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Posts from June 2010


Dinner links: High to the sky

Image courtesy of Adam Reed Tucker.
Lego buildings at NBM: The National Building Museum is hosting a cool-sounding exhibit showing off LEGO models of buildings by artist Adam Reed Tucker, who will create a new model of the White House. It opens Saturday and costs $5 except the first Tuesday of the month.

Teens jaywalk because bridge is inconvenient: Teens boast about how often they "jaywalk" at an intersection near a Seattle high school. They don't want to take the time to use a pedestrian bridge. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that perhaps they should design the intersection to be safe for pedestrians to cross at grade. (Seattle Times, Matthias)

Airport insecurity: In a new documentary, Please Remove Your Shoes, current and former air security employees explain their concerns about the way TSA is handling its job of making flying safe. It opens today at Landmark E Street. (Ed O'Keefe/Post)

VA legislators try transit: 18 state legislators from across Virginia rode Metro, VRE and buses today to see what transit in Northern Virginia is like. Organizers hope riding the "Orange Crush" and seeing the Pentagon at rush hour will give them a new appreciation for the value of transit. (Patrick Madden/WAMU, Erik W.)

Use Metro passes?: WMATA is looking for people who use passes to try out the new systems that integrate those passes with SmarTrip cards. You have to use passes not through SmartBenefits and plan to take at least 8-10 trips a week in August.

Costs going up in Arlington: ART fares and parking fines in Arlington will both increase on Thursday. (ARLnow, Gavin)

$175/month for bike parking?: A year-old NYC law requires commercial garages to provide bicycle parking, but most have made it ridiculously expensive. Commenters speculate they're trying to make it appear there's no demand so the law can be repealed. (How We Drive)

Bait bikes: police tool or entrapment?: UK police are deploying bait bikes to catch bike thieves, but people working in drug treatment say it entices addicts who are finally getting clean to go back to a life of crime. (The Guardian, charlie)

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GSA considering ground-floor retail

The U.S. General Services Administration wants to upgrade and expand their current headquarters, on the block between 18th and 19th and E and F Streets, NW.

Image from GSA (PDF).

They are considering two options: one fortress-like, and the other adding ground-floor retail to engage the street. Lydia DePillis noticed the NCPC staff report for the project, which NCPC will review tomorrow.

The project will remove lead paint and asbestos, repair doors and windows, add ADA compliance, and add 120,000 square feet by filling part of the two large wells of the building. But the more interesting issue for everyone who doesn't work at GSA is the way the building will interact with the street.

There are two options under consideration. The first surrounds most of the building with bollards, mainly not blocking the sidewalk except at the three entrances, along E and 18th Streets, where they would partially interfere with pedestrian circulation. The main E Street entrance would be at the top of some grand stairs, and the building's face would be closed off except for the entrances, like most federal buildings in DC.

The second, on the other hand, lines the E Street facade with retail bays. The second floor cafeteria could also become accessible to the public through a separate stair and elevator from one of the storefronts. The entrance would be on the ground floor, and the only bollards would block the two driveways into the building.

GSA is proposing both options because they are still deciding whether they will "implement permanent perimeter security" at the building. Hopefully they can decide it's not necessary. The proliferation of bollards in recent years has seriously degraded the walkability of Washington, for uncertain benefit. It's terrific that GSA is open to a less fortress-like plan.

Public Spaces

My favorite streets in DC, part 1

Last week, I listed some of my least favorite streets in DC (part 1, part 2). But the District also has many of the finest city streets in the world.

From Georgetown to Anacostia, Waterfront to Brightwood, Chevy Chase to Brookland, The Mall to the Atlas District, Washington, DC has hundreds of fascinating streets that exude the spirit of the nation and the soul of the city's locals. Today let's take a look at some of the best that DC has to offer.

20) M Street NE/NW

Most well known as Georgetown's Main Street and for the Exorcist stairs, M Street (north) runs through many of the District's most charming and urbane neighborhoods. Continuing east, it passes through West End, and cuts right through the heart of the Golden Triangle, Downtown, and NoMa.

