Greater Greater Washington

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Dear leaders, please get Metro on the right course

A coalition of business, labor, and advocacy organizations have jointly signed a letter to the chief executives of DC, Maryland, and Virginia urging action to fix the problems at Metro.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Ultimately, these executives have the greatest ability to start turning around the situation, starting but not ending with hiring an excellent leader for WMATA. Helping that leader succeed requires the jurisdictions, and the board members they appoint, standing behind potentially controversial decisions he or she may have to make to get WMATA on a constructive course.

Helping WMATA succeed also will require changing the culture to be more open with riders and other stakeholders about decisions that affect budgets and service, both of which impact the public. Declining service is also a recipe for a "death spiral" and not a solution; our region depends on frequent and reliable rail and bus service.

The text of the letter is below.

Dear Mayor Bowser, Governor Hogan, and Governor McAuliffe:

The undersigned organizations have come together out of concern about Metro, which is vital to our region's economic, environmental, and cultural success. We are writing to express some basic principles that we believe must be heeded if Metro is to emerge successfully from its current crisis and fulfill the essential role it plays in our region's transportation network and economy.

1) Metro needs to hire a new General Manager before the year's end who has experience with operations of large technologically complex systems, will provide strong leadership to change organizational culture, and will surround himself/herself with capable specialists.

2) To recruit the strong leader Metro needs, the Board and the jurisdictions must commit to backing up the new General Manager with the political support, organizational authority, and funding needed to do the job successfully. Our organizations stand ready to provide our assistance as well.

3) Metro must provide choices to the Board and public about key decisions, such as service changes, budgets, or planned safety and maintenance work. The Board and public need to understand and debate tradeoffs that affect them, such as how station closings, single tracking and reductions in train frequency relate to safety, maintenance, budget, and regulatory or contractual restrictions.

Our groups have been staunch advocates for maintaining transit service, ensuring adequate funding, and expanding capacity such as through more eight-car trains. Yet recent events have shaken our, and the public's, confidence in a system and agency which our region depends upon. We are weighing in now to help the agency reach a path to restore this confidence.

To preserve and improve the region's livability and economic health, Metro must ensure service levels that meet demand, reverse recent years' erosion of train and bus service, restore off-peak train frequencies, and return to an expansion path so that it can meet future needs for core capacity and regional access.


Nick Brand, President, Action Committee for Transit
Jackie Jeter, President, Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689
Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth
Anthony Williams, CEO and Executive Director, Federal City Council
David Alpert, Founder and Editor, Greater Greater Washington
James C. Dinegar, President and CEO, Greater Washington Board of Trade

cc: Chief Executives of MD & VA counties and VA independent cities; WMATA Board; Congressional delegation

Capital Bikeshare will add 99 DC stations over 3 years. Your neighborhood will probably benefit.

Almost every neighborhood in DC will see new Capital Bikeshare stations in the next three years. A new expansion plan charts out the locations for 99 new DC stations.

Twenty-one high-traffic stations, all in and around central DC, will also get more docks.

In the plan, the District Department of Transportation and its consultant, Foursquare ITP, consider three scenarios for expanding:

  1. Don't add any stations
  2. Add stations in areas where bikeshare is likely to succeed and which are more than ¼ mile from an existing station, as well as enough stations in the core to meet demand
  3. Add stations so everyone in an area of at least 10,000 people per square mile is within ¼ mile of a station
Scenario 2 means that Capital Bikeshare would need about $1.5-1.8 million in public funds each year, but that amount would stay stable over time. In Scenario 3, the cost would grow from that level up to $6.4 million in Fiscal Year 2021 and possibly more beyond.

Partly because of this, the report recommends a "balanced expansion" closest to option 2 but somewhat larger. That expansion balances new stations in three types of areas:

  • Revenue: Places where Capital Bikeshare gets a lot of money because people take bikes out for long times and pay extra fees (mostly tourist areas)
  • Ridership: Places where Capital Bikeshare stations get a lot of heavy use
  • Access: Places with lower Capital Bikeshare usage but where stations let people access important destinations or ensure more people have the ability to participate in using the system

Many "access" locations are very important and valuable. For example, the report notes that Southern Avenue and Capitol Heights are the only Metrorail stations without a station within a half-mile. (There is also no station within a quarter mile of Federal Triangle). Both stations are actually in Maryland, but immediately adjacent to the DC line.

