Greater Greater Washington

Past Posts

If car commercials were honest, this is what they'd look like

A sporty coupe glides joyfully along a seaside highway, all by itself. It's heaven for the anonymous driver. That's the standard, ridiculous car commercial.

This video shows what car commercials would look like if they were actually honest.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


The lion's share of DC's new housing is only going in one part of the city

Over the last decade, DC has built 13% less housing than its Comprehensive Plan calls for. Of the new housing that is going up, most of it is confined to the central city even though the plan recommends only 30% go there. Meanwhile, most parts of the District are building little or no new housing.

Capitol Riverfront cranes
New high-rises under construction in the Capitol Riverfront. Photo by the author.

Besides forecasting how much growth the city would need to accommodate, the comp plan also identified where new residents would go. The plan included estimates of how many new households would settle across its 10 planning districts (policy 215.20), the conclusion being that every part of the city would gain new households and thus need to add new units.

The allocations ranged from a 6.8% increase in households in the "Rock Creek West" area, west of the park and above Georgetown, to a 116% increase along the Anacostia waterfront.

Graphic by Peter Dovak.

One part of town is building far more than its share

The comp plan identified a then-emerging trend towards living in the central city, and assumed that a substantial share of the District's future population growth would occur in and around downtown. Its policy 304 states that "approximately 30 percent of the District of Columbia's future housing growth and 70 percent of its job growth will occur within the urban core of the city and adjacent close-in areas along the Anacostia River."

But in the decade since, DC has been too successful at steering development toward downtown.

Instead of 30% of DC's housing growth, the "Central Washington" and adjacent "Lower Anacostia Waterfront/Near Southwest" planning districts are seeing the lion's share of both new housing and new jobs. According to counts provided by economic development officials and local business improvement districts, two-thirds of the building permits issued for new housing in the entire District have been for this central area.

The waterfront planning area, which includes the Capitol Riverfront (Navy Yard) and Southwest Waterfront, along with Poplar Point on the east side of the Anacostia River, was assigned the highest housing-growth target in the comp plan. It would receive 9,400 additional households by 2025, or 1/6 of the entire city's housing growth—a goal it's on track to substantially exceed. As of 2016, the waterfront area will have already met 73% of its 2005-2025 housing goal, compared to 46% for the entire District.

The Capitol Riverfront area alone accounted for nearly half of the new housing permitted in DC last year. There, 4,874 units were built or under construction as of last year, and another 1,249 units broke ground in just the first few months of 2015. Another 1,407 units will be under construction in Southwest Waterfront at the end of this year, and nearly 2,000 additional units have already been planned.

DC's two central planning districts. Image by the author.

Many thousands more units will be built before 2025; a total of 11,978 units have been proposed so far just in Capitol Riverfront. Plans have yet to emerge for large sites like Greenleaf Gardens, Buzzard Point, and Poplar Point.

Meanwhile, the Central Washington planning area—which encompasses the swath from the Capitol to the Kennedy Center, between Massachusetts Avenue and I-395—has almost met its 8,400-unit goal. Just two of its neighborhoods, Mount Vernon Triangle and NoMa, have added 7,300 units in the past decade. Together with 674 units at CityCenterDC, that means the area has built 95% of its projected new units, in half the time.

As with the waterfront, there's more to come: redevelopments at Northwest One like Sursum Corda, residential conversions of existing office buildings, the Southwest EcoDistrict and nearby sites like the Portals, and a few more infill parcels

Central city housing growth has a lot of advantages, as the comp plan points out: "Absorbing the demand for higher density units within these areas is an effective way to meet housing demands, create mixed-use areas, and conserve single-family residential neighborhoods throughout the city."

Yet this one strategy was always meant to be one way to meet housing demands, not the only strategy. The District's other policies to "conserve single-family residential neighborhoods" are doing too good of a job at keeping new housing out of the neighborhoods that were supposed to accommodate 70% of future housing growth—and keeping the District as a whole well below its housing growth projections.

