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Posts about Brookland

Pedestrians


Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: Walmart, Autozone, Exxon, Hechinger Mall

Shoveling from the weekend's snowstorm is a big job. Many residents and businesses have cleared sidewalks, but some have not. Those that deserve a special circle of hell: businesses who had no trouble shoveling huge parking lots but left their sidewalks impassable.


Photos by Steve Money on Twitter.

Like the Georgia Avenue Walmart, which Steve Money says cleared its delivery area but piled snow high on the sidewalk. That forced people on foot to walk in the road on busy Missouri Avenue.

The same goes for Autozone, right near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. Shane Farthing says someone in a wheelchair had to go into the street to get to the Metro.


Photo by Shane Farthing on Twitter.

Kate Sweeney nominated the Exxon at Franklin and 12th streets NE in Brookland. She says, "They never shovel the sidewalks. Infuriating! The parking lot isn't totally clear but they've shoveled enough that people can get to the pumps."


Photo by Kate Sweeney.

The Hechinger Mall and 7-11 on Bladensburg Road also shoveled parking but not sidewalks, says Dan Malouff, who had to walk in the road to get home Tuesday night.


Photos by Dan Malouff.

What will DC do?

One thing these businesses have in common is that their customer base is largely or entirely arriving by car, so access on foot is not a priority. But even if it's not in their interest to make it safe for people to walk, it's important.

Last year, the DC Council passed a law authorizing the government to fine property owners who don't shovel their sidewalks by eight daylight hours after a storm. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who wasn't a fan of the idea when she was a councilmember, announced she wouldn't enforce the law, but then later announced that she would in fact enforce it, on businesses in particular.

I actually think it's reasonable for her to forebear on giving any tickets to individual homeowners for now. People have had a lot of time to shovel by now, but there's not much reason to slap a $25 ticket on an elderly homeowner or something like that. However, Walmart and Autozone aren't unable to shovel; they are choosing not to.

These are the kinds of properties DC should fine. If anything, the issue is whether the fine isn't large enough. When the bill was being debated, I advocated for very small fines for an individual homeowner and potentially large ones for a very big commercial property.

If a company owns a large site with a big parking lot and can clear it, but doesn't bother to open the sidewalk, only government action, or maybe shaming, will change that.

Thanks to the many people who sent in photos and sorry we couldn't use them all (at least not yet)! If you see other big offenders, post them in the comments or send them to snow@ggwash.org.

Housing


House prices are skyrocketing in central DC neighborhoods, but not in outlying ones

Have house prices in your neighborhood doubled or tripled in the last decade or so, making buying a house seem far out of reach? Or did the bust leave many house and condo owners underwater and they still haven't recovered? It depends on where you live.

The DC government statistical number crunchers behind the District, Measured blog made some great graphs of changes in the real estate market for single-family homes.

The graph above shows how in the last six years, prices have risen the most in neighborhoods like Eckington and Brookland, places which had modestly-priced housing but good access to transportation and/or downtown. The biggest rise by far was Trinidad, where the prices have jumped 141% since 2009.

Before 2009, of course, prices dropped significantly in many areas. Most central DC neighborhoods have seen prices rise since the bust even more than they dropped, but that's not the case in two general parts of the city: many neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, where prices were sky-high before the bust, and east of the Anacostia River.

East of the river, the insane real estate market of central DC seems very far away; as Congress Heights blogger Nikki Peele wrote,

My condo, which I purchased in 2007 for the very modest price of $150,000 is now appraising at $65,000—and I am one of the lucky ones! Some of my friend's who own Ward 8 condos have units that are appraising for less than $30,000! Then I have friends who just walked away from their condos entirely.

This graph shows how prices in various neighborhoods changed over time. See how the three east of the river neighborhoods in this graph (Congress Heights, Deanwood, and Hillcrest) look so different from the west of the river ones. Hillcrest is one of the wealthiest areas east of the Anacostia and had a price trajectory very similar to Petworth until 2009; after that, their paths diverged.

The neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, by contrast, are largely in a wholly different class.

A few important caveats: This data is all for single-family homes (detached houses, semi-detached, and townhouses), not condos. It's sale prices, not rentals. So this tells you about the cost of buying a house on its own land, but not the cost to many other residents of living in these areas.

