Posts about Capitol Hill
Now that we've had a big snow in DC, send us pictures of sneckdowns you spot in the wild. You can tweet them with hashtag #dcsneckdown, or email them to us at email@example.com. On Monday, Greater Greater Washington and BeyondDC will publish the best ones.
Sneckdowns are where snow formations show the street spaces cars don't use.
GGW reader Ralph Garboushian sent us this one already. He describes it:
Shoveling and plowing patterns in front of my house show how the intersection of Potomac Avenue, E Street & 18th Street SE could be made safer for both pedestrians and motorists. The current design is a disaster—We look forward to seeing more!
I have seen several [crashes] at this intersection, including one that sent a car nearly into my front yard and another that took out a historic call box and nearly knocked down a utility pole. In addition, this intersection is right in front of Congressional Cemetery and on the way to the Metro and sees heavy pedestrian traffic.
The intersection's poor design combined with motorists speeding down Potomac create a hostile and dangerous atmosphere for pedestrians. This intersection desperately needs traffic calming and these plow/shovel patterns illustrate how it could be done.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
On Monday, the Northeast Neighborhood Library in Capitol Hill reopened after a $10 million modernization. Bringing it up to date required only a few major alterations, but the real challenge was finding new life in the 82-year-old building.
The function of a library has shifted a few times since 1932, when the branch circulated its first book. This most recent renovation positions it as more of a "third place" for the public without abandoning its core purpose as a public resource. Whether residents come to hear a story, use a computer, or attend a community meeting, some of the branch's 45,000 books are always in the background on built-in shelves.
Those shelves are emblematic of the way DCPL conducted the renovation. They're original, designed for 1930s book sizes. Unfortunately books have become bigger, particularly picture books, so a big part of the collection no longer fit.
Rather than rip out the shelves, library officials chose to expand them 1.5 inches with matching walnut woodwork. They're still not big enough for everything in the collection, but this kind of shrewd modification keeps the historic character without getting in the way of modern life.
When the city commissioned Albert Harris, the municipal architect from 1923-1934, to design the building, he did so in the Colonial Revival style. Since at least 1911, the Commission of Fine Arts had favored that style as a common look for DC's public buildings. The modest materials used by far-flung Georgian architects like brick and painted wood meant the style could be built inexpensively. It was also in fashion, since the reconstruction of Williamsburg was prompting architects to search for their roots.
But the revival of Georgian architecture meant drawing inspiration from building types that don't fit so well in an dense environment. Harris styled his building after mansions and courthouses that stood alone in fields.
On the site at 7th Street and Maryland Avenue NE, Harris' tight composition left an empty lawn on the most prominent corner. In the renovation, the exterior architect, Bell Architects located a patio there, so that the library has a front porch. With WiFi, of course.
A path runs from the patio around the back to a glass-enclosed staircase in the rear. The previous staircase ran clumsily through the central room, creating awkward spaces on either side. The new staircase fits into the footprint of a disused garage. The stairway's sunniness provokes the opposite sensation of the MLK Library's windowless, dreary stairwells: you want to climb it and see what you can see from it.
The staircase solves two other problems the building had. One is that the original entry couldn't be made ADA-accessible. The accessible door is in the glass tower, opposite the front door on 7th Street. Coming from either way, visitors enter into the same foyer and then into the library. What is effectively a single entrance shields the reading rooms from the noise of coming and going, so children can rush up to their spaces on the upper level and community members can visit the meeting room without disturbing patrons.
The lack of a good meeting room was the other problem before the renovation. Vines Architecture, who designed the interior, converted two underused rooms through discreet structural changes. New girders to hold up the mezzanine and basement ceilings converted what were once claustrophobic spaces into three public meeting rooms. This saved the airy rooms on the first and second floors for reading.
Other changes follow this trend of discreet interventions. The librarians wanted a more open space, so they could more easily monitor the rooms. The architects responded by placing the reference desk at the center of the building and cutting passages through the walls around it.
