Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


No bike racks? Just park it in the car lane

It's a frequent sight around the city. Drivers who are ignorant or who just don't care park in the bike lane when they can't find a parking space. It's rude and inconsiderate, of course, but it's also dangerous for the cyclists who have to dart into traffic to pass. How would drivers react if cyclists started parking in their lane?

The poster above was produced by Canadian design and cities-focused magazine Spacing. The image is designed to be a little provocative and to make drivers think about how they'd like it. I suspect most of them wouldn't like it one bit.

I've always wondered why people think it's acceptable to park in the bike lane. Recently I was riding on the M Street cycletrack and as I approached one of the mixing zones, a UPS driver was backing his truck into the buffered part of the bike lane. At this point, it was already after the evening rush hour, and there were 4 lanes for cars, but only one for bikes. If the UPS delivery guy had parked in one of the car lanes, he'd be blocking 1 of 4 lanes. But by blocking the bike lane, he was blocking the only bike lane.

Why is it that drivers who would never for a moment consider blocking a car lane "just for a minute," while they run inside will, without even the briefest of thoughts, park in the bike lane?

Well maybe this image can be successful in making drivers give it a little thought.

Architecture


This federal building is missing a corner. Here's why

The Department of Agriculture South Building an archetypal federal building: big, beige, and boxy. But it's missing a corner. Why? The L'Enfant Plan and a street that no longer exists.


The South Building, with the Jamie L. Whitten Building to the north. Image from Google Maps.

The South Building's fašade stands about 30 feet back from Independence Avenue. The south entrance to the Smithsonian metro stop fits so cozily into the corner, it almost looks as if the notch was built just for it. Of course, that doesn't square with the history.

This building was an exercise in making efficient use of the land. Unlike Federal Triangle, or Southwest's modernist buildings, its walls run right up to the property line. With long, thin wings connected at the perimeter, the South Building was as efficient as an office building could be before air conditioning.

When completed in 1936, it was the largest office building in the world. Only the Pentagon would unseat it. On Independence Avenue, its facade runs for 900 feet of beige brick and green-painted steel.

The architect, Louis Simon, wouldn't have built the setback if he didn't have to. Looking at a satellite photo provides no clues. But, if you look at an older satellite photo, the reason becomes obvious.


The South Building in and its context in 2012. The missing corner is on the left side of the image.


The South Building in and its context in 1941.

Pierre L'Enfant's Virginia Avenue slightly clips the block. You can't see it now, because urban renewal replaced that section of Virginia Avenue with bas-relief urbanism and highway ramps. Ironically, the sightline the architects so carefully avoided was erased thirty years later.

And this brings up the last reason it's so mysterious: the architects went out of their way to hide the difference between the corners. Rather than clipping it diagonally along the property line, Simon's team designed an orthogonal setback that seemed like it was the natural place for the wall.

With two pedestrian bridges and a long walk in between each corner, it's really hard to notice the difference. I wouldn't have noticed it had it not come up in the dispute over the Eisenhower Memorial's setbacks.

For now, it's another one of DC's carefully hidden quirks, like the off-axis position of the Washington Monument, or the Jefferson Memorial sitting slightly to the south where Maryland Avenue would be. As Southwest is rebuilt, and Virginia Avenue returns, the purpose of the notch will become more clear.

Links


Breakfast links: RFK 2.0 coming?


Photo by sidewalk flying on Flickr.
New NFL stadium coming?: Dan Snyder mentioned in an interview that his organization has begun planning a Fedex Field replacement. He hopes to evoke RFK with a "retro" design, but gave no indication of a location for the new stadium. (WBJ)

More FBI workers in MD: A previously unreleased Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development report found that 43.2% of FBI employees reside in Maryland. Could this send the new headquarters to Maryland? (Post)

Purple Line not a threat: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service believes the Purple Line will not impact any endangered or threatened species. This is contrary to the opinion of a group of citizens who sued the Federal government this week. (City Paper)

"High rise" elementary opens: Significant crowding at a Fairfax County elementary school meant expansion was necessary, but county officials moved half the school to a nearby office building, instead of a traditional elementary campus. (WTOP)

