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


Breakfast links: Car freedom

Photo by Scott Lenger on Flickr.
No car Capitol?: The former head of the Capitol Police thinks the Capitol grounds should expand by several blocks in each direction and ban all vehicle traffic (including on Constitution and Independence) to thwart any possible car or truck bomb. (Post)

Marylanders worry about VMT tax: Maryland is considering a vehicle mileage tax, in addition to gas taxes passed last year. Despite the technical challenges, other states are moving ahead with similar taxes. (WBAL, Richard)

Take VRE to the fireworks: For the first time in 10 years, VRE will run special trains for Independence Day evening festivities. Each of the two lines will have one train that day, enough to carry about 1000 people total. (Potomac Local)

Next train in how long?!?: Track work can mean Metro trains run every 24 minutes. The idea is to give more certainly to travel times but trains still sometimes have to stop before entering the work zone and can be very crowded. Is there a better way? (Post)

How to make the W&OD safer?: There are 70 intersections along the W&OD trail, but trail users do not generally stop at intersections. Making the trail crossing more visible to drivers as well as slowing them down could help with safety. (FABB)

Gas station sculpture planned for Anacostia: A Canadian artist plans to sink a gas station replica in the river, as part of an installation linking oil consumption with rising sea levels. (CityLab)

Marion Barry in his own words: The Mayor for Life has published an autobiography, which provides plenty of salacious details, but fails to explain the bond he made with so many, or address his inaction on the District's many challenges. (Post)

Lean urbanism could revive cities faster: In Detroit, artists and other individuals have been able to rebuild parts of the city by skirting normal rules. Can regulations and processes be simplified to replicate similar results elsewhere? (Bacon's Rebellion)

Light rail connects Twin Cities: A new line opened between Minneapolis and St. Paul. It integrates into the university campus and was designed with thought to redevelopment and social justice. Can it serve as an example for the Purple Line? (RPUS)

And...: DC is among 4 finalist cities vying for the US Olympic bid for the 2024 games. (DCist) ... DC United releases new stadium renderings. (City Paper) ... DC has the most farmers markets after New York. (WBJ)

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Matt Malinowski is a consultant advising government clients on improving the energy efficiency of consumer electronic products, but is interested in all aspects of sustainable infrastructure and community resilience. He lives with his wife and son in the Truxton Circle/Bates neighborhood of DC. 


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VMT is the only fair way to fund the roads.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 8:59 am • linkreport

"NVRPA wants to ensure a uniform approach to intersection treatments" -- this has been a long-standing problem with NVRPA. Instead of evaluating each intersection based on its particular requirements, they want to treat each one the same. This tends to encourage people to ignore whatever signage NVRPA places, as it is obvious that the signs are effectively meaningless rather than indicating actual risk-based decisions.

I'd encourage NVRPA to abandon its insistence on "uniformity".

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 9:03 am • linkreport

Regarding the recommendation to turn the Capitol building into a multi-block secured campus is a horrible idea. Obviously some buffer and enhanced security is necessary, but the threats to al our cities are unbounded. No amount of buffer will truly keep us safe if someone is determined enough to cause havoc. Plus,the security state atmosphere that will result would be a shame.

by Thayer-D on Jun 16, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

Serious question: Is there a group out there to work AGAINST the Olympics coming here? I can't possibly think of a worse idea. Reading comments on many blogs/newspapers/etc it is clear there is a large group that thinks this is a terrible idea. Anyone know of a formal group to push against this idiocracy?

by DAJ on Jun 16, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

It was not clear to me if the proposed closing of Conn and Independence to cars and trucks would leave them open to bicycles, as the plaza between the White House and Lafayetter Park now is.

This is a place where we get to think radically about transportation options. Though I am often a moderate wrt to auto usage, I too sometimes like to engage in such radical thinking. I know many folks here hate security theater, but I can imagine some HUGE upsides to the proposal. Can we at least think how, if this were adopted for security reasons, it could be connected to bike infra in order to become a regional asset?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 9:24 am • linkreport

pardon, Con, not Conn.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport

@DAJ, I am that group. All joking aside, totally agree with you, yet another example, like the soccer stadium, of DC being bass-ackwards on limited funding priorities. It's classic ribbon cutting politics. How many schools could be renovated and expanded, how many more beat cops could there be in critical neighborhoods, how much could be improved at the city's hospitals?

Nah, lets just blow it on sports, which never pay back what they cost, and leave you with unused dilapidated structures that cost millions to upkeep once they are done.

Geniuses. Same ole same ole.

by Navid Roshan on Jun 16, 2014 9:28 am • linkreport

Maybe Gainer should also propose totally banning bicycles around the Capitol. After all, a bicyclist could be carrying a bomb. Oh, wait, so could a pedestrian, so let's ban pedestrians, too!!!

/snark off

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 9:30 am • linkreport


or maybe only ban cargo bikes and very large panniers? seriously, a car can pack more bad stuff than a bike, and a truck more than a car. We ban vehicles from the plaza in front of the WH, but not bikes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 9:35 am • linkreport

I think the real danger is large trucks, but it's not clear how to prohibit heavy trucks but still permit small cars. Maybe some kind of system that automatically blocks the road based on the weight of a vehicle? There are some obvious issues with such a thing which would need to be worked out (e.g., making sure you don't accidentally run a bus full of tourists into a wall) but maybe there's some kind of compromise between safety & access which can be worked out over the next 50 years without turning the core into a no-go zone.