The cuts are low compared to the original doors, and the architects integrated them into the wood paneling, so you barely notice them. The things we take for granted nowadays, like good lighting, central air, and plenty of outlets are present, but not at the cost of the library's coziness.
Beyond these quiet changes, the restoration had a light touch. The flaxen paint scheme and cork floor tiles are historically appropriate details that also suit contemporary expectations. The reading tables are recreations with one minor tweak: power strips. It's striking how good design can serve radically different uses with only minor alterations.
Since the beginning of its capital campaign in 2006, library officials have rebuilt 10 of the 26 branches. With the opening of the Northeast Library, they will have renovated five historic buildings. Three planned projects remain: Woodridge, which is under construction, West End, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. central library.
As we consider how to renovate that building, the Northeast Neighborhood Library might offer guidance. Here, carefully chosen alterations have an impact that goes beyond their immediate function. An understanding of what was good about the historic fabric revealed what needed to change. It's worth considering how much alteration is required to make a work of architecture better. A few little changes can do a lot of good.
Barracks Row Main Street recently presented two design alternatives for a new plaza at the Eastern Market Metro station. Both concepts go a long way to uniting the plaza, which is currently broken up into six pieces, while making it greener, cleaner, easier to traverse, and more inviting.
Last month, architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates and landscape architect Lisa Delplace of Oehme van Sweden revealed the two concepts at a public meeting. Both designs bring life to the unkempt, desolate green space that's there today by adding fountains, play areas for children and adults, and public art. Barracks Row Main Street is accepting public comments on the two designs through the end of this week.
Proposals include a mini-Capitol Hill, shady forest
Each design addresses each of the plaza's six pieces, which are divided by Pennsylvania Avenue and 8th Street SE, and include the two median strips on Penn.
Parcel 1 is the northeast corner of the plaza and one of the two largest parcels. Both concepts turn it into a pair of "play" areas, one fenced in for children, and another open area for adults, which are separated by a diagonal path between Pennsylvania and South Carolina avenues.
In Concept A, the children's area would be larger and have two themed "playscapes," including a miniature Capitol Hill with the Capitol building, and a tiny Anacostia Watershed with rubber berms for climbing and rolling and a river with playable pumps and water wheels. In Concept B, there would be a smaller children's area themed after the Navy Yard, without any miniature buildings.
On the adjacent lawn, people can sun, do yoga, read, and socialize. This area would be larger in Concept B and have hedges along the north and west sides to create more separation from the street and homes.
Parcel 4 is the other large parcel in the southwest corner, where the Metro entrance is located. Both concepts include another lawn, as well as an interactive fountain, an "infohub," a busking area, and a redesigned Capital Bikeshare station and parking area. In Concept A, the space becomes a "shade tree bosque" with trees, tables, and chairs in a bed of gravel.
Meanwhile, Concept B proposes an extension of the Southeast Neighborhood Library in a pavilion in the plaza, which would connect to the rest of the library in a tunnel under 7th Street SE.
Parcels 2 & 5 are the medians. While community members are interested in turning them into usable park space or adding bike lanes, DDOT asked the design team not to consider these options until the agency does its own corridor-wide study of the area.
Instead, the design team proposed new landscaping with barriers to discourage jaywalking. Concept A would add fenced-in bioswales that collect and filter stormwater, while Concept B adds raised, planted medians, like those on Connecticut Avenue.
Parcels 3 & 6 are the small islands on the northwest and southeast corners of the plaza. In both concepts, they would become bioswales surrounded by a continuous bench.
The design team took time to discuss additional issues important to the community. They talked about preserving existing trees, which many residents wanted, as well as which other trees might be appropriate for planting there. The designers also talked about ways to solve the plaza's rat problem, such as solar-powered trash cans, trees that repel rats, and eliminating standing water.
The designers also looked at ways to increase pedestrian safety with refuge islands and curb extensions. To improve traffic flow, they considered removing D Street on the south side, east of 8th, and reversing the direction of D Street on the north and south sides of the plazas. Finally, they proposed some moving bus stops, taxi stands, and car sharing spaces.
