Greater Greater Washington

History


Where DC used to bar black people from living

One of many pieces of America's shameful racial past was when racial covenants forbade people in certain areas from selling their houses to an African-American family. DC had these in several neighborhoods, particularly Mount Pleasant, Columbia Heights, Petworth, Park View, and Truxton Circle.

According to Mapping Segregation in Washington DC, an interactive map created last year by a group called Prologue DC, covenants took two forms throughout the first half of the 20th century: restrictions in the property's deed, often set up by the developer when building a set of row houses, or an agreement that neighborhood activists would circulate as a petition around a neighborhood.


Lots with racial covenants in DC. All maps by Prologue DC.

As the interactive map's text explains, covenants like these did more than just bar African-Americans. Covenants in some areas also prohibited Jews—"In DC this was more common west of Rock Creek Park," says the text.

These effectively kept black residents out of many neighborhoods through the early twentieth century, as this map of the area around Columbia Heights shows.


Lots with restrictions (purple) and the percentage of non-white residents (darker = more non-white), 1934.

Many covenants imposed other limits as well, like requiring "that only single-family houses be constructed or that buildings be a certain distance from the street. They also might prohibit use of the property as a school, factory, or saloon." As Ben Ross explains, covenant limits on building size and use is the forerunner of modern zoning.

Covenants fall and segregation takes new forms

Black homeowners and groups like the NAACP challenged these restrictions—often unsuccessfully—in lawsuits from the turn of the century until finally winning the seminal Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, in 1948, and a corresponding case in DC, Hurd v. Hodge (which used a federal civil rights law instead of the Fourteenth Amendment since DC is not a state).

 
Percentage of black residents by Census tract, 1930 (left) and 1960 (right). Darker colors signify more black residents.

In the years after legal restrictions fell, the percentage of black residents in nearby neighborhoods increased—just what the covenants' creators and defenders, illegally and immorally, feared. Amid this shift, the end of legal school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and other civil rights advances, many white residents moved to the suburbs.

There, whether intentionally or not, communities wrote zoning rules and school district boundaries in ways that perpetuated de facto segregation.

How covenants from the past still hurt people today

While this legal tactic is long gone, its effects remain. Emily Badger wrote about a study of how young black people are far less likely than their white and Hispanic peers to get help from their parents to afford the down payment on a home. Each generation invests in real estate and gains wealth in doing so, which it then uses to help the next generation—except if, a few generations ago, the government stopped your ancestors from getting some wealth in the first place.

Badger writes, "Historic disparities in the housing market are transmitted over time, from parent to child to grandchild. Earlier generations of blacks were excluded from homeownership by lending practices and government policies, and as a result those generations didn't accumulate the housing wealth that enabled them to pass money onto their children."

Or, as she put it pithily on Twitter:

Politics


A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Libby Garvey

Libby Garvey is running for re-election to the Arlington County Board against challenger businessman Erik Gutshall. She wants to continue to streamline and ease county regulations to make it a place residents can call "great."


Libby Garvey. Image from the Arlington County Board.

Garvey is all about attracting people to Arlington, which she described as "a smart, capable, and educated community," in an April interview with Greater Greater Washington. Good transit, affordable housing (especially for middle income earners), education, and making the county friendly to businesses all play a part in this effort.

First, however, Garvey wants to set the record straight about her "initiative" as board chair. Her opponent, Erik Gutshall, has made a point of her comments to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative." But Garvey says those comments were taken out of context.

"My push is to work on strategic planning, to get us thinking holistically about things," she says, pointing out that historically the incoming board chair would have a pet project or agenda—an initiative—that they would push forward. This process led to a new initiative every time there was a new chair, which is something she wants to avoid.

"Moving forward, if I've got an initiative I want to make sure my whole board is on board," says Garvey.

Good transit for Arlington is a priority

Garvey believes Arlington should provide people with "good transit," giving them the ability to get around the county without a car. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and other improvements to the county's bus network are an important part of this.

She points to the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway that opened in April and plans for a bus rapid transit line along Route 7 as examples of BRT investments in the county that are moving forward.

However, Garvey insists that dedicated lanes are not a requirement for BRT.

"A dedicated lane is something you want to have and would like to have but don't need it," she says.

Los Angeles has implemented what is "essentially" a BRT system without dedicated lanes, says Garvey, adding that 90% of US BRT does not have such lanes according to multiple experts.

She is likely referring to Los Angeles's Metro Rapid bus service. The dense network of frequent bus lines with limited signal priority across the county is widely considered a successful express bus network—just not BRT.

Transit experts generally agree that Los Angeles' only BRT line is the Orange Line busway, which runs in a dedicated transitway from the North Hollywood subway station to the Warner Center and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

"There are a lot of tools in the basket," says Garvey on transit improvements. A countywide transit development plan, which is likely to include things like signal priority and off-board fare payment for buses, is in the works.

