streets NW. That's possible because L'Enfant Plan streets weren't the same widths as modern streets, but this isn't possible in areas laid out in the automobile era.

Recent data confirms that biking east of the river is a challenge. Arlington released Capital Bikeshare data showing that there were few users in that part of DC.

We followed the news with a discussion of the issues that potential east of the river bike users face. WABA has also specifically targeted outreach efforts to improve cycling in that part of the city.

With this in mind, and inspired by David Alpert's WMATA fantasy map, I created this fantasy bike trail map based on the area east of the river. The idea is to create three north-south routes and connect them with several east-west rungs.

Click the map for an interactive version.
Green - Existing Trails | Blue - Existing Trails in need of improvement
Red - Planned Trails | Purple - Wished for trails (not in any plans)

Here is a description of each of the trails.

Anacostia Riverwalk Trail (ART). The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail network is a set of trails proposed to follow along both sides of the Anacostia River for its entire length in DC. It will stretch from the Douglass Bridge to the DC/Prince George's County boundary. On the south end it will connect to the extant section of the South Capitol Street Trail. On the north end it will connect to Prince George's County's Anacostia Trail. Two sections of this trail are already open, one from the Douglass Bridge to 11th Street SE and and another between the CSX rail line and Benning Road NE. A section that bridges over the rail line and connects to 11th Street is currently being built.

Future construction includes the section north of Benning Road, which includes the trail along the the river and another to Eastland Gardens, and a new Anacostia River crossing south of the Arboretum. This is currently undergoing Environmental Assessment review. Once completed this trail will be the first north-south route east of the river and will connect Ward 7, Ward 8, and Maryland as well as the six river crossings in DC. A cyclist in Anacostia could ride as far as Wheaton or Beltsville on the new DC/Maryland trail network. The trail could be further enhanced with a river crossing on either the current or a future New York Avenue Bridge.

South Capitol Street Trail. The South Capitol Street Trail is a trail proposed to run along the east edge of the secure facilities that line the Potomac River in far Southwest before jogging east to connect to the Oxon Hill Farm Trail. It will serve as a connection between the Douglass and Wilson bridges as well as a continuation of the Anacostia Trails. By finishing the connection between the Mt. Vernon Trail and the Anacostia Trail System it will connect Northern Virginia's system with Prince George's County's. The concept plan for this project was completed in 2010.

Cheverly Connector. This trail would run on the east and south sides of the railroad tracks that connect Deanwood with Cheverly. It isn't in any plans, but is one I think should be included in future bike plans. In DC, it would start at the Deanwood underpass, cross the Deanwood Metro station and parking lot to connect to the alley behind the northernmost section of Minnesota Avenue NE and then cross over Eastern Avenue NE on a trail bridge. In Maryland it would follow the strip of land between the CSX rail line and Addison Road to go around the Mid-Atlantic Finishing site, then pass between the Metro tracks and what will be Addison Row. From there it would cross Lower Beaverdam Creek and connect to the parking lot at the Cheverly Metro.

This would create a straight connection between eastern Cheverly and DC. It could also serve as a connection between the ART, via a Nash Run Trail, and a planned trail along Lower Beaverdam Creek. Following the creek all the way to the Anacostia would be almost impossible as it would necessitate negotiating the trail under the Metro tracks, two sets of rail lines and MD-201 while passing through an in-use industrial site. There could be issues with the Addison Row development, as it appears to be very close to the Metro tracks.

Nash Run Trail. Nash Run is an Anacostia tributary that starts in Farimount Heights in Prince George's County, passes under the Deanwood Recreation Center and Metro station and into Kenilworth Gardens. There is no trail along this stream in any plans, but again it is one I think should be included in future bike plans. A trail could be built to follow this stream. It would connect to the ART at Anacostia Avenue before turning east along the above ground portion of the stream south of Douglas St NE. It could go over 295 on the extant pedestrian overpass and then through the tunnel under the rail lines. On the east side of the tracks, it would become an on-road route along Nash Road NE, Leroy Gorham Drive NE, and Nash Place NE, where it would connect to Robert Gray Elementary School and Fairmont Heights High School.