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 9:44 am • linkreport

@AWITC - That's right, where do we draw the line? But I agree that closing streets to motor traffic should be an absolute last resort that is done more for good urbanist reasons rather than security theater. But like you said, if such an area is closed to motor traffic regardless, it can become a positive such as with PA Ave in front of the White House. This is probably a special case, as many tourists want to gather there for pictures anyway.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

Remember to distinguish between motor traffic and vehicles (which includes bicycles).

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

re Capitol grounds: when I first read the headline I thought "Ooh, a car free zone would be really nice." Then I read the article and got the scary feeling that this guy would turn the city into a police state if he had his druthers. The city could quickly become nearly unlivable given the number of things that could be protected to the degree he thinks they should.

re Olympics: why won't this idea die?

by RDHD on Jun 16, 2014 9:48 am • linkreport

Also, the summary about the W&OD trail doesn't make any sense. Is there a word (or three) missing?

by RDHD on Jun 16, 2014 9:49 am • linkreport

Plus, from a security standpoint alone, I don't understand the PA Ave. closure. Would have to be an especially powerful bomb to get at the White House from there. (Maybe this was in response to a particular threat, I don't know). But if the White House isn't safe from there, no place is.

But don't get me wrong, I like the resulting PA Ave. pedestrian/bicycle plaza B-)

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

The article on VMT and banning cars in front of the Capitol + DavidG's comment on where do we draw the line makes me think of how come we don't regulate the size/weight of the car that can go on certain streets in DC. Some of these large SUVs are almost the size of small commercial trucks and when they go down narrow streets, they can't get past each other. Someone has to literally pull over in order for traffic to continue flowing. These large SUVs also put more weight on the road and should have to "pull their weight" in taxes to maintain the roads, just like we do for commercial trucks. It's pretty shortsighted to treat all "cars" the same when a Smartcar is tiny and - say a Suburban - is probably 3x the size.

by dc denizen on Jun 16, 2014 9:55 am • linkreport

I'm not sure sure the Olympics are such a bad idea.

The Washington "brand" has been badly tarnished here in the United States. It's become a symbol, rather than a place that may be imperfect, but is the center of our national government. I have acquaitances that actually refuse to set foot in DC because the negative association is so strong.
It ought to be a course of pride, rather than disdain.

Never underestimate that value of symbolism. The Olympics could be our stage to revitalize the DC brand in the United States.

by Crickey7 on Jun 16, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

Why does everyone keep calling me DavidG and not my preferred DaveG? LOL

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

I apologize DaveG! :-)

by dc denizen on Jun 16, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

I think it's time for a lower impact/cost Olympics wherever it's held. What I mean is maximum use of existing infrastructure and/or new infrastructure that will see maximum continuing use. Both of which would lead to a lower impact/cost Olympics in the short and long run.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

I support a DC Olympics bid. It would be a good way to, sooner rather than later, move forward with the planned expansion of Union Station, expanded capacity for WMATA in the core, and the redevelopment of RFK. Don't see how you ever find the political will to do any of those things without the focusing power of a major undertaking like the Olympics.

It's not like DC runs the risk of building facilities that will go to waste. We don't have that luxury given its limited boundaries.

by Matt on Jun 16, 2014 10:04 am • linkreport


Thanks! Fixed.

by Steven Yates on Jun 16, 2014 10:06 am • linkreport

Anything I can do to help thwart a DC Olympics bid, I will. Anyone who supports it is a person who I don't want to ever associate with.

by iaom on Jun 16, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

I support* a DC Olympics bid too.

*NOTE: Support only guaranteed if Feds and private interests finance the vast majority of it instead of District taxpayers.

by JES on Jun 16, 2014 10:12 am • linkreport

@Crickey7: yup, the same way Sochi revitalized Russia.

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 10:14 am • linkreport

@Mike I think the real danger is large trucks, but it's not clear how to prohibit heavy trucks but still permit small cars.

The Capitol Police already prohibit large trucks from the streets immediately surrounding the Capitol. They have officers posted at key locations to divert truck traffic, along with signs announcing where trucks have to turn. Is it perfect? No. But I'd much rather put up with that system than further indulge Gainer 's love of security theater and cutting off the Capitol complex from the rest of the city.

Although, personally, I'd rather we completely scrap all this security nonsense and go back to living our lives without the ridiculous "security measures" which do nothing to keep us safe and only serve to fatten the wallets of mercenaries. That Americans are practically banned from their own Capitol on viewed as deeply suspicious for wanting to visit is profoundly troubling for a democracy.

by Birdie on Jun 16, 2014 10:16 am • linkreport

If you read the Post article, Gainer wants to extend the No Car zone all the way to Union Station. Blocking such a huge section would force crosstown traffic to the North and South, where east-west connections are already congested. Traffic would become a nightmare, and you'd also slow down crosstown buses such as the X2 and eventually the streetcar.

This proposal isn't smart urbanism, it's stupid security theatre.

by KingmanPark on Jun 16, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

ban all vehicle traffic

This plan is typical for the paranoid world security people live in. It is devoid of any sense of reality and responsibility to anyone. Because this plan would, of course, immediately start with a massive list of vehicles that would be excepted to the rules. Police vehicles, politicians vehicles, security vehicles, emergency vehicles... You know, pretty much all vehicles Congress would need, except those of 'We the People' that Congress serves.

by Jasper on Jun 16, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

a no car zone to union station would solve the MBT to the Mall/PA Ave gap in the bike network. It would also absolutely require improved transit access to Union Station. If the feds could finance the seperate blue line out of security funds, that would go a very long way to making that into a positive for the district and the region.

