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

Open thread

Open thread

I'm really busy today and may not be able to post. Should we try an open thread? Comment about whatever is on your mind (ideally with some relation to the forces that shape our region).
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


Add a comment »

Over under on when DC's first streecar line will be operational (if ever)?

I say June 2010 in Anacostia, February 2011 on H Street.

by SG on Aug 28, 2008 1:57 pm • linkreport

Let's talk about something really important.

Like how we need a walk-up Sonic somewhere near a Metro station. Mmmmm Sonic.

by BeyondDC on Aug 28, 2008 2:06 pm • linkreport

@SG - my guess: H Street NE in 2012, Anacostia in 2014. I think Anacostia's current route will be rejected because it doesn't serve much more than commuters and won't stimulate economic development. Anacostia will then end up trailing H Street NE because it will take them time to build consensus on what corridor to use to connect the Anacostia and Minnesota Ave metros.

I'd love to see it move more quickly but I just don't have faith that it will. If action is going to move as slowly as I think it might then I hope DDOT expands DC Circulator in the interim and adds a H Street NE route. Maybe a loop that connects H Street NE, Eastern Market and Downtown.

by FourthandEye on Aug 28, 2008 2:38 pm • linkreport

I would like to ask the blog... "What do you all think about tearing down existing urban stub freeways, such as the SE freeway, and I395 north of the Capitol?"

In my opinion, tearing down the (unsigned) I695 and restoring Virginia Ave. SE would be the catalyst to really see the area around the Navy Yard and stadium take off. That road is currently a boundary that most don't really cross on foot.

As for the I395 tunnel, closing it would stop people from using New York Ave. for through traffic. It would also allow a future Metro line to use the ROW and maybe deck it and restore the L'Enfant grid a little.

How do you all perceive it?

by Cavan on Aug 28, 2008 2:45 pm • linkreport

H Street 2012, Anacostia - not for a long time.

Restoring Virginia Avenue sounds good, but I wouldn't pull out I395 right now. When it is in such bad shape that it requires a massive rebuild - that's when you close it.

So, DC will subsidize my solar panels if I want them. Thing is, I don't. I've run the numbers and a green roof is better. Cheaper. Makes my roof last longer and will conserve almost as much energy as a solar panel would produce - and I don't have to cut down my tree. (Plus DC, gets reduced storm water runoff). Only that is not an option. How do we fix this system so that it does not declare a winner?

by VC on Aug 28, 2008 3:27 pm • linkreport

How much weight does a green roof add (with water)? Is that at all an issue?

by Jazzy on Aug 28, 2008 5:37 pm • linkreport

It is, they have to add extra support to hold it up. Our roof is over-designed so it wasn't too much, but you have the membrane, the medium and the plants. Ours would be extensive - without it's own watering system - so that involves less weight.

by VC on Aug 28, 2008 5:55 pm • linkreport

A friend of mine who does real estate development (formerly with a CDC, now working for a private developer) recently told me that given the current economic climate, developers only have an incentive to build either high-end ("luxury")housing or subsidized housing (I guess tax incentives make it lucrative enough to do) and that's why you don't see alot of housing being built in between those two extremes. I was wondering if others think that's true, and if anything can be done to increase the amount of mid-priced housing stock in the immediate metro area (i.e. without pushing those people out to the suburbs and exurbs where houses are cheaper).

by DC_Chica on Aug 28, 2008 6:10 pm • linkreport

VC - there is a DC program that subsidizes green roof replacement/new roof. My condo assc. looked into it a few months ago but our structure wasn't right for it. I don't remember the name but I'm sure you can find it.

by Bianchi on Aug 28, 2008 6:20 pm • linkreport

Nobody's brought up the conversions by neglect. DC's rent control law is boomeranging, just like the South Bronx. Landlords allow properties to decay because they can't afford to raise the rents high enough to properly maintain them. Neglect drives out the renters and allows redevelopment. The low rents keep the renters from moving to lower-valued land, thereby _reducing_ DC's growth. By moving into these marginal neighborhoods, renters would create demand for all kinds of locally-provided goods and services. This creates jobs. The additional foot traffic would reduce crime.

