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Posts from August 2009


Dinner links: Real or fake?

Photo by dave_mcmt.
We didn't have our minds made up, we swear: Maryland State Highway and Mass Transit officials insist that their I-270 study is open to many options, not just road widening. The study itself does combine an evaluation of the Corridor Cities Transitway with an evaluation of road widening options. However, all road options except No Build involve some widening, and Montgomery officials said that the state presented the project to them with an expectation that they would select a build alternative for the road as well as a build alternative for the CCT. (Baltimore Sun)

Our mind was made up, but now it's not: Meanwhile, Virginia DRPT is working on that study of transit and TDM alternatives to widening I-66 that VDOT kept refusing to do. The compromise TPB vote earlier this year let VDOT move forward with phase 1 as long as they actually did the study. DRPT is holding community meetings in September in Arlington (9/23), Vienna (9/24), and Haymarket (9/30) for people to review and comment on the study. (Gavin Baker)

PG HHS?: The Department of Health and Human Services may move from its Rockville location, which it has outgrown. The owner of the current facility would like to keep them there, while Prince George's developers and leaders are interested in luring the department to new development at New Carrollton or Largo Metro stations. The current site is also a half block from Metro. (Post, Cavan, Bianchi)

Transit-oriented Wal-Mart?: Calling projects "Transit-Oriented Development" and "Smart Growth" is all the rage, even when it's really not. But this one takes the cake. An old auto-oriented shopping center in Charlotte will become a larger, auto-oriented Wal-Mart Supercenter. They're also widening a turn lane and building a new interchange to handle increased car traffic. And yet, bizarrely, Nancy Carter of the Charlotte City Council says this will "anchor" some "transit-oriented development." If you say so. (News 14 Carolina)

Don't be afraid of the Purple Line, UMD: The UMD administration and some alumni continue to oppose the Purple Line. Rethink College Park features a letter by an alum who says the University will lose his support if the line goes through campus. RTCP notes that Campus Drive is not exactly UMD's most idyllic, pristine section as it is.

News flash: Not a lot of room to park: It's not cheap to park at area colleges, especially the urban ones. The Post quotes a AAA study showing the various rates for student parking. Some of them still seem below market rate for their locations, actually. But AAA Mid-Atlantic is outraged that colleges don't subsidize automobility even more. DCist thinks it's totally reasonable for students at urban campuses to take public transportation if they don't want to pay.

And...: The taxing district created to pay for the Silver Line is legal (Examiner) ... Canada's passenger railroad is launching a Toronto-Montreal bike train (Canada News Wire, Matt') ... Water taxi service to the Nationals ballpark starts Tuesday, 9/8. You can now buy tickets. (WTOP)

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Then and Now: The Old Naval Hospital

District Soldiers & Sailors HomeOld Naval Hospital

The Old Naval Hospital is located on the block bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue, 8th Street, 9th Street, and E Street, SE. The images here are of the building on the Pennsylvania Avenue side, with the older photograph dating to the first quarter of the 20th century.

The bill providing for the building was approved by Congress on March 2, 1865. Construction was finished in July of 1866, and the first patients were admitted on October 1—one Sailor and six Marines.

The Hospital, being antiquated and insufficient to modern hospital requirements, became a Hospital Corp training school between 1907 and 1911.

After that time, various uses were put to the building, though the building was empty for long spans during this period until the Navy declared it surplus in 1960.

There is a generally good history of the property here for those wanting more detail.


Fairfax raises express bus fares, ridership plummets on one line

To balance this year's budget, Fairfax County raised the price of express bus routes 380, 595 and 597 from $3.00 each way to $7.00 each way. They didn't change schedules or service frequency. And they didn't make a similar change on three other lines, creating nearly ideal conditions for an economics experiment. The result: On two of these express bus routes, Fairfax lost little ridership and nearly doubled their revenue. Meanwhile, ridership and revenue plummeted on the third.

Fairfax didn't publicly explain their reasoning, but I believe it related to with the recent increase in federal transportation subsidy. Federal workers can now get $230 per month in transit passes, up from $120 per month previously. With that change, round-trip travel for federal workers less than about $12 per day is essentially free, providing a means for local governments to get additional revenue without losing much ridership. However, this depends on riders being primarily government workers, and not having close substitutes for their commutes.

