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Bus garage at Walter Reed good for residents, DC budget

The federal government will soon vacate most of Water Reed hospital in northern DC, and DC officials are currently pondering potential uses and getting community input. Metro's proposal to build a new bus garage should be part of the final plan.

Western Bus Garage. Image from Google Street View.

Federal base closure rules restrict the uses to government and non-profit, so DC can't simply let developers build some condos and grocery stores on the site. It can be used for public health, prison, homeless assistance, seaports, and more. A seaport is probably not in the cards, but a bus garage would be a great use of some of the space.

Why does DC need a new bus garage? Its two bus garages in the northern part of DC are falling apart and neighbors would rather use the land for other purposes. The 175-bus Northern garage, along 14th Street between Buchanan and Decatur Street, needs a massive overhaul. However, the local community is strongly pushing to remove the garage entirely.

Meanwhile, the 138-bus Western garage occupies an enormous tract of land right on top of the Friendship Heights Metro, creating an empty block-long wall right on Wisconsin Avenue and heavy bus traffic on the smaller streets in the neighborhood, where the garage entrances lie. Many residents would love to see more street-activating uses on Wisconsin and remove the bus traffic.

However, these buses would have to go somewhere. Who wants a bus garage? Nobody wants one in their neighborhood, but Walter Reed represents a great opportunity. It's a huge site, and WMATA could build its garage in one of the interior spaces. Many buses could exit directly onto 16th Street, which is not a neighborhood street at all. Meanwhile, the Georgia Avenue frontage could get other uses that more directly serve residents on Georgia Avenue.

One potential site for a bus garage at Walter Reed. Images combined from WMATA and DMPED.

Alternately, WMATA has made some sketches of a bus facility that could front onto Georgia with a more attractive facade. However, putting it farther west seems to make the most sense.

The best aspect of this option is that it could return two significant parcels of land in dense neighborhoods back to the tax rolls. DC can't get tax revenue from Walter Reed itself, but it can get some from the Northern and Western garage properties. WMATA would sell those properties and use the money to fund the new garage, and DC could get stores, apartments and townhouses right on the growing northern 14th Street commercial corridor and atop the Metro in lively Friendship Heights.

If WMATA doesn't get to do this, they'll have to invest substantial resources into rehabilitating the existing garages, ensuring those stay where they are and annoy neighbors for another generation.

WMATA's long-term bus plan calls for closing Northern in 2014 and rehabilitating it until 2016. WMATA would temporarily move Northern's bus operations to the DC Village facility in Southeast DC, which will replace the Southeastern Bus Garage that closed in 2008. DC Village is scheduled to open in 2012 and will have enough capacity to handle the buses at Northern. However, WMATA will have to spend millions of dollars a year in extra fuel and driver pay to deadhead buses from DC Village up to routes in northern DC and southern Montgomery County, which translates into high costs for the local jurisdictions.

Summary of bus fleet and facility growth, from WMATA.

After Northern is rebuilt, they would close Western, shift its buses to Northern, and rehab Western until 2018. All three garages, as well as the others outside DC, are necessary if WMATA wants to have enough buses for the anticipated growth in ridership by 2020.

The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development is rightly working with residents right around Walter Reed to identify the uses they'd prefer for the site. However, especially for the parcels that aren't immediately adjacent to residents or businesses, they should also consider the bigger picture. A new garage in the interior of the site would help residents in two other neighborhoods without harming the Walter Reed neighbors, bring in more money for the DC budget in the long run, and ensure that our bus service can continue to grow as more and more residents use transit.

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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Actually, I think the NIMBYs would rather have the bus garage as is, than to have any sort of revitalization and new residences on top of the Friendship Heights metro station.

I am sure the locals will be psyched to gird up for that one!

by William on Jul 29, 2010 1:23 pm • linkreport

I thought the State Dept was going to build some sort of center there, as opposed to having embassies on its tract of the parcel.

by Paul C on Jul 29, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

I'm guessing that Walter Reed neighbors aren't going to want a bus garage at the site.

And I agree with William - the Friendship Heights residents would rather have a garage than a high-density residential building on that site.

by Fritz on Jul 29, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

The District has the opportunity to make Wisconsin Avenue a great corridor if it can help redevelop the Western bus garage. As noted in earlier posts, Tenley is planning to move its law school campus to Tenley Circle (directly on Wisconsin) and hopefully the Giant project further down on Wisconsin by the Cathedral moves forward.

