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Breakfast links: Actions for transit

MoCo planning staff endorse light rail: Reports of Planning Board staff endorsing a bus Purple Line have been greatly exaggerated. A staff report released yesterday endorses the surface light rail option, including the segment parallel to the Capital Crescent Trail. "We have to grow, and we have to do it in a way that is sustainable ... in a reasonable way that is less dependent on the auto," said the report's author, Tom Autrey, according to the Post.

Photo by rodeomilano on Flickr.

Sign up to testify Jan. 8: The next step is the Planning Board hearing to review this recommendation on January 8th. You can now sign up to testify, or submit written testimony to until January 2nd.

Save some stimulus for transit: House Transportation Chair James Oberstar is trying to ensure transit isn't forgotten in the rush-to-pork stimulus Congress is working on. Transportation For America has a petition to ask Congress to include transit for a greener stimulus. Twin Cities Streets for People created a video envisioning a future for Minneapolis after building all the freeways Minnesota DOT wants to spend their stimulus on. Via Richard Layman.

Falls Church debating suburban setbacks: Suburban zoning codes typically require large setbacks for buildings facing main streets (often to accommodate parking in front), but we've now learned that building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment. One developer is planning rental apartments and townhouses, including some affordable housing, within walking distance of downtown Falls Church and the Metro. According to DCMud, some members of the Falls Church Planning Commission "remain concerned about the developer's push for a variance that would allow them to build up to five feet from the property line, instead of the normally regulated twenty."

Yup, ugly: BeyondDC reviews the Post's list of the area's six ugliest buildings. On Georgetown's Lauinger Library, he writes, "You know that really pretty spire that's the defining landmark of Georgetown University? You know that massive concrete bunker in front of it that blocks the view of the spire from the Potomac? Yeah, good call."

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. 


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Regarding the ugliest buildings, the rest of L'Enfant Plaza should have been included with the HUD building. Throw in the GSA headquarters across the street for good measure. The Intelsat building on CT Ave in Van Ness is especially hideous and is a significant waste of land in Northwest right next to a metro station. While we're at it, UDC is a very ugly campus too.

by Ben on Dec 23, 2008 9:39 am • linkreport

SW DC is hurting big time, from an aesthetic perspective. It's ungodly awful.

by SG on Dec 23, 2008 10:44 am • linkreport

Yeah, I'm worried Res. 13 will end up just as ugly as SW and the ballpark area...the renderings from the proposals didn't even use the existing brick buildings and did not mesh at all with neighboring buildings.

by Mary on Dec 23, 2008 12:07 pm • linkreport

“but we've now learned that building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment”

I don’t know for whom you are speaking when you state that we have “learned” that building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment. As a pedestrian, I certainly find that narrow sidewalks beneath tall buildings, as recommended by developers and “smart growth” advocates, do not make for a walkable environment, but create a vacant, lifeless canyon, where street trees die, the heat island effect increases and pedestrians avoid since they feel closed in.

by DC Pedestrian on Dec 23, 2008 2:59 pm • linkreport

Well said.

by Jazzy on Dec 23, 2008 9:22 pm • linkreport

It's your opinion DC Pedestrian, but go to the most edestrian friendly cities on this planet and tell me if they tend to have smaller setbacks or larger ones. Hell, go to the most charming and walkable neighborhoods in DC and tell me if the setbacks are larger or smaller. I don't know that anyone said anything about claustrophobia-inducing canyons, it's just building closer to the street and sidewalks that people frequent. Setbacks and the size of blocks or number of buildings on a block impact the experience for pedestrians at the street level more than anything else.

by Vik on Dec 23, 2008 10:34 pm • linkreport

"Closer to the street" doesn't mean "all crammed up too close to the street." The Falls Church developer proposes five feet from the property line. That means you have the entire sidewalk, however wide it is, then at least five more feet of landscaping, and finally the building. The width of the sidewalk has nothing to do with it.

Twenty feet makes pedestrians feel like they're not along a street with buildings, but in a suburban void where the buildings are somewhere else and not meant for them.

by David Alpert on Dec 23, 2008 11:21 pm • linkreport

David, If you had looked at the drawings that the developer submitted, you would have seen that the property line runs along the edge of the tree box, and the walkable sidewalk is on the property. The property line is clearly labeled in some of the exhibits. “However wide it is” in this instance is zero, unless you want to include the soil in which the street trees are planted. Twenty feet would allow pedestrians sufficient room to walk, wheel strollers and to pass each other without having to go single file, and might even permit some space for sidewalk furniture or outside seating for cafes. Perhaps, after the trees die, pedestrians will have enough sidewalk space. The twenty foot requirement doesn’t create a suburban void but a pleasant environment for pedestrians.

Unless you only care about pedestrians whose only interest is in looking in store windows, your statement about locating buildings “closer to the street” doesn’t reflect what many pedestrians enjoy. BTW, if you had checked the filing, you would have also seen that a major feature of the front façade is a wide curb cut for the entrance to the two-level underground parking that covers the nearly the entire site.

by DC Pedestrian on Dec 24, 2008 11:14 am • linkreport

JR / DC Pedestrian,

I stand corrected on the setbacks. I still think that a blanket 20 foot rule often generates an excessively suburban built environment. In the case of this specific project, 5 feet may be enough, or 20 may be necessary, or something in between. (I note that the front setback actually seems to be 7 feet behind the tree box.) On sidewalks with light pedestrian traffic, that could be plenty.

I don't think that five story buildings flanking four-lane roads makes a "canyon." Many DC side streets have 3-4 story townhouses flanking 1-2 lane roads, and nobody calls that a canyon. Manhattan streets, maybe. This, no.

I agree the curb cut is unfortunate.

Finally, I'd like to ask you and everyone else to please use one consistent pseudonym. I'm fine with the pseudonymous posting, but changing pseudonyms around from time to time just makes it harder to know who thinks what. Let's all espouse our ideas under one consistent name and stand by them as a whole.

by David Alpert on Dec 24, 2008 1:15 pm • linkreport

David, Take a look at some of the projects that you have supported in this blog, and you will find that they often create a vacant, lifeless “canyon,” incompatible with street trees, hostile for pedestrians and exacerbating the heat island effect. As to whether 5 feet between the edge of the tree planting space and the front of the building is adequate for desirable development in a “walkable” area, I think you answered the question by assuming that there would only be light pedestrian traffic. Obviously, you aren’t visualizing a vibrant street, where pedestrians pass other pedestrians walking in the opposite direction, families with strollers walking, bicycle racks and where there might also be appropriate street furniture. For this project, green outdoor space has been relegated to interior courtyards, inaccessible to non-residents. In this post, you cite the 3-4 story buildings that we have in DC’s neighborhoods and that DC residents value, but you advocate for projects that are 11 stories or more, up to 130 feet in height, pushed to the property line.

I stand by my earlier statement that you cannot generalize and assume that a walkable neighborhood requires that the sidewalk area be minimized, and the buildings be at or close to the property line. You might have learned that “building closer to the street creates a more walkable environment” and many developers might agree with you, but many actual pedestrians would disagree.

by DC Pedestrian on Dec 24, 2008 2:30 pm • linkreport

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