The baseline data showed a slight increase in ridership from June to July. Average ridership grew between 1.75% and 7.8% for lines 171, 401 and 950, whose fares did not change.

For lines 595 and 597, which travel between park and rides in Reston and Pentagon/Crystal City, respectively, the lines experienced modest drops in ridership, about 20%. Combined with nearly doubling of fares, the change resulted in a net revenue gain for the county, nearly doubling. This is probably due to the high government employees ridership and lack of close substitutes for these lines. The nearest substitute other than driving would be to take a bus to West Falls Church, take the Orange line and then transfer to the Blue line, a "three seat" ride. According to the schedules, that trip takes approximately the same amount of time, but with three vehicles, it's more likely that one of them would have a problem.

In contrast, ridership on line 380, from Franconia/Springfield to the Pentagon, dropped by almost 80%, and average revenue was cut in half. Although the ridership is likely a lot of government workers, the Blue line provides the same trip with a much better frequency, about the same travel time, a more comfortable ride, and after the fare change, about half the cost.

These results show that it's sometimes possible to get more revenue by raising fares, but the results depend heavily on the circumstances. Fairfax should reconsider its decision to raise fares so heavily, at least on the 380. Where there are close substitutes, large fare increases can actually decrease revenues and are counterproductive. Now there are fewer people riding the 380 and paying more each, so the county has to subsidize the bus line even more.

The county has informed me that they are studying a new variation of the 380 line to visit more park and rides and charge a lower fare. This is in the preliminary stages so it would still need to be vetted by Supervisors for impact on their constituents. It is still a very, very rough draft plan.


R-E-S-P-E-C-T, that's what the ghost bike means to me

Stephen led this morning with a summary of Friday's ghost bike outrage, where city employees callously cut off the ghost bike memorial to Alice Swanson at 20th and R, NW without notifying the family. In fact, they'd told WABA they were planning to do it, but promised to wait a few days for the family to be able to come get the bike, then reversed course and cut it off before the deadline.

Photo: Pedal_Power_Pete.

Some of the debate has revolved around whether it's reasonable to expect these ghost bikes to remain in perpetuity. Monkeyrotica pointed out that memorials to shooting victims don't remain forever, either. And obviously, if all roadside memorials lasted forever, the city would eventually fill up with them. The memorial didn't need to stay forever. WABA suggested that the city replace it with a small sign or plaque.

The real issue is not the memorial, but the city's callous treatment of the entire issue. Over a year after the crash, the city has not made any improvements to the intersection except for painting dashed lines across the intersection. The police have still not released their report of the incident. After ignoring the safety issue for a year, the Mayor's office only took action when a few businesses complained, and then couldn't be bothered to treat the issue with the respect due Swanson's family.

According to WABA's Eric Gilliland, WABA asked for three safety improvements:

  • Extend the bike lane with dashed lines all the way through the intersection as a visual reminder to drivers that, if turning right, they'd be potentially crossing cyclists' paths.
  • Add a bike box, so that bicycles can pull ahead of the cars when waiting. That would ensure the cars can see the bikes, and won't turn into them.
  • Make the light at 20th and R no right turn on red.
  • Add a sign saying "Yield to Bikes."
DDOT did the striping, but hasn't publicly responded to the other suggestions. No community meetings took place to discuss ways to make the intersection safer. It's still a danger zone, and trucks continue to almost hit cyclists.

Swanson's family and bicycle advocates have also been trying to get a copy of the police report. Thus far, the police have refused. WashCycle got an informal look at a redacted version, where the police seem to go out of their way to blame the cyclist for getting hit. The investigating officer concludes that the truck driver didn't violate any laws, but, according to WashCycle, implies that Swanson violated the law against moving faster than is "reasonable and prudent."