But, who am I to say these things? Only an economist, not a politician seeking reelection by deceiving people about prices.

by Chuck Coleman on Aug 28, 2008 6:51 pm • linkreport

Chuck, you have the first part right... but the part you don't have right is, that people DO and ARE moving into these lower-rent redevelopments. Look at Eckington, Rhode Island Ave, Petworth, East Capitol Hill. You see a lot of conversions and people are moving in, because they can get "more house" for much less... as far as the crime, it goes away slowly. It doesn't happen overnight, and in fact, there are far more opportunities for property crimes when the haves and have nots live in close proximity.

In DC, crime has far more to do with proximity to projects than anything else. It's a small percentage of people committing a large percentage of crime.

by SG on Aug 28, 2008 6:57 pm • linkreport

I believe there is evidence that, in some well publicized cases anyway, the neglect by landlords is purposeful in order to drive renters out so the bldg can be renovated into condos or sold or something. There was a big scandal in DC about a year ago reported at length in the Post. I don't understand how "keep[ing] the renters from moving to lower-valued land, [it] thereby _reduc[es]_ DC's growth." How does that work exactly? If 100 people live in a bldg how does it matter to growth what 100 people live in the bldg? I don't understand.

by Bianchi on Aug 28, 2008 7:06 pm • linkreport


I don't deny your claims. I'm just saying that rent control is slowing this process.

by Chuck Coleman on Aug 28, 2008 7:07 pm • linkreport

Just to bring it back to the streetcar issue for a moment-

I spent last week in Denver and marveled at all the money they've put into their transportation network as of late. Their new light rail system works great, actually goes through neighborhoods people live in, and is slated for expansion already.

We on the other hand have to wait until at least 2010 to get our streetcar in Anacostia that is only useful to those working at the Air Force base.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that DENVER's the capital and that WE'RE the two-bit mountain cowboy town...

by Chris Loos on Aug 29, 2008 12:06 am • linkreport

@ Cavan

Those are good ideas but what happens to traffic that is coming into the city and out of the city that isnt going through the city, All medium and large cities need highways to get the masses in and out there is not one major city that doesnt have a highway going through it or ending at the border of the city.

Getting rid of highways will only lead to people driving on the highways then exiting and going down city streets that surround the former highway or driving down new streets instead of their former paths but will not end or fix the problem at all.

The transit system in dc in not adiqult to serve all areas of dc; there are large sections of DC with no or very little bus service and no metrorail serviceso telling people to use transit and not cars will not serve everyone, perhaps building a highway then local streets on top of the highways is the key or building wider streets and a serious blitz of transit projects in terms of heavyrail, lightrail, rapid bus and bus service to cover all parts of the city or maybe neither but have no highways and a transit system that does not cover all areas is a horrible option.

Has anyone hear ever tried driving from one end of DC to the other it is very hard; what we could use is an effective highway that goes north-south and east-west and meets somewhere underground

Imagine DC with no highways and trying to get around from SE to Upper NW lets say Southern Ave and South Capitol street to 16th & Military Road. With no highways that would mean not 295 no SW/SE freeway to 3rd street tunnel you would be going down all city streets like Mass Ave, North Capitol St, Penn Ave, South Capitol St. 16th St etc.

by kk on Aug 29, 2008 12:26 am • linkreport

kk, yes, that would mean taking city streets without using freeways. It's worth noting, though, that people somehow managed to get around without freeways in many cities up until the mid-20th century. Sure, they'd bitch and moan nowadays with no freeways, but if it came down to that, I'm sure they'd find a way again.

