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Watch our editor play ultimate and have fun with your fellow GGWash readers!

Jonathan Neeley isn't just our editor. He's also a top ultimate Frisbee player and a member of the DC Breeze, a team in the professional American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). We're going to their next home game, on Saturday, May 7 against New York. Join us!


Photo by Kevin Wolf.

The Breeze play at Gallaudet University's Hotchkiss Field, their football stadium. The game starts at 6:30. Gates open at 5:15, and our Managing Director, Sarah Guidi, will be there to give you your tickets. We'll all be sitting in a block, so you can meet other GGWash readers, commenters, contributors, and editors while enjoying what should be a very fun game.

We've gotten a group rate for tickets, which are usually $12.50. Thanks to Don and Kellen with the Breeze for making the group discount available to GGWash. If you want to come support Jonathan in his game and also in a tiny way help us pay his salary, you can pay the same $12.50 for your ticket and some of that will go to our organization to fund him. Or, you can buy a ticket alone for $7.50.

To participate, you need to buy your ticket by 4 pm on Friday, May 6. You can get it by clicking the button below:

(Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.)

Once you buy a ticket, look for an email from Sarah on Friday evening with details on where and how to meet her to get your tickets.

Aside from a chance to watch some very talented athletes, games are a great way to spend time outside and enjoy the community. You can buy both beer and food there (and for cheap!), and there's a live band that starts playing soon after the gates open. Kids 12 and under get in free, and there's also a free clinic to teach kids to play that runs from 5-6 pm.

The field is about a 15-minute walk from NoMa Metro. The 90s buses run past the campus along Florida Avenue, and the D4 and D8 just to the east, and the university runs a shuttle from Metro. There is a Capital Bikeshare station right on Gallaudet's campus, near the field, and drivers can buy daily parking passes.

Hope to see you there!

Photography


Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 82

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

This week, we got 27 guesses. Nine got all five. Great work Peter K, JamesDCane, Justin..., Chris H, AlexC, Dillon the Pickle, FN, Solomon, and Stephen C!


Image 1: Tysons Corner

The first image is the view of Tysons Corner station from the plaza adjacent to the Vita building. Given the unique Silver Line architecture, you should have been able to easily narrow this down to the two "Gambrel" style stations. But Tysons Corner station isn't in a median, like Greensboro is, so this can't be Greensboro. All but one of you got this one right. Great work.


Image 2: Fort Totten

The second picture shows the top of a memorial plaque in the mezzanine at Fort Totten. The "Y OF" that is visible is part of the phrase, "in memory of," and is a memorial to the nine people killed in the 2009 Metro crash just north of the station.

Additionally, the windows and angles here are indicative of the mezzanine shape of Fort Totten. From this vantage point, we're looking toward the two escalators connecting the mezzanine to the Green/Yellow platform.

Twenty knew the correct answer.


Image 3: Van Dorn Street

The third image shouldn't have been too hard if you know the architecture of the system. The presence of three Blue Line trains on the PIDS tells you that this is almost certainly a Blue-only station, of which there are only three in the system. This picture was taken on a Saturday, but even though you didn't know that, there are times (weekends and off-peak), when Van Dorn and Franconia are not served by the Yellow Line.

Two of the three Blue-only stations can be easily eliminated. Arlington Cemetery is depressed in an open cut (so the trees wouldn't be visible) and doesn't have a canopy at all. Instead, it's only covered where Memorial Avenue crosses it. Week 8 gives you a sense of what that looks like. Franconia/Springfield, on the other hand has a very different canopy and the PIDS signs have a different format at terminal stations (BLUE LINE | LARGO CENTER | LEAVING 3 MINS).

But even if there had been only one Blue Line train on the board, you still could have solved this. That's because the canopy visible here is a "Gull I" design. And the only Gull I station served by the Blue Line is Van Dorn Street.

Twenty-five figured it out.


Image 4: Wheaton

The fourth image was a little trickier, and required you to take a second look to figure out that this was Wheaton. Many of you went with your first instinct, but closer inspection should have revealed this to be a twin-tube station. One clue is the presence of "can" lights hanging from the vault, which aren't present at the higher single-vault stations.

