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Bicycling


Nobody cleared the Mount Vernon Trail after Snowzilla. Future storms might be different.

The National Park Service did not clear snow the Mount Vernon Trail after the blizzard, leaving it one of the most prominent uncleared trails in our region's network. Better late than never, the agency says it might clear snow off the trail in the future.


The Mount Vernon Trail south of Four Mile Run on Friday, January 29. Photo by the author.

Snowzilla temporarily brought the region to a standstill with more than two feet of snow. The storm ended Saturday night and the digging out began in earnest that Sunday. Roads gradually became clear and Metro reopened with severely limited service on Monday, January 25.

Trails gradually became usable as well. Montgomery County plowed the Capital Crescent Trail on the Sunday after the storm, and Arlington cleared the Custis Trail and the District the Metropolitan Branch Trail that Monday.

By Friday, Alexandria had cleared the Potomac Yard Trail.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) compiled a good list of which trails and bike lanes were cleared of snow and which were not after Snowzilla.

The Mount Vernon Trail was one of the trails left untouched. While not alone in this distinction, it stands out due to how important it is: it connects the District and the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor to Crystal City, Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, Potomac Yard, Old Town Alexandria, and eastern Fairfax County.

Why isn't the Mount Vernon Trail cleared?

"It's not the policy to clear snow from any of the trails in the National Capital Region," says Aaron LaRocca, chief of staff for the National Park Service's George Washington Memorial Parkway division, which includes the Mount Vernon Trail. A four-mile stretch of the Capital Crescent Trail that the park service's Chesapeake & Ohio Canal division clears of snow is the one exception to this policy, he adds.

As for why this is NPS policy, he simply says: "It just hasn't been something we've come up against in the past."

LaRocca does point to the fact that the Mount Vernon Trail has a lot of curves and hills, something that makes clearing it of snow more challenging than the Capital Crescent Trail, which is built on a former railroad bed.

Previous Park Service comments on clearing snow from the Mount Vernon Trail have emphasised the multi-use aspects of the trail, such as for cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter.

Indeed, cross-country ski tracks were visible in the flat, open areas next to the trail between Four Mile Run and Old Town during a run on January 29. None were on the paved trail itself.

Cyclists use the trail in winter

Arlington County data shows 456 cyclists using the Mount Vernon Trail at its airport south counter just north of the junction with Four Mile Run on January 20, two days before Snowzilla hit. The high temperature that day was 30 degrees farenheit, according to the county.


Data from Arlington County.

The county's 14th Street Bridge counter recorded 526 cyclists the same day, with some likely heading north on the Mount Vernon Trail or exiting to Crystal City or National airport before the airport south counter.

The number of cyclists passing the airport south mark fell to zero during and immediately after Snowzilla. The number of cyclists remained low, rising to just three by the Friday after the storm, despite temperatures that ranged from 41 degrees to 51 degrees—at least 10 degrees warmer than the prior week—during the week after Snowzilla, the data shows.

The District cleared snow off the 14th Street Bridge pedestrian path on January 26.

The uncleared snow on the Mount Vernon Trail is the most likely explanation for the lack of cyclists on the trail during what was otherwise a nicer week to ride than the one before.

NPS is considering clearing snow

"We understand that we manage major commuter routes within the boundaries of the National Park, which is both a challenge and an opportunity," says LaRocca, acknowledging the year-round usage of Mount Vernon Trail by bike commuters and other users.

The NPS is in the process of engaging with stakeholders and jurisdictions on "creative ways" to manage trail operations, including snow removal, he says. This includes meeting with WABA and attending a meeting of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Arlington County would be happy to meet and share best practices on trail plowing with NPS, a spokeswoman says. Nearly five-miles of the Mount Vernon Trail traverse the Potomac riverfront in the county.

The final plan, whatever that may be, will take a "holistic" approach to managing all of the NPS trails in the National Capital Region, says LaRocca. However, he was unable to commit to a timeline for when snow may be cleared from the Mount Vernon Trail or other federally-managed trails in the region.

That plan, ideally with a snow removal policy, will be welcome news to the commuters, joggers, walkers and tourists who use the Mount Vernon Trail throughout the year.

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Sustainability


DC is testing a way to curb stormwater pollution

What happens to all the water when snow melts? To keep our water clean, DC wants to limit the amount of stormwater runoff a property can have, and create a market for buildings that go over to buy credits from those who don't. If it works, the program will serve as an example for other cities facing similar challenges.