And let's be honest: the most rational response to our current energy crisis is to, first, use less energy, which means driving less. Hey look, suddenly there's less demand for freeways. Hmmm....

by Adam on Aug 29, 2008 1:16 am • linkreport

And what happens to the built infrastructure and neighborhoods when the kk highways are built. The logical place to put these roads are through existing solid neighborhoods with walkability, Metro etc.

Didn't we already learn from "urban renewal" that this didn't work?

by William on Aug 29, 2008 7:17 am • linkreport

>If I didn't know better, I'd think that DENVER's the capital and that WE'RE the two-bit mountain cowboy town

Well, y'know, DC has 100 miles of third-rail Metro. We're talking about streetcars as a supplement. In Denver they're the top of the line... and except for the Five Points line, Denver's light rail is oriented towards suburban commuters much more so than Metro.

by BeyondDC on Aug 29, 2008 9:31 am • linkreport

William and Adam, thank you for handling that. I was quite surprised at kk's response due to his/her startling lack of knowledge on the history of urban freeways. If you look at the book "Magic Motorways" first written in the '40s describing what would become the Interstate system, the author wrote one caveat about his magic motorways (highways). The caveat was that they could not be mixed with a city. He saw them as potentially destructive of cities. He said they are to connect cities, not for intracity travel. The reason why they were built through cities was because of an unintended consequence of the 1956 Interstate Highway bill. The bill stipulated that local jurisdictions would get to plan where to put the roads, and receive 90% federal funds, regardless of whatever they planned. That caused a lot of pressure on cities to build as many as they could because they were practically free. Even more pressure was put on them by the new suburban jurisdicions so their commuters could get to and from work by car. No one knew/cared about the unintended consquences until the first "urban renewal" project, L'Enfant Plaza. Washingtonians saw an entire section of their city demolished and replaced with a freeway and a bunch of ugly office buildings. All the people who lived there had to scramble to find somewhere else to live. Most who lived there were working to middle class so they couldn't just go and outbid someone in another neighborhood for a new house. It was the primary reason for the later freeway revolts in the '60s and '70s that ended up being a piece of the puzzle that created the Metro.

There is lots of irony in that story. First, they named the ugliness that destroyed most of the L'Enfant plan in SW DC after L'Enfant. Second, the highwaymen's heavyhandedness with how they went about the urban freeways indirectly led to the Metro, and consequently, a far more urban Washington region that if those freeways had been built.

kk, while I'm sure your views are well-intentioned, I can't help but finally point out that urban freeways are grounded in selfishness. The thinking is "I want to drive there when I want to as fast as I can, the consequences be damned. Forget about the people who live in the way of that highway and the neighborhoods that will be destroyed from the traffic and cars and the resources sunk into construction, it's all about ME driving."

by Cavan on Aug 29, 2008 10:02 am • linkreport

Does anyone else have any opinions about my intial question?

by Cavan on Aug 29, 2008 10:03 am • linkreport

Cavan, my opinion is that I would rather see the money go into building a robust 100-mile streetcar network linking places inside DC and the "near suburbs" (Arlington, Alexandria, Silver Spring, Bethesda). While I think that boulevarding 695 might be an improvement to the local area, in my opinion a billion dollars (or more) are better spent elsewhere.

by Michael P on Aug 29, 2008 10:22 am • linkreport

Michael P, I would also like to see such a streetcar network, but I think you're missing a subtlety in Cavan's proposal. Namely, we have to remember that even the best-maintained infrastructure does not last forever. Eventually, we will have to rebuild the freeways or replace them with something else. In that light, it might very well be less expensive to boulevardize a segment of freeway, rather than rebuild it -- leaving more money for better streetcars.

Also, just to be clear, Cavan is referring to the stub freeway from 295 to Barney Circle, not the Baltimore Beltway. Not sure if that was clear.

by Adam on Aug 29, 2008 11:36 am • linkreport

DDOT does plan to remove the extension of the SE Freeway from the 11th Street bridge to Barney Circle as part of the 11th Street Bridges project (unless they've dropped it without telling anyone). It's a positive step, amid a much larger negative step.

by David Alpert on Aug 29, 2008 11:40 am • linkreport

I have a question about street cars: How are they functionally different from a bus?

