The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts from May 2012


Why the angst over accessory dwellings?

While DC's zoning update discourse has bizarrely revolved thus far around a small group of opponents spreading false information, there are serious policy differences to genuinely debate. One is the proposal to allow accessory dwellings in single-family zones in DC and Montgomery County.

Photo by Kelly Sue on Flickr.

Planning departments in both jurisdictions want to follow many other places around the nation and allow homeowners to rent out a garage, base­ment, or other space. This would create more diverse housing choices, make aging in place more affordable, and help more customers for neighborhood businesses.

They have also attracted vociferous opposition. In Montgomery County, opponents packed some recent hearings to fight the proposal. In DC, hearings haven't come up yet, but posts on local listservs have been rallying residents to organize against the change.

Some residents have been meeting with DC councilmembers, including Michael Brown, who sent a letter opposing accessory dwellings after a meeting with "Neighbors for Neighborhoods."

Much of the opposition is driven by fears of neighborhoods become predominantly filled with renters. But there are protections against this. The homeowner still has to live in the house to create an accessory dwelling. They can't create an accessory unit and then rent out the main house at the same time while living elsewhere. There are also limits on how big such an accessory dwelling can be, and there can't be more than one on a property.

Young and old alike need accessory dwellings

Accessory dwelling rules address twin challenges we face today that stem from 20th century suburbanization: Homes that are unaffordable for the young and impractical for the aging.

Metropolitan areas have ballooned in diameter as the population has grown, while at the same time older suburban areas have lost population compared to the mid-20th century. While most single-family homes were built for large families, today families have fewer children and couples are waiting longer to have children.

In addition, empty nesters are living longer in the large houses where they raised families, unlike previous eras where grandparents often lived with children and grandchildren. Thanks to all of these factors, rather than accommodating some growth, many inner-ring suburbs are gradually growing emptier.

That means that young professionals increasingly can't find a place to live. There are not enough units smaller than full houses in desirable areas to meet the demand and often people have to buy more house than they need. Meanwhile, seniors face challenges "aging in place" such as dealing with stairs or the cost of maintaining a large house.

The solution is simple: Let property owners rent out garages or basements. A homeowner who doesn't have children at home can rent a room over a garage to someone else's adult child who needs a place. A senior can make some extra money or even move into the accessory unit and earn money from renting out the whole house. Housing can get more affordable for many people while also increasing property values.

Why not?

Why would people oppose this? Here are a few potential reasons:

Neighborhood busybody-ism. Look at some of these quotes from the Patch article:

"If they take away our voice by allowing accessory apartments by right, we don't have a say," said Kim Persaud, president of the Wheaton Regional Park Neighborhood Association. ... Said Howard Nussbaum, president of the Kensington Heights Civic Association, "With the special exception, I know what's going on next door and I can put my two cents in."
There's an understandable impulse to want to have a say over what every neighbor does all the time, but that doesn't mean the government should cater to it. In many neighborhoods, people rent out their basements all the time and the world doesn't come to an end.

Race and class. David Moon at Maryland Juice suggests that people are scared of "poor people moving into their neighborhood" and that there is a racial element to this fear. To some people, a rental unit conjures up images of a Latino family or someone else "different."

Many zoning regulations in the mid-20th century promoted de facto segregation by making certain neighborhoods unattainable to a large segment of the population. Neighbors for Neighborhoods has been actively trying to recruit members and start chapters east of Rock Creek Park, but residents in these areas may want to think carefully before signing onto any anti-accessory dwelling campaign.

Traffic and parking. More people could mean more traffic and more difficulty parking. Regionally, having more people live in established neighborhoods creates less commuting traffic along long routes in and out of the core, but it could mean slightly more cars in residential areas.

As Kaid Benfield thoughtfully explains in the Atlantic, these types concerns are real. Benfield writes that smart growth "manages impacts by concentrating them." We get less overall traffic and pollution, but more in one specific place from an individual development project.

Making accessory dwellings legal across the District and in Montgomery County is actually better for impact-averse residents than any specific development because it will bring only slow and small change spread out over a wide area.

Much of the impact of this policy would be positive. Restaurants and local stores will be more likely to thrive or at least survive with more potential customers. More eyes on the street will make neighborhoods safer for children. A larger tax base will allow the District to tax each resident less.

