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

Transit


For Metro's plans to cut late-night service, big questions remain unanswered

If you were waiting for a big debate over eliminating late-night Metro service at Thursday's WMATA Board meeting, you'd be disappointed. General Manager Paul Wiedefeld presented the same information he'd announced publicly, the board asked no questions, and that was it.

Officials definitely heard from riders loud and clear, however. Riders have sent over 2,400 emails through our petition to Wiedefeld, Chairman Jack Evans, and the board. You can still contact them using this form or just sign up for updates as this issue progresses here.

This wasn't the meeting to really debate the (very bad) proposal. That would come later. Before any proposal would take effect, as I understand it, several things would have to happen:

  • Paul Wiedefeld would more formally propose the change as a board agenda item.
  • A board committee (presumably the Customer Service and Operations Committee) would discuss the issue further. This is where board members would hopefully ask the tough questions.
  • The committee would send it to the full board, which would also discuss it.
  • The board would have to vote to start the formal public hearing process.
  • Metro would organize public hearings around the region.
  • Separately, Metro would have to do a Title VI analysis to be sure the change doesn't unduly burden lower-income riders. That's far from a foregone conclusion—Boston's MBTA is facing federal scrutiny for not doing this analysis before cutting its late-night service.
  • The board could then vote to cut the late-night service, if it chose.
One major hurdle: DC could veto this (as early as the first board vote). Under Metro's compact, at least one vote must come from each of DC, Maryland, and Virginia for any proposal to pass. Both of DC's voting members, Jack Evans and Corbett Price, have publicly stated their opposition. Unless one of them changes his mind, the cuts can't happen.

(Meanwhile, Maryland rep Michael Goldman has said he's for it. Goldman is also the same guy who refused to put money in a fund for retirement benefits, refused to pay Maryland's share of the 5A bus to Dulles, and opposed using new 7000 series cars to make more 8-car trains.)

Here are the questions that need to be asked

The public needs and deserves much more information so we can weigh in before board members start debating this. It's too bad some of the members didn't take the opportunity of Thursday's meeting to ask, but riders can, we can (and will), and board members will have more chances later.

There are three major questions right now:

  1. Why is closing the ENTIRE system necessary, as opposed to targeted closures? What are the other options here? Could Metro close one line, or one segment, early on each weekend (or, heck, close it all weekend) for repairs? Metro workers won't be on every bit of track at once, right? So why does this have to be a blanket thing?
  2. What would be the best alternative? Let's say Metro persuades us that ending late-night service is necessary. How can Metro still provide a way for workers and entertainment patrons to get home safely and affordably, without using rail? A robust night owl bus network whose routes mimic the rail routes as much as possible? Or what about companies that are trying to offer more flexible, on-demand shared van transit especially for low-ridership scenarios?

    Wiedefeld said he's not secretly doing this to cut costs. But it's true that running Metrorail late is expensive. With all or even just some of that money, what's the best way to get people where they need to go?

  3. What about big events? Also, though, late night service is not always low-ridership. When there are sports contests, major concerts, and other big events on weekends, huge mobs enter the system at places like Navy Yard or Gallery Place at once. Rail can handle this; buses can't. Will event organizers pay to extend service? Would Metro even allow them to, if closing the whole system every weekend is supposedly necessary for maintenance?
I, at least, don't want to ever say "no way, I won't hear it" from Metro about anything. But neither is "we need to, just because, and no we don't have an alternative plan" sufficient. I hope before moving forward with any proposal, Metro officials will thoroughly and publicly study other scenarios for closing less, and alternatives that still achieve transit's purpose if closing early really is necessary.

We'll be doing more actions on this issue as it progresses. If you want to stay up to date on that so you can speak up at the right time, fill out the form below.

