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Posts about Alexandria


Visit DC's wonderful public gardens on transit

Our region is lucky to have over 100 public gardens, most of which are free or very cheap! Visiting a public gardens can refreshing your mental, spiritual, and physical being. Here's a rundown of the very best, all of which you can get to by taking Metro or the bus.

The Smithsonian Castle garden. All photos by DC Gardens on Flickr.

Smithsonian Gardens

The easiest to access are the Smithsonian Gardens. Yes, there is green space on the National Mall and it is not all lawn! The Smithsonian Gardens are made up of 12 distinct spaces—from a recreation of a World War II vegetable and flower garden at the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History to the contemporary, sunken Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

All are free to all visitors, and many host educational programming and docents give regular tours. One of the most informative tours is hosted by Horticulturist Janet Draper at the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden every Tuesday at 2 pm throughout October.

Getting There: Take Metro to the Smithsonian station or any of the surrounding metro stops near the Mall. You can also take the Circulator, 70 Metrobus lines, and 30 Metrobus lines.

The US Botanic Garden

Also on the National Mall and easily accessible is the US Botanic Garden. Along with the adjoining National Garden, Bartholdi Park, and Capitol Grounds, it has administered through the Architect of the Capitol and is not part of the Smithsonian as is commonly assumed.

The US Botanic Garden.

The Botanic Garden is one of the few tourist sites open on both Christmas and New Year's Day. Over the past few years, it's become more and more crowded on those dates as the secret has spread, so go early and be prepared to stand in line to view the annual holiday garden railroad display.

Getting There: Take Metro to the L'Enfant station or any of the surrounding stops near the Mall. You can also take the Circulator and 30 Metrobus lines, which stop in back of the Botanic Garden. Often I take the Red Line to Judiciary Square and walk across the Mall rather than switch trains.

Mount Saint Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery

If you want to avoid crowds, try the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. The Monastery grounds are free and open to all. They are known for their fantastic bulb displays timed around Easter, but come back in late May/early June for stunning roses and later in the summer for tropical gardens that include a few palm trees.

Brookland's Franciscan Monastery.

Getting There: I usually take the Metro to Brookland and walk up the steep hill along Quincy Street to get to it, but there are a few buses that get you closer (the H6 and the 80).

The National Arboretum

Not far from the Monastery is the National Arboretum. The Arboretum was closed three days a week due to the recent sequester and budget cutbacks, but thanks to fundraising by the Friends of the National Arboretum, the grounds are now back open every day of the year except December 25.

The National Arboretum.

The Arboretum is under the US Department of Agriculture and its mission has been more one of research than of public outreach and education, but with a new director just named that has given local gardeners hope of great things to come. The grounds are large and it would take several visits to see it all. Plan to visit often and in all seasons to see how the gardens change throughout the year.

Getting there: There used to be a Metrobus that served this garden, but that service was infrequent and then was cut entirely a few years ago. Now, the best way to go is to take the B2 bus and walk in from the R Street entrance. (A bus route from the NoMa-Gallaudet U Metro station would be a dream...)

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Just across the Anacostia from the Arboretum are the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. If you go on a weekday, you pretty much have the whole place to yourself.

The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

This is the true hidden oasis of the city—a former waterlily nursery now a national park. It is also a wildlife haven. Both photographers and birders frequent the gardens in the early mornings, leaving before the heat of the day. They are missing out though as the hundreds of waterlilies and lotus open up in the direct sun and are best viewed in mid-day during July-August.

Getting there: You can actually get there by canoe easier than by transit, but I usually take the Metro to Deanwood and walk over.

The Bishop's Close at the National Cathedral

The Bishop's Close at the National Cathedral is accessible and open to all. The secluded, walled garden is on the south-facing side of the Cathedral and is downhill from it as well, giving it a great perspective on the building.

The Bishop's Close.

The garden itself is sunny and bright to support the roses and English-style perennial borders, but there are some shady quiet spots for contemplation, quiet reading, and reflection.

Getting there: Take one of the many 30 buses that go up and down Wisconsin and get off when you see the looming spires.

Outside of DC

Farther afield, both Brookside Gardens in Wheaton and Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria are free and run by their local county parks systems. Both take an effort to access by a combination of Metro and local bus systems, but are worth it for an afternoon outside of the city. Better access by transit would increase the usefulness and value of both of these gardens to their surrounding communities.