Pro-DC will be pushing the DC Council and Zoning Commission to support accessory dwellings. Join the list below to stay informed about ways to weigh in as the process proceeds.

Join Pro-DC

Join the Pro-DC email list to stay informed about opportunities to speak up for accessory dwellings and other important changes that improve our city. Montgomery residents, you can join too and we will let you know about ways to support accessory dwellings in Montgomery County.

First name:    Last name:

Email address:

Street:    City/state:


Help clean up DC politics this weekend and this month

DC residents can continue to shake our heads in embarrassment and wait for the US Attorney to expose the corrosive influence of money in local DC politics, reinforcing the image of a federal territory unable to govern itself. Or, we can send a message to DC leaders that if they are not willing to lead on these important matters of ethics and integrity, the people will.

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

Join me and other many other DC residents by helping to put Initiative 70 on the ballot this November. We are collecting signatures at the Petworth and Dupont farmers' markets and Glover Park Day this weekend, and are looking for folks during Capital Pride next weekend. Please sign up to help at one of these or find out about other times and locations near you.

Initiative 70 bans corporate cash from local campaigns, as well as other ways to buy influence and access such as inaugural committees, constituent service funds and legal defense funds. It would become law if District voters approve it in November.

But it can't make the ballot simply because seems like a good thing to do. We need the valid signatures and addresses of 5% of DC registered voters on petition sheets we give to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics by early July, including 5% percent of the voters in 5 of the 8 wards.

And we can't just put some on-line petition on Facebook or Twitter to do it. We need to do it the old-fashioned way by collecting signatures in person, with the circulator of the petition witnessing the signature of each voter that signs our sheets.

We need Initiative 70 for the good of our city, but Initiative 70 also needs you. We need DC residents who believe in fairness and an ethical government to commit a little time to helping us gather the necessary signatures. In every ward, DC Public Trust, the organization we formed to pass Initiative 70, has weekly events at supermarkets and farmers' markets.

This weekend, for example, we'll be at the Petworth farmers' market in Ward 4 tomorrow, Glover Park Day in Ward 3 on Saturday, and the Dupont farmers' Market in Ward 2 on Sunday. Just 70 minutes of your week for Initiative 70 will help us collect the signatures we need to make the ballot.

Please sign up to volunteer online. Want to do something in your neighborhood? I will put you in touch with your ward coordinator.

Will Initiative 70 clean up DC politics entirely? Sadly, it won't. But as a longtime observer of local politics, I believe it is important to put into law because it addresses two glaring problems: a lack of transparency in who's giving and the overt evasion of our individual contribution limits.

LLCs, limited liability companies that fill our city's campaign coffers, play a game of peek-a-boo with our campaign finance laws. They are able to hide behind legal paperwork so we can't see the money flowing from one parent donor, but when the checks are handed over at a fundraiser it's pretty clear who is giving.

This has become an easy way to evade our individual contribution limits, which means that District contractor Jeffrey Thompson—whose companies profit from tens of millions in District contracts—can return the favor during campaign season.

About a month ago, I was collecting signatures at an event attended by Mayor Gray. I asked the Mayor to add his name to the thousands of DC residents who wanted a fairer local campaign finance system. He did not, explaining he had his own legislation he was going to put forward May 15. That day has come and gone without any proposal.

But as I told the Mayor, I don't think his efforts and ours are mutually exclusive. They are complimentary. Let's put Initiative 70 on the ballot, let's debate Mayor Gray's proposal—but let's do something to address what is a clear problem.

If we don't take action, we'll just keep the US Attorney busy. And that's not good for DC.

Please sign up now to help DC Public Trust and clean up DC politics. And Mayor Gray, I'm happy to meet you anytime to collect your signature.


Preservation staff reject solar panels on Cleveland Park home

If you own a home in a historic district in DC, you can't install solar panels, unless nobody can see them from a street. That's the recommendation from historic preservation staff on a case the board will debate today.

Photo by ell brown on Flickr.

A homeowner on Newark Street in Cleveland Park wants to add solar panels to the roof. The house faces south, meaning that the only side invisible from the street would be the north side which gets far less sun.

The Cleveland Park Historical Society supports the panels. From their website:

CPHS's Architectural Review Committee supports the installation of solar panels on this property, not on the street-facing slope of the roof (which the applicants do not propose), but on more of the west face of the roof than was originally proposed, in order to regularize the array of panels. The ARC is interested in encouraging the use of alternative energy sources in the historic district. It received very strong statements of support from neighbors adjoining the property.

