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Weekend links: Not working on the railroad


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.
Railroad blocked: A stimulus project to build a third track near Quantico has stalled thanks to protracted discussions between CSX and the FRA. The project would relieve VRE and Amtrak congestion in the area. Funds expire September 30. (Examiner)

Marc would limit growth near MARC: A bill by Marc Elrich and George Leventhal would not count MARC stations as transit stops for TOD bonus density. Is authors argue MARC doesn't have enough frequency to actually reduce car trips. (But might the density drive more service?) (Gazette, WBJ behind paywall)

House GOP against transpo bill because Dems voted for it: The House won't take up the transportation bill that the Senate passed with bipartisan support. An analyst says that's because Democrats are for it, and House Republicans apparently are against any policy Democrats support, no matter what it is. (Streetsblog)

Bike harassment, part 9123: A driver harasses some cyclists headed to Tysons Corner. Police don't want to take any kind of report. Certain state legislators vote down any bills to protect cyclists. Just another typical day on Fairfax roads. (FABB)

Shelter the unsheltered: N Street Village will soon expand to an apartment building in Logan Circle, where they will provide 31 units housing with "wraparound services" to homeless women. (WBJ)

Wilson gets squeezed: Arlington's dense urban corridors are so narrow, and have a low enough height limit, that they preclude the development of much more than the luxury condos we've seen. Perhaps it's time to expand the zone? (Slate)

Abuse of the code gets expensive: The decade-long saga of the Wisconsin Avenue Giant development shows how neighbors can abuse the development appeal process to stall projects long enough that they may not even happen. (Market Urbanism)

All-door boarding speeds buses: Allowing riders to board buses through all doors, rather than just the front, can speed bus routes quite a bit. San Francisco's MUNI system, one of the slowest in the US, will soon switch to this method. (Streetsblog)

And...: A handy flow chart detailing how development does, or does not, happen in DC. (Urban Turf) ... Performance parking shows progress in San Francisco. (NYT) ... Prince George's and Fairfax both released their budgets, and both saw growth. (Gazette, Post)

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David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast living in Mount Vernon Square. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin

Comments

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All door boarding seems an invitatiOn to free rides.

Wowswers. That slate link is junk. What happens when you value theory over reality.

by Charlie on Mar 17, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

re N Arlington

Building on the blocks that are now SFHs would be costly due to land assembly issues. And In think it would violate the spirit of the Arlington project - the promise that hi rise development in select areas will NOT come at the expense of existing SFH areas (and so far it almost completely has not) It would confirm the so far inaccurate fears of the NIMBYISTs. Meanwhile there is opportunity for new TOD close to heavy rail (and soon supplementary surface transit) in Crystal City, near heavy rail in EFC, and near improving surface transit on Columbia Pike. Yglesias as usual advocates an approach to urbanism that tends to alienate, rather than reconcile.

(BTW its also not clear to me that the existing Ros-Ballston corridor is built out)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 17, 2012 1:13 pm • linkreport

re MoCo and MARC

that essentially only impacts Kensington - TOD would still advance in SS, White Flint, and possibly Wheaton.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 17, 2012 1:17 pm • linkreport

I'm all for more bike lanes but glad that Fairfax doesn't indulge bike riders who slow down traffic by riding at a tepid pace and make no effort to accommodate faster moving vehicles. An increasing number of bike riders do this on purpose to harass those in their cars, as if they were headliners at a PETA protest. Let 'em move to DC or Arlington.

by Dan on Mar 17, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

Arlington doesn't have to add more high rises however. It can allow for owners to build multi units on their lot however. You can see this somewhat south of Clarendon around highland and 10th street where small apartment buildings have been built.

by Canaan on Mar 17, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

@dan

What exactly do you expect bikers to do to accommodate cars? Biking 3 miles an hour faster isn't going to help. Most every biker I've seen on the road rides in a straight line which is exactly what you're supposed to do. Swerving to make extra room for a car is actually not recommended because its unpredictable and dangerous.

Intetestingly, one of the only times I've been passed by a car too close on idylwood rd was by a cop. They clearly don't care.

by Falls Church on Mar 17, 2012 2:24 pm • linkreport

There are two things I'd like to note here that aren't necessarily popular thoughts here.

