Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Bumps in the road


Photo by Mr. T in DC.
Keep on Circulating: DDOT announced late yesterday evening that the Circulator will remain on Wisconsin Avenue. That portion was planned for removal for budget reasons, but resident and business outcry swayed officials. Mayor Fenty will announce the non-change this morning. There is no word yet about where the money will come from or any other details. (Georgetown Metropolitan)

Bumps cause conflict in Chevy Chase: The number of speed humps has risen from around 100 to 808 in recent years, and many have triggered neighborhood wars. The fiercest fighting was in Chevy Chase, DC, where drivers started honking to protest the impedance on their perogative to speed. Also, many allege that speed humps on one street simply divert traffic to neighboring streets, pitting block against block. (Post, merarch)

National Harbor II: Prince George's has approved Westphalia Town Center, yet another in a string of "walkable" and "mixed-use" yet very distant developments not served by transit. A business leader even called it "another National Harbor." (Post, Cavan)

No houses without massive road construction: One reason Prince George's County keeps building huge, distant developments is that it's so hard to build anything closer in. For example, Berwyn Heights rejected a plan for 151 townhouses because they want the developer to widen a bunch of roads (and build a sidewalk) before doing so. (Gazette)

MWAA, the Major Widening Aspirations Association?: The regional TPB and its member jurisdictions may have applied for a TIGER stimulus grant, but that hasn't stopped the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority from applying for a competing one, mostly for road widenings in Loudoun and interchanges in Fairfax, along with some money for the Silver Line. (WBJ)

Md. cameras will come slowly: On October 1, Maryland jurisdictions can start operating speed cameras (in addition to Montgomery, which already could). However, only Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Frederick City are ready or close to ready to implement them. The program includes many restrictions, including a cap on fines, limiting locations to only spots near schools, restrictions on hours (why is speeding okay at night and on weekends?), and more. (WTOP, Froggie)

Failing not bailing the housing market: The federal government is pouring more and more money into mortgages. Unlike the banking bailout, however, all this federal money isn't sparking any recovery in the real estate market. With the vast majority of FHA loans going to fund car-dependent sprawl, does this mean that real estate in distant car-dependent places no longer has enough value to sell even when heavily subsidized? (Slate, Cavan)

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David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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National Harbor II: Still no Awakening?

by цarьchitect on Sep 29, 2009 9:27 am • linkreport

just wait until they see the NEW speed bumps!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBDQPYcyjqs

a war indeed...

by lee.watkins on Sep 29, 2009 10:25 am • linkreport

The Circulator is just another case of magically getting funds to operate a bus line after an agency threatens to take it out of service. WMATA should threaten to cut a number of its bus lines due to funding issues and let the public outcry take care of the rest.

by Adam L on Sep 29, 2009 10:31 am • linkreport

"With the vast majority of FHA loans going to fund car-dependent sprawl, does this mean that real estate in distant car-dependent places no longer has enough value to sell even when heavily subsidized?"

No.

(Really, there are an awful lot of people who like single-family houses, with yards, on cul-de-sacs, in suburban subdivisions, a long way from downtown DC. Perhaps one might consider talking to one or two of them sometime, to find out why?)

by Miriam on Sep 29, 2009 10:35 am • linkreport

The Post article has me confused. The woman who was almost killed by a (presumably speeding) car is complaining about speed bumps? "Get a life," indeed. (Last paragraph on the first page.)

by dand on Sep 29, 2009 10:39 am • linkreport

Honestly, I'm in favor of cutting Circulator service up Wisconsin. It's redundant and ridership was very low. Just use the 31, 32 and 36.

by Tim on Sep 29, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

federal money isn't sparking any recovery in the real estate market

The market will "recover" as soon as the government stops trying to prop up prices. Housing prices are still too high by historical standards. When the price of an average house falls to where someone who makes an average income can afford it, then the market will "recover". It's as simple as that.

by Ho Lynn on Sep 29, 2009 10:58 am • linkreport

I'm not sure I'd classify Westphalia as a "very distant development". It's a comparable distance to downtown DC (and the Beltway) as Kensington, Greenbelt, White Oak, or Tysons Corner. If those places are "off limits" for development, we are going to be losing a lot of land in Charles, Frederick, Queen Anne's, Faquier, and Spotsylvania. It's occurring in a county (and side of the metro area) which has hundreds of thousands of more residents than jobs.