However, the staff report says that according to current preservation guidelines, solar panels are okay but only if nobody can see them from a street. If they can, no solar panels.

In fairness to historic preservation staff, they seem to be trying to follow their written guidelines. Preservation decisions are already so subjective, and the more preservationists can make them predictable, the better.

However, these guidelines are still very vague and leave lots of room for staff or the board to come out differently on similar cases. For example, staff recommended against letting the building replacing the Christian Science church at 16th and I have a penthouse level with occupiable space, and most board members agreed. But, ANC members pointed out, in 2007 staff supported a penthouse roof terrace for the Hay-Adams hotel, right on Lafayette Park.

Listen to any meeting of the Historic Preservation Review Board, the appointed body that makes the ultimate decisions, and few members on either side of the issue talk about how a case fits with similar cases elsewhere or how a project lines up against guidelines; instead, you hear a lot of very personal opinions about whether members "like it" or not.

A bigger problem is the one Matt Yglesias pointed out: The preservation process narrowly excludes every single factor except for historic "compatibility." In most public decisions, officials weigh a variety of factors against one another. Here, the board must ignore the value of environmental sustainability, the economic impact, and even the owner's hardship or religious freedom.

At the previous HPRB meeting, where the board landmarked the 1960s urban-renewal Tiber Island project in Southwest, preservation chief David Maloney noted that there was "not yet public support" for a wider historic district in the neighborhood. As long as the preservation process holds that "compatibility" is the sole factor and overly restrictive guidelines define it so narrowly, it's unlikely there will ever be public support for another historic district.

Anyone who'd rather see no more preservation at all would probably appreciate this conclusion. So, perhaps, do those who only care about blocking development in a select few already-designed neighborhoods and who care little about the rest. Everyone else, however, ought to hope our preservation process can reach a better balance in keeping with the broader priorities and needs of the city.

Update: The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Office followed up with a tweet about how in their county, they're okay with visible solar panels when done tastefully and when it's the only option. A store in Glen Echo Heights got permission to add the panels. DC would do well to follow suit.

Update 2: The board voted 4-3 today to reject the solar panels. In an initial vote, members Andrew Aurbach, Maria Casarella, Graham Davidson and chair Catherine Buell voted to allow the solar panels, while Rauzia Ally, Nancy Metzger, Gretchen Pfaehler and Joseph Taylor voted no. Buell then abstained in a subsequent vote to allow the board to pass a motion.


Breakfast links: Time

Photo by ToniVC on Flickr.
No nighttime Purple Line?: The University of Maryland has suggested that the Purple Line not stop on campus after 10 pm over fears of campus safety and security. This could pose a problem for students, who could possibly be up after 10 pm. (Patch)

Ike's family wants more time: Dwight Eisenhower's granddaughter wants more time to reach a consensus on the Frank Gehry design for the Eisenhower Memorial. She particularly objects to its large metal screens as "impractical and unnecessary." (DCist)

Still on the loose: A driver accused of hitting a cyclist in DC has not yet been tried or arrested even after a bench warrant was issued. The incident was caught on the cyclist's helmet camera. (Washington Times)

Unions against transit: Municipal unions in Virginia Beach are opposing a light rail referendum because they think transit competes against raises for workers. (RPUS)

Put a lid on it: One bike shop publication worries that the subsidized helmets CaBi will offer will hurt bike shop business. But with the inconvenience of a small buying window and limited selection, they probably aren't missing out much. (TBD, WashCycle)

New city will be empty: While some cities strive to become better for human residents one city in New Mexico is being built to have no people. The city will be a testing bed for various new technologies. (Fast Company)

LA gets its groove back: For too long the auto city has neglected its rail infrastructure, but Mayor Villaraigosa's push for more and better transit is starting to pay dividends. Angelenos are rediscovering the rail, and they like it. (SacBee)

And...: One infographic shows how long commutes are bad for us. (Cube Dweller Fitness, Bossi) ... A mixed use development near Nationals Park cold be coming soon. (JDLand) ... Kenyan McDuffie is sworn in as Ward 5's councilmember. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


For gold-standard BRT, Montgomery must start now

The "gold-standard" bus rapid transit network proposed for Montgomery County will be expensive, but money might not be its biggest problem. Lack of will to take the first steps now could be a bigger obstacle to creating a bus system that is truly rapid.

