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Yes, 14th Street is DC's densest area

Sunday's Washington Post featured a big story about gentrification on 14th Street, including the claim that it "recently surpassed Columbia Heights as the densest area in the city." Is that true? The US Census can tell us.

Using American FactFinder, I created this map illustrating the population density of DC's central neighborhoods.

Population density of central DC. Map by the author using

5 of DC's 6 overall densest census tracts border on 14th Street, between downtown and the northern end of Columbia Heights. It's definitely the city's densest string of neighborhoods.

But is it denser north or south of Florida Avenue? That depends how you count. While the stretch of 14th Street between Florida Avenue and P Street remains a little sparser than in Columbia Heights, the stretch from P Street south to Thomas Circle is the densest single tract in DC.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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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Yet we still don't have dedicated bus lanes...

by Alan B. on Jul 22, 2013 12:07 pm • linkreport

Also, Columbia Heights is still on 14th Street. I know they mean mid-city or whatever but the two areas are pretty much uphill/downhill versions of each other.

by drumz on Jul 22, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

5 out of the 6 densest census tracts border 16th street as well. (2-6, as it were) (And at least I assume that's 16th street)

by David F-H on Jul 22, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

@Alan B. +1

We need dedicated bus lanes on 16th and 14th street really badly. Move people, not cars.

by dc denizen on Jul 22, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

Yep, that little part of Logan Circle stands out as the only area of DC fully covered with residential high-rises (using the fire code definition of 6-7+ stories). 13th St. NW south of Logan Circle feels entirely unlike anywhere else in town. Other high-rise residences throughout the city, in Foggy Bottom and along Connecticut and in Southwest, are interspersed with low-density residential or other uses.

From a retail perspective, there isn't much foot traffic below 20K/sq. mi., and above 50K/sq. mi., there's usually enough foot traffic to ignore auto access. That's the level where you start to organically get things like corner stores on side streets. (I suspect that threshold has increased in the supermarket era, but also keep in mind that historically population densities were higher.)

by Payton on Jul 22, 2013 12:42 pm • linkreport

Ok, so I'm not nuts that it is crazy that there are no bikeshare stations between the often-empty Rhode Island Ave/14th St station, 11th and M, 7th and M or 7th and R. Specifically, the corner of 11th and P is very dense but has no station. Also, the corner of 9th and P is about to have a population explosion with the CityMarket site but no bikeshare within 4 long blocks.

by Paul H on Jul 22, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

Amen, Alan.

I live above one of the many delicious 14th St. eateries and the fact that we dedicate entire lanes to a handful of cars on each block is absolutely insane. The 50s are crying out for their own lanes (and better headways, but I digress).

Proud to live on 14th though, for sure.

by MetroDerp on Jul 22, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Oh, yeah, what about redesigning the 14th and 11th street bikes lanes to be cycletracks? 11th Street is well used but is not only using obsolete practice (in-street rather than cycletrack) but also has a several block gap north of RIA and south of Mass. This could be done with no downgrade of general purpose lanes.

by Paul H on Jul 22, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

So, that one census track is about a dense as Manhattan?

by charlie on Jul 22, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Yeah, only one tract is at Manhattan density. The greater story is the larger area seems to have an average density upwards of 35k/40k which is very dense. It's about 3 to 4 times the city average. And upwards of city averages for places like Brooklyn or San Francisco that we think of as being very dense.

by Alan B. on Jul 22, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

It's also a crazy, mind-bogglingly expensive place to live now.

by andrew on Jul 22, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

Paul is right, it's even more baffling that the area is a bikeshare island.

Its like the bikeshare planners looked at employment density, rather than residential when picking spots. The station in the area (11th) was only recently added as well

by JJJJJJ on Jul 22, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

How is 14th street dense when there is almost no residences along it ? There are hundreds of streets in DC where you could find more residences.

You may have a condo or apartment building here or there but not many most are along the side streets which are not 14th street so this does not make sense for it to be the densest area.

by kk on Jul 22, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

Seems like a good time to bring back this gem from The Onion:,2419/

by Adam L on Jul 22, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

Interesting that density doesn't follow any metro lines really.

by Richard B on Jul 22, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Neat, love stuff like this. Thanks for posting.

Also a good reminder, as the city at large continues to densify, the need to aggressively continue bikeshare expansion, bus only lanes, the streetcar buildout and the planning for the separated blue and yellow lines.

by h st ll on Jul 22, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Sunday's Washington Post featured a big story about gentrification on 14th Street, including the claim that it "recently surpassed Columbia Heights as the densest area in the city." Is that true?

Sure, BeyonDC already wrote a piece on this very topic just a few months ago which was crossposted here.

by Scoot on Jul 22, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

14th was always going to be the street it is today. You look at the scattering of classical limestone car dealerships, victorian row businesses and empty riot scarred lots and throw in a truly central location. A recipie for success. Why not move forward with a street car line that switches over to Georgia at Petworth?

by Thayer-D on Jul 22, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

So, that one census track is about a dense as Manhattan?