I mean isn't it worth 10 billion dollars to keep the capitol building safe? Helluva lot cheaper than a war.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

"Traffic would become a nightmare, and you'd also slow down crosstown buses such as the X2 and eventually the streetcar. "

Transit vehicles could be expempt - much as buses are (I think) allowed closer to the Pentagon than private vehicles.

Look I know Gainer's motive is not urbanism. So what? that doesn't mean we can't turn this into an urbanist undertaking.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

@dcd...err...dc denizen LOL - thanks! :-)

That's what VMT would SUV's in proper proportion to their impact on the roads and the environment.

VMT privacy issues can be addressed by a proper, tamper-proof odometer by recording miles traveled only, not where the vehicle has been. Sounds like Oregon is doing just this?

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

I never understand the obsession with VMT taxes. A gas tax is much easier to implement, does not require obtrusive tracking, and has the advantage of requiring drivers of heavier vehicles to pay more. A VMT tax is bureaucratic, and incentivizes fraud and odometer tampering. I could go on. Why not just raise the gas tax?

by renegade09 on Jun 16, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

"yup, the same way Sochi revitalized Russia."

He said make DC look better to Americans. You jumped to "use DC to make US look better to the world." Those aren't the same thing.

by Another Nick on Jun 16, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

The Gainer Plan and the Olympic bids are some of the worst ideas to have ever been featured in this blog.

The mall doesn't need to become an even larger isolated monoculture, no matter how much "park" space that returns.

The olympics are the freebase of urban revitalization that will concentrate development, move wealth around a few different small groups, and leave the city with huge traces and white elephants.

Anyone thinking Washington can distribute the stadia is nuts - London had its campus built specifically for security purposes, so we're looking at more cordons and more big projects that ultimately will harm the city more than any brand improvement ever could.

Please, please no.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 16, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

a VMT tax would tax an SUV the same as a subcompact. A VMT tax is a way to address the more general impact of vehicles on congestion and road use. It does not address GHG impact, which still requires a seperate carbon tax. Arguably it doesnt address the weight impacts of vehicles (though thats an area of controversy) which might still require a gas tax, or a weight adjusted VMT tax. And it does not addess congestion concentrated on specific roads at specific times, which still requires real time tolling.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:29 am • linkreport

@AWITC - I hope you are being sarcastic about the MBT happening quicker with Gainer's security theater :-)

Better there be Israeli-style profiling of truck drivers wanting to get close to the Capitol than a blanket closure. This is how Israel keeps it's airports and airlines safe, and truck bombers at bay, too, presumably.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:31 am • linkreport

look, I dont expect the Gainer plan to happen. In a region where there is such push back against bike lanes and transit lanes, the pushback against it by business interests, the AAA, suburban commuters and their reps, would be huge.

but I think we urbanist can use it shape the dialogue. Why is auto access so central to the notion of access? What alternatives are there? Aren't our suggestions for lane repurposing and for traffic calming in fact incredibly moderate compared to what some other folks propose for security purposes?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

Not sure what Sochi has to do with our situation. Putin was playing for an international audience and a domestic one. He may have failed somewhat on the international front because Russia isn't in fact ready for the world stage, but he succeeded domestically.

We would handle it far better, and in any event, I was speaking as to domestic politics.

by Crickey7 on Jun 16, 2014 10:34 am • linkreport

OK maybe I should be clearer. A VMT should be vehicle weight times miles traveled. That would correctly tax both an SUV and a Smart Car in proportionate to their impact and fuel use. VMT does not have be the only road use tax or toll out there, either. But it does seem to be fairer than the other taxes.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

AWITC: You can't turn Gainer's plan into urbanism. It's not just closing streets, it's about eliminating mixed use and enclosing what should be open spaces.

There's not much left of urbanism without those.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 16, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport


Virtually the entire Old City of Jerusalem is off limits to motor vehicles. No one, AFAIK, suggests that means that its off limits to the people(s). That we consider a place isolated because we can't drive on to it or through it says something about our mentality. Now the US Capital grounds are not a medieval walled city, I know that. But I think this a chance to explore what accessibility means to us.

It just seems really weird to me that in GGW, the overwhelming reaction is to the security theater aspects and not to the modal aspects.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

The existing track record for security closures becoming good public spaces is very poor. The closed streets around the capitol are hardly car-free, they are just closed to public traffic. They instead get used for staff parking. There is little to no benefit from improved bike access, since the gates are not bike friendly and the police direct bikes onto sidewalks. Transit routes are forced into costly detours around the cordons.

by Alex B. on Jun 16, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

@renegade - a gas tax does not directly take into account the impact of a vehicle's weight on the roads.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

I am not as familiar with the way the capitol gounrds are currently managed. PA Ave in front of the WH is bike friendly. The Pentagon Bus Station accommodates transit vehicles while keeping private motor vehicles further away. We know how to do this better. For whatever reason, the Capital police have so far chosen not to. IF the Capitol grounds are to expand, it seems to me that it should be quite possible to negotiate how that happens and how they are managed, so that it is bike and transit friendly. I think exploring how to do that is valuable, other than for those whose gut reaction to the security state makes urbanism issues seem minor by comparison.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

From Gainer:

“Action after something happens is fighting the last war.”