BRT station in Guadalajara, Mexico. Photo by itdp on Flickr.

The county's BRT Task Force correctly insists that BRT will only live up to its promise if buses can speed past traffic in their own lanes. Its report offers a clear and compelling vision of complete streets that both move commuters quickly and create the walkable environment that transit-oriented development needs.

But the task force found itself unable to make the hard choices about street design that BRT requires. Until the county faces those issues, it won't be possible to deliver on the "gold-standard" promise.

The county panel, willing enough to ask taxpayers for money, would not ask drivers to give up pavement. As a result, the much-discussed $2 billion cost estimate isn't the price of a gold-standard bus network. It's the cost of a lesser system that will leave fancy new buses still stuck in traffic, and will result in streets that are still hostile for pedestrians.

The devil is always in the details, and fitting bus lanes into existing streets is the bus planner's special hell. Here the task force barely made it into purgatory. The panel asked its consultants, The Traffic Group, to plan a system that "could be built as swiftly as possible by minimizing the need to acquire large amounts of new right-of-way." To do this without taking lanes away from cars, the consultants found, buses would have to run in regular traffic lanes on a quarter of the entire system.

Not only that, the stretches where buses would mix with cars include most of the intersections where 4- and 6-lane roads cross (see pages 48, 88, and 90 of the report). Such intersections are usually where traffic backs up the most.

The task force admits that the consultants' system fails to "achieve the level of operational performance that the task force has established as minimally needed to have a transformational rapid transit system." Nonetheless, all the cost estimates in its report are the costs of building this not-so-rapid bus network.

The panel deferred the job of figuring out how "gold-standard" BRT might actually be fit into existing highways. That is legitimately a difficult job, but it's a necessary one if "gold-standard" is actually to be achieved.

There's more on the to-do list. How will extra-long buses maneuver in and out of traffic? How will pedestrians cross the bus lanes? How will cars make left turns across them?

The task force left these questions unanswered for good reason: the right answers, the solutions that don't just move commuters, but build walkable environments, can only be found with experience. As long as the questions remain theoretical, the hard choices will be put off.

Thus, the job of building Montgomery's BRT network needs to begin right away. Not only because commuters so desperately need a way to get past traffic jams, but also because the full solution can't be identified until push comes to shove and theoretical issues become practical ones.

Metro's Priority Corridors Initiative has already identified some places where existing traffic lanes could be reserved for buses only, with no expenditure needed beyond signs and striping. It should be implemented without delay. The next step is bus lanes and signal priorities on busy corridors like Veirs Mill Road (where planning is already underway) and New Hampshire Avenue south of White Oak.

Once low-budget projects like these have worked the bugs out and proved the BRT concept, then the time will come to turn to the taxpayers for additional help.

The task force report is a fine starting point for Montgomery's transportation needs. But paper studies cannot take the county much further. To prove the concept, and work out the kinks, Montgomery should begin immediately to turn its vision into reality. Start building now.


Streetcar will revitalize Columbia Pike corridor

Columbia Pike's proposed streetcar line will help revitalize one of Arlington county's busiest corridors. Nonetheless, the plan has stirred an unusual amount of controversy, especially with increased cost estimates published last December.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The project has the potential to bring a lot of benefits to the Columbia Pike corridor, the county and the region. There are three reasons in particular to look at the project favorably.

First, the project would enrich the area's broader transit network. Second, it will help spur Columbia Pike's ongoing revitalization. And third, it's the latest chapter in the decades-long story of Arlington's coordination of land-use and transit planning to develop successful communities.

Residents can give their input on the project online and at meetings on June 6 and 7.

Columbia Pike is the busiest local bus corridor in Virginia. Buses now come every 3 minutes in peak periods on some parts of the road. Streetcars' higher capacity will help accommodate a projected increase in ridership in the corridor from 16,000 today to 25,000 when the line begins service.

Columbia Pike streetcar will strengthen the existing transit network

Even more importantly, the line's benefits will extend beyond the immediate corridor. The project will connect to the regional Metrorail system, "extending the reach of Metro," as Dennis Leach, Arlington's Director of Transportation, put it in an interview.