One tool that is likely not in Garvey's basket is a streetcar. She is well known for her opposition to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars that were cancelled after the election of county board member John Vihstadt in 2014. She argued at the time that similar transit improvements could be achieved through improved bus service at a far lower cost.

I-66 could be a new source of revenue... and park space?

Garvey is watching the plans to widen I-66 inside the beltway in exchange for the addition of tolls from 2017 closely.

"We've been assured that when [the Commonwealth of Virginia] is talking about widening they're not going to widen the roadbed," she says. "We're watching very closely."

The compromise came after years of Arlington objecting to the widening of any of the highways in the county, including a controversial lawsuit against Virginia to stop the I-395 HOT lanes. Asked why the county did not object to the latest proposal, Garvey says she feels the county can achieve more by working with elected representatives in Richmond than by working against them.

"It's all about soft power," she says.

Garvey has some interesting ideas for how Arlington can use the revenue generated by the new tolls on I-66. For example, a BRT line on Route 50 could help alleviate some of the congestion on I-66, she says.

Another idea Garvey has for I-66 is acquiring the air rights over the freeway to build new park space. Discussions with officials over acquiring the rights that would allow Arlington to deck over the depressed highway are on going, she says.

The deck would have a lower level for parking and buses with new green space and pedestrian paths above.

"We need the ability to knit our community back together," says Garvey.

Schools and housing influence quality of life

Garvey stresses that she wants to make Arlington a "great" place to live. The topic is clearly an important one to her, as she repeatedly returns to quality of life and attracting new residents to the county in her comments.

A key part of this is keeping housing affordable, especially for those in the middle of the economic ladder. Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says.

"There's a lot of really local government regulations and code that we can look at and improve," says Garvey.

In addition, she wants to preserve existing affordable housing stock, like older garden apartments, when there is pressure to replace them with new development.

Quality education is key to a great Arlington for Garvey. County schools have improved from unattractive to new parents to ones that are considered a great place to raise kids during the more than 15 years since she first joined the school board, she says.

Garvey sees room for further improvement. She wants to bring Arlington schools into the twenty-first century by increasing access to technology and improve training opportunities outside the classroom, she says.

Improvements are also needed for the county's business climate. In addition to easing the approvals process for developers, Garvey wants to energize Arlington's economic development office to go out and actively recruit new businesses, especially technology businesses.

On the whole, Garvey focuses on largely process improvements—streamlining regulations to review the zoning code for example—for Arlington rather than hard goals.

The Arlington county primary election is on June 14th.

Transit


Metro's track work schedule dug the system into a hole

Metro is currently facing a huge backlog of work on aging and broken tracks, partly because its way of scheduling the work isn't working. The agency is announcing a new strategy for fixing its tracks on Friday, meaning there's a huge opportunity to get track work right.


Silver Spring pocket track. Photo by Ben Schumin on Wikipedia Commons.

There currently isn't enough time to do maintenance

In 2011, Metro started MetroForward to fix the system's infrastructure. The plan was to spend a large part of the project's $5 billion budget to fix the rails themselves. Five years and $3.7 billion later, the track work backlog hasn't gone anywhere

WMATA employees, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, and the Federal Transit Administration have all said that doing track work only during overnight hours isn't enough. The FTA also found that there is less time than before to perform track inspections that could find defects like cracked rails, defective fasteners, and third-rail insulator issues.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is now mulling over options to fix the way the agency does track work, hoping to cut the current backlog and bring everything up to a state of good repair.

This chart from WMATA, made in 2011, shows why there isn't enough time to get all the maintenance work done overnight. There are three periods—5-hour, 7-hour, and 56-hour work windows—in which work could be done. Green signifies the usable time and red signifies time lost to setup/teardown and other non-work activities. The shorter the maintenance period, the less productive the actual work time is.


Track usage production ratios. Image from WMATA

Metro's current track work strategy doesn't work

Metro usually performs single-tracking in several places each weekend while workers take a track out of service. Trains often run less often because of this, sometimes every 24 or 26 minutes on average (in reality, trains may come as quickly as every couple of minutes on one side of the single-tracking area, or as infrequently as every 40 minutes on the other).

Weekend single-tracking is rough. It's caused a vast drop in weekend rail ridership, with some saying the system is unusable on the weekend. The reduction in service and increased unpredictability due to single-tracking is a big reason for this.

Full weekend shutdowns may be the way to go

As opposed to a single evening that provides 2.5 hours usable trackwork time (or 4.5 hours if the work starts at 10pm instead), a full weekend of track work from 9 pm Friday to 5 am Monday can provide up to 48.5 hours of usable track work time and allows access to both tracks, increasing the useful time ratio from 50 percent to 86 percent. The drastically-increased amount of unbroken time that workers have available on the track means that much more work can be accomplished.