When I look at the alternatives the inflexibility of the street car line (once built) seems to be a major drawback. I must be missing something. Which explains my question.

by Tom on Aug 29, 2008 12:31 pm • linkreport

Tom - what you see as inflexibility is actually one of the assests of the streetcar over the bus. An investment in public infrasture (like rails) is a real outward sign of committment to the area. Private investment is more likely to follow where there has been this kind of public committment. For an example see 13th and U before and after the green line stop was there. Bus lines can be easily cancelled and rerouted. Rails are much harder to change.

by Bianchi on Aug 29, 2008 1:25 pm • linkreport

They're also physically faster due to higher torque available from electric motors compared to diesel engines, are smoother to operate, are quieter, hold more people per car, can be coupled in multiple vehicle consists, and usually attract higher ridership all else being equal.

It's also clearer to people unfamiliar with the transit system where they go, because it's where those metal strips on the ground lead. Much harder to figure out a bus system if you're not familiar with the routes.

How many ads for apartments have you read that say "near a metrobus stop" as a selling point compared to "near Metro"? That's the power of rail compared to bus.

by Michael P on Aug 29, 2008 2:02 pm • linkreport


Driving on a freeway actually gets better mpg then stop and start surface street driving.


What do you define as selfish? A highway used by very few people that displaces a greater number of people? A highway used by many people that displaces very few people? Or?

Who is the author of the book you mention? Apparently he had very little imagination to see how highways may be routed through urban areas with very little displacement.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 29, 2008 3:25 pm • linkreport


Where have you seen an urban freeway (and I'm not counting ones in places like Texas where the freeway was built, then the sprawl grew around it, then the city annexed the sprawl) that was built through preexisting walkable neighborhoods that did not cause displacement? If peoples' houses weren't knocked down for the freeway itself, the fabric of the neighborhood was ruined. First, the street grid was broken, making it hard to walk. Next, the local businesses went under because so much of their walkup business is now on the other side of a freeway, and therefore no longer patrons. Then people leave because no one wants to live next to a highway. Once people start to leave, the process accelerates because of the breakdown of the economic and social fabric. The place ceases to be an attractive place to live.

The most extreme example I can think of this happening is in the South Bronx in Bronx, NY. Those neighborhoods were quite different before Robert Moses decided to build a trench freeway through them.

Here is a link to the full text of "Magic Motorways" by Norman Bel Geddes, published in 1940:

Here is his passage regarding highways in cities/towns:

" gets not only contact with the outside world; it gets

impact, it gets congestion. The new road carries a far heavier load than the

town's own traffic. A storm of cars hits the town: impersonal cars, through

motorists, faces no one in town knows, all-night trucking. With them they

bring noise, dirt and traffic accidents. ... And if anyone had told the highway build-

ers that by using Main Street to pass through town the highway was slowing

down traffic and loosing a certain amount of its value as a means of through

transportation, he would have been regarded as queer. But these two things

are just what happens when a highway is routed through a town. A quiet com-

munity suddenly has to exert control over an inter-city express system. ..."

The passage about highways through towns/neighborhoods starts on p.183 of the book.

I know from reading your blog that you think that if you just tunnel all urban highways, all problems will be solved. First off, few highways have been tunneled through an entire city. In Boston, they had the Big Dig to correct the mistake of putting the elevated freeway there in the first place. Here in Washington, I395 is tunneled underneath the Mall in front of the Capitol. Clearly the 20th Century Congress didn't want a highway on their front lawn either.

No freeways will ever get built completely in tunnel. They require a tunnel that is multiple times wider than what is needed for a Metro. And we know that Metros cost billions. No jurisdiction is willing to pay for that, especially after the experience of the Big Dig.