1) Police are often limited in their powers, and
2) There is a real difference between suburban biking and urban biking.

by selxic on Mar 17, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

Totally. As much as I bitch and moan about cycling in the District, it's about 10 times worse in the 'burbs. Drivers in places like Tyson's have a much greater sense of entitlement over the road. That needs to change.

The stalled Giant development is yet another lesson on how one or two determined people can hold back an entire community. Historic preservation, comprehensive plans, traffic, and liquor licenses are the usual red herrings.

by aaa on Mar 17, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

My point goes both ways, aaa. Cyclists sholdn't treat suburban roads (often with speed limits of 35+) like they're driving downtown.

by selxic on Mar 17, 2012 7:29 pm • linkreport

@seixic,

I'm curious - how should cyclists treat suburban roads? Given that most cyclists will average 12 - 15 MPH city or suburb what are you suggesting they do different? Abandon the road altogether?

by JeffB on Mar 17, 2012 10:15 pm • linkreport

@Charlie,

Why do you think the Slate article (Wilson gets Squeezed) is "junk"? Seems to be stating a very basic supply vs demand issue. Supply of apartments convenient to Metro is constrained by zoning therefore those that are built command premium prices.

by JeffB on Mar 17, 2012 10:27 pm • linkreport

The article reads like it is blaming zoning for single family homes still existing on the R-B corridor, JeffB. I'm guessing that's why Charlie said that.

@JeffB: I'm not interested in another cyclist argument on this site that argues theory exclusively from one side.
As a bit of an aside, there's a road near me with a posted speed limit of 30 mph that is a heavily patrolled speed trap. Although there are no bike lanes, it is a relatively cyclist friendly road and I have never found them to impede traffic or create a hazardous situation. I have seen vehicles driving about 10-15 mph under the limit create hazardous situations and pulled over though.

by selxic on Mar 18, 2012 12:56 am • linkreport

@ selxic

No problem. Just thought you had something concrete to offer on city vs suburban cycling.

I think its sad that it appears police in Fairfax are insensitive to the very real harassment that cyclists are occasionally subjected to. Given photographic evidence of the vehicle I can see no reason why police would not send a letter to the registered address.

There might be cases where a parent would welcome such a letter before sitting down and having a heart to heart talk with junior. If they can send such a letter to someone for littering surely they can do so for harassment as well.

by JeffB on Mar 18, 2012 9:42 am • linkreport

RE: MARC TOD

Try telling that to Garrett Park or Kensington. For such tiny stops I'm surprised how many folk I see at those stations!

by Bossi on Mar 18, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church - Ride to the right of the lane, consider biking on sidewalks that aren't heavily used by pedestrians, and pull over if, for whatever reason, there's not enough room for both a biker and a car.

Not defending harassment of bikers for the sake of sport, but bike riders who travel at slower speeds that any reasonable car driver would, in the middle of roads built for cars, are just looking for trouble. If they really think that, in a jurisdiction with as many residents as Fairfax, they should slow down traffic on busy roads at random, they should get their heads examined even before they get side-swiped by people who may have made reasonable judgments about how long it would take to get from Point A to Point B.

by Dan on Mar 18, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

@Dan

So cyclists shouldn't be harassed, but they are "just looking for trouble" by riding legally on roads that they helped pay for. Yeah, sorry, you're defending harassment.

by MM on Mar 18, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

@selxic: "The article reads like it is blaming zoning for single family homes still existing on the R-B corridor, JeffB. I'm guessing that's why Charlie said that."

Well, zoning is the reason why certain parts of the R-B corridor are still SFH--given that they're zoned for nothing more than SFH and all. Why would pointing that out be "junk"?

by Gray on Mar 18, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

@Dan,

...in the middle of roads built for cars...

We're going to need a cite on this one, bud.

by oboe on Mar 18, 2012 10:39 pm • linkreport

@Dan

An increasing number of bike riders do this on purpose to harass those in their cars

How do you know they do it on purpose? Do you interview them? Doesn't harassing a person in a car while on a bike seem incredibly stupid - like harassing someone with a gun? So stupid as to be unlikely?

That's a pretty incredible claim and is going to need SOME evidence to back it up.

by David C on Mar 19, 2012 12:02 am • linkreport

@Gray: You may want to direct that towards Charlie (the person who actually used that word). Using more of Charlie's post, it's "what happens when you value theory over reality."
The keyword in our posts is "still." Zoning changes would be difficult to make because of existing property owners, but when they are made it doesn't change the fact that single family homes already exist. For the most part, the Rosslyn-Balston corridor is built. New developments with single family homes are not being built and they haven't been built for quite some time. The zoning addresses the current conditions. What is being said to be needed is for homes to be demolished for the area to be built-up more. That's not a simple chore even if the zoning is changed.

