Posts about CFA
The National Capital Planning Commission is working on an Open Government Plan, to "increase transparency, public participation, and collaboration."
You can vote on their various ideas at an interactive site. Ideas include putting online more of the plans that are under review, live streaming meetings, creating an online platform for people to collaboratively suggest changes to plans, and using more social media.
NCPC is one of many boards in DC which review proposed projects. Each group has varying levels of openness for various elements of the process. I'd like to see all project review boards strive for a basic level of transparency for all of their decisions:
- Post submissions soon after they are received, including images, maps, etc.
- Post dates of meetings and meeting agendas
- Post staff reports and recommendations
- Post comments that have been received from government agencies and ANCs
- Provide an online mechanism for people to submit comments
- Post comments that have been received from individuals
- Broadcast meetings via Web audio or video
- Provide an online archive of prior meeting audio/video
- List the body's vote and order quickly after the conclusion of the meeting
These are the boards that review projects and have some approval or disapproval power:
- The Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) and Zoning Commission (ZC), both of which are managed by the Office of Zoning (OZ)
- The Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), for historic properties and districts
- The Public Space Committee (PSC), for curb cuts, sidewalk cafes, and other items in public space
- The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), for projects that touch on the federal interest
- The Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), for Georgetown and projects abutting certain federal areas
How are these boards doing today?
|Post staff reports||N/A2||N/A2|
|Post agency/ANC comments||*|
|Receive emailed comments||Unclear|
|Post individual comments|
When I last wrote about this a bit over 2 years ago, Sara Bardin from the Office of Zoning said they are working on a system to post BZA and ZC cases online, and would launch in FY2010, which ended last summer. Someone from OZ said they are still working on it and have it working internally, but it's not yet available for the public. I've emailed the project manager to find out more.
As for NCPC, you can vote on their open government ideas and submit your own until March 11.
Currently, a protected, one-way southbound bike lane runs along 15th Street from Massachusetts Avenue to U Street. The street has sharrows in the right-hand general traffic lane for northbound cyclists.
Over four weeks in late September and early October, DDOT will convert the cycle track to two-way operation while extending it north to W Street and south to E Street. Later extensions will run north to Euclid Street and south to Constitution Avenue.
Implementation of this phase of the downtown cycle track plan will bridge the "missing block" of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes between 14th and 15th streets. The gap means that the Pennsylvania lanes currently dump cyclists into the middle of a busy intersection.
Remaining design issues
South of K Street, 15th Street carries many 30's line buses that make stops along the route of the planned cycle track. The plan doesn't show any accommodations for these bus stops. Will passengers wait in the cycle track for their buses? At the very least, loading and unloading passengers crossing the cycle track will conflict with cyclists. DDOT has not yet shown how they will address this issue.
A similar problem crops up south of E Street, where food and souvenir vendors have set up shop in the right-hand lane. The plan published online does not extend south of E Street, but it remains an issue to be addressed as DDOT extends the cycle track to Constitution Avenue.
Another new element is green paint in select areas. This will both make the lane more visible to turning motorists and clarify its function as a bike lane. This is an improvement many DC cyclists have long been anticipating, and an indication that federal interests such as the Commission of Fine Arts may be willing to be more flexible with DDOT on this project than they were with the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes.
Notably absent from the plans posted online are designs for the cycle track between G and H Streets. DDOT has indicated that their preferred route is along Pennsylvania Avenue and Madison Place near the White House. There are outstanding issues to be resolved between DDOT, the Secret Service, the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Park Service and other federal agencies over this section, which will likely receive treatments more akin to signage than to a cycle track. The exact nature of these issues was not explained by NCPC staff, although staff from NPS and NCPC have suggested that DDOT route the cycle track on H and 15th Streets instead of its current proposal along Lafayette Park.
Despite these remaining issues, progress already made, such as the relocation of the White House delivery queue lane from 15th Street to E Street, provides hope for a resolution. Also redacted from the plans posted online are designs for how the cycle track will interface with the complex intersection of W Street and New Hampshire Avenue.
