Greater Greater Washington

Metro in the Flickr pool

This week, I've picked some of the best images of Metro from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Photo by washingtonydc.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Photo by Beau Finley.

Photo by BeyondDC.

Photo by Beau Finley.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

WABA says an Arlington Boulevard trail is a good bet

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) thinks the region's next major bike trail should run along Arlington Boulevard from the National Mall to the eastern border of Fairfax City. On Tuesday, it released a report on how make it happen.

Sections of the existing and proposed trail. Map from WABA. Click for an interactive version.

Once a main artery into DC, Arlington Boulevard now alternates between being a high-speed highway and a suburban or urban boulevard that has various levels of development and density. This varied nature affect's Arlington Boulevard's pedestrian and bike facilities, making it relatively easy to travel some sections on foot or bike but also creating some where it's rather difficult.

Connecting the infrastructure that's already in place would give Arlington Boulevard a trail nearly 25 miles long in both east and west-bound directions, opening up several neighborhoods and commercial areas to non-drivers.

Part of WABA's report documents just where these gaps are and how long each one is.

Almost half of the total route is already built to a point where even the most inexperienced of cyclist should feel comfortable riding on it, but the longest stretch of this type is, currently, only 1.2 miles long. About 40% of the route requires cyclists to ride in traffic or are narrow enough that only experienced cyclists would feel comfortable riding.

Finally, there are parts of the route that are simply too dangerous for anyone not in a car. The longest of this type is where Arlington Boulevard meets I-495 and Gallows Road, where anyone looking to get through on a bike or on foot has to make over a mile-long detour.

Specific parts of the route that need attention

The latter half of the report details how Arlington could improve specific sections of the route. In many cases, the county could use Arlington Boulevard's wide right of way along with some of the access roads that run parallel, carving out space for pedestrians and bikes without cutting existing travel lanes. Other trails and paths along the route simple need to be better maintained.

Pedestrians along Arlington Boulevard. Image from WABA.

There are parts of the route, though, that would need substantial work.

There's currently a plan to widen Arlington Boulevard underneath the Seven Corners interchange, and that would need some sort of path if non-drivers are to avoid a lengthy detour. Another significant challenge lies between Annandale and Gallows Road, where WABA notes that a bridge would be needed to cross 495. That'd likely be the most expensive part of the project.

WABA estimates final costs to be around $40 million, but says a trail would pay long-term dividends

WABA estimates the full 23-mile route would cost around $40 million, but that's just an estimate. WABA says it needs more information to fully understand what the project would cost, but does do believe bundling trail work with other road work along Arlington Boulevard could keep costs low.

To be clear, WABA isn't just throwing these proposals up out of the blue; its suggestions are actually in line with a number of projects for which the Virginia Department of Transportation recently identified Arlington Boulevard as a potential recipient.

Continuous pedestrian and cycling facilities will help make Arlington Boulevard a road that connects neighborhoods rather than divides them. It can also help shape future land use and planning decisions in areas that might otherwise be fated to be stuck next to a high speed highway.

To a pedestrian, a road's a tiny space with danger just beside

Pedestrians surrender a lot of public space to cars. It's something society has accepted, but this clever illustration from Claes Tingvall of the Swedish Road Administration shows how extreme our allocation of public space has become, from the pedestrian's point of view.


Breakfast links: Too fast for safety

Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.
7000s delayed over safety: The new 7000 series Metro cars likely will not debut in January. An independent oversight committee claims Metro is moving too fast through safety testing and evaluations. (Post)

Uber vs. Cheh: Councilmember Mary Cheh wants to increase the number of wheelchair-accessible taxis. Uber supports more wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but it's set for a battle with the Council over releasing data on the new service. (City Paper)

Diplomatic impunity: Hundreds of foreign diplomats with reckless driving or DWI cases in the Washington region have never been punished thanks to diplomatic immunity. In the past two years, 45 diplomats have been kicked out of the country instead. (NBC4)

Courthouse Square of the future: More details are emerging about what Arlington's Courthouse Square could look like in the future. Underground parking and a park would replace the current surface lot, and several blocks would be redeveloped. (WBJ)