Breakfast links: Faster, faster, slower, slower

Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.
Pick up the pace: DDOT only installed two of its planned seven and a half miles of bike lanes this year. Most of the current lanes were low hanging fruit connecting existing routes. Now DDOT has to figure out how to put lanes on narrow roads where they compete with parking and driving lanes. (Post)

Slow down for the children: Mayor Bowser asked motorists to slow down on the first day of school in the District. One resident said it would take enforcement, and not just signs, to get drivers to pay attention to the speed limit. (City Paper)

The bus stops here: DC Public Schools will no longer provide busing for students who transferred to better schools. Students can ride Metro for free or change schools, but some parents worry about their kids taking public transit on their own. (Post)

Exurban transit: Two towns in Prince William County want transit. The mayor of Dumfries wants to study a Metro extension to the town, while Haymarket is supporting a study to extend VRE service. (Potomac Local)

You really gotta shovel this year: Residents and business that don't shovel sidewalks after a snow could start facing fines this winter under new rules. The fine would be $25 for residential buildings up to 3 units and $150 for others. (WAMU)

Pilgrims on a train: Amtrak is expecting large numbers of passengers riding the northeast corridor when the Pope visits the US at the end of September. As a response, the company is adding more trains to accommodate them. (TheHill)

Fighting inequality: Housing subsidies have a stronger impact than tax deductions and help reduce income inequality. A report shows that housing assistance funds can make a difference. (Urban Institute)

Studying Freddie Gray: A new law class at the University of Maryland is focusing on Freddie Gray's death and problems in Baltimore related to the laws of housing, education, policing, and more. (NPR)

Help us, Congress: Virginia is set to lose out again if another round of sequestration happens and Congress cuts defense spending. The state's economy hasn't been growing recently, and contractors have been leaving Northern Virginia offices. (Post)

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Events roundup: Cool off

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer heat with Montgomery County transit advocates and a cool local beer. After that, voice your opinion about stricter parking rules enforcement or learn about a new plan for Northern Bethesda.

Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Transit happy hour: 2015 has been a big year for transit in Montgomery County. Get a full update on issues surrounding the Purple Line and Bus Rapid Transit and chat with fellow supporters at the Coalition for Smarter Growth happy hour at Denizens Brewing Company (1115 East-West Hwy, Silver Spring) this Wednesday, August 26, 6:30-8:00 pm.

After the jump: meter enforcement and northern Bethesda.

More meter maids?: Arlington is considering expanding their hours of parking meter enforcement. Have a strong opinion? Read the proposal and make your voice heard at a public meeting next Monday, August 31, at 7 pm in room 307 of 2100 Clarendon Blvd in Arlington.

Rock Springs: Big changes could come to Northern Bethesda with the kickoff of the Rock Springs Master Plan. Learn about the current condition of the area and the major goals of the plan at a public meeting next Tuesday, September 1, at 7 pm at Walter Johnson High School (6400 Rock Spring Drive, Bethesda).

Calendar: Beyond what we've highlighted here, there are many other worthwhile events across the region. Check out more great events in our events calendar:

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at

There are four #newtrains. Here's where to find them.

Monday morning, the fourth of the #newtrains, also known as the 7000 series, entered service on the Green Line, joining the others on the Blue, Red, and Orange lines. If you're wondering where to find one (or all four) of the trains, look no further.

The #newtrain on the Green Line. Photo by the author.

These tables show the scheduled runs of the 7000 series trains. For a variety of reasons, Metro could change this schedule at any time without notice, and if there are delays on any of the lines, they can affect when the train will show up.

The first table shows the morning period on the Blue and Orange lines. Note, for trips toward Franconia and Vienna, read down. For trips toward Largo and New Carrollton, read from the bottom up.

