With education set to be a pivotal issue in the D.C. mayor's race, both of the leading candidates have rejected a plan to redraw school boundaries and feeder patterns. They argue that changing boundaries before improving school quality will drive middle-class families out of the system. But it may be that the best way to improve quality and retain middle-class families is to reassign students first.
Photo of change sign from Shutterstock.
There's only one neighborhood middle- and high-school feeder pattern that middle-class parents want: the Deal Middle School-Wilson High School one in Ward 3. Both schools are too crowded; other D.C. Public Schools are under-enrolled. The Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, which spent 10 months formulating its recommendations, has tried to correct that imbalance by shrinking the Deal and Wilson boundaries.
Not surprisingly, many families who have been cut out of those boundaries are up in arms. It was easy for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) to endorse the reassignment plan after he lost his bid for reelection. It's not as easy for those running for his seat.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in The Washington Post.
Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.
The Trans-Lux Theatre, 738 14th St NW, apparently during the 1948 opening of Carol Reed's "The Fallen Idol". Photo by rockcreek.
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!
For the vast majority of DC's new residents, Car Free Day (September 22) isn't a once-a-year event, but a year-round occasion. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of car-free households in in the District of Columbia grew by 12,612
During that time, the number of car-free households in DC has grown by 14.3%, increasing their share of all households from 35% to 37.9%. By contrast, the District only added 1,662 car-owning households since 2010, an increase of just 1.0%.
The percentage of households with one, two, and three or more cars all declined. This is even though typical DC households have considerably more money with which they could buy cars: median incomes grew by 9.3% over the same time period.
More specifically, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (using one-year estimates, and accessible via factfinder2.census.gov) showed that the number of car-free households in DC increased from 88,390 to 101,002, and the total of all households went from 252,388 to 266,662.
The ACS has also picked up on other consequences of DC's growing car-freedom, like a sharp decline since 2007 in the number of DC residents who drive to work.
This doesn't mean that new apartment buildings' garages are all seven-eighths empty, of course. There is considerable churn among households, especially in urban areas: fully 36.5% of DC households moved at some point between 2010 and 2012, with most of those moves taking place within DC. Some who already lived in DC and own cars moved into new buildings, and others moved from the city and took cars with them.
Some existing households bought cars, and others sold theirs. New households are created when couples or roommates split, when kids strike out on their own, or when someone new moves to town. (One set of new arrivals not contributing to the trend: students living in dorms are not considered households, as the Census defines the term.)
But the net effect of all these changes is the same: The people moving into DC, or striking out on their own here, are almost entirely car-free. They are very different from current residents in that regard: only 12% of new households own cars, compared to 62.1% of current DC households. These new households are demanding many fewer parking places, much less rush hour road space, and much less gasoline.
Parking minimums prepare for car ownership that just doesn't exist
These statistics show why DC does not need to continue requiring costly and environmentally destructive new parking garages within new developments that accommodate the city's growing population.
However, some longtime neighborhood activists have been fighting lower parking minimums. At this week's hearings on zoning code changes, multiple opponents of lower parking minimums also cited Census data to argue that parking was necessary: they said that the numbers of cars per household in DC was "holding steady" at 0.9.
In fact, the number of cars per household in DC declined from 0.90 to 0.86. Maybe if you round off to one decimal place, both numbers become 0.9 These trends aren't unique to DC; instead, they're consistent with what other growing, dense cities are seeing. Michael Rhodes from Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm, recently calculated that in San Francisco, a similar 88 percent of new households are car-free. DC's car-freedom is also consistent with national and global trends pointing towards lower urban car ownership recently and into the future. The decline in car ownership should come as little surprise given DC's booming population of auto-averse millennials.
These trends aren't unique to DC; instead, they're consistent with what other growing, dense cities are seeing. Michael Rhodes from Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm, recently calculated that in San Francisco, a similar 88 percent of new households are car-free. DC's car-freedom is also consistent with national and global trends pointing towards lower urban car ownership recently and into the future. The decline in car ownership should come as little surprise given DC's booming population of auto-averse millennials.
The NoMa Metro station sports large areas of sidewalk. Unfortunately, some WMATA employees treat this sidewalk as a private parking lot. This past weekend, one even backed into a light pole. This employee was violating WMATA internal policies and was disciplined.