DC Cool: Destination DC wants to bring tourists to visit DC for more than just the monuments and museums. Their latest tactic highlights sidewalks as a dynamic and charming part of DC's neighborhoods. (City Paper)

Denmark's bike super highways: Denmark is building 28 bicycling super highways across 22 different municipalities. The super highways are an alternative to car commuting after Copenhagen failed to impose a congestion charge. (CityLab)

And...: The DC region has the lowest violent crime rate of any major US metro area. (UrbanTurf) ... Over a million people will travel from the region for Thanksgiving. (Post)

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Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 29

On Tuesday, we posted our twenty-ninth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in the Metro system. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

This week, we got 31 guesses. Nine of you got all five correct. Great work, Alex B, Peter K, Murn, DavidDuck, Justin...., coneyraven, Ian, DC Dave, and Cosmo!

Image 1: West Falls Church

The first image shows the north bus loop at West Falls Church. This loop was formerly home to many of the Fairfax Connector routes that served Tysons Corner and other places in northern Fairfax, but today is less important since the Silver Line has opened. The primary clue here is the unique canopy covering the bus platform. 21 of you knew this one.

Image 2

The second image shows an outbound Blue Line train approaching Arlington Cemetery station. In addition to the side platforms, which narrows the list of possible stations significantly, the bucolic setting and the Rosslyn skyline make this obviously Arlington Cemetery. 28 got this one right.

Image 3

The third image depicts the memorial pylon at Metro Center. This granite column is a memorial to fallen Metro employees. It stands in the southern mezzanine, which is an extension of the Shady Grove platform above the Blue/Orange/Silver platform near the sales office. 19 of you correctly guessed Metro Center.

Image 4

This image shows a mirror on the platform at Silver Spring station. Because the platform here is curved, these convex mirrors are in place to allow the operators of inbound trains to see all the doors on the train. Only two stations have these mirrors. Other clues included the distinctive bridge between the MARC platforms and the buildings in the background. 18 knew this was Silver Spring.

Image 5

The final image shows a staircase at Wheaton station. These steps lead down from the southeast corner of Reedie Drive and Georgia Avenue into the mezzanine. The distinctive blue wall is a clue, as is the new residential tower above the Wheaton Safeway, visible in the glare. 14 correctly guessed Wheaton.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Great work. Stay tuned. We'll have five more images for you next week.

Without a streetcar, what's next for Columbia Pike, technically and politically?

After a decade of planning, officials in Arlington cancelled the Columbia Pike streetcar this week. If streetcars aren't going to be the answer on there, what might realistically happen instead?

Columbia Pike. Photo by harry_nl on Flickr.

In the wake of the streetcar's cancellation, some have suggested Metrorail, BRT, or light rail. None are likely. The county will probably just end up running articulated ("accordion") buses on Columbia Pike. Voters might be surprised how long that takes, how much it costs, and how little capacity it adds.

It's also time for the anti-streetcar forces to prove that when they claimed they supported better transit, they meant it and weren't just using the issue to divide voters. That means they now have to get involved in finding a solution and making it a reality.

There's tremendous demand for good transit on Columbia Pike. It's already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia, and by 2040 there could be more transit riders on Columbia Pike alone than in the entire Richmond metropolitan area. Doing nothing isn't a viable option.

As we discussed yesterday, Metrorail is (unfortunately) not financially realistic, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has told Arlington it may not dedicate a lane to transitif even that were politically possible over drivers' inevitable objections.

So what can happen now?

How soon can Arlington beef up bus service?

Unfortunately, large transit projects take years to plan and, if they cost a significant amount, even longer to fund. The funding process is what really held up the Columbia Pike streetcar; Arlington and Fairfax leaders thought they had the money together in the past, like in 2007, when Virginia handed some taxing authority to a regional authority to build transportation. But then courts ruled the plan unconstitutional, and it took more years to get funding together again, culminating in Governor McAuliffe's pledge this year for the state to pick up a significant amount of the tab.