Westbound AM
Eastbound AM
read down
read up
5:388:02Morgan Blvd7:5010:14
5:418:05Addison Rd7:4710:11
5:448:08Capitol Heights7:4410:08
5:478:11Benning Rd7:4110:05
6:288:34New Carrollton8:2610:34
6:388:44Minnesota Ave8:1610:24
5:516:438:158:49Potomac Ave7:378:1110:0110:19
5:536:458:178:51Eastern Market7:358:099:5910:17
5:556:478:198:53Capitol South7:338:079:5710:15
5:576:498:218:55Federal Center SW7:318:059:5510:13
5:596:518:238:57L'Enfant Plaza7:298:039:5310:11
6:036:558:279:01Federal Triangle7:257:599:4910:07
6:046:568:289:02Metro Center7:247:589:4810:06
6:056:578:299:03McPherson Sq7:237:579:4710:05
6:066:588:309:04Farragut West7:227:569:4610:04
6:087:008:329:06Foggy Bottom7:207:549:4410:02
6:138:37Arlington Cemetery7:159:39
6:178:41Pentagon City7:119:35
6:198:43Crystal City7:099:33
6:218:45National Airport7:079:31
6:268:50Braddock Road7:029:26
6:288:52King Street7:009:24
6:338:57Van Dorn St6:559:19
7:059:11Court House7:499:57
7:089:14Virginia Sq7:469:54
7:149:20East Falls Church7:409:48
7:179:23West Falls Church7:379:45
7:219:27Dunn Loring7:339:41
read down
read up

The next table shows the evening commute period on the Blue and Orange lines.

Westbound PM
Eastbound PM
read down
read up
3:145:38Morgan Blvd5:267:50
3:175:41Addison Rd5:237:47
3:205:44Capitol Heights5:207:44
3:235:47Benning Rd5:177:41
3:165:22New Carrollton5:147:20
3:265:32Minnesota Ave5:047:10
3:273:315:375:51Potomac Ave4:595:137:057:37
3:293:335:395:53Eastern Market4:575:117:037:35
3:313:355:415:55Capitol South4:555:097:017:33
3:333:375:435:57Federal Center SW4:535:076:597:31
3:353:395:455:59L'Enfant Plaza4:515:056:577:29
3:393:435:496:03Federal Triangle4:475:016:537:25
3:403:445:506:04Metro Center4:465:006:527:24
3:413:455:516:05McPherson Sq4:454:596:517:23
3:423:465:526:06Farragut West4:444:586:507:22
3:443:485:546:08Foggy Bottom4:424:566:487:20
3:496:13Arlington Cemetery4:517:15
3:536:17Pentagon City4:477:11
3:556:19Crystal City4:457:09
3:576:21National Airport4:437:07
4:026:26Braddock Road4:387:02
4:046:28King Street4:367:00
4:096:33Van Dorn St4:316:55
3:535:59Court House4:376:43
3:566:02Virginia Sq4:346:40
4:026:08East Falls Church4:286:34
4:056:11West Falls Church4:256:31
4:096:15Dunn Loring4:216:27
read down
read up

Here's the schedule for the Red Line #newtrain. It hasn't changed since we shared it with you in June.

To Glenmont
To Shady Grove
read down
read up
7:01x2:415:01Shady Grove9:20x4:567:20
7:11x2:515:11White Flint9:10x4:467:10
7:17x2:575:17Medical Center9:04x4:407:04
7:22x3:025:22Friendship Heights8:59x4:356:59
7:26x3:065:26Van Ness8:55x4:316:55
7:28x3:085:28Cleveland Park8:53x4:296:53
7:31x3:115:31Woodley Park8:50x4:266:50
7:33x3:135:33Dupont Circle8:48x4:246:48
7:35x3:155:35Farragut North8:46x4:226:46
7:37x3:175:37Metro Center8:44x4:206:44
7:39x3:195:39Gallery Place8:42x4:186:42
7:41x3:215:41Judiciary Square8:40x4:166:40
7:43x3:235:43Union Station8:38x4:146:38
7:47x3:275:47Rhode Island Ave8:34x4:106:34
7:52x3:325:52Fort Totten8:29x4:056:29
7:58x3:385:58Silver Spring8:23x3:596:23
8:01x3:416:01Forest Glen8:20x3:566:20
read down
read up

Finally, here's the schedule for the Green Line's #newtrain.