Links


Breakfast links: Derailed and delayed


Photo by zach kowalczyk on Flickr.
Derailment on the Orange and Silver Lines: A Metro train with 75 passengers on board derailed outside of East Falls Church this morning. There is no train service between Ballston and West Falls Church or between Ballston and McLean as a result. All injuries appear to be minor. (NBC4)

Still up for public input: There will be many opportunities for public input before Metro decides whether or not to end late-night service. (City Paper) ... Local businesses are already saying the move would hurt both their patrons and employees. (Eater)

Can't stop won't stop RPP: DDOT has confirmed that they can't and won't deny residential parking passes to residents living in apartments where the developer promised neighbors (and in some cases, the zoning board) that they wouldn't be eligible. (UrbanTurf)

Wizards facility price goes up: The Wizards practice facility will cost at least $10 million more than originally planned. The cost increase doesn't need approval from the DC Council, even though DC is footing over 90% of the bill for the facility. (Post)

Better buses for I-66: Virginia's transportation board just put down $10 million for better bus service and cycling and pedestrian improvements along I-66 as part of the plan to add high-occupancy toll lanes. (NVTC)

Trip tracking not just for fun: Metro will use that cool new trip tracking tool to better understand and improve passenger wait times during service disruptions. (Post)

Red signal special: A Metrorail operator fired earlier this month for running a red signal and nearly causing a head-on collision had turned off his radio because he was upset over a dispute over when and where he would be able to take his lunch break. (Post)

Charlotte's solid walls: Charlotte's newest light rail line has solid-wall bridges like those now planned for the Purple Line's Riverdale Park station. There isn't as much community opposition in Charlotte, but some say it's hurting business. (Post)

Keeping up with the Joneses: Housing prices have increased much more than the median income. As incomes skyrocket for the wealthiest, everyone else is borrowing more to afford housing. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
page/1

Bicycling


What do you think of these bike plans for Columbia Pike?

Columbia Pike is one of Arlington's least bike-friendly corridors—there aren't any bike lanes, traffic is heavy, and the bike boulevards on parallel streets are disjointed and disconnected. The good news it that there's a plan to make the Pike a better place to bike. The bad? It isn't exactly going to win any awards.


Riding a bike down Columbia Pike? Harrowing. Photo by Cliff on Flickr.

The transportation planning for Columbia Pike largely grew out of 2004's Columbia Pike Streetscape Task Force Report. This report set the ultimate vision for what each block of the Pike will look like in the future, once the corridor redevelops.

With that ultimate vision expected to take 30 years or more, Arlington is undertaking a short-term solution, the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project. This project includes plans to create a way to bike down Columbia Pike, or on 9th Street or 12th Street, which parallel the Pike.


The bike-related infrastructure that's planned for Columba Pike. Map by the author, base map from Google Maps.

Below are the details of the project's plans for bike infrastructure, from the western end of Columbia Pike to the east:

The west end sidepath

Starting in the west, at the Fairfax County line, Columbia Pike will get a 10-foot wide shared-use path on the north side. The path will stretch from the county line to the bridge over Four Mile Run just east of Arlington Mill Community Center.

This portion of the Pike Multimodal project is slated to being begin construction fairly soon. Fans of such a facility would likely describe it as a "trail," detractors would probably say it's "just a wide sidewalk." Having a curb to protect you from traffic is certainly a plus, but mixing with pedestrians is a negative, and having a bike route that runs in two directions cross driveways and side streets is certainly a safety concern.


The narrow sidewalk that currently runs across Four Mile Run Bridge. Photo by the author.

The Four Mile Run bridge is one of the gaps in planning for biking Columbia Pike. The 10-foot sidepath suddenly becomes a narrow and busy sidewalk that sits immediately adjacent to traffic. Right now, the only alternatives to biking in traffic over the bridge are sharing that sidewalk with pedestrians and other cyclists or detouring north past the community center, down into the stream valley via a number of switchbacks, across a fair weather ford over Four Mile Run, and then back up a steep hill to 9th Street.

Ideally, the county would either renovate the bridge to widen the sidewalk to 10 feet to match the sidepath to the west, or add a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian bridge either immediately to the north of the bridge, or further upstream to connect to 9th Street.


Fair weather crossing alternative to Four Mile Run Bridge. Photo by the author.

