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Posts from September 2010


Afternoon links: DC gets no respect

Photo by Industriarts on Flickr.
Chaffetz wants to rule your life: If Republicans take over Congress, Jason Chaffetz from Utah will run the DC oversight committee in the House. He wants to ensure DC never gets a vote in Congress (but would retrocede it to Maryland) and loves to micromanage city affairs. (City Paper)

Rosslyn's tallest building, you mean: A New York-based developer is about to begin constructing "D.C.'s tallest building" to reach 30 stories. How can such a building violate DC's Height Act? It turns out that "D.C.'s tallest building" will be in Rosslyn. (Post, Eric Fidler) ... Is this like National Harbor advertising conferences in DC, only to disappoint attendees when they learn they can't hop over to the museums between sessions?

A greener, more walkable 14th Street: DDOT presented conceptual designs for 14th Street last night, including wide sidewalks, lots of trees, bulb-outs, and three "focus areas" with different thematic designs. We'll have more on this soon as well. (TBD)

Bye bye bottles (on campuses): Several universities and colleges, including American University, are considering banning or limiting the sale of bottled water. The move puts colleges at odds with the food industry as well as questions the quality of our general drinking water. (Chronicle of Higher Education, Lynda)

Before there were bike lanes: There were streetcars. This photo of Pennsylvania Avenue shows America's Main Street as it was in the early twentieth century. (Shorpy, Eric Fidler)

1 year and counting on transpo bill: As of today, Transportation For America's online clock shows that it's been a full year since the federal transportation bill expired, with still no movement in sight on a new bill. (Transportation For America, Stephen Miller)

Avoid biased language: If you haven't seen Palm Beach, Florida's 1996 neutral language policy, it's worth a read. (Human Transit, BeyondDC)

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Should NTSB recommendations get a blank check?

Following the June 2009 Red Line crash that killed 9 people, the NTSB made several recommendations to Metro based on the causes of the crash. While these recommendations are obviously important, Metro has an obligation to riders, and to the families of the victims, to ask what safety trade-offs would be made by implementing them.

What safety trade-offs could NTSB recommendations possibly have? There are several potential causes of fatality and injury in the Metro system, and saying 'Yes' to the NTSB recommendations means saying 'No' to addressing other safety risks.

Based on the most recent WMATA Safety and Security Committee meeting, however, the WMATA Board appears poised to hand out blank checks for implementing any NTSB recommendations, without even inquiring into trade-offs. If that happens, the result for riders will be more budget shortfalls, leading to bigger fare increases, and unnecessary safety risks.

Here's what has happened so far. Metro announced in July that it has set aside $30 million over three years to implement any NTSB and FTA recommendations following the June 2009 red line crash that killed 9 people.

However, when Senator Mikulski (D-MD) asked in August for cost estimates of each recommendation, the total provided by Board chair Peter Benjamin was $100 million. And that's just for recommendations for which Metro has cost estimates.

When Chief Safety Officer Jim Dougherty met with the Metro Board on Sept 16, not a single question was asked about the skyrocketing costs and trade-offs of implementing federal recommendations.

Actually, not a single question was asked about the details or trade-offs of any of the recommendations, from the $55 million replacement of Gen 2 track circuit modules to the $25 million safety analysis of the automated train control system.

The oversight meeting with Dougherty lasted for only 45 minutes, and consisted primarily of a self-congratulatory presentation on the progress made by WMATA, which included the new logo seen here.

To exercise safety oversight, the Metro Board must ask about safety trade-offs in every meeting: Why are the current safety actions, whether they originate from the NTSB or not, the highest safety priorities?

The FTA asked this question during their audit and was told that no prioritized list of safety actions exists. The answer to the Board should look something like the table below. In fact, this should just be added to the monthly Vital Signs report.

Hazard Tracking Log (HTL) Should be Added to Vital Signs.

This table is a Hazard Tracking Log (HTL). It's based on a similar table from a booklet called Hazard Analysis Guidelines for Transit Projects, published 10 years ago by the FTA. Lots of safety actions are prioritized based on the severity and likelihood of the identified hazard causing injury or fatality. Hazards and their corresponding safety actions are generated by 2 types of hazard analysis, reactive and proactive, which I describe elsewhere.