As dense as the average density of Manhattan, yes. But most of where people live in Manhattan is denser than that.

by MLD on Jul 22, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

For anyone curious what 14th St looked like ~5-10 years ago check out 11th st or Georgia Ave. Theyre already starting to flip over, 11th st more strongly than Georgia so far.

by Alan B. on Jul 22, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Great news on the success of the recasting of 14th Street from a series of used car lots to a true urban activity center.

Another case where, in order for people to live car free like we all seem to want, we need our DC council to provide DDOT with funds to 1) increase Metro or Circulator bus service along 14th St (16th St is still waiting for more buses, see the issue from earlier this spring where only three or four trips per hour could be added due to lack of buses), and 2) add to the Capital Bikeshare system.

All this growth has already led to traffic concestion. If may only get worse if the transit and bike systems cannot handle the added activity, especially outside of rush hours in the evenings when all the restaurants are packed during the dinner hours. What a transformation!

by Transport. on Jul 22, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

Looks good to me. The more density we have downtown, the less we need outside the District.

by Chris S. on Jul 22, 2013 3:37 pm • linkreport

Of course if they put in bus lanes below say Military WMATA wouldn't even need as many new buses because they would be running trips faster... I guess they don't want to piss off Ward 5 and Maryland drivers though.

by Alan B. on Jul 22, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

I would argue for dedicated bus lanes on 16th, however, 14th has far too many commercial venues to be able to divert deliveries and other business that often must be done through the front. Whether its because of limited rear egress or neighbors that have restricted uses of the alley's.

Moving people is not the only use of roads, they also move product from place to place.

by Just Me on Jul 22, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

14th has always been dense since the Columbia Streetcar days. Trouble is, we no longer have the streetcar and have to bike or walk everyplace because the buses are so poor and the Metro is worthless to us.

The newly-opened building at 14th and S even took our southbound bus stop away and the one at 14th & R evicted our CaBi stand (fortunately WW Clinic gave it a home across the street).

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 22, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

I could see bus lanes with an exception for delivery vehicles except peak between 7-10 am and 3-6 pm or something similar. Mainly I was thinking of 16th but the 50s line does get a lot of traffic. There are also a lot of rear alleys that can handle many commercial needs during peak hours except for the largest delivery trucks.

by Alan B. on Jul 22, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

I don't think it's unusual to have deliveries limited to certain (non-peak) hours. Plenty of cities do it I'm sure.

Also are those few metered places on 14th worth more than a dedicated streetcar lane?

Problem in DC is we're now doing those bulb-outs which we'd need to tear out for dedicated transit lanes.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 22, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

The problem with making delivers between 10-3 or after 6(7 really) is that no business wants to hire extra staff for when they are usually busiest(lunch and dinner when people are walking by). It is pretty easy to schedule a shift of 1-2 employees 1-2 hours earlier than your busy time and have them unload, unpack, and then stock shelves. You dont want to have to try and schedule another employee to come in on his off day at noon, work for 2 hours while your business is packed with shoppers and then send him home.

It can work, but for a lot of places that would mean some losses.

by Richard B on Jul 22, 2013 5:43 pm • linkreport

Large retail already is used to late-night deliveries and bars could easily be limited to early evening. That leaves small retail and loading zones on the sidestreet or median could work for them.

In fact I'd rather the sidestreet portion of all commercial zones be dedicated to loading zones while all metered spaces on commercial zones be removed for dedicated transit lanes.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 22, 2013 6:13 pm • linkreport

I would count the Circulators as a poor substitute for the old streetcars, but don't want to discount the value they bring as an option to traditional bus routes. While a solution could be tried for 14th, how about you focus on dedicated bus lanes for 16th first.

The real population density being reflected in this article is on 16th side of those census blocks, with 14th still with a ways to catch up. Now would be the time to look at the future of Streetcars on 14th, before they move forward on the streetscape rehab for 14th.

by just me on Jul 22, 2013 7:10 pm • linkreport

I wouldn't get rid of on street parking for dedicated transit, rather I would put the lines in the center of the street, only because on street parking makes the pedestrian experience so much better. This would radically reduce the amount of car traffic 14th street could handle. But I think this is what we're talking about. Density and livability hinge on us making this leap to another mode of getting around in the central city. 16th may be the better street for a street car line, but one way or another, we'll have to make the decision to grow in the most healthy, economically, and sustainably way possible.

by Thayer-D on Jul 22, 2013 7:38 pm • linkreport

I'd be all for reducing car traffic and substituting transit lanes on 14th. It's getting entirely too crowded at night for the higher speeds 14th allows. Cars don't stop at the mid-block pedestrian crossings and many of the crowds are either intoxicated or on their smartphones or both. I've seen two young women on phones in two days almost get killed stepping in front of cars.

I looked at the density map and the area with the highest density is the large apartment buildings on the north side of Mass between 11th and 14th. The area between R and U is actually not high density, although the new buildings opening will change that.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 22, 2013 8:29 pm • linkreport

65,000 per square mile is only low-rise Manhattan density, i.e., Greenwich Village. High-rise Manhattan, e.g., uptown, is at least 50% higher, particularly since that one census tract (let's call it the ChurchKey tract?) doesn't include much in the way of parks or even non-residential space.

by Payton on Jul 23, 2013 5:33 pm • linkreport

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