read down
read up
5:337:18x2:464:36College Park7:108:58x4:286:16
5:367:21x2:494:39Prince George's Plaza7:078:55x4:256:13
5:397:24x2:524:42West Hyattsville7:048:52x4:226:10
5:427:27x2:554:45Fort Totten7:018:49x4:196:07
5:457:30x2:584:48Georgia Ave6:588:46x4:166:04
5:487:33x3:014:51Columbia Heights6:558:43x4:136:01
5:507:35x3:034:53U Street6:538:41x4:115:59
5:537:38x3:064:56Mount Vernon Sq6:508:38x4:085:56
5:557:40x3:084:58Gallery Place6:488:36x4:065:54
5:587:43x3:115:01L'Enfant Plaza6:458:33x4:035:51
6:027:47x3:155:05Navy Yard6:418:29x3:595:47
6:087:53x3:215:11Congress Heights6:358:23x3:535:41
6:107:55x3:235:13Southern Ave6:338:21x3:515:39
6:137:58x3:265:16Naylor Road6:308:18x3:485:36
6:188:03x3:315:21Branch Ave6:258:13x3:435:31

In a month or so, Metro should add a fifth train. If they provide the schedule data publicly, we'll keep you up to date with a revised set of schedules.

Good luck!

New road designs make Tysons more inviting for people on bike and foot

A street in Tysons just underwent some big changes, swapping driving lanes for bike lanes. The new design will make it easier to get around the area by bike and on foot.

Greensboro Drive's lane designs, before and after. Image from Fairfax County.

The stretch of Greensboro Drive from Spring Hill Road to Pinnacle Drive went on a road diet that cut its four lanes down to two. A center turn lane also went in, along with bike lanes in both directions.

The changes are the first of Fairfax's Proposed Street Design Update, which VDOT rolled out last March. Similar changes are coming to Tyco Road and Westbranch Drive.

The new Greensboro Drive. Photo by the author.

Greensboro road feeds an employment hub that's home to companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Cvent, and SAIC.

The new turn lane should lessen traffic backups since cars used to get stuck behind people waiting to turn left off of Greensboro. And the bike lanes should also make it easier to reach the new Silver Line Metro stations. Already, I've seen an increase of people walking to and from both the Greensboro and Spring Hill stations.

Greensboro Drive prior to the changes. Base image from Google Maps.

For the time being, Greensboro Drive between Pinnacle and International Drive, closer to the Tysons Galleria mall, is still four lanes wide. But it's good to see the beginnings of a thoughtful, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly design emerging in Fairfax County's redevelopment of Tysons.

One of Greensboro Drive's new bike lanes. Photo by the author.

Breakfast links: Back to school

Photo by Clif Burns on Flickr.
Share the wealth: Charter schools seek out charitable donations to bolster their budgets. Yet a small number of DC charter schools receive a majority of those funds given to charters in the past several years, raising concerns of inequity. (Post)

Pay up: Virginia's slashed education budget is preventing public schools there from attracting enough new teachers. Education advocates say the funding model is broken and penalizes schools that need money the most. (WAMU)

Design for health: A school in rural Virginia redesigned its building with standing desks and an open kitchen to support healthier lifestyles. The hope is that the school can address obesity through design that supports healthy behavior. (FastCo, LEW)

Safety first: Metro conducted a safety drill at Stadium Armory that simulated a smoke and fire incident. These exercises are aimed at addressing the safety failures that compounded the smoke incident at L'enfant Plaza last January. (WAMU)

Airports and carshare: Car2go is expanding in New York and wants parking near JFK and LaGuardia airports to allow members to pick up and drop off there. Could this work for Reagan National Airport as well? (Automotive News, Patrick)

Pruning pays off: WABA and DDOT cleared vegetation along the Suitland Parkway Trail. This work will make it easier for people to bike or walk along the trail to get to the Anacostia Metro station. (WABA)

Playing around: Arlington County has over 70 playgrounds and a local family documented them all in guide book. You can see the booklet at the Arlington Public Library or request a copy from the author. (ARLnow)

Little Free zoning violation: The Little Free Libraries, those little bird houses with books, are considered zoning violations in many communities. The small structures could be considered accessory buildings and a code violation. (The Atlantic)

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Enjoying summer in the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

National Building Museum. Photo by Victoria Pickering.