The non-NTSB recommendations in the table are empty because the Metro Safety Office has yet to conduct proactive hazard analysis for any critical system, as I've discussed elsewhere, and integrate the resulting safety actions into a prioritized list.

Most of the FTA's recommendations are focused on putting a Hazard Management System in place (basically, doing what the aforementioned booklet says to do) that consists of hazard analyses that continuously update the prioritized Hazard Tracking Log table. Metro's responses to FTA and NTSB recommendations, however, raise two serious concerns about its ability to put this System in place.

Metro is outsourcing hazard analysis of the Automatic Train Control system.

This $25 million, 3-year project, which is in response to an NTSB recommendation, was announced by Benjamin in his August letter to the Congressional delegation. That's a lot of money. $25 million would employ 75-100 engineers and analysts full-time for 3 years. One wonders what the WMATA safety office does if we are paying $25 million to contractors to do hazard analysis.

And what happens when the analysis ends, and we upgrade the automated train control system? Do we pay several million dollars again to a contractor to conduct another safety analysis? It seems like a good idea for the contractor to train and transition the safety analysis to WMATA's own safety office.

However, when asked if this would happen, a WMATA spokesperson responded, "The task will not specifically train Metro employees in how to conduct safety analysis, but will identify proper response and prioritization to safety concerns, particularly in an integrated environment."

Metro touts Hazard Management success without actually doing hazard analysis.

In Metro's August reply to the FTA audit, Metro merely copied the FTA recommendations (e.g. identify skills required for hazard analysis; train employees in these skills; etc) and pasted them into the HTL table shown above as a demonstration of progress.

Metro then announced triumphantly, "By evaluating the FTA recommendations in this manner, WMATA demonstrates that it has established a true hazard management program that incorporates a risk-based approach to evaluate and mitigate hazards".

This misplaced concern for the presentation of the results of hazard analysis, over the actual analysis itself, is even aired by WMATA's own IT department in the very same letter to the FTA. After discussing changes to the IT architecture being made to support hazard analysis, the following concern is said to be a "threat" to the entire project:

The System Safety and Environmental Management Department is awed by product suite success stories, dynamite product demonstrations and industry colleagues' evaluation of technology.
The FTA should not accept the responses of WMATA to its recommendations until WMATA has demonstrated its ability to actually do a hazard analysis of a complex system, which would enable it to then prioritize hazards in a system. It doesn't really matter which system it is—the elevators, the train doors, even the payroll system would be fine.

Metro can do this. It's my hope that, when the FTA begins regulating transit agencies, they will hold up Metro as an example for the rest of the country of world-class safety management.

But Metro can't do this and hand out blank checks for responding to NTSB recommendations regardless of the safety trade-offs. They are simply incompatible approaches to safety. The latter, reactive approach leads to budget shortfalls requiring fare increases, and to injuries and fatalities. The former, systematic approach leads to improved safety at the most efficient and rapid pace possible.

But Metro can only do this with leadership in oversight, particularly from Board chair Benjamin and Safety & Security Committee chair Mort Downey.

Kenneth Hawkins, brother of one of the killed passengers from the Red Line crash, asked following the NTSB hearing, "Who's going to hold WMATA accountable?" I still have the same question.

Public Spaces

Bloomingdale creates its own urban oasis

A lot has been said here and elsewhere about the difficulties created for the District and its residents by federal ownership of public spaces. But let's not forget how much ordinary citizens can do, and have done, to improve the common areas around them.

Photo of the park by rockcreek on Flickr.

It starts in one's own neighborhood and requires being aware of one's surroundings, envisioning how they can be better, then working with others to see it through.

Have you ever looked at a vacant lot or other derelict, unloved space and imagined it becoming an attractive community asset? Folks in my neighborhood of Bloomingdale did just that.

Over the course of two decades, they turned 1.36 acres bounded by public alleys from an abandoned telephone switching station and cable yard into a real gem of a park. The space, which formerly attracted squatters and drug dealers is now a community-owned, volunteer-maintained urban oasis. It wasn't easy, but despite turnover and legal battles, a tenacious band of neighbors created Crispus Attucks Park.