That's an idiom not meant to be taken literally, MM. Nobody is defending harassing anyone. This isn't directed entirely at you, MM, but in general it's not necessary to break down every comment on this site word for word as though it needs to stand up in a courtroom. Dan offered another perspective and is now being confronted with a case of "what happens when you value theory over reality."

by selxic on Mar 19, 2012 3:10 am • linkreport

@selxic: I know you didn't use the word "junk." But you gave an explanation for why it could be considered that which didn't make much sense.

In theory, zoning for SFH means you only get SFH. In practice, zoning for SFH means you only get SFH. I fail to see where these two points don't match up.

It's true that zoning what is currently SFH for more density won't magically make taller buildings appear, but it would allow for that to happen--both in theory and in practice. The blurb that was linked to is arguing that that's a necessary (but by no means sufficient) condition for lowering housing costs in the corridor.

by Gray on Mar 19, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

Zoning changes would be difficult to make because of existing property owners, but when they are made it doesn't change the fact that single family homes already exist. For the most part, the Rosslyn-Balston corridor is built. New developments with single family homes are not being built and they haven't been built for quite some time. The zoning addresses the current conditions. What is being said to be needed is for homes to be demolished for the area to be built-up more. That's not a simple chore even if the zoning is changed.

No, it's not a simple political change. But this is also how cities grow.

K Street was once single family homes too, you know:
http://www.theruinedcapitol.com/2012/03/1315-k-street-nw_19.html

As you note, the zoning addresses (for the most part) current conditions. But that, by definition, requires making the cityscape more static that it ever was prior to the existence of zoning.

I'd love to hear Charlie expound more on why he thinks the link is 'junk'. I could make an argument how such a one-sentence potshot is a junk comment since it doesn't show any of his thinking and reasoning at all, but this is just the comments section.

I will take issue with the Slate piece on this point: The idea of allowing more dense development isn't that the new, dense development will create more affordable housing, but that it will increase the overall supply and therefore reduce demand pressures on existing the affordable housing supply. Today's new construction lays the foundation for tomorrow's affordable housing. Couple that with other protections for affordable housing (such as tenant's rights provisions, IZ, etc) and you've got a broader approach.

...But just as this is only a blog comment, that Slate link was only a three graf blog post.

by Alex B. on Mar 19, 2012 10:00 am • linkreport

@AlexB; yep, let me be more clear. It isn't the link, it is the linked article that is junk.

And I agree with your analysis; builders build luxury condos becuse they can make money. That should put some downward pressure on older housing. Of course, that isn't what happens on the R-B. Smaller apartment buildings (not SFH) are being torn down, replaced by luxury condos, and the "affordable housing" is being moved elsewhere in Arlington.

The big advantage Arlington had, as we've talked about before, is a bunch of dying retail along Wilson they could covert to high density.

And it tax policy, not zoning. Once an apartment gets to about a $120,000 value, it makes far more sense to convert it to condos and take the tax mortage writeoff. A lot of these $2500 rentals in Arlington have 3 or 4 people in them.

The problem in Washington is this is maybe one of 5 palces in the country where we've had real wage increases in the last 10 years. Throw in the youth factor, lack of real estate crash, and you don't have much affordable housing in that magic 100K range anymore. It is a price bubble on the middle/lower end, and throwing more "supply" in terms of zoning isn't going to change that.

On the national side, things are a bit different.

by charlie on Mar 19, 2012 10:14 am • linkreport

I dont believe its only zoning or politics that protects the SFHs in North Arlington. Its economics.

1. The values of the SFHs are higher than the values of the parking lots and decayed commercial properties.
2. Lot assembly is difficult. The developer has to negotiate with each property owner, and each owner has an incenvite to play chicken and get in the position of blocking the project, and extracting a very high price.