A bike boulevard for the central core

Moving east across the stream, the county's planned bike infrastructure transitions to a bike boulevard along 9th Street, which runs parallel to Columbia Pike. Bike boulevards are easy to bike on because while they're open to cars, they keep speeds and volumes low.

This quiet neighborhood street will get you approximately two blocks before arriving at the second potential gap in the planned bike network along Columbia Pike: crossing George Mason Drive. Most cyclists right now head another block to the north where they can safely cross George Mason Drive with a light at 8th Street.


The proposed 9th Street bike boulevard ends before George Mason Drive. Photo by the author.

While the additional two block detour is relatively negligible for someone on a long-distance ride, it could potentially double the length of a trip for anyone trying to go just a couple blocks. A better long-term solution would be a bridge across George Mason, from where it dead ends at Taylor Street to where it picks back up at Quincy Street.


9th Street before and after it reaches George Mason Drive. Image from Google Maps.

From Quincy, the 9th Street bike boulevard continues, to Glebe Road, where engineers evaluated the intersection for a HAWK signal to make crossing there easier and safer. Unfortunately, because the traffic control manual that Virginia's engineers defer to says a signal there isn't "warranted" because not enough people use the route, there won't be one.


View as a cyclist on 9th St Bike Blvd approaching Glebe. Photo by the author.

This is a common chicken-and-egg problem for bike and pedestrian crossings: Nobody crosses there because it's difficult and feels unsafe, and it's remaining difficult and unsafe because nobody crosses there. Common sense says that many cyclists and pedestrians are likely going out of there way to cross at Columbia Pike or at 8th Street so that they can do so at a light, but would prefer to cross at 9th if a signal were there.


9th Street at Glebe (Route 120), and the detour at Ivy Street. Image from Google Maps.

East of Glebe, cyclists are directed to detour up to 7th Street for one block at Ivy Street because of a one block stretch of one-way street between Ivy and Irving Street. The county proposed making this stretch of road two-way as part of the initial bike boulevard roll-out, but ran into fierce neighborhood opposition.

Nearby residents were very concerned about opening the street up to two-way traffic around a narrow curve with bad sight-lines and contended that while the curb-to-curb width may appear to be wide enough, the mature oak trees that line the street mean that nobody is actually able to park adjacent to the curb which leaves less room for driving than you might think at first glance.

The 9th Street bike boulevard continues east to the intersection with Walter Reed Drive. Here, Arlington engineers decided the intersection needs a full traffic signal. It will be installed as part of the long-delayed Walter Reed Drive Complete Streets Project sometime in the next few years. That project will also rebuild the intersection into a more traditional and understandable layout.

A sidepath for the east end

At Wayne Street, the 9th Street Bike Boulevard ends and the planned bike facility transitions back to a 10-foot shared use path on Columba Pike. That path is planned to stretch all the way from Wayne Street, down the hill, underneath the Washington Boulevard bridge, back up the hill past the Sheraton and all the way down past the Air Force Memorial to at least Joyce Street and potentially all the way to the Pentagon.

A stretch of the 10-foot path already runs under the new Washington Boulevard bridge. The remainder of the sidepath will be built as part of future phases of the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project, but probably not until 2018 or 2019.


New 10' sidepath beneath Washington Blvd bridge. Photo from Google Streetview

Again, the choice of a sidepath here is less than ideal. The sidepath would cross a number of side streets and driveways, not to mention the off-ramps from the Washington Boulevard bridge. Cyclists going downhill will pick up a fair amount of speed, and drivers rarely expect high-speed cyclists on what looks like a sidewalk, especially when they are coming from the "wrong direction" (because the sidepath is on the north side of Columbia Pike, cyclists headed east would be on the left side of the street).

From the east end of Columbia Pike, cyclists could continue along to the Route 27 trail past the Pentagon Memorial, or head along the Joyce Street sidepath to the future protected bike lane on Army Navy Drive into Pentagon City. Plans for this end of Columba Pike are somewhat in flux because of the land swap that is still being negotiated between Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County and VDOT.