Woodbridge to Tysons bus a goner?: The Tyson's OmniRide bus may not survive a transition to county funding. Ridership was lower than expected, with an average of 18 riders per bus each day. (Potomac Local)

Use the poor door, please: Officials in New York are demanding an end to the so-called "poor door" policy. The "poor door" refers to a separate entrance for income-controlled units in luxury buildings. (NYTimes)

Balancing bikeshare boggles brains: As many as thirty researchers are investigating the problem of how best to balance bikeshare stations for optimum usage. Even using various algorithms, the problem is extremely complex. (CityLab)

And...: A Kennedy is running for office in DC, for ANC in Foggy Bottom. (Post) ... Alexandria's retired planning director looks back on her time in office. (Alexandria Times) ... Eight new bikeshare stations opened in Alexandria last week. (WashCycle)

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Transit


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 20

On Monday, we posted our twentieth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 19 guesses this week. 6 of you got all 5 correct. Great job, Alex B, MZEBE, Peter K, coneyraven, Roger F, and Phil.


Image 1: West Falls Church

The first image is from the mezzanine of West Falls Church. The crucial clue here was the "Dulles Airport Shuttle" sign. It refers to the now-truncated DC Flyer service. I don't know whether this sign is still in place. I took the photo last month. But despite that, the line of natural light coming in from the ceiling and the down escalator at the far left discounts underground Rosslyn and L'Enfant Plaza. Wiehle Avenue doesn't have this kind of brutalist architecture, so it's out too. 13 of you correctly guessed West Falls Church.


Image 2: Judiciary Square

The second image shows the western escalator entrance to Judiciary Square, in front of the National Building Museum. The District of Columbia City Hall is visible at center, which is a clear giveaway. Another clue is the pair of elevators, which drop directly to the platforms, bypassing the mezzanine. 16 of you knew this one.


Image 3: White Flint

The third image was a bit harder. It depicts the canopy at White Flint. This peaked-roof canopy is very similar to the canopies at most of the above-ground stations that opened in the 1980s and 1990s. But there's a unique feature here: This canopy has tapered support beams. These tapers are not present anywhere else in the system on the beams running parallel to the tracks, though the taper is standard on the cross-beams. The office building visible through the glass may have tipped some of you off as well. 9 of you got this one right.


Image 4: Tysons Corner

The fourth image shows the set of 4 escalators at the western end of Tysons Corner station. Tysons Corner has two entrances. One is on the south side of Route 123, via a bridge over the roadway. It lands near Tysons Corner Center. But the other entrance is below the tracks, 2 levels below the mezzanine. These escalators lead from the mezzanine to a landing (where the photo was taken) and down to the north side of Route 123. Nine of you guessed this one correctly.


Image 5: East Falls Church

The final image shows the view out of the entrance to East Falls Church station. The road that's visible is Sycamore Street, which runs under the tracks and platform (which are above the concrete lattice in the photo). The other clue is the bridge that carries the westbound lanes of I-66, just visible in the upper right corner. East Falls Church is the only median station in the system with an entrance below the tracks. 14 of you got this one right.

Next Monday we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Bicycling


Why build protected bike lanes, in one happy quote

A father and son comfortably bike down a slow Arlington street. They approach the new Hayes Street cycletrack. The father asks "Want to take the special bike lane?" The son responds with an excited "Yeah!"


The father and son. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

I overheard that interaction this past weekend, and had to stop and smile.

That one brief conversation sums up why protected bike lanes are so great: They make city streets safe, comfortable, and fun for even children to bicycle on. Not to mention older people, less-able people, and novice cyclists.

If Americans ever hope to make cycling for transportation a mainstream activity, cycling must feel comfortable for everyone. Getting bikes out of the path of speeding cars is a big part of that.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


How Ward 8's thoroughfares have changed since 1870

In 1870, the areas between the old city and the District line were still fairly rural. But many of the thoroughfares that shape the city today were already around then. Let's look at the roads that connected communities in what is now Ward 8.