Success of the existing cycle track
Since DDOT installed the cycle track, motorists have not been speeding as much on 15th Street. The 85th percentile speed was reduced from 35 mph in July 2009 to 28 mph in July 2010, and the percentage of motorists traveling above 25 mph has decreased from 66 percent to 26 percent.
In its presentation, DDOT indicated that while flex-post would be used in the short term for cycle track protection, long term goals include replacement of the flex-post with curbs, as is common in Montreal, or other permanent separation. DDOT has committed to NCPC that it will re-evaluate the effectiveness of flex-posts in one year and consult with NCPC and CFA in the search for alternatives.
With the new plan, it also looks like the 15th Street sharrows are on the way out, since they garnered mixed reviews among both cyclists and motorists. More than half of survey respondents said that removal of northbound sharrows would make driving on 15th Street "safer and/or more comfortable," while just under half of cyclists reported not feeling safe riding in the northbound sharrow lane.
In fact, 44 percent of cyclists said that they sometimes ride the wrong way in the cycle track, where they feel safer. DDOT observations showed that at a given moment 14 percent of all cycle track users are wrong-way cyclists. 81 percent of respondents supported conversion of the cycle track to two-way operation.
Since the installation of the existing cycle track, 33 percent of survey respondents report riding more and seven percent report using a bicycle for transportation when they had not done so before. DDOT observations at 15th and T have shown a 40 percent increase in the number of cyclists since the lane was installed and that 146 cyclists use the southbound lane during morning rush hours each day.
Cycle tracks have provided similar benefits to other cities around the world and within the United States. In New York, for example, cycle tracks have reduced injuries to pedestrians by up to 40 percent and injuries to cyclists by up to 57 percent, while seeing a 50 percent increase in the number of cyclists. We can expect similar gains along the length of 15th Street after the project is built this fall, and throughout much of downtown as cycle tracks are installed along M and L Streets later this year.
NCPC approved the 15th Street cycle track plans north of H Street at its meeting on Thursday. Approval for the remaining section is contingent on future work between NCPC and DDOT. The next hurdle for the proposal is review by CFA on September 12.
In comparison to the relative clutter of some other areas of the National Mall and adjacent parks, the Washington Monument grounds have the opposite problem: they're a desolate wasteland of grass without shade, amenities, or interesting programming.
That wasn't the original plan. Early concepts for the Washington Monument included a colonnade surrounding the obelisk. It's just as well that didn't happen, since the obelisk is great standing alone, but the McMillan Plan recommended surrounding the Monument with some formal gardens and pools.
Such features would enhance rather than detract from the obelisk. With this in mind, a group of architects and Mall advocates has launched a competition to reimagine the Monument grounds.
Can the monument area be less forbidding to tourists, and something other than a sun-parched forced march between the more tree-filled areas with museums to the east and memorials to the west? What would you like to see in this area?
DCmud reports that the organizers hope to select five finalists by next summer and then let the public vote among them. The agencies with jurisdiction over the area, the National Park Service, NCPC, and the Commission on Fine Arts, haven't endorsed this competition, but perhaps good ideas will gain some traction.
WashCycle is reporting that the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, "in its public meeting last Thursday, expressed its unanimous support for facilitating bicycle use and approved the basic design of the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, but advised against the installation of the plastic poles and the use of color on the pavement."
The original historic condition of Pennsylvania Avenue was dirt. Does CFA oppose retaining the turn arrows or dotted lines on the pavement? Pennsylvania Avenue also had streetcar tracks for many decades. Are tracks okay but painted lanes not? If not, why not?
Without any physical separation from traffic, cyclists won't feel particularly safe in the lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue, especially in the center. At the very least, colored paint would make it clear to drivers that this is a special zone. With neither, these aren't really cycle tracks and won't accomplish the purpose of making cyclists feel more comfortable and safer riding around downtown DC.
The Federal Government has an enormous impact on the shape of DC through the large number of Federal properties. It represents some of the worst planning and also the best planning at the same time, through different agencies and boards that have very different approaches to design.