No one will love every one of these ideas, and there are some desirable amenities that neither design includes, like a dog park. But there are some really interesting ideas in these plans, and either concept would go far in making the plaza more of a park, rather than a place you just walk through to get somewhere else.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) promised to complete a number of important projects by now or by the end of this year. Quick quiz: Can you identify which of these have met or will meet the promised deadline?
- Start streetcar service on H Street NE-Benning Road by the end of the year.
- Devise a better system for handling visitor parking passes and residential permit parking.
- Start building a separated bike lane (or "cycletrack") on M Street NW.
- Expand Capital Bikeshare to twice its original size.
- Make pedestrian safety improvements to Maryland Avenue NE.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of a new median on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park.
The answer: None of the above. DDOT has delayed or given up on all of these promises.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
Barracks Row Main Street is studying ways to redesign the public space around the Eastern Market Metro station. While many neighbors see the potential to make a great gathering place, others don't want anything to change at all.
Architect Amy Weinstein of Esocoff & Associates is leading the Congressionally-funded Eastern Market Metro Park study, which will explore ways "to renew and upgrade" the two trapezoid-shaped public plazas, medians and two smaller triangular plazas on Pennsylvania Avenue SE between 7th and 9th streets. Despite their location between busy Barracks Row and Eastern Market, the spaces are underused and poorly maintained.
Weinstein led another study in 2010 that explored ways to reroute Pennsylvania Avenue around the public space, making it a complete square. But that effort ran into stiff opposition from neighbors and those concerned about the plan's traffic impacts.
The new study will look at function, aesthetics, and the best way to accommodate all modes of transportation, including better pedestrian pathways, the location of the Capitol Bikeshare station and the Metrobus stops in the south plaza, and managing pedestrian/vehicular conflicts. It will also produce detailed designs for a children's play area in the north plaza, and look at an innovative storm water retention system as part of the effort to reduce combined sewer overflows into the Anacostia River.
Planners say that "nothing is off the table," except for consolidating the square by rerouting streets around it.
Will more activity mean more noise, or a better public space?
In July, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells hosted a pair of public meetings to hear about the types of changes residents would like to see around the Metro station. After a brief presentation, we broke into small groups where we discussed our thoughts on the current square and what we would and would not like to see in it in the future.
My group seemed opposed to any changes at all. They questioned why money was being spent on this, whether it was legal and who this was to help. Some people seemed mainly concerned about stoplight timing, which did not seem to allow for the speedy movement of cars and pedestrians through the area.
They scoffed at the idea that the project had the word "park" in it. "Who said they wanted a park here?" one person asked.
One major concern they voiced focused on the lack of maintenance within the existing plaza. Trees went unwatered, rats were allowed to nest and several items like benches and lights had fallen into disrepair. "Why not fix what we have first?" some asked. For the same reason, group members also opposed any kind of water feature, along with music, food trucks or eating areas, which would produce noise and trash.
Group members seemed resigned to the idea of a children's play area as long as it wouldn't kill any trees, but their primary point was that it should be "a park, not an amusement park." But we did find universal support of better storm water management, lots of trees, more benches and non-polluting lights.
How to embrace space's potential
While many residents place an emphasis on creating a quiet place that is easy to traverse, what the neighborhood really needs is to activate the Eastern Market Metro Park with an emphasis on creating a place for people to play, work, shop, eat, and rest. By making it into a great place, the kind that people wanted to stay in instead of pass through, it would have a greater constituency that could push for better maintenance.
It seems my group was the outlier, because when other groups reported what they had discussed, they strongly supported the idea of an interactive water feature like those at Yards Park or Canal Park. Several suggested adding a stage for live performances and various gatherings. Others mentioned food trucks and more dining tables. One group focused on tying the public space in with the library at 7th and Pennsylvania.
The meeting's organizers are collecting additional comments about what should happen here. In my comments, I suggested that an interactive water feature and playground area in the north plaza was a natural way to attract kids and families. It's also a perfect area for a statue of a local person. In the eastern median, I recommended installing a dog run.