One plan has gone through some detailed studies: the option called "TSM-2" in the streetcar alternatives analysis. That includes running longer articulated buses on Columbia Pike along with larger bus stops, machines to pay the fare before the bus arrives ("off-vehicle fare collection"), and rebranding the buses as MetroExtra or Metroway.

But even that isn't so simple.

First, WMATA doesn't have any bus storage or maintenance yard in Virginia equipped to handle articulated buses. Arlington will have to find land and build that, just as it would have had to do for a streetcar railyard.

Second, Columbia Pike's pavement isn't strong enough to handle the wear and tear of hundreds of articulated bus trips per day. It wouldn't crumble the first week, but before long Arlington will have to reinforce and repave the street, just like it would have had to do for streetcar tracks.

Finally, a lot of planning work will have to re-done. Just how much is not yet clear. At the very least, contracts and design work that had been progressing will cease, and Arlington will have to prepare new contracts and possibly hire new contractors. At the higher end of the scale, it's possible the entire alternatives analysis process that produced the TSM-2 option will have to start anew, with a different set of constraints.

Whatever the specifics turn out to be, it's definitely not a simple matter of buying some buses and calling it a day. It's going to take years.

That likely won't last for long

The Alternatives Analysis estimated that at current growth rates, ridership will outstrip the capacity for articulated buses before long.

There are three likely scenarios here:

  • Columbia Pike will not grow as leaders and residents hope, in which case it will remain depressed relative to the rest of the county and not need more transit ridership. A streetcar might become necessary to jump-start the economy, or voters will keep letting it languish.
  • It will grow, demand will increase again, and we'll be back where we started. Maybe the county will again consider a higher-capacity streetcar, just years later and at an even higher cost.
  • The AA is totally wrong and everything will be hunky-dory with just articulated buses, as Libby Garvey and others have argued. That's worked with voters, but no transit experts have really said it holds water.
What about dedicated lanes?

Several readers have said they believe that transit is just not worthwhile without dedicated lanes. Certainly dedicated lanes are better, but elected officials have to make a judgment about what is politically possible and what is not.

Columbia Pike used to be a state road (and still is in Fairfax). The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) turned it over to Arlington, but with the condition that the number of lanes open to cars not drop below fourand it's a four-lane road.

It's theoretically possible that a transit-friendly governor in Virginia could order VDOT to change this condition and let Arlington dedicate lanes on Columbia Pike. Or maybe in another decade or two, VDOT will come to that decision naturally.

The McAuliffe administration stuck its neck out in support of the streetcar. After Arlington hung them out to dry, will they take even more of a risk to take lanes away from cars?

And what evidence do we have that the voting bloc that would fight against losing any car lanes is smaller than the bloc who opposed spending money?

It's about politics now

All of the above is, essentially, the calculus that folks inside Arlington government are or will be working through. What should they plan for now? What contracts are necessary?

But this project didn't lose because of insufficient planning. It lost because of politics.

Arlington has long operated on the "Arlington Way," where civic leaders and other residents discuss issues calmly in advisory committees, the staff formulate recommendations, the board debates them, and ultimately passes things usually with unanimity.

This works pretty well when residents are willing to trust their elected leaders and county officials. But that system is now dead. The faction opposed to the current board members told voters that the consensus on the county board was a sign of the board not listening to people, and eroded popular trust in the county board and staff.

The county board has no committees. There's just one political party. The executive isn't independent. Everything is set up around the idea that everyone acts together. But a faction that now represents 40% of the board isn't interested in doing it that way (unless they are in charge, maybe).

If the board members just ask the transportation department to devise some options, recommend them to the board, and pick the best one, some people will still be unhappy with whatever happens. There will still be opportunities to blame Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Jay Fisette for not doing it the right way, because there's no perfect way that will satisfy every person.

Transit supporters need to start thinking of this as a political fight and not a transit planning fight.

Streetcar opponents: You won. Now, get something done

Libby Garvey, John Vihstadt, and Peter Rousselot have consistently claimed they are for better mobility on Columbia Pike. They just don't want the streetcar. Well, now the streetcar is gone, so there's no apparent division.

