The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Public Spaces

Open geographic data enables a wealth of maps

The District's GIS data catalog is a treasure trove of interesting information. I created maps from that data and posted some each day last week. They looked at DC's land use, the Metrobus system, Zipcar locations, buildings versus open spaces, and city topography.

Figure Ground

The figure ground map is a silhouette of building footprints. The whole of DC and Arlington is on the left, with a detail of Dupont Circle at right. Click either image for a larger version.

Simplified land use

The official DC Zoning and Comprehensive Land Use maps are incredibly detailed and useful tools that serve specific, necessary functions. They're also incredibly complex and difficult to read at a glance.

I wanted to see a map that showed DC's land use in the very simplest terms, to know where the commercial streets are, to see how downtown might reasonably expand, and to see where redevelopment is most likely (commercial properties are more likely to redevelop than residential ones).

The following map shows predominantly commercial areas in red, predominantly residential ones in yellow, and everything else in gray.

For those interested in Washington as a living and working city, this is the city at just about its most bare.


Here's the Metrobus system, shown alone and geographically accurate.

Geographically accurate Metrorail maps are pretty easy to come by, but I've never seen the Metrobus system all on one page, stripped of other detail.

Zipcar locations

There's a regional map at left, with the urban core at right. Click either for larger versions.

Note that to keep these maps simple I'm not putting much on them in regards to geographic reference points. I'm assuming that most readers are familiar enough with regional geography to read the maps without street labels or other detailed reference material. That information could be added, but I'm interested in seeing these with as little visual clutter as possible, and I assume that at least some of you are interested as well.

City topography

Interesting features that are clearly visible include Capitol Hill, Rock Creek gorge, the Anacostia bluffs, the floodplain escarpment at the north end of the L'Enfant city, the heights of Tenleytown (culminating at Fort Reno for DC's highest point), and a large hill which Fort Totten sits atop.

Click for larger version.
Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Dan, these are great. Like I commented at BeyondDC, I think the bus map that you posted with the county layer really helps put the extensiveness of the system into perspective.

I personally have a tough time interpreting the topography map at first glance. I think the fact that deep shades indicate both very low and very high elevations is what throws me. Perhaps a single color where the deeper shade represents higher elevation would work better?

by Rob P on May 2, 2011 3:29 pm • linkreport

The Metrobus map reinforces how far away I live from the rest of society, and why the trade-offs of exurban living are not always worth it, seeing as my bus only runs during rush periods and in peak directions.

by wmataplusside on May 2, 2011 3:34 pm • linkreport

DC's GIS setup is great. I recently left a gig in DC where I could easily fetch all sorts of files, and they're all available in ArcGIS or Google Earth format. Super-productive. Now I'm working in a different jurisdiction, and all their (useful) GIS data is walled off.

by spookiness on May 2, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

Dan, can you redo the topography one by filling in each elevation? I agree that it is just a bit difficult to read as it currently stands.

by NikolasM on May 2, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

I have been wondering for years how high Georgetown Hill was. Now I know. Great!

by Jasper on May 2, 2011 4:10 pm • linkreport

Dan did the topography one the way he did because that data is available as polylines, not as polygons. What Rob and Nikolas are requesting would require the latter. Which IS possible, but would require taking OCTO's point data and interpolating it/converting it to a polygon.

by Froggie on May 2, 2011 4:11 pm • linkreport

Interesting... looks like the McMillan sand filtration site is listed as commercial. Was it rezoned to help with the redevelopment push? The only thing commercial near there is the corner store at N Cap and Bryant. An the hospital complex north of the reservoir.

by dano on May 2, 2011 4:32 pm • linkreport

Froggie, you'd know better than me, but couldn't you just open up the Symbology properties of that particular layer and select a different color ramp? I wasn't suggesting coloring in anything, just changing the colors of the lines themselves.

by Rob P on May 2, 2011 4:42 pm • linkreport

The Metrobus GIS data is outdated. Dates back to 2006. I've been wondering why there hasn't been an update in 5 years.

by Ken Conaway on May 2, 2011 9:05 pm • linkreport

@Rob: yes, you could do that easily. I thought you were suggesting shading, which is definitely what Nikolas suggested.

by Froggie on May 2, 2011 11:02 pm • linkreport

FYI, the second zipcar map thumb/link (the one on the rigtht) has an extra character in the hyperlink (a double-quote at the very end).

by Rooster_Ties on May 3, 2011 2:38 am • linkreport

Wonderful maps. Thanks for taking the time to do and share them. Maybe they could be made available to our local schools of architecture and planning. This is the stuff great urbanism is made from. I'd add Alexandria, love to see DC's diamond shape made whole.

by Thayer-D on May 3, 2011 5:31 am • linkreport

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