Finally, you still get the problems of traffic and pressure to put down parking lots and widen other intersections and change two way streets to one way and so on with a tunnel freeway just like with any other freeway. If you plan for cars, you get cars and traffic. It doesn't matter where you put the highway. You're still going to get the cars.

by Cavan on Aug 29, 2008 7:03 pm • linkreport

Thank you enlightening me. I never really thought of the "Hansel and Gretel effect" of rails in the street. Maybe I'm weird, I like to look at maps. Rails just seem like a very big capital investment with only incremental improvement in either service or increased ridership.

I haven't seen any adds locally that tout access to the bus but when I lived in Pittsburgh I did see communities advertise their access to the the "busway" (BRT).

by Tom on Aug 29, 2008 7:53 pm • linkreport

How many ads for apartments have you read that say "near a metrobus stop" as a selling point compared to "near Metro"?

Actually quite a few.

by Fbase on Aug 29, 2008 11:01 pm • linkreport

... only on craigslist ;)

by Cavan on Aug 30, 2008 12:08 pm • linkreport

"And if anyone had told the highway build-

ers that by using Main Street to pass through town the highway was slowing down traffic and loosing a certain amount of its value as a means of through transportation, he would have been regarded as queer. But these two things are just what happens when a highway is routed through a town. "

Talk abut queer- this statement apparantly confuses "Main Street" -- which is going to be a surface street -- with a seperate grade seperated facility.

Sort of reminds me of how Jane Jacobs helped strangle Lower Manhattan with her insistence on all of the vehicular traffic making do with the surface streets approach to the Holland Tunnel.

by Douglas Willinger on Aug 30, 2008 2:06 pm • linkreport

In CityPaper, the Post...lots of places. Intranets at work.

by Fbase on Aug 30, 2008 8:44 pm • linkreport

Perhaps I didn't ask the right question.

How much of a price premium do you get to charge for an apartment "next to bus stop" compared to "next to metro station". I'll agree that you might see it in an ad, but do you get to make more money building property next to bus or metro?

I'd like to hear from a developer, landowner or landlord on this one.

by Michael P on Aug 30, 2008 11:38 pm • linkreport

Tom, I recently had a chance to use the "Hansel and Gretel" effect, as you so eloquently put it. I was getting back to Market St. from Ghiradelli Square in SFO and wanted to take the #30, which I knew was a trolleybus (think "overhead wires"). I asked one of the customer service reps there at the square, and they directed me down toward the water (Beach St). Looking down toward the water, I saw no overhead wires. Looking up one block (North Point St.), I saw overhead wires. Seeing the wires saved me the time of looking around on Beach and put us quickly on our way back to Market. It probably wouldn't have taken too much time figuring out that the #30 isn't on Beach St., but it did save some time and confusion, and I didn't need to have a map.

This effect helps tourists, it helps residents get familiar with where the network goes, it helps businesses know where the infrastructure supports high-quality transporation without cars. I didn't need a map to know where the #30 was, I could see it right there in the air. The same effect would have happened with a streetcar.

Could you replicate the "H+G Effect" by just painting (or thermoplastic striping) a color coded line on the pavement labeled with the bus line? Does anyone do this?

The other effect is that when you have a streetcar, you usually only build it where there is enough demand to justify the investment expense. This means ridership is relatively high, which means that the headways are short. If I show up at a random bus stop, I have no idea what the headways are going to be (assume no posted schedule). Could be as much as an hour, and for a lot of people that's a different mode of riding (where you have to consult a schedule before you travel). But when I show up at a streetcar stop, I pretty much expect a vehicle to show up within 15 minutes*, or I would question the transit planners' sanity in choosing either the headway or the decision to make the investment in streetcar.

*Note: Pittsburgh's Light Rail has 50 minute headways on Sunday morning. Go figure.

by Michael P on Aug 31, 2008 12:03 am • linkreport


Go to that link that I posted. You'll see that the context is the traffic that the highway dumps off onto Main Street. That text I posted was an excerpt. I didn't want to take up too much space in this blog by posting multiple pages of text from a book.