1870 map of DC roads. From the DC Public Library.

Until 1871, the District was made up of the cities of Washington and Georgetown while the rest was in unincorporated Washington County. Present-day District neighborhoods like Brightwood, Columbia Heights, Tenleytown, and all land east of the Anacostia river laid outside the city in Washington County, DC. An 1870 map held in the Washingtoniana Room at the DC Public Library shows the roads that ran through the city's early suburbs, including those that crisscrossed Ward 8.

Nichols Avenue
What's now Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, the thoroughfare that runs from the junction with Good Hope Road all the way to just short of the Maryland line is an old Native American path. Long ago it was colloquially known as Piscataway Road, after the dominant regional tribe in the 1700s.

When the US Insane Asylum (today Saint Elizabeths Hospital) opened in the 1850s, Piscataway Road changed to Asylum Road or Asylum Avenue.

By the late 1860s, people were calling the road Nichols Avenue, after Dr. Charles H. Nichols, the long-time superintendent of Saint Elizabeths.

The road carried this name for over a century before taking its present designation.

Good Hope Road
Another major thoroughfare still traveled today is Good Hope Road. The origins of the name Good Hope Road have been debated for years. Some have speculated the road's name is derivative of the Good Hope Tavern that once stood at the modern-day intersection with Naylor Road, while others have told of Native American origins.

In 1924, John Harry Shannon wrote of Good Hope Road in the Evening Star:

"It was one of those gray, level, shadeless roads, bordered by signs, gas stations and ice cream, and sausage refectories which nearly all of us have come to call a good road. It was without the virtues and the charm of a bad road."
Hamilton Road
Further east, the 1870s map shows "Hamilton Road" running north-south. Churches, schools, and cemeteries that once lined Hamilton Road now line Alabama Avenue.

An early generation of Allen AME Church is depicted in the 1870 map near the junction of Good Hope Road and Naylor Road as an "African Church." Today the church stands at 2498 Alabama Avenue, and is notable for a 2010 visit by President Obama.

In June 1908 the District Commissioners formally changed Hamilton Road to Alabama Avenue.

Naylor Road
One road name in use in 1870 that remains on the map today is Naylor Road, named after Colonel Henry Naylor. His early forefather came to America as an indentured servant before the Revolutionary War. As reported by the Evening Star in his January 1871 obituary, Naylor, was an "old and highly respected citizen of Washington county, died at his residence, Mount Henry, near Good Hope, yesterday afternoon in the 73d year of his age."

Naylor was "born, raised and lived continuously on his farm, but was well and favorably known throughout the District." For years Naylor was responsible for the care of the land records of Washington County, duties later performed by the Recorder of Deeds. Naylor was an officer of the militia, holding a commission as colonel, and several times he was a member of the Levy Court. He is buried in Congressional Cemetery.

The communities that were outside the city in 1870 have changed dramatically in the nearly 150 years since. But the basic framework of thoroughfares has remained fairly constant, especially in Ward 8.

While many things have changed, it's sometimes amazing to find things that have stayed the same.

Links


Breakfast links: Big money


Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.
Baltimore's big gamble opens: The Horseshoe Casino opened on Tuesday. It is Maryland's fifth casino, and state and local leaders hope to use gambling revenue to revitalize the city and ease unemployment. (Post)

Metro settles suit: Metro will pay $5 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit, which revealed that the agency awarded a $14 million no-bid contract and fired an employee for speaking out. Metro did not admit wrongdoing, however. (WAMU)

DASH bus improvements: Besides the Metroway, Alexandria is seeing many new improvements to its DASH bus system. Among them are a new crosstown route, better Saturday service, and extended King Street Trolley hours. (Red Brick Town, Scott A)

Let kids walk: Petula Dvorak lets her kids walk to the corner store and go unsupervised for other summer activities. Unfortunately, not all kids in the DC area live in neighborhoods with wide sidewalks and easily accessible amenities. (Post)

A council divided: The DC Council is divided on what to do with the reconstruction of the Virginia Ave. CSX tunnel, particularly whether the project should be postponed until a completed comprehensive rail study. (Post)