The data also doesn't control for home size; that's not so important when looking at the change in prices, but absolute price of houses absolutely does vary based on size.

What do you notice in the data?

Bicycling


A tunnel for bikes in Brookland was once a possibility. Is the idea totally dead?

When you ride the Metropolitan Branch Trail into Brookland, it merges with 8th Street NE until it hits Monroe Street, where people on bike have to line up in traffic and wait to use the crosswalk. While DDOT once decided against building a tunnel under Monroe that would keep bikes and cars separate, the idea could come back to life.


The current configuration of the MBT when it hits Monroe Street. Base image from Google Maps.

DDOT's 2005 Metropolitan Branch Trail Concept Plan included two possible options for crossing Monroe Street, both of which proposed a path that ran along the railroad tracks between Monroe Street and Michigan Avenue.

The first, Option A1, would take the path through a tunnel under Monroe and then on a path across a wooded lot to the south, which would lead to a mid-block crossing at 8th Street.


A rendering of the potential Monroe Street tunnel. Image from DDOT.

The second, Option A2, would have the path follow Monroe west to its intersection with 8th Street and send riders across at grade rather than using a tunnel. DDOT settled on this option.


Trail options from the Metropolitan Branch Trail Concept Plan. Image from DDOT.

A tunnel could be in the cards after all

In the ten years since the MBT plan came out, the path between Michigan and Monroe went in as part of the Arts Walk and Monroe Street Market and the wooded lot south of Monroe has become the Edgewood Arts Center.

DDOT has announced plans to replace/rehabilitate the Monroe Street Bridge in FY2020, which could yield a chance to build a tunnel (which would make for a better trail).

While DDOT staff is concerned that there isn't room for the trail anymore because of the Arts Center, I believe there is.

The trail could reach the railroad tracks by going east off of 8th Street through the gravel parking lot that runs along the Arts Center's retaining wall.


The Arts Center, from 8th Street. The railroad tracks are just beyond the trees. Image from Google Streetview.

There's a "green" strip of trees, about 27 feet wide, that sits between the Arts Center and the railroad track fence. That space could be used to have trail run like this:

Overhead monroe
Image from Google Maps.

Property ownership and resident resistance might very well be issues, but the space itself should not be. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to build this facility, and we shouldn't dismiss the opportunity lightly.

Public Safety


Is turnover at the police department contributing to DC's crime wave?

It's no secret that the District has had a hard time fighting crime this year. The job gets even tougher when the people in charge are constantly changing.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The Metropolitan Police Department is divided into seven police districts, each of which are further broken down into Public Service Areas. Each district is led by a commander, and each PSA by a lieutenant. There are 56 PSAs in the District of Columbia, and each should provide framework for close engagement between police and neighborhoods.

But In PSA 405, where I'm an ANC commissioner, we have seen the reassignment of PSA lieutenants nearly half a dozen times in the last two to three years. Our area has also seen two different district commanders. Every time there's a leadership change, months of hard work between residents and MPD are completely erased.

While officers are swapped with well-intentioned replacements, they lack any transition guidance, reach back, or context of the previous officer's community engagement efforts. The community is left starting over from scratch and beginning the cycle anew. In my experience, this is a vicious cycle that inevitably ends the same way.

Here are two examples of this happening

Nearly two years ago, 5A residents asked their PSA lieutenant, night watch commander, and the district commander to personally attend our monthly meeting to hear the community's needs. After attending, 5A and the PSA 405 lieutenant agreed to merge the regularly scheduled PSA meetings with the ANC meeting so the wider community could attend and be engaged. The joint meeting happened once, but after that learned that the Lieutenant at the time had been reassigned.


An officer gives a public safety update during ANC 5A's June 2015 ANC 5A community meeting. Image from the author.

Last year, both residents and 5A commissioners began to feel like progress was being made with public safety engagement. A new lieutenant had just arrived and was eager to attend ANC and other meetings. When residents had issues, she would give out her email and cell phone number and encouraged residents to reach out to her.

Over the course of a few months, the new lieutenant became a familiar face around the community while engaging in public safety issues, updating the community and even engaging a local charter school to help improve traffic congestion during drop-off and pick-ups of students. 5A finally had a working relationship that could continue to be effective.