The perspective here is clearly looking through the doors of an elevator. Some downtown stations do have side platforms with the elevator in an alcove off to the side like this. But all of those stations have the "waffle" design, not the taller coffer "arch"-style. None of the "Arch I" or "Arch II" stations have side platforms. And that means this has to be one of the twin-tube stations.

It can't be Forest Glen because, as several of you noted, the elevators there all land in a common lobby and are farther from the tracks. At Wheaton, however, the solitary elevator lands not in the escalator lobby, but in an alcove at the far northern end of the Shady Grove platform.

Ten came to the correct conclusion.


Image 5: Capitol Heights

The final image was even more challenging, but there was enough information to figure out that it's Capitol Heights.

Like with image 3 above, you can tell that this station is served only by the Blue and Silver Lines (since the Orange Line isn't listed on the sign). There are only two underground stations that are served by the Blue and Silver, so even without additional information, you could have made a guess with a 50/50 probability of getting the right answer. Some of you did that and got lucky.

But there was a way to be 100% certain, and it involves knowing that while Benning Road and Capitol Heights are nearly identical, they're mirror images of each other. In week 56 we also ran a set with a similar signage clue and noted in the answers post the difference between the two stations.

At both stations, the single mezzanine is at the far end of the platform. At Benning Road, the mezzanine is at the east end. At Capitol Heights, it's at the west end. That means that when you descend to the platform at Capitol Heights, you're facing east. And if you're facing east, trains going eastbound to Largo are on your right, and trains going west toward downtown are on your left.

One final note: The reason you know this sign is at the bottom of the escalator when you arrive is because this is a fairly typical application of WMATA's signing in this case, since this is a decision point and because anywhere else on the platform, the column would also include a strip map of farther stations reached on the appropriate track.

Nineteen came to the correct conclusion.

Thanks for playing! We'll be back in two weeks with our next quiz.

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

Transit


10 things my internship taught me about transportation in DC

Every year, thousands of up and coming leaders come to DC to intern. Knowing how to get around can be difficult at first, but if you follow this advice, you'll steer clear of lighter pockets and grumpy mornings.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In early January, I arrived in DC with two suitcases and a small budget for transportation. Being a full time student and an unpaid intern who lives just a mile from work, I spend most of my time walking.

There are, however, a lot of times when I take Metrorail. Irvine, California, where I'm from, doesn't have a subway system, so using Metro ("Metrorail" is the official name, since there's also Metrobus, but everyone just calls the train system "Metro") has been a new adventure filled with ups and downs.

Now that I've been here for a while, I can tell you ten things about Metro that will help any intern who's new to DC:

1. Understand the map: DC is divided into quadrants that center on the US Capitol—Northeast (NE), Northwest (NW), Southeast (SE) and Southwest (SW). Be sure to orient yourself properly so you don't end up at, say, 10th Street NE when you meant to go to 10th Street NW. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the Metro map. Before your first day of work, mark the route that you plan to take so you don't miss your stop.

2. Prepare for traffic: The Metrorail crowds can be a big hassle. Go towards the ends of the platforms, as commuters tend to group towards the middle.

3. Different time, different price: The students in my internship program who take the Metrorail every day, spend around $40 per week. However, the fares vary by station and during peak times, they're more expensive. On weekdays, these are in effect from 5:30 AM to 9:30 AM, and 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM. On the bright side, the trains will arrive more frequently at this time of day.

4. Consider a Metro pass: If you use the Metro enough, a SelectPass can save you time and money. This calculator helps to determine which pass will save you the most. Even if you plan to walk or use Capital Bikeshare to get to work, there are going to be times when you'll want to use Metro, and for those, it's important to have a SmarTrip card.

5. Register your SmartTrip Card: Don't forget to register your Metro card just in case it is misplaced or stolen. This is especially important if you've loaded a large amount of money on to it.