Shutting down sections of track on the weekend to perform maintenance work not only is more convenient for passengers (rip the band-aid off instead of a slow pull), but also more beneficial to the maintenance personnel performing the work. Instead of being constrained to one track to work in, workers can spread out and move around the site easier, there's no need to watch out for trains moving on the opposite track, and there's a good potential more types of work can get done through better utilization of the work area.

Buses cost money though, and they would be needed for sectional shutdowns to ferry passengers across. Full shutdowns cost somewhere around 15 percent more than single-tracking according to one project. But if one method has a chance of retaining ridership and will accomplish more work in a single weekend than the other might in two or more, it may be worth it. Cost is no longer the driving factor for when and where track work occurs, as new Wiedefeld has seemingly made clear.

Not all stations and track can always be shut down for a weekend at a time though, so the agency may have to revert to other less-efficient track work strategies:

Short periods of track work are incredibly inefficient

During the week, the Metrorail system closes at 12 am, and opens at 5 am. While this provides five hours of "off" time, it really only gives maintenance personnel 2.5 hours or less to spend on the tracks. Setting up and tearing down track work is incredibly time consuming, as the process can include assembling workers and equipment, moving any heavy track machinery (prime movers) into the area, making sure the track is clear, setting up "shunts" to mimic a train in the area so the central rail routing system knows not to send trains into the work area, and more. An hour or more can quickly be used just to set up the work area.

If everything is set and placed, work can start. But when things don't go as planned, time can be easily eaten up, as the FTA noted in their Safety Management Inspection review published last year:

On the March 23 [overnight] shift, for what should have been a simple T-bar replacement...the contractor was still not able to get access onto the work site until 2:00 a.m., and the contractor had to start clearing the site at 4:00 a.m., leaving only two hours of productive time...The impacts of this limited work window can be exacerbated by communication and logistical challenges. For example...it became clear that the Power branch work crew had the wrong size T-bar...and there was confusion whether the ATC department had been consulted in the planning of the work.
One hour before the crews need to wrap up (i.e. 4am in the morning if the system opens at 5am), they stop working so everything can be cleaned up so passenger trains can use the track. When this work runs over, passenger-carrying trains can be disrupted and you may see a tweet saying that there has been "late-clearing track work."

Mid-day track work is not productive and causes passenger frustration

Based on the track work production numbers from the chart, mid-day track work is incredibly time-consuming, disruptive to passengers, and doesn't provide much benefit. A mid-day maintenance window might be from 10am to 3pm (5 hours), which provides 2.5 hours of usable track time in the best case scenario. But if there are any issues in the morning and rush hour runs over past 10, the track work may wait, and that eats into the usable time.

What starts out as 2.5 hours of usable time could get whittled down to 1.5 or 1, or even less, on an especially bad day. While this work is going on, trains carrying passengers get to single-track around the area, waiting at least 10 minutes on either side of the stretch before going through.

Start track work earlier in the evenings

One option that helps provide more track time is to start track work "early outs" earlier in the evening at possibly 8pm, and end them later, possibly up to 6am. Current early outs usually start at 10pm and end by 5am. This provides 7 total hours of time for work, or around 4.5 usable hours of track time. The two-hour-early start provides two more hours of usable track time, which is valuable. Starting even earlier and ending later could provide up to 10 total hours, or 7 hours of track time, over double what crews would get with a typical overnight work session.

While early outs let track work start earlier, they require a delicate balance as well. If they start too early or end too late, they could severely impact peak rush periods and cause delays and rider frustration. More work could get done, but if done poorly could continue the ridership decline.

Longer shutdowns are an interesting possibility

Metro has never performed a shutdown longer than a weekend in recent history, but it seems Wiedefeld is headed in this direction. A shutdown from 9pm on a Friday to 5am the Monday a week later would provide about 200 track hours of usable time of 224 available, meaning 90 percent of the week is usable for track work. 200 hours of track time would be the equivalent to over 4 weekend shutdowns, 44 nights of work with 10pm early outs, or up to 80 regular overnight work sessions. Track work could be completed easily and quickly for both tracks in the work area.

At the same time, shutting down a station or two during the week is also hard. Buses and drivers would be needed to shuttle passengers around the shutdown area, more than Metro may have available. Replacing a rail car that can comfortably hold 120 passengers with 40-50-person buses means lots of road traffic, buses, and drivers. Extended shutdowns requires planning with jurisdictions to ensure alternate transportation for Metro riders goes as smoothly as possible.