The land swap would potentially re-align Columbia Pike and reconfigure the Columbia Pike / Route 27 interchange near the Pentagon, changing it from its current cloverleaf configuration into a more compact signalized setup.

What about 12th Street?

There is also a bicycle boulevard on 12th Street, but given that it's on the opposite side of Columbia Pike from the sidepaths, I've focused on 9th Street in the context of a cyclist trying to travel the full length of Columbia Pike. People are unlikely to want to cross Columbia Pike multiple times just to continue on their way.

Why bike boulevards and sidepaths? Why not bike lanes or protected bike lanes?

If this plans seems a bit old-fashioned, building parallel boulevards and sidepaths instead of protected bike lanes, remember that they all grew out of that 2004 Streetscape Task Force Report. The biggest driver however, is space: there isn't that much of it, and there are a lot of competing demands for it.

In many places, the space available across Columbia Pike from building to building is less than 80 feet. In some places, the land the county currently owns is as narrow as 60 feet.
In that space, the county has been trying to accommodate wide sidewalks with street trees for a pleasant pedestrian experience, 24,000 vehicles a day with heavy transit traffic, and safe accommodation for cyclists. They don't all fit, and what has been compromised the most is the bicycle facilities.


In this cross section of Columbia Pike, there are 56 feet just for cars. The remaining space has to juggle bike lanes, pedestrian space, and trees. Image from Arlington County.

Converting some or all of the bike facilities on Columbia Pike to bike lanes or protected bike lanes would require identifying significant width to be taken away from some other use on the Pike. Turning a standard five-foot sidewalk into a ten-foot shared use path requires five feet of space beyond a typical Arlington Cross-section. Standard bike lanes would require an additional five feet, buffered or protected bike lanes additional width equal to the width of the buffer or the protection.

Does that space come out of the sidewalk? The street trees? The left turn lanes? The travel lanes?

Arlington County is set to spend over $100 million rebuilding Columbia Pike, and yet the "Complete Streets" project will not result in a bike facility that runs the entire length of the corridor. Is that really a complete street? Columbia Pike is the most affordable area of Arlington, and would be the ideal place to have top-notch facilities for one of the most affordable means of transportation: the bicycle.

Right now that isn't going to happen. Should it?

Transit


Find out your personal Metro on-time stats with this tool

When you look at Metro's on-time statistics, do you feel like they don't match up with your own experience? Today, you can look at the hard data with the new "MyTripTime" tool.


Screenshot of the author's three-month travel summary.

MyTripTime on-time scores are calculated by comparing actual travel times—when customers tap in and out with a registered SmarTrip card—to the amount of time that trip should take when service is running normally.

To access your personal data, you must have a registered SmarTrip card.

  1. Log in to your account.
  2. Click the relevant card (you probably only have one)
  3. There is a box on the right that says "manage your account"
  4. Click "My Trip Time Dashboard" that also has a "New!" flair and it should pop up.
If you have a SmarTrip card, you can see your travel time summary even your card isn't registered. You just need to create a new account on smartrip.wmata.com and link it to your card.

Our contributors' performances have ranged from 58% to 91%. What's yours?

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 88

On Tuesday, we posted our eighty-eighth challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 27 guesses. Eleven got all five right. Great work, Peter K, JamesDCane, Stephen C, Solomon, J-Train-21, Justin..., AlexC, RBAP, Ampersand, dpod, and We Will Crush Peter K!


Image 1: Federal Triangle

This week, each of the pictures featured a Metro elevator at street level. To solve the quiz, you needed to identify the surroundings visible in the background.

The first image shows the elevator at Federal Triangle. The Federal Triangle complex is visible in the background, and is a fairly iconic building. The curved facade could have been a help, since the entrance to Federal Triangle is in a semi-circular area west of 12th Street. Had the Old Post Office been torn down, as envisioned, a the opposite side of the street would also have a semi-circular facade.

Twenty-four got this right.


Image 2: New Carrollton

The second image shows the escalator canopy and pedestrian bridge at the west (Harkins Road) entrance to New Carrollton station. This canopy is unique in the system, so some of you may have figured it out that way. The bridge in the background leads to the IRS building. We've featured it before in week 21 and week 63.