19) Minnesota Avenue SE/NE

Anacostia is a neighborhood that has been phenomenally recapturing its historic charm, and that charm is spreading up Minnesota Avenue. From it's beginning at Good Hope Road through quiet Randle Circle, Minnesota Avenue is slowly reaching its potential as one of DC's Great Streets. A master plan for the intersection at Benning Road on up into Deanwood to help further the District's latest success story on recapturing the charm and splendor of its neglected corridors.

18) M Street SW/SE

From the Southwest Waterfront to Nationals Stadium to the boathouses past Barney Circle, I love watching things on M Street (south) get better. Gone are the days when I would park in a seedy abandoned lot to attend a rave at Nation night club.

There is a rather handsome baseball stadium by that old spot, and I have not had to drive to that neck of the woods since the Metro opened there. Waterfront and Navy Yard are still up-and-coming, but what a world of difference the last five years have made for the M Street corridor. Fortunately, its growth it is being well documented.

17) Florida Avenue NW/NE

Excluding a troublesome intersection with New York Avenue and a couple not-so-scenic blocks by U Street, Florida Avenue is a street that exemplifies the beauty and culture of DC. Originally known as Boundary Street, it was the border for the original City of Washington. It hosts many beautiful row houses and charming walk-ups. Gallaudet University faces the homes of Capitol Hill North along the eastern stretch.

But perhaps most notable is the intersection of Florida and T near LeDroit Park, where the Howard Theater sits. Currently languishing in disrepair, a plan is in place to return the historic landmark to its original splendor, putting yet another colorful destination along Florida Avenue.

16) Beach Drive

This passage through an urban forest has enchanted me since I was a child. Entering the District in Chevy Chase, it runs its course mostly as a lazy, meandering creekside route, a rather fitting approach to the National Zoo.

It passes under regal bridges before ending on the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway in Woodley Park. The best part about Beach Drive is that it is closed to automobiles on weekends so that joggers, walkers, and bikers can enjoy the majesty of this uniquely preserved urban wilderness.

15) Georgia Avenue/7th St NW/SW

Start at Zanzibar on the Southwest Waterfront. Work your way up past the Mall and Gallery Place, beyond the Convention Center. At LeDroit Park, 7th Street is dedicated to Chuck Brown, the father of Go-Go, a uniquely DC brand of music.

North of Florida it becomes Georgia Avenue, the main street for Howard University, Petworth, Vinegar Hill, and Brightwood before crossing Eastern Avenue into Silver Spring. 7th/Georgia is the primary north-south corridor for the city, and truly is one of DC"s most iconic routes.

14) Good Hope Road

Good Hope is an aptly named route that is the face of Anacostia's historic district. Like much of the rest of that area, many areas are under construction as revitalization sweeps through River East's most iconic neighborhood. One quiet spot, though, is the wooded stretch through Fort Stanton Park. Good Hope is the hallmark of River East, in more ways than one.

13) MacArthur Boulevard NW

This quiet tree-lined boulevard with a grassy median runs from Foxhall past the Georgetown Reservoir and up towards Glen Echo in Maryland. The Palisades neighborhood runs along the southern side of most of the route. Part of me likes passing through a gorgeous neighborhood I know I can never afford. Part of me likes the quiet, lazy pace of this street. Part of me likes the small town feel. Put it all together and you have one of the most pleasant and scenic boulevards in the area.

12) Trinidad Avenue NE

The Trinidad neighborhood is perhaps most widely known as the part of town that was shut down last summer two years ago by police chief Cathy Lanier, who sought what were later deemed to be unconstitutional searches of any non-resident entering the neighborhood after a murder spree there.

Unfortunately, this negative impression of the Northeast enclave has tarnished the reputation of another up-and-coming neighborhood. Though it may not boast the affluence of other Capitol Hill neighborhoods, but if you're looking for boarded windows and abandoned warehouses, you're not going to find any on Trinidad Avenue. When I take people through Trinidad, they are often quite surprised to see a quiet neighborhood with mature trees and manicured front gardens.