That's right, the MPD investigating officer thinks Alice Swanson—who was biking a half mile to work in flip flops and light clothing on a 10 speed Huffy Free Spirit that is no longer manufactured—died because she was biking too fast. Read that again, they think she died because she was biking too fast.
Meanwhile, the truck apparently did break the law, whether or not the police particularly care about said law. If you're turning right in a car, and there is a bicycle lane, you are supposed to move into the bicycle lane before making the turn. You should signal and look over your shoulder to move into the lane, just as if there were a regular car lane to the right. Turning from the car lane is the same as making a right turn from the left-hand lane when there are two regular lanes. It's illegal.

According to the report, the truck driver didn't see Swanson. There's no reason to disbelieve that. But that doesn't mean the driver bears no blame whatsoever. Too often, however, police assume that cyclists are the ones responsible for not getting themselves hit, and if a car or truck driver doesn't see a cyclist, that's just too bad for the cyclist. Yes, driving is tricky and mistakes happen, but that doesn't excuse drivers from being careful. But since more people drive than bike, especially police officers, many people imagine themselves in the position of being the driver who inadvertently kills a cyclist than the cyclist who gets killed because a driver was inattentive and didn't follow proper procedure.

As for the memorial, the Mayor's office told WABA they were going to cut it down. WABA asked for time to notify the family, and the city told WABA they had until Monday. Instead, DPW simply cut it off Friday. This could be no more than a case of bureaucratic miscoordination. But the city had many opportunities to show greater concern for bicycle safety. They could have done more to improve the intersection. They could be forthright about the police report, and train officers on the correct application of laws to bicycle crashes. And they could come up with an appropriate, long-term way to memorialize Alice Swanson. They didn't.

Gilliland said, "[The memorial] was very personal and very meaningful, not just to the family and Alice's friends but to the cycling community as a whole. The event was absolutely tragic and hit the whole bike community very hard. This ghost bike was a symbol of that—not just a piece of furniture that was broken down and sitting on the side walk. It was a lot more. This whole process could have been treated with a lot more respect."

And monkeyrotica wrote, "Having a simple removal ceremony or mounting a small plaque would have cost almost nothing and generated a lot of goodwill. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem a major concern of the Mayor's office." Despite being a triathlete and bicycling for exercise, improving bicycle safety hasn't been a priority for the Mayor. Montgomery's Ike Leggett said he was getting serious about traffic safety after witnessing a pedestrian killed in East County. What will it take for Adrian Fenty to get similarly serious?


Mean streets: Ghosted bike

The most striking traffic safety issue this morning isn't a fatal crash or dangerous intersection, but the removal of a ghost bike memorial to Alice Swanson, who was killed just over a year ago after being run over by a garbage truck at 20th and R streets, NW. City Paper has the most complete account of what happened to the ghost bike; it seems DPW removed it after receiving complaints from unidentified local business owners, without first informing WABA or Swanson's family or friends. DCist's Aaron Morrissey explains why it's important to keep the memorial in place. Ghost bikes exist around the world without controversy. Why does DPW feel that DC should be different? In lieu of a ghost bike, Swanson's aunt has placed flowers at the site with a simple posted question: "Why has the mayor taken the bike?"

Speed (almost) kills: From Prince William County comes the story of a close call with a fortunate ending. A father driving his young daughter to the babysitter was driving 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. When an officer tried to pull him over, he sped away and crashed the car. After pulling the seriously injured driver out of the car and to the ground, the officer pulled his uninjured baby daughter to safety. The driver has been charged with driving with a revoked license, eluding police and child abuse and neglect. Luckily, the girl is still alive and no one else was injured. A pedestrian struck on the side of the road would have been more than three times as likely to survive had the driver been going the speed limit. (Fox 5, WTOP)

Hit-and-run highway: Also last week in Prince William County, a recent immigrant from Ghana was biking home from work at night along the shoulder on Lee Highway in Haymarket when a driver came from behind and struck him before fleeing the scene. The cyclist was airlifted to the hospital but died the next morning. It is precisely these types of "invisble riders"cyclists by necessity, not choice—who are least likely to have lights, helmets or other safety accessories. Although events such as WABA's light giveaway aim to improve safety for this population, more can be done to make these riders less vulnerable, including road design that doesn't punish them for not being able to afford a car. (TheWashCycle, Fox 5)