Twelve made the correct choice.


Image 3: Pentagon City

This picture shows the elevator at Pentagon City. The tower in the background is the Ritz Carlton hotel. If you look closely, just below the elevator canopy, you can see a portion of the Nordstrom sign. There aren't many Nordstroms in the region, so that would have been a useful way to narrow this down.

Seventeen guessed correctly.


Image 4: Archives

The fourth image shows the corner of 7th and Indiana NW entrance at Archives. The red brick building is fairly iconic, and adds texture to the area. The Starbucks logo helped at least one person narrow it down, but the easiest way was simply to recognize the building. Nineteen did.


Image 5: Farragut West

Finally, the last image shows the facade of 1875 Eye Street, also known as International Square. The building towers over the 18th Street entrance to Farragut West, including the elevator entrance. It opened in 1979, just two years after the Metro station. The blocky nature of the building and it's height was a clue to look in DC. But like image number 4, recognition was the easiest solution.

Thirteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back the second Tuesday in August with week 89.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at http://ggwash.org/whichwmata.

Politics


You could be an ANC commissioner, and as a reader of this blog, you really should think about it

DC's Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners have a thankless but important job. For no pay, they advise on thousands of neighborhood-level decisions a year: everything from whether or not that restaurant can serve liquor, to whether or not that building is going to meet the needs of the neighborhood. You should consider running. If you're elected, you'll make a difference in your corner of town.


Photo by stu_spivack on Flickr.

DC is split into 299 single member districts (SMDs) organized into 40 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). By design, each SMD (which are supposed to encompass around 2,000 residents) elects one commissioner to represent their interests. ANCs meet regularly to decide on many community level decisions, including development decisions and permitting.

ANCs have a strangely powerful but also powerless role in DC politics and development. They technically do not have political authority, and instead their opinions and resolutions are given a legal "great weight" that other DC agencies are supposed to (and most often do) respect and follow.

That being said, there are some areas where an ANC's great weight is more influential than others. In the development field, for example, any changes to current regulations must go through the ANC for public input, and because commissioners control these proceedings, they wield significant amounts of power. Commissioners help to broker agreements, and moderate their forum as a place for public debate and negotiation.

ANC elections are non-partisan, and open to any DC resident who has lived in their neighborhood for at least 60 days before petitions are due. It is relatively simple to get your name on the ballot: you only need to collect 25 signatures from your neighbors to qualify. Because of the relative low visibility of these positions and elections, these races are decided by very small amounts of votes—30 votes can sway an election. In ANC races, every vote really counts.

What's more, many races go uncontested, and some seats even stay vacant for lack of interest. 86 SMDs are currently uncontested, and in 153 districts, there is only one contender. That means if there is a lot of opportunity for neighborhood leaders to step forward.

Papers for potential candidates are current available to be picked up at the DC Board of Elections, and as of July 22nd, 642 DC residents have picked up petitions.


Map from DC Office of ANCs - click for a closer view. Has someone picked up papers in your district? Will you?

I imagine many in the Greater Greater Washington community would make excellent ANC commissioners. But maybe you're worried because you don't feel qualified, or don't have a clear picture of what the job looks like.

Here is some advice from fellow Greater Greater Washington readers who also happen to be ANC commissioners:

Daniel Warwick (2B02):

To anyone considering running for ANC:

Serving as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner is an unique and humbling experience.

It is an honor working with your neighbors to improve your community. Commissioners get to know the minutia of obscure liquor licensing, zoning, historic preservation, and public space regulations. More importantly, you get to know what's happening where you live. Improving your neighborhood can mean supporting the first net-zero office redevelopment in the District of Columbia, encouraging the Public Space Committee to put pedestrians and bikes first, or working with an applicant to adapt their proposed development.

It's very easy for a Commissioner to oppose everything. The typical job of an ANC is to be obstructionist, but a greater commissioner tries to say "Interesting idea--lets get some folks together and find something everyone can support." Being an ANC Commissioner is a tough balance and is frustrating at times, but is one of the greatest honors I can imagine.