11) Connecticut Avenue NW

From Farragut Square to Chevy Chase, Connecticut Avenue is the charming main street through several gorgeous parkside neighborhoods. The Red Line has helped create desirable neighborhoods and vibrant night life in Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, and Cleveland Park. Scenic street life is complimented by an elegant bridge over Rock Creek and the main entrance to the National Zoo.

Tomorrow: #10 through #1, the champion.


Give input on new railcars, WMATA governance

Tomorrow, the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council is holding a public meeting on the design of the 7000 series railcars, the next generation cars WMATA will be shortly purchasing.

Image from WMATA.

Riders have often asked for more opportunities to talk directly with WMATA staff on important issues. The design of the 7000 series cars is one issue very important to riders.

Last time we discussed them, commenters raised questions and/or comments about the number of doors, transverse vs. longitudinal seating, carpeting, seat fabric and colors, armrests, 6-car train operation, losing the exterior brown stripe, the new digital displays, and more.

Therefore, we've set up this RAC meeting with a WMATA official working on the 7000 series cars. Anyone who attends will be welcome to listen to his presentation, give suggestions, and ask questions. The more participation we get, the more likely the RAC will be to organize similar events open to the public in the future, and the more likely we can get WMATA staff to attend.

The meeting is 6:30-8:30 pm in the committee room at WMATA headquarters, 600 5th Street NW. After going through the metal detectors, head left to the mini-lobby and it's the room on the right.

In addition, the Board of Trade/COG task force on WMATA governance is having a public input session in the morning to hear ideas from the public. I've criticized its composition and Penny was skeptical about its value, but like it or not, the businesspeople and former government officials picked for the panel are going to be formulating a report.

I'll be there to give my constructive suggestions. Hopefully they are open to them and not already set on removing elected officials from the Board. That meeting is 9-11:30 am. Sign up at 202-962-3220 or submit written comments.


Metro FAQ: How will Silver, Orange, Blue fit at Rosslyn?

Rosslyn is a major bottleneck in the Metro system. Because the Orange and Blue Lines intersect at Rosslyn, the station can be a source of backups, especially if there are any problems.

Photo by dbking on Flickr.

Metro's switches can handle a train every 135 seconds—26 trains per hour—and that is the current throughput at Rosslyn. Ridership has been growing on the Orange Line, and some have called for WMATA to make room for more Orange trains.

Currently, the 26 spaces are allotted unevenly. The Blue Line has 10 slots while the busier Orange Line has 16 slots per hour. The Orange Line also has some 8-car trains, which give it a little more capacity. The Blue Line only operates 6-car trains.

Because of ongoing power upgrades and a lack of railcars, it is not currently possible to make all Orange Line trains 8 cars long. It might be possible to slightly increase the current number of 8-car trains, at best.

That means the only viable way to add capacity to the Orange Line is by adding trains at the expense of the Blue Line. And two years ago, Metro started thinking about doing just that.

Current (left) and proposed service (right).
Shows a given 12 minute period, but does not show the full TPH count.

The "Blue Line Realignment"—sometimes called the "Brown Line"—would redirect just under half of peak period Blue Line trains to run from Franconia to Greenbelt, crossing the Potomac on the Yellow Line bridge. Metro says they will probably sign the trains as Yellow since they run almost entirely on the Yellow Line route).

This proposal would allow for the addition of 4 more Orange Line trains per hour, which would help to ease overcrowding there. It would also add 4 trains per hour to the 7th Street/Mid-City subway between L'Enfant Plaza and Greenbelt. However, it would reduce the number of Blue Line trains headed for north Arlington and the Farragut Square/Metro Center side of downtown.

The Blue Line's Franconia end would see the same number of trains as it does now, but some of those trains would head for Gallery Place instead of Farragut West. At Largo, existing headways would be maintained by rerouting the "new" Orange Line trains to Largo. The only station which would see reduced service is the little-used station at Arlington Cemetery.