There was a suggestion that part of the Western bus garage could be used for the turnaround area at the Friendship Heights terminus of a Georgetown - Friendship Heights streetcar route along Wisconsin Avenue.

by Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on Jul 29, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

I assume WMATA's proposal doesn't involve tearing down any historic buildings?

by steve s. on Jul 29, 2010 2:09 pm • linkreport

"Federal base closure rules restrict the uses to government and non-profit, so DC can't simply let developers build some condos and grocery stores on the site. It can be used for public health, prison, homeless assistance, seaports, and more."

That is true for the part of the base redevelopment process that they are in now, which is known as public benefit conveyance. Yes, the District has to offer the property for public uses, such as a hospital or bus garage, but the Army will require fair market value for the property, so WMATA won't get it for free.

After the public benefit conveyance phase, then there will be homeless screening, where homeless providers will get dibs on the property.

Lastly, other uses can be considered, like homes, condos, and retail, which are all dependent on the redevelopment plan that the District creates and the Army and Office of Economic Adjustment will approve.

by Todd on Jul 29, 2010 2:12 pm • linkreport

I don't live near there, so its not NIMBYism, but I think that the bus garage is a bad idea. An embassy is not going to want to locate near a bus garage. The site has a lot of potential for economic development as a site for some big new buildings, or condos etc. There are plenty of relatively degraded sites in the city where a garage could be located.

by SJE on Jul 29, 2010 4:00 pm • linkreport

I understand that the Giant project near the Cathedral is dead for at least several years. The store manager has been telling customers that Giant's corporate has decided not to push forward because of the economy. That is the reason that they have made some modest improvements to the store recently.

by Bart on Jul 29, 2010 6:00 pm • linkreport

I live about 3 blocks away and am not against some sort of bus garage. However, I think that there are other proposals on the the table that could do a better job of improving the neighborhood vitality.

Your general approach seems to be lets put the bus garages in Brightwood/Shepard Park so other neighborhoods can improve. For instance you state "DC could get stores, apartments and townhouses right on the growing northern 14th Street commercial corridor and atop the Metro in lively Friendship Heights." Friendship heights is great already, with lots do and walk to. I would like to see Brightwood be all it can be as well. I realize this part of DC is not seen as to exiting, but we want a nice walkable community just like everyone else.

Maybe you just misunderstand the BRAC process. You should attend the community and LRA meetings. I think you could add alot at those meetings from your knowledge base.

After attending I found out that federal rules DO NOT restrict the "uses to government and non-profit" as you state. The plans in process suggest a significant amount of housing, office and retail.

Also, your statement "DC can't get tax revenue from Walter Reed itself, but it can get some from the Northern and Western garage properties" is not completely accurate in that once DC takes over it can tax the property as any other part of DC (non-profits excluded as usual).

Again, your input would be really good. Meeting times are below.

Re-use Alternatives Options Public Workshop Saturday, July 10, 2010
10:00am MWR Conference Center - Delano Hall, Suit 2-120,
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20307-5001
Walter Reed LRA Committee Meeting

Agenda* Thursday, August 5, 2010
7:00pm - 9:00pm Fort Stevens Senior Recreation Center
1325 Van Buren Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Preferred Option Public Workshop Thursday, August 19, 2010
7:00pm TBD

Walter Reed LRA Committee Meeting Wednesday, September 1, 2010
7:00pm - 9:00pm Fort Stevens Senior Recreation Center
1325 Van Buren Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Walter Reed LRA Committee Meeting Wednesday, October 6, 2010
7:00pm - 9:00pm Fort Stevens Senior Recreation Center
1325 Van Buren Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Final Plan Presentation Town Hall Thursday, October 14, 2010
7:00pm TBD

by lee on Jul 29, 2010 7:37 pm • linkreport

re: Giant

I thought the NIMBY Neighbors have until the end of the summer to file an appeal? Until the Zoning Commission ruling is free and clear, there is no reason for Giant to break ground.