CaBi signs in Bethesda: Montgomery County has installed new wayfinding signs for cyclists in downtown Bethesda with icons for CaBi and Metro stations. (TheWashCycle)

McMillan building trimmed: A medical building at the McMillan site will be shorter, along with other changes based on concerns from the Zoning Commission. The revised site plans also include transportation improvements and community benefits. (WBJ)

And...: It's a Metro tradition to give away pennants at new station and line openings. (Post) ... Fortune tellers in Front Royal may soon be able to operate legally. (WBJ) ... Scientists are hoping to connect with people emotionally on climate change. (CityLab)

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Education


Reassign students before improving school quality, not the other way around

Both of the leading candidates in the DC mayoral race have come out against Mayor Gray's new school assignment plan, saying school quality should be addressed first. But reassigning students may be the only real way to inspire parent confidence in less desirable schools.


Photo of chalkboard from Shutterstock.

Councilmember and mayoral candidate David Catania announced yesterday that he will "take action to delay" the new school assignment plan recently approved by Mayor Vincent Gray, saying that DC first needs to focus on improving school quality. And today his rival Muriel Bowser said that only the next mayor can address the "unanswered question" of "inherent inequalities across neighborhoods."

Catania issued his statement as chair of the DC Council's education committee, although it's not yet clear what he can do in that capacity to delay implementation of the plan. Nor is it clear how Bowser could do that from her current seat on the Council. But obviously, if either is elected mayor he or she will have a lot more power in that regard, even if some of the planned changes will already be underway.

Catania also says he's concerned there isn't enough time to do the planning that's necessary before the recommendations take effect a year from now, as scheduled. For that reason, he intends to take action to delay their implementation "until at least school year 2016-2017."

Catania, Bowser, and others who insist that improvements in quality must come before reassignment have a point. Telling people they have to send their kids to a school they regard as inferior will not only make them angry, it risks driving them out of the system entirely.

But if the core issue is equalizing school quality across the District, it's hard to see how the essence of the plan could be implemented as soon as 2016, as Catania suggested he might do. In fact, it's impossible to predict when DC schools will be equal enough in quality that families will be happy to attend any school they're assigned to.

The limits of improvement plans

Catania has called upon DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to come up with a plan for school improvement. Catania spokesperson Brendan Williams-Kief elaborated on that by saying DCPS needs to be able to tell families who are being reassigned that "this is the new school leader, and this is the curriculum, and this is how it's going to look." The idea is that these plans will instill confidence in, for example, middle-class families who don't want to leave the coveted Deal-Wilson feeder pattern for lesser schools.

But will they instill that confidence? Eastern High School, which sits on the eastern edge of largely middle-class Capitol Hill, was the target of just such a plan. The school, which had a troubled history and served an almost entirely low-income population from across the Anacostia River, was closed for a year and underwent a dazzling $77 million renovation.

It reopened 3 years ago with a dynamic new principal and an energetic new staff. Last year it began offering the rigorous International Baccalaureate Diploma program, just the kind of thing that should inspire confidence in nearby middle-class families and attract them to the school.

The school now has the second-highest test scores of all non-selective high schools in the District. But so far, it hasn't attracted middle-class families from its neighborhood. Eastern is still almost entirely low-income.

That's partly because its boundaries largely extend to the eastall the way to the Prince George's County border. Some Capitol Hill residents as close as 6 blocks from Eastern are zoned for Dunbar High School. Others in the neighborhood are actually zoned for Wilson, in Upper Northwest. But even those middle-class families who live within Eastern's current catchment area aren't sending their kids there.

The new assignment plan would extend Eastern's boundaries all the way west instead of all the way east, giving some reality to its slogan, "The Pride of Capitol Hill." But no doubt many Capitol Hill families who are now within Wilson's boundaries are dismayed at the prospect of sending their kids to Eastern instead, despite the improvements there.

