Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Columbia Heights


Here are the busiest bus stops on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue

The map shows where riders are going on Metro's busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.

Map from DDOT.

It's a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC's densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It's not surprising then that 16th Street's riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It's easy to see why DDOT's streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Sidewalk snow clearing Hall of Shame

Around the city and region, a lot of sidewalks are clear, and a lot aren't. Where they aren't, in many cases the snow is now packed down into a sheet of ice, making walking very treacherous.

I asked readers to send in photos and reports of the problem areas along their commutes. Steve Mothershead, who walks along Martin Luther King Avenue, SE to the Anacostia Metro in the mornings, says most of the sidewalks are not clear:

Photos by Steve Mothershead.

He wrote:

Most of the sidewalks have not been touched, except for the one next to the school. Most of the churches have not touched the sidewalks in front of their properties, and of course the sidewalks in front of the abandoned buildings that the city seems to refuse to do anything with haven't been addressed. This is a highly traveled section of sidewalk and I saw many children on their way to school having trouble walking. Some people were even opting to walk on busy MLK.
Jason Broehm and Robin Swirling both reported problems in Columbia Heights, with the large plaza at 14th and Park, and nearby at 14th and Newton:

Photos by Jason Broehm (top) and Robin Swirling (bottom).

Randall Myers reports Freedom Plaza a sheet of ice as of last night. That one is the Park Service's responsibility.

Photo by Randall Myers.

In Dupont Circle, the bridge for Q Street to the Metro (the DC government's responsibility) has a decent cleared path, but as you can see from the fact that more snow is packed down on either side, it's not wide enough for times of heavier foot traffic.

If you needed a reason to like Argentina more than Botswana, the Argentine embassy cleared their corner of Q and New Hampshire, while the Embassy of Botswana did not. (The Botswanans do have much more sidewalk on 3 sides, though.)

Also in Dupont, Joe Manfre writes,

I don't have a picture, but that Scientology building at the corner of 16th and P has been really bad about clearing the walk on the long, long side of their building along P Street (as opposed to the short frontage along 16th).
There are plenty of homeowners who haven't cleared sidewalks either, but the biggest problem is large institutions. They have more sidewalk, and unlike with an individual homeowner who might be 75 with back problems, foreign governments, the District government, the National Park Service, and large corporate apartment buildings ought to be able to fulfill this civic duty.

Public Spaces

"Geocaching" uncovers murals about DC culture and history

Hidden treasures lie all over Greater Washington. For those in the know, these finds can create a new map of local culture and history, street art, and changing neighborhoods in a game called "geocaching."

Many Beats, One City. Photo by art around on Flickr.

Geocached murals reveal "the real DC"

Similar to orienteering, geocaching is a massive, worldwide GPS-based treasure hunt. Using a GPS device or a smartphone app, the "cacher" tries to find hidden objects, called "geocaches" or "caches" for short, hidden by other cachers. They can be big or tiny, a large tupperware or just a tiny magnet with a paper log inside. Once found, the cacher logs their finds online.

Geocaches must be hidden from view but may not be buried. They must be placed with permission of the landowner or on public land, but are not allowed on National Park Service land.

Exmachina, aka Lewis Francis, in front of the Wonderland Ballroom mural. Photo by the author.

Within the geocaching community, certain cachers develop a reputation for creating exactly these types of experiences, intimate glimpses into a small corner of the city not found in a guidebook or on a Segway tour. Among cachers in the DC area, few can boast a stronger resume than Lewis Francis of Falls Church, also known as Exmachina. He's a curator of hidden mural caches located within eyeshot of the city's lesser-known works of street art.

Francis finds inspiration from discovering interesting places, and he decided to begin a mural series while walking around Columbia Heights, where he works. "When it's warm I like to explore and wander around the neighborhood," he says. "I noticed a mural right behind Wonderland Ballroom. I thought, this is kind of cool, you wouldn't know about it unless you stumble across it."

Seasons in the City. Photo by art around on Flickr.

He found an app called "Art Around," which shows where all of the murals are located on a map. The more Francis learned about the murals, he realized he wanted to share them with other cachers.