One weekend in late April of this year, I contacted our new lieutenant to get information about a shooting at Webster St NE and South Dakota Ave NE. Not long after I sent my email to her, I received a response I thought we were finally free of: "I apologize I have been transferred to the First District...".

At the next meeting of ANC 5A the community met our new PSA Lieutenant, a man who was set to retire in two months!

Residents want better

As an ANC commissioner since 2012, I have sat through numerous meetings that have addressed public safety. Over the last three and a half years, I have listened and advocated for increased community-based policing, better access to public safety information, and better communication between commissioners and PSA lieutenants.

I have also listened to residents' requests that police officers become more visible in their assigned community by walking or biking in the neighborhoods they are obligated to protect and serve.

Constant turnover, reassignments, and lack of transition planning are dooming any effort at positive community policing. The constant reminder during public safety meetings of an impending major reduction in force does little to produce confidence in residents of the District of Columbia.

While the Mayor and the Council hold meetings, forums, and introduce new legislation, constituent concerns and requests should not be forgotten.

Places


Join us for happy hour in Brookland!

It's time for the next Greater Greater happy hour! Join us in two weeks for drinks, conversation, and trainspotting along the Red Line in Brookland Edgewood (which should be a little less crowded than it is today).


Photo by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 6 from 6 to 8 pm, we'll be at the Dew Drop Inn, located at 2801 8th Street NE. Formerly home to Chocolate City Brewing Company, this bar may be best known for its rooftop deck, which overlooks the Red Line tracks. In addition, drinks are $2 off until 7:30, and there's a full food menu.

The Dew Drop Inn is located between the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland-CUA Metro stations. From Rhode Island Avenue, the bar is about a half-mile up the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just past Franklin Street. From Brookland, it's six blocks south of the station along 8th Street. If you're coming by bus, the Metrobus D8, G8, and H8 all stop within two blocks, while several other routes stop at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. There's also a Capital Bikeshare station three blocks away at 7th and Hamlin streets NE.

Over the past year, we've held happy hours in Alexandria, Shaw, and U Street. We're always looking for new, Metro-accessible locations for future happy hours (especially in Prince George's County!). Where would you like us to go next?

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Transit


Visit DC's wonderful public gardens on transit

Our region is blessed with over 100 public gardens, most of which are free or very cheap to visit. 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, a collection of gardens in and around many of the museums on the National Mall that counterbalance the dark halls of fossils and spacecraft.

The Smithsonian Gardens are comprised of 12 distinct spaces. They range from the Victory Garden, a recreation of a World War II vegetable and flower garden at the Museum of American History, to the contemporary Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

You can get to all of the Smithsonian gardens by Metrorail and bus, and they're all free. A lot of them also host regular tours and other educational programming. The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden's tour, which is hosted by a horitculturist every Tuesday at 2 pm throughout October, is one of the best.

The US Botanic Garden

Also on the National Mall is the US Botanic Garden, a great place to enjoy native plants. In warm months, there is nothing more stunning than the blazing yellow-orange Amsonia with the National Museum of the American Indian in the background, and the glass conservatory is my place to get away from the long, dull gray of winter.

Mark your calendar: the Botanic Garden is open on both Christmas and New Year's Day, and it hosts a holiday garden railroad display.

Because the Architect of the Capitol runs the Botanic Garden rather than it being part of the Smithsonian, it can close unexpectedly, like when it hosts fundraisers for legislators. Make sure to check before you visit!


The US Botanic Garden.

Mount Saint Sepulchre Franciscan Monastery

If crowds aren't your thing, check out the Franciscan Monastery in Brookland. I usually take the Metro to Brookland and walk the mile there, but the H6 and the 80 buses get you even closer.

The Monastery grounds are free and open to all. They are known for their fantastic bulb displays around Easter, but there are stunning roses in late May and early June, and later in the summer there are tropical gardens that even feature a few palm trees.


Brookland's Franciscan Monastery.

The National Arboretum

Not far from the Monastery is the National Arboretum. There used to be a Metrobus that served this garden, but it was infrequent and eventually ceased service a few years ago. Now, the best way to go is to take the B2 bus and walk in from the R Street entrance.


The National Arboretum.