The importance of a critical mass

Maybe that's because parents are looking for more than just a good plan, or even a good principal, faculty, and curriculum. They also want some assurance that there will be other kids like theirs at a schooland not just in terms of race and socioeconomic status, but in terms of academic preparation and achievement level.

And it's a sad but undeniable fact that, at this point in our history, kids who are more affluent generally achieve at higher levels. Many people are working to change that fact, but there are no guarantees about when, or if, that will happen.

There are, of course, plans to improve DCPS schools. DCPS may not have formulated the plans in exactly the way Catania wants, but the fact is the school system is trying all sorts of things. Some of them are working better than others.

But if what middle-class parents want is a critical mass of middle-class kids at a school, the only way to get to that point may be through reassignment. Yes, some of the reassigned families may leave the system. But let's hope that, given the lead time engineered into the plan, others will band together and commit to sticking aroundand being, as the bumper sticker says, the change they wish to see.

History


How did Silver Spring get its boundaries? And how would you define them?

You could ask five residents what Silver Spring's boundaries are and receive five different answers, ranging from a neighborhood near the DC line to a city the size of the District of Columbia itself. But how did it end up this way to begin with? The answer involves a railroad, zip codes, and possibly Marion Barry.


Silver Spring, as the Census Bureau sees it. Image from Wikipedia.

Unlike northeastern states where every square inch of land sits inside a municipality, or western states where cities compete for territory to access natural resources or tax revenue, much of Maryland and Virginia are unincorporated. Part of the reason is that counties in these states can perform functions like zoning and schools, reducing the incentive for communities to become a town or city.

Silver Spring is one those places. As a result, most definitions of Silver Spring fall into two camps: one I call "Little Silver Spring," or areas near its historical center, or "Big Silver Spring," which comprises most of eastern Montgomery County. To find out which one is more dominant, local organization Silver Spring Inc. will have residents draw their own boundaries in an interactive event at Fenton Street Market this Saturday.

Big Silver Spring

Francis Preston Blair founded Silver Spring in 1840 when he fell off his horse and discovered a mica-flecked spring. It became one of several towns that grew up around the Metropolitan Branch railroad, which starts in DC and heads northwest. Meanwhile, the rest of eastern Montgomery County remained largely undeveloped save for a few suburban developments and small villages with names like White Oak, Colesville, and Norwood.

Silver Spring became the reference point for the larger area, and "Big Silver Spring" was born. In the 1930s, home builder R.E. Latimer boasted that his new subdivision Burnt Mills Hills was three miles "beyond the Silver Spring traffic light" at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road. Ken Lubel, owner of Tires of Silver Spring and a longtime resident, notes that Silver Spring addresses once appeared as far north as Columbia.


"Big Silver Spring," or the Postal Service's definition of Silver Spring. Image by Christy Batta.

The invention of zip codes in the 1960s made Big Silver Spring official right as suburbanization took hold. The first three digits of each five-digit zip code referred to a larger region.

Naturally, Silver Spring got its own prefix, "209," and with it the rest of eastern Montgomery County. (This may have been due to then-DC mayor Marion Barry demanding that Silver Spring and Takoma Park give up the DC zip codes they were originally assigned.) New residents thus identified with Silver Spring and participated in activities there, like these students at then-new Springbrook High School marching in the 1970 Silver Spring Thanksgiving parade.

The US Postal Service assigns Silver Spring addresses to all of zip codes 20901, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 10, and parts of 20912, which is mostly in the city of Takoma Park. This definition stretches from the District line to the Patuxent River to the north, and roughly from Rock Creek Park and Georgia Avenue to the west to Prince George's County to the east, and even dipping into Prince George's in a few places. At its widest point, Big Silver Spring is about 12 miles long.

Big Silver Spring has over 306,000 residents, comprising 30% of Montgomery County's population, and covers 62.4 square miles, almost as large as the District of Columbia. If it were an incorporated city, it would be larger than St. Paul, Minnesota or Buffalo, New York. The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce likes to use a version of Big Silver Spring.