Getting there: Go to Brookside by taking the Red Line to Glenmont and walking one mile along Glen Allen Road. To get to Green Spring, take the Yellow or Blue Line to King Street and then transfer to the 29N bus towards Vienna. Get off at Little River Turnpike and Green Spring Road.

A new local nonprofit, DC Gardens, sprung up last spring to bring the profile of local public gardens in the DC region to the attention of both out-of-town tourists as well as to those who live here and only think of DC garden tourism as a once a year trip to see the Tidal Basin's cherry blossoms in bloom. On the site, you can view many of our public gardens month-by-month and learn what events, festivals, and activities are going at each.

A version of this post first ran in May 2015. With the summer weather back and in full effect, we thought it an opportune time to spread the word again!


David Alpert will take over AMC's The Walking Dead

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

AMC Networks has announced that it has hired David Alpert, founder and president of Greater Greater Washington, to be the new Executive Producer of its hit show The Walking Dead. In other news, The Walking Dead Executive Producer David Alpert will take over as President of Greater Greater Washington.

"We're really excited about this new direction for both our organizations," said Alpert. Alpert said, "This is an opportunity for both organizations to explore new directions."

The AMC show will be rebranded as The Walkable Dead and will focus on telling stories of the ways road design can keep people from facing serious injury or death. Jeff Speck will become the series' new head writer.

"I'm certain that audiences all around the nation will be just as riveted by the intricacies of sidewalk widths, traffic calming, and on which side of parked cars to put bike lanes as they are by stories of a world overrun by zombies," said Alpert.

For his part, Alpert plans to steer Greater Greater Washington toward more first-person narrative stories. An upcoming series of posts, tentatively called a "season," will depict a ragtag band of desperate survivors in Alexandria, Virginia who find their world, and neighborhood, completely destroyed by a pair of painted bike lanes on King Street.

An upcoming episode, previewed for the press, shows a suburban office worker having to wait a full 30 seconds to get out of his driveway as a few cyclists pass by. Having to back up very slowly and repeatedly look both ways epitomizes the difficult struggle to survive in a world suddenly filled with these two-wheeled menaces, who seem single-mindedly intent on getting to their destinations with their brains intact.

Alpert, who graduated from Harvard, said his past experience producing the TV show, which purportedly takes place in Alexandria, perfectly prepares him for the role of managing a blog and advocacy organization. He said, "I get it: density good, neighbor opposition bad, transit/biking/walking good, cars bad ... How hard can this be?"

Alpert, meanwhile, said he's confident that his degree from Harvard will prepare him for keeping The Walkable Dead one of the top shows on TV. He has been to Atlanta (where the series is filmed) a couple of times. "Most of Metro Atlanta already looks like a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland," added Alpert.

An additional revelation was promulgated by Alpert: In anticipation of the substitution, the phraseology that will be utilized in the production of Greater Greater Washington will entirely be composed of passive voice and nominalizations.


You did it! Come party!

With the generous help of 291 readers and supporters, we've surpassed this year's goal and raised $26,832 for this year's reader drive. Thank you! We hope to see you at the party, and read on for the answer to our sample trivia question.

Photo by Tobias Scheck on Flickr.

Our readers play a very important part in helping us remain financially sustainable, so we can keep having Jonathan Neeley edit our community's articles, Sarah Guidi keep the organization running, and soon start doing more organizing around housing as well.

We're pleased to be able to keep reader support as a major part of our budget, and hope that can continue. Thank you to everyone who stepped up!

We also now have 67 sustaining monthly donors. If you haven't supported us yet, signing up for a monthly gift of $5 or more will grow our base of reliable revenue and cut down on how much we have to push each year during the regular reader drive (but you can always cancel).

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See you at the party!

We hit the goal just in time for our 8th birthday party tonight (Tuesday), March 8, from 6:30 to 9 pm at Vendetta on H Street NE. If you haven't signed up yet, please do!

Dan Reed will be running a short, optional, but fun trivia contest around 7:45, with a $5 requested donation to play. Recently, we posted a sample question:

Millennials are flocking to this neighborhood outside DC, where the percentage of adults 20-34 has more than doubled since 1980 to 71%, making it one of the region's youngest. What is it?

Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

We got 13 guesses. Most people guessed Clarendon, which indeed gained many young people and was named the best neighborhood for millennials in 2014, but the most millennial-heavy Census tract around there just had 57% of residents ages 20-34.

That's quite a lot, but not as many as tract 2007.01 in the Eisenhower area of Alexandria, where the young adult share of the neighborhood's population grew from 31% in 1980 to 71% by 2013.

Congratulations to Nicholas Chen, the only person to get the question correct. Nice work, Nicholas!

And thanks again to all of our readers, commenters, friends, allies, and supporters who've helped make Greater Greater Washington a success!


This summer, Alexandria's King Street could become a complete street... or not

When it repaves a stretch of King Street this summer, the City of Alexandria wants make it safer for all users. But of the three design options Alexandria is considering, only one would make for a complete street.

This is the part of King Street that Alexandria will work on. Photo from Google Streetview.

Complete streets, which Alexandria has embraced since 2011, are streets designed in a way to make them safe for people of all ages and abilities, and which balance the needs of everyone using the street, whether they're traveling by car, bicycle, on foot, or via transit. When Alexandria repaves streets, the city's Complete Streets coordinator works to ensure these elements exist.

Where the changes will go

The section Alexandria is repaving this summer is from Janneys Lane to Radford Street, near TC Williams High School. That's immediately west of where in 2014, residents fought a protracted battle over adding bike lanes during another resurfacing process.

Contextual map of the project. Base map from Google Maps, with illustrations by the author.

But this time around, most neighbors living on this four-lane section of King Street seem to want changes. They consider this stretch of King Street a residential street in a residential neighborhood, and many have said in community discussions and on Twitter that they want to see slower traffic speeds, safer pedestrian crossings, and generally a more "residential" character for the street.

One resident pointed out that while it may become the major commercial corridor Rt. 7 in Fairfax, King Street is just two travel lanes in most of Alexandria (Janney's Lane eastbound to the river).

In feedback that city staff collected during preliminary public meetings and outreach last fall, residents reported that this stretch of King Street is difficult to cross, with pedestrian safety concerns near TC Williams, bus stops that are hard to get to, and unsafe conditions for cyclists, among others.

People driving need safety changes, too. Today, cars waiting to turn left along this stretch create delays for through traffic, and are in an exposed position, risking being rear-ended by fast cars in the left lane.

To address all of these concerns, the city is considering other changes, called the "King Street Complete Street Project," in addition to repaving. According to its project page, the goals of the project are to:

  • Improve the safety and convenience for all street users
  • Provide facilities for people who walk, bike, ride transit or drive cars
  • Implement City Council adopted plans and policies.
City staff has released three design options for the project, with offerings ranging from mainly car-oriented to a broadly-multimodal. Alexandria residents have an opportunity to give feedback on the options through this Sunday, February 28.

Design Option 1 only covers the basics

Option 1, while named "Complete Streets Maintenance," is basically the no-change option. According to the project sheet, there would be no major changes to the road's current 4-lane configuration, minimal pedestrian improvements, and no bike or vehicle improvements.

Cross section of Option 1. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Basically, option 1 would bring the street up to what amount to most people's existing minimum expectations, by improving curb ramps, installing crosswalks along adjacent side streets, and bringing bus stops into ADA compliance.

Design Option 2 only focuses on intersections

Option 2 only focuses on making intersections better. Like option 1, it does nothing to change today's conditions, where people walking on the sidewalk are uncomfortably close to vehicle traffic. There are no improvements for people bicycling.

Pedestrian intersection improvements in Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Under option 2, the main change is that planners would swap one of the two westbound through travel lanes for a left turn lane for the length of the project corridor.

This would help slow traffic and make the street safer, though residents have voiced concerns that it won't slow traffic enough. This option also adds pedestrian improvements at intersections, and improves crossings at bus stops.

Cross section of Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

One issue, though, is that slower speeds in option 2 translate into longer travel times for people traveling west by car or transit: 13 seconds during AM rush hour, and 11 seconds at evening rush hour, to get through the mile-long project corridor.

Despite many residents' calls to slow traffic on this stretch of King Street, other Alexandrians have already indicated in the city's online forum that they may see this slight increase in travel times as unacceptable.