Among the Arboretum's unique collections are the sun-filled Gotelli Dwarf Conifer Collection (dwarf being a very relative term) and Fern Valley, which is shady and full of ephemeral woodland wildflowersin the early spring. Also, the National Herb Garden includes hundreds of species of herbs and visiting is a scent-filled, interactive experience.

The Arboretum is run by the US Department of Agriculture, and in recent years it has been more about research than public outreach and education. But the new director, Dr. Richard Olsen, comes from a horticultural background rather than an administrative one, and local gardeners hope that means a change of focus.


The National Arboretum.

The Arboretum is open every day of the year except Christmas. Recently, it was closed three days a week because of sequestration, but that didn't last thanks to fundraising by Friends of the National Arboretum.

The Arboretum's 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.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Just across the Anacostia from the Arboretum are the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. You can actually get there by canoe easier than by transit, but I usually take the Metro to Deanwood and walk over.

Once there, you pretty much have the whole place to yourself. A former waterlily nursery now a national park, this is the true hidden oasis of the city.


The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

The Aquatic Gardens are 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 midday sun. The best time to see them is during July and August.

The Bishop's Close at the National Cathedral

The Bishop's Close at the National Cathedral is accessible and open to all. To get there, take one of the many 30 buses that go up and down Wisconsin and get off when you see the looming spires.


The Bishop's Close.

The secluded, walled garden is downhill from the south-facing side of the Cathedral, giving it a great view of the building. The garden itself is sunny and bright, which helps the roses and English-style perennial borders grow, but there are also some shady, quiet spots.

Outside of DC

Farther afield, local parks systems run Brookside Gardens in Wheaton and Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, both of which are free to enter. Reaching either by transit takes a combination of Metrorail and bus, but they're both worth it if you're looking for an afternoon outside of the city. Of course, better access by transit would make these gardens even more valuable to their surrounding communities.


Green Springs Garden.

There's a lot more to gardens in DC than a once per year trip to see the cherry blossoms bloom. DC Gardens, a new local nonprofit, sprung up this spring to help spread the word about the city's great public gardens to both tourists and residents. On DCGardens' website, you'll find month to month calendars for lots of our public gardens, along with listings for events, festivals, and activities going on at each.

This post originally said the US Botanic Garden closes unexpectedly to host fundraisers for legislators. In fact, the Garden doesn't allow fundraisers of any kind.

Transit


The Circulator could go more places and be more frequent

The DC Circulator could soon go to Howard University, Southwest Waterfront, Congress Heights, and the Cathedral. But to do that, it'll need more buses. More than that, it needs more buses now to actually deliver on the service every 10 minutes that is a key hallmark of the Circulator.


Circulators in central DC. Image from DDOT. Click for full map.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) released an updated plan for the Circulator system. That plan emphasizes that the Circulator is more than just "a nicer and cheaper bus," but it means some specific things which couldn't apply to any bus route, like:

  • It connects key activity centers that have all-day transit demand (as opposed to, say, neighborhoods of mostly commuters);
  • Buses run every 10 minutes, all day (which makes sense only because of the activity centers);
  • The routes are easy to understand
  • (Also, the bus is nicer and cheaper)
But as for "every 10 minutes," the Circulator is not really achieving that now. The wait is more than 15 minutes 20.47% of the time, according to the plan. It doesn't even say how often the wait is more than 10 minutes, because the metrics have been set to consider any wait under 15 minutes "on time." (I've asked DDOT to clarify why that is and will update the post when I hear back.)

On the Dupont Circle-Georgetown-Rosslyn route, "actual headways average over 11 minutes, and up to 13 in the PM peak period." 11 is the average on Union Station-Navy Yard as well. On Potomac Avenue-Skyland, the time between buses is more than 15 minutes one-third of the time.

But enough about the piddling task of actually running the existing buses efficiently—where will they go next?

The Mall: The Circulator will go on the National Mall in 2015, in partnership with the National Park Service (and thanks to some revenue from meters on the Mall). In the first year, DDOT estimates 880,900 people will ride this line.

The Cathedral: Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) put money in the budget to extend the Circulator on Wisconsin Avenue from its terminus at Whitehaven Street to the Cathedral. On a survey, 60% of people said this was an important destination, but DDOT says, "the extension itself performs very poorly, with only 13 boardings per hour, high subsidy per passenger, and low farebox recovery ratio."