Located all over the city, most of the murals in Francis' series are part of the Murals DC Project, a program sponsored by the Department of Public Works intended to target graffiti-prone areas, sponsor programming for at-risk youth, and enhance communities through beautification.

Many of these murals are located in areas that are in transition or off the beaten path. Some are in alleys in bustling urban corridors, others in quiet residential neighborhoods. Some are hidden in plain sight and others take a bit of sleuthing to find. The geocache series has brought hundreds of visitors, residents, tourists and business travelers alike, to a unique slice of "the real DC."

A mural's life is fleeting

Francis chooses the murals in his series carefully. "When I look at a mural, it has to speak to me," he says. "It has to have some unique history and has to be in a place that people will come across but not in the open."

"Un Pueblo Sin Murales..." Photo by art around on Flickr.

One such mural is ""Un pueblo sin murales..." in Adams Morgan. Painted in 1977, the mural was created by a group of Latino immigrant artists and restored in 2005 by activist group Sol & Soul and artist Juan Pineda.

The Picasso-esque mural depicts life in the Latino immigrant community in DC in the 1970s, but it also reminds the viewer that the neighborhood has changed since it went up. Last year's earthquake and subsequent building repairs have damaged some parts of the mural, but hopefully it will be restored soon.

Francis believes that murals are intended to be temporary, as the neighborhood changes, improves and new buildings rise, the murals become another piece of the past. One of his early mural caches, "World of Columbia Heights," is already gone.

When he archived the listing, he wrote, "Sadly, it appears this mural and its cache have gone the way of all good things. If a new mural ever again graces these walls I will re-enable. Goodbye old friend, I and my office neighborhood will miss you."

"73 Cents." Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

Francis is always on the lookout for candidates for new mural caches. "Sometimes geocachers tell me about places," he says. That's how he discovered "73 Cents," a mural that depicts the artist's husband's struggle with cancer and is meant to advocate for patients' rights. "It was such an interesting and sad story," he adds.

He's also looking for other urban adventures. "I was thinking about a series showcasing the rock clubs. Maybe a cache at Walter Reed," he says. "The caches I like are not just about the hide, but also about the location."

Ultimately, the mural caches are the best kind of reminders that DC is a complex and vibrant community, one which conventional wisdom and reductionist judgments cannot begin to capture. Whether teaching us about a past DC now gone, or the potential for DC's future, the city's murals are an intimate part of the often-overlooked cultural richness of the District of Columbia.

Below are a few of my favorite murals, although I will not divulge the exact locations of the geocaches so you can go out and find them yourself!

This Is How We Live Photo by art around on Flickr.

Scout Photo by art around on Flickr.

The Alchemy of Ben Ali Photo by Rich Renomeron on Flickr.


Yes, 14th Street is DC's densest area

Sunday's Washington Post featured a big story about gentrification on 14th Street, including the claim that it "recently surpassed Columbia Heights as the densest area in the city." Is that true? The US Census can tell us.

Using American FactFinder, I created this map illustrating the population density of DC's central neighborhoods.

Population density of central DC. Map by the author using

5 of DC's 6 overall densest census tracts border on 14th Street, between downtown and the northern end of Columbia Heights. It's definitely the city's densest string of neighborhoods.

But is it denser north or south of Florida Avenue? That depends how you count. While the stretch of 14th Street between Florida Avenue and P Street remains a little sparser than in Columbia Heights, the stretch from P Street south to Thomas Circle is the densest single tract in DC.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Can DC decouple growth and "parking pressures"?

Councilmember Tommy Wells re-introduced legislation this week to let a developer of a new building promise that tenants can't get stickers to park on neighborhood streets, if they choose to offer such a guarantee to neighbors. Would this alleviate the parking angst that erupts over nearly every development project, like ongoing controversies in Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant?

Harvard Street in Columbia Heights. Photo by Kent Boese.

In Tenleytown, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) supported a new building with no underground parking last year, on the condition that new residents not be able to get residential parking stickers. That was fine with developer Douglas Jemal, but government agencies may not enforce this provision, leaving it entirely to the private agreement between Douglas Development and the ANC.

Neighborhood opposition to growth often revolves around traffic and parking. Even if a developer wants to market a new building to car-free and car-lite new residents, people worry that residents will bring cars anyway and park them on the street.