The WB&A Rail Trail. Prince George's County currently plans to build an "on-road" trail along MD-704 from the southern terminus of the WB&A trail in Bowie to the District line. As MD-704 is built on the old WB&A right of way, this would be a continuation of that trail. Once in the District, the trail could be routed on-road west along Dix Street NE to the Marvin Gaye Park Trail and south on Eastern Avenue NE to the Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail and the Watts Branch extended trail.

Chesapeake Beach Rail Trail. Maryland has plans to build a trail from the DC line to Chesapeake Beach, MD, following the old Chesapeake Railroad route (though not always on the old railbed since the line wasn't railbanked). A very short section of the trail exists from Crown Street in Seat Pleasant to the shopping center on East Capitol Street. If extended west to the DC line along an extant social trail, it could be easily connected to the east end of the existing Marvin Gaye Park Trail, which runs parallel to the old railroad in DC.

Marvin Gaye Park/Watts Branch Trail. The Marvin Gaye Park Trail is an existing, and recently rebuilt, trail that runs along the banks of Watts Branch. It could be extended to both the west and the east along the stream. It could go west through the Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue NE underpass and along Deane Avenue NE to the ART and from there to the new bridge across the Anacostia.

It could also expand east into Prince George's County, where the name of the trail may change, along the two Watts Branch tributaries that form the stream just inside the District. A trail along the western tributary would pass the planned Walmart and the Capitol Heights Metro before going through the Capitol Heights neighborhood. The trail along the eastern tributary would pass through park land. Both trails could end at different locations along Rollins Avenue where they could connect via bike lanes.

Boundary Bikeway. Moving cyclists along the east side of the District is trickier than the west side. There is no linear park and the only road that goes through, Southern Avenue, is considered a poor road for cyclists. While one option may be to make Southern more friendly with bike lanes or cycle tracks, an easier option might be to build a bikeway on the first roads across the boundary in Prince George's County. Using the streets Akin, Able, Boones Hill, and Arcadia and connecting them with short trails as needed, a bikeway could be built connecting the trail along Watts Branch to the one at Oxon Run. A bike/pedestrian bridge over Pennsylvania Avenue would finish the connection.

Pennsylvania Avenue Trail. As part of the Pennsylvania Avenue Great Streets concept plan there was a proposal to run a multi-use trail along the side of Penn from the old railroad tracks to Southern Avenue. This trail would have connected the Shepherd Rail Trail on the east side, with the Fort Circle Trail in the middle and the Boundary Bikeway and Oxon Run Trail on the west.

DDOT has been actively rebuilding Pennsylvania Avenue SE for over a year, and as sections have been completed, it's clear that there is no associated muti-use trail or cycletrack. There is a wider sidewalk, but it can't really be called a bike facility. Since there is unlikely to be a second bite at that apple for a while, the next best option is to connect the short distance from Fort Circle Trail and the trails in Maryland with a trail either along Pennsylvania Avenue or through the apartments on the south side above the buried Fort Davis tributary.

Shepherd Rail Trail. The dormant Shepherd Industrial spur rail line could be converted into a rail trail running from the South Capitol Street Trail all the way to Fort Dupont. Though the trail would run parallel to the ART, it would be on the east side of the Anacostia Freeway, where people live, thus serving a different constituency.

It would tie into the ART at both the north and south ends of the rail spur and also intersect the St. Elizabeths Access Trail, Suitland Parkway Trail, Pope Branch Trail, and Fort Dupont Trail. This trail was originally to be built in conjunction with the streetcar but was abandoned when the right-of-way was deemed unsuitable for the streetcar. Nonetheless, it is in the District's Bicycle Master Plan. Building it would require railbanking the existing right-of-way, which CSX reportedly wants to keep.

Fort Circle Trail. The Fort Circle Trail is a mostly-unpaved trail running from the Anacostia Community Museum at Bruce Place and Raynolds Street SE in Fort Stanton Park to the Marvin Gaye Park Trail at Hunt Place NE. The current trail is the only single-track trail in DC and is popular with mountain bikers. There have been some proposals to extend and improve the trail. DC should create a paved trail in line with those plans to complement the single-track trail. In addition, I propose some other enhancements not currently in any plans.