You should run.

Tom Quinn (3E04):
I can walk all over my SMD and point out new trees, crosswalks, parking signs, some scant bike infrastructure and CaBi stations, sidewalks, etc. All things that we had a role in getting installed, yet most people have no idea. But a lot of the things I've worked on have never borne fruit, so to not go crazy you have to accept from the start that a lot of ideas are not going anywhere and just hope that it feels rewarding.

We've gotten a lot done and I was driven to get involved in part because my predecessor expended all of her energy fighting development and no energy on positive change. So to me it has been worth it.

Thinking about it? Decide soon, your 25 signatures are due by August 10th. Want to talk about it more? Get in touch; I have some ideas for you - dwhitehead@ggwash.org.

Links


Breakfast links: On to IZ


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.
Affordable housing in the zone: Over 2,600 more affordable housing units could come to DC in the next five to 10 years if the DC Council approves the DC Zoning Commission's decision to expand the inclusionary zoning program. (City Paper, GGWash)

Fewer parking spots near Silver: Developers of two residential towers in Reston want to reduce the number of required parking spaces, since the site is within half a mile of two Silver Line stations. The county executive is on board. (Reston Now)

Take note, WMATA: Boston's T ended late-night service in March, and is now facing a federal complaint that says eliminating the service disproportionately hurt low-income and minority communities. (WBUR)

Bikeshare for Falls Church: Falls Church will get Capital Bikeshare thanks to Fairfax County. The county deferred some of its transportation funding to pay for the expansion. (FABB)

Housing hot in Arlington: Home prices in Arlington have increased 5% since last June. The median sale price jumped from $595,000 to $625,000. (ArlingtonPatch)

Red light for Red Line: General Manager Wiedefeld is already warning riders that the next SafeTrack surge could bring 45-60 minute delays as trains single track between Silver Spring and Takoma on the Red Line. The surge, which begins Monday, will affect 94,000 riders. (BethesdaMagazine)

Smaller spots and remote lots: How will parking change in the age of automated cars? Garages could fit more cars in smaller spots and lots could move to more remote locations. (CarAndDriver)

And...: Despite strong opposition, Metro General Manager Wiedefeld isn't backing down on his proposal to end late-night service. (Post) ... A Los Angeles restaurant chain will price its food based on the income of the surrounding neighborhood. (LATimes) ... Facebook will build 1,500 housing units near its headquarters, with 15% set aside for low-income families. (Cnet)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Zoning


Get to know DCís new zoning with this map

After years of delays and extensive public input, DC's zoning board approved a new zoning code in January. It will actually take effect in September. This map helps homeowners understand how the new zoning applies to them.

The zoning update includes some key steps forward, like allowing some homeowners to rent out garages or basements where it's illegal today.

Otherwise, unless you live downtown, nothing dramatic will change. The zoning update generally doesn't change the density and form someone can build in your neighborhood. Most specific rules, like how big and what shape a "court" can be, also don't change, and you're not expected to know them all unless you're an architect or land use attorney.

But what does it mean?

The reason so little seems to be changing is because the zoning code basically consists of three parts: an administrative framework, rules for development in general, and land use rules specific to each zone district.

Most of the rewrite was reorganizing existing rules written in 1958 and patched several times over the years. That means updating the language, addressing new uses, and closing loopholes. Sure, there are some big controversial city-wide changes like permitting granny cottages in single family residential areas and reducing parking minimums.

What will likely change is the name of the zone you live in. In the old code, most zones were R (Residential) or C (Commercial); now, residential zones include the old R, RF (for residential flats, like row houses), and RA (for apartments); many commercial zones, which have long allowed residential and commercial together, are called MU (mixed-use), or D for downtown zones, and so on.

This table shows how the existing zone districts fit into the new zones. The interactive map (image at the top of the post) lets you compare old and new zoning side by side.