This assumes the work is being done properly and coordinated well

Good use of track time means that workers are well-trained for what they need to do, equipment is available, and contractors are prompt and responsive. Audits have found that this is not always the case, and that new workers are liable to receive deficient training. At other times equipment has not been available or wasn't brought to the work site, resulting in large amounts of time wasted while waiting for the necessary parts.

Similar to how some electrical crews are receiving specialized training to better handle heavy-duty power cables, perhaps some track and structures crews may require the same training to verify that work is being done properly or to help ensure training of others. Metro's safety and track departments need to step up their quality control and assurance game, too: track work needs to be inspected by independent analysts who know exactly what they're looking at. Independent workers need to be in the tunnels checking that inspections are being performed and equipment is being installed properly. Otherwise, performing the track work is a waste of Metro's time and our money if the equipment has to be ripped out and replaced again.

Wiedefeld is releasing his track work strategy tomorrow, but as always, communication with customers again will be key to make this plan successful. Riders not only want to know what work is being done, but why the work needs to be done, what specifically is being done backed up with photos or video, and that the work is being done properly. Working with all interested parties, especially riders, is the only way the upcoming trackwork program can be successful while not alienating the very riders paying for a large portion of the agency's budget.

Bicycling


Going Dutch: Planners from the Netherlands make suggestions for bike lanes in DC

In late April, Dutch cycling experts met with DC area planners, engineers, and feds to look at cycling conditions in the West End neighborhood. They all teamed up to draft a plan that would build connections to trails and add new segments of on-street bikeways, all with the goal of creating a safe, easy-to-use cycling network.


The Netherlands are the world's gold standard for bike infrastructure. Photo by Christopher Porter on Flickr.

The Dutch Cycling Embassy is a public-private partnership that serves economic development and foreign policy goals of the Dutch government, exporting their safe, convenient, and mainstream cycling culture to the world through infrastructure design expertise. The Royal Netherlands Embassy brought this initiative to DC in 2010 for a "ThinkBike" workshop focusing on L and M Street.

The "Dutch way" emphasizes clear infrastructure design criteria to create a "joyful" cycling experience. The Netherlands is the western world's most successful country at actually getting people onto bikes. Unlike in the US where we often plan bikeways only where we can fit them in without upsetting too many drivers, in the Netherlands, the safety and convenience of cyclists get full treatment.

Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, who teaches an annual summer course on bicycle infrastructure design that takes American civil engineering students to the Netherlands, pioneered translation of this vision to our side of the Atlantic through his "Level of Traffic Stress" typology in the United States.

DC has sometimes struggled to build the kinds of bike lanes that are commonplace in the Netherlands. The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, from concept to present day, have generated five pages of posts on GGWash alone through multiple redesigns, tweaks, and controversies. The L and M Street NW bikeway that were the focus of the 2010 ThinkBike workshop have also struggled (quoth contributor Dan Malouff: "They're almost Dutch. Almost.").

Workshop attendees first considered the dangers of biking in DC

There's clearly more to learn. Last month, the Cycling Embassy returned to take a look at the West End, along with over 50 local bicycle planners, advocates, experts, and policy professionals. Many staff from USDOT were in attendance, even as their boss was trying out a bike in Amsterdam.

The emphasis was sober rather than joyful, with the DDOT professionals emphasizing the need to make roads safer. Virginia Tech planning students presented an analysis of bike crashes that showed clear problems with the key north-south connections to the West End (21st Street NW and 17th Street NW) and the core east-west spine of the neighborhood, Pennsylvania Avenue.


22nd Street NW between C Street and Virginia Avenue today. Image from Google Maps.


What if a two-way protected bikeway replaced the existing security planters and buffers?

Participants also noted an opportunity to substantially increase connectivity to the regional trail network, through improved wayfinding and short segments of infrastructure upgrades to and from trail connections to Rock Creek, the Capital Crescent Trail, the Roosevelt Memorial Bridge (aka I-66), and the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

However, increasing connections to low-stress cycling would likely necessitate serious work on Virginia Avenue, lest more crash hotspots bloom.


A map of the 194 West End bicycle crashes between 2010 and mid-2015. Data from DDOT, map by Virginia Tech urban/regional planning studio spring 2016 students.

The result was a world-class bike plan... but will it actually happen?

The final proposed network conference attendees came up at the end of the workshop included an ambitious wish list of new protected bikeways on DC's streets, including the notorious Washington Circle.


ThinkBike DC 2016 proposed network. Map by the author.

It is worth noting that the corridors identified and prioritized by this workshop, including Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia Avenue, G Street, 17th Street, 21st Street, and 22nd Street NW, correlate almost exactly with the vision of MoveDC, DDOT's long-term transportation plan.