The park's story, is still being written. It serves as a reminder of the tremendous impact that can be achieved by, in anthropologist Margaret Mead's words, "a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens."

Nestled in the alleyway behind the rowhouses bounded by North Capitol Street on the east, 1st Street NW on the west, U Street on the south and V Street on the north, the park is both a source of neighborhood pride and one of the city's best-kept secrets. It provides hope that so many similar spaces in our city can be similarly beautified.

Addressing our society's disconnectedness, as well as our ever-present energy and environmental challenges, will require making cities (and compact suburban and rural villages) more attractive places to live than sprawling outer-ring subdivisions. A key aspect of this is demonstrating that living in an urban environment doesn't mean giving up access to the kinds of safe, welcoming green spaces that suburbanites take for granted.

In addition, research is beginning to demonstrate a link between the presence of greenery and reduced levels of violent crime.

A 2008 aerial view of the park. Image from Google Maps via Facebook.

Some complain that creating such spaces only hastens gentrification. But the amount of common green space available for all to enjoy shouldn't be dictated by a neighborhood's median income level.

Many of the Bloomingdale residents who worked to create Crispus Attucks Park were not wealthy newcomers wanting to change the neighborhood's character; they were middle-class residents who knew they had just as much right to quality greenspace as people in leafier areas. People with limited time and means, by pooling their resources, can accomplish a lot, and by creating places for neighbors to socialize, may help to bridge the class divide that plagues the city.

The neighbor-run nonprofit that owns and manages the park is planning significant improvements.

The organization will soon present a grant proposal to the TKF Foundation to fund improvements. The grant would fund the installation of solar-paneled arbors (i.e. gazebos) in the park, and would also create additional lawn space at the eastern end. An earlier grant from TKF funded the creation of the Memory Garden in the park.

Funding from the DC government and other foundations and individuals is also being sought. Eventually, the nonprofit hopes the solar panels will power landscape lighting, an irrigation system, and a fountain while providing power back to the grid. The solar project could become a great way to educate the community about renewable energy.

As we continue to advocate policy-driven improvements to make our region a better place to live, we can't forget the smaller parcels which can have such a large impact. It is important that we find ways to build the spaces that bring people together and allow people to find respite from life's bustle within blocks of home.

For, as John Muir put it, "[Humanity] needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature can heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."


Lincoln Park CaBi station canceled after complaints

Neighborhood opposition has scotched a proposed Capital Bikeshare site near Lincoln Park, disappointing residents eagerly awaiting a station.

I was excited about Capital Bikeshare's ("CaBi") much-heralded September 20, 2010 launch in the District. As a Capitol Hill resident who walks 15 minutes to a Metro stop, I was eager for the arrival of a proposed CaBi station on a pedestrian island near Lincoln Park. Nine days later, the station is gone from the plans, my neighborhood is stationless, and our prospects for a CaBi station in the near future are unclear.

The promised station would have occupied a bricked-over pedestrian island on the southeast corner of Lincoln Park, where East Capitol and Mass Ave split.

The island, one of the many triangular plots that dot the District as a byproduct of L'Enfant's use of a grid street pattern with radial avenues, serves ably as a pedestrian island. Otherwise, this oversized triangle of land is not used. But after requesting and receiving public input on the proposed site, DDOT opted not to use the island, citing "citizen concerns."

As of now, there is no alternative on the table, but there are reports that DDOT is considering a different pedestrian triangle at the NE corner of the park or a site within Lincoln Park. Locating the station in the park would require approval of the National Park Service, and NPS's existing concession contracts may prevent them from approving anything.

I was disheartened by both the decision and the lack of transparency about its rationale. Apparently, I was not alone. This week, a Capitol Hill resident started an online petition urging DDOT to restore the bike station to the SE pedestrian triangle. As of this posting, the petition has over three dozen signatures.