DC hopes to mitigate the environmental harm of stormwater runoff, like melting snow. Photo by Pamla J. Eisenberg on Flickr.

Here's why runoff is bad

When it rains or snows, paved and urban environments send a tremendous amount of water into the nearest gutter. From there, it either goes to treatment or, as in two-thirds of DC, directly into the nearest body of water.

As stormwater flows to the closest river or lake, it picks up all of the pollution that has built up on city streets since the last rainfall (picture once white snow on the sidewalk after a couple days). This contaminates the surrounding environment and can lead such areas to be declared potentially toxic for humans, as is the case along much of the Anacostia.


Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program on Flickr.

Pollution is far from the only concern. The banks of Rock Creek or the Potomac demonstrate a separate, but no less harmful, problem stemming from urban runoff around every drain pipe: erosion of natural waterways.

Here's what DC wants to do about it

DC's Department of Energy and Environment has created a new approach to fixing the urban stormwater runoff problem.

The first part of the new law is that all new or renovated buildings above a certain size must capture and reuse or evaporate a specified amount of stormwater runoff.

If a building goes over its limit of allowed runoff, its owner (or the owner of the business occupying the building) has to buy credits that increase that allowance. On the flip side, if a building's runoff is under its limit, the owner can sell its credits to those going over. This is called a stormwater retention credit marketplace.

Requiring developers to contribute some part of their profit to remediate a property's negative impact on the public commons makes a lot of sense. This approach also treats all developers or redevelopers equally.

This won't be easy

The framework does, however, have a serious weakness from an impact point of view: Not all stormwater runoff has an equal impact on the environment, or on social welfare. A lot depends on factors like the state of the sewer system in the area and how close it is to a body of water, among others.

In fact, given the District's geography and different types of sewer systems, on many regulated sites, even full compliance with the capture requirements will have little or no water quality impact. Such differences do not, however, make stormwater retention any less viable; on the contrary, it means the relative impact of each individual project will vary greatly depending on its location. This is especially true for areas adjacent to or east of the Anacostia River.


Stormwater runoff to the Anacostia. Photo by Krista Schlyer.

Another potential difficulty stems from the inclusion of projects completed before the legislation was enacted, making them eligible for credits and potentially flooding the market with excess credits.

One possible solution that would be to establish a buyer of last resort, public or private, which would allow developers to unload unwanted inventory at a guaranteed price.

The right market could make this work

Washington's new program is attracting the interest of organizations and investors, but so far, it has been hampered by confusion surrounding the long term shape of the marketplace and the price for credits. Furthermore, the regulatory framework defines all stormwater runoff as equal, with volume being the only unit of measurement.

However, critically, the law sets up the possibility for an independent organization to serve as a market maker by creating or buying large numbers of credits. This should facilitate development of the marketplace by guaranteeing developers of credits a price at which to sell and allowing buyers to enter stable, long-term purchasing agreements in order to meet new regulatory requirements.

RainPay, an initiative of the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, is one such attempt. The organization will broker credit sales agreements with developers that would meet their regulatory requirements for a defined period of time, and then work with landowners in the places likely to achieve high pollution reduction to create new credits. If the marketplace develops as planned, it will result in a self-supporting system of substantial water quality gains without any government or philanthropic money.

Other non-profits, including the Nature Conservancy, are looking for ways to exploit this new regulation. Real estate developers, engineering companies and investors are also exploring the budding marketplace.

"The District's basic regulatory framework, coupled with a sophisticated intermediary like RainPay, will create a new market in ecological protection that, with adaptations to the overarching state (or national) legal and regulatory framework, can be replicated elsewhere," says Anacostia Waterfront Trust Executive Director Doug Siglin. "It is possible that someday London, Beijing and Nairobi could enhance their impact on water quality through local versions of the RainPay program. In this sense, RainPay could be a global market-maker."

Before stormwater retention credit marketplaces start popping up around the world, the regulation must be proven to work in Washington. It is apparent that knowledge about the credit market is still low. The program is relatively new and anything that can be done to increase awareness will help speed the development of the market. Obstacles remain, but if it works as planned, cities may have a powerful new policy tool for reducing stormwater pollution.

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Public Spaces


There's a "Washington" neighborhood in Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy's second largest city, has a neighborhood named "Washington." Its main street: Via Giorgio Washington.


Washington, Milan. Map by Google.

Washington Quartieri is about a mile from the center of Milan, outside its historic Renaissance core but very much in the midst of town. It looks like this:


Via Giorgio Washington. Photo by Google.

Milan isn't the only European city to honor Washington. At least one other, Paris, has a short Washington street near Champs-Élysées.