Potential new Metro map showing rerouted trains as Yellow.

This change will affect riders on the southern end of the Blue Line. The diagram below shows how travel times could be affected. Trips toward the Farragut West area would take no more than 6 minutes longer—the additional wait time for a Blue train—but it is possible that the trains that remain on the current route would become much more crowded. Of course, passengers traveling to L'Enfant Plaza would save 9 minutes over the current one-seat ride (via Farragut), and 5 minutes over the transfer-to-Yellow (at Pentagon) ride.

Based on an analysis I conducted a few months ago, we can see an estimate of AM Peak volumes on the rail system. A look at those figures gives us an idea about the breakdown of passengers on the inbound Blue and Orange Lines. If we look at the two segments of track approaching Rosslyn on the Blue and Orange Lines, we can see that about 35% of the riders passing through Rosslyn are coming from the Blue Line, while the remaining 65% are on the Orange Line.

Since about 38% of trains (10 out of 26) are on the Blue Line and 62% are on the Orange Line, loads are probably pretty well balanced. The fact that around a quarter of Orange Line rush hour trains are 8-cars long means that the balance is even more appropriate.

This is probably one reason that Metro has not moved forward with its Blue/Yellow reshuffling proposal. However, once the Silver Line opens, Metro will not have much choice in the matter. In order to get enough Silver and Orange trains through Rosslyn, some Blue Line trains will certainly be rerouted via the Yellow Line bridge. A likely scenario for trains per hour at Rosslyn would be 10 Orange, 10 Silver, and 6 Blue.

On the other hand, It will take time for Silver Line ridership to build, so WMATA may delay any major restructuring until new ridership patterns have established themselves.


Washington's unbuilt highways

This is a map of the Washington that almost was.

If mid-century planners, dedicated as they were to driving and the clearance of historic neighborhoods, had their way. It is a map of the highway network proposed for Washington during initial planning of the Eisenhower Interstate System, in 1958.

click to enlarge
Map based on 1958 Basic Freeway Plan. Click to enlarge.

Each of these canceled highways, shown in red on the map, has its own story. Some were canceled due to civic activism, others because later proposals in the 70s preempted them, and others due to good old fashioned sanity.

Because they were never built, entire neighborhoods that might have been wiped out were saved, downtown was never physically cut off from its surroundings (except to the south), and millions of dollars were reallocated to construction of the Metro. Because these highways were canceled, Washington is the beautiful, walkable, vital city that we know and love today.

Most other American cities weren't so lucky. Their highways were built, their neighborhoods demolished, and their downtowns converted to parking lots.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Breakfast links: Transit power

Actual streetcar wire (ours will be the thinner kind). Photo by Brad Green.
Overhead wires approved by Council: The DC Council unanimously passed an emergency measure allowing overhead wires only on H Street/Benning Road. (Emergency bills are only temporary, so the Council must also pass a permanent bill, scheduled for July 13.) Even Phil Mendelson voted yes. This sets the stage for a potential showdown with NCPC. (Tommy Wells, Stanton Park)

Let me out!: Two riders were trapped in the Cheverly Metro station for 20 minutes after the station manager mistakenly closed up before the last train. The Metro customer service line had no way to reach a live person late at night, so one called 911 while the other posted on Facebook. It sounds like the 911 call was what got Metro staff over there to open the doors. (Lindsey Mastis/WJLA, Mark Berman/Post)

Unsuck DC Metro riders: A person fell on the Metro tracks, and two riders helped him up, but not until after many riders stood by without helping. (Unsuck DC Metro)

Very early fare hike news: Metro ridership was down a bit on the first workday of the fare hike, but service disruptions could have been to blame. It'll be important to track this long term. (Kytja Weir/Examiner) ... A software error let some riders keep paying the old fare at 34 stations Monday. (Lisa Rein/Post)