Broken but not defeated: A more fortunate local cyclist told a bike blog about his experience of crashing with a taxi that turned the wrong way down Madison Drive on the Mall. The cyclist got nine hours in the emergency room, along with cracked ribs, a fractured nose and a broken bike. The taxi driver got a ticket from Park Police for an illegal left-hand turn. (Cozy Beehive)

Motorcycle fatalities at full throttle: The riskiest two wheels on the road, however, are motorcycles. Sixty motorcyclists died on our region's roads last year, and the national fatality rate for motorcyclists is rising even as other surface modes become less deadly. Motorcycle deaths and injuries have more than doubled in the past decade, caused by less restrictive helmet laws, more motorcyclists on the road, more powerful bikes and larger automobile sizes. (Post)

This is your car on drugs: Last week, a woman was killed on a sidewalk while walking to church in Glen Burnie. Police believe that prescription drugs may have led the driver who killed her to lose control of his vehicle. The driver has a history of traffic violations; charges are pending against him in this case. Despite this horrific fatality, Anne Arundel police say that crashes involving pedestrians are down by 10 from this time last year, to a total of 104. (Maryland Gazettte, WBAL)

When is a stop sign safer than a light?: Last week, a reader wrote to Prince of Petworth with a question: Would the intersection of 11th Street and Park Road be safer for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians as a four-way stop than with its current configuration as a signalized intersection? Both the Prince and his commentariat were united against converting the intersection to an all-way stop, with commenter WDC asking, "When is a stop sign ever safer than a stop light?" The answer is quite often, especially on low- to medium-volume streets like Park and 11th. Stop signs force intersection users to interact with each other instead of with a traffic signal, resulting in both reduced vehicle speeds (no more cruising on green or catching a yellow) and improved overall journey times (no more waiting for a red light to change). But what about safety? According to numbers cited by AASHTO, "intersection crash rates frequently increase with signal installation." An average of 2.5 crashes per year happen at unsignalized urban intersections, while signalized urban intersections average 4.6 crashes per year. And FHWA cites numbers that show "removing unwarranted signals may result in a 24% decrease in all crashes, a 53% decrease in injury crashes, a 24% decrease in right-angle crashes, and a 29% decrease in rear-end crashes."

How about a roundabout? Perhaps a "modern roundabout" would work even better? Tom Vanderbilt points out that "stop signs are not a speed control mechanism." Watsonville, California installed one and found that the average speed declined from 37 mph to 30. Nevertheless, residents petitioned the City Council to remove the circle, which they called "unsafe." This is a good example of how the perception of safety isn't the same as actual safety.


Weekend photography: Arlington County Fair



Heart Flip

Heart Flip





Public Spaces

Feet in the Street Saturday in Fort Dupont

Tomorrow, Saturday, is Feet in the Street, DC's first foray into the Ciclovia/Summer Streets/Sunday Streets phenomenon, where cities around the world close down streets in densely populated areas to create linear festivals. People walk, bike, and rollerblade through their city in ways not possible normally. Stops along the way provide entertainment, education, refreshment, and more.

After Petworth neighbors panned an initial proposal to run an event on Kansas Avenue, DC officials settled on Fort Dupont Park. While this misses the point a bit, it's a first step toward trying this out in DC. If this is successful, it will help build the case for such an event through more neighborhoods next year. Hopefully it won't rain too much.

Map of Feet in the Street access and activities. Click to enlarge (PDF)

Events include:

  • Guided nature hikes
  • Invasive plant removal outings
  • Free 2-hour bike rentals
  • Healthy food workshops
  • Community garden tours
  • Bike rides and bike classes
  • Fitness classes, workouts, and blood sugar/pressure testing
  • In-line skating, boxing, and tennis
  • Musical performance
Benning Road is the closest Metro station, and Texas Avenue is a good bike route for the 10-minute ride to the park. Minnesota Avenue, Potomac Avenue, and Anacostia stations are also within biking distance. The U and V buses serve the park. There is also parking in a lot near Randle Circle, and the park road accessing the lot will not be closed to traffic.


Metro motifs, part 3: Other design motifs

The underground vaults and above-ground station roofs may be Metro's most distinctive design element. But in addition to having a commonality of design in station architecture, the system has many other common design elements.