Design Option 3 makes things better for all street users

Option 3 does the best job of addressing resident's concerns about traffic moving too fast and safety for people walking along this residential stretch. It not only swaps one of the two westbound through vehicle lanes for a left turn lane (as in Option 2), it also swaps an eastbound vehicle lane for a buffered bike lane for much of the project's eastern stretch, and incorporates a shared lane west of TC Williams High School.

Cross section of main section of Option 3. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

In addition to the bike infrastructure, this option facilitates safer turning and smoother through traffic for people in cars at TC Williams High School with left turn lanes, and includes planted pedestrian crossing islands.

Like Option 2, Option 3's safety improvements result in slightly slower travel times in the corridor for people in vehicles (7-13 seconds during peak periods through the mile-long project corridor). But that means some Alexandrians are up in arms about it:

Some residents are opposing bike lanes and other improvements in Option 3. Image from AlexandriaVAmom on Twitter.

But Option 3 provides the most separation between vehicles and the sidewalk, and creates a dedicated space for each user of the street. That makes it the best in keeping with Alexandria's Complete Streets policy.

What happens next

Alexandria has extended the public feedback survey on the three options through February 28. Once public comment on the three design options closes, city staff will review the comments and decide on a course of action. Staff has said that as of now, all options are still on the table. Look for more community discussions, before a design eventually goes to a public hearing of Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board for approval.


Three big urban planning efforts that will transform Northern Virginia

As 2016 kicks into gear, big plans are in the works to remake Old Town North in Alexandria, Reston Town Center, and Arlington's Lee Highway. In each jurisdiction, there are equally big questions about where housing will fit into future development.

Photo by Rocky A on Flickr.

All three are happening within the framework of last year's local election campaigns, with lagging economies, rising housing costs, growing poverty in the suburbs, and the question of where our jobs will sleep at night. Will 2015's campaign rhetoric translate into places that are affordable, accessible, and walkable, with amenities that can be enjoyed by all in the community?


Alexandria's Old Town North (OTN) Small Area Plan will be an update to the original, which came out in 1992. The goals of the plan are to create a sense of place with innovative architecture, design, and open space, while respecting existing residential neighborhoods. The plan will maintain views of the river and ensure public access to water activities, and promote walkability and accessibility to open space.

Existing city plans, namely the 1974 master plan and the Plan for the Redevelopment of the Alexandria Waterfront, will inform specific recommendations for the new SAP.

Alexandria's Old Town waterfront. Photo by brownpau on Flickr.

Regarding housing, there are 340 committed, affordable public housing units owned by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) in Old Town North. There are no market-affordable units nor are there any affordable rental set-aside units from market-rate developers located in this study area.

What to look for: How proactive will the city be in promoting more housing that's affordable and accessible? Which tools will it use to achieve the housing goals identified in the city's housing master plan? What role will density play? Will the OTN community support the redevelopment of Hopkins-Tancil Courts and the Administrative Office Building for ARHA into higher density, mixed income developments? What role will the campaign commitment of the new mayor to slow the pace of development play in the plans for OTN?


Summary of what's actually happening in Arlington: Redevelopment is happening along Lee Highway, and the Lee Highway Briefing Book will examine existing conditions and policies that affect the corridor between Rosslyn and East Falls Church.

The purpose of the briefing book is for data collection and research only; no redevelopment is planned at this time, but the hope is to ensure that future growth will be guided by a comprehensive vision for the corridor. The study boundaries will include all land within a quarter mile north and south of Lee Highway.

Lee Highway and Spout Run Parkway. Photo from Arlington County.

Since 2012, a coalition of civic association leaders known as the Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) has been actively engaged in conducting educational forums and walking tours, the ultimate goal being to develop a community-based vision for the corridor. The result has been growing interest and involvement in the work of the LHA.

What to look for: How will the County's need for more housing that's affordable align with the visioning sessions led by the civic associations? As redevelopment occurs, will Arlington be successful in putting housing that's affordable in geographically diverse places? The newly adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan calls for the Lee Highway corridor to be one of those places. What are the challenges to providing additional housing posed by this narrowly defined commercial area abutting established single-family residential neighborhoods?