To minimize disruption, he would stretch out the project over decades, perhaps taking up to 50 years.

Right, in 50 years I'm sure today's security issues will still be relevant. Gainer is the one trying to fight the last war. The next attack isn't likely to come from some obvious source like the truck bomb that was used in the 1993 WTC bombing. It will be from some absurdly weak link that no one is thinking about. Probably something having to do with cybersecurity. If the US can control Iran's nuclear centrifuges using an embedded virus, surely a hacker terrorist could control some critical electronic component in or near the Capitol building to wreak havoc.

Gainer reminds me of the French in WWII who heavily fortified their border with Germany. Then Hitler invaded France via Belgium, totally bypassing the fortified Maginot Line.

by Falls Church on Jun 16, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

Jerusalem's Old City was already a vibrant urban space long before the automobile, and Terence Gainer, came along LOL In fact, it has never been particularly car-friendly which may actually help to better secure it. But just because the Capitol grounds are such an American-style open space, relatively speaking, doesn't mean we should be shutting it down like Gainer proposes. And GGW seems to be more about overall urbanism than just "modal aspects" :-)

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

@AWITC, In theory you could leave these routes open to buses, but that isn't what happened on PA Ave. If it's closed for security reasons, ordinary people wouldn't be able to drive through.

The pushback here would come not just from suburban commuters, but from people who live in the area who would see nightmarish traffic where they live. Many people who live in DC support there being alternative to driving and prioritizing other forms of transportation, but just because cars shouldn't come first doesn't mean we should completely disregard the impact on traffic.

by KingmanPark on Jun 16, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

Exploration is fine, but you can't blame people for wanting to see movement on improvements to the existing closures before trusting that additonal closures will magically create good spaces. You've got to earn trust.

PA ave by the White House is, alas, the exception rather than the rule for good public space in a security traffic closure.

by Alex B. on Jun 16, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

A VMT tax doesn't have to tax all vehicles the same.Make it modified by vehicle weight.

Raising the gas tax at some point simply doesn't work as people start to drive fewer miles with more efficient cars (including electrics which would pay NO gas tax.)

As for the Olympics - it would be great if they could pull it off with existing stadiums, but thats never the case - because among other tings - cities simply don't have all of the world class facilities needed.

by TomA on Jun 16, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

As much as I'm in favor of overall urbanism and multi-modalism, (properly managed) motor traffic can enhance urban vibrancy. So I'd think very carefully about further restricting of motor traffic around the Capitol, which is already quite set back from public motor traffic around least one block's worth. I think what people are objecting to here is such closures for reasons of knee-jerk security theater, not good urbanism.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

I agree that it makes sense to explore the impact on traffic, including access for through traffic, impact of reroutes on alternate routes and the areas they pass through, etc. And I think its perfectly reasonable to ask that the current management of the Capitol Grounds be addressed, before the grounds are expanded.

But some of the comments above seem to me to be on the lines of "this damned security theater is cutting off the capitol from the people". I find that odd here, even if I accept (as of course I do) that autos are a legitimate choice, and that modal issues are not the sum total of urbanism.

PA Ave by the WH is exceptional, but it also didnt take away that place from the people - I think it restored the place to the people. Does that mean something equally good would happen near the Capitol? Not necessarily. Is it more important to accommodate transit in that area (assuming we don't get sufficient grade seperated transit to compensate) Yes. But addressing those concerns is not the same as saying damn the paranoid security types.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

Oddly enough, Old City Jerusalem is a dense half-mile by half-mile city, about the size of the Capitol grounds now.

Only it's a city with 37,000 people living in it.

by Neil Flanagan on Jun 16, 2014 11:08 am • linkreport

" I think what people are objecting to here is such closures for reasons of knee-jerk security theater"

Im not sure how much Gainer is thinking in a knee jerk way, and how much is serious concern about truck bombs. Truck bombs are quite real, are a problem overseas, and prior to 9/11, they were the instrument IIUC of the biggest terrorist attack on American soil (at Oklahoma City.) Now that aircraft have their cockpits locked, trucks are likely the biggest non-cyber physical terr threat. I am not sure I am qualified to dismiss that because TSA makes old ladies take their shoes off or because we have too many ugly bollards.

And I am way to frustrated with the daily impact of auto privileging to skip over lightly ANY chance to redress that balance, especially when a means to redress that balance comes along with the possibility of powerful allies who are NOT part of the urbanist community. That Gainer is not motivated by urbanism is to me a plus, not a minus. It means a chance to achieve radical change without expending all the limited political capital that urbanists possess.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

"AWITC: You can't turn Gainer's plan into urbanism. It's not just closing streets, it's about eliminating mixed use and enclosing what should be open spaces. There's not much left of urbanism without those." +1

"Virtually the entire Old City of Jerusalem is off limits to motor vehicles." I'd love to hear how that in anyway parallels our case in DC.

by Thayer-D on Jun 16, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

Yes Neil, I don't think I would confuse the Old City of J with the US capitol. My point was merely that excluding autos does not equal excluding the people. BTW, given the paucity of parking, Im not sure that the proposed expansion of the auto exclusion zone really means fewer people could use their cars to access the Capitol - I guess it would present a problem for taxis and for people being dropped off. It seems to me that the use of thos roads for vehicles is primarily for through traffic, both SOV and transit. Thats a real issue, to be sure, but I don't think its a "they are keeping the people away" kind of issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

Removing cars from around the Capitol is a horrible idea! Is there is anyone here that was around when Pennsylvania Ave in front of the White House closed ?