The south plaza should become a space where people will linger. Furniture, like movable chairs, benches, and permanent fixtures like tables with chess boards on top, will help draw people. A low stage for music and events could support programming while doubling as a seating area the rest of the time. The city should allow food trucks to use the parking spaces along D Street.
We should also use the western median to connect Barracks Row and Eastern Market with a brick walkway down the middle and to add spaces for vendor booths on the weekends, creating a stronger connection between the two commercial areas. The smaller triangles could become larger by removing the sections of D Street that separate them and then improved by adding benches, more permeable surface, and rain gardens.
Finally, a mid-block crosswalk across Pennsylvania Avenue with an advanced stop line and even a traffic light will help people cross. People want to walk here, and we should let them do it safely.
Future meetings, design work planned
The meeting's organizers will put a recap of the meeting on their website, but it's not up as of yet. There are also several ways to offer comments, including an interactive map and a suggestion box at Eastern Market, though the deadline is today.
However, there are more public meetings planned for later this summer. Planners hope to complete two alternate master plan concepts for the Eastern Market Metro Park within 6 months.
At first glance, the tree at the northeast corner of 8th and K Streets, NE appears to be buried in asphalt. The truth is much more interesting.
To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, DDOT rebuilt the intersection of West Virginia Avenue NE, 8th Street and K Street in the H Street neighborood. This intersection is a busy transfer point between the 90 and D Metrobus lines and has a lot of foot traffic.
DDOT has installed modern curb ramps at all pedestrian crossings, and they've repaired the concrete in order to smooth out some potentially dangerous bumps. The elderly and disabled now have a smoother path to get from bus to bus as they travel across town.
(It would be nice if DDOT would restripe the crosswalks with higher-visibility zebra/piano striping, but perhaps that's a subject for another blog post.)
Within the project limits, there were two trees whose roots were lifting the sidewalk. This created dangerous tripping hazards and the narrowed sidewalks made it difficult for those in wheelchairs to use the sidewalk.
Instead of concrete, construction workers have used porous pavement in these areas that extend all the way around each tree. This makes the sidewalks a bit wider, eliminates the need to trim weeds around the base of the trees, and allows more water to filter through the ground to the trees' roots.
It will be interesting to see how well this pavement works, and if we'll be seeing it used more widely around town in the near future.
"It almost always comes down to parking," said DC Councilmember Tommy Wells at a hearing last week on DC's zoning update, and he's right. Wells tried to explain a tricky point to opponents of the zoning update: how higher parking minimums don't make it easier to park on the street.
Wells agrees with many residents that parking on neighborhood streets has become more difficult, and he wants to do something to ease that task for existing residents. However, he doesn't believe that requiring new apartment buildings to build more parking, or preventing them from building less, is going to really have any effect.
"In ward 6 we've had substantial infill development," he said, "and the way we've managed parking is through regulation" like adding meters and limiting parking on one side of many streets to Ward 6 residents. Residents of some new buildings also can't get residential permit parking (RPP) stickers. And, Wells argued, it's worked.
On the other hand, minimum parking requirements along with the existing cheap, easy-to-get RPP stickers won't dissuade people from parking on the street, said Wells:
If you put in minimum parking and they get RPP, there's 2 things that will happen. The first is, almost every building charges for the parking... If they get RPP, which are they going to pay for? a $100-200 a month space, or $35 [a year] for the RPP sticker? You know exactly what they're going to do, it'll be $35 for the RPP sticker and they won't buy the parking inside."Wells wants to solve this problem with his legislation (which Chairman Phil Mendelson opposed last year) to let developers opt out of RPP eligibility. Before a specific building has anyone living there, its developer can agree that future residents, in perpetuity, won't be able to get residential stickers.
Some people don't like the idea of residents of some buildings not being able to get stickers while their neighbors can get them, but Arlington and many other cities do have similar practices. Whether you support this approach or not, Wells is right on the mark that parking minimums won't make parking on the street easier.