The gist of my entire post is about the unintended consequences of tunneling a freeway through a walkable space. The extra traffic ends up putting extra stresses on... I'll quit since I'm now just repeating my previous post.

Jane Jacobs was opposed to those freeways because they were going to ruin those neighborhoods. If those freeways in Manhattan had been built, Chelsea, SoHo, Greenwich Village and all those other lower Manhattan neighborhoods would be salted earth, not the vibrant places they are now. In the mid-20th Century, they were ratty, beaten up old neighborhoods. That's why Robert Moses saw them as ripe for some "urban renewal" which included a trench freeway. If those trench freeways had been built, lower Manhattan would look like the South Bronx, not what it now looks like.

History has proven Jane Jacobs to be right. By not building those freeways, those neighborhoods got the chance to have new life breathed into them by a whole new generation of people years later. The same is true of midtown Manhattan. The same is true of Washington, D.C.

by Cavan on Aug 31, 2008 3:56 pm • linkreport


Thanks for the url.

Apparantly Bel Geddes limited his consideration to 100 mph freeways, and that he devotes nothing to different ways of routing freeways through cities; see:

The relief driver has taken the wheel while his friend sleeps

not sitting up, but comfortably, in a bed in the truck cab. Neither raucous

horn blowing for a right of way nor squeal of brakes wakens him. A sign

flashes, telling the driver that Chicago is 47 miles due north. He checks up

on his clock; it's only 1:30. He has passed Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne with-

out realizing it they lie outside the route of the motorway. The shortest

highway route in 1940 between Washington and Chicago was 697 miles.

If he could have managed 45 miles an hour which he could not have done

because of all the cities and towns through which the highway passed the

trip would have taken at least fifteen and a half hours. It was a fifteen-hour

P 155

Midnight, Midnight. The relief driver has taken the wheel while his friend sleeps not sitting up, but comfortably, in a bed in the truck cab. Neither raucous horn blowing for a right of way nor squeal of brakes wakens him. A sign

flashes, telling the driver that Chicago is 47 miles due north. He checks up on his clock; it's only 1:30. He has passed Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne with- out realizing it they lie outside the route of the motorway. The shortest

highway route in 1940 between Washington and Chicago was 697 miles.

If he could have managed 45 miles an hour which he could not have done because of all the cities and towns through which the highway passed the trip would have taken at least fifteen and a half hours. It was a fifteen-hour trip on the train. But the motorway connecting Washington and Chicago is only 625 miles, exclusive of the feeder highways from both cities. Therefore, driving at 100 miles an hour while on the motorway and allowing ample time to approach and leave the motorway, the whole trip takes only nine hours.

p 211

Actually, there is a third alternative which makes the problems connected with both of these solutions unnecessary. It is to consider highways as straight- line routes laid out on a direct course between the environs of cities, instead

of directly from the center of one city to the center of another. Tradition, true enough, calls upon the road to steer straight for the heart of town. But if the purpose of the motorway as now conceived is that of being a high-speed

non-stop thoroughfare, the motorway would only bungle that job if it got tangled up with a city. It would lose its integrity. The motorway should serve heavily populated areas, but it does not have to connect population hubs di-

rectly. A great motorway has no business cutting a wide swath right through a town or city and destroying the values there; its place is in the country, where there is ample room for it and where its landscaping is designed to

harmonize with the land around it. Its presence will not, like that of a rail- road, destroy the beauty of the land. It will help maintain it.


Geometry requirements and feasibilities differ a bit on 65 mph freeways versus those for 100 mph.

Also urban freeways become widely disliked for recycling rail side industrialized properties, or for routing via length new swaths through residential areas displacing hundreds/thousands of houses (particularly via such scams as the 1963-64 engineering feasibility report

by Douglas Willinger on Sep 3, 2008 7:57 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us