It's nice to see that at the planning level, a plan DC already came up with was already on the same page as the Dutch. It remains to be seen, though, what we can achieve at the design level. Workshop participants cycled the study area, measured rights of way, and sketched potential designs. In the safety of a workshop of cycling experts, parking was removed left and right, and a bike lane never had to give way to a bioretention swale.

In the real world, there are more diverse stakeholders and tradeoffs when space is at a premium, as it is in a neighborhood where real estate is doing "phenomenally well." And at the edges of our study area, we didn't dare tell the Dutch about our "trails" with unmarked connections and crossings, broken pavement, narrow, crowded surfaces, and dead-end trailheads.


It's easy to build protected bike lanes on paper!

Trail connections are (hopefully) the next step

The region's missing piece is connections from streets to our longer bike trails. WABA has recently invested in advocacy capacity to advance this, and the National Park Service just dropped a mic: a Paved Trails Study complete with a regional vision, specific segments delineated, measurable goals, and capital recommendations.

The report acknowledges the NPS has no trail design standards, recommends developing some, and proposes a National Capital Trail (hellooooo "Bicycle Beltway!").

If you care about trails in our area, check it out and submit comments. The comment period is open until May 19.

Links


Breakfast links: Track and trail work


Photo by brownpau on Flickr.
Primetime for the track work plan: Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld will share his big plan for overhauling track maintenance with the WMATA Board this Friday. Exact details are still unknown, but he has said that the 33 hours per week currently devoted to track work is not enough. (WAMU)

From A to Z-turn: A developer and the NoMa BID will partner to transform empty land into NoMa's largest park and 300-400 apartment units with ground floor retail. The BID will use some of the park space to straighten the Metropolitan Branch Trail's dangerous Z-turn. (WBJ)

A tale of two states: Both Virginia and Maryland have passed laws to use a scoring system to decide on funding for transportation projects. But differences in the political climate have driven success in Virginia and controversy in Maryland. (Post)

SelectPass selections: Based on a customer interest survey and actual travel patterns, Metro picked just two fare levels for its SelectPass pilot, to make sure the system's aging fare collection technology could handle the new product. (PlanItMetro)

No neighborhood left behind: The USDOT will select and work with four communities across the US to mend neighborhood isolation caused by existing transportation infrastructure, like highways, through design. (CityLab)

New pedestrian bridge: A new pedestrian bridge opened yesterday in Alexandria. The bridge should provide a safer crossing over I-395 at busy Seminary Road. (VDOT)

Crash map for Fairfax: Fairfax County Police mapped the locations and causes of the county's 1,874 car crashes involving young drivers in 2015. (Fairfax County)

A game of chicken: Is it legal to keep chickens in your backyard in DC? The law is fuzzy, but the DC Department of Health is telling one family that their urban agriculture needs to go. (WAMU)

Where's my dam train?: DC residents, Metro police, and animal control worked together to help a lost baby beaver that had found its way into the fountain at the Van Ness Metro station yesterday. (WTOP)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Demographics


Who are DC's 1,000 "new residents per month?"

You may have heard that DC's population is increasing by approximately 1,000 per month. That's a true popular statistic. But it's not really true to say that 1,000 people are moving into DC each month. What is really driving this number?


Not officially one of the new residents. Photo by Smithsonian's National Zoo on Flickr.

In short: people being born and dying, and large numbers of people moving in and out of DC. On balance, if you add up all of these numbers, you get about 1,000 a month.

Births: Some of DC's new residents are babies. 9,593 humans were born in DC from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015, according to the US Census' 2015 "Vintage Population Estimates," or about 800 a month.

Deaths: Meanwhile, some people die. In that same time span, it was 5,218, or about 435 a month. Together, that makes the net "natural population change" 365 people a month.

Domestic migration: Other people move into or out of DC. The Census also estimates that DC had a net domestic migration of 311 people a month. In other words, the number of people who moved to DC from other parts of the US was 311 people more than the number who moved the other way.

International migration: Finally, people move to and from DC from other countries as well. There was a net of 379 such people a month from 2014-2015. As you can see from the graph below, that number has stayed more consistent than the net domestic migration:


Data from US Census Vintage 2015 Population Estimates. Numbers do not include pandas.
* Residual is where the estimates for individual components don't quite add up to the total population change.

This graph shows, with some variation, that roughly a third of the population change is natural, a third domestic migration, and a third international. However, it'd be very inaccurate to say the three are about equal.

That's because the net domestic migration number, in particular, conceals a huge amount of "churn." Remember how, above, we said that 800 babies are born a month and 435 people die. Since those are almost entirely not the same people, there aren't 365 people coming into the world a month; instead, 1,235 people total either enter or leave this life.

The corresponding number of people who moved between DC and another part of the US per was between 7,000 and 8,000 a month in either direction, based on data from the Internal Revenue Service and the Census's American Community Survey.