In the center, Fort Davis Drive could be widened with bike lanes, a cycletrack or a sidepath. In other areas a paved trail through the parks could be created or improved. On the south end it could be extended from its current endpoint to the Suitland Parkway Trail near 20th Street SE and then to the Congress Heights Metro. A spur from the Anacostia History Museum could connect to W Street SE . A second spur could connect through Fort Stanton east to Pomeroy Road SE and the Suitland Parkway Trail. It could then cross Suitland Parkway and travel uphill along the stream flowing from St. Elizabeths' east campus, where it too could connect to the Congress Heights Metro Station, Alabama Avenue, and, via 13th Street, to the Oxon Run Trail. The Fort Circle trail would become the critical "center leg trail" of the east of the river trail system.

Oxon Run Trail. Oxon Run is another stream that starts in District Heights, MD, but instead of flowing into the Anacostia, it turns south to the Potomac. It forms the route for Pennsylvania Avenue in Maryland, then crosses the DC/Maryland border and runs along it. It crosses into DC near the Southern Avenue Metro station, back into Maryland at Oxon Hill Farm and back again into DC just before emptying into the Potomac River. A pair of unconnected trails currently follows the lower portions of the stream in DC and Oxon Hill Farm.

DC has plans for improving its section from entry to exit and better connecting it to the Oxon Hill Farm Trail. PG County plans to extend it from the DC line to the Naylor Road Metro station where it would connect to the Suitland Parkway Trail.

In addition to these plans, NPS should upgrade its old, substandard trail in Oxon Farm, and PG County should consider extending the trail farther. Room exists to extend the trail north along the stream past Lincoln Memorial and Cedar Hill Cemeteries, then across Pennsylvania Ave at Arcadia Ave (where the Boundary Bikeway ends), and then along the North side of Pennsylvania Avenue to Penn Crossing.

Suitland Parkway Trail. The Suitland Parkway Trail is a bike trail along the north side of the Suitland Parkway from Pomeroy Road in DC to a dead end just west of Southern Avenue. On the west end it connects to the Anacostia Metro and the ART via an on-road route. PG County has plans to extend the trail into Maryland as far as the Branch Avenue Metro Station where it will connect to the extension of the Henson Creek Trail.

Prince George's County shouldn't stop at Branch Avenue. It should continue the trail east along the Parkway and upper Henson Creek all the way to Andrews Air Force Base. Once the Maryland section is built, DDOT will likely upgrade the almost-unusable trail in DC. Improvements to the on-street route should be included in the South Capitol Street plan.

St Elizabeths Access Trail. The St. Elizabeths Access trail is a trail to be built along the east side of the access road to the DHS facility at St Elizabeths. It would start at the intersection of the South Capitol Street Trail and Shepherd Rail Trail at Firth Sterling Avenue SE just east of the Anacostia Freeway and would end at the intersection of South Capitol Street and MLK Avenue. There it would connect to the Oxon Run Trail and, again, to the South Capitol Street Trail.

It will create a parallel option to the South Capitol Street Trail that is on the residential side of the Anacostia Freeway. This is to currently being built with part to open in 2013 and more to open in 2014.

Pope Branch Trail. Pope Branch is a short stream running parallel to and south of Massachusetts Avenue SE. It runs through park land and is only crossed by four roads along the way. A trail along this stream could connect the Fort Circle Trail to the Shepherd Rail Trail. It could also connect to many of the streets along the park to tie in the neighborhoods between Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Avenues.

Fort Dupont Trail. In Fort Dupont Park there is a partial loop trail. The trails that exist there are mostly unusable and need to be upgraded - especially along the north side. On the south and east, the trail could be replaced with a sidepath along Fort Davis and Fort Dupont Drives.

The trail could also be extended east, past the Fort Circle trail, to Alabama Avenue SE and, with a bicycle boulevard on a couple of blocks on Beck Street SE and Vine Street, to the Boundary Bikeway. To the west the trail could be extended along the stream that flows through the park, to the Shepherd Rail Trail and through the south side of the railroad's DC-295 underpass to the ART. Currently, there is nowhere for a cyclist to cross DC-295 between Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Benning Road NE, and Pennsylvania Avenue is not for the timid. This would create a new crossing and a direct connection the entire way to Maryland.