The one place in NoVa where SFHs HAVE been torn down for TOD is the MetroWest development near Vienna metro. That was a single HOA, which served as a central point for negotiation = the houses were all similar in value - the houses were lower in value by a good bit than the ones in North Arlington - the houses were lower FAR than in North arlington (small cheap SFHs on 1/4 lots, vs often larger houses on smaller lots in N arlington, IIUC). Oh and Metrowest is in an area where there are already lots of older suburban TH's, which provide a natural density stepdown. (and despite all this, getting Metrowest through was a big political hassle)

North Arlington under the current plans is designed to have density step down - from hirises to townhouses to the older (relatively closely set, relatively high FAR) SFHs. Its attractive, and works well, and is (dare I mention it) a model for how to do TOD right, in ways that work pretty well for all concerned.

Changing that now would A. be economically difficult and B. would be seen by many as a bait and switch - it would, IMO, give ammo to NIMBYISTs throughout the region and beyond ("See, they say they want a mix of housing styles, and that TOD will protect SFH nabes, but thats just to get started, eventually they will try to push the SFH nabes out too")

If there is any other way to get more density close to metro, it would be better to look to the other ways first. And in Arlington (a fortiori in the rest of NoVa and the rest of the regions) there are other ways.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 19, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2012/03/this-is-how-housing-markets-are-supposed-to-work.html

The key point is that supply is not allowed to meet demand.

This doesn't necessarily require massive changes to the built environment for established SF neighborhoods. Granny flats, accessory dwelling units, allowing some buildings to be subdivided into apartments, some small-scale infill apartment development - all of those would be possible with some changes to the zoning code, and all would be relatively small bore changes.

Even if you did remove zoning, lot assembly would indeed be difficult. I don't see how that's relevant, however - it could and would happen if the values are high enough.

by Alex B. on Mar 19, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

Some relaxation of accessory dwelling unit restrictions etc might be doable. Thats not what it sounded like Yglesias had in mind.

The relevance is that you might end up in a knock down political fight, using up the limited political capital for urbanism (yes, even in arlington) and creating an "I told you so" factoid for NIMBYISTs elsewhere, without getting much in the way of incremental density for your trouble.

I would much rather see A. Smoothing the way for continued development on the existing R-B corridor B. Support for the Crystal City plan C. Support for the redevelopment at EFC metro (which will take some political capital) and D. keeping up momentum for Columbia Pike. I think the bang for the political capital buck is much higher for those than for getting new hirises on the remaining shopping centers in Cherrydale.

Again, if the small scale changes can be done without riling people up much, then thats relatively low hanging fruit, so go for it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 19, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

That's fine - all of those would be good ideas.

My point is that we don't know if that will be enough. The market rate rents are sky high, and clearly support additional housing units.

There's also the regional issues - the housing markets are regional, but individual zoning decisions are made by (relatively) small localities.

Some sort of statutory change, such as the idea of a zoning budget, would force cities to re-zone on a regular basis in accordance with growth projections, etc.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv34n3/regv34n3-6.pdf

http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/04/27/200745/balancing-the-zoning-budget/?mobile=nc

In short, we should fight the political fight on changing the law that governs zoning - and then the zoning should be legally required to be re-evaluated on a periodic basis which would force a rezoning.

by Alex B. on Mar 19, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

Lets look at what Yglesias actually said

"What you see is a narrow thread of urbanism between Wilson Boulevard and Clarendon Boulevard, with a bit of a thicker blob of urbanism around the Metro station itself. I don't really want to condemn this development paradigm"

good - cause the whole idea of TOD is to be NEAR transit. The blobs are within 1/4 mile, where you get the highest proportion of transit trips, the least auto use (which is how you can add density without adding roading congestion) the most carfree/carlite households (which adds to the critical mass for walking) etc. The problem with this paradigm, compared to traditional cities, is how quickly it peters out to low density SFHs. but see below.

"If you opened it up to redevelopment, you'd see denser building. Perhaps tall apartments in some cases, perhaps attached rowhouses in others."

Color me skeptical about the rowhouses. Given the density and value of the existing SFHs, rowhouses (otherwise a good use) may not be economically feasible. All thats possible are tall apartments. Which means less density concentrated very close to metro, and also the political issues I have mentioned.

Now, taking the existing fabric and adding a few more units by relaxing limits on accessory dwelling units, allowing moderately increased density on infill lots, etc, sound like excellent ideas, extending the density drop down - hi rises to THs to DENSER sfh area, to autocentric. But thats not what Matt has in mind with the following "But still the fact of the matter is that these single-family homes adjacent to the corridor of urbanism are sitting on some extremely expensive land."