This would effect more buses than the closure of Penn Ave did; presumably this would effect the 32,34,36,39,96,97,A12, Circulator and depending on how far they want the closure it could also effect the P6, D6, X1, X8, D8 and 80.

I would love to know what the DC Government and WMATA think of the idea.

At this point I would rather them move the offices of Congressmen to some isolated place such as East Potomac Park, Ft McNair, Bolling AFB, Pentagon, or anywhere else that would have less massive inconveniences for the whole city.

Unless than plan on widening C & D Street NE, NW & SE & SW than hell no. Especally due to this would most likely force all Metrobuses to either take 695, M Street SE/SW, or Mass Ave leaving a huge area of the city with no buses at all.

@ AWalkerInTheCity

Forgot about some damn Jerusalem; DC is not Jerusalem, plenty of other cities function quite fine. If they wanted to do this all they had to do was do this after 9/11. Quite frankly the Capitol is not that close to a street its about a block from the building to either Independence or Constitution Avenues and about two blocks in distance from 1st Street.

Go around London, Brussels, Rome, Vatican City, Madrid, Paris to government offices or palaces you can get very close to some.

If it was my way if this had to be done, build new buildings for the Congressmen and their staff directly beside the Capitol between the building and Independence or Constitution Ave get rid of those roads in their current forms and route them to a new widen road where C Street NE/SE is to meet up with the current streets a few blocks later.

by kk on Jun 16, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

There is a nebulous reference in McCartney column about Gainer's desire to 'buy up blocks' of Capitol Hill. They talk specifically about closing streets, but if they're really talking about buying up the existing privately owned historic buildings on the blocks adjacent to the complex (the ones that haven't already been turned into parking lots or underused parks) and expanding the buffer between the buildings and the rest of the city.

by Alex B. on Jun 16, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

The PA Ave. Plaza works because in addition to the White House itself being such a magnet for tourists, it's also an extension of Lafayette Park. There's no real extension similarly of public space around the Capitol, not already closed off to motor traffic, that would work in the same way.

@Alex B. - I'd be OK with adding bike lanes to those secure streets around the Capitol. And a bollard-based solution that permits bicycles to stay in these streets through and past the motor vehicle security barriers. I also see no reason why anyone would want bicycles on these heavily trafficked sidewalks which only leads to ped/bike conflict. Isn't that still part of downtown, where bikes are banned on sidewalks anyway? Gainer, I thought you were all about safety :-)

In fact, I don't understand why the 15th St. NW cycle track can't continue down Madison Place past the security shack at H, then east on the PA Ave Plaza to where the cycle track picks up again on 15th. It could be on the outside of the plaza away from the White House, unless it's OK to simply mix bikes and peds here. But a security gate is not a good enough reason to force bikes onto sidewalks.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 11:21 am • linkreport

It took many years of debate and lobbying for the park service to redesign PA Ave in front of the WH into the nice space it is today. For a decade after PA Ave was closed, it looked like the uninviting, inhospitable areas that are closed around the Capitol. Only because the national spotlight gazes on "1600 Penn Ave" was pressure to make it into a nice space successful. I doubt the proposal for closing down additional areas around the Capitol would result in anything different than the areas that are already closed.

Also, the feds didn't pay for any additional transit that was needed to replace the lost vehicular capacity after PA Ave was shut down. Unlikely they would do it for shutting down more of the area around the Capitol.

by Falls Church on Jun 16, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

"I mean isn't it worth 10 billion dollars to keep the capitol building safe? Helluva lot cheaper than a war."

So those are the only 'reasonable' alternatives? Glad we aren't hearing any 'radical' ideas.

"Look I know Gainer's motive is not urbanism. So what? that doesn't mean we can't turn this into an urbanist undertaking."

If it's antithetical to urbanism, how do you expect to turn it into an 'urbanist undertaking'? Calling it one large urban pedestrian zone dosen't a thriving city make. We've tried the whole pedestrianizing mall concept, and without surrounding density and narrow streets, it tends to not to work very well.

It's a bit alarming how easily you would have us retreat into bunkers becasue there's a possibility that something horrible might happen. With that logic, we'd all move to Idaho and arm up. Then, when we got tired of being scared, we'd have to design a bunch of pedestrian friendly transit oriented communities out in Idaho. Hmmm...

by Thayer-D on Jun 16, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

I think IF this were to move forward, transit would have to be addressed.

A, I am not sure if having vetted transit vehicles and operators would be a solution. IIUC thats not the Pentagon solution - the bus bays were moved farther from the building and a berm built in between after 9/11

B. It occurs to me that streetcars which can only move on tracks, are inherently less of a security threat than buses are. I think thats worth dwelling on.

C. I am not sure how much improved metro rail, including a full loop or both seperate blue and yellow lines, would compensate for dramatic loss of bus service.

I do not know how much traction this idea has with congress or the security people aside from Gainer. If it does have traction, the ways to address the impact on transit need to be brought forward.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

VMT * Vehicle Weight * green factor would be a fairer equation.

by NikolasM on Jun 16, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

@AWITC, I think you may be overlooking the consequences of closing these streets to general traffic. That traffic doesn't just disappear; it's going to end up rerouted. The will inevitably be negative impacts on pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit modes on the roads than end up carrying the diverted traffic.

