The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Columbia Heights


WMATA recommended express bus service along 14th Street NW four years ago. Is it time to make it happen?

The buses that run up and down 14th Street NW are among the most used in the region, but they move slowly and don't come often enough. WMATA suggested adding express service a few years ago, but that has yet to happen.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The 52, 53, 54 run along 14th Street, from Takoma to downtown DC. Many people use the bus to commute from neighborhoods like U Street, Columbia Heights, Petworth, and Brightwood to downtown and back. Approximately 15,000 riders use these buses on a typical weekday, and according to some measures, they're among the most used in DC.

According to data from DC's Office of Planning, a quarter of the new residents who moved into DC in the last five years reside in the area served by the 14th Street buses, and from 2011 to 2015, the number of businesses soared from 7,371 all the way to 13,992. Many of these new residents and business employees don't own cars and rely on transit and other transportation services.

But relative to how many people would use them, the 14th Street buses are slow and don't run frequently enough. They stop quite often—at every corner during some stretches. For example, if a rider gets on the 54 at Buchanan Street NW and off at I Street downtown, it takes 26 stops. By contrast, that's three times more stops than than the S9 buses, the express buses that run down 16th Street. More anecdotally, a neighbor of mine recently waited over 20 minutes for a bus during rush hour.

Image from WMATA.

Buses also get caught in snarled traffic on the stretch of 14th Street next to the mall where Target and Best Buy are. In this area, buses don't have signal priority and lots of people double park without penalty.

Slow moving busses and not enough of them are especially acute problems right now because Beach Drive is closed. Many Upper Northwest residents can't use Rock Creek Parkway as a commuting route and this has pushed many more riders onto the bus.

Also, as a result of the problems with the 14th Street buses, many who live along 14th actually go out of their way to use the buses along 16th. That just leads to packed buses and overcrowding on those lines. Improving 14th street bus service would benefit those riding the the S1, S2, S4, S9, 70 and 79 by lessening crowding on 16th and Georgia express buses which would also reduce clustering.

WMATA recommended express bus service on 14th

These issues aren't new—WMATA actually teamed with DDOT to study 14th Street buses in 2011 and 2012. One of the biggest conclusions was that the corridor needs express service. Express busses run the same route as local buses but stop at fewer stops. By skipping stops, they are able to move faster. In exchange for walking one or two extra blocks to the stop, riders can get where they are headed much more quickly.

The study included a rider survey, rider focus groups (I participated in one of those), and a series of public meetings. The study team also gathered data from interviews with Metrobus operators and subsequent interviews to discuss potential service proposals and preliminary recommendations.

The study concluded that express bus service on the 14th Street line (it called express service "limited-stop bus service") would benefit riders:

The advantages to this proposal are that this service would not only enhance route capacity, but would also improve service frequencies at bus stops served by the limited stop service (service frequency at local-only stops would not be impacted). It would also reduce travel times for passengers able to utilize the bus stops that would be served by the limited stop service. The primary disadvantage is that this proposal would likely incur additional operating costs.
WMATA also recommended lengthening the 53 Route to terminate at G street (it currently ends at McPherson Square), running more service north of Colorado Avenue NW, and extending service to the Waterfront area, as well as giving riders better information, doing more to enforce parking restrictions, using articulated buses and training bus operators specifically for the lines they drive.

The key recommendation for express service is discussed in detail beginning on page 33 of here.

According to the report, making these changes would be relatively inexpensive (about $1.25 million). The report also says they could generate more DC tax revenue in increased commerce than they'd cost to fund. These buses are needed for longtime residents and new residents alike. This would be a huge (and cheap) win for DC.

Though improving this line with more, better service was a good idea in 2012, it's an exceptionally good idea now. Express buses along 14th Street would mean more people could travel the important corridor by bus.

More specifically, it'd mean more frequent service at key stops and shorter travel times for riders, smaller headways, and better quality. This would be a huge boon to those commuting or traveling longer distances (such as to Walter Reed). If the service proved successful, even more resources could go toward it over time.

The city as a whole would benefit from an investment in better bus service along 14th Street, as it'd lead to better employment opportunities for people seeking jobs, less traffic congestion on important north-south streets, and a broadening tax base.


Sexual violence isn’t uncommon on Metro. Here’s what WMATA is doing to fix that.

More people experience sexual assault on Metro trains and buses than you might think, and the victims are often women, trans people, and people of color. Metro just launched a new campaign to combat that, and it's a great first step (but is just a step) toward a safer ride for everyone.

A sign from Metro's new campaign to curb sexual violence. All images from WMATA.

On April 12, a woman was sexually assaulted at knifepoint on the Red Line. It was morning rush hour.

This violent attack shocked local news outlets and the general public. "I don't know many people who would have thought this would have happened in such a public arena—and that somebody would have the audacity to do that, particularly at 10 am," Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Haynos told the Washington Post.

But for those of us who have been tracking similar incidents of harassment and assault on DC's public transit system, this incident fit a pattern. Metro Transit Police data showed that most incidents of public sexual harassment and assault occurred on the busier Red and Orange lines, most frequently during rush hour, just like the April 12th attack.

One in five Metro or Metrobus riders have experienced sexual harassment on the system. That's according to WMATA's first comprehensive study of sexual harassment on a city's public transit system, which the agency partnered with Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and Stop Street Harassment to conduct in January 2016.