Given the apparent neighborhood demand for a CaBi station, I am confident that a station will be forthcoming. Nevertheless, I worry about what this incident portends for future efforts to place CaBi stations in strictly residential neighborhoods. The experience provides a useful case study that DDOT should learn from as they expand into additional residential areas.

I have heard opponents of the use of the pedestrian island advance versions of four arguments against the use of the site:

Biker Safety: Bikers, the argument goes, would have to cross a busy street to access bikes on the island and thereafter merge directly onto a busy street. But neither of the two proposed alternatives offers any more safety to bikers. Under any of the scenarios, pedestrians would have to cross one street to access the bikes, and in each case there are existing crosswalks.

Furthermore, from any of the locations, bikers would merge with either East Capitol or comparably busy streets (11th, 13th , or Mass Ave). Arguably, the stop lights at the pedestrian triangles offer more safety to bike users relative to a location within Lincoln Park insofar as the average moving speed of vehicles at an intersection with a stop light would be lower than at other points around the park.

Crime: It's unclear to me how this argument works. The claim is not that the bikes would be stolen or vandalized; that argument should apply to any of the proposed sites. Rather, the claim seems to be that the bikes might be more broadly criminogenic—that they may attract other mischief, nuisance, or criminal behavior.

This logic seems attenuated at best. Accepting for a moment that the bikes somehow generate more crime per se, it's not clear why either of the proposed alternatives would be more acceptable. They would merely redistribute the supposed crime geographically.

More fundamental, though, is whether the premise of the objection is sound. What kind of crime would the bikes generate? And who would be victimized? Is it the bike users, who could choose to weigh the risks against their benefits, or is it the neighborhood residents more broadly who would be at risk?

If there is a real concern about crime, someone should articulate the specific concern and why the associated risks are acceptable in the alternate sites, but not at the originally proposed site.

Noise: While potentially related to certain criminal or nuisance activities, concerns about noise levels are conceptually separable. Might not the bikes, the docks, and the associated increase in people create noise that would impact nearby residents? How much additional pedestrian and bike traffic would an 11-bike dock create and at what times of day?

These are reasonable questions and presumably there are empirical answers. I don't have any data. But I do have an intuition. By my crude estimate, the facades of the houses closest to the SE pedestrian triangle are at least 75 feet away from the proposed site. My strong suspicion is that the 11 bikes would generate substantially less noise than most individual vehicles that drive along East Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue, which pass much closer to those houses than 75 feet. As CaBi expands into additional residential neighborhoods, it would be wise to anticipate this objection and be prepared with data on noise levels.

Aesthetics: This is probably the most nettlesome and least discussed issue. People care about how their neighborhoods look. They also share public space, but not necessarily the same preferences. At the extreme, this confluence of shared space and divergent tastes can result in situations like last year's rabid, frothy-mouthed debate in Adams Morgan over a proposed piece of public art.

I've heard various objections that the CaBi stations are "unsightly" and "intrusive." I happen to disagree. It gives me a certain sense of civic pride to see a bike share in the neighborhood. I will not try to convince anyone of the beauty of CaBi stations. I will, however, argue that that whatever one's position about the aesthetic of the stations, it should be weighed against other public values, like the environment, and public transportation needs.


Morning links: Out of the road

Photo by Mark Stosberg on Flickr.
Bus tragedy: A small tour bus full of Pennsylvania parents and children careened over the edge of a fly-over and fell onto I-270. The driver was killed and several others injured. The passengers had spent the day at the National Zoo. (WTOP)

Keeping bike racks off Pennsylvania: Why are there no bike racks on America's Main Street? The National Park Service again, which even controls the sidewalks in front of the Wilson building. Racks would also require NCPC and CFA approval. (Housing Complex)

Vision on the SW Waterfront: The master plan for the Southwest Waterfront was unveiled last night at Arena Stage. The ambitious plans are impressive but may invoke resistance from neighborhood residents. (Southwest TLQTC, Housing Complex)

Opposing comes at a cost: DC will have to spend $400,000 as a result of opposing a homeless shelter on Georgia Avenue (Housing Complex) ... Meanwhile, the Manassas has to spend $70,000 to establish a policy against sex shops in most areas. (TBD)

Food trucks roll around for another article: The Post looks at food truck politics, including how far trucks have to stay away from brick-and-mortar competitors. (Post, Eric Fidler) ... Wasn't there a City Paper cover story on this just a week ago?

