Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Columbia Heights

Transit


More households near transit mean more transit riders

Pop quiz! Can you name the 5 Metro stations that have the highest number of households within a half-mile walk?

Here's a hint: More riders walk to those 5 stations each morning than to just about any others in the system.

It's not a coincidence. According to WMATA's PlanItMetro blog, "the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to transitand data across Metrorail stations prove it."

But there's at least one surprise: 3 of the 5 stations with the most households in a half-mile walkshed are in Maryland or Virginia, not the District.


Households and walk ridership per Metro station. Image by WMATA.

Columbia Heights has by far the most households within walking distance. That makes sense. It's one of DC's densest neighborhoods, and the Metro station is right near its center.

But the second most household-rich Metro station is Arlington's Court House. Rounding out the top 5 are Ballston, Silver Spring, and Dupont Circle.

All 5 of the most household-rich stations are also among the top 10 stations with the most riders who walk to the station each morning. The rest of the top 10 walking stations are Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Pentagon City, Crystal City, and Bethesda.

More riders may be walking to jobs from the downtown stations, or from Rosslyn, but those are the destinations, where riders in the morning are getting off. The origin stations are the more residential ones.

All in all, Metro's stations fit neatly along a trendline that shows a strong correlation between more households nearby and more riders arriving to stations by foot.

Even the outliers tell a story. U Street and Mount Vernon Square have the 6th and 7th highest number of households nearby, but they underperform on walking Metro ridership. One might speculate that Mount Vernon Square is so close to so many offices that more people simply walk. U Street is a little farther away, but it's still close enough to downtown that buses and bicycles may be better options for a large portion of riders.

What else pops out as interesting?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

History


The Metro plan has changed a lot since 1968

Saturday, the Metro system will grow in length by 10% with the Silver Line, first envisioned in the mid-1960s. A lot has changed from the original plans for Metro. Today, DDOT circulated a 1968 map of the planned system.

In the wake of the 1968 riots, DC pushed WMATA to reroute what's now the Green Line through some of the harder-hit neighborhoods. In 1970, the WMATA Board voted to change the "E route" from Massachusetts Avenue and 13th Street and instead run it along 7th Street to Shaw and then 14th Street to Columbia Heights.

The 1970 decision also deleted the "Petworth" station, which would have been at Kansas Avenue and Sherman Circle. The "Georgia Avenue" station would have been under Kansas Avenue at Georgia and Upshur, in the heart of Petworth, but the alignment later shifted south to New Hampshire Avenue.


The blue circle (not on the original map) shows where the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station is today.

In addition to the many station name changes (you won't see Ardmore, Voice of America, or Marine Barracks stations on the map today), there have been a few pretty significant changes to alignments and station locations.

At the time of this map, the line we know today as the Blue Line had a split terminus, with some trains running to Franconia and some trains running to Backlick Road (and a potential future extension to Burke).

In the northwestern part of the region, the Red Line was to stop at Rockville, instead of running all the way to Shady Grove. The northern Green Line was also shorter, including a station between Berwyn Road and Greenbelt Road, instead of further north at I-495, where the current Greenbelt station is.

Along the Orange and Blue lines, there were to be two more common stations, one at Oklahoma Avenue and one at Kenilworth Avenue (River Terrace) before the lines split. The Minnesota Avenue station was not in the plan at the time.

The southern Green Line was the subject of lots of controversy between 1968 and its completion in 2001. There were two competing routes planned, one to Branch Avenue and an alternate route to Rosecroft Raceway. The 1968 map here shows the line going to Branch Avenue via Alabama Avenue.

But later, WMATA settled on using the Rosecroft alignment in DC, via Congress Heights, and the Branch Avenue alignment in Prince George's County. This created in the "jog" along the District line where the Southern Avenue station is located.


Left: 1968 planned alignment. Right: Actual alignment; image by Matt Johnson using Google Maps.