In Fairfax, Reston Town Center North will redevelop a 49-acre area of irregularly-shaped parcels north of Reston Town Center. The concept plan envisions creating eight block parcels with a grid of streets and a mix of uses "improving the current county services, integrating them into a new mixed-use community with housing, shops, restaurants, and a publicly-accessible central green open space."

This redevelopment takes advantage of a number of large employers and retail and restaurant opportunities located there, as well as proximity to the future Reston Town Center Metro station, creating additional opportunities to live/work/play in this popular and desirable location.

Rendering from Fairfax County.

County leaders are working with the community to refine objectives for the site. In addition to redeveloping the existing county facilities, other possible public uses could include transitional housing for people moving out of the homeless shelter that's there, additional affordable housing, an indoor recreation center or swimming pool, a performing arts center, and community meeting rooms.

Redevelopment plans will move forward in two phases. The first phase calls for the redevelopment of the 6.65 acres just south of Bowman Towne Drive where the library and shelter are currently located. These parcels, known as Blocks 7 and 8 (and which the county owns), are planned for mixed-use development that would include the proposed replacement library and shelter, as well as new affordable housing. The county will be seeking redevelopment partners for these block developments.

The county and Inova will jointly pursue rezoning of the remaining parcels, and then negotiate a full development agreement for swapping land at the conclusion of the rezoning, building the common infrastructure, and establishing easements. Future development of individual blocks would require separate, subsequent rezoning actions.

What to look for: Will the recent collapse of the Lake Anne redevelopment plan inform the county's thinking with regard to selecting a development partner? Will the county use this opportunity to address stated goals in the Housing Blueprint, especially regarding permanent supportive housing and housing for families at lower income levels?

A version of this post is also up on the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance's website.


2015's greatest hits: Nation's first bicycle HOT lanes planned for Mt. Vernon Trail

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This April Fool's joke post originally ran on April 1. Enjoy and happy New Year!

The National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have announced a new partnership to construct the nation's first bicycle High Occupancy/Toll Express Lanes on the Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon.

Artist's rendering showing how high occupancy vehicles will benefit from enhanced capacity. Image by Peter Dovak.

The all-electronic HOT lanes will require construction of a second path parallel to the existing trail. Once completed, each path will carry one-way mixed traffic (runners, walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and other self-propelled vehicles) on the right, with a left lane set aside for high occupancy vehicles or for users paying a variable toll.

Local leaders and transportation experts hailed the move as a way to relieve congestion on key arteries without digging into the already-strained National Park Service operating budget. NPS spokesperson Val O. C. Pede said that congestion at several key junctions along the trail would go from a Level of Service rating of "F" to an "A" or "B-."

The construction and operation would be funded by Trechiant Ventures, a partnership of bicycle manufacturers Giant, Trek, and Bianchi, who are developing bicycles designed specifically for such facilities.

The HOT lanes will not be separated from regular traffic by bollards or barricades, but will instead rely on strict enforcement. All HOT lane users will be required to use an E-ZPass, just as they would in motor vehicles.

NPS ranger stations, local Whole Foods stores, and participating bike shops will offer special clips to attach transponders to riders' helmets. The lanes will be free for High Occupancy Vehicles using an E-ZPass Flex, including tandem bicycles, bicycles with children in trailers, and joggers practicing for wife carrying races.

Park Rangers will be stationed at the side of the trail with special equipment to detect the number of riders in or on the vehicle, and proper E-ZPass Flex settings.

Rollerbladers will be required to pay double, by strapping one E-ZPass transponder to each of their skates. Bicycle mechanics will also be stationed every two miles to clear the lanes of any breakdowns.

Toll rates are expected to vary between 25¢/mile and $1.00/mile, which would make the Rosslyn to King Street corridor a competitive alternative to Metro's Blue Line. As with the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes, there is no ceiling on the price. The pricing will be adjusted to maintain a guaranteed 15 mph speed for cyclists, which is also the maximum speed for the trail.

Neighboring jurisdictions hailed the announcement. Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey suggested that "VDOT's enthusiastic participation in this exciting public private partnership makes bicycle HOT lanes the perfect, low-cost-to-us replacement for the canceled Columbia Pike Streetcar."

Alexandria Town Crier understudy Hugh G. Pannier suggested that the city's new waterfront plans would be well-served by additional bicycle capacity along the waterfront, but that the city might demand that signage use a more period-appropriate typeface.

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