Fishing for tows: A towing company is aggressively towing in locations around Arlington. Is this predatory or just enforcing the law? (ARLnow)

Google the Shweeb: Google recently awarded $1 million to a recumbent bike monorail called the Shweeb, in the "Innovation in Public Transport" category of its Project 10100 grant program. TheCityFix calls the award "wasteful" and "less financially responsible" than promoting better bike and bus lane concepts. (Planetizen, TheCityFix, Eric Fidler)

And in Oregon...: Eugene has removed its downtown parking meters, implementing a two-hour time limit instead. (The Columbian, Michael P) ... A group in Portland offers to fill potholes on your street if you donate to charity. (Portland Tribune, Eric Fidler) ... GOOD has a video on Portand TriMet's efforts to make their data open. (YouTube, Ed B.)

Cities in focus: Tonight at EMBARQ, David is speaking on a panel about sustainable transportation practices in cities, along with Gabe Klein and NYC DOT's Jon Orcutt.

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Washington from the sky: Google updates aerial photos

What were you doing on Sunday, August 29, 2010? If you were outside shortly after 1 pm, chances are Google Maps caught you on camera from a satellite.

Google recently updated its satellite imagery of the Washington area and the new photos illustrate just how much the region has changed. In just a few clicks, you can see all the projects we've discussed or mentioned over the past few years.

Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.

In a thread of 41 emails of meticulous sleuthing, GGW contributors have pinned down the image capture to the early afternoon (between 1:00 and 1:35) of Sunday, August 29, 2010. For an exact time, check out the National Sundial.

One of the clues to the date and time included Metro trackwork between College Park and Greenbelt. According to our handy Disruption Calendar, the only recent scheduled trackwork in that area was the weekend of August 28/29 and Saturday, September 11.

We were able to exclude September 11 because the Crystal City bikeshare station, which was installed on the 31st, is not present. And it can't be Saturday, August 28, either. For one, the Glen Beck rally on the Mall would be taking place. Also, Sunday farmers markets in Dupont Circle and Greenbelt are visible.

Here are some, but certainly not all, of the visible highlights that have changed since the last set of photos.


Yards Park almost finished

Benning Road streetcar tracks

Constitution Square's green roof

"Dave Thomas Circle" construction

Plaza at Fourteenth Street and Park Road in Columbia Heights

Eleventh Street Bridge construction

U.S. Institute of Peace construction

Rhode Island Avenue TOD construction

Ninth Street Bridge over the Ivy City rail yard

Georgetown's waterfront park

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial site

East Plaza of the Capitol finally finished

Road Tattoo on Vermont Avenue

Bike box at Sixteenth Street, U Street, and New Hampshire Avenue

Metropolitan Branch Trail


ICC Construction

Metropolitan Grove TOD

National Harbor

DC Streetcars hibernating at the Greenbelt Rail Yard

Silver Spring Civic Building & Veterans' Plaza

Silver Spring Transit Center


HOT Lane construction on the Beltway

MetroWest construction at the Vienna Metro Station

Fourth runway at Dulles (far left)

Construction of the last segment of the Fairfax County Parkway

Construction of Long Bridge Park


Afternoon links: Get on it, developers!

Photo from the City of Hyattsville.
Please build in PG: The Coalition for Smarter Growth has produced a report to show developers how to cash in on transit-oriented development opportunities in Prince George's County (Post, Scott, Cavan) ... Richard Layman argues that better civic involvement is more important to getting some good projects going.

Redo your strip mall: Ten steps for retrofitting your parking-doused strip mall into a livable, walkable neighborhood. (New Urban Network)

EFC plan analyzed: Arlington County Manager Michael Brown (different from DC's two Michael Browns) has released his analysis of the East Falls Church plan, including estimates of the development necessary to increase Metro ridership, the value of community benefits the county could get, and how much retail the area could support.