Both Milan's Via Giorgio Washington and Paris' Rue Washington are more likely named for George Washington himself than for our fair District of Columbia. But still, it's interesting to look at a map of a European city and see "Washington" in bold letters.

What other foreign cities have streets or neighborhoods named Washington?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Development


To get ideas for reusing the historic Franklin School building, DC can look to Newark, NJ

The Franklin School, at 13th and K NW, is an iconic DC building, but it has been vacant and abandoned since 2008. On a recent trip to Newark, New Jersey, I got a glimpse of another use for old, historic buildings.


The Franklin School building. Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Designed and built in the 1860s by Adolph Cluss, who also designed Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, the Franklin building has a Great Hall that could seat 1,000. It was the centerpiece for DC's public education system—its big windows for light, along with roomy and airy spaces, made for a great learning environment—as well as a resource for community concerts, exhibitions, and public meetings.

Before being abandoned, the building most recently served as a homeless shelter. Mayor Vincent Gray pushed to renovate it, but when Mayor Muriel Bowser became mayer she reversed course and put the proposals on hold. Though Bowser solicited new proposals in October 2015, she has not provided any timeline for review and decision making.

Throughout the 2000s, the DC Council had multiple opportunities to make the building eligible to lease or sell but failed to do so. A 2005 deal to turn Franklin School into a hotel fell through because the proposed lease wasn't valid, and the discussion over what to do with the building has been plagued by a lack of focus, transparency, and analysis of redevelopment options, the kind of thing that can keep proposals with a lot of merit from ever even coming forward.

It's not as if we don't know how to preserve important historic structures. It took just two years after a 2007 fire at Eastern Market for the neighborhood jewel to reopen: Local firm Quinn Evans Architects replaced the roof while retaining many of the original iron trusses, and added sustainability features including high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems, high-performance glazing, and stormwater filtration.
Thinking creatively about place, the built environment, and the long-term prosperity of residents is an essential task for every city and town.

So why have we struggled with the Franklin building so much?

Here's what Newark did with its equivalent of the Franklin School building

If I could, I'd take some of DC's leaders on a field trip to Newark, New Jersey to visit the Hahne & Company department store building.


Photo by Jukie Bot on Flickr.

There, a truly collaborative effort between the City of Newark, Rutgers University - Newark, L & M Development, and J. P. Morgan Chase has resulted in an old icon (a former star of local retail, it's been in disrepair for 30 years) becoming the centerpiece of Newark's recovering downtown.


Construction workers inside a gutted Hahne building. Photo from L&M Development.

During a hardhat tour of the renovation ($174 million, 400,000 sq. ft.), the development team highlighted the future for the building. By December 2016, the mixed use, mixed-income space will be open to its first residents. A total of 161 rental units, 60 percent market rate and 40 percent for low income residents (at 60 percent of area median income), will be ready.

The retail floors, with anchor tenant Whole Foods, will open this spring. Rutgers University - Newark will house their Department of Arts, Culture, and Media there, which will include classrooms, artist studios and gallery space. The project has put nearly every relevant tax credit to use—historic preservation, new markets, and low income housing. For the coup de grace, the great skylight—4-stories above the central atrium—is being meticulously restored to its former glory.


Rendering from L&M Development.

As it turns out, Newark is a hotbed of preservation and reuse. Not far from the Hahne building, a similar coalition is nearly finished renovating the former American Insurance Company tower into a building that will have both retail and residential uses. When it comes to historic preservation, partnerships across sectors, and creating new housing, these projects are transformative.

In Newark, preservationists and other key stakeholders are taking full advantage of the assets they have available—60 to 100 years of growth in the built environment that yielded homes, factories, shopping arcades, warehouses, transportation systems, public utilities, parks, schools, and neighborhood residents.

Although simple economic arithmetic may dictate demolition and abandonment, those willing to see beyond the next fiscal quarter tend to reap far greater rewards. It is for this reason, for the creation of a more prosperous and distinctive place—a place that people want to live in or go to rather than drive through—that historic preservation needs to be an essential strategy for every city and town. In the nation's capital, we have plenty of opportunities to apply these lessons.