6. Know to behave on the Metro: A lot of Metro stations have long escalators. If you're standing while riding them, stay to the right to allow room for those who would prefer to walk. Also, Metro doors do not operate like elevator doors, so putting your arm out to keep the door open will not end well.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Once you're on a Metro car, be sure to move towards the center to make room for others. If you're inside an already packed train, don't underestimate another rider's ability to force their way in too. After being shoved into the armpits of several tall strangers, I've learned to position myself away from corners in order to prepare for the "sardine can" type of morning.

7. Running Late? Metro vs. cab: During my second week of interning, I woke up 10 minutes before work started and figured that taking a cab would be the quickest option. Unfortunately, I was stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. Lesson learned: cabs and ride hailing aren't necessarily the solution when you're running late—they're expensive and can just as easily get stuck in traffic. I've found that most of the time, when you're late, the reality is simply that you're out of luck.

8. The weather can affect your commute: This past February, I experienced my first snow storm. I had often heard jokes that DC residents panic at the mere thought of snow, yet I was still surprised by how cautious the city was about transportation during the blizzard. During this time, the Metro didn't service my area for nearly a week. If you'll be in DC during the winter, frequently check Metro alerts to see if there are any operational changes to the Metrorail.


Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

9. Ask your supervisor for a transportation stipend: As an unpaid intern, every penny counts. Since DC has some of the highest fares of transit in the US, I suggest that interns at least ask if their work sites offer a transportation stipend. At my previous internship, I received $150 at the start of every month to cover my estimated transportation costs, which helped significantly. A friend of mine kept receipts of her fare purchases, gave them to her supervisor, and was compensated at the end of each month. Some internships, like those on Capitol Hill, do not offer this option. But it never hurts to ask!

10. Know your options: Capital Bikeshare will let you get some exercise while you commute, but it's also often just as fast as Metro, or even driving. CaBi allows you to rent a bike from over 300 solar powered stations in the DC area. You can also enjoy a view of the city and save a few bucks by riding the busif you regularly do this, definitely buy a pass. The Circulator is another great option, and riding only costs $1! However, this does not service all areas of DC. Last but not least, if you live close to where you need to go, there's one option that almost never fails: walking!

Got any transportation advice for people that are new to DC? Comment below.

Transit


8 lessons about great transit I learned riding the Paris Métro

Paris has one of the world's great subway systems. Beyond its truly impressive coverage and service quality, here are eight wonderful details about how it operates that US systems would do well to mimic.


Door knobs on a Paris metro train. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

1. Door knobs speed trains

In DC and in many US subway systems, when trains pull into stations passengers wait for the train operator to open the doors. That adds a few seconds to every stop while the train idles on the platform, doors shut. Waiting passengers tap their feet and cross their arms.

All those seconds, at every station, every trip, all day, add up. The result is not only less happy riders, but also slower trains that come less frequently and carry fewer people than the system's theoretical maximum.

In Paris, those delays don't happen. Each door has a manual knob or button that passengers can push to enter or exit at their own pace. For safety, the doors are all locked while the train is moving quickly. But as it comes to a halt the doors unlock, and passengers can immediately open the doors to exit trains.

Here's a video, showing how the whole operation makes exiting a train noticeably faster than on WMATA:

WMATA did have automatic doors up until 2008, which were faster than the operator-controlled doors of today. But that was eight years ago, and there's no indication they'll be fixed any time soon.

Although the issues for a streetcar are different than a subway, this is one detail DC's streetcars share.

2. Full platform seating works

Why do WMATA station platforms have so few seats? Especially at side platform stations, why not just line the entire platform with one long bench?

Check out Paris' Chatelet station, where that's exactly the layout:


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Most Paris stations aren't like Chatelet. Frankly, with sub-five-minute headways most of the time, a lot of seating isn't as crucial there as it is in DC. But there's been many a day I've stood for 15 minutes in a WMATA station wishing it had this feature.