Pylons (columns): Perhaps the most recognized symbol of Metro is the brown pylon. There are two types of these columns. Inside the station, a simple brown pylon includes in white text the name of the station running vertically up the side. Some also include strip maps, station exit information, and emergency call boxes for patrons on the platform. Additionally, there are exterior Metro pylons. These feature the same brown column, but they are topped with a large, lighted white 'M' and a stripe or stripes indicating the line(s) serving the stop. These beacons indicate where station entrances are.

In addition to providing information to riders, the columns provide lighting. At underground stations with island platforms, the columns have lights in their crowns which give indirect lighting to the station. At exterior stations, bulbs extend out perpendicularly from the plyon and are surrounded by a fish bowl-like globe.

At subway stations, the columns on island platforms also serve as vents for the cooling system.

Exterior pylon

Platform pylon

Interior platform pylon

While almost every station in the system has interior pylons, the post-ARS stations opened in 2004 do not include the pylons. Instead, they feature vertical white poles, each with four down-facing lamps illuminating the platform. Station names are printed on a horizontal sign affixed to the pole. Exterior (entrance) pylons remain unchanged at the post-ARS stations.

New "pylon" at New York Ave

Hexagonal tiles: Each station in the system also includes terra cotta-colored tiles in the shape of hexagons. Of late, Metro is testing new sturdier concrete tiles at Takoma Station. They will likely be expanded at other outdoor stations.

At one point, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is responsible for building the Silver Line, suggested eliminating these tiles as a cost cutting measure. It's unclear whether they'll be included or not.

Hexagonal Tiles

New and old tiles at Takoma

Granite strip and flashing 'train approaching' lights: All stations are also outfitted with a granite strip running the length of the platform. Embedded in this strip are lights which flash as a train approaches and stands on the platform.

Recently, WMATA has begun to change white incandescent bulbs with red LED bulbs. A study done by the transit agency showed that the red lights were successful in keeping passengers back from the platform edge best.

Indirect lighting: Underground stations are mostly light indirectly. Some of the dimmer stations have had lighting added underneath the mezzanines and most stations have overhead lighting above the mezzanine.

As mentioned above, lighting is generated from the top of the pylons at island stations. It also comes from banks of fluorescent lights situated along the bottom of the vault. This vault-lighting is present at both island and side platform stations. At underground side platform stations, additional fluorescent lighting banks are in place between the tracks.

This lighting configuration presents a spectacular light show. As trains come and go, their shadows are cast high up on the ceiling.

Unfortunately, it has had the effect of making some stations quite dim. Metro has responded by painting some station vaults white, conflicting with the architect's intentions. After all, the word brutalism, the style of Metro, comes from the French béton brut, "raw concrete."

Red LED edge lights

Lighting between the tracks

Lighting at the vault base

Wall Separation: Meant to be graffiti proof, the station vaults and walls are kept back from patrons. Even the tunnels leading to and from stations have curved bases and railings to keep would-be artists from tagging the walls. Station platforms are set away from the base of the vaults not only to protect against graffiti, but also to allow for the indirect lighting discussed above.

Entrance Canopies: One of the newest motifs added to the system are the glass canopies covering escalator shafts. These transparent covers are meant to resemble the waffle vaults of the downtown stations, yet present a modern, welcoming appearance. They're being installed to improve escalator reliability.

Initially, designers did not want covers over the escalators. If someone was ascending an escalator into the rain or snow, it could present a safety issue. With an uncovered escalator, one takes his or her umbrella out as they ascend, when they're first hit by raindrops. If the escalator is covered, people stop at the top to take out their umbrella, and those behind them can't step off the still-moving escalator.

But frequent escalator breakdowns and high repair bills convinced Metro that it was worth the risk.

Ped tunnel

Canopy from below

Canopy from the street


Reburbia puts the future of suburbs on the catwalk

In "Eyes That Do Not See," Le Corbusier noted that airplane designers were unable to achieve heavier-than air flight until they understood the underlying issues of aeronautics—until they had posed the problem correctly. Until the tinkerers stopped imitating birds and kites and began investigating lift in a scientific way, they just produced spectacular failures and beautiful dreams. So, when looking through the finalists to the Reburbia suburban redesign contest, it was curious to see how, although many projects owe a debt to the Swiss architect, a great deal show confusion about the problems of "suburbia."