Photo by Eric Williams.

U Street. Photo by Clif Burns.

White's Ferry. Photo by Joe Flood.

Glenmont Metro Station. Photo by Bossi.

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!

The Metropolitan Branch Trail could learn a thing or two from Chicago's new bike trail

Chicago's new 606 trail is already very popular for biking, running, and walking, in large part because it's full of attractive landscaping and user-friendly amenities. DC would be smart to take some ideas from the 606 for upcoming changes to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

All photos by the author.

Chicago opened the 606 in June. Also known as the Bloomingdale Trail, it stretches 2.7 miles, behind homes and under the 'L' — Chicago's Metro — through four of the city's neighborhoods.

Sapling trees and shrubs line the 606, with benches and water fountains available at major street crossings. That might explain why, even in near 90-degree heat on a recent Sunday, there was a steady stream of cyclists, runners and pedestrians using it.

Among the trail's eye-catching features are arches over one bridge and a fake railroad truss over another.

The fake railroad truss that runs over 606.

Benches on a bridge along the 606.

One thing people who I talked to complained about is the 606's lack of shade. However, they all acknowledged that it will correct itself as the saplings grow up.

The future 606 in 2011. What a difference a few years make!

Like the MBT did for near northeast Washington, the 606 has created a new off-street transportation corridor in Chicago's cycling and trail network where none existed before. But the 606 is also much more: it's a public space with grassy knolls where residents can put down a towel and relax and shaded glades with benches to sit on.

The MBT could steal an idea or two

The NoMa Business Improvement District has some plans to improve the MBT. These include a small park just south of where it passes under New York Avenue, new gardens and neighborhood connection and safety improvements.

Using the 606 gave me a few ideas on how to make the MBT both more pleasant and inviting.

Benches on the bridge where the MBT crosses Florida Avenue NE could create a new vista of the never-ending traffic drama around the so-called Dave Thomas Circle.

Water fountains could go in at key intersections, like at R Street and the entrance to the bridge to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station that opened in December.

Landscaping on MBT could also get better. While young trees line part of the route, there's room for more, especially to the stretch between R Street and Rhode Island Avenue.

In addition, regular maintenance of the existing landscaping—like cutting the grass—would do a lot to improve the aesthetics. And a better-looking trail would likely invite more users, which is important since one of the preliminary findings that the BID shared with the public was that people would feel safer on the MBT if more people used it overall.

The uncut grass along stretches of the MBT create a wild prairie aesthetic.

The MBT is set to get longer in the next few years, with the addition of a section that connects Brookland to Silver Spring. Taking a few cues from Chicago's 606 might make both the addition and the existing trail an even better public space for the District.

Opposition to housing in HBO's "Show Me a Hero" sounds eerily familiar

In the second episode of the miniseries Show Me a Hero, which premiered on HBO last Sunday, angry crowds—all white—protest at a Yonkers, NY city council meeting discussing a plan to put a measly 200 low-income households in the more affluent parts of the city. Many people watching surely believe that they wouldn't be throwing diapers at the council if they had been in Yonkers in 1987. I'm not so sure.

Yonkers residents protesting public and affordable housing at a city council meeting. Images from HBO unless otherwise noted.

DC may be close to half white and half black, but many neighborhoods are far from diverse, racially or in income level. West of Rock Creek Park and east of the Anacostia River are worlds apart, as much as Show Me a Hero's depictions of Yonkers east and west of the Saw Mill River Parkway.

DC hasn't taken very serious steps to change this reality in the last decade, but even those to move 1% of the way have been met with more than 1% of the anger and opposition we can see in Show Me a Hero.

In the series (and in real-life history) a federal judge found that Yonkers had violated civil rights laws and the Constitution by concentrating all of the low-income housing into a small area of the city. The judge ordered Yonkers to build 200 units of public housing and 800 of affordable housing in sites elsewhere. The council (all white) fought against the ruling to the bitter end.

Yonkers mayor Nick Wasicsko is faced with a council where no member wants new public housing in his district.