Piney Run Trail. Piney Run is a stream that starts just south of Hebrew Cemetery on the DC/Maryland border and then flows on the south side of Benning Road before going underground just south of Fort Mahon. Though most of the stream is buried, it's route can still be used to build a trail connecting the Boundary Bikeway at Abel Road in Maryland to the Fort Circle Trail in Fort Chaplin Park, and connect the Fletcher Johnson and Benning Park Recreation Centers along the way.

Hillcrest Connector trail. A connector trail through Hillcrest could use an assortment of parks and green space to connect the Hillcrest neighborhood to the Fort Circle Trail and the Naylor Road Metro Station where the Suitland Parkway and Oxon Run trails meet. The trail could run on the north side of Naylor Road SE from the Metro station and along the edge of 30th Street SE to a point just south of Fort Baker Drive. The trail would then use an unbuilt road, for which the ROW still exists, to cross Naylor Road and connect to the Fort Circle Trail. In addition, this trail could easily connect to any future Skyland development.

Benning Road Cycletrack. Currently, Benning Road is the only place between Pennsylvania Avenue and Bladensburg where pedestrians and cyclists can go from west of the river to east of 295. This uncrossable span of river stretches nearly 4 miles. Traffic moves fast on Benning Road, so much so that it has a speed camera on it. Most cyclists use the sidewalks to travel from the river to Minnesota Avenue NE. On several occasions cyclists have been hit on the sidewalks along Benning.

To make this connection more desirable a cycletrack should be added along the south side of Benning Road between the Anacostia Bridge and the railroad bridge and from the railroad bridge to the Fort Circle Trail.

Henson Creek Trail. This is the only trail listed that doesn't connect directly to DC. This trail currently runs from Oxon Hill Road to Temple Hill Road in Prince George's County and is already planned for extension to the Branch Avenue Metro Station. A further extension along a tributary of Henson Creek through District Heights could connect the trailheads of the Oxon Run Trail and two Watts Branch Trails.

This network could create one of the most bikeable and walkable communities in the country, tie neighborhoods together, and bring all the benefits of active transportation to the eastern part of the city. It would involve a lot of paving, but if designed with stormwater management projects and daylighting of streams, the impact on water quality could be offset or even improved.

Cross-posted at The Washcycle.


Breakfast links: Lower rent, higher traffic

Photo by James Cridland on Flickr.
New Tysons housing more affordable?: Fairfax County leaders are eager to attract more residents to Tysons Corner but are debating how to get more affordable housing in new residential developments coming over the next few years. (Post)

Pushing for more traffic enforcement: One of the owners of Mt. Vernon Triangle's BicycleSPACE bike shop, Eric Kugler, has launched a petition asking for more speed and red-light cameras after a driver hit Kidical Mass organizer Megan Odett. (WTOP)

Don't count on Outer Beltway: The people pushing for a new (sprawl-inducing) Potomac River crossing are likely to be disappointed. Virginia state officials want it, but Maryland says they're focused on transit instead. (WAMU)

More roads, more traffic: University of Toronto researchers have confirmed what we all suspected: building more roads creates more traffic. Interestingly, public transit availability had no effect on driving levels. (WSJ)

4000 series causing problems: Metro's 4000 series rail cars are causing on-time performance problems and are more unreliable than older cars in service. Tom Downs said they should be fixed or replaced, neither of which will happen soon. (WUSA)

Some resist underground parking: Many surface parking lots are turning into mixed-use developments with underground garages in places like White Flint. Some suburbanites are complaining about having to drive down a level or two to park even though their walk to the store becomes shorter. (Post)

What's up with Alexandria's waterfront?: The long-awaited and often controversial Alexandria Waterfront plan is nearing completion, though the Boat Club is still fighting public space plans that would require them to change their parking lot. (DC Mud)

DC man pushes Pepco for solar: Former DC Shadow Representative and community activist John Capozzi is using his status as a Pepco shareholder to push the power company to adopt and encourage solar power. (Examiner, S. Glazerman)

And...: Are DC's drivers the dumbest in the country? (City Paper) ... Mayor Gray wants to enable higher pay for top officials (Examiner) ... Think all musicians tour the country in earth-killing luxury tour buses? Better think again. (Lane Change)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Greater Greater Week in Review: May 22-28, 2011

If you can't read Greater Greater Washington every day, you'll still be able to catch all our posts at a glance with Greater Greater Week in Review.