3. Flip-up seats add capacity

The first row of seats inside Paris' train doors flip up. On sparsely-populated trains, riders can sit in the seats comfortably. On especially crowded ones, riders can stand, creating more space on the train.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Yes, riders in Paris sitting on these seats do seem to usually get up and create more space when the train gets crowded. It seems to be part of Paris transit etiquette, like standing on the left on DC escalators. Not everyone does it, but enough do to make a difference.

This arrangement also makes it easier for people in wheelchairs to ride without blocking the aisle.

4. Open gangways really do work

US transit systems are slowly beginning to catch on to the benefits of longer open-gangway trains. If passengers can move from front to back of trains without getting off, that makes trains less crowded and boosts capacity.

All new or recently refurbished lines in Paris have open gangways. And they're wonderful.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

5. Great late night service is possible with only two tracks

Paris' metro lacks express tracks just like DC's, and it runs basically comparable hours to WMATA. It's also decades older than Metrorail. It must have at least similar maintenance needs, and no more time in the day to accomplish them.

Yet somehow Paris manages to run frequent trains late into the night.


A train every 4 minutes at 10:21 pm. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

I have no idea how they do it. When do maintenance workers do their work? How do they keep up tracks with trains coming every four minutes?

I wish I knew. If you know, send Mr. Wiedefeld an explanatory note.

6. Els can be public art

Talk about elevated rail in the US and most people visualize either Chicago-style steel monstrosities or Tysons Corner-style concrete ones. Neither are particularly endearing images, except maybe to transitphiles and architecture buffs.

In Paris, even the el train is beautiful.


Pont Bir-Hakeim. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

And though a bridge over the Seine is a special place, Paris' els have nice aesthetic touches elsewhere too.

7. Wayfinding can be beautiful

"If you can make something pretty, why not make it pretty?" My wife and I kept coming back to that thought as we explored Paris. These signs, telling riders which direction their metro train is headed are one example of why.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

8. Location-specific maps help riders navigate

Going to the airport? Rather than only a tiny icon on the main system map, how about helping riders with a dedicated airport transit map?


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In DC we already put location-specific bus maps and neighborhood maps inside every Metro station. Why not unique maps for destinations to which infrequent riders often travel, like airports and stadiums?

What details like these have you noticed on other countries' transit systems, that you'd like to see imported to the US?

Links


Breakfast links: Stay safe and share


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.
Vision Zero comes to Alexandria: The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously to develop a Vision Zero policy, make extensive sidewalk improvements, and build a more comprehensive bike network, including 44 miles of bike lanes, as part of its master plan update. (Alexandria Times)

Bikeshare for College Park: College Park's bikeshare system, mBike, will open May 4 with 125 bikes (and a few accessible tricycles) at 14 stations. The system is not part of Capital Bikeshare. (Zagster)

Suggested shelter changes: A coalition of nearly 60 DC-based social justice groups is calling for Mayor Bowser to revise her homeless shelter plan with a different site for the Ward 5 shelter, use of city-owned land for all shelters, and private bathrooms for every unit. But the Mayor isn't budging. (WAMU)

Expert expectations: Congressman John Delaney will introduce a bill to shake up the WMATA Board, calling for all future appointees to be experts in either transit, management, or finance. (DCist)

Downtown's ups and downs: Downtown DC has more workers, increased museum/theater attendance, and way less blight than before, but office rents are down, homelessness is up, and residential growth has been stagnant. (WBJ)

SelectPass going strong: Metro's new monthly payment plan for commuters outsold the standard 28-day pass by 40% in April. Metro may add a wider variety of SelectPass options in the coming months. (Post)

Firearms in Ward 5: DC's first gun range could come to Ward 5 next year, right next to one of the homeless shelter plan sites. (City Paper)

Bikes that grow: Bikes that grow with your child are becoming more popular. One modular kit can transform all the way from a wagon for a toddler to a recumbent trike for a teen. (BBC)

And...: The Secret Service plans to build a taller, stronger fence around the White House. (NBC4) ... An official Washington Nationals pint glass suggests the team plays in Southern Maryland rather than DC. (City Paper) ... National Airport is holding an emergency drill on Saturday. (Post)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Roads


Montgomery's traffic tests for new developments encourage sprawl, but that could change soon

Montgomery County is expected to gain 232,000 new residents over the next 30 years. Currently, Montgomery's traffic tests measures whether development leads to people driving faster rather than whether development leads to more people driving. Reforming this practice could help discourage sprawl.