Another MARC screwup: Not long after a MARC train broke down in stifling heat, the same train missed Odenton station on Monday, and the crew initially misled passengers about the reason. Maryland Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley, MTA head Ralign Wells, and Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman will be at Union Station this evening to talk to MARC riders. (Michael Dresser/Getting There)

Gray for Smart Growth, not bike lanes?: Vince Gray has started revealing more about his plans if elected Mayor. He seems supportive of Smart Growth but somewhat skeptical about bike lanes. (The Other 35 Percent, Eric Fidler)

LaHood the superstar: The U.S. Secretary of Transportation used to be a virtually invisible Cabinet member who accomplished little. Then Ray LaHood got the job, pushed major policy changes, and has blogged and Twittered up a storm. (Ashley Halsey/Post)

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Metro will look at the "invisible tunnel" "later this year"

The idea of a virtual tunnel between the two Farragut stations on Metrorail was the subject of several posts on CommuterPage and here about two years ago. The idea is to allow passengers to exit one Farragut station and enter the other within a set period of time, counting the whole thing as a single trip rather than two trips.

Given that Metro is currently making significant changes to its fares, I suggested to Interim General Manager Sarles that now would be a good time to also incorporate this long overdue idea for several reasons:

  • Metro staff is already working on making many changes, so it would be more efficient to implement now than come back and make more changes later.
  • Many customers are understandably unhappy about fare increases. Implementing the invisible tunnel would provide a positive change in operations that would add convenience for some of your riders to help offset some of the negative PR that comes with fare increases.
  • It's a no-brainer: It decreases congestion at Metro Center, provides a speedier ride for some customers and has absolutely no downside whatsoever.
Mike Russo, Metro's Assistant Chief Engineer for Automatic Fare Collection Systems, told me that they support the idea, but it "will not be an easy programming effort" because of memory limitations in the faregates, but that they hope to "re-examin[e] the Farragut transfer concept later this year" after the current fare changes are done.

Here is the complete text of his letter:

Dear Mr. Offutt:

Thank you for your June 20, 2010 email message to Richard Sarles, General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro), regarding proposals to allow seamless transfers between Farragut North and Farragut West Metrorail stations. I have been asked to reply.

Metro is continuously seeking opportunities to improve the travel experience for customers. The proposal for transfers between the two Farragut Square stations is worthwhile and may well be implemented in the future, with appropriate upgrades to the existing system.

As you may be aware, Metro has hired an outside contractor to implement the fare changes recently approved by the Board of Directors. Part of that contract is a requirement to deliver a fare system that can allow rail-to-rail transfers, a capability that should include the "seamless" transfer you envision between the Farragut Square stations, allowing customers to continue on their journey while being charged as if they never left the Metrorail system.

Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to test that specific functionality, and preliminary indications are that it will not be an easy programming effort. Among the many concerns we must address are the memory limitations of the faregates, since the fare tables that go with this transfer structure are quite large.

This is not at all to suggest that the Farragut-to-Farragut transfer cannot be implemented in the future. The inclusion of that requirement in the contract is evidence that Metro intends to make the change because it would benefit both customers and the system. However, at the moment we are focusing all available resources on major, Board-mandated changes to the fare structure: adding "peak-of-the-peak" charges, implementing passes on Smartrip®, and meeting the IRS requirement on SmartBenefits® (separate benefits for parking and transit). Any one of these goals would be challenging, but we must complete all three, plus minor adjustments, before a rapidly approaching deadline.

We look forward to re-examining the Farragut transfer concept later this year, after we have had sufficient time to observe the latest fare changes in full operation and make any needed adjustments.

We appreciate your inquiry and your patience as we work to implement a fare structure that is reliable and applied fairly for all customers.


Michael Russo
Assistant Chief Engineer
Automatic Fare Collection Systems


What's wrong with quoting AAA?

I spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly bothered me so much about Ashley Halsey's Saturday article on New York Avenue speed cameras, AAA's response, and Cornell Professor Isaac Kramnick.

Photo by MΛЯK on Flickr.