Could it be better planned and integrated into the region? Without doubt. Westphalia would be the natural place to pass the extended Purple line from New Carrolton to Largo to Westphalia to Andrews Air Force Base to Branch Avenue (and on). Send the Purple Line down 202 into Largo (connect with the Blue Line), and run it on Truman Drive into Westphalia and then you are right at Suitland Parkway. Without the proper density and ROW, I don't think you ever get this segment built. I do have my doubts that the current plan for Westphalia is oriented enough towards transit to make this happen. The plans have the obligatory Green line extension past Andrews and into Westphalia, but I can't really see that happening.

by Brian D on Sep 29, 2009 11:00 am • linkreport

Speed cameras shouldn't exist in the first place. Sorry, but not with you on that one. They frequently malfunction, have no mechanism for determining whether the person the car is registered to is actually driving at the time the photo is taken, and serve as yet another step down the path of government surveillance of our entire lives. Count me out.

by Nate on Sep 29, 2009 11:00 am • linkreport

Miriam, it's not about whether or not there are people who like single-family houses. It's about whether there are more houses than customers who want them. During the bubble years of this decade, the vast, vast majority of housing was built in a car-dependent format. Yet, there is a price premium for real estate in a walkable urban format. That means that there is more demand for walkable urban real estate than what is currently available. That would imply that it would make sense to subsidize real estate in walkable urban places.

The inability of federal subsidies to prop up the real estate market does not imply that there aren't people who are like a car-dependent single-family house. It merely implies that there are currently more for sale than there are customers for them.

by Cavan on Sep 29, 2009 11:10 am • linkreport

RE: speed cameras --- if you don't want people to speed, redesign the street. Just use concrete or brick pavers... that'll keep it at 20mph without any enforcment. Plus, it'll last 100 years at least. Asphalt and smooth concrete encourages unreasonable speeds and needs to be repaved every 15 years, plus it's uglier... these are not benefits! Brick is better.

by Lee.Watkins on Sep 29, 2009 11:16 am • linkreport

just wait until they see the NEW speed bumps!

That installation--a single neighbor--isn't too far removed from the current rule in DC of 75% on a given block.

We can argue whether speed bumps are useful or bad, but I can't see any good argument for why a single street should unilaterally be able to obtain speed bumps without any effort to determine whether the bumps will simply divert traffic to other streets. Didn't we learn anything from the arms race of the 1980s?

by ah on Sep 29, 2009 11:22 am • linkreport

Sometimes the problem with speed humps is simply that they're planned and installed by idiots. A good example are the three (!) in 1330 block of E St SE (near the Safeway).

I'm not sure what the original inspiration was -- perhaps there was late-night racing on this long one-block stretch -- so I'm in no position to say whether calming measures were needed in the first place. That said, it cannot possibly be necessary to have 3 speed humps, let alone 3 really tall ones; surely, a single one mid-block (near the back entrance to the Safeway lot) would have done. The overkill has calmed this block to the point of morbidity, inducing drivers like me to go around the block to avoid the insanity.

by eck on Sep 29, 2009 11:22 am • linkreport

Seriously, Lee? Pavers and bricks regularly get loose and need to be reset. Sure, it doesn't need a full repaving for 100 years, but there's a lot more work in the mean time.

Plus, bricks are murder on bikes.

by ah on Sep 29, 2009 11:23 am • linkreport

Ho Lynn, I wish it was that simple. Remember that there are three major factors in real estate: location, location, and location.

Additionally, the price of a house is not merely what the market will bear. It also has to do with how much money the seller requires to part with their house. If a buyer is only willing to pay less than what would compel the seller to part with the house, there is no sale. Now, if the owner has been told for years that their house is worth $500,000, they are likely to believe it regardless of whether or not it was ever true. If no buyer is willing to offer any more than $300,000, that house will never be sold. Add in the fact many mortgages are "under water" and you have a situation that is complex.

In this respect, housing prices are "sticky." They go up much, much faster than they come down. That is due to the fact that most people are willing to believe that their house value went up much more readily than they will believe that their house value went down.

