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Afternoon links: Everything that's not the Metro budget

Image by Daniel Nairn.
Big space, little space: While in Albany, Daniel Nairn photographed two spaces, one a large, Modernist civic plaza and the other a nearby old cobblestone street. It's clear which is more pleasant for humans. (Discovering Urbanism)

No more mobile lounges: Dulles's AeroTrain has completed more testing and should start carrying passengers next month. The train will replace most of the "mobile lounges" that currently shuttle Dulles flyers between the main terminal and the gates. (Post)

News flash: There's lots of traffic: DC is the 7th most congested city in the US, according to data from GPS company TomTom; Alexandria is 9th. The Baltimore-Washington corridor was the most congested between two cities in the nation, with Maryland roads worse than Virginia's. Get ready for highway boosters to insist we need 25 more Beltways and economists to say we need congestion pricing. (WBJ, Chris R)

From hostile shortcut to "entrance to a park": Residents along a small London side street were tired of speeding cars. With funding from local charity Sustrans, they turned it into a friendly place with new trees, communal "wheelie bins" (trash bins), planters you can lock bikes to, and raising part of the road to "pavement" (sidewalk) level. The raised sections of streets are very common in Europe, but for some reason haven't gotten support here. (Guardian, Stephen Miller)

"Beauty and the Bike": A new campaign in Darlington, England is trying to persuade high school girls to try bicycling by making it more fashionable. (GOOD)

Sorry, we spent your savings: Last year, Chicago leased their parking meters for 75 years to a private company. Now, they city has spent 2/3 of the money just to balance the 2010 budget. (Parking Ticket Geek)

Senator's daughter carjacked: 22-year-old Julia Corker, daughter of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), was carjacked last night at 7th and D, NW in the Penn Quarter. (Politico) Mike DeBonis praises Corker for not turning the incident into a tirade against the evils of DC (or at least, not yet).

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David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Oh God, don't get me started on the Empire State Plaza. Between the gentrification and the poured concrete, it's just one huge, terrible mistake. It just makes you feel like you're in a distopian near future Big Brother kind of deal. And you can see those towers from more than 60 miles away.

by Tim on Dec 3, 2009 3:12 pm • linkreport

Gentrification? Not following you there... What's gentrified about Empire State Plaza?

by Alex B. on Dec 3, 2009 3:14 pm • linkreport

Wil they continue to use mobile lounges for international arrivals?

by ah on Dec 3, 2009 3:38 pm • linkreport

Do people really call it Penn, I mean Quarter? I thought that was just a Realtor term.

by PADC on Dec 3, 2009 4:07 pm • linkreport

PADC: It's on the blue wayfinding signs and the Metro station, at least.

by David Alpert on Dec 3, 2009 4:10 pm • linkreport


Yes, they will still use the mobile lounges for international arrivals, since those passengers have to remain segregated until they clear customs.

by Alex B. on Dec 3, 2009 4:13 pm • linkreport

DC was named America's most congested city in the TTI annual list this year.

they put the blame sqaurely on suburban sprawl and not enough mass transit, not lack of roads (i doubt any place outside of Dubai can build expressways faster or more than we do)

"because very few of the area's new housing developments link up with the Washington metropolitan train system, which services the District of Columbia and immediate suburbs very well, but doesn't link up to most of the Virginia and Maryland population centers."

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 3, 2009 4:16 pm • linkreport

Empire State Plaza is just plain old fugly.

by Fritz on Dec 3, 2009 4:18 pm • linkreport

Empire State Plaza needs the old Dulles Airport mobile lounges- that would be the Ultimate in appropriate Corbusier inspired ugliness.

Someone told me that structures as old as the 1600's were destroyed to make way for Empire Plaza.

Im glad they left the old State Capitol alone- with it's awesome Million Dollar Staircase and lovely stonework.

by w on Dec 3, 2009 5:10 pm • linkreport

Thanks to Daniel for the great analysis of space and architecture. I couldn't agree more.