Women, ride your bikes: Revolution Cycles wants to get more women riding bikes, and is having a "ladies' night" in Clarendon tonight. Only 20% of DC cyclists are female. (TBD)

The New Yorkers are coming!: The Huffington Post is sponsoring a caravan of buses to haul New Yorkers to DC's upcoming Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally. We wonder if they might have been able charter a train instead. (We Love DC)

DC in the day: DC in the 1980s was more than crack, homicide, and Marion Barry. Check out these photos documenting downtown's grittier years. (Kinorama)

In power: It might actually be cheaper to manufacture electric car batteries in the U.S. (NYT) ... A bike-powered monorail just won a Google grant. (Planetizen)

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"Pre-development planning" wanted for New Carrollton

WMATA is breaking new ground with its New Carrollton Metro station area development plans by doing its own planning, in concert with MDOT and the developer. If successful, this would become a model for future joint development projects.

When WMATA does a joint development project, it's not as easy as just selling a piece of land for someone to develop. Joint development projects usually happen around Metro stations, where there will continue to be considerable Metro operations.

A lot of buses may stop at the station, and Metro may want some bus bays. There might need to still be parking for riders, though that parking could become shared between commercial and Metro where commuters park during the day and shoppers park at night or on weekends. Pedestrians and cyclists need good ways to reach the station. At New Carrollton, planners also need to design in the Purple Line terminus.

Therefore, WMATA needs to be deeply involved, and a good plan can be much better for riders than a bad one. Traditionally, though, WMATA simply signs up with a developer who actually designs the project, subject to comments and approval by WMATA and the local land use process.

The developer ends up discounting their bid to reflect the uncertainty about what WMATA and local jurisdictions will allow, or what constraints the site will have.

At New Carrollton, instead, WMATA wants to pioneer a "pre-development planning" phase. Instead of the developer working out a bid, getting approved, then starting to plan, WMATA will select a developer and undertake this planning process to inform the final negotiations.

The developer would pay for a community charrette and collaborative process where WMATA's planners are involved throughout. MDOT is also providing $350,000 of consultant resources for the planning in addition to the developer's. Both WMATA and the developer will then have a better idea of exactly what they can build, what it will cost, and what it's worth, to better inform the final price for the land. The developer will get their planning expenditure credited back when they actually pay for the land.

This might all sound like a lot of inside baseball to riders, but planning is a very important important component of a TOD plan. Once something is built, that's it for a long, long time. This process should ultimately create better development around Metro stations for riders of all modes, and the Board ought to approve trying out the idea for New Carrollton at its meeting tomorrow.


Apply for the RAC, if you really have time

The WMATA Riders' Advisory Council is opening up applications for new members. Should you apply?

If you live in Prince George's County, definitely. There is an open seat right now that is not filled.

If you live elsewhere, please apply if you're interested in making a real time commitment beyond just showing up to one meeting a month.

One-third of the RAC's members are up each year. WMATA Board members can choose to reappoint them or go with someone else. Besides the Prince George's vacancy, 7 positions are up for reappointment: 2 in DC, 2 in Fairfax County, one each in Arlington and Alexandria, and one at large.

These seats have existing members on the RAC, who might apply to be reappointed and might not. For example, I am one of the DC members up for reappointment and I will be repplying. But I don't know if the other existing members will apply or not, or if they will get reappointed if they do.

Typically, the Board member(s) for each jurisdiction decide who to appoint. For example, Elizabeth Hewlett, the Prince George's voting member, will probably choose the Prince George's appointment.

When making these decisions, I'm going to be encouraging Board members to look for people who can make a time commitment to the RAC. The group meets once a month, but there's no way to really get much done in one two-hour meeting a month. We can hear a staff presentation on an issue and ask one question each or give a brief comment, but that's really not a strong voice of riders. The RAC should do much more.

This year, we've started having committees, which the RAC had originally but then dropped. There's a bus committee, and the news about the Pennsylvania Avenue bus reroute came from a rider attending that committee. I chair a Long-Term Projects Committee, and that's where we got the staff presentation on the rationale for design decisions on the 7000 Series railcars.