Under the current system, development like this one in Silver Spring, where it's easy to walk around, doesn't get credit for reducing how often and how far people drive. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

Montgomery County is currently updating its four year "growth plan", known formally as the Subdivision Staging Policy (SSP). The SSP governs everything from school infrastructure needs to the amount of taxes developers pay for new projects.

While any number of those issues have a huge impact on guiding growth, it's hard to say any are more important than revising how Montgomery tests the way new developments impact traffic.

Here's how Montgomery currently tests traffic

The test Montgomery County uses measures just car speed at intersections. Incoming development, whether located in dense areas or not, is projected to generate X amount of car trips, and therefore create Y amount of car delay at intersections.

The test does not take into account the number of people walking, biking or busing-- it assumes that a project a block from a Metro station will produce the same amount of car traffic as a project in Clarksburg. If a project is found to create an "unreasonable" amount of traffic, developers have to pay to mitigate the impact----even in an area where many folks may not drive.

Currently, a single occupant car is valued the same as a bus carrying 80 passengers. Even though a dedicated bus lane could carry vastly more people than a lane of single occupant vehicles, that bus lane would fail current traffic tests because it hurts the speed at which single occupant vehicles can drive.

In real terms, this often means a developer paying to widen a road in order to pass a traffic test-- an outcome that's inherently contradictory to Montgomery's transit and environmental goals. We're rewarding sprawl and making infill development more difficult.

Evaluating car delay ensures we aren't looking at all the possibilities for moving the most people-- we're just looking at how to move single-occupancy vehicles the fastest. These tests prize car speed over increased mobility options, rewarding development that is far from urban centers. Why build a new grocery store in Downtown Silver Spring, which would require a traffic mitigation payment for a failing intersection, when you can build one five miles away near the highway and pass your traffic test with flying colors?

In fact, the type of traffic tests Montgomery uses has been called the "Transportation Planning Rule Every City Should Reform". Focusing solely on automobile congestion has the strange effect of making transit improvements like bike and bus lanes look bad but road widening look good.

The county is considering another way of doing things

The good news is that the Montgomery County Planning Department is considering adopting less auto-centric traffic evaluations. A possible solution might be using the Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) standard, which measures how many miles residents are actually driving-- not just speeds at arbitrary intersections.

VMT takes the total amount of vehicles being driven on a daily or annual basis and divides it by the total number of miles being driven. For example, 10,000 vehicles each travelling an average of 15 miles per day, would result in 150,000 vehicle miles travelled per day.

By attacking traffic tests from this angle, we can set goals to decrease the amount of car trips residents take. Montgomery could set a goal of reducing VMT by 10% over ten years, and evaluate how future development fits in with that vision.


Building near transit and retail can mean people won't need cars at all, but that doesn't show up with Montgomery's current testing system. Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

To appreciate the difference, imagine CVS plans to build two new pharmacies in the county, one in Downtown Silver Spring and the other in Germantown. Under the current system, both projects would be projected to generate the same amount of new trips using a standard formula.

Because Silver Spring is already more densely developed, those new trips would be added to roads that are likely already failing from a car delay perspective, forcing the developer to fund costly "mitigation" efforts. In less developed Germantown, those same trips are unlikely to cause any intersections to "fail" the car delay test, so no mitigation is required.

VMT ends the incentive to build in less dense areas, many of which are far from transit. It provides a holistic look at mobility options in an area.

This is about equity for residents, too

The current test is inherently unequal, giving priority to single occupancy vehicles and completely overlooking those who are transit reliant (by choice or by necessity). This is especially important, as study after study shows transit access is a huge indicator of someone's odds of being socially mobile.

This issue is even more important when we consider that Montgomery saw the most significant increase in poverty of any jurisdiction in the DC region. Inequality of mobility leads to inequality of opportunity.