While "free-market" equilibrium economics is alluring because of its simplicity and elegance, these fundamental properties make it woefully inadequate to describe a world that is rarely simple and often inelegant.

The market for far-flung sprawl houses will never recover to levels seen in 2006-2007. Many of those subdivisions will go though a negative feedback loop until they are completely abandoned to ruin. As we are currently in the process of re-learning, the default state of a market is not necessarily some "happily ever-after" equilibrium state. Some markets are inherently unstable and are built on shaky fundamentals. That's all the more reason not to subsidize sprawl.

by Cavan on Sep 29, 2009 11:24 am • linkreport

Re. "single-family houses": Let's remember that this phrase does not automatically mean car dependency. There are many, many such homes near Metro stops in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria. Those houses are only going up in value, not down.

As to speed bumps (why must they be "humps"? "Speed hump" sounds like something teenagers do in cars), I'm all for them. They do what they're supposed to; they slow you down. Too many people are racing through neighborhoods because cars have gotten too powerful and because respect for the law has declined so much.

by JB on Sep 29, 2009 11:25 am • linkreport

JB, the subsidies mentioned in the article are at the Federal level, not the regional Washingtonian level. The East Coast cities are different in this regard from most of the rest of the U.S. In most of the U.S., the only housing options are car-dependent.

by Cavan on Sep 29, 2009 11:31 am • linkreport

bricks are murder on bikes? really, then why does Amsterdam and other dutch cities use brick pavers for all their streets when more than half of the public gets around on bike. Why does Copenhagen and other European cities use concrete pavers for that matter? Because they say it's better. And most of the streets are brick in my neighborhood of highlandtown/greektown, where I bike every day... I have no complaints either. In fact I like it better, because it slows cars to equal speed with the cyclists and brings all traffic to a non-lethal speed.

Bricks get loose? The brick in my street are 50 years old and still look fantastic! An asphalt street would have need 3-4 repavings in that much time.

by lee.watkins on Sep 29, 2009 11:35 am • linkreport

if the owner has been told for years that their house is worth $500,000, they are likely to believe it regardless of whether or not it was ever true. If no buyer is willing to offer any more than $300,000, that house will never be sold

Housing, or anything else for that matter, is only "worth" what someone is willing to pay for it. If no buyer is willing to pay more than $300,000, than it is only worth no more than $300,000. If the present owner needs to sell, they will not get $500,000, no matter how long they wait.

This illustrates the game that the banks are trying to play. They claim they have assets in the form of mortgages (or mortgage-backed securities) worth X dollars, but the problem is, no one would ever pay X dollars for those assets. Therefore, they are not worth X dollars. If the bank valued them at their true worth, the bank would be insolvent. That is why they need trillions of taxpayer dollars to stay afloat. And why the government is trying to artifically keep the price of housing high, but it is not working because if people can't afford to buy on the salary they make, then they are not going to buy, no matter how much the present owner really believes his house is worth $200,000 more than it is.

by Vicente Fox on Sep 29, 2009 11:58 am • linkreport

Concerning speed bumps. I've always marveled at the idiocy of speed bumps given the predilection of municipalities towards wider streets (reference to the next article linked). If one would realize that speed is related to the width of travel lanes on a street. A street designed for a neighborhood should never have travel lanes wider than 8 feet wide. Having a narrow road forces drivers to slow down to anticipate other cars approaching. For a one way street this is even more important.

I constantly am amazed when I see a suburban street that is over 35-40 feet wide with speed bumps. When you design for high speed what do you expect?

by Boots on Sep 29, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport

"That would imply that it would make sense to subsidize real estate in walkable urban places."

Yes, Cavan, they surely built a lot of sprawling subdivisions in the middle of nowhere. They built a lot of condos in walkable urban DC, too, and in walkable pseudo-urban places like Rockville Town Center. When will the sale price of those condos return to 2006 levels?

Single-family housing prices in Silver Spring (for example) are apparently more-or-less stable, presumably because the demand for single-family houses in close-in areas with transit exceeds the supply of single-family houses in close-in areas with transit. So: how are you going to build more single-family houses in Silver Spring, given that they're not making any more land? Because what many people -- not all people, but many people -- want is a single-family house with a nice-sized yard, and given the choice between a single-family house with a nice-sized yard and a lot of time in the car, and a condo in Rockville or DC, they'll choose a lot of time in the car. (At least at current gas prices).