Edible parking? The "Bumper Crop" entry.

Reburbia was a design competition where designers were invited to remodel, reuse, redevelop, and restructure the landscape of suburban development. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the contest presented 20 finalists and a number of other notable entries for public viewing. Although they've already announced winners, the issues that appear in the submissions deserve more discussion. These open competitions are like fashion shows, where the offerings exist as inspiration for other designers more than practical solutions. Some of the ideas tossed around here might make their way into an abandoned mall, but the ideas that grow out of Reburbia are more important. As architects, planners, and citizens look for solution, we have to keep in mind what the problems are to judge any given solution.

Frog's Dream, the winner.

Declaring that the suburbs need to be re-burbed begs the question of how much, and which kinds, of suburban development are unsustainable, undesirable, or inefficient. Following that line of thought, designers need to consider whether mitigation of costs can solve an issue, whether simply pulling out unfair subsidies would help, or whether a total revamp has to occur. The projects in Reburbia revolved around a handful of issues that are unique to automobile-dependent sprawl, as well as others that all cities face. The entrants posed their problems around land use, energy waste, sustainable energy production, loss of natural habitats, low density, unappealing or unwalkable street design, transportation inefficiency, water runoff, and the legal mandates for development.

Now, almost every project tries to mitigate energy use, reducing the physical presence of artificial structures, peppering in some windmills, employing natural ventilation, solar power, gardens, and mentioning low-energy transit. The majority of designers are on the same page when it comes to sustainable energy, small footprints, and greenery. Other areas lack a consensus on the solution, but there is room for diversity in the wide spread of issues.

The best entries recognize that flexibility will be crucial to retrofitting. The solutions work in multiple contexts. In particular, "Entrepreneurbia" simply does away with most zoning laws, which mandate low-density monocultures. The scheme would let communities and economies develop in a natural way before even considering expensive redevelopment. Careful deregulation would drastically improve the lives of residents, especially the poor, by letting individuals respond community needs with little startup funding. Often living in older suburban areas without cars, low-income suburbanites are stuck walking long distances to shops and transit, suffering from cities built for cars.

Urban Sprawl Repair Kit.

For adding new density to old areas, another strong project develops the sensible and practical idea of marginal infill buildings as a "Urban Sprawl Repair Kit." These would replace front-oriented parking lots with street retail and new mixed uses. Although the general idea is nothing new, the project forms the beginning of a pattern book for retrofitting various typologies of suburban buildings, a big step toward common practice. Surgical infill development and reuse will play a significant part of any schemes to remake the suburbs. At the same time, infill development would not make sense if simply demolishing and building anew is more profitable. Looking forward, the scheme's renderings for residential construction are the most promising, where single family homes, which are longer-term investments, simply become more street-oriented and attractive.

A number of entries approach issues surrounding the high-energy agriculture that is crucial to modern society. One, a winner, converts big box stores into greenhouse farm-stores, where shoppers get much closer to the source of food, reducing energy expenditures for getting fresh vegetables, even in the winter. A similar urban agriculture scheme employs aeroponic gardens above parking lots, taking advantage of all the otherwise wasted sun and rain. The details of both of these projects may not be truly practical, but applications might find practical use in marginal land, as seen in "Regenerative Suburban Median," which combines a road diet with a community garden, great for fixing those wide suburban streets. On a related note, this project, which parodies suburbs by comparing them to feedlots, is hilarious.

Left: "Big Box Agriculture." Right: "Regenerative Suburban Median."

Taking a purely environmental angle, several entries removed the human impact on land, erasing the houses and the driveways to restore the prior pastoral use. For certain exurbs, this approach (such as in "ParkUrbia") may prove appropriate, but the concept of simply adding more land is just a reiteration of any number of extreme decentralizations that encouraged sprawl, but were never as beautiful as the drawings showed. "ParkUrbia," for example, looks a lot like Le Corbusier's 1924 vision of almost-rural villas, a misleading example that helped to valorize suburban development. Others simply let nature take over the abandoned and foreclosed subdivisions. "Frog's Dream," the Grand Prize winner, avenges lost wetlands in just such a way.