Off-street parking is not the same as on-street
Many people seem to assume that parking is a single market. If you build more parking of any type, it becomes easier to find; build less (or even require building less), and it will get more scarce. But in fact, there are two separate markets.
Later in the hearing, Lon Anderson of AAA made the same mistake. He expressed his incredulity that the Babe's project, which will have 60 units, only 1 parking space (for persons with disabilities), and a deal with the ANC to prohibit residents getting RPP stickers, would work. Why? Because it's hard to park in Tenleytown.
In fact, it's hard to park on the street. It turns out that there are extra spaces for rent in the Whole Foods and Best Buy garages. But people assume that if the streets are full, there must not be any empty space in a garage, and that's what Wells is trying to rebut.
Allen Seeber, one of the witnesses, claimed that the Office of Planning "can't produce any evidence whatsoever" that some buildings have overbuilt parking. Wells immediately cited the Loree Grand, a building in NoMA. Seeber pressed on, and Wells again jumped in with the Bernstein property in Southwest where, Wells said, "they built a condo building, they provided a bunch of parking, and it didn't sell."
People are renting their spaces and parking on the street
Wells said that in his experience, people on Capitol Hill are actually renting out their spaces and using their RPP stickers to park on the street. "They have parking behind their house, and then they park on the street for $35 a [year], and they can get $100-200 a month for the parking behind their house," he said. "[Parking minimums] did nothing to protect our parking in that part of the Hill."
Wells also mentioned a pair of parking spaces on the Hill which just sold for $120,000. The purchaser was an area business, which wanted the spaces after new restrictions reserved more of the neighborhood space for residents. And that, Wells said, was the point. Instead of competing with residents, businesses now have a reason to pay for the parking they need.
Witness and Palisades resident Alma Gates said she'd rather have employees in her neighborhood be able to park on the street. That's fine, if that is what Palisades residents want. Neighborhoods ought to have input into how to allocate on-street spaces. On Capitol Hill, the decision was for residents.
Whoever gets the spaces, having a scheme which rationally divvies them up among users makes much more sense than leaving them first come, first served, then opposing any new development and insisting on big garages just in the vain hope of keeping the demand low. As Wells explained, the demand for on-street spaces has a lot to do with how many people and businesses there are in the neighborhood, and very little to do with the size of garages since people will usually pick the cheap street parking over the pricey garage.
"I strongly want to protect neighborhood parking in the District of Columbia," Wells said, but "I am not sure [parking minimums] will protect neighborhood parking in the District of Columbia." He's right: we need to fix on-street parking with better on-street parking regulations. Lowering minimums won't really help or hurt the on-street situation. There's no reason to hang onto that outdated policy tool when it's not working.
You can watch the entire 10-minute exchange between Wells and the opponents:
While I was riding Capital Bikeshare home through Capitol Hill last night, a 12-year-old girl and a group of other kids tried to assault me.
I'm totally fine. The police caught the girl, and her mother promised to take action. Will this experience get the girl to shape up before she gets a criminal record that could impair her future?
I was taking the Green Line home from work. We arrived at the Anacostia station, and the train doors were held open for over ten minutes. I decided to leave the station and find another way home.
I hopped on a Capital Bikeshare bike at the station and headed north, across the 11th Street bridge. When I got to the corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, I had to wait for a red light. Four kids were standing on the corner, next to the fence that has been put up around the charred remains of Frager's Hardware Store. There were three girls and one boy, all around the same age (12 or so).
One of the girls approached me and asked for five dollars. I told her I didn't have any cash on me. She looked at the bike and said, "You need money to pay for that, right?"
I told her, "Yes, I use a credit card."
She said, "Credit cards have money on them, give me some!"
The light turned green at that point, and I said, "Sorry, no, I have to go."
As I started across Pennsylvania Avenue, she lunged at me, pushed on my backpack, and yelled, "Give me money! Give me money!" a couple times, while the other kids laughed. The events of Tuesday on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) came to mind, and I turned around to make sure the other kids weren't coming after me. I scolded them and asked if they heard about the MBT assault.