Little Silver Spring

"Little Silver Spring" usually refers to what's now downtown Silver Spring, where Blair fell off his horse, and other areas inside the Capital Beltway. The Census Bureau generally uses this definition, claiming the area from the Beltway to the north to the District line and Takoma Park to the south, and from Rock Creek Park in the west to Prince George's County in the east.

Little Silver Spring has about 71,000 residents in just under 8 square miles. (Incidentally, this definition includes an area between Grubb Road and Rock Creek Park that has a Chevy Chase address.)


Sean Emerson's map of the "Real Silver Spring."

Proponents include the Planning Department and the Silver Spring Regional Services Center, which also counts Four Corners as part of Silver Spring. Local bloggers Silver Spring, Singular and Sean Emerson of Around the Corners argue that a narrow definition of Silver Spring protects its identity while encouraging other communities to distinguish themselves as well.

And communities in Big Silver Spring are doing just that. Citizens associations in Colesville and Glenmont erected signs to set themselves apart. Montgomery County has worked hard to brand Wheaton as a distinct place from Silver Spring.

What do boundaries mean, anyway?

However, many people still identify with their mailing address. Landlords on Craigslist are more than willing to claim Big Silver Spring. And earlier this year, a concertgoer showed up at the Fillmore with a Silver Spring sleeve tattoo. All of the familiar landmarks were there, like the Lee Building and Chompie the shark, but so was the sign for Snowdens Mill, a subdivision 6 miles away in zip code 20904.

Jarrett Walker writes about the "emotive power" and "resonance" of a place name that often transcends boundaries. Silver Spring has historically been one of the DC area's biggest cultural and activity centers, and by drawing boundaries, you're commenting on how much that destination "resonates."

In other words, Silver Spring could be whatever "feels" like Silver Spring to you. I tend to believe in Big Silver Spring, if only because I went to Blake High School, a full 10 miles from downtown Silver Spring in a place once called Norwood. But we hung out in downtown, and its diverse student body looked way more like Silver Spring than it did Olney, which was much closer.

What does your Silver Spring look like? Join me and Silver Spring Inc. and draw your boundaries this Saturday from 10 am to 1 pm at Fenton Street Market, located at Veterans' Plaza in downtown Silver Spring.

Links


Breakfast links: Back to school


Photo by Jirka Matousek on Flickr.
Welcome back: School began in DC and Maryland on Monday. DCPS enrollment has increased steadily since 2008, though charter school enrollment has increased at nearly 5 times the pace. (City Paper)

Catania against school reassignment: David Catania vows to delay implementation of school boundary changes until at least 2016. He argues that the plan moves students to lower performing schools without support for school improvement. (City Paper)

Silver linings: Ridership is down 6% on Fairfax Connector compared to last August. But Fairfax Metrorail boardings are up 28% and park-and-ride usage is up 15%, suggesting a shift toward the Silver line rather than a decline in public transit use. (Post)

Driverless in DC: Driverless cars are often touted as the future, but how does one handle DC-area streets? While some features could come to cars in a few years, a completely automated car is probably a decade or so away. (Post)

Tree removal tiff: Pepco wants to remove several 100-year-old trees from private properties in Potomac, citing an agreement made with the city in the 1950s. Residents are fighting it, but Pepco says it's necessary to maintain reliable service. (Gazette.net)

Tiny homes in DC: Proposed zoning regulations to limit camping in alleys threaten three tiny homes on trailers in Edgewood. The OP says concerns with sanitation led to the recommendation. (UrbanTurf)

Engaged renters: As home ownership declines, a survey in Philadelphia found that renters are more engaged in their communities than previously thought. Some city officials think the shift toward rentals is a sign of the city's increasing desirability. (Streetsblog)

Storage for the homeless: Vancouver and San Diego maintain storage units for the homeless. The units allow individuals to attend to needs, like medical appointments and job interviews, without the burden of protecting their possessions. (CityLab)

And...: Metro is adding five articulated buses per hour on the crowded 16th Street lines. (WAMU) ... DDOT funded signpost animal art that can be found around Capitol Hill. (Post) ... Dupont Circle residents with sound meters get the ABC board to limit one bar's music. (CityPaper)

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