There are a lot more zone districts now—sort of. Some neighborhoods (like Cleveland Park) have "overlays" that customize their zones. Many changed the underlying zoning dramatically, which wasn't readily understandable without flipping back and forth between sections.

In the new code, instead of overlays, there is just a new basic zone with all the rules from the underlying zone or the overlay. For example, the old R-1-B zone with the Foxhall and Tree and Slope overlay (for areas near the Potomac river on the west side of DC) will be R-9. The R-1-B zone with Naval Observatory overlay will be R-12.

The actual effect of the overlays remains, but you don't have to reconcile two totally different sections of zoning code to figure out what's going on. I think it's a lot simpler to understand, whether you're designing a building or imagining what your neighborhood could look like.

History


An 1886 plan would have built atop Rock Creek

An 1886 Washington Post article outlines a plan to put Rock Creek in a tunnel from about M Street to just north of R Street, fill in the ravine, and create city blocks between Georgetown and Dupont.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Proponents estimated it would create 50 "squares" (generally city blocks) of space, for a cost of about $600,000 to $650,000, or about $15-16 million in today's dollars.

By keeping Rock Creek, DC has not only a surface waterway but a number of park spaces on the banks, such as Rose Park. Unfortunately, a different plan ultimately greatly marred the creek: Rock Creek Parkway, which dominates this section of the creek valley.

At any spot, someone trying to enjoy the edge parks or trail has to contend with a large freeway creating most of the noise and taking up much of the ravine floor. National Park Service management practice in this part of Rock Creek prioritizes motor vehicle traffic over any other user. Features in the park, like signs that tell trail users to yield to cars when crossing the on- and off-ramps, further make clear that nature and recreation come last here.

Here is the map from the article:

Tom from Ghosts of DC also posted an excerpt from the story:

"From what I have seen in the papers," said Capt. Symonds, when asked by a POST reporter for his opinion regarding the cost and practicability of the proposed Rock Creek tunnel, "I should consider it a perfectly practicable and feasible scheme, and I should think that the benefits resulting would fully justify the outlay necessary."

"How long would be the tunnel?"

"From the location as described it would require a tunnel about 2,000 feet long with some open cut work at the ends."

"What would be the cost?"

"Its cost would depend largely on the nature of the rock encountered. It would probably be necessary to arch it over throughout its length and if the excavated rock were suitable in quality it could be used for this purpose. In this case I should estimate the cost of the tunnel, with a sufficient water-way for all floods, to be about $250 per lineal foot. This would make the 2,000 feet of tunnel cost $500,000. Another $100,000 would cover all the open work at the ends, and all engineering expenses, etc. If it was found necessary to use brick for arching the cost would be about $50,000 more. This would make the cost from $600,000 to $650,000, which I believe would cover all expenses for the work proper without including any question of right of way. The excavated material would be used for arching in the form of rubble masonry, not in the form of concrete. The bed of the creek could not be used for a dumping ground. It could not be filled up directly with the excavated material, for it would have to be kept open for the passage of water until the tunnel was completed.

"It is not at all improbably," continued Capt. Symonds, "that a sufficient amount of good material would be excavated to arch the creek over from the lower terminus of the tunnel to the outlet of the canal. In this way the improvement could be made more far-reaching and beneficial. The creek would be blotted out of sight from Lyons' Mill to the mouth of the canal. I should think that the best use for the excavated material, beyond that used for curbing the tunnel, would be in building embankments across the valley of the creek connecting the streets of Washington and Georgetown, thus doing away with bridges and uniting the two cities. The spaces between the embankments could gradually be filled in. If properly managed it would be a splendid improvement.

We originally ran this post in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we wanted to share it with you again!

History


Building of the Week: Downtown's Woodward & Lothrop building

Located 11th Street NW between G and F Streets, DC's Woodward and Lothrop building is iconic: it appears in books and as a case study for developers, and we've even featured it ourselves (twice!). But while most of the attention focuses on the famous department store that lived in it, the building itself tells the story of how fast fashion eclipsed department store retail in the United States.