However, most of the solutions that brought back parkland, when they weren't just criticisms of suburbia, fell into old tropes in their attempt to limit the impact. The second most popular submission, "T-Tree," is a variant of Moshe Safdie's Expo '67 or Metabolist modular housing, only more elaborate both of which never caught on, due to their inflexibility and great cost. Other designs like "Radial Erect-Urbia," "1909 Theory Redux," and "'Burbs Redux" all simply concentrate the buildings vertically in megastructures reminiscent of Archigram's Walking and Plug-in Cities, concepts that pose the problem of land use and consumption in ironic terms.

Left: "T-Tree," the second most popular entry. Right: "Radial Erect-Urbia."

But even in their silliness, these concept sketches serve as reminders that homeownership, privacy, and green space strongly appeal to many people. As the blog mammoth noted in their commentary on the competition, simply dismissing these desires out of hand, demolishing neighborhoods, and expecting families to move into the T-Tree's tiny apartments is counterproductive and vindictive. As Jane Jacobs noted in Death and Life, the planners who tore up the West Village disdained the traditional crooked cityscape, but never considered whether the actual inhabitants liked it. If people wish to live in the suburbs, it's not our right to coerce them. If urbanists hope to move any substantial population of the suburbs, they will have to making cities appealing to suburbanites. Those key desires for privacy, ownership, and greenery need to be part of any solution that increases density along with walkability.

The approach will require some suburbs to get denser, others to get freer, and others to shrink. Some may even need to just burn. However, total upheaval of the suburbs will come only at the nozzle of a gas pump. Any solution that claims to have all the answers, or proposes a total reconstruction of society, misunderstands the fundamental problems and the degree to which a planner can fix them. Reburban towns and cities need to be not only more sustainable than suburbs, but also greener than cities are now.

Other interesting entries: Bon Voyage brings the convenience of the strip mall to you; Brick Habitats is a real-life solution for greening up walls; Links Farm replaces golf courses with farmland; and the C3 Initiative tries to make subdivisions self-sustaining.

Cross-posted at ЦARЬchitect.


New Cooke school bike racks too close together, too close to wall

The H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Adams Morgan was just renovated, with an addition containing a gym and cafetorium, a modernized library and media center, new playing fields and more. The renovation also included some bicycle racks. Unfortunately, parents, staff and students discovered that the racks were installed too close together and too close to the wall, limiting the ability of cyclists to lock their bikes securely and to fit many bikes on the racks.

New racks at H.D. Cooke Elementary. Photo by Nancy Shia.

ANC Commissioner Nancy Shia sent along these photos of the bike rack. They use the inverted U design, which is a good type of rack. However, they don't comply with DDOT's standards for bike rack placement. When racks line up against a wall, as they are here, the standards require the edge closest to the wall to be at least 2 feet away, and DDOT recommends 3 feet. These racks are only 18 inches from the wall, which makes it impossible for some cyclists to lock the front and back wheels to the rack if they so choose.

Worse, the racks are only about 11 inches apart, measured from the center of one to the center of the other. DDOT's standards require 30 inches. Widely spaced racks allow two bicycles per U, one on each side, whereas this spacing only accommodates one. And, with the narrow spacing, the handlebars of one bicycle conflict with those on either side.

Left: The racks are 18 inches from the wall. Right: They are only 11 inches apart.
Click on an image to enlarge. Photos by Nancy Shia.

WABA's Eric Gilliland said, "We all want DC kids to be more active and installing bike parking at elementary schools is a good start. However, for the bike parking to be effective the right type of rack needs to be selected and installed correctly. The intent here is good, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired."

The good news is that the racks are close to the entrance. The DDOT standards require placing racks within 120 feet, and preferably within 50 feet; these look to be about three feet away from the door area. That's great, as more prominent racks ensure people know about them, and if the entrance sees regular foot traffic, makes it harder to steal bikes unnoticed.

The Cooke renovation designers had the right idea in including racks, but either the architects or the contractors failed to read the instructions. Hopefully Cooke can get the racks moved quickly.

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