Either they were genuine, in which case they can and will work to make transit better, or they were just using it for political advantage. The trick is to now set things up so that voters will be able to see which it is. (Update: Rousselot, at least, has stated his spending priorities and none of them is transit of any kind on Columbia Pike.)

How about putting Garvey and/or Vihstadt in charge of some sort of committee to analyze transportation on Columbia Pike and recommend solutions? And hold a vote putting the county on record that it does want to ask Virginia for a dedicated lane, and send Garvey down to Richmond to push for it. She sure had nearly boundless energy to meet with state officials to criticize the streetcar; how about doing the same for something that would help Arlington County?

If she succeeds, then that's fantastic! We get better transit. I don't think it'll happen, but I'd love to be proven wrong here. I'd love to be able to praise Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt for making things better instead of just breaking things. Then transit supporters can start seeing them as friends and support their re-election.

But if a dedicated lane can't happen, articulated buses turn out to cost almost as much as the streetcar, and they're still too crowded, then voters should blame them, not Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada who tried to do something and got shot down.

The pop-up debate in Lanier Heights pits "property rights" against "neighborhood character"

If you've walked through Lanier Heights in recent years, it's clear that new construction has changed the neighborhood. Some residents want to change zoning laws to limit that trend, while others welcome it. Both groups faced off at a meeting on Tuesday.

Photo by John Leszczynski on Flickr.

Over the past five years or so, multi-unit condos known as pop-ups have replaced a number of single-family row houses in Lanier Heights. Several more of these projects are already under way, making it clear that pop-ups are the trend in the quiet, residential neighborhood.

Some long-time residents are mad as hell about it, saying pop-ups block sunlight and crowd yard space. They contend that buildings block views, damage historic row houses, and make it hard to find parking on the street. The result, they argue, is that it's much harder for families with children to live in the neighborhood.

Those who support pop-ups say that people's rights to build onto their property, which can increase its value, shouldn't be limited. They also point out that expanding houses or converting them into multiple units increases the city's dwindling housing supply.

A change in Lanier Heights' zoning laws would limit pop-ups

To stop future pop-ups, these residents have proposed a change to Lanier Heights' zoning designation. They want to downzone the neighborhood from R-5-B, which allows property owners to build to the back and the front of their lot and up to 50 feet in height, to R-4, which would limit the number of units in a row house to two as well as put a cap on how much of its lot construction can occupy.

Neighbors Against Downzoning has officially rejected the proposed zoning change, and at Tuesday's meeting residents added a number of additional reasons not to downzone.

Some pointed out the technical failings of R-4, citing ways developers could get around the proposed restriction. An architect in the audience voiced his opposition, saying that the difference between R-5 and R-4 is too minor to warrant changing. "We're fighting over 10 feet," he explained. Many lots in Lanier Heights aren't even eligible for R-5 development, making the debate a moot point for much of the neighborhood.

Others voiced broader opposition to restricting development. "I agree, we have a problem," one resident said. "However, I don't agree that downzoning is the solution. I believe in density, I believe in growth, I believe in diversity, and I think this downzoning will have unintended consequences."

"We're in the middle of a housing crisis in this city, and downzoning will only exacerbate that," another resident said.

He was not the only one to point out that many row homes in Lanier Heights neighborhood are valued at over $1 million, making them financially out of reach for many of the young families residents claim to want. Several younger residents explained that owning a home in Lanier Heights simply would not have been possible were it not for the smaller, more affordable condos available in pop-up buildings.

A solution could come in the form of a new type of zoning

While most residents are interested in protecting Lanier Heights' historic row homes, what became clear at the meeting is that R-4 downzoning is a far-from-perfect solution. ANC 1C commissioners brought up conservation districts and historic preservation designations as other possible solutions, but acknowledged that each has its downsides.

There's rumor that the DC Office of Planning's zoning rewrite will put forth a new zoning designation that would essentially fall between R5 and R4, and that might be an ideal compromise. But given how drawn out the zoning update has been, it's anyone's guess when the new code will go into place.