The RAC has a special role as a committee chartered by the WMATA Board which gives them special powers. In particular, the Board often asks staff if they've consulted with the RAC on important issues, which means the RAC can get presentations on plans which might not otherwise be public yet. They take RAC input more seriously than others.

But the RAC can't do this unless it has a number of members who can take time to organize and attend committee meetings. Last night, we had a presentation on fare policy principles. Many of these principles were the same things being debated during the budget negotiations, and they will affect the shape of any future fare increase. Only two members and one member of the public showed up to speak with the two staffers taking an extra couple hours to get rider input. To be frank, that's pathetic.

Many of you ask questions about bikes on the system, or escalator outages, or SmarTrip problems, or issues with station agents, or bus stop placement decisions. RAC members are interested in many of these issues too, but can't get presentations on all of them in the regular meetings, and when there is a regular meeting presentation, there isn't time to really delve into the issue. We spent two hours just on 7000 Series railcars, which is why we know so much now.

To get a real discussion about this, we need someone on the RAC who wants to organize a committee meeting to hear about one of these issues, and a number of members who want to attend a meeting. Everybody doesn't need to attend every committee meeting, but if every member can go to about one a month on average, there would be plenty to go around.

There are a few members who regularly go to the bus committee, which is working well. The budget committee was also a big success earlier this year, and Carl Seip, the at-large member up for reappointment, organized that and did a nice job. But I suspect about half of the RAC's members have not participated in any committees this year.

If you would like to spend at least 2 evenings a month hearing in detail about Metro issues (and perhaps then writing about the issue for GGW to share with more riders), please apply to the RAC. Please make it clear in your application that you'd like to do this, and the Board might even pick you.

Even if you don't get on, members of the public can attend the committee meetings, and we had a number of folks not on the RAC at the 7000 Series meeting as well as others asking some very excellent questions. You can continue to participate in that way and help grow the rider voice.

But if you just would be interested in showing up once a month to be on a rider focus group where you give your quick reaction to a staff presentation and then go home, it might make more sense to just keep reading Greater Greater Washington instead.


Georgetown's Wisconsin Avenue needs an overhaul

Does anyone actually like Wisconsin Avenue? Whether you're walking on it, biking on it, driving on it, it's almost guaranteed to be an unpleasant experience.

But it doesn't have to be that way, particularly for pedestrians. Some simple changes to the way Wisconsin Ave. is shaped could dramatically improve the pedestrian experience, without significant affecting the traffic flow. These changes could even add parking.

Impossible you say? Not at all. Follow me as I take a stroll down Wisconsin Ave. highlighting where the worst problems are, and how to fix them.

Between R and Reservoir: Let's start at R St. and head south. Looking down the street, what do we see?

A dragstrip, that's what. From R down to Reservoir, Wisconsin Ave. is a wide two lane road. There is parking on the west side, but it is not frequently occupied. Due to the fact that this is a long stretch of road and downhill, cars drive way too fast on it.

This road is way too wide. When drivers drive on wide roads, they drive faster than if the same road were narrower. Since parking is not scarce on this stretch, we ought to install one or two bulb-outs from the west sidewalk.

Bulb-outs are where the sidewalk is built out into the roadway. They are frequently used at interesections or for bus stops, like this:

Bus bulb-out in Chicago. Photo from Streetsblog.

On this stretch of Wisconsin there is not a bus stop. Nonetheless, we could build one or two bulb-outs and install benches in order to make use of the added sidewalk space. Moreover, the bulb-outs would make it clearer that this stretch of Wisconsin allows parking by delineating the parking lane better. This would also increase drivers' safety when they park their cars and get out.

And most of all, the added bulb-outs would shrink the perceived width of the road, and drivers will slow down accordingly.

Intersection of Reservoir, Wisconsin, and 33rd: This is a horrible intersection. A child was killed here in July. Cars never stop for pedestrians in the intersection. Just Sunday, I got honked at simply for crossing in the crosswalk. Enforcement can improve the situation temporarily, but long term a structural solution is needed.