Wikipedia has a nice aerial photo of the Empire State Plaza. The bareness of the modern architecture contrasts with the warmth of the smaller-scale spaces ("fine-grained urbanism") in the background.

Empire Plaza

by Matthias on Dec 3, 2009 5:29 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.:

I guess "gentrification" isn't the best term.

The area where the Empire State Plaza now sits used to be a poor/working class area, mainly Jewish and Italian, housing about 9,000 people. There were also many local business there, but they had started to decline shortly before the state took the area.

Roads constructed as part of the project also took down a pretty significant area and displaced a lot of people. More:

by Tim on Dec 3, 2009 5:33 pm • linkreport

Garden State Plaza would make a fascinating study on sustainable re-use, just like building up big boxes.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 3, 2009 6:03 pm • linkreport

Not sure that Dubai is a good benchmark for building expressways; last time I was there traffic was a real mess. They need a lot of basic infrastructure (roads, sewage, water) and dumped most of the investment into real-estate scams.

China and India are quickly building more highways than the US.

Traffic in DC is ranked bad nationally b/c of lazy government workers who live 50 miles away and commute daily.

by charlie on Dec 3, 2009 6:48 pm • linkreport

Congestion: Everyday on my way home from work, if I walk, I muse about the conflicts between pedestrians and drivers. Tonight I thought that so many places here are basically highways and pedestrians are a high risk afterthought. Look at our many-laned streets. Why are they so wide? But then I think that a campaign to take away lanes might hurt the city too much. It might make DC too full of itself and precious as well. Too much of a boutique city. But surely of course there is a happy medium somewhere to be found. And because I'm sick of watching myself write this, I'll just ask: is there some magic mechanism (say, a budget surplus) that kicks in the decision to get cops on the street to direct traffic? This would help so much. A forceful cop (like I imagine they have in NYC) to say, come on, go! go! go!! There's really no reason for traffic to crawl along so slowly and I often sympathize with the drivers. I'm surprised England, especially northern England, needs a campaign to get people to ride bicycles. When I used to go there, everyone rode. It was wonderful and flat. The senator's daughter learned the hard way not to be nice to strangers on the street while sitting in the driver's seat of an expensive sedan. Thank goodness she's ok.

by Jazzy on Dec 3, 2009 7:12 pm • linkreport

DC was named America's most congested city in the TTI annual list this year.

they put the blame sqaurely on suburban sprawl and not enough mass transit, not lack of roads (i doubt any place outside of Dubai can build expressways faster or more than we do)


That is intellectually dishonast to not even mention the never justified cancellation of the insider the Beltway freeway system.

Yet we allow new urbanists to so slyfully discredit transit expansion where its really needed, with this proliferation of transit 'advocates' who come from a place where most of the higway were cancelled, yet pretend otherwise.

Such persons remind me of those from the "other side" who never can bring themselves to write about the polictis behind any of the freeway cancellations, such as the clear hegelian dialectic played with the DC NCF with the 1964 abomination, let alone any specific proposals for the future; yet who would OPPOSE adding lite rail lines in places with hardly any rail transit but lots of highways

by Douglas A. Willinger on Dec 3, 2009 7:17 pm • linkreport

Empire State Plaza was once known as Albany Mall (as in National Mall, I presume), and years ago there was a local saying about ordinary citizens' influence on such things: "Who the hell voted for Albany Mall?!"
The vast, sterile plaza is actually the roof of a huge parking garage (surprise!) served by a freeway spur rather like DC's I395, but even uglier.
Albany did have the good fortune to be spared a Capitol Hill-like neighborhood right across a street from the modernist abomination, probably the location of the "nearby cobblestoned street".

by davidj on Dec 4, 2009 12:01 am • linkreport

Spoiled upper-income Washington suburbanites continue to transform rural areas into huge McMansion exurbs and then demand (and get) more freeways and more lanes for their use. It's a never-ending cycle. I'm sick of their whining that sufficient freeways don't come where they choose to move to.