The Woodward & Lothrop building, sometime in the 1910s. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Woodward and Lothrop was founded in Washington in 1880 and settled into its flagship location on the 1000 block of F and G Streets NW in 1886. Architect James G. Hill designed the company's eclectic five-story headquarters, and real estate investor Calderon Carlisle funded the project.

The building was no skyscraper, but it shared the language of taller buildings: arcade windows and expansive showrooms covered in neoclassical ornament. The rich mix of materials included mahogany and French glass.

Thanks to continued success, owners Samuel Woodward and Alvin Lorthrop purchased most of the block by 1897. New acquisitions were renovated or expanded, notably a large addition in 1902 on G Street.


A picture from an advertisement in the 1913 edition of Rand McNally's Pictorial Guide to Washington. Photo from Streets of Washington.

Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb was hired to unify and modernize the building. The result was eight stories and 400,000 square feet of retail space adorned with cast iron and leaded glass.

Cobb's design spoke to his Chicago roots. The building's two commercial levels featured elaborate ornamentation and American-made cast iron piers. The third floor was narrower and hid its steel frame under rustication. The subsequent four stories wear a Beaux-Arts uniform and end in a heavy cornice. This segmentation resembles that of Chicago skyscrapers.

For F Street, Woodward and Lothrop hired Frederick B. Pyle to build a terra cotta segment of the building. While designed to appear as a distinct structure, it was always integrated into the larger building.


Here, you can see the terra cotta part of the building, which runs along 10th Street. Photo from Douglas Development.

By 1927 the building took on its present appearance after the original Carlisle Building had been destroyed. Woodies, as it was affectionately known, operated here until 1994 with only modest changes.


The Woodies building after 1926, viewed from 11th and F Streets, NW. Image from Streets of Washington.

By the end of the 20th century, the entire chain was bankrupt. The Washington location was abandoned, and its building auctioned to the Washington Opera. The Opera's plans to convert the landmarked space into a theater failed, and five years later it was acquired by developer Douglas Jemal.

The company renovated the space in 2002, putting offices on most floors and returning the ground level to retail space. Now a jaunt around the block allows you to shop at Zara, H&M, and Forever 21.


Image from Douglas Development.

Woodies led the way for department stores, both the rise and fall

These new tenants are no modern Woodies—because the department store as a business model is long in decline. In Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, author Elizabeth Cline delves into how department stores were revolutionary when they arrived at the turn of the 20th century, but by the end of the century, that revolution turned against them.


The Woodward & Lothrop floor at Christmas time, sometime in the 1960s. Photo by StreetsofWashington on Flickr.

In 1900, textile, patterns, and readymade home and clothing items under one roof gave upper class women a safe, socially acceptable escape from the household. These items' relative affordability meant a person didn't have to make all their own clothing anymore. By the post-war era, American pockets bulged, ready-to-wear was king, and competition was fierce in the industry. Mail order catalogs allowed you to peruse your regional chain's offerings, or you could drive to Montgomery Ward, Belk, or Burdines for mid-market sales.

But like its contemporary the land line, the department store model was due for change. Cline notes that by the 1970s malls and discount retailers mushroomed across America. These were descended upon by price conscious Americans—with an evaporating middle class, who would shop for mid-priced clothing? At the dawn of the 21st century, shopping preferences were clear: Forever 21 or the designer from whom the chain borrowed inspiration.

In the era of fast fashion—piles of stylish clothing go from sketch to store in a matter of weeks, selling for small sums—the moderate department store was too slow and expensive. Department stores tried to meet the new expectations, hastening their own demise with untenable discounts and a dwindling clientele.

Woodies was a casualty of this changing economy. Many of its stores were acquired by Macy's and Bloomingdales, chains that expanded nationally and weathered the shift partly by focusing on higher end customers. Woodies fell victim of its refusal to evolve—or as critics of fast fashion's labor and environmental effects argue, devolve.

Yet the signature building remains intact. The space itself epitomizes the changing retail tides of history. The eclectic buildings first brought together by Woodies have been recycled, reorganized, and parceled out to individual owners again. The structure remains to tell the tale.

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