After all, on the merits, I agree with AAA. Speed cameras are an important tool to ensure road safety by making drivers slow down when there are pedestrians and cyclists, or when drivers would injure themselves. When placed in an area that's more a freeway, it seems that revenue has trumped safety. Do that too much, and people start pushing for laws against speed cameras. Then they can't make the roads safer.

So what's so frustrating? In an email, Ashley Hasley sugested I clarify why we object so much to AAA getting quoted in the Post. Aren't they exactly what they seem, a driving advocacy organization? Aren't all their positions totally consistent with that?

AAA isn't quite as honest as all that. Most of their members haven't intentionally joined an organization that advocates against mass transit and bicycle facilities. Instead, they signed up for an emergency towing service. When Cigna started lobbying on health reform, everyone realized that they were a corporation acting in their own interest, maybe but maybe not the interest of their customers. Yet AAA isn't treated the same way.

They also say the most outlandish things, or at least AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Lon Anderson does, like that "community connectivity and walkability and minimizing ecological harm" are "gibberish" on the Greater Washington 2025 report, or comparing the Inauguration to the Civil War: "The last time the bridges were closed like this, Lincoln was president and was worried about an invasion by General Lee."

Then there's Isaac Kramnick, who distorts political philosophy into a drivers-only credo: "What's happening at this [camera] site is violating the concept of freedom ... The automobile is the symbolic icon of freedom." And "Kramnick points to renowned English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who said in 1651 that freedom is the absence of hindrance to motion."

But EdTheRed points out that "What Hobbes meant by freedom of movement was that peasants shouldn't be tied to the land, not that some d-bag could drive his automobile as fast as he damn well pleases."

Articles that talk about drivers' pain often include colorful descriptions by the reporters themselves, like Halsey's lede: "Drivers call it the "free at last" traffic light. After doing the stop-and-go head bobble all the way from downtown, when they reach the light at Bladensburg Road they feel they've earned their freedom from the purgatory of New York Avenue."

Meanwhile, look at Bob McCartney's intro to a terrific column about the value of Smart Growth at Tysons and elsewhere: "If you're upset about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and want to do something to fight America's petroleum addiction, support a local cause that would make a difference: transforming Tysons Corner from a snarl of suburban sprawl into a grid of transit-friendly, urban high-rises. If done right—a big if—it would curb reliance on automobiles while allowing continued growth of population and jobs."

On the one hand, we have stirring words about freedom. On the other, an intellectual argument about the importance of reducing our reliance on oil. Does the urbanist crowd need some really vivid prose to stir the soul instead of making rational arguments about the need for better policy?

There are people who write that kind of stuff, like James Howard Kunstler. I personally find his palpable hatred of suburbs somewhat cloying, and have a hard time reading most of his books. But I also find Anderson's language nauseating as well. Somehow, though, Anderson ends up in every Post article about traffic, and Kunstler doesn't. Kunstler gets labeled as extreme and Anderson doesn't.

My problem isn't with AAA's positions or their fairly effective press operation. My problem is that they get quoted all the time in traffic stories, but no nutjobs on the other side saying something equally insane about how all drivers are evil or something. The only case that comes to mind is Jim Graham calling Maryland drivers the "devil incarnate," but that was reported only because it came from an elected official's mouth, and Graham came under criticism for it.

What do we need? Should we create some crazy alter ego "Ann Londerson" who says all the things about drivers that some people say about cyclists? Who talks about drivers who habitually break some laws the way Glenn Beck talks about undocumented immigrants? Would that get quoted? Would that improve the quality of the discourse? Somehow I doubt it on both counts.

So why can't we just declare Lon Anderson an extremist and start ignoring him? Maybe reporters lack an alternative quote source. Maybe The Hill is Home writer Nichole Remmert, who likes to drive but isn't a complete lunatic, should set up an organization called American Association of Reasonable, Not Hateful, And Generally Lawful Drivers (AARNHGLD) that can get quoted in the press instead, sensibly arguing that this particular speed camera isn't so well placed but not trying to stir up old North-South Civil War tensions because the Secret Service wants people to walk to the Inauguration.