The boy in the group started yelling, "Fuck you! Fuck you! Get the fuck out of my neighborhood!" At this point, I realized I could hurry up and bike away, but I wasn't in the mood to let these kids think they could get away with threatening someone on a bicycle, so I yelled out, "These kids are trying to assault me."
I moved my bicycle to the southwest corner of the intersection (in front of the dry cleaners) and called 911.
Kids in the city have it out for cyclists. Just tried to assault me at 11th & Pennsylvania SE. Called 911. No more tolerance. This ends now.
say 'Eye Em Gōph' (@IMGoph) June 13, 2013
A gentleman came out of the dry cleaners and told me that the kids had been causing problems in the past, throwing rocks at the store's windows.
Two officers arrived after about 3 or 4 minutes. I told them what happened, and in which direction the kids went after our encounter. A quick check on the radio and the first officer was able to confirm that a third officer had some kids a block down the street. The second officer went to bring them back.
While she was gone, I spoke with the first officer. She told me that kids in the area were apt to do things like this, and that the children doing this get younger every year. The second officer returned a couple minutes later with a woman in her cruiser. This turned out to be the mother of the girl who had shoved me. The first officer insisted that the young girl be brought back as well, so a couple more awkward minutes passed while the first officer, the girl's mother, and I stood around waiting for the other officer to bring back the girl.
When they returned, the first officer asked the girl to state what had happened. She basically gave the full story, but claimed that she had just touched the bike, and not pushed me. The officers wanted her to apologize to me, which she did, but clearly not in a sincere manner.
The police told the girl she could be charged with both aggravated panhandling and simple assault. The girl's mother quietly told her not to be stupid and to apologize.
The officers stepped aside for a moment, leaving me with the girl and her mother. We stood there awkwardly as a light rain began to fall. The officers then called me over to where they were discussing things, and asked if I wanted to press charges. They were willing to lock the girl up, and told me that there would be a few hours of paperwork, but it was up to me how to proceed.
I told the officers I wanted the girl to learn a lesson, but I wanted to do what they thought was best. They called her over, and had her stand right in front of me. The officers told the girl that I had the power to ruin her life then and there, to give her a criminal record. They told me to tell her what I thought about the whole situation.
I told the girl that I thought what she did was stupid, and there was no reason for her to have done anything more than say hello to me on the street.
I'm okay. But these kids are going to learn a lesson. MPD is here.—
say 'Eye Em Gōph' (@IMGoph) June 13, 2013
The officers jumped in and told her to look me in the eye, stand up straight, stop mumbling, and pay attention. The girl's mother, standing nearby, implored her daughter to listen. The police asked her if she had goals, wanted to go to college, and wanted to get away from the bad influences around her. They reminded her that her attitude and actions were going to damn her to a life of dead-ends.
Finally, I told the girl my name, and offered my hand to shake. She did, and apologized again (personally, it still didn't feel 100% sincere, but I remember how much of a sullen brat I could be at 12 years old myself).
Her mother said she'd be going home and would be on a short leash. I obviously don't know what happened once they got home, but I hope we got some sort of message into the girl's head.
As I got back on the Bikeshare bike to head towards home (yeah, I racked up some fees for having the bike out more than 30 minutes!), I thanked the officers and they apologized for my ruined evening. I told them it was absolutely not their place to apologize, and thanked them for doing a great job.
The officers remarked that, while the girl avoided a criminal record, they had her name and would put her on a "juvenile watch list." If she gets caught causing trouble again, there will be no mercy.
- DC has almost no white residents without college degrees. (It's a different story for black residents.)
- What's so great about the Purple Line, anyway?
- I don't care what some people say: DC has great transportation options.
- The biggest beneficiaries of housing subsidies? The wealthy.
- Clearly we need to have more happy hours in Prince George's
- Metro badly needs culture change, everyone agrees. Can it pull it off?
- Does DC want boring architecture? Sort of.