The first two episodes of the miniseries, by The Wire creator David Simon, show council resistance as the judge progressively threatens officials with contempt charges and fines. They also depict the intensity of public opposition to the idea of anyone who makes less money than they do living in their neighborhoods. "It's not a black and white issue," one says, unpersuasively to much of the series' 2015 audience.

Meanwhile, in DC in the 2010s, what affordable housing gets built mostly goes east of the Anacostia into the District's two poorest wards. Residents there keep pointing out the unfairness of adding even more subsidized housing in areas with high unemployment and relatively few retail or transportation options, but it continues. The Gray Administration even approved a proposal to build on public land in the Mount Vernon Triangle but locate required affordable housing units in Anacostia.

The concentrations of white (left) and black (right) residents in Yonkers in 1980. The darker the green, the higher the percentage. Image from Social Explorer via Uncovering Yonkers.

In DC's richest ward, new housing inevitably means a fight

There hasn't been any push to build affordable housing west of Rock Creek, but there have been a few efforts to build some higher-income housing that wasn't the detached single houses on large lots that predominate. Apartments on the site of the old Wisconsin Avenue Giant, the development now called Cathedral Commons, drew battles and lawsuits for well over a decade.

The DC Zoning Update proposed allowing homeowners with basements or carriage houses to rent them out instead of prohibiting the practice outright, as is the law today. That plan is still slowly grinding its way through the approval process after getting watered down significantly amid endless delays over more than seven years now.

And a 2003-2004 plan to allow denser development along Wisconsin Avenue near the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights Metro stations provoked a massive backlash. At the tail end, opponents attacked Ellen McCarthy, the planning director at the time, and successfully pushed for her ouster.

None of these efforts would have created much if any exclusively low-income housing. Some people, like Councilmember Vincent Orange, therefore argue wrongly that opposing new housing has no impact on low-income residents at all. But if it's so controversial to allow more market-rate housing in an already expensive area, where units might just go to some young singles and couples or retirees, imagine the firestorm if the same housing would have actual poor people. You don't have to imagine it; you can watch Show Me a Hero.

The specter of different people raises alarm

In the show's second episode, Mary Dorman (Catherine Keener) hears on the news about the increasing chance of some low-income housing coming to her neighborhood and says, about the people who would live in low-income units, "they don't live the way we do. They don't want what we want."

In the 21st century and outside the crispness of a scripted television show, people don't quite say that, but some messages on the Chevy Chase listserv about the carriage house proposals came close. One person wrote, "I'm especially concerned about [these units], and sympathized with the parent who expressed concern for his young childrens' safety if no controls were instituted on who could occupy such units."

And these would have been units where an existing Chevy Chase homeowner hand-selected the person to rent to, not ones awarded through a housing lottery. What would this writer and the others who expressed similar sentiments done if the plan had actually been to desegregate the Chevy Chase neighborhood?

Carmen Febles (Ilfenesh Hadera) is a single mother and public housing resident struggling to afford life in Yonkers.

This year, the US Supreme Court upheld a strong interpretation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act in a Texas case that has a lot of similarities to the Yonkers one, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issued stricter rules to push cities to do more against housing segregation.

With the memorable and viral phrase "Liberal in the streets, NIMBY in the sheets," Kriston Capps argued in Citylab that many liberals' professed views won't stand up to the reality of actually getting affordable housing near them. Capps notes how a Republican county executive was elected in Westchester County (which includes Yonkers) after his Democratic predecessor approved new affordable housing across the county.

Lisa Belkin, author of the book on which the miniseries is based, wrote in the New York Times that "[s]upporters of desegregation won the Yonkers battle—but the high cost of victory lost them the war. Few in this country had the will to risk another divisive, ugly municipal bruising any time soon."

Many officials in DC and elsewhere might look at the miniseries, the real-life experiences in Westchester and DC and everywhere else, and conclude that residential segregation is something best ignored. That's certainly what the councilmembers in Show Me a Hero wanted to do. But as David Simon illustrates with cuts between the council hearings and scenes of the real lives of the affected low-income people, the human cost of inaction is very high.

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