It's transit we should be subsidizing, not any kind of real estate.

by Miriam on Sep 29, 2009 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ Speed bumps: Speed bumps are annoying features put in place by shirt-sighted planners that didn't to their job when planning needed to be done. I agree that there are many other road features that can achieve the same goal, often much more efficiently and elegantly. Narrower roads, parking dividers, curvier roads, roundabouts, they all are nicer solutions that speed bumps.

by Jasper on Sep 29, 2009 1:19 pm • linkreport

I just bought a home in-between W. Hyattsville and Takoma Park (about 1 mile from W Hyattsville metro). House prices for a single home with a yard in that area are exceedingly cheap right now, with no more than 10-12 minute walk to two metros. There's plenty of room in that area to refurbish some of the older homes, or tear down and build new, denser development around existing transit options.

by s on Sep 29, 2009 1:21 pm • linkreport

I really wish you could stop being so absolutist and myopic about places like National Harbor. I'm with you on the disliking them on aesthetic/ lifestyle grounds (to me, it seems like you could take the roof off of Tyson's Corner Mall, convert a few of the Tyson's hotels into condos and voila, modern mixed-use neighborhood). I'm not signing up to move to one...not to National Harbor but also not to Gallery Place or Friendship Heights. Not my thing.

The thing is that this type of neighborhood IS some people's thing, and not everyone can afford Gallery Place and Friendship Heights. It IS walkable and mixed use, which makes it far preferable to truly car dependent sprawling subdivision land where the nearest retail store of any kind (grocery, video rental etc) is 2 miles through windy cul-de-sac land followed by 4 miles down a 6 lane "local highway". It may not be as conducive to being totally car free as other places, but is a huge step in that direction, especially when compared with McMansionvilles sprouting up in places that are most of the way to West Virginia.

No, it doesn't connect to Metro rail (yet) but it is served by Metro bus (which does count as transit, no?) and yes, it is kind of "far away". But watch out...."far away" is a relative term--it depends on what point you're measuring from. It is obvious that you're referring to DC, but that's a bit of a problem--not everyone works in DC. You're getting too DC-centric for a blog about "Greater Washington". Yes, many jobs in the area are in DC, but many more aren't (using Old Town as an example again because it's just across the bridge from National Harbor: the PTO is there, as are several US Courts, US Attorney's offices, dozens if not hundreds of trade associations and dozens if not hundreds of small law offices etc. Further, when you stop thinking exclusively about office-type jobs and start thinking about jobs in medical practices, salons, retail stores...places that aren't exclusive to urban cores but which are nonetheless abundant, then you might start to get a clearer picture of just how in the world anyone could be employed in "Not DC". Those people want to live near work, too.

by Catherine on Sep 29, 2009 3:48 pm • linkreport

Westphalia is the brainchild of an ex-con developer. I want to get the popcorn to see that unfold.

Speed bumps are an annoyance and people who support them in concept discover that they hate them, in practice. Moreover, they get built because one street gets organized with little concern for the overall traffic pattern. I lived through a number of "traffic quieting" projects in Atlanta and nearby Decatur. People often hated the result, including the "bump" bump" noise of people driving over them and the gain in safety was marginal, at best.

by Rich on Sep 29, 2009 8:38 pm • linkreport

It fails to amaze me of seeing the same old its not near Mass Transit BS whenever a Major Development is Planned in the Maryland Suburbs of PG County and Montgomery County. No one has made any statements of PG County not making future plans of extending Metro Rail to the New Developments. These same arguments are Neer made against ALL of the MASSM Sprawling Projects in Fairfax County and Loudon County. Don't say they are building the Silver Line now because they were allowing Sprawling Projects since the 1970's. Again I can understand the argument if there were proven documents that prohibits future transit projects to serve the New Development and since there isn't any documents I'm writing the opposition off as pure old fashion jealousy/biased hate towards PG County/Montgomery County.