Leach added that Metrorail "isn't enough. To really get the full value out of these mixed-use neighborhoods that we're planning, you need a whole range of travel options: local bus, good regional bus, and this high-quality surface rail along with all the other things we're doing: improving sidewalks and crosswalks, building bike lanes and bike trails, putting in Capital Bikeshare, making sure that Zipcar is readily available ... It's all of those things together that make this work."

The streetcar will enrich the current transportation mix, connecting at Pentagon City with the planned Crystal City streetcar line, which will run south into Potomac Yards. Eventually, the streetcar network could extend through Alexandria to the south, and elsewhere in Fairfax to the west.

The system will also connect with bus lines, enhancing the reach of the transit network well beyond the busy corridors that would be served by streetcars.

A recently updated study found that "cities with large, well-established rail systems have significantly higher per capita transit ridership, lower average per capita vehicle ownership and annual mileage, less traffic congestion, lower traffic death rates, lower consumer expenditures on transportation, and higher transit service cost recovery than otherwise comparable cities with less or no rail transit service." Enlarging and enhancing our existing rail system will help Arlington and neighboring communities achieve these benefits.

Streetcars are integral to the long-standing Columbia Pike revitalization plan

The streetcar line is just one piece of the comprehensive effort to improve Columbia Pike, "one of the county's busiest and most run-down corridors" according to the Washington Post.

The streetcar is part of a much bigger effort by Arlington County to revitalize the corridor. Arlington's Transportation Bureau Chief, Stephen Del Giudice, summed it up in an interview: "The county made decisions that go back a decade to convert this auto-oriented strip to a transit-oriented main street. The vision for Columbia Pike is ... to knit the community together around town centers and villages, and to connect them. And that's one of the interesting things about streetcar. They serve not only a commuter, but they have proven to be a very good technology for capturing local tripmaking."

In 1986, local civic representatives, business leaders, landowners, and Arlington County formed the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) with the vision of "a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly urban corridor," realized through planning along smart growth principles.

Steady progress crystallized in 1998. A revitalization plan called the Columbia Pike Initiative took shape with ample public input at numerous community meetings. The County Board adopted it 2002. The plan called for mixed-use buildings lining the sidewalks, and emphasized walkability and mass transit.

The next year, a voluntary "form-based code" encouraged new construction to follow that vision. Today, the code's influence is clearly visible at large recent developments like Penrose Square and the adjacent Siena Park.

Streetcars strengthened the picture in 1999. WMATA "identified the Columbia Pike corridor as ... well-suited for high-capacity fixed guideway transit service," and a coalition of local governments reached a similar conclusion, according to an Arlington document.

In 2002, WMATA completed a study of rail transit's feasibility on Columbia Pike and Leesburg Pike in Arlington and Fairfax Counties. In 2004, Arlington passed a rule that any future transit service on Columbia Pike must share its lanes with automobile traffic—effectively calling for streetcars.

The next step in the revitalization process, the Columbia Pike Transit Alternatives Analysis, or Pike Transit Initiative, added to the chorus for a streetcar solution. The two counties and WMATA considered various transit options, and in the spring of 2006, they approved what was called the "modified streetcar alternative." Cheaper than the full streetcar option, it called for streetcars with 6-minute headways, using buses to achieve 3-minute headways during peak hours. This video provides an animated view of the route.

The last phase of the Columbia Pike Initiative is a Neighborhoods Plan, focusing on residential areas along the Pike. The County Board will consider adopting it in July. The draft CPNP takes advantage of the future streetcar line, concentrating density and reducing parking requirements near streetcar stops.

Streetcar plans are backed by County's solid expertise

Arlington's history of transit excellence, reflected in both national recognition and local surveys, means we can be confident in the county's committment to the project's success. The county's experience with transit-oriented development goes back several decades.

"I know people are skeptical of big infrastructure investments," said Dennis Leach. "Arlington has done very well by continuing to invest in infrastructure, by almost every measure. Real estate values, household employment, household income, retail sales per square foot, every single indicator is higher here than just about everywhere else in the country."

When Metro was in its early planning stages, county leaders insisted on running the Orange Line under a main street instead of a cheaper route in the I-66 median. They spaced the stations to help create a continuous series of compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, each with its own sector plan, in addition to a corridor-wide land-use plan to guide development toward desired outcomes.