Presumably, we will know by Labor Day the status of the project.

by William on Jul 29, 2010 7:41 pm • linkreport

+1 to what Lee said. I've been attending the BRAC meetings and people are brainstorming lots of great uses for the Walter Reed space. This is a huge opportunity for Brightwood, Takoma, and Shepherd Park, and I don't want to see these neighborhoods get shafted.

by Jeanne on Jul 29, 2010 9:01 pm • linkreport

@Jeanne This is a huge opportunity for Brightwood, Takoma, and Shepherd Park, and I don't want to see these neighborhoods get shafted.

Well ... to lots of GGW posters, that makes you a NIMBY ...

by Lance on Jul 29, 2010 10:08 pm • linkreport

Lance, that would be a lot more effective if you'd actually wait for someone to call her a NIMBY.

by David C on Jul 29, 2010 10:20 pm • linkreport

I think the distinction is that both the Northern Bus Garage and the Western Bus Garage are in need to be modernized and/or phased out. Placing a major facility (underground and with properly environmental controls) large enough to handle the duties of these two facilities, so they can be upgraded and put back to use is a logical move.

If, at the same time they are modernized, they can also be rethought in terms of relationship to the neighborhood, in terms of adding retail, housing and other tax-generating opportunities, then it becomes a win for WMATA, for all three communities and the city.

Yes it is potentially a lot of money spent for infrastructure, but it is money that is going to be spent regardless of Walter Reed, and has the benefit of improving bus services and the three communities, if executed correctly.

by Andrew on Jul 30, 2010 6:58 am • linkreport

Ugh, every idea I've heard for WRAMC so far involves sheltering homeless or buses or providing public housing. While we have no bus shelters in the area that I know of we have lots of the other. Good to know Ward 4 is nothing but another dumping ground for the nicer parts of the city. I guess it will all go well with our collections of illegal car lots and abandoned property. Thanks Fenty and Bowser!

by manor on Jul 30, 2010 9:37 am • linkreport

@ manor: Have you been attending the BRAC meetings? They've been well-attended so far, and we could of course use as many neighbors as possible voicing their opinions. See Lee's post above for the dates of the upcoming meetings and workshops.

by Jeanne on Jul 30, 2010 10:06 am • linkreport

I went to the first BRAC meeting. Results of the WRAMC will be dictated by political economy, not by me or my opinion. Either DC governments throws TIFs and other incentives for private development there, or it will become a new poverty palace (possibly with bus barn), no two ways about it. My opinion don't mean squat and neither does yours, lest your connected to financing somehow. Sad but true...

by manor on Jul 30, 2010 5:50 pm • linkreport

David, you run a great blog here but you'd do well to dive more deeply into the details before you make a recommendation about what to do at WRAMC. As others have noted, the BRAC process initially requires the LRA to field offers for public benefits/homeless service providers but it does not require that such a use is accepted. In fact, there is nothing to stop the LRA from using the 62.5 acres for private development--even 100% market-rate condos. And to think that the District won't generate tax revenues from such development is boggling. Yours is a deservedly popular blog and many lend your opinion credence so it is doubly important that you do some homework before opining.

by Do your homework on Aug 2, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

David, I definitely think you need to get your facts straight before you opine. The location you show for the proposed bus barn at WRAMC is on land that is going to the State Department, not to the City. That only leaves Georgia Avenue frontage as a possibility. This area has needed a catalyst for improved commercial and residential development for a long time. Why is it NIMBY to want a chance at a vital commercial area on the Eastern side of the park?

by Takoma on Jul 2, 2011 9:03 am • linkreport

Takoma: I'm not sure I'm the one with the researching problem.

The shape of the territory DC could plan for changed. At the time, it looked like this:

That area shown was part of the DC land.

Now, it's like this:

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

16th Street is not a neighborhood street at all? 16th Street is largely residential and the only thing worse than all of the church traffic on 16th Street would be to add a procession of bus traffic.

by Kerry on Jul 11, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

Kerry and Takoma are right and you are so wrong David. To say that 16th Street isn't a neighborhood street at all you are sadly mistaken. I think you need to take a trip up north of Walter Reed to see just how residential the neighborhood is - there are plenty of houses and apartment buidlings on 16th, both North and South of Walter Reed. We value our community and want to see vibrant growth and development in the area and we see the Walter Reed area as opportunity for that growth.

by Yvonne on Jul 12, 2011 3:32 pm • linkreport

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