Photo by Lady on a MIssion on Flickr.

Featured posts:

WMATA considering policies for shorter station names: Metro might take a harder line against sprawling station names like U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo in the future, under a policy WMATA's Board will discuss on Thursday.

Bikeshare intensity maps can inform expansion choices: Tomorrow evening, DDOT is holding their public meeting on Capital Bikeshare expansion. Where should new stations go? Maps showing the current usage patterns can help us think about how to expand the system.

Capitol Hill community rallies for Ward 6 unity: Today the DC Council's Subcommittee on Redistricting releases their much-anticipated proposal for new boundaries for the eight existing city wards. Yesterday, community members from around Ward 6 (as we know it) came together for a Rally to Keep Capitol Hill Together.

Montgomery no longer a homogenous suburb: Two weeks ago, former Montgomery County Councilmember Rose Crenca was quoted by the Examiner as saying that people who don't want to live in a suburb should leave the county.

Most popular:

"Assaulting a police officer" may not mean what you think: Recently, a horrifying video surfaced of Metro Transit Police slamming a man in a wheelchair to the ground where he began bleeding from the head. WMATA said the man fell out of his wheelchair while "resisting arrest" and was "arrested for assault on a police officer."

Map contest winners, part 1: The clean, contemporary design: 1,304 people voted in our map contest, and our jury has made their choices. Thanks so much to all 17 people who submitted maps, everyone who voted, and to all of our jury members.

Transitways can run on top of grass: Transitways don't have to be ugly. They don't even have to be paved. There are many examples around the world of grass-track transitways for light rail or BRT, and a lot of local interest in using them here.

Map contest winners, part 2: Familiar clarity and simplicity: Most of the maps in our map contest reimagined the Metro map in diverse and interesting ways. One of the maps took the opposite tack, changing as little as possible.

Station expansion and "reverse rider rewards" could address Capital Bikeshare capacity needs: Capital Bikeshare has been so successful, bikes or open docks are getting harder to find at popular stations. But a large round of expansion, discussed at a public meeting last night, and a new "reverse rider rewards" program may soon help keep the system in balance.

Other posts:

Public Spaces

I Wish This Were... in Dupont Circle, part 1

Dupont Circle is considered to be a fully-developed neighborhood, and certainly during the District's tough years it was ahead of other areas. Yet there are still parts that are ripe for improvements.

Dupont Circle is surrounded by shops, cafes, and hotels, but the park itself is difficult to get in and out of. Its four lanes of counter-clockwise traffic are divided into two parts, with the inner part serving as Massachusetts Ave, and the outer part working as a typical traffic circle for the other four streets intersecting the park.

Pedestrians can connect from the three avenues (Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire) but not the two streets (19th and P). At the Connecticut and New Hampshire crossings, pedestrians have to wade through two levels of traffic signals, waiting for the second on a narrow concrete median, not wide enough for bikes, and without room for more than a single wheelchair.

In 2006 the Project for Public Spaces put Dupont Circle in its Hall of Shame, saying "the road around the Circle is two lanes too wide, and the connections from the interior park to the edges could be dramatically improved."

To make the park more accessible, Massachusetts Ave's inner roadway should be removed, with Massachusetts Ave traffic merging in a simpler two-lane circle.

This blog has already suggested we put a lid on Connecticut Avenue. The block of the underpass north of Dupont Circle and south of Q St should be decked over to give us a new park.

The new park would connect the two distant halves of Connecticut Ave, expand the circle's green space, and might even provide a better home for the farmers market.

The biggest missed opportunity is under our noses. Where planters fill the Connecticut Ave medians, we once had trolleys that dipped below the surface, and came to rest in two semi-circular (and unconnected) platforms. That underground space should be given a use that opens it to the public.