What really pisses me off about any road closure in the name of security is how it's just done with no input. Where were the environmental impact studies, the historic preservation board, etc. when E St and PA Ave were closed? Meanwhile pedestrians are getting run over in places like Maryland Ave NE because a simple reconfiguration of an intersection is mired in bureaucratic red tape.

by dcmike on Jun 16, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

" We've tried the whole pedestrianizing mall concept, and without surrounding density and narrow streets, it tends to not to work very well."

absolutely correct, and were this not being raised for security reasons, and were there not gaps in the bike network, and were we not scrambling for funding for heavy rail projects, I would certainly not suggest it. There is a huge difference between not suggesting something, and not trying to leverage something.

As for PA ave, this is not being done in a rush, AFAICT. There is time to explain the problems, to object to the negative impacts, and prepare to negotiate compensations. Maybe the gut negative reaction at this point will help - congress is more likely to offer offsets if the region is fiercely against this than if folks rush to negotiate, I suppose. I would make a poor NIMBY ;)

As for 10 billion for the blue line being better than a war, Im trying to explore how you make a case to Congress to fund the entire seperate blue line. Telling them to fund water projects in Syria, or to improve human intelligence, or whatever, is not going to solve the regions key transit problem.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

@JES, I'm a District resident and I pay both DC and federal income taxes. I don't want any of my tax dollars financing a DC Olympics bid.

by dcmike on Jun 16, 2014 11:33 am • linkreport

re Capitol grounds: I thought it was important to emphasize his ideas are not just about cars. From the article "Gainer would also put a fence around Capitol Square, similar to what he called the “functional yet tasteful enclosure” around the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden."

So that's a 6' steel fence around the Capitol Square. Admittedly, I'm not familiar with what exactly comprises the Capitol Square. But, really? A big fence?

by RDHD on Jun 16, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

"That traffic doesn't just disappear; it's going to end up rerouted. The will inevitably be negative impacts on pedestrian, bicycle, and public transit modes on the roads than end up carrying the diverted traffic. "

One more time, I agree that needs to be addressed. Perhaps this needs to be combined with the congestion tax proposal? I would only remind that when there is a proposal to repurpose lanes or to traffic calm and neighbors object based on traffic diversion (see Wisconsin Ave for example) we want to study that, not assume it makes the change impossible.

I think a lot of the comments are based not only on general security theater issues, but resentment over the way the PA ave closure was implemented. But it seems like this is being opened up for a long discussion, in contrast.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 11:36 am • linkreport

So what's up with the Capitol Police, Secret Service, etc. forcing bikes onto sidewalks around their motor vehicle security barriers, despite their location within the downtown "no bikes on sidewalks" zone?

Surely there's a better way for the Feds and DDot to address this security vs. traffic safety issue.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 11:40 am • linkreport

About the Capitol, one thing to keep in mind is that Congresspeople will never give up their cars. So even if the public is not allowed to drive near the capitol complex, I can guarantee you that Congresspeople will still drive. In fact, I predict that there would be even more open air parking lots for Congresspeople and their staff. I would not compare this to the plaza north of the White House, unless you're prepared to imagine 500 cars parked or idling there.

by JR on Jun 16, 2014 11:46 am • linkreport

I would actually be in favor of a car free zone on the Mall and around the Capitol in theory but they need to keep it sensible. They would at least need to keep a few of the North /South roads open like 14th, 9th, 4th/3rd and 2nd NE at a minimum. Maybe make one of them bus only as well. Realistically you are going to run afoul of parking supply issues though.

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

Metro rail just keeps getting worse

by asffa on Jun 16, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

VMT are not the same as a gas tax. A gas tax hits folks who drive in urban areas in stop and go traffic more than those who drive on highways. A VMT tilts towards those who drive long distances at fairly high miles per gallon.

Higher MPG does not equate to lower impact on roads.

by Richard on Jun 16, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

Only argument for a DC Olympics is for the expanded transit investment that would HAVE to accompany it. But given the track record lately, to have new construction in place by 2024 would be unlikely, to say the least, even if it started today. And the IOC won't pick a host city until 2017. So that leaves only 7 years to tunnel under M Street, etc. I also get the feeling that most of the "Olympic transit upgrades" would be terrible mixed-traffic streetcars, which solves approximately nothing.

Not to mention, this is an organization that thinks 12-minute weekend headways are totally great, and that 24-minute headways are really doable. Can we really trust them to provide good service to millions when they can't even do so today?

by LowHeadways on Jun 16, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

Otherwise pointless security theater meant to take away US freedoms of assembly is still in vogue.

by asffa on Jun 16, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

After all, a bicyclist could be carrying a bomb.

As one who obsessively reads the headline of any article with the word "bicycle" in it, I can tell you that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bicycle was one of the preferred bomb delivery vehicles (if not the #1 one). Still, that has not been an issue here.

by David C on Jun 16, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

Although, personally, I'd rather we completely scrap all this security nonsense and go back to living our lives without the ridiculous "security measures" which do nothing to keep us safe.

I agree. I used to run around the Capitol to the west portico and down the stairs - every day. Little did I know on 9/10/01 that it would be the last time I would get to do that. I don't think banning people from those parts of the Capitol Grounds has made the Capitol one iota safer, but it has made life in DC just a little bit worse.

by David C on Jun 16, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

Why not just raise the gas tax?

Eventually, we'll need the VMT if/when enough cars change to electric. But we're not there yet. Is it unfair that people with electric cars get a pass on the gas tax? Yes. But it's good policy anyway.