If we want an equal county, measuring traffic in a way that encourages inclusive growth, not just destinations that can be reached exclusively by car, is certainly an important step.

Can you get involved? Yes!

You can help be a part of the change. The Montgomery County Planning department is currently producing their staff draft of the growth policy. Send the planning board emails, write them letters, make your voice heard.

Tell them: "I am a transit reliant Montgomery County resident. Every day, I am confronted with both the positives and negatives of our transit infrastructure. Far too often in planning meetings, or County Council hearings, the voices of people who actually need transit are not in the room. We need better approaches to how we grow."

If we want a county that is more walkable, and inclusive we need to make our voices are heard. The fight to change our traffic tests should be a rallying cry for environmentalists, progressives and transit advocates. This is a critical opportunity for Montgomery to fufill its reputation as a bastion of progressivism.

Transit


The feds aren't helping on Metro safety, says DC transportation chief

Metro has to do better on safety, local and federal governments, riders, and many others all agree. But while the federal government is pushing for safety, some say it's also a part of the problem.


Unhelpful image from Shutterstock.

At a regional "summit" on Metro's future on March 30, Leif Dormsjo, director of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), blasted the Federal Transit Administration's relationship to WMATA and other transit systems around the nation.

Nobody can call Dormsjo a WMATA "apologist." From the moment he took over DC's transportation agency, he's been calling for reforms at Metro. A year ago, he said, "WMATA needs to hire and fire better, manage its capital projects better, follow accounting principles better, and communicate with the public better."

Dormsjo also has called for Metro to focus on safety and reliability. At the summit, he praised new General Manager Paul Wiedefeld for emphasizing just those two factors and getting "back to basics." Last year, when former safety head Jim Dougherty chafed at FTA oversight, Dormsjo rebuked him, defending the FTA's involvement.

But when it comes to fixing problems, he said in March, the FTA is not acting like a partner.

"Every other mode of transportation has better safety oversight relationship with the federal government than transit and the FTA," he said, listing freight, aviation, highways, and other forms of transportation, each of which has its respective "modal administration" inside USDOT. Those departments oversee safety but also are "partners" in fixing problems, said Dormsjo.

Not FTA. Instead, he said, FTA sits back and criticizes transit agencies for missteps but doesn't try to help find solutions. "It's always easier to knock someone down than pick them back up," he said, and FTA is not a "collaborative partner."

"I wish the current administration would extend their hand to the nation's transit system," said Dormsjo. He suggested FTA help work out solutions to problems and then apply them to other transit properties across the nation.


Photo by Gen Kanai on Flickr.

This is a common complaint

Other transportation officials have said similar things privately before, and about more than just safety. FTA also oversees the procurement procedures of transit agencies and monitors their actions to make sure they meet federal rules for grants.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly, relayed the story of a transportation conference where the FTA's representative on a panel kept lecturing agencies on how to achieve compliance with federal rules. That FTA speaker, he said, never talked about helping agencies reach that compliance.

If the FTA were less "rigid" in its interpretation of regulations, said Dormsjo at the March 30 panel, that could save transit agencies a lot of money in things like buying vehicles.

A former transportation executive in the region, who also wasn't willing to speak on the record, said, "I've never found the FTA to be helpful. They are custodians of money, not advocates for projects. They never act like they are trying to help you; they usually act like you're being difficult."

Sometimes it seems as though the FTA treats the nation's transit more like a reality TV show than a vital public service. They sit at the judges' table, watch the agency's performance, and lob criticisms.

The FTA put WMATA in a sort of financial penalty box, called "restricted drawdown," in 2014 after discovering weaknesses in financial controls. But over two years later, the penalty hasn't been lifted.

Maybe that's for good reason, if Metro's internal controls aren't satisfactory, though that's not clear from public information; board chairman Jack Evans has claimed WMATA has improved and deserves to be let out of the penalty box. An Inspector General's report found that "inconsistencies in the way [FTA] regional offices enforce the rules ... meant [WMATA] faced longer delays in receiving reimbursements than the other two transit agencies examined."