The map also shows potential future extensions in blue. Today's Silver Line is included, though it stays in the median of the Dulles Access Road instead of detouring through Tysons Corner (which was much smaller then; the mall first opened in 1968). Also shown are lines along Columbia Pike in Virginia and extensions to Bowie, Brandywine, Gaithersburg, and Laurel. The extension to Largo was actually built and opened in 2004.

You can view a pannable, zoomable version of the map here.

Bicycling


DC has too few dedicated east-west bike pathways

While DC's bicycling network has grown, there still aren't a lot of crosstown connections. In fact, there are no protected east-west bicycle routes in the whole third of the District north of Florida Avenue. Cyclists need more of these, as well as north-south routes to form a grid of dedicated paths.


Bike lanes around a northern section of DC. Image from Google Maps.

Much of DC's bicycle infrastructure, like trails, dedicated bikeways, and bike lanes concentrates in the downtown core, primarily south of Florida Avenue. DDOT's official bicycle map, last updated in 2011, shows that outside of downtown, most bicycle facilities run north-south.

Unless they are willing to ride on six-lane, shoulder-free roads with fast-moving traffic, cyclists have no way to traverse the northern part of Rock Creek Park, where only a freeway-like portion of Military Road crosses the park.

The same goes for Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, the only direct paths from Columbia Heights to Brookland across the vast acreage of McMillan Reservoir and Sand Filtration Site, the Washington Hospital Center, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

"East-west mobility for bicyclists in the northern neighborhoods of DC can be a significant challenge," said Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) Advocacy Coordinator Greg Billing. "Large campuses, parks, hospitals and cemeteries limit the available east-west connections. The MoveDC plan calls for high quality bicycle facilities from neighborhoods to downtown and better connections between the neighborhoods."

That plan recommends some form of dedicated bikeway along Irving Street, as well as for a cycletrack on Military Road.

A route between Columbia Heights and Brookland would connect two vibrant neighborhoods and serve an area that will gain population as the McMillan site and part of the Armed Forces Retirement Home property redevelop.


Google Maps' bicycle directions from the Columbia Heights Metro to the Brookland-CUA Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

Currently, both the DDOT map and Google Maps advise cyclists to use Irving Street between Brookland and Columbia Heights. However, between Park Place NW and the Catholic University campus, Irving Street is a busy six-lane near-freeway with no shoulder. Cyclists have to navigate among drivers merging on and off at the massive cloverleaf intersection with North Capitol Street.

However, the right-of-way through this section seems wide enough for DDOT to add a protected cycle track or trail. One possibility is a cycle track in a protected median down the middle of Irving Street, which would avoid dangerous crossings of the off-ramps at the Irving and North Capitol cloverleaf. Another is to have a trail parallel the existing sidewalk on the south side of Irving Street.


Google Maps street view of Irving Street between First and North Capitol Streets NW.

Worsening traffic congestion is a major concern at the McMillan site. The area has infrequent bus service and is far from a Metro station, but improving bicycle access could provide an important alternative to driving, reducing the traffic impact of new development.

Military Road NW across Rock Creek Park is a similar case. Tilden Street and Park Road to the south, and Wise Road, Beach Drive, and Kalmia Road to the north, are more bike-friendly ways to cross the park. But they're far out of the way for neighborhoods on either side.

According to DDOT Bicycle Program Coordinator Mike Goodno, DDOT controls the road itself and a handful of feet on either side. The National Park Service would have to okay any further widening. DDOT has not yet studied whether there is room to add a cycletrack on Military within the right-of-way it controls.


Google Maps Street View of Military Road NW through Rock Creek Park.

The only other connection through Rock Creek Park that is further along in the planning process is the Klingle Trail, which will connect the Rock Creek trail to Woodley Road NW. DDOT completed an Environmental Assessment in 2011.

As activity centers outside the downtown area grow and travel patterns become less centralized, we must enable cyclists and transit users to get across town as easily as drivers. A grid-like, interconnected network of bike routes would make that possible.

Transit


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.

Pedestrians


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.

Development


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 census.gov.

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.

Parking


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.

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