by James on Sep 29, 2009 11:28 pm • linkreport

Vicente Fox
Housing, or anything else for that matter, is only "worth" what someone is willing to pay for it. If no buyer is willing to pay more than $300,000, than it is only worth no more than $300,000. If the present owner needs to sell, they will not get $500,000, no matter how long they wait.
This may be a personal mantra, but sociologically the desire to wait can be self-perpetuating. Price is limited by both supply and demand. What tends to happen when housing bubbles burst is that people shift their desire to sell into residency or renting as second-best options, waiting for the market to go up rather than accepting that they have made a bad investment which has taken a loss. This large latent supply (which increases suddenly if prices rise) combined with the depressed demand of a recession results in a recovery which can take decades, during which the homebuilding industry vanishes.

Catherine: Contiguous urban areas which are connected by fast transit have a great many compounding factors which make them a more desireable land use than isolated, highway-connected mixed-use city centers. If you want an authoritative guide, Jane Jacobs presents a very compelling case. Just to pick one of the more modern examples - what are the chances that a dual-income couple is going to find that both of their jobs are anywhere near a walkable, but isolated urban megadevelopment? The beltway is filled (and in an oil-scarce future, will continue to be filled) with people whose partners picked a place to live near work, but it is most explicitly not filled with the households who found that both partners could make it to work using a transit network.

PS: I like that phrase. Thenceforth, Isolated Urban Megadevelopment = IUM.

by Squalish on Sep 30, 2009 4:59 am • linkreport

Especially given the lack of corporate loyalty and such these days, what are the chances of a dual-income couple finding both jobs in the same general vicinity to begin with? Odds are, one of them will have to drive...

by Froggie on Sep 30, 2009 6:40 am • linkreport

@Rich: I too lived through a number of "traffic quieting" projects in Atlanta and Decatur. The one I was most involved with was in a Dunwoody neighborhood where the desire of a number of vocal residents was to essentially turn a grid neighborhood into a cul-de-sac, allowing entrance/exit from only one of the two major streets it lay between (North Peachtree Road and Tilly Mill Road). There were lots of supposed issues like speeding and cut-through traffic and talk of barricades on Tilly Mill.

A crackdown on speeding and rolling through stop signs by DeKalb police yielded an interesting finding: most citations were given to neighborhood residents. The final solution, and I'll take some credit for it, consisted of a minimalist approach: No Left Turn 7AM to 9AM from northbound Tilly Mill onto the neighborhood streets. Traffic complaints dropped way down and the only people who were unhappy were the ones who really wanted to live in a gated community.

by ksu499 on Sep 30, 2009 9:00 am • linkreport

Squalish,

I get that, I do. But for the couple looking to buy something in their range....they're not going to get to live downtown. They're just not. The choice is pretty much a modest home in a development in the farther-out Virginia counties, or something like this. I'm by NO means touting National Harbor as any sort of ideal, certainly a step in the right direction...isolated but walkable (and high density) is better than isolated and non walkable and low density, right?. And I feel that belittling and being hostile to that is counter-productive and, honestly, extremely elitist.

Also....it's not isolated. It's boarderd by a natural barrier (Potomac River) and is otherwise surrounded not by acres of empty land as "isolated" suggests, but by mid-to-high density city/suburban neighborhoods. They're just not the type of city neighborhoods which are also employment centers, nor are they the type of neighborhoods that people on this site like to acknowledge as actually belonging to the city--go to Google street view and place the marker anywhere in the Washington Highlands or Congress Heights neighborhoods and take a look around--they're pretty much just the Beltway across from National Harbor.

I just think that people should think about the realities of other people's lives before being so harshly judgmental. They are chosing the high density, small living space, "walk to the grocery store" life over the two car garage, 1000 square feet-per-person, walking and bikes are exercise best left to the gym life. It just happens to not be smack in the middle of downtown, and that's (usually) a financial decision. So making fun of that decision is kind of like making fun of someone for being less well-off than you, which is pretty jerky.

As for couples working in different places? Yep, happens all the time. I was just pointing out that there are jobs, lots of them, that are not in downtown DC so calling something "far away" might not actually be the truth of a situation and betrays a very narrow point of view.

by Catherine on Oct 1, 2009 4:36 pm • linkreport

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