Purple bars from US Census Vintage 2015 Population Estimates. Red and green bars are very rough estimates extrapolated from IRS and American Community Survey data.

This graph shows the rough magnitude of the churn in each category. The domestic migration comes out to a net of about 400 a month over the last five years, but that's two large numbers balancing out to one small one. The size of those components is partly why the domestic number fluctuates more from year to year.

It also makes it hard to drill down. We'd love to know how many of the 8,000 movers per month are going to or from the immediate metro area versus elsewhere in the US. Unfortunately, according to Jeannette Chapman of George Mason University's Center for Regional Analysis (who provided the data for this post), the available public data sources have limitations.

The Census' American Community Survey uses a small sample that's only good enough to conclude that net domestic migration was somewhere between -13,000 and +7,500 in 2014.1 The IRS has data on people who filed taxes in one jurisdiction and then changed to another, but not everyone can be matched over two years and not everyone files taxes.2 Both of these data sources can tell us a lot about movers, but doesn't completely nail down "the" absolute number.

But the overall net population change numbers are more solid, and in the end, some more people are born than die, and more people come into DC from around the nation and the world than leave.

The people moving domestically and internationally, in general, need housing units; the people born don't right away, but most of their families eventually need larger housing spaces. DC has added approximately 10,000 new jobs per year over the last five years, and many of those job holders will live in the city.

How much housing DC is adding, and how much it needs to build to meet the need, will be the subject of a future post.

1 If you estimate the domestic migration using the ACS and IRS data, as Chapman did, they actually show a net negative domestic migration—more people moving out of DC than in. But, Chapman said, that likely doesn't mean more people actually moved out of DC; the Census' Population Estimates show an increase, and they incorporate more data sets and sophisticated modeling to come to these numbers.

2 The data set only covers people who file taxes and do so by the April 15 deadline. That excludes
many lower-income people, higher-income people, and misses some, like young people, who may still be using another address like their parents'. New filers (like recently-married or first-time jobholders) also don't have two years of history to compare. In 2013, about 15% of people who filed federal taxes (either as the filer or a dependent) couldn't be matched to 2012.

Roads


Make space for bikes on the GW Parkway

The George Washington Parkway was originally just supposed to help tourists get to Mount Vernon, and its keepers' main mission is to preserve natural resources, not maintain roads. Could there be fewer driving lanes and more space for other modes of transportation?


Photo by Roger W on Flickr.

The southern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway opened to traffic in 1932. Conceived as a means to ease tourist access to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, it morphed throughout the latter part of the 20th century into a motorist commuter route for far-flung suburbanites heading to DC.

Both the road and the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail are maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), whose mission is to "preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources" of the United States. You will not find anywhere in its mission statement that it is to provide fast, convenient commuter routes for the suburbs of Washington, DC.

Average daily traffic (ADT) volumes on the parkway within the last few years have been approximately 16,000 vehicles, a number that isn't huge but certainly lessens the road's original scenic purpose. Birdsong is impossible to hear with the din of SUVs in the background.


Note how close the four lanes of traffic are to the trail on the right. Also, note that no crosswalks are present at this busy intersection. Nor are there any signals to stop traffic for people crossing on foot or by bike.

That ADT number is also well within the 20,000 ADT set as the maximum for the practical implementation of a road diet as decreed by the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). That FHWA maximum is, itself, arbitrarily low based on real-world observations. For example, no significant increase in regional congestion was caused by the 2015 closure of two lanes on the far more heavily used Memorial Bridge just to the north.

Parallel to the four-lane parkway is the Mount Vernon Trail, a winding, narrow multiuser trail. In recent years, this trail has become a major commuter route for people who bike to and from DC. Upwards of 2000 bikes per day hit the trail, despite the trail's narrowness.

People who walk and bike must share this trail, as signs along the road prohibit bicycles from the road. Interestingly, the federal code governing the road's usagedoesn't reference bicycles explicitly. Nor does the code prohibit changes to the amount of space on the roadway given over to motorists.


Bikes are not allowed on the lightly-traveled GW Parkway. Instead, they are forced onto the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail.

Recently, the National Park Service released its National Capital Region Draft Paved Trail Study for comment. The study is an update of the 1990 plan written in an era when bicycling in the US was less of an everyday transportation mode and more of a recreational activity. The plan tends to view the trails in isolation. There's no mention of what mode will get priority when there is conflict, such as when people on bikes or on foot must cross the road for access to trails. It also does not address the feasibility of road diets that would balance out mode space on routes like the southern section of the parkway.

Does it make sense that cars on the southern section (below Alexandria) of the parkway are given four lanes of space while bikes and pedestrians are crammed onto the narrow, winding MVT? Both are major commuter routes, but whereas the MVT is overcrowded at 2000 ADT, the parkway is half-empty at 16,000 ADT. In essence, the trail is under-built, while the road is over-built.