There are many good reasons to place stations here. Southern Avenue, for instance, is actually very close to THEARC, the terrific arts, entertainment, and education campus in DC's Ward 8. It's about a 15 minute walk from Southern Avenue, but bikeshare stations at Southern Avenue, at THEARC, and other locations in the nearby neighborhoods would do a lot to help people reach this important center without driving.

And, in fact, the report shows a station at Southern Avenue and several more in the nearby area as part of the Fiscal Year 2017, the second of three years of expansion.

Other priority "access" areas include Carver-Langston, Alabama Avenue, Buzzard Point, northern Columbia Heights, parts of Petworth and Brightwood, Fort Dupont, and the St. Elizabeth's campus.

The places with the most opportunity to grow ridership which lack enough stations include 16th Street in Columbia Heights and near Meridian Hill Park, Shaw, eastern Columbia Heights, Southwest Waterfront, and the Stanton Park area of Capitol Hill.

Finally, the "revenue" areas with the most opportunity for growth include the areas around the Capitol, the National Gallery, the Holocaust Museum, the National Shrine and Catholic University, and the large hotels in Woodley Park. Some of these, of course, will require federal cooperation.

This interesting map from the report shows why some areas generate a lot of revenue for Capital Bikeshare:

This map shows the volume of trips between neighborhoods, combining all of the stations in one "cluster" into a single point to show the high-level patterns:

You can also see how often stations have been down for maintenance, and how many trips CaBi has "lost" as a result:

Here's a map of where trips between neighborhoods tend to favor one direction over another. Not surprisingly, the darkest lines run along large hills (and also popular commuting patterns).

There's a lot more in the full 143-page report.

What do you think of these decisions? Will you benefit from this expansion?

Breakfast links: Better leave

Photo by Bread for the World on Flickr.
Plans for more paid leave: The DC Council is considering a bill that would give residents and workers an impressive 16 weeks of paid family or medical leave. But some business groups say the burden would force companies to relocate. (WAMU)

Admitting is the first step, Metro: Metro is finally acknowledging that poor and unreliable service could be contributing to the decline in ridership. Even so, with fewer riders and rising costs, fares could rise next year. (Post)

Corralling papal crowds: With only a few escalators and faregates, the Brookland Metro station has one of the lowest capacities in the system. When the pope visited, Metro needed some clever ideas to handle six times the usual traffic. (PlanItMetro)

Fair funding for schools: DC allocates funds to schools on a per-pupil basis, but some charter schools are claiming that public schools unfairly get more through services from city agencies. A case is making the rounds through federal courts. (Post)

Policing bikes: Does it make sense to aggressively ticket cyclists? Last month, Alexandria issued 300 warnings and 45 tickets for running stop signs and other more subjective violations like "excessive speeds" and "unsafe operations." (WashCycle)

A new GWU: One George Washington student thinks the university should do a lot more to make Foggy Bottom a better place for pedestrians, like fighting for shared streets, raised sidewalks, and pedestrian plazas. (GW Hatchet)

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Bike lane debates move from city hall to late night TV

Bicycling is becoming so popular that even late night talk show hosts are talking about it. The Late Late Show's James Corden recently weighed in on a controversial bike lane plan in California.

Coronado, a town near San Diego, recently tabled plans to paint bike lanes on many city streets after public backlash. Many of the opponents literally did not want to see any extra paint than they felt was necessary on the town's roadways.

Corden apparently found those objections pretty wild.

Despite his jokes, its clear that Corden is in favor of the bike lanes. The news clip he plays points out that lots of people bike in Coronado already and talks about many of cycling's benefits.

He wonders why anyone would hate the idea of bike lanes and he lists a number of benefits to both bike lanes and cycling in general. He also jokes about how the actual objections (like calling bike lanes "graffiti") are hyperbolic and don't really make sense.

Finally, he offers to paint the lanes themselves, rallying his audience to ride in the "Bike Lanes of Justice."

Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 70

It's time for the seventieth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

Please have your answers in by noon on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Thursday. Good luck! UPDATE: The answers are here.

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at

Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail's six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.