This has been a periodic problem for years. Geoff Hatchard observed employee vehicles on the sidewalk and even blocking the bike racks back in 2010.
A minivan with a placard identifying it as belonging to a WMATA employee blocks the bike racks in 2010. Photos by Geoff Hatchard.
If a driver can't avoid a light pole, would he miss a pedestrian?
Here in DC, the sidewalk on M Street at the NoMa station is always filled with people walking their dogs, kids running around their parents, waiting for rides, and more.
One WMATA driver not only hit a light pole, but struck it hard enough to shatter his windshield. What if that had been a smaller, moving object like my 3-foot-tall son, who was walking with us here that afternoon? This station also serves Gallaudet University, where the thousands of deaf students and staff would have never even heard a vehicle backing up.
I cleaned up the glass
The next day, glass still littered the sidewalk. By then, shards had spread across several hundred square feet of sidewalk, making this situation especially hazardous for dog walkers and young parents.
I grabbed a broom, large battery and a vacuum from my house and walked several blocks to clean up the sidewalk outside the station. It took me two hours.
The next day, two WMATA vehicles parked on the nearby sidewalk once again.
Driving on sidewalks can be dangerous without a spotter
Many cities only allow government vehicles on sidewalks for certain prescribed reasons, and require a spotter to ensure that the driver does not strike people or objects.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) updated its policy recently to require spotters walking ahead of full-sized vehicles on sidewalks after a maintenance truck driver struck a cyclist in a caged bike/ped lane on a Norfolk bridge.
Other times, policies are in place but not followed. For example, last year in San Francisco a woman playing with her infant daughter was struck and killed by a parks employee who was driving a truck through the park against city policy.
Metro policy prohibits most parking on the sidewalk
WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel looked into the issue and sent us this statement:
As a general matter, Metro vehicles should not be parked on sidewalks at any time. There may be times when no other option is available, depending on the station and the exigency of the circumstances (e.g. elevator technicians responding to an entrapment, track workers responding to an arcing insulator, rail supervisors responding to a person struck by train).
However, for routine work, Metro vehicles should only be parked in marked, legal spaces (except for ADA spaces). Employees who violate parking policies are subject to ticketing (for which the employee pays the fine), as well as internal discipline.
In the case of the NoMa incident you referenced, the vehicle was being operated by a new Red Line supervisor who was assigned to NoMa-Gallaudet as a terminal supervisor to manage the single-track operation and turn-back of selected trains at the station. He should not have parked on the sidewalk.
When departing the station, the vehicle made contact with a pole, causing the rear window to break. The employee was removed from service, taken for post-incident testing (drug/alcohol) which is standard, and will be subject to discipline.
This issue does come up from time to time, and requires occasional reinforcement with our 11,000-employee workforce. (For additional context, we maintain a fleet of nearly 1,500 service vehicles across a myriad departments, such as elevator/escalator, systems maintenance, plant maintenance, rail transportation, bus transportation, car maintenance, revenue/fare collection, etc.)
The vast majority of employees follow the rules and park properly. However, those that don't create a negative impression for the rest of us. Which is exactly why we encourage anyone who wants to report a parking issue to directly contact Metro Transit Police, either by calling 202-962-2121 or by texting "MyMTPD" (696873) 24 hours a day.
Carol Schwartz has produced a detailed, thoughtful platform on a key issue in the DC mayoral race, education. It's unlikely to be enough to propel her long-shot campaign to victory, but right now her position is the one most likely to ensure stability in DC Public Schools.
Schwartz, a former at-large DC Councilmember, has some good ideas about things like lessening the focus on standardized tests and retaining veteran teachers. Her 15-page white paper is a far more comprehensive document than anything produced by either of the other candidates, and her positions align better with those of DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Schwartz also has more education experience than her rivals, Councilmembers Muriel Bowser and David Catania. She first came to DC to teach special education, inspired by the experience of caring for her intellectually disabled brother. She went on to serve two terms on the now-defunct Board of Education, which governed DC's public schools (not to be confused with the current State Board of Education, which does not). And her three children all attended DCPS.