Building underground parking isn't a solution, either, because some people will still park on the street to save the monthly garage fee, and that underground parking means a lot of cars which add to traffic.

Just look at this message on PoPville's forum, from a resident in Columbia Heights. Some people have been double parking on Harvard Street, stopping emergency vehicles from getting through. Clearly, people should not double park and ought to get tickets, but the resident then went on to use this case to argue against a parking-free condo project:

The reason I'm asking is that a developer is seeking to build an 8 unit apartment building on Harvard Street, NW and they are asking the board of zoning to waive the parking requirements to have parking for their building. We submitted over 70 signatures and 10 letters of opposition today, but apparently the planning department is planning on supporting this application.

It is my feeling that worsening the parking problem on Harvard street will effectively cut off access to local hospitals for residents in Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights, and will make it impossible for the fire trucks in Adams Morgan to help out at fires east of 16th street.

It's not possible to solve a double parking problem by ensuring that there are 8 more parking spaces off street. The only solution, as many commenters pointed out, is to ensure that we enforce the double parking rules so that parked cars don't block emergency vehicles. Still, we know that the prospect of more residents makes people worry that parking on the street will get harder.

Meridian Hill Baptist Church. Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

Not far away, Mount Pleasant ANC Commissioner China Terrell worries about a development project at the former fire-ravaged Meridian Hill Baptist Church:

[The developers] want to build 75 condos in the church (mostly 1-bedroom units), with no on-site parking. Instead, homeowners would have the option of leasing parking spaces at DC USA in Columbia Heights. When this plan was introduced at the May 21 ANC meeting, residents were not supportive for obvious reasons. Increased parking and population pressures? The residents said no, thank you.
DC USA is just about 2 blocks from the church, so actually, parking off-street in that garage is probably a shorter walk than trying to find an on-street space in the neighborhood at busy times, where you might circle for a while and end up as far away.

It's bad policy to require parking in every new building, like the Harvard Street condos and this church, but it's also understandable that residents would worry about the impacts. There's an existing shared resource that's often scarce. People are used to consuming that resource.

One solution is to ensure that new growth doesn't impact the resource. We want new residents, but don't want parking pressure. Just like it doesn't affect neighbors whether a new building has a fitness center or not, or whether there are 2 bathrooms for 2 bedrooms versus just one, Wells' bill could let parking be another issue that's up to the building and its tenants rather than a neighborhood impact.

It ought to be a basic value we all share (though not everyone does) that we want to welcome new people into our neighborhoods. New residents mean more vitality for local businesses, more tax revenue to shore up our city's budget, more people on the street to make neighborhoods safe.

Some people are nervous about treating new residents differently from existing residents. Why should one group of people get to use the public space and not others, they ask? We already give existing residents a break on property taxes, for instance. On the other hand, we shouldn't say that new residents can't use a public park, or send kids to a school, even though sometimes people oppose adding neighbors because they fear those resources will get more crowded as well.

Unlike those, however, driving is just one of several methods of getting around. In a place like Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, there are many other alternatives, like Metro, buses, bicycling, and more. Some people still need to drive, but it's very reasonable to internalize that cost. If you want to drive, you will have to rent a place with a parking space, or rent a separate space at DC USA, or otherwise provide for this just as you pay for your bathroom space.

Wells' bill might not eliminate all opposition to growth. People will still also say they don't want to have to look at buildings, or don't want population in general. But trouble parking seems to be the biggest fear residents have from most projects. It doesn't need to be.


Expedition returns from previously-uncharted Land of Mary

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

Word came over Instagram today that an expedition of H Street twenty-somethings in search of a downhill bike route to Columbia Heights have returned from what was previously thought to be uncharted land north of Washington, DC.

Amundsen and friends in New Columbia. Image from Twitter.

Friday night, 23-year-old social media producer Roald Amundsen and a group of friends set out from Little Miss Whiskey's at 11th & H NE on their fixed-gear bikes in search of the fabled Northwest Passage, which would allow them to reach Wonderland Ballroom at 11th & Kenyon NW without sweating as much.

"Our friends loudly and drunkenly told everyone that fixies are unusable in these regions and that their drink specials are rubbish," he said. "We shall see," he added. "We shall see."