Simple map of five main DC bus lines. Map by the author. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro's most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who's comfortable with Metrorail but hasn't taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you'd treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They're always there, and it's never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail's Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they're called the "30 series."

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they're hardly secrets. But if you're not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson is blocking Mayor Bowser's zoning board nominee

Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated David Franco, a local developer, to sit on the DC Zoning Commission, but DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is blocking the nomination. I spoke with Franco about work, his vision for DC, and his views on the need to build more housing.

David Franco. Image from video by Level 2 Development.

Franco would replace Marcie Cohen, a former affordable housing and community development professional. Cohen has been a strong advocate for zoning that allows more overall housing in DC, speaking about the need for more housing many times. (Disclosure: she also lives on my block.)

It'll be important for Cohen's successor to also understand the importance of growing the District's housing supply so that new and long-time residents can all find places to live that they can afford. Does Franco? I sat down with him to find out.

Mendelson isn't happy about developer nominees

Mayor Bowser chose Franco after Cohen's term expired earlier this year. However, he first has to be confirmed by the DC Council, and the Zoning Commission falls under the purview of Chairman Phil Mendelson. After a few months passed without a hearing, Mendelson recently said he's not planning to move forward.

Mendelson told the Washington Blade that he's concerned about having developers on the commission. "David Franco is an active developer with a development company that has cases before the Zoning Commission," he told reporter Lou Chibbaro, Jr. "He or his company has appeared before the Zoning Commission several times over the last 24 months. That's the primary concern I have."

Mendelson also told Chibbaro he was unhappy Bowser didn't talk with stakeholders like citizens' groups before making her pick.

Whether developers should sit on the commission has been controversial in the past. When Adrian Fenty was mayor, he nominated two developers and the council, then chaired by Vincent Gray rejected one. When Gray went on to be mayor, he nominated Cohen and his longtime staffer Rob Miller; the commission now includes no developers.

Cohen's not a typical community member; Franco, not a typical developer

Both Cohen and Miller have been strong supporters of the overall need to build more housing. On recent cases about whether homeowners can rent out basements or garages or add units to row houses, Miller and Cohen have been the strongest votes for increasing housing supply. Chairman Anthony Hood (who Fenty wanted to replace and Gray renominated) along with Architect of the Capitol representative Michael Turnbull have been more skeptical of the need for housing, and the National Park Service's Peter May has been the swing vote on key decisions.

Unlike many developers, Franco has also been a supporter of the District's Inclusionary Zoning program which granted extra density in exchange for requiring projects to include some below-market affordable housing. He speaks very proudly of a deal he worked out to save affordable housing on 14th Street across from his View 14 development.

I recently spoke with Franco about his development work and his vision for his service on the Zoning Commission. Here are some of his answers; an upcoming post will delve into some specific issues we discussed in more detail.

Discount Mart in Anacostia. Photo by AboutMyTrip dotCom on Flickr.

Tell me a bit about your history in DC, including your business ventures, and your work in development.

My father owned a children's apparel, furniture and toy store on 12th and G Street, which was originally opened by my uncle in 1939. As a child, I grew up in my father's store and he helped launch my family's other retail venture, Discount Mart, which was a chain of discount department stores serving areas of northeast and southeast DC.

In my early 20s, I left the family business to join a partnership that acquired Tracks Nightclub and Trumpets restaurant. After a few years, I realized the nightlife business was not for me an decided to go back to my retail roots, opening up a chain of men's clothing stores catering to the gay market.

The business eventually grew to six outlets before I realized I could no longer ignore my passion for architecture and my fascination with urban planning, which led me to real estate development. I partnered with a close friend, Jeff Blum, and in 2003, we finished our first project together—a 12-unit condo development on Chapin Street called The Mercury.

We [later] acquired the Nehemiah Shopping Center, which had become run-down and crime-ridden at the time, and we redeveloped it into Capital View Apartments on 14th St. We also developed The Harper on 14th Street and the Keener-Squire and Takoma Central apartment buildings in Takoma, DC.

View 14, at the corner of 14th and Florida. Images from Level 2 Development.

What development project in DC are you most proud of and why?

Without a doubt, View 14 [at Florida Avenue and 14th Street NW] is our proudest accomplishment. Through the project's Planned Unit Development, we were able to come up with a really creative approach to save the 48-unit Crest Hill Apartments (now Milestone Apartments) from losing its low-income affordability, which would have resulted in the building being redeveloped as market-rate apartments.