Schwartz's stances on hot-button issues like school boundaries and charter school growth suggest that a Mayor Schwartz would have a better chance of retaining the current DCPS Chancellor than either a Mayor Catania or a Mayor Bowser.
How important is that? It's true that the pace of progress under Henderson has been slow. And some DCPS policies, like the system for evaluating teachers, could certainly be improved. But it will be unfortunate if the mayoral election results in Henderson's departure.
Henderson is a smart and competent administrator who has demonstrated an admirable willingness to try new initiatives, some of which may be on the verge of bearing fruit. It would be a shame if those processes were disrupted and the pace of change slowed further, or possibly even reversed.
With those considerations in mind, some DC education activists have thrown their support to Bowser rather than Catania, despite Catania's greater expertise on education. As chair of the DC Council's education committee, Catania has acquired a detailed knowledge of the public school landscape, and he's brimming with ideas about how to improve it. Bowser's strategy on education, on the other hand, has basically been to say as little about it as possible.
But Catania and Henderson have had a testy relationship, and he hasn't said whether he would keep her on. It's not clear she would stay under a Mayor Catania even if he wanted her to.
Bowser, on the other hand, has said she'd like Henderson to stay, and she's been generally complimentary about the Chancellor's performance.
Bowser's opposition to new boundaries
But Bowser's recent statements on the controversial boundary plan adopted by Mayor Vincent Gray may have soured that cordial relationship. Henderson supports the plan, and Bowser, like Catania, recently came out in opposition to it.
What's more, for some reason Bowser added that she didn't anticipate involving the DCPS chancellor in formulating a substitute proposal.
As Gray observed, that doesn't seem like a wise move. Henderson wasn't in charge of the recent boundary process, but she was certainly involved. And that seems only appropriate for a process involving the boundaries and feeder patterns of the system she heads.
Not only is the move unwise substantively, but Bowser's remark seems bound to alienate Henderson. While the Chancellor hasn't said anything publicly about these developments, it's possible she'll decide that Bowser isn't someone she actually wants to work under.
Schwartz, for her part, seems to have struck all the right notes for retaining Henderson. Schwartz commits to allowing her to stay on for "the time she has stated she wants, which is one or so more years." (Henderson has said she'd like to stay until 2017.) And in one of a series of veiled digs at Catania, Schwartz says she would not "micromanage" a chancellor but rather would "partner with" her "in setting policy and goals."
Schwartz on school boundaries and charters
On the crucial issue of school boundaries, Schwartz suggests a few tweaks, such as increasing the percentage of set-asides for out-of-boundary students to maintain diversity. But she says she accepts the need for change.
She also sides with Henderson on some issues that have emerged recently in the relationship between DCPS and the charter sector, such as joint planning between the sectors. While charter advocates are amenable to joint planning that is voluntary on their part, it's clear that Schwartz believes it would make sense to impose limits on such things as where new charter schools can open.
Charter advocates have resisted that as an infringement on their autonomy. But Henderson and others have argued, with some justification, that without those kinds of limits, charter expansion could easily undermine plans to improve DCPS schools.
Will any of this convince DC education reformers who want Henderson to stay on to switch their support from Bowser to Schwartz? Probably not, given the overwhelming odds against Schwartz. But perhaps they can urge Bowser to do whatever she can to mend the damage she may have done to her relationship with Henderson.
Beyond that, Bowser might want to flesh out her own skimpy education platform with some of the ideas that abound in Schwartz's white paper. Schwartz may never get a chance to implement those ideas herself, but it would be nice if someone did.
Bus rapid transit will come to Richmond in 2018. The long-planned Broad Street BRT project won a federal TIGER grant this week to cover half its cost, allowing the project to move forward into final design and construction.
Broad Street is Richmond's most successful transit corridor, and main bus spine. It runs through or near most of Richmond's densest urban neighborhoods and most important central city hubs. It's the natural place for rapid transit.
The BRT project will run from the Willow Lawn shopping center in suburban Henrico County, through Virginia Commonwealth University and downtown Richmond, all the way to Rocketts Landing on the city's east side.
It will use a mix of dedicated curbside bus lanes and a median busway through the busiest sections of the central city, with mixed-traffic operation on either end.