This is the George Washington Memorial Parkway today: four high-speed lanes, no traffic lights, controlled access, and a narrow multiuser trail parallel to the roadway. All of this is next to the Potomac River. All images from the Virginia Bicycling Federation.

If the draft paved trail plan truly acknowledged the modern and future needs of this particular route, discussion of a road diet on the GW Parkway would be on the table. The road could easily be shrunk to one vehicle lane in each direction with adjacent buffered bike lanes. The MVT could be given over entirely to people who walk, eliminating potentially hazardous bike-pedestrian conflicts.


A road diet on the parkway would leave two lanes for motorists, buffered bike lanes on the remaining space, and leave the Mount Vernon Trail exclusively for use by those on foot.

This is not without precedent. In 2001 the state of New York closed two out of four lanes on the Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara Falls region. As with the GW Parkway, this highway was controlled access with an eye towards enhancing tourist traffic while providing access to scenic beauty. Instead, it proved to be such a failure in all regards that local advocates didn't stop with a road diet. They pushed through a plan to remove it entirely for at least a two mile stretch. If the state of New York can pull this off, despite actually having a mandate to provide speedy transportation options, why can't the National Park Service?


The Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara River region was very similar to the George Washington Parkway, until a road diet was implemented. Now a two-mile portion will be removed to allow better river access.

NPS has an opportunity to shift its focus in the National Capital region away from an old-school, road-centric mindset to a more sustainable approach that also recognizes the changing commuter habits of younger generations. If you agree, send the National Park Service your comments via their comment page. You have until May 19th to do so. After that, you may have to wait another quarter-century to get your input to them.

This post originally ran on the Virginia Bicycling Federation's blog.

Public Spaces


Today would have been Jane Jacobs' 100th birthday

Jane Jacobs was born May 4, 1916, 100 years ago today. She left the world in 2006, but in her 89 years of life she revolutionized how we think about cities. Here is what GGWash contributors said about Jane, the patron saint of American urbanism.


Today's Google Doodle honors Jane. Image from Google.

Jane's most famous book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is required reading for anyone interested in the form of cities. It's helped generations of Americans understand what makes places like Georgetown so pleasant, and places like Boston's City Hall so repulsive.

Even 55 years after its publication, urbanists continue to obsess over Death and Life, debating obscure passages like clerics feuding over a religious text.

Ben Ross went straight to the point, then warned of the next great problem afflicting our cities:

Jane Jacobs was a true genius who developed a new paradigm of city planning. Our best city neighborhoods now suffer from the "curse of success" that she foresaw as the consequence of a scarcity of urbanism. How to overcome that scarcity is a problem that she left to us.
Canaan Merchant summarized two big lessons Jane taught him:
Look at what is actually happening rather than relying on what is "supposed" to happen. A city's beauty lies in its people rather than its buildings. Bring the people out and the buildings will take care of themselves.
Former contributor Abigail Zenner focused on how Jane successfully communicated ideas:
She introduced many people to the world of planning and gave us words to describe what we see every day in cities but have a hard time explaining in simple language. She was able to make a case that stirred peoples' hearts.
Nick Finio took a contrarian position, quoting a 1998 critique of Death and Life from UC Berkeley professor Roger Montgomery:
Let's not glorify her too much. Montgomery's critique ends with this zinger: "Taken together, these themes do add up. Anti-government and anti-regulation beliefs, confidence in the existence of a nearly perfect competitive market, inattention to corporate power, denial of social class and race as determinative categories, taken together look mighty like the core belief system of liberatarian conservatism."
But other contributors were quick to jump to Jacobs' defense. They pointed out that while her views may not be a perfect guide to urban issues today, her work helped surface notions that needed to come to the fore, like defending the idea of the city against car-oriented places, and eyes on the street maintaining safety.

Jonathan Krall added:

Just because Jacobs had a healthy mistrust for government and for large projects doesn't mean she was espousing neo-conservatism. I agree with Montgomery that Jacobs' excellent and helpful descriptions of healthy city life and associated planning issues skip over some very challenging social and political issues. However, I disagree with his implication that Jacobs is suggesting her readers should ignore those challenges.
Payton Chung opined on Jacobs' motivations:
Just like any "bible," there are bound to be contrary readings. There's a fine line between libertarianism and anarchism, and I'd argue Jacobs' overall oeuvre points to a mistrust of all large institutions, whether corporate or governmental.
When all was said and done, it may have been Brendan Casey who summed Jane up best:
The force was strong with that one.
What do you think of Jane, and of her impact on cities?

Bicycling


College Park is launching a bikeshare system!

Prince George's County's first bikeshare system, mbike, is launching today in College Park.