However, the first sepia-toned images to surface on Amundsen's Twitter account appear to be of a settlement in the little-understood territory called the Land of Mary, located due north of the District. Until now, all that anyone knew about the Land of Mary is that it was home to a boring and cultureless race of people who piloted large, metal vehicles in an erratic fashion, ate crab cakes, and were the ancestral home of the rich kid in somebody's freshman year dorm at Oberlin.

Initially, Amundsen expressed dismay about the territory's strange inhabitants after crossing Eastern Avenue, long considered to be the end of civilization, into a village he dubbed New Columbia.

"They seemed on the whole to me, to be a very uncool people," he wrote in a tumblr post. "They all go completely without scarves and mustaches, even the men, though I saw one guy who looked like he might be a DJ."

Amundsen's lunch.

One day after landing in New Columbia, Amundsen claimed to have seen sidewalks, buildings far taller than any that exist in the District, and a grody dive bar in a basement. Around lunchtime Saturday, he tweeted photos of an Ethiopian restaurant.

"Eating tibs & injera at hole-in-the-wall with amazing smells. Theres like 100 of them on 1 block here in #unchartedterritory," he wrote.

By Sunday, Amundsen and his crew found New Columbia's three record stores and began to wonder if the uncouth villagers could be civilized. "It appears to me that the people are ingenious ... I am of opinion that they would like the new Yeasayer album," he wrote on his Facebook page. "If it's okay with my landlord, I intend to carry home six of them to crash at my place so we can listen to it on my record player."

While the savages of New Columbia, which Amundsen dubbed "Columbians," were flattered by the invitation to listen to records on the floor of Amundsen's English basement studio, they politely declined, citing job and family commitments.


Logan Circle overtakes Columbia Heights as densest in region

Density is a good thing for urbanism. More density means more shops and amenities nearby, better transit service, and shorter walks. But what qualifies as dense? Overall city density is often reported, but a more telling statistic is neighborhood density.

Thse two maps show DC neighborhood density at the time of the 2000 census (top) and 2010 census (bottom). I made the 2000 map using sometime after the 2000 census. Michael Rodriguez created the bottom map just recently. Unfortunately the two maps use different scales, but they're still informative.

In 2000 the densest census tract in the DC region was in northern Columbia Heights, between Spring Road and Newton Street. It had 57,317 people per square mile (ppsm). In 2010 that tract is up to 59,209 ppsm, but that's only good enough for 2nd place in DC, and 3rd regionally.

The densest tract is now southern Logan Circle, between Rhode Island and Massachusetts Avenues. It's boomed and is now a whopping 67,149 ppsm.

The rest of central Northwest, from Mount Pleasant down to Massachusetts Avenue, varies from around 30,000-50,000 ppsm. Capitol Hill is in the 20,000-30,000 ppsm range.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, the tract at the corner of I-395 and Seminary Road is up to 59,886 ppsm, 2nd densest in the region after Logan Circle. There hasn't been any new development in that tract since 2000, but the suburban-style apartment towers in it may have fewer singles and more families, which could account for the increase. Crystal City is 45,448 ppsm, and Ballston is 43,788 ppsm.

Suburban Maryland's densest tract is in Langley Park, at 49,354 ppsm. Downtown Silver Spring is 34,816 ppsm, and downtown Bethesda is around 11,000 ppsm.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


New 16th Street buses will run from Columbia Heights

WMATA has settled on a route for its new 16th Street short turn bus. The new service will run every 13 minutes from Harvard Street to downtown DC, from 7:30-9:15 am. It will begin on March 25.

Selected route. Image by the author.

The new route is intended to relieve extreme overcrowding on the southern portion of 16th Street during the morning rush.

Previously, WMATA had only considered running the route as far north as Meridian Hill Park. Metro bus planner Jim Hamre says that had been based on the assumption that only 2 buses would be available. Since 3 are actually available, they can go a little further north and maintain frequent enough service to make a difference.

Hamre announced the new plan at last night's Dupont Circle ANC meeting. Commissioner Kishan Putta, who organized earlier community meetings to push for the the change, then introduced a resolution of support, which the ANC approved.

The route will not be called the S3, as I originally thought. It will simply be called the "S2 Short." For riders on 16th Street, it will look like any other S2.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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