The space became vacant when the streetcars stopped running in 1962. In 1995 the western half was turned into a food court called Dupont Down Under, which soon failed, and tied up the space with lawsuits.

Last year a group called The Arts Coalition for Dupont Underground (ACDU) presented the only submission for the city's call for proposals. The underground space is so vast, their art space would use up only part of the tunnels, so their proposal included a restaurant and a winery.

It is a shame the city can't take the initiative to clean the space up, so it can at least be used for temporary events while ACDU gathers funding.

Nearby, another vacant government space is showing how commercial and artistic organizations can team up to revitalize a dormant space: a building at 14th & Florida is being used by BYT and Art Whino to host Vitaminwater® Uuncapped Live. Dupont's tunnels could foster similar events. Residents have proposed many other alternatives, but without investors this is wishful thinking. Ideas have included a dance club, a gym, a storage facility, and a pool hall. And even a sex club has been given serious consideration.

A clean, empty space will give rise to many creative temporary uses.

I Wish This Were... is a series where contributors imagine a better use for vacant properties and poorly-conceived public spaces in the DC area.

Public Safety

Park Police arrest people for dancing at Jefferson Memorial

On Saturday, in the temple to America's greatest defender of freedom, Thomas Jefferson, the US Park Police arrested several people who had gathered to quietly dance.

In 2008, Mary Oberwetter and some other people gathered to silently dance to celebrate Jefferson's birthday one night. Park Police told them to stop, and when Oberwetter refused, she was arrested. A federal district court judge dismissed her lawsuit alleging this violated her First Amendment rights, and this month an appeals court agreed.

A number of individuals went to the memorial Saturday to protest the decision by dancing some more. Police told them they would be arrested if they chose to dance, then immediately did arrest one couple who appear to have broken off from the group and started dancing anyway.

That video excerpts from a longer one that shows the officers telling people they'd be arrested without further warning if anyone danced, then turning around and arresting a couple who had started very subtly shuffling back and forth while embracing in a somewhat dance-like way.

You also can see the officers roughing up and even choking a few people during the arrests. However, the man being choked did appear to be resisting arrest. As Don of We Love DC points out, the physical force started once one protestor tried to pull another one away from an officer trying to arrest him.

Like Don, I agree with the protestors' mission. It's ridiculous to preventing quiet dancing at the memorial under the argument that it should be reserved for "quiet contemplation," especially since schoolkids are often quite rowdy. The government has an interest in stopping loud protests that might disrupt others, but to arrest that couple who are silently swaying back and forth in an embrace looks ridiculous. But protestors who physically fight the officers don't help the cause.


Hidden tunnels, bugs, and bigamy

One of my favorite things about historic research is that no matter how strange or intriguing a story is at first, I really have no idea where a little digging might take me. Sometimes a lead just fizzles out. But sometimes what I discover is more bizarre and ridiculous than I could have imagined...

Photo via Shorpy.

In May of 1917, while working on the foundation for the luxurious Pelham Courts apartments in Dupont Circle, workers made an unusual discovery:

A mysterious subterranean tunnel built of brick, and 22 feet in circumference, was uncovered yesterday by workmen who are excavating for the new building being erected at 2115 P street northwest by Harry Wardman.

Oldest inhabitants in that section say they did not know of the existence of the passage. It is presumed that it was used by Union forces in the civil war or by English forces in the war of 1812. The passage is more than 100 feet long. (Washington Post, 5/19/1917)

With that quick newspaper blurb, a story was born and died, receiving no other attention at the time. There were more important things going on—only a month earlier, the US had officially entered World Ward I, and the Selective Service Act was passed just the day before the article was published. No one had time to care about old hidden tunnels.

But for a couple of days in 1924, when the war was over and life was calmer, the tunnels were uncovered again and "Washington was alive with stories of mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure." (Post, 3/4/1942)

While driving behind Pelham Courts in mid-September of 1924, a truck's tires sank into the ground, revealing the entrance to a hidden underground shaft. The manager and janitor of the building decided to explore, and called up some newspapermen to report.

Photo via Shorpy.