Montgomery planning science hub in White Oak

Tomorrow, Montgomery County planners will hold an open house to discuss the East County Science Center Master Plan. They propose creating a new center for technology and commerce around the FDA's new campus and a relocated Washington Adventist Hospital.

The eastern side of Montgomery County hasn't always enjoyed the fruits of its prosperity. It doesn't have Bethesda's shopping or Rockville's jobs, and it wasn't too long ago that downtown Silver Spring was largely abandoned. Until recently, many of our community leaders actively opposed new development, fearful of traffic, crime or changing demographics.

Major landmarks in the master plan area.

In concept, it's very similar to the Great Seneca Science Corridor Master Plan, a controversial proposal for dense, mixed-use development west of Gaithersburg that the county passed earlier this year. Though civic activists and smart growth advocates criticized that plan for being too large and too far from transit, they've expressed support for creating a life sciences center here.

Many of the critics of that plan, including Greater Greater Washington, said that White Oak would be a better location for the science planned for Great Seneca. White Oak is simultaneously more accessible to UMD in College Park, Hopkins in Baltimore, and Washington, DC.

But like Great Seneca, the East County Science Center can't just be about doctors and lab coats. It'll hopefully bring more shopping, more housing, and other amenities. If done right, this plan could give East County a town center like people in Germantown or Rockville already enjoy.

WesTech Village Corner, a shopping center on Tech Road.

Planners won't put markers to trace paper for a while. Right now, they're developing a "scope of work" describing what the plan will include. So far, all we know is that the plan could cover a 1,200-acre area bounded by Route 29, Cherry Hill Road, New Hampshire Avenue, and the Prince George's County line.

Today, that area contains a mash-up of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses. It's divided by the Paint Branch, which feeds into the Anacostia River. More than half of it is taken up by the Federal Research Center, home to the FDA and other government agencies. Though most of the 710-acre campus is undeveloped, local civic associations have opposed adding commercial or residential uses there.

As a result, the plan will focus on re-imagining older commercial and industrial parks in the study area. Local developer Percontee proposes redeveloping its concrete recycling plant on Cherry Hill Road and an adjacent sludge treatment facility called Site 2 into a mixed-use community called LifeSci Village. When completed, the 300-acre development could contain four million square feet of offices and retail, a conference center, and as many as four thousand new homes.

Rendering of LifeSci Village courtesy of Percontee.

Another candidate for redevelopment is the 1960's-era White Oak Shopping Center, located at New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29 and filled with a mix of chains and mom-and-pop stores. Its proximity to major roads and transit make it a good place for a mixed-use town center, but the mall's suffered from a reputation for crime.

If built out, the plan could revitalize East County, providing the kind of amenities residents have long clamored for. But it could also create new problems, like increased traffic. As a result, there are a few things planners will have to consider as they begin work.

The East County Science Center Master Plan must address transportation improvements. Though the InterCounty Connector will open in 2012, the area will need a network of new, local roads to improve circulation. It'll need to create connections to surrounding neighborhoods, parks, and the Paint Branch Trail, which is inaccessible east of Route 29. And we'll need sidewalks and bike paths to tie all of it together, enabling people to get around without driving.

The Food and Drug Administration's campus under construction in White Oak.
Photo by Evan Glass on Picasa.

The plan will have to address the need for rapid transit as well. In its long-term transportation plan (PDF), Montgomery County proposes building a "Purple Line Spur" between Langley Park and White Oak, while Councilmember Marc Elrich's bus rapid transit plan would have multiple lines serving the East County Science Center. Both of these proposals should be vetted as the planning process begins.

The biggest challenge, however, will be reaching out to the area's diverse population. For far too long, the public discourse in East County has been dominated by a small but vocal minority who doesn't represent the whole community. For this plan to truly consider the wants and needs of everyone in East County, we'll have to listen in new ways.

Come out tomorrow for the open house, to be held from 4:30 to 8:30 pm at the Eastern Montgomery Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road.

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