I could care less about the frustration of commuters from Loudoun, Frederick and Howard counties and I'm sick of everything being about Them. Let 'em choke on their own smog and let 'em stew in two-hour commutes.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 4, 2009 12:24 am • linkreport

I appreciate all of these comments. I was born in Albany, but I've really only been back there a couple of times and had never really taken a good look at the Empire Plaza.

My parents actually lived in one of the neighborhoods directly north of the plaza (near the Albany Medical Center) while it was being constructed. From what I understand, it was supposed to have a freeway running underneath it, but they never could get the right of way to punch it all the way through to the other side. So now the four-lane divided highway only goes straight into the parking garage.

by Daniel on Dec 4, 2009 5:35 am • linkreport

It's funny to think how uniformly people respond to the cobblestone photo over the tower in the park photo and still, if one where to build the cobblestone streetscape the architectural establishment would go crazy. If it works, learn from it and try to replicate the aspects that make it sucsessful, but ironically "modernists" would only loook at the skin or style and crynge, all the while overwhelmingly choosing the cobblestone street to live in. It's not just the space but the texture, color, and pattern that people respond to. You would think the scientific method would have some sway for progressive modernist.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2009 6:11 am • linkreport

Gentrification? Albany? Having gone to college in Albany and with the obscene amount of urban blight, the joke among planning types there is that "gentrification" is a 4-letter word! Albany's the sort of city that sees bars and restaurants as economic engines, not mixed-use human-scale growth.

That cobblestoned street, for the record, is a good 1/2 mile south of the ESP core; the real area to compare is the Center Square/Lark Street area west of ESP which is a Hill-meets-Adams Morgan hybrid.

by Jason on Dec 4, 2009 9:02 am • linkreport

As Daniel Nairn says about ESP:

"It has nothing to do with one being new and the other old. It mostly is a reflection of scale."

Even if ESP was pastiche, it would still be out of scale, both human and to it's surroundings.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 4, 2009 9:37 am • linkreport

I'm not sure what you mean by pastiche, but if your logic was correct, any building larger than a 4-6 story building would be out of scale. The Capitol, the Paris Opera, and many other traditional buildings are all broken down into smaller parts which help bring the massing into some kind of relationship with a human. That kind of craft is completely lost on older modernist buildings. At least architects now a days seem to have learned from those mistakes even if they stick to neo-modernist styles such as the Newseum and countless other large condo projects.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2009 10:17 am • linkreport

glad to see you bringing up that abysmal Newseum.

that place looks like crap.

It will only get worse as it ages.

I will say but one thing in Geary's favor- titanium - the metal he prefers to work with- lasts a long time and does not corrode and look bad with time- a lot like the #316 stainless Krupp steel used on the Chrysler Building in NYC- which is rated to last centuries w/o any maintenance.

Otherwise- his buildings - to me- look like nightmares brought to life.

by w on Dec 4, 2009 11:19 am • linkreport

Is this alternative urban space really an improvement?

Penn Station dropped into Albany

Apologies to Daniel Nairn.

by David Ramos on Dec 4, 2009 12:18 pm • linkreport

And yes, it's about scale, not whether you're hanging terra cotta ornament on the walls.

by David Ramos on Dec 4, 2009 12:22 pm • linkreport

Do you really think they would screen a building like Penn Station or the Capitol building? They only screen buildings when they clearly need screening, so your photoshop response isn't pertinent here.

More to the point, it's not an urban space if there's no urbanism. It's "towers in the park", not towers in the urbanism.

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2009 1:05 pm • linkreport

I suspect that those behind new urbanism are generally afraid of such open spaces -- rather then simply being against such late 1960s 'planet of the apes' style futurism -- as such space can be used for massive demonstrations...

BTW- The Penn Sation addition is a vast improvement- I wonder if someone will replicate it somewhere...

by Douglas A. Willinger on Dec 4, 2009 4:08 pm • linkreport

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