What they found was this:

Photo via Shorpy.
Descending through the opening made by the wheels of the truck, the searchers stood in a passageway high enough and broad enough for a man to walk with ease. The tunnel was perfectly constructed and an architect who viewed it said its proportions were correct. One of the most astounding features of the place was the fact that the walls were carefully, even artistically formed of white enameled brick, pronounced valuable by builders.

On the ceiling were pasted numerous copies of German newspapers dated during the summer of 1917 and 1918. Dimly seen in the feeble rays of the electric torches, it was possible to discern in the newspaper articles frequent references to submarine activities then employed by the imperial government of Germany. Cryptic signs and engravings in cipher defaced the papers to some extent.

Other German periodicals and scores of empty bottles were brought to light by the investigators. (Post, 9/26/1924)

Reports indicated that the tunnels were long and extensive—that they may have reached as far as Rock Creek Park. Some electric lighting was discovered inside. For days, wild theories abounded. Was it a Confederate soldier hideout?  A stop on the Underground Railroad?  A liquor depot for bootleggers? A counterfeiter's lair? Or maybe a secret laboratory for "Dr. Otto von Golph's" experiments?

None of the above.

The Smithsonian Institute's mosquito-expert entomologist, Harrison G. Dyar, let the public spectacle go on for a couple of days before admitting to city newspapers that he himself had dug the tunnels from about 1906 until 1916, at which time he moved away to California. Why? "I did it for exercise," he said, "Digging tunnels after work is my hobby. There's nothing really mysterious about it."  (Post, 9/27/24)

Harrison Gray Dyar. Photo from the Washington Post archives.

Dyar told the Washington Star that the urge started when he dug a flowerbed for his wife around 1906. "When I was down perhaps 6 or 7 feet, surrounded only by the damp brown walls of old Mother Earth, I was seized by an undeniable fancy to keep on going."

Sound implausible? Consider that Mr. Dyar's tunnels were not limited to the area surrounding the property he had owned at 1510 21st Street. When he moved to 804 B Street, SW (now Independence Ave.), his digging habit continued. There, his tunnels were equipped with electric lighting, stone stairways, and cement walls, and went as deep as 24 feet. (Post, 3/4/1942)

Consider also that Mr. Dyar's eccentricities didn't end with his tunnel digging:

Midway through his career, Dyar encountered problems in his personal life that had serious effects on his professional life. His marriage to Zella Peabody ended in 1915 amid charges of bigamy, and he was dismissed from the USDA for conduct unbecoming a government employee. It became known that in 1906 Dyar, using the alias Wilfred Allen, had married Wellesca Pollock, an educator and ardent disciple of the Bahá'í faith. They had three sons, whom Dyar legally adopted after he and Allen married legally in 1921.

He became active in the Bahá'í faith, a movement that accepts the divine inspiration of all religions and seeks to reconcile science with religion. Dyar edited Reality, an independent Bahá'í journal, from 1922 until his death, but his unorthodox opinions, voiced in the magazine, were rejected by mainstream Bahá'ís. In Reality Dyar published a fascinating series of short stories replaying central themes in his life—including bigamy.

(For an even deeper look into the craziness of Dyar's personal life, check out this court case filed by his second wife, in which she attempts to divorce the fake husband created to hide her relationship with Dyar: Allen v. Allen, 193 P. 539 (1970).

Of course, Mr. Dyar's story doesn't explain all of the mysteries surrounding the tunnels. Where did the German newspapers dated from 1917 and 1918 come from? What about the liquor bottles? Mr. Dyar told the Post that he didn't know anything about those things, and that he was in California during those years.

Maybe during the early days of WWI, someone read the little news blurb about Harry Wardman's discovery, and bootleggers or German spies actually did move in for a while. Maybe strange old Mr. Dyar's weird life was really hiding a double life as a spy. He certainly had the ability to keep a secret.

The Pelham Courts of Dupont Circle are long gone, and the property now houses the Hotel Palomar. Apparently, the tunnels there have been sealed off in concrete.

The property where Mr. Dyar lived in SW now houses the FAA. There's no telling what they may have done to that labyrinth.


The Committee of 100's worst nightmare

Bike lanes... on overhead wires! Image from Kolelinia via Beyond Profit.

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