Projections say the BRT line will carry about 3,300 riders per day. That's low compared to the standards of a transit rich metropolis like DC, but it's huge for a place like Richmond, where there are only about 35,000 total daily bus riders in the entire region.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Four teams competing to design an 11th Street Bridge park over the Anacostia have released stunning images of their designs.
The 11th Street Bridge Park idea arose during the construction for new bridges. The old bridge was taken down, but pylons in the river remained. What about making it into a park? Scott Kratz, then vice-president for education at the National Building Museum, carried this idea forward, built support, and raised money for this design competition.
The finalist teams OMA / OLIN, Balmori Associates / Cooper Robertson & Partners, Stoss Landscape Urbanism / H&oum;weler + Yoon Architecture, and Wallace Roberts Todd / NEXT Architects all designed a combination of active recreation and passive landscaped areas stretching alongside the local bridge from one bank of the Anacostia to the other.
Making a park work here won't be easy. This isn't an area where people are walking on foot already, and it's not that close to many residents or jobs. That means it will have to be a destination people explicitly travel to.
There will need to be a good way to get there, too. There's no Metro station right near either end (Navy Yard is not so far but not so close), and the streetcar planned to cross the river, which could stop along the route, faces an uncertain funding picture. (Tiny ferries, maybe?)
This piece of the above image illustrates the challenge very starkly:
This is the east side of the bridge. The closest buildings are in the lower right. The bridge starts in the upper left. In between is the ultimate pride and joy of a generation of DDOT engineers.
However, the Anacostia absolutely should become a destination. There are now some attractions along its banks that didn't exist recently. More will come. And over time, the river itself can evolve into a place instead of a barrier. This bridge park could be a big piece of that.
OLIN + OMA envision a series of trapezoidal spaces with elevated or angled roofs creating vertical variation. Each piece would serve a different purpose, including a playground, interactive art, amphitheater, plaza, urban agriculture, picnic garden, and so forth.
This design shows the park brimming with activity. One question is, would it also work at times when the park isn't busy, or would the many drops and rises make it feel dangerous when quiet?
Balmori + Cooper Robinson's design has fewer, more open spaces with a curvilinear feel. There is a lot of greenery with canopies for shade. A large, wavy spine rises above the park, evoking the symbolism of a bridge and the idea of connecting both sides of the river in a "thread" (linking is a major theme in most designs, not surprisingly).
An "aperture" through the surface lets people look down into the water below.
This feels like a very calming space that evokes nature. Is that ideal, or is that redundant next to the very large Anacostia Park along the east bank? It also seems to connect the bridge more closely to the west side of the river, which is at once logical (because there isn't the same massive freeway barrier on the west side, but there is a big park already) but also less connecting.
The team of Stoss and Höweler + Yoon Architecture use a boat motif to link up a series of angular modules that can variously become a plaza, farmers' market, art exhibition, street theater, and more, flanked by two buildings that can serve as a cafe and education center (two elements the design competition asked all teams to include).
Flexibility could be useful for the bridge park to add amenities as the surrounding areas grow and when, in the future, residents from more-distant neighborhoods or even tourists might regularly be coming to the banks of the Anacostia on a nice day.
This design puts less on the bridge itself and more activity over the east bank of the Anacostia, between the riverbank and the freeway.
Besides the two buildings, most of the bridge is, like New York's High Line, linear space that feels like somewhere to walk. This can work if a lot of people want to actually come and walk here (the High Line is in the middle of a massively dense area).
Image from Stoss / Höweler + Yoon Architecture.
The design from Wallace Roberts Todd + NEXT Architects unifies the bridge with a large wire-frame canopy that can integrate with each of the activities along the bridge, like a decorative roof for an amphitheater and a climbing structure in a playground.
This design also puts a lot of activity on the bridge through a series of sections. It seems to have the most focus on physical activity and play, and seem most similar to the initial rough concepts the park team put out before the competition.
What elements do you think would work best or not work so well from these designs? You can access the large PDFs here.