Neighbors should work to establish common goals

ANC Commissioner Marty Davis suggested a next step that's practical for all parties. "The one thing this neighborhood doesn't have," he said, "is a plan saying 'This is what we like. This is what we want Lanier Heights to be.' Help us make that plan by going to and expressing your opinion."

Davis encouraged everyone in Adams Morgan to join a community-wide meeting about these and other zoning issues on January 24.

As for downzoning, ANC1C will deliberate and vote on the substance of Lanier Heights' zoning proposals on Wednesday, December 3rd at 7:00 PM at Mary's Center. If you live in the neighborhood and have an opinion on the matter, come to that meeting to share your thoughts with the commission.

Breakfast links: We can't have nice things

Photo by Trevor.Huxham on Flickr.
No density: A mixed-use plan to add more density in the Westbard area in Bethesda encountered stiff opposition. One resident balked at the idea of walkability, saying she "likes her car and wants to keep driving it." (BethesdaNow)

Let them ride the bus: The death of the Columbia Pike streetcar highlights a class divide in Arlington, says Bob McCartney. Wealthy residents did not want to pay for a fancy streetcar for poorer residents and would rather they just ride the bus. (Post)

No Reeves swap, no deal?: Without the Reeves swap, Akridge may not sell its Buzzard Point land to DC for the cheaper price in the original deal. That could force DC to use eminent domain, pay much more, and delay the project. (WBJ, City Paper)

What's coming for bikes: DDOT is currently only planning one more cycletrack, a north/south corridor east-west on M Street between 4th and 9th streets NE. But there are some good trail and bridge projects in the works, and the region as a whole is planning 2,000 miles of bike and pedestrian projects. (TheWashCycle, WAMU)

Bazinga! GGW parking nerds: DC plans to test demand-based parking pricing in Penn Quarter, beginning in the summer of 2015. (City Paper) ... The DCist story's first commenter was spying on the GGW HQ when we heard about the announcement.

Arlington seeks more retail: Arlington may expand retail guidelines county-wide, require storefronts that work well at pedestrian speed and scale, allow more food trucks, and other changes to increase retail. (WTOP)

Mobility may not be affordable: The American Dream of economic mobility is thriving in some cities, but these cities tend to have the most expensive housing. There are some exceptions, like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City. (CityLab)

And...: Workers have finished erecting the scaffolding around the Capitol dome, so restoration work can begin. (WAMU) ... Fairfax County has approved the first Tesla dealership in Virginia. (Post) ... DC's latest statehood bill died in a Senate committee, but the bill itself raised awareness about the cause. (WAMU)

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A bike-ped trail is in the works for New York Ave NE

An effort is underway to turn a stretch of land along New York Avenue NE into a biking and walking trail, connecting Ivy City to NoMa and beyond.

Map of the potential New York Avenue trail route. Image from Google Maps with edits by the author.

The western end of the trail will be at 4th Street NE in what many know as Union Marketthe Office of Planning and Douglas Development, one of the district's biggest developers, actually call it by its original name, the Florida Avenue Market. This area used to be the rail yards for the wholesale market, and there's an unused tunnel under New York Avenue that DDOT could repurpose for a trail.

The south side of the tunnel leads to a large plot of city-owned land, which could eventually be a park that the thousands of new residents coming to the neighborhood could enjoy while at the market.

"The New York Avenue Trail has been in our plans for several years," said DDOT bicycle program coordinator Jim Sebastian. "With new activity and community support in the corridor, we can start a more concerted planning effort that will end with better neighborhood connections for walking and bicycling."

DC's 2005 DC Bike Master Plan designated New York Avenue NE as the site of a future off road multi-use trail. A feasibility study, conducted by the Rails to Trails Coalition and commissioned by Douglas, will look at the corridor from Union Market to the Arboretum.

A trail through the area would provide access to new development in Ivy City and help connect several Ward 5 neighborhoods to the NoMa Metro.

"We couldn't be more excited about the potential of linking the Florida Avenue Market all the way to the Arboretum," said Paul Millstein, a vice president and head of construction at Douglas. "We think it's key to the pedestrian-friendliness of the entire sector as this industrial area transitions to a livable community."

Hecht's development, from the north. Image from Douglas Development.