During the time that we were beginning to develop View 14, Crest Hill Apartments across the street was being sold at market rate and the tenants could not afford to buy it without an additional $1 million in gap funding. The stories of families we met, some who had been there at least 25 years, resonated with us and inspired us to help our neighbors.

Our solution was to propose a $1 million contribution to the Sankofa Tenants Association as a portion of our affordability proffer along with some on-site units. The support we received for this approach was far-reaching and we received bench approval from the Zoning Commission in the second-fastest PUD of that time.

Soon after Zoning Commission approval, we funded the donation and saved the building, though our own project would soon be in peril with the financial meltdown. We funded the donation from equity, and took a huge risk. I remember a discussion with my business partner Jeff Blum during the dark days of the recession, lamenting that we may not be able finish construction and that all of the project equity was lost, and our company finished. We realized and both agreed, "If, in fact, all is lost, at least at the end of the day we did some good and saved 48 families from losing their homes."

There's often a tension between citywide priorities, like the need to create more housing, and local neighborhood interests which often manifest as opposition. How do you think the Zoning Commission should balance these pressures?
I think there are smart ways to create more housing where it is appropriate to do so. There is no catch-all solution, but rather it's a process that must include grassroots neighborhood input that is thoughtfully considered.

It's often a delicate balance of what's good for the people in the neighborhood and what's good for the larger community, but I don't think that those types of priorities and decisions need to have a winner and a loser. I think digging deep to understanding the issues and working hard to help develop and guide creative solutions will create more win-win solutions.

The Harper, at 14th and T.

How do you think the District could best approach the need for subsidized affordable housing?

There is no silver bullet. ... The District currently utilizes bonus density to subsidize affordable housing, which has been effective in generating new affordable housing and has not disrupted affordable housing production (contrary to the naysayers).

This is an effective tool and we should look at this more carefully as more affordable housing is sought, however, there will not be the same opportunities that came with the original bonus density plan. We cannot simply add bonus density ubiquitously without changing the character of our neighborhoods. We need to look at bonus density selectively and responsibly determine which areas can accommodate it and which areas cannot.

There are other [solutions], such as tax abatements, and we may also want to consider that to some degree we can't meet a zero-sum cost structure and that ultimately some land values will be reduced to enable new multi-family development opportunities. All of these solutions have their pros and cons and should be thoroughly analyzed and vetted.

Anything else you'd like people to know?
I would really like to clarify why I am interested in being a Zoning Commissioner. I will have the opportunity to utilize my passion for urban planning, my skills as a developer along with my passion for the District to positively impact this city that I've always called home.

Breakfast links: Half full, half empty

Photo by Bart on Flickr.
No rush cuts: Metro shelved it's plan to cut rush hour service to improve Blue Line reliability. Recent problems on the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines mean that the plan is now unworkable. (WAMU)

No Metro for you: Prince William County wants to extend Metro, but Metro needs to fix things like its Rosslyn bottleneck (not to mention its operations), and right now the county isn't dense enough to make it worthwhile. (Post)

Revenue woes: Metro is looking for ways to raise revenue without raising fares since ridership is down but its customer base is steady. (City Paper)

On a silver platter: More development is surrounding the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. There are now eight new projects surrounding the Silver Line station, which passed its first-year ridership projections. (WBJ)

Let them in: There's really no such thing as a full city. People just say that when they want to keep others out. In fact the reality is that cities can usually fit in more people by making different choices. (Post)

Arlington, do it my way: The two Democratic Arlington County Board candidates support the new affordable housing plan, but the two independents have their own ideas. They also presented their views on school crowding, office vacancies, and the "Arlington Way." (ARLnow)

Protesting PP: Planned Parenthood is building a new DC health center near 4th Street and Florida Avenue NE. Abortion foes are trying to enlist neighborhood residents to fight the project, though the biggest neighbor concern seems to be parents and children at a charter school next door having to dodge protesters. (City Paper)

Tunnel and terminal: New Jersey officials are preparing in case the Hudson River train tunnels shut down, and working on a new tunnel for Amtrak. Meanwhile, the Port Authority Bus Terminal also needs replacing but gets less attention. (CityLab, WNYC)