The proposed Armed Forces Retirement Home development shows off both the good and the bad. Founded in 1851 to house disabled and homeless war veterans, and used as a getaway by President Lincoln, the Home ran into financial difficulties and decided to sell some of their land at the edge of the property for development. Here is their proposal. Neighbors want the open space preserved, while others want even more urban development. NCPC recently scheduled a neighborhood meeting for April 14th in advance of their May 1 regular meeting where they will review the plan.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the other federal board along with NCPC that reviews architecture and urban design, discussed the plan in January. CFA and NCPC usually have been very good in their approach to development, and CFA's criticisms of the AFRH proposal justified my respect for them. Below are some of the key points of AFRH's plan, my reaction, and CFA's objection in architect-ese.
Zone A: "Semi-urban" means what?
If semi-urban means anything, it's urban forms that are only semi-well-designed. That describes this section of the plan. (Or as the CFA put it, "The proposal does little to acknowledge the urban context, including a lack of expression of the North Capitol Street axis in the proposed development.")
- Buildings built out to the street are a good urban design.
- Most of the street alignments point at the grand historic Forwood Building, creating dramatic views along the streets.
- Retail corridors that line up with the roads connecting across North Capitol and Irving, meaning pedestrians (and drivers) coming from CUA or the hospitals will pass the retail.
- Single-use zoning, discredited since the days of Robert Moses, is in force. The southern half of the site is marked commercial, the northern half residential, instead of a better mix.
- Parking. There's a huge amount of parking, and no real discussion of TDM (more on that below). The courtyards of the buildings along Irving Street are proposed to be filled with parking garages that front onto Irving. On the other hand, they do require the structures to "not express their use on the outside of the buildings", and Irving in this area is configured mostly as an expressway, but as the HPRB writes, garages of this type "tend to look like garages nonetheless. It is a good thing that such structures are not oriented toward the interior of the campus (indeed, they take advantage of the grade falling to the south and east), but more care has to be taken to not turn a bunch of parking garages toward the surrounding city either."
- Lack of a street grid. While aligning the streets with the Forwood Building looks nice, the rest of the streets are a hodgepodge that don't line up with each other.
- All big buildings. This one is pretty typical of all building projects, but with each block containing 1-2 huge buildings, it won't get the variety of older areas with more individual buildings.
- Lack of transition. Good design transitions gradually from tall buildings to shorter ones to open space; this plan would create tall buildings across the street from open fields (not urban parkland, which like New York's Central Park looks nice flanked by tall buildings).
Zone B: Park or retail?as does CFA and HPRB. If development does happen here, this plan has some good features, though some bad ones as well.
- The size of the buildings step down gradually from taller buildings on the east to shorter ones near the rowhouses of Park View.
- Retail directly on Irving Street could serve the hospital center and the neighborhood.
- This area doesn't connect to Zone A, or as CFA put it, "the proposed development treats the site as a patchwork of separate parcels rather than presenting a comprehensive vision."
- Like Zone A, it's mostly block-sized buildings and a lot of parking, which is unfortunately typical of developments like this.
Zone C: Townhouses without a gridHPRB feels quite strongly that it should not be developed.
Putting that aside, though, it also looks like the architect just came from designing an over-55 country club in Florida. Immediately next to a neighborhood of townhouses arranged in a traditional grid, this area sticks with the townhouses but arranges them in arcs and lines with no connectivity except through one main street, and a barrier separates them from the adjacent neighborhood. CFA also objected, calling this an "inappropriately suburban treatment of the residential buildings," and argued that "the plan should relate to the adjacent neighborhood's urban pattern and scale to generate the layout of the proposed residential buildings."
Transportation Management "Plan"Since they are required to have a transportation management plan, they have one, which mostly amounts to "we'll have one later." The document encourages carpooling and promises a shuttle to Metro, but will also have so much parking (almost 6,500 spaces) and one per residential unit that this development will certainly increase vehicle trips. I've seen and heard reference to a "strongly worded letter" from DDOT about the transportation impacts, and am trying to get a copy.
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