In the longer run, DDOT proposes splitting this route into two. One would go from Union Station to Georgetown alone, while another route to the Cathedral would only go as far east as McPherson Square. This would make the routes more reliable since a very long route is hard to keep on time.

U Street and Howard: The Circulator from Rosslyn to Dupont Circle would continue past the circle, up 18th Street to U Street and then in a loop on 8th, Barry, and Florida at Howard. This gives DDOT an opportunity to put a Circulator stop under 300 feet from my house (or more likely about 500), which is of course the main reason this is the best extension. But seriously, the line with the extension would serve an estimated 1,790,000 rides a year, most of which won't be me, including a lot of people who don't ride Circulator today.

Congress Heights: The Potomac Avenue-Skyland route was a political creature, started by politicians who wanted the Circulator to go east of the river for appearances' sake. While more transit is welcome everywhere, and people in wards 7 and 8 absolutely deserve great transit service even at higher cost, improving existing buses (for example, by implementing these recommendations from Ward 7 transit experts) probably would have done more per dollar to help people.

The line is very long (the longest in the system) and has low ridership (but, actually, not as low as the Union Station-Navy Yard route, which goes through a lot of areas that just don't have very high density). It duplicates a lot of WMATA Metrobus service, and most of the riders along the route take transit to commute rather than for all-day car-free activity. (The fact that the waits between buses are long can't help, either.)

The council funded an extension to Congress Heights on the southern end, which DDOT feels will help the route by offering a "much stronger southern anchor" at a current (and growing) activity center.

Southwest Waterfront: The Union Station-Navy Yard line would continue just a little bit farther along M Street to Waterfront Metro and the growing activity center there.


All planned and future Circulator corridors. Image from DDOT.

Longer-term: The plan also lists several corridors for future service some more years out. One would restore a north-south Circulator between the Convention Center and the Waterfront (at least until a streetcar maybe plies that corridor). That route was part of the original Circulator but discontinued in 2011.

Another would connect Dupont Circle to Southwest Waterfront through the National Mall. Both this and the north-south line would give Mall tourists another way to get to interesting places that aren't actually on the Mall and spend some of their dollars at taxpaying DC businesses, as well as more ways to get to and from the Mall.

Finally, DDOT wants to study a line from Columbia Heights to the Brookland Metro (via Washington Hospital Center) and then down to NoMa. The areas in the middle of this corridor, like planned development at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and Armed Forces Retirement Home, aren't yet all-day activity centers, but in the future they well could be.

Besides these, DDOT officials considered a wide variety of other routes like Adams Morgan to H Street, Dupont to Petworth, Fort Totten to Friendship Heights, H Street to Congress Heights, Tenleytown to Columbia Heights, and the Abe's to Ben's route some Foggy Bottom and Dupont leaders suggested.

DDOT didn't advance these because they duplicate existing Metrobus service, the activity centers don't have enough all-day demand, or otherwise don't meet the criteria for Circulator in particular. See page 66 of the plan for a detailed explanation for why DDOT didn't pick your particular Circulator idea.

Making these routes happen will of course require money. Phase 1 (the Mall, the Cathedral, U Street/Howard, Waterfront, Congress Heights, and splitting the east-west line) will require 23 buses and $8.7 million in operating subsidy. This budget season, the DC Council chose tax cuts over investing in transit; upcoming budget seasons will tell us what priority the next mayor and members of the DC Council put on giving residents high-frequency, easy-to-understand bus service to connect key centers across the city.

Bicycling


A gap in the Met Branch Trail slowly closes

The Metropolitan Branch Trail, which runs along the Red Line's eastern segment, still has a number of large gaps. The largest stretches from the Fort Totten trash transfer station to the Maryland line. DC officials recently announced they are moving ahead with preliminary engineering and design to close this gap.

WABA made an infographic showing the trail's progress:

According to WABA's post, officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) told the Bicycle Advisory Council that the firms RK&K and Toole Design are now working on the project. It will get the trail segment to the 30% design stage; after that, more as-yet-unscheduled work will be necessary to get the design to 100% and ultimately build the trail section.

There are also other gaps in Silver Spring and in Brookland. A bridge to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station is under construction now, and in NoMa, DDOT is adding short cycletrack segments to get riders all the way to Union Station.

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