We should raise the gas tax until raising the gas tax no longer works.

by David C on Jun 16, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

There are a lot of issues with the Olympic bid. First of all we'd have to get DC, MD, and VA to cooperate which is probably a stretch. At the very least it would become a huge political hot potato for all the same old reasons - can you imagine how much traction the tea party would get out of a Obama/"Washington" Olympics?! There's limited space for new venues and realistically how is DC going to compete against developing countries like China that will throw billions and billions at the Olympics? Tokyo is some what of an outlier as a developed nation that they have the sheer size and powerful central bureaucracy that can make it happen. Best case scenario huge venues will go into green fields in MD and VA that may or may not have long term use and you will get some Metro extensions (but possibly no internal capacity improvements) to those sites. The only win I could see would be regional rail because we would need better service to BWI and possibly farther afield venues. I mean it would be cool, but it's hard not to get a little put off by all the potential complications.

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

I have acquaitances that actually refuse to set foot in DC because the negative association is so strong.

People who feel that way aren't going to change their minds because of the Olympics, and it shouldn't be DC's priority to cater to them.

by worthing on Jun 16, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

BTA, consider the Olympics DC is bidding for are the 2024 games, not sure how they can be Obama Olympics.

by Birdie on Jun 16, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

My point is that in upcoming elections the tea baggers would seize stuff like an Olympics bid as being out of touch with America and I suspect it would become a political hot potato the Democrats would strongly want to avoid.

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

I'm not for hunkering down. That will get DC nowhere. If one group wants to argue against a display of American exceptionalism because it's in DC, I suspect they would be overplaying their hands.

The display of DC as backdrop for victory would not be lost on middle America.

by Crickey7 on Jun 16, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

I think the argument would be more along the lines that America can be exceptional in some other country without footing a huge bill. Maybe I'm wrong, but I imagine most politicians don't want to make that gamble.

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

The Olympics could be our stage to revitalize the DC brand in the United States.

Just the way Atlanta endeared itself to Americans. Why since then the town even became the location of that failed "Cavemen" sitcom. And their sports teams waited almost 18 years before decamping for the suburbs or asking that their stadiums be replaced Think of all the times one hears people talk about the vacation they're taking to Atlanta and how jealous one gets. Yes, Atlanta - the Baltimore of Georgia - really revitalized their brand with the Olympics.

by David C on Jun 16, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

As far as I can tell, Maryland is not really considering a VMT on top of last year's hike in the gas tax. Rather some people who did not like the gas tax are considering laws to block a VMT, which is rather pointless since it would take a statute to create a VMT anyway.

Meanwhile the gas tax wil go up by 1% of the wholesale gas price this year and next year, and each of the following two years as well unless an Internet sales tax is enacted.

by JimT on Jun 16, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

Well, they started with Atlanta. We start with DC. Which backdrop would you prefer?

by Crickey7 on Jun 16, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

I don't think we even need to fix our brand. The DC brand is pretty strong. We get a huge amount of international and domestic tourism every year for a city our size. The people who are committed to hating "Washington" are going to do so whether or not we hold an Olympcs. I say give it some sunbelt city if they want it and hopefully they will use it to add some downtown density and transit.

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7: you are displaying a confidence in the ability of the DC region to deliver a massive infrastructure project on time which seems to completely disregard any current experience. I think it will be very easy to criticize something which will be over budget and behind schedule. Yeah, Sochi & DC are different. The difference is that Putin can get away with a separate story for a domestic audience which obscures reality, and in our system that's not the case.

@birdie: the question is what actually stops someone in a truck from hitting the gas and getting close enough to do damage. the answer isn't "a cop" unless the cop happens to be the incredible hulk.

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

It's also amusing to ponder the concept that the IOC -- an organization rife with corruption and which in recent times can't get into any venue where the affected populace gets to vote on the question -- can somehow improve DC's image. If they want to come here, let them pay us.

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

Why not use the Olympics to jump start our streetcar program. If we're going to dump a lot of cheese on this, let's get something of value when it's over.

by Thayer-D on Jun 16, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

@renegade - a gas tax does not directly take into account the impact of a vehicle's weight on the roads.

A heavier vehicle requires more gas to move. This is Newton's second law of motion. More gas used means more tax paid. Hence a gas tax penalizes heavier vehicles more. A VMT tax does not, unless you start introducing fudge factors. But once the principle of the tax being proportional to VMT goes out the window, there is the possibility of all sorts of political wrangling. Think: no VMT tax for the handicapped; no VMT tax for the over 65s; no VMT for returned service personnel; no VMT tax for DC Council members etc etc. A mess. Gas tax = simple and broadly-based.

A gas tax hits folks who drive in urban areas in stop and go traffic more than those who drive on highways.
Again, this seems like a perk of a gas tax, not a problem. If people want to clog up cities, they should pay more.

by renegade09 on Jun 16, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

I say give it some sunbelt city if they want it and hopefully they will use it to add some downtown density and transit.

The cities in contention are Boston, DC, LA, and San Francisco. Of these, in my mind, DC makes the most sense. San Francisco is far too anti-development to ever seriously be considered, and LA has already had hosting duties twice (once already in my lifetime, as is).

That puts odds on Boston or DC. And, unlike 2016, I think the odds that the U.S. will win the bid for 2024 is high because (1) 2026 would mark thirty years since the US last hosted a summer Olympics and (2) there's increasing acknowledgment in the international community that hosting the Olympics doesn't make sense for a city/country that doesn't already have the necessary infrastructure to support it and the economic demand to redevelop Olympics facilities after the games end.