Even if WMATA isn't ready to go off restricted drawdown, the FTA ought to make it a high priority to help WMATA get there, in whatever way it can. Perhaps FTA really is doing that (it's not in the public record), but if it is, based on off-the-record statements, that's not typical.

Nobody questions that Metro has to do better on safety and management procedures, and it's right for FTA to push for improvements. Problems, like the fire last week near Friendship Heights, are Metro's failings and Metro's responsibility to clean up. However, to do so requires teamwork from every other stakeholder as well, and the federal government needs to see its role that way, not just as a judge but a partner.

Development


DC has few "parking craters" downtown. Here's why.

Most American downtowns are surrounded by "parking craters," or big spaces with swaths of parking lots and no buildings. But they have virtually disappeared from DC (all the parking for Congress being a key exception, of course) because downtown office space is in high demand and because each building can only be so tall.


Downtown DC's last privately-controlled parking crater, left over from when the Convention Center was demolished. Photo by the author.

Most surface parking lots are built as what zoning calls "an accessory use," which means they're an "accessory" to something else on the same lot. The parking lot at Sam's Park & Shop in Cleveland Park, or the Capitol's parking lots, are "accessory" parking lots.

Parking craters, on the other hand, are usually not accessory parking directly tied to another land use; they're paid parking lots whose owners are holding onto land that they speculate could be a future development opportunity.

A parking lot requires minimal maintenance, but pays out some income in the interim. Most importantly, a parking lot is "shovel ready"—unlike a building with tenants in place, whose leases might or might not expire at the same time, a parking lot can be emptied and demolished on short notice when opportunities arise.

Here's a map of all of DC's parking craters in 2011, before NoMa saw a huge influx of residents and City Center was built.


Click to enlarge. Map by Dan Malouff.

High rents and short buildings make parking craters impractical

The opportunity that many "parking crater" developers are waiting for is the chance to build a big office tower. Offices pay higher rents to landlords than apartments (although in the best locations, retail or hotels can be even more valuable).

However, the banks who make construction loans to developers rarely allow new office buildings to be built before a large, well-established company has signed a long-term "anchor tenant" lease for much of the new building's space. If the building isn't pre-leased, the result can be a bank's worst nightmare: a "see-through tower" that cost millions of dollars to build, but which isn't paying any rent.

Within downtown DC, robust demand and high rents mean that landowners face a very high opportunity cost if they leave downtown land or buildings empty for a long time. Instead of demolishing buildings years before construction starts, developers can make room for new buildings by carefully lining up departing and arriving tenants, as Carr Properties did when swapping out Fannie Mae for the Washington Post.

Less often, a developer will build new offices "on spec," or without lease commitments in place. A spec developer usually bets on smaller companies signing leases once they see the building under construction. Downtown DC has a constant churn of smaller tenants (particularly law firms and associations) that collectively fill a lot of offices, but few are individually big enough to count as anchor tenants.

Because office buildings in DC are so short, they're relatively small, and therefore the risk of not renting out the office space is not that high. In other words, it's easier to build in downtown DC.

In a city like Chicago, by contrast, few developers would bother building a 250,000 square foot, 12-story office building to rent out to smaller tenants. Instead, they could wait a few more years and build a 36-story building, lease 500,000 square feet to a large corporation, and still have 250,000 square feet of offices for smaller tenants.

This customer is always right

There is one big anchor tenant in DC's office market: the federal government. The government has some peculiar parameters around its office locations, which also help to explain where DC does have parking craters.

Private companies often don't mind paying more rent for offices closer to the center of downtown, which puts them closer to clients, vendors, and amenities like restaurants, shops, or particular transit hubs. The government, on the other hand, has different priorities: it would rather save money on rent than be close-in. The General Services Administration, which handles the government's office space, defines a "Central Employment Area" for each city, and considers every location within the CEA to be equal when it's leasing offices. It also usually stipulates that it wants offices near Metro, but never specifies a particular line or station.