One problem is that there is a jumble of different crosswalks, some with crosswalk lights and some without. Here's where they are (the green are crosswalks with lights, the red are those without lights):

On top of the confusion over who exactly has right of way, there is the added chaos caused by having drivers trying to turn onto Wisconsin from either 33rd or Reservoir.

The simplest answer would be to make this intersection completely lighted. By adding a stop light and crosswalk lights, the confusion over who has the right of way would be eliminated. Plus, cars coming off of Reservoir could more easily turn south on Wisconsin and cars coming north on 33rd could more easily turn north on Wisconsin.

There are some objections to this solution. First, residents of 33rd St. might object to the light. They'll see that more drivers heading north through Georgetown will use 33rd instead of Wisconsin. Right now that choice is discouraged due to the difficulty turning north on Wisconsin. Residents of Reservoir west of Wisconsin noticed a similar change after that light was added.

Secondly, people may object to the addition of a light just 40 feet or so south of another light. Although, a similar arrangement exists down at Q and Wisconsin, and that intersection seems to work well.

Finally, there's an objection based on the idea that when you regulate traffic with lights, it causes cars to go faster. The theory is that the more priority you give to drivers, the faster they drive since they feel less obligated to look out for pedestrians or bikers. This theory is best demonstrated in the inverse by woonerfs. Woonerfs are streets where cars are permitted but where they are given lower priority to pedestrians and bikers. The closest thing DC has to a woonerf if Pennsylvania Ave in front of the White House (although Poplar St. in Georgetown is pretty woonerfy too).

Whether a light is installed or not, bulb-outs for the crosswalks should absolutely be installed. They would go a long way towards convincing drivers that pedestrians have the right of way. (Some other possible changes to the crosswalk are discussed below.)

Wisconsin Ave. From 33rd to Q St.: Wisconsin south of this dreadful intersection is like Wisconsin north of it, but with parking on the east side, not the west side:

The thing is, the road isn't any narrower south of Reservoir than it is north. If there is space for cars to park on the west side above Reservoir, than it figures that there is space for cars to park on the west side south of it too (and no, the yellow line doesn't shift over to make more room on the parking side).

While this stretch doesn't get quite the same amount of speed as the block below R, it nonetheless is a long stretch of unnecessarily wide pavement. Ten or so parking spots should be created on the west side, and the rest of the stretch should be filled in with sidewalk. It could look like something like this:

This would have several benefits. It would add more parking. It would narrow the width of the road, and thus slow down speeders. And it would increase the sidewalk space significantly.

Unlighted Crosswalks: Finally, in the heart of the Wisconsin retail corridor is a series of crosswalks that don't have crosslights or stop signs to aid pedestrians to cross. They look like this:

Even though pedestrians have the right of way, most end up feeling obliged to wait for a break in traffic or for traffic to back up before attempting to cross. It doesn't help at all that there is no signage informing drivers that pedestrians have the right to cross on the crosswalk.

Obviously the first thing we need is better signage. There should be street signs telling drivers to yield to pedestrians. These signs should include normal streetside signs as well as those signs in the middle of the road.

Creative changes to the road painting could help as well. Having the lane markers go zig-zag before the crosswalks would do a better job to alert drivers to yield. These lane markings are common in the UK.

And again, sidewalk bulb-outs in selected locations would emphasize the crosswalk and make crossing safer. Even if these bulb-outs simply made the crosswalk that much shorter would help a lot, particular for the elderly and the physically impaired.


: If these improvements are adopted, it leaves little room for bike lanes. While I definitely would like to see more bike lanes in Georgetown, I think prioritizing pedestrian safety is more important for Wisconsin Ave. That said, "sharrows" could be installed easily. They're not as good as true bike lanes, but they improve bike safety none the less.

Moreover, if all these changes were made, they would result in an overall safer Wisconsin Ave. That would make biking on it safer as well.

Conclusion: These simple changes would dramatically improve the safety and appearance of Wisconsin Ave. It would not significantly affect traffic (no travel lanes would be removed) yet it would still increase parking and sidewalk space.

The simple fact is that Wisconsin has been designed terribly. We shouldn't wait for another death to realize that and fix it.

Cross-posted at The Georgetown Metropolitan.

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