Arlington is a "very good" place to do business, according to 87 percent of business leaders in a 2007 survey. 40 percent cited transportation as the biggest reason. Residents are generally pleased, too: in a 2009 survey, 75 percent were very satisfied with the transportation system, and 95 percent of that group gave the county a high rating for quality of life.

As Del Giudice explained, "where the county made investments in transit that helped shape the community, it shaped people's lifestyles. A lot of people live car-free or car-light, because they can take transit, walk, ride bikes, and they don't need to use their cars. It's an urban lifestyle, similar to what we see in urban cores. That's the experience with the prior investments and decisions that were made."

Rail transit investments have also yielded fiscal benefits for the county. The Metro corridors make up just 11 percent of land in the county, but account for about half of Arlington's assessed land value—and tax revenues.

The county's research shows household auto trips in the Metro corridors averaging 1.1 to 1.4 per day. For comparison, that number can be 6 to 8 in suburban areas of Arlington. Put another way, transit's share of household daily travel is about 20 percent in Arlington's Metro corridors; the regional average is 6 percent. (Columbia Pike is at about 12 percent.) The story is similar for walking and biking.

Arlington's low reliance on cars explains how, as land use expert Chris Leinberger recently wrote, "housing density in the walkable urban areas doubled between 1985 and 2010 ... while the absolute traffic counts on Wilson Boulevard have gone down."

While there are differences between heavy rail like Metro and streetcars like the proposed Columbia Pike line, even a few of the benefits Arlington has seen through its planning around Metro would mean major improvements for the Columbia Pike corridor.

Looking forward, Leach said, "Arlington continues to develop. So we need to continue to invest in transportation options. We have the experience of those last 40 years. We fund extensive research ... to show that these investments really pay off. So we're looking to the next generation of investments: high-quality, high-capacity surface transit as an excellent way to continue the county's progress in terms of travel options and creating high-quality environments."

If you have an opinion about the streetcar line, share your views now. The county is soliciting public comments online and at public meetings on June 6 and 7.


NoMa's First Street will get first cycletrack in NE DC

Bicyclists, pedestrians, and the environment will all benefit when DDOT reconstructs the stretch of First Street, NE that forms NoMa's main street over the next 2 years. The stretch from Columbus Circle to New York Avenue will get new crosswalks, stormwater retention, and a cycletrack to help connect the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and the Mall.

Part of 1st St NE. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

DDOT and associated contractors presented plans for the reconstruction of the road at a meeting last night. The biggest news for regional cyclists is the plan to add a a 2-way cycletrack along 1st Street from Columbus Circle to M Street NE.

The cycletrack will be 8 feet wide and separated from automobile traffic. Plastic bollards will handle that duty from the circle to K Street. From K to M, a 2-foot-wide precast concrete barrier will keep automobile and bicycle traffic separate. This barrier will be the same height as a standard curb.

Bicyclists will need to share travel lanes with automobiles on one block of M Street to get from the ramp that marks the southern end of the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the northern end of the cycletrack. Bicycle traffic will now have a much safer route to get from the National Mall to the MBT.

Typical cross-section of First Street NE between K and M Streets. Image from a meeting handout.

A Montreal cycletrack with a concrete curb for separation. Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

The project will include new crosswalks at almost every intersection. The one exception is Pierce Street, between L and M, which DDOT promises to revisit when development at that corner brings more pedestrian activity. Sidewalks will get better lighting, including Washington Globe lights along the road and teardrop lighting at the intersections. Wider sidewalks will ensure ADA compliance.

Bio-retention areas, similar to what exists on the east side of the 1200 block of First Street, will be installed where possible along the road. This will help ensure that less water pours directly into the sewer system during rains, helping to curb the volume of water that leads to combined sewer overflow episodes.

Crews will relocate a water main and do other utility work between September 2012 and Spring of 2013. The full-depth reconstruction of the road will then occur from K Street to New York Avenue, one side of the road at a time. The road will allow one-way southbound traffic at all times. From G Street to K Street, the road will simply be resurfaced.

Construction is scheduled to last 18 to 24 months, though the team expects all work to be finished closer to the 18 month end of the timeframe. That would mean they will complete the project sometime in the spring of 2014. A page with project details will be available on DDOT's website once construction gets underway.