As rents in prime parts of downtown rose, the government began shifting leased offices from the most expensive parts of downtown to then-emerging areas. Large federal offices filled new office buildings in the "East End," helping to rejuvenate the area around Gallery Place and eliminate many parking craters.

Next: Parking craters have almost disappeared from downtown. So where are the new parking craters?

Transit


Lisbon is a rail transit mecca

Lisbon has just about every type of rail transit out there. Streetcars, funiculars, a metro, and commuter rail all provide a dense, interconnected transit system for the Southern Europe metropolis.


A streetcar in Lisbon. All photos by the author.

Lisbon's streetcarstrams, as they refer to them—act as both transportation for the city's residents and a popular way for visitors to see the city, with streetcar line 28 connecting many of the main sights of the city's old city.

Many of the streetcar lines share the city's narrow streets with car traffic. However, some stretches have dedicated lanes, including along Avenue 24 de Julho, next to the commuter rail tracks approaching the Cais do Sodré railway station.


A vintage streetcar in a dedicated lane alongside a commuter train in Lisbon.

Complementing the streetcar network are three funiculars and an elevator that climb some of the city's steep hills.


The Gloria funicular in Lisbon.

The Lisbon metro has four lines stretching 26.8 miles across the city and providing the backbone of the transit network.


A map of the Lisbon metro with commuter rail services in gray.

Lisbon has two commuter rail operators: state-owned Comboios de Portugal (CP) and the private Fertagus line. While more frequent and metro-like than Washington DC's commuter rail services, CP's services are not as extensive as those in most European cities with overlapping lines connecting four terminals in central Lisbon and one south of the Tagus River with five different suburbs.


CP's Lisbon commuter rail map.

Fertagus provides the only commuter rail service that crosses the Tagus River, running on the lower deck of the 25 de Abril bridge.


The 25 de Abril bridge in Lisbon.

Lisbon is a good example of how a dense transit network with a variety of interconnected modes can work.

The Washington region is slowly moving towards a similarly dense and varied network, with Metro forming the backbone and other modes like the Metroway bus rapid transit line Virginia, the DC Streetcar in the District and, when it opens, the Purple Line light rail in Maryland filling in the gaps and complementing Metro. However, we have a long way to go to match Lisbon's network.

For more on transit developments in other cities and around the world, check out Greater Greater Washington's articles about Adelaide, Cape Town, Dallas, Hartford, Johannesburg, Oakland airport, San Diego, and San Juan.

Links


Breakfast links: The votes are in


Photo by Edward Kimmel on Flickr.
Maryland primary results: State Senator Catherine Pugh won Baltimore's Democratic mayoral primary, while Rep. Chris Van Hollen won the Democratic nod for Senate. In congressional seats, state senator Jamie Raskin and former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown won their primaries. (Post, Baltimore Sun)

Abandoned to affordable: A new program in Baltimore aims to increase access to affordable housing by paying local residents to help refurbish the many abandoned properties throughout the city. (NPR)

Parents behind bars: Nearly 10,000 children in DC have at least one parent who has been incarcerated. The best next steps: Programs that keep kids in touch with jailed parents, and employment opportunities for when people get out. (City Paper)

More people, same movement: While the DC region's population region continues to grow, the amount of car and transit trips has remained steady. An aging population and an increase and teleworking could be the reasons for no growth. (TPB News)

Taxed enough already?: Few Reston residents support a homeowner tax increase to help cover the estimated $2.6 billion needed for transportation improvements throughout the area. (Reston Now)

A tunnel to NoMa: A pedestrian tunnel connecting Union Market and Gallaudet University to the NoMa Metro Station could be part of a new development, though it's unclear who would pay for it. (WBJ)

Become a block parent: At an event in Petworth, Mayor Bowser relaunched the Adopt-a-Block program, encouraging residents, businesses, and non-profits to organize clean-up days and litter pick-up for a given two-block area. (DCist)

Closed for repairs: The National Park Service will most likely close the Memorial Bridge for substantial stretches of time during its three year rehabilitation project, which won't change the road design. (TheWashCycle)

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