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Links


Breakfast links: Justice for all


Photo by Beth Cortez-Neavel on Flickr.
Legal fees: The Silver Spring Transit Center is finally open, but now Montgomery County is looking to sue the project's designers and builders. County officials say they're why the project took so long, and that they should have to pay for the budget overruns, which totaled more than $50 million. (WTOP)

Pay for safety: The DC Council says it pays to behave! The council passed a bill that'd pay stipends to offenders who don't repeat, modeled on a successful California program. Mayor Bowser isn't on board yet. (WTOP)

16th St bus lane: DDOT is moving ahead with plans for a dedicated bus lane on 16th Street NW. The S series, which runs there, is one of DC's most crowded. To speed up service, the project will consolidate stops and let you pay before boarding. (Post)

Outsource MetroAccess?: WMATA may cut the cost of its MetroAccess program in Montgomery by outsourcing rides for disabled passengers to Uber and Lyft. Disability rights advocates, labor unions, and taxi drivers say it would be a bad deal. (WAMU)

Mix up on WMATA board: WMATA's board just got a new chair, but more changes could be in the works if Transportation Secretary Foxx decides to appoint new federal reps. Of the 4 current ones, only 1 has experience in public transit. (WAMU)

A dying art?: If a warehouse art space becomes a luxury hotel, dozens of DC artists will need to go somewhere else. The building owner's rezoning request includes some studio space, but arts supporters say it it won't be enough. (City Paper)

Getting ahead, falling behind: Post-recession growth in the DC region lags behind other metro areas when you consider wealth and race, says a new study. The gap between DC's rich and poor is the highest it's been in decades. (DCist)

Slow riding is good riding?: There's a correlation between slow-moving bikes and bike-friendly cities. When riding isn't seen as being just for those who want to pedal fast, more people do it, and it's easier to build infrastructure. (LEW)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

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Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

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Transit


Ask GGWash: What one book should I read about transit?

If you want to understand the battles over transit in the United States, is there one book you can read? We asked our contributors.

  
Books our contributors suggested. Images from Amazon.com.

An organizer who works for a social justice-oriented group and is planning to start working on transit issues recently asked what book she should read to get up to speed.

If she were going to deal with how we design our roads and public spaces, I'd recommend Jeff Speck's Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At a Time or Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us. Is there a comparable book about transit?

Both John Ricco and Matt Johnson suggested Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker. Johnson said, "The book is fairly concise, but explains the basic information behind transit operations in depth in language that the layperson can easily understand and digest. Personally, I think everyone who rides transit should read this book. But anyone interested in transit at a higher level than just catching the bus should absolutely, definitely, positively read this book. As soon as possible."

Ben Ross endorsed Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. The book's summary says, "On a journey that takes him around the world―from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia, Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation―and better city living―for all."

Gray Kimbrough wrote, "This book isn't the only one you need to read to learn about transit (though I'm not sure such a book exists), but I recommend Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century [by Stephen Goddard] for its in-depth background of the policy processes that gave us the system we have now."

While this isn't the transit policy overview our question-asker was looking for, anyone interested in transit in the Washington region should certainly read The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro by Zachary Schrag. This is the definitive way to learn why our Metro system is the way it is. It's also just full of fascinating facts, like how WMATA's first head, Jackson Graham, tried to resist putting elevators in the stations because he could personally ride the escalators in a wheelchair.

Have you read these? Which do you think our organizer friend should read? Or what other suggestions do you have?

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Transit


Here's where Metro did all its weekend track work in 2015

For years now, the end of the week in Washington has become synonymous with "weekend rebuilding" on Metro. Below is a snapshot of all weekend track work that WMATA did in 2015.


Each number indicates how many total times a particular segment of track went into single tracking, and the color of each station shows how many times it was closed. Map by Peter Dovak.

I found this information for the last eight months of 2015 by searching typing "weekend service adjustments" plus a date into the search bar on WMATA's website. For weekends prior to May 2015, WMATA lists notices in its archive of news releases.

Key takeaways include:

  • There were 56 single track zones on the Red Line (single track work zones often encompassed multiple track segments, leading to a higher total in the above chart), and five station closures
  • The Blue, Orange, and Silver Lones had 38 single track zones, with the Orange line having 15 station closures and the Blue Line having four
  • The Yellow Like had 33 single track zones, with four station closures
  • The Green Line had 20 single track zones, with six station closures

This pdf has a more detailed look at exactly what work was done, and where in the system.

Of all the lines, the Red Line—the system's oldest—had the widest distribution of weekend work zones (15 distinct work zones), though the eastern end of the Orange Line between Stadium-Armory and Cheverly saw the greatest frequency of work: 17 weekends throughout 2015.


See track work for: Red Line   Orange Line   Yellow Line
Green Line   Blue Line   Silver Line
Click on any line diagram for a larger version.
Tables by Peter Dovak.