Relatedly, FIFA has also stated it's possible that Qatar will lose its 2022 bid for the World Cup and, if it does, that hosting duties will fall to the U.S., which might put eyes toward redeveloping RFK into a world class stadium--one that could be built with hosting the 2025 Olympics in mind (and then housing the Redskins thereafter).

by Matt on Jun 16, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

The streets around the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, Supreme Court and Library of Congress already have lift blades in the pavent to restrict or prevent access.

And the only vehicles currently allowed to park or even drive by slowly are police vehicles and those with permits - vehicles belonging to politicians, officials, staffers, etc.

In other words, EVERYONE but the citizens who are paying for all of this security paranoia.

by August4 on Jun 16, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

"A heavier vehicle requires more gas to move. "

MPG is a function of both vehicle weight and other aspects of vehicle design. For example is my understanding that the now populat minicars get about the same MPG as compacts, though they have lower total vehicle weight - because the design compromises to get them shorter from end to end, and thus easier to park in urban places, actually reduce their gas mileage.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 16, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

Why not just raise the gas tax?

Maryland just did that. Less than a year ago. Last August.

by August4 on Jun 16, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Matt: unfortunately, Boston seems to be better about organizing an anti-Olympics movement ( so it might end up in DC by default if people here don't get a chance to vote no.

by Mike on Jun 16, 2014 2:59 pm • linkreport

I shudder at the mere suggestion of a DC Olympics. The bickering\delays\budget overruns would be unbearable.

by The Truth™ on Jun 16, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

Just because we are selected by the USOC doesn't mean DC can/has to produce a winning bid. Feels like a giant national game of "Not it".

by BTA on Jun 16, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

I've been under the (perhaps false) impression that any US city selected for the US bid for an international tournament is at a disadvantage in winning because of our very strict and expensive visa application process. Not a thing?

by Catherine on Jun 16, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

The Olympics in DC will never happen if only because of our woefully inadequate transportation infrastructure and our inability to do anything about it.

Our Metro system doesn't fully cover the area, is constantly under serious repair; we can't get a line fully built as planned in less than a decade even if we farm out the work to supposed expert "transit partners". And if it's taken 8 years to simply keep postponing the opening of DC's single 2-mile-long 3-vehicle streetcar line, does anyone honestly believe DC will have a fully operational city-wide streetcar system by 2024?

Our highway network, designed and (only partially) built to serve the needs of a 1970's regional population cannot be expanded thanks to special interests that have successfully obstructed nearly every effort to significantly increase road capacity for half a century.

Face it. It will take more than HOT lanes, cycle tracks and HOV to accomodate the (million or so?) Olympics visitors. And they won't all fit on Metro such as it is.

This is a place that can't get its infrastructure act together. You can't build a molehill or lay one mile of track or pave over one mile for a highway in this region without placating everyone with a beef. Anyone who thinks the Olympics Committee will put up with that is in for a surprise.

It's a nice idea, but our track record precedes us.

by August4 on Jun 16, 2014 6:11 pm • linkreport

Whether or not GW as a whole support the Olympics bid, it's pretty clear, as Matt points out, that we actually are a pretty logical choice.

For those who say we shouldn't, I accept the validty of your reservations.

For those who say we can't, I have no patience. Of course we can and, if we win the bid, we will put on one damn fine Olympics.

by Crickey7 on Jun 16, 2014 6:15 pm • linkreport

The Gainer story is frustrating. The interview is described as "wide-ranging" but the column collapses his ideas to few sketched out points. Gainer "urged our region to prepare more for a possible evacuation," the column says, but there's no follow-up: Why? What are the range of events we should be prepared for?

I won't dismiss Gainer's idea of limiting traffic even if its scale makes implementation seemingly impractical.

But I do wonder what Gainer is doing here. What's the motivation for floating these ideas. Usually, intel/security folks suggest policy changes that represent a consensus. Is that the case?

by kob on Jun 16, 2014 9:08 pm • linkreport

Not just good urbanism, but also public access to our nation's Capitol which promotes democracy, are why we should all be very skeptical of Terence Gainer's proposal.

by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 10:03 pm • linkreport

@Crickey7: that's ok, we have no patience for people who act like a stupid sporting event should be treated like a national priority and would take resources away from things that actually matter

@Catherine: the IOC likes to rotate the games so that subsequent events aren't in the same region. 2020 is in Japan, so 2024 would preferably not be in Asia. There's no sign that Canada really wants it again, a bunch of European cities have actually voted against bidding for the Olympics, Brazil is hosting in 2016 & is unlikely to also want/get 2024, and it isn't clear that anyone else on this continent has the money for a bid. This is why we need to pay attention and make sure we don't get stuck with the bill by default.

by Mike on Jun 17, 2014 7:59 am • linkreport

Plus, cutting off Constitution and Independence Aves??? What the hey??? These are MAJOR thoroughfares.

by DaveG on Jun 17, 2014 5:49 pm • linkreport

VMT is the only fair way to fund the roads.
by DaveG on Jun 16, 2014 8:59 am

Exactly. Bicyclists, scooters, mopeds should have to pay the same rate as well. If there no tamper proof odometer attached to any moving object with one or more tires, then it should not legal to own nor operate.

by Mike on Jun 23, 2014 5:17 pm • linkreport

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