And...: Here are the Hollywood stars who should play DC Councilmembers. (City Paper) ... Check out progress on the Virginia Avenue Tunnel. (JDLand) ... Hundreds of people ate dinner on Akron's doomed freeway. (Streetsblog)

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South Park weighs in on gentrification with "SoDoSoPa"

As more people seek urban living, communities around the country are trying to meet the demand. That even goes for fictional places like South Park, which skewers gentrification this season with a new neighborhood called "SoDoSoPa":

In last week's episode, the town decides to redevelop the poor part of town into a trendy arts and restaurant district called "SoDoSoPa" in order to attract a Whole Foods. This fake ad for the community, complete with shots of sleek lofts, fancy restaurants, and bearded hipsters, could pass for lots of places in our region.

The episode also looks at how revitalization projects impact the people who already live there. South Park's mayor reassures Kenny's blue-collar family that she'll listen to their worries about the development. Instead, SoDoSoPa uses Kenny's blue-collar family as a marketing tool, advertising its proximity to "historic Kenny's house." Kenny's little sister asks her dad why they can't go outside to enjoy the cleaned-up neighborhood, and he replies that they can't afford to.

The video inspired a lengthy thread on Reddit's South Park board asking commenters to name their city's "SoDoSoPa" neighborhood. Naturally, one commenter suggested NoMa for the DC area, in addition to other redeveloping areas, including downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, and Tysons Corner.

What depictions of urban issues on TV have you enjoyed recently?

Events roundup: Our happy hour, I-66, and bus lanes

Greater Greater Washington's next happy hour is this Tuesday! Also, grab a ticket to the Smart Growth Social, weigh in on I-66 inside the Beltway, Maryland's bicycle plan, 16th Street bus lanes, and the Purple Line, or head to a transportation book talk.

Photo by Christine Majul on Flickr.

Happy hour in Edgewood: Come by the Dew Drop Inn, 2801 8th Street NE, from 6-8 pm to mingle with Greater Greater Washington contributors and readers. The bar has a roof deck overlooking the Red Line tracks (and it's supposed to be a beautiful day, a welcome respite from recent clouds and cold!)

After the jump: Smart Growth Social, I-66, night of transportation, Maryland bike plan, and more.

I-66 inside the Beltway: VDOT plans to start tolling I-66 inside the beltway for non-carpools to move more people and enhance connectivity. What do you think? Share your opinion on the project at a one of two meetings this week. The first is on Tuesday, October 6, at 7130 Leesburg Pike in Falls Church, and the second is on Wednesday, October 7 at 1301 N Stafford St in Arlington. Both begin at 7 pm.

Night of transportation: If you don't want to come to the happy hour, you can also spend an evening discussing transit at a two party event hosted by George Mason University. First, hear from Peter Norton, the author or "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City," and then attend a panel discussion with transit experts on how to multimodal transportation can shape the urban environment. Join in on Tuesday, October 6, at Founders Hall (3351 Farifax Dr, Arlington). The event begins are 4:30 pm and RSVP is requested.

Bicycle Plan: Montgomery planners are holding a series of kick-off meetings to gather community input on the county's new Bicycle Plan. The final meeting is also Tuesday, October 6, from 7 pm to 9 pm at 6400 Rock Spring Drive in Bethesda.

Bus pop-ups: Do you want to see bus lanes on 16th Street? You can give your thoughts on two ways to do that and 30 other potential improvements to the S bus lines at one of four different pop-up style events on 16th Street over the next two weeks. This week's pop-up is on Wednesday, October 7 at 16th Street and Spring Road NW from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.

Changes to Purple Line: The Purple Line has passed, but some recent changes have been made to the project. Attend the Informal Public Open House to learn about the changes and share your opinion with Maryland Transit Administration project leaders this Thursday, October 8, at 6600 Kenilworth Ave in Riverdale at 6 pm.

Smart Growth Social: Next Tuesday, treat yourself to a great night at our region's biggest smart growth party of the year. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and keynote speaker Shyam Kannan of WMATA to hear about the next 20 years at Metro and enjoy local beer, wine, and snacks with hundreds of fellow smart growth supporters from all over the DC region. Get your tickets now!

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

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