You can see the design boards in person at THEARC Gallery, 1901 Mississippi Ave. SE, from September 14 to October 11, at the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum (1901 Fort Place SE) and the District Architecture Center downtown (421 7th Street NW) from September 24 to October 11. The teams will present to a jury and answer questions on September 29 and 30 at THEARC, which the public can also watch.
On Monday, we posted our twenty-second photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. Reader Peter K took photos of five Metro stations. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
We got 31 guesses this week. 10 of you got all five correct. Great work, Alex B, Merarch, Patrick, Mr. Johnson, TheOtherGlenmont, Kwasi, Sand Box John, Aaron, JS2008, and Rob K!
Since Peter K took all the photos this week, the answer paragraphs below are all in his words.
Across all 91 stations, WMATA operates 613 escalators to keep passengers moving efficiently through the system. That's really quite an impressive number considering there are only 35,000 escalators in the US, meaning that slightly more than 1 out of every 60 escalators in this country is on Metro. Since escalators are a key part of nearly all Metrorail commutes, I thought it'd be appropriate to take a moment and look at a few unique escalator installations.
First up is an overhead view of the surface-mezzanine escalators at the Q Street (north) entrance to Dupont Circle. This configuration, with three escalators separated by wide balustrades, is somewhat unusual in the system and is most commonly seen at deeper and/or high-volume stations since it allows each escalator to be taken offline for maintenance without impacting the others. The lighting and point of view narrow the location down further: here, we're above the escalator and have natural light, which eliminates places like Bethesda and Tenleytown.
But the real key here are the building materials. The darker metal along the balustrades rules out renovated escalators like the ones at Medical Center and Potomac Avenue, and the brickwork along the sides definitively puts us in the open, circular pit of Dupont's north entrance. 28 of you got Dupont Circle right.
The second image is at National Airport, specifically the escalators at the southern end of the District-bound platform. The main hint here is the Gull Wing I roof, which is only used at 13 island platform stations. Of those, National Airport's platforms are distinctly narrower than the others, being barely wide enough to accommodate 2 escalators side-by-side, due to its 3-tracked configuration.
Other unique features include the "THANKS FOR RIDING METRO" inscription on the way to the mezzanine and the placement of the escalator at the very end of the platform. Another tip could have been the airport shuttles and distinctive yellow pedestrian bridge barely visible on the left side of the picture. 18 of you got this one correct.
The third image shows a few of the platform-mezzanine escalators at L'Enfant Plaza on the upper level, heading up to the 7th/Maryland entrance. The upper level of L'Enfant is unique within the system for how wide its upper level is, providing a cavernous amount of space on the platforms and allowing the floating mezzanine to be pulled away from the walls to create a second walkway on the outside of the escalators.
Metro Center can be ruled out, since it now has signs installed in the space between the parapet and the escalator. This particular entrance also has 3 escalators serving each platform, which among side platform stations is a trait shared only with Ballston (to my knowledge). 21 of you correctly guessed L'Enfant Plaza.
The fourth image shows the escalators up to the L Street (northernmost) mezzanine at Farragut North. Like a handful of other stations, the L Street mezzanine at Farragut North is located in a separate room beyond the end of the platform. The distinctive feature here, aside from the bank of 3 escalators and the arriving Red Line train, is the especially low (and newly renovated!) tiled ceiling, eliminating other similar stations.
Stadium-Armory also has a bank of 3 escalators right at the end of the platform, but the ceiling is full-height there. Union Station, which has a flat ceiling at its north end, only has 2 escalators, separated by the elevator. 23 of you knew this was Farragut North.
The fifth image shows the west (older) mezzanine at Rosslyn. The unique feature here is simply the size of the escalator bank. Rosslyn is one of only 3 stations to have 4 escalators in one bank serving a single mezzanine, the others being Mount Vernon Square at the Washington Convention Center and the Verizon Center entrance of Gallery Place. However, both of those installations are much, much shorter than Rosslyn and feature a staircase in between two sets of two escalators.
In this picture, the extra-wide, stair-free gap in the middle is there because of a now-disused elevator shaft bisecting the escalators (week 15) that's been closed due to development above the station and replaced by the new, elevator-only east mezzanine (week 12). 20 of you correctly guessed Rosslyn.
Next Monday we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing! And a special thanks to Peter K for supplying the photos this week.
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