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 19, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

Given the density and value of the existing SFHs, rowhouses (otherwise a good use) may not be economically feasible. All thats possible are tall apartments. Which means less density concentrated very close to metro, and also the political issues I have mentioned.

How would expanding the area that can be developed at a high density mean 'less density' near the stations? Not following your math there.

Likewise, having density more than 1/4 mile from Metro isn't a problem, that's an asset. The areas in DC that are very dense and still more than 1/4 mile from Metro get along just fine.

by Alex B. on Mar 19, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

"That's fine - all of those would be good ideas.
My point is that we don't know if that will be enough. The market rate rents are sky high, and clearly support additional housing units."

Thats true, and cuts both ways. We have a lot of TOD units in the pipeline right now - and we have quite a number of additional redevelopment initiatives that have not yet borne fruit in proposed buildings. I would see how that shakes out before panicing.

"There's also the regional issues - the housing markets are regional, but individual zoning decisions are made by (relatively) small localities"

But each and every jurisdiction has incentives for TOD - especially for units whose market niche is unlikely to have children in the public schools. Thats why even Loudoun is trying for TOD zones.

Im not convinced any zoning impositions from above will lead to a better outcome, and they WILL raise the dander of a lot of people. (note that to pass that in the Commonwealth you'd have to apply it to every county as far away as the Tennessee line - bring into play some very backward views that we don't face in NoVa)

I'd rather fight the fight on specifics, not on home rule in general. And have succesful compromises to point to. Right now theres a fight in City of Alex over the Beauregard Small Area Plan. R-B stands out as an example of how things can go well ("look at all the density with low traffic congestion") as well as focusing anti arguments on making things better ("R-B has a higher % of new affordable units, why can't we get that") which just shapes the debate better. If R-B were the total transformation of SFH nabes that MY seems to want, it would reinforce the anti-position, in City of Alex and elsewhere.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 19, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

"How would expanding the area that can be developed at a high density mean 'less density' near the stations? Not following your math there."

relatively.

"Likewise, having density more than 1/4 mile from Metro isn't a problem, that's an asset. The areas in DC that are very dense and still more than 1/4 mile from Metro get along just fine."

Most of those are far closer to the major employment centers in DC than north Arlington, esp as you get west from Rosslyn. That makes cycling and esp bus more competitive. And theres more fully gridded road access - north arlington everything going into DC (not everyone works in the RB corridor) eventually focused on a few bridges. note, much of that density away from the metro in DC is older buildings such as in Mt Pleasant - where the combo of no parking provided and the demographics means a higher proportion car free. build ten story clarendon style buildings farther from metro in arlington, and you will get buildings with free parking, and with lots more drivers.

Thats an issue even for light rail corridors of course, but they at least present somewhat more prospect of getting people out of their cars. Also places with optimal bus access, like Shirlington.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 19, 2012 3:06 pm • linkreport

@AWalker

relatively.

How is that relevant? Before redevelopment, there would be X people living within 1/2 mile of that Metro station. After, there would be X*2 within 1/2 mile.

note, much of that density away from the metro in DC is older buildings such as in Mt Pleasant - where the combo of no parking provided and the demographics means a higher proportion car free. build ten story clarendon style buildings farther from metro in arlington, and you will get buildings with free parking, and with lots more drivers.

Not if you remove the parking minimums, force the developers to unbundle the parking, provide good access via bikeshare, connecting buses, etc, and then people will easily walk more than 1/4 mile to get to a Metro station.

In short, I think your assumptions are mostly incorrect. Why would the parking be free? If the density is there to provide easy walks with lots of accessible stuff via walking, why would people drive?

Look at DC and you'll realize that there are quite a few very dense areas (not just rowhouse 'hoods like Mt. P) that are outside 1/4 mile from Metro, and they function just fine. One quarter mile is a very short distance.

by Alex B. on Mar 19, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

Increasing density doesn't mean altering the building mix much at all. I don't know much about the current Arlington SFH zoning code, but elsewhere higher density can be achieved by allowing accessory dwellings and allowing larger homes to be subdivided by-right. Accessory dwellings can, in theory, double an area's density without changing much of the landscape at all. Such units are smaller than SFH and so target the very markets that are putting the most pressure on R-B to upzone.

by OctaviusIII on Mar 19, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

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