Breakfast links: New food

Photo by Rubber Dragon on Flickr.
Fish not in the 'hood: The Fish in the Hood restaurant in Park View has changed its name to Fish in the Neighborhood, reflecting the changing demographics along Georgia Avenue. (Post)

District can't afford planned taxi reform: Even a new 50¢ surcharge won't be enough cover the costs of planned taxi reforms to add credit card readers, hire more inspectors and more, says DC's CFO. (Examiner)

Growth has unequal effects: Even if the increasing density of the Washington region is a good thing, it's important to acknowledge the negative effects these changes bring to portions of the population. (Atlantic Cities)

What is suburbia?: When suburbanites think of the city, they think crime and noise, grit and crowds. When urbanites think of the suburbs, they think lawns and malls and freeways without end. But where do small, old cities fit in? Is Alexandria less a city than DC just because it's quiet? (Atlantic Cities)

"Dumbest column" hates CaBi: Since Capital Bikeshare opened, astoundingly almost nobody has criticized it, but one Washington Times columnist manages to in what Alan Suderman calls "the dumbest column [he]'s ever read." Update: You can avoid giving the Times click-through traffic and see most of it quoted in a rebutal on DCist.

Mechanic hit, trapped under train: A Metro mechanic accidentally walked in front of an out-of-service train which hit him and trapped him for an hour. He was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. (Examiner)

Richmond's booming, too: At least 1,200 apartments and condos are under construc­tion in downtown Richmond, where the vacancy rate is half that of the area. It's not as much as DC's 11,000 or so, but shows that DC is no fluke. (Times-Dispatch)

Subways take similar shapes: Despite cities' varying geography, it turns out almost all large transit systems have basic commonalities, like the ratio between the core and branches or proportion of transfer stations. (Scientific American, Bossi)

In defense of white Girls: The new sitcom Girls has received highly-publicized criticism for the lack of diversity in its depiction of Brooklyn. But just because cities are diverse doesn't mean individuals' social networks are. (Next American City)

Please welcome one of our 2 new links editors, Thaddeus Bell! And please help him out by submitting your tips!


Hine project will build a livelier Capitol Hill

David Garber, Near Southeast resident and ANC commissioner, has written an excellent letter supporting the proposed Hine school development at Eastern Market Metro. He addresses arguments from some other residents who have been pushing hard to shrink, limit, or entirely block the project.

Image from Stanton-Eastbanc.

The ANC has multiple meetings on this project in coming weeks. If you live, work or shop in the area, please take a moment to send a letter to the ANC commissioners and Zoning Commission asking them to support the project.

If you want to see the plans and speak to the developers, Pro-DC has arranged a briefing this tomorrow evening at the Hill Center. Space is limited so RSVP right away.

In his letter, Garber points out how valuable the project will be for the neighborhood, but says that taking one story off has made it look more boxy at the expense of its "graceful transition" to the sky.

Some say that there won't be enough room for the flea market in the planned plaza along C Street, but Garber notes that closing 7th Street on weekends would create plenty of room. Another recent change placed a daycare at a prominent corner instead of retail. It would be better to locate the daycare elsewhere as long as it doesn't reduce affordable housing.

Here is Garber's letter:

Dear Chairman Hood and Members of the Zoning Commission:

I am writing in support of the Stanton-EastBanc development team's Hine School redevelopment project. Please note that although I serve as the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Navy Yard neighborhood and as the Vice Chair of ANC 6D, my comments here are not meant to represent the opinions of my entire ANC.

I have been a regular visitor to Eastern Market my entire life; I have been following this redevelopment process closely since the school was closed in 2007; and I currently live one mile southwest of the Hine School site. I engage with the site almost daily—whether shopping or dining nearby, swimming at the Rumsey Aquatic Center, working from the neighboring coffee shops, or visiting with friends and family in the adjoining neighbor­hood, and can confirm that as much as the Eastern Market area is an amenity and point of interest for those immediately adjacent to it, it is also an important place for people from all sides of Capitol Hill, the city, and the region.

Our goal for this redevelopment should be to create—through architectural and urban design, landscaping, tenanting, and programming—1) an atmosphere that will bolster our mutual affection for the immediate area, 2) a diversity of options in affordability, size, and type of residential, office, and retail spaces, 3) connections across the site that do not exist now, and 4) a place that will sensitively take advantage of its location above the Eastern Market Metro station to bring more residents and daytime employees to the neighborhood already flush with local retailers that will only be strengthened by the presence of additional customers brought in by this project.