The mbike station near the Greenbelt Metro. Photo by Dan Janousek.

mbike has 150 bicycles and 14 stations, located throughout College Park and the University of Maryland campus. Seven stations are spread out evenly within the UMD campus, generally in front of key destinations such as the Stamp Student Union, the Eppley Recreation Center, and one near an entrance to the Paint Branch Trail.

Four of the stations are located along Baltimore Avenue, along the Route 1 corridor, including one station at City Hall, another at a hotel, and a third near Northgate Park and Varsity Apartments. There is one mbike station at the College Park Metro station, which will be helpful for students and visitors to travel from the Metro station to downtown and the UMD campus, an approximate five-to-ten minute bike ride.

The last two stations are placed in the Hollywood neighborhood of College Park, one at the Holllywood Shopping Center near the REI store and the other near the Greenbelt Metro.

The cost of bike share memberships range from a $6 day-membership to a $65 annual membership. Regardless of membership type, the first hour of use is free and then costs $3 per hour. Similar to other bike share systems, riders can have unlimited rides at no additional charge as long as they formally end their trip at a station within one hour.


All images from Zagster unless otherwise noted.

mbike uses smart bike technology, which allows users to access a bicycle with a smart phone or text message. The app or the text message provides the rider with a code which gives them access to a key attached to the bike. The technology is fast evolving and it's possible that future versions will have Bluetooth or wireless locks.

Since the mbike bicycles have their own integrated bike locks, users can stop mid-trip and safely lock their bike share bicycle to any bike rack to run an errand or take a break before returning the bicycle to a mbike station in College Park.

The mbike system isn't compatible with the Capital Bikeshare system; College Park officials reached out to Motivate (formerly Alta), CaBi's operator, during the procurement process, but the company didn't submit a proposal.

Zagster, a bike share operating firm that manages programs in many cities and university campuses including Carmel, Indiana, Medford, Oregon, and the University of Ohio Ohio State University is managing mbike. Zagster also operates a bike share system for BWI airport, allowing travelers and airport employees to ride the BWI Trail.

This system will be an excellent opportunity for College Park, Prince George's County, and anyone interested in bikeshare to experience a system that uses a different type of technology than what has been used in other parts of the region, as well as being a valuable transportation option for people in the area.

In addition to bikeshare for College Park, Prince George's County is currently engaged in a feasibility study to determine the best approach for bringing bikeshare to the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area and National Harbor. Findings from the feasibility study are expected this summer.

There's a kick-off event for the launch today, at 3pm on the University of Maryland campus.

Links


Breakfast links: Hijackings and low points


Photo by Chad Kainz on Flickr.
Metrobus hijacking: A man hijacked a Metrobus near Minnesota Avenue NE and proceeded to jump the curb at a gas station, ultimately striking and killing a pedestrian. Neither the suspect or the victim have been identified. (Post)

Metro's bad report: The NTSB released its report on Metro, pointing to a "prolonged short circuit" as the cause of last year's fatal smoke incident. It also cited the agency's entrenched lax safety culture as major contributing factor. (DCist, Post)

Fear of trains: Sunday's CSX derailment rekindled simmering concerns about hazardous material being transported through the city. Many residents along the rail line are expressing worry about potential future incidents. (City Paper)

Dethroning slumlords: Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced a bill making it easier to hold landlords accountable for neglecting properties. Under the new law, outside groups will be able to file an action on behalf of tenants. (City Paper)

Make way for the Purple Line: Only one in seven residents have responded to official requests to remove their fences from the county-owned land along the Purple Line. More than 70 residents received notice in January about clearing the route. (Post)

Defeating displacement: A non-profit is putting $50 million toward an effort to ensure the 11th Street Bridge Park doesn't displace Anacostia residents. That's more than the cost of the bridge park itself. (Post)

No urge to surge: In a move that will delight riders but possibly alienate drivers, Uber is looking to phase out the use of its controversial surge pricing model. The company reportedly sees the model as a "marketing failure." (WAMU)

Testing, testing: The Department of General Services announced plans to retest all water sources at DC Public Schools for elevated levels of lead. Previously, 17 water sources at 12 public schools around the Distric tested positive for lead. (Post)

The new group house: A new space in Crystal City, WeLive, aims to do for living what coworking did for office space: Provide a place to live where facilities like recreation spaces and larger kitchens are shared space. Great idea or terrible? (UrbanTurf)

And...: Check out the Global Subway Spectrum, a tool that explores the colors that organize transit systems across the globe. (CityMetric)... The Chevy Chase Land Co. released renderings that would make an area once touted the "Rodeo Drive of the East Coast" less luxury-focused. (BethesdaMag)... More tourists visited DC in 2015 than ever, and they spent a lot of money here too. (DCist)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
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