The trail will help make it easier to travel to and from Ivy City

Wedged between New York Avenue NE and West Virginia Avenue NE, Ivy City has long been one of DC's poorest neighborhoods. Some have even called it a "dumping ground" for undesirable industrial and parking uses.

But change is underway, as the DC Department of Housing and Community Development is working with several non-profits to build dozens of new houses and Douglas Development is constructing 400 apartments with several hundred thousand square feet of retail in the historic Hecht's warehouse. Douglas also owns other nearby buildings and land.

Tunnel under New York Avenue. Photo by the author.

Trail users will skip the steep New York Avenue bridge and have access to downtown

The tunnel gives the trail a way to avoid the steep New York Avenue bridge over the railroad tracks. In Ivy City, the tunnel connects to a path that descends back to the trail and track level at Fairview Street.

Trail users will be able to connect to downtown and elsewhere through the M Street NE cycletrack, which leads to the Metropolitan Branch Trail and may eventually link with the M Street NW cycletrack across town.

Unused railroad right of way along New York Avenue near Brentwood Parkway NE. Photo by the author.

Safety will need to be a priority for the trail to serve its purpose

The nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail has had issues with safety and maintenance, and without many parks or retail locations along the way, the trail from Ivy City to NoMA will run through areas that are even more devoid of activity. Excellent lighting, connections to area businesses and the main road, retail kiosks, and pocket parks, then, will be a must.

MOM's Organic Market just opened its first DC store at 1501 New York Avenue NE. For now, the safest and easiest way to get there is by driving, which is inviting because MOM's sits at the base of a five-story parking garage. But hopefully, sometime in the not-too-distant future, it will also be safe for MOM's patrons and other Ivy City and Ward 5 residents to bike or run there along this new trail.

DDOT director Brown stands up to opposition to mini-circles

Permanent traffic circles will go in at two intersections in American University Park despite a last-ditch effort by some residents to block them. Transportation chief Matt Brown personally got involved to keep the project going.

Photo by waltarrrrr on Flickr.

On Friday, November 14th, DDOT Traffic Systems Maintenance Manager James Cheeks asked American University, who had agreed to pay for the circles, to delay the construction until there could be another community meeting. Residents, who had already endured a number of meetings on this topic, were surprised at the sudden shift from DDOT at the eleventh hour.

But in an email Monday night, Director Matt Brown said DDOT had collected enough public input and heard enough discussion to move forward with the circles. Installation should start today.

Simply put, we believe that these mini-circles are an appropriate way to improve safety. That said, we will continue to work with American University, MPD, and you to monitor these locations after installation. DDOT will also reach out to neighbors near the southern mini-circle, where we have heard specific concerns about operations, to discuss how we've addressed those in the final design. We are committed to making these mini-circles valued elements of the community.

For these reasons, I am asking American University to proceed with construction. Once again thank you for contacting me with your comments and concerns. I know that this action will not please everyone, but I am confident that safety will be improved.

Why Cheeks asked American University to hold off or who asked for another hearing in the first place remains vague.

"The reason for the delay and how it came about is unclear," wrote Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3E commissioner Sam Serebin, who represents the area. "This project has certainly not suffered from too little process (anyone who suggests as much just hasn't been paying attention) and the ANC still supports the project."

The current, temporary circles.

One possibility, though, is 3E chair Matthew Frumin, who was the target of the opponents' petition. Though he himself supports the circles, Frumin a message to Cheeks, Brown, DDOT's Sam Zimbabwe, and Councilmember Mary Cheh at 3:15 pm on Friday afternoon asking for another community meeting. Cheeks' request for a delay came just three hours later. Meanwhile, Cheh's office reiterated her support for the circles.

In multiple emails to DDOT and councilmember Mary Cheh, other 3E commissioners made it clear that Frumin had taken his action without first discussing the issue with the entire commission.

Director Brown deserves praise for standing up for this project despite efforts to delay it further. There has been enough public input; city agencies need to decide when they've heard all of the substantive arguments about a project and then be willing to move forward. AU Park residents will enjoy safer streets because Brown took action.

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