Acknowledging that no one development or design proposal will meet everyone's individual or group ideas for what is most appropriate, I support Stanton-EastBanc'current proposal because it goes a long way to accomplish many of the diverse hopes for the site. Their proposal communicates architecturally with the surrounding neighborhood without inauthentically bowing to it, adds a significant amount of affordable housing in an area that increasingly needs it, reopens C Street SE across the site, and respects the scale of the existing neighborhood while adding appropriate new density to a transit-accessible location.

I remain concerned about some recently-altered elements of the project. First, I believe it is short-sighted to use the corner retail space at 8th and D Streets SE as a day care center. That space would be put to better use as a vibrant retail corner that, as such, would go a long way to visually connect retail activity on the north and south sides of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The day care center would be more appropriately located somewhere on or off the site with less retail potential. Any relocation of the day care center within the site should also stear clear of space currently promised for use as affordable housing.

Second, although I understand that the removal of the penthouse level of the office building at the corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE was in response to concerns that the building was too large, a new problem has emerged from its removal: there is no longer any graceful transition between the top of the building and the sky. What was a tiered structure has been left as a box, and I am confident that more can be done to gracefully break up or distinguish elements of the massing while retaining or sensitively adding to the building's existing square footage.

I would also like to speak to the concern that this redevelopment, as proposed, will reduce general open space as well as the size of the weekend flea market currently located at Eastern Market and on the Hine School parking lot. I would like to add my support to the idea of closing 7th Street SE between C Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE for use by the flea market on weekends, and point out that—although currently underutilized in its present state—the Eastern Market Metro Plaza is a sizable neighborhood amenity immediately adjacent to the Hine School that could be designed and programmed for a variety of uses.

Again, I support Stanton-EastBanc's plans for the redevelopment of the Hine School. I know they are working hard, alongside ANC 6B and neighborhood organizations, to plan a project that will be a benefit to the neighborhood and the city. The inclusion of affordable housing and the reopening of C Street SE exemplify the kinds of community benefits expected from a Planned Unit Development and public land disposition. I am confident that their proposal will only bolster our affection for the site, and will finally bring a sense of completion to a place that has been—save for weekend market functions that can be redistributed across the site and surrounding streets—an economic and visual hole for too long.


Breakfast links: Cheaper, faster

Photo by justgrimes on Flickr.
SmarTrip gets cheaper: There are only 350,000 of the current model SmarTrip cards left, and the manu­fac­turer stopped making them. This is a good thing, because this fall WMATA will switch to a cheaper card and charge riders less. (Examiner)

Teaching goes online: Kramer Middle School will shift about half of its coursework online this coming year, allowing for student-guided teaching and giving teachers a chance to work with students where they're struggling individually. (Examiner)

Less gravelly?: NPS may adjust the Mount Vernon Trail near Gravelly Point to make its route less circuitous and add a pedestrian path to Roaches Run. (WashCycle)

House lien sold without notice?: A few homeowners say they never got notices when DC's Office of Tax and Revenue put liens on their homes or foreclosed or sold those liens. But officials insist everyone gets 2 final notices in the mail. (Post)

C'mon, exercise! Everyone's doing it!: Peer pressure does not have to be bad; it can actually encourage children to exercise more. A study found that kids' friends had the strongest effect on how much they exercised. (TIME)

Density resembles transit: There is a strong correlation between residential density and transit mode share, stronger even than job density in a city's central business district, but that may not be the whole story. (Old Urbanist)

What was zoning for?: Urbanists, especially the libertarian ones, tend to criticize zoning for the way it artificially restricts urban development, but the original arguments in favor of zoning codes were concerned with many of the issues urbanists would raise today: development externalities, squatting on a vacant parcel, and safety. (SCC)

How cars took over: At first, people thought pedestrians had the right to use the road. That changed thanks to public campaigns by car companies, AAA, and corporate-sponsored media. (Scientific American)

Walkable is expensive: Renting in a walkable community near Metro can cost as much as $1500 more a month compared to car-dependent neighbor­hoods. (Atlantic Cities)

A few stories we've linked to in the past have come around in the press again and we've seen again in the tips, so we've included a few of these important stories for those readers who missed them or want to discuss them some more.

Speaking of tips, since we are starting to get some new links editors up to speed, it would be especially helpful to hear from all of you about what you'd like to see in the links. Please submit your suggestions on the tip form!

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City