Of the people who were harassed, 75% experienced verbal harassment, 26% had been touched in a sexual way, and 2% had been raped.

Metro has worked on this issue in the past, but it's beefing up its efforts

CASS and Stop Street Harassment have worked with WMATA to address the problem of sexual harassment since 2012. The two agencies have helped WMATA train its staff and track verbal and physical harassment through an online reporting portal, as well as run an awareness campaign with anti-harassment messaging across the system and annual outreach days at Metro stations to let riders know how to report.

One of the signs from Metro's 2012 campaign.

Now, WMATA is working with CASS and Stop Street Harassment on a new awareness campaign to demonstrate its commitment to serving those who are most marginalized and most likely to be targeted by sexual and gender-based harassment. This is because women of color, and especially trans women of color, experience street harassment differently, often by the people meant to protect them; this happened in a recent incident in which Metro Transit Police arrested and assaulted a young black woman at the Columbia Heights station.

On November 4th, an awareness campaign launched with ads featuring the faces of trans women of color and Muslim women. The ads, which appear on trains, at Metro stops, and on buses, come on the heels of incidents where these identities were targeted at DC's Shaw Library and Banneker Pool.

Some versions of the ads are directed toward people who experience harassment, with a simple message of support: "You deserve to be treated with respect." The remaining ads encourage bystanders to speak out and report harassment.

The new campaign has three goals:

  1. Support people who experience harassment with messages letting riders know they deserve to be treated with respect.
  2. Promote a culture of bystander intervention, where everyone is responsible for speaking out against harassment and making public transit safer.
  3. Elevate our city's most marginalized identities by featuring the faces of people who are part of marginalized groups, such as trans women of color and Muslim women, who face harassment most severely and most frequently.
This is a great start, but there's a lot more work to do

Learning to stop harassment on its own is not enough if WMATA does not take steps to ensure that its staff and police force are applying their anti-harassment training to communities of color, and especially trans women of color, who are most likely to be targeted.

CASS, in partnership with Stop Street Harassment, continues to keep pressure on WMATA to step up its efforts to address violence against DC's most vulnerable communities. Here are the latest recommendations from local advocates to make public transit safe and welcoming for everyone:

  1. Expand anti-harassment training currently required for frontline staff to include supervisors, who are responsible for building a culture of safety and respect.
  2. Disarm Metro Transit Police to reduce violence and remove barriers for bystanders who want to intervene to stop police harassment. There's a case to be made that disarming Metro Transit Police will reduce violence against riders, foster an environment where police can build relationships with community members based in mutual respect rather than fear and the threat of violence, and that it would make officers safer, too.
  3. Expand trans cultural competency training to all frontline staff. Recently, training to better understand and serve trans communities was piloted for Metro Transit Police. Local advocates still receive many reports of harassment by WMATA employees and station managers who are hostile toward trans riders. Trans cultural competency training can help WMATA better understand and serve DC's trans communities.
  4. Train all frontline staff, supervisors, and Metro Transit Police to address implicit biases, and specifically to address officers' hidden prejudices that may cause police to disproportionately stop and harass communities of color. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended this training for many police departments and already implemented it for its own law enforcement agents and lawyers.
  5. Make anti-harassment materials available in DC's eight most common non-English languages: Spanish, Amharic, French, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Bengali.
WMATA has taken an excellent first step with the new awareness campaign to demonstrate its commitment to marginalized communities. Now, it needs to back the campaign with action steps to ensure that anti-harassment advocacy serves everyone.


New bike and bus lanes could soon carry you from Columbia Heights to Brookland

Right now, getting between Columbia Heights and Brookland is tough. Walking is uninviting, riding a bike is dangerous, and there aren't many bus options. Even driving is a pain. The District Department of Transportation has a plan for making travel between these two places easier and safer.

Looking east from Columbia Heights. Photo by ctj71081on Flickr

DDOT wrapped up its Crosstown Mutimodal Transportation Study with a final report last month. The study looked at possibilities for new street designs as well as bike and bus lanes in the area defined by Kenyon and Harvard Streets NW between 16th and Park Place; Irving Street and Michigan Avenue NW around the Washington Hospital Center; and Michigan Avenue from the hospital center to South Dakota Avenue NE.

There are major developments planned around the hospital in the next few decades. McMillan Sand Filtration Site will be a new center for housing and retail. Also, the Old Soldier's home will eventually be redeveloped.

Right now, the major streets connecting the two areas, Irving Street and Michigan Avenue, are designed pretty much exclusively for cars, but they're still plagued by congestion on either side of the hospital center. The H2 and H4 buses that run from the Columbia Heights Metro to the hospital and on to Brookland often get caught in traffic and take more time than they should to actually move through the hospital campus. And for people on bike or on foot, the corridor can be dangerous and unwelcoming.

The study to improve the corridor kicked off in February, and after presenting the public with options at a series of planned community meetings, DDOT narrowed down its plan to three possibilities by April, then two by June, then the final one in September. DDOT presented its draft concept in late September, and on October 19th issued the final report for a plan that will be unrolled onto city streets.

Early this year, DDOT asked residents to identify problem spots in this corridor. Maps and images by DDOT unless otherwise noted. Click for an interactive version.

Riding a bike will be way easier

DDOT's plan puts a big focus on making it easier and safer to bike through the area by building a number of bike lanes.

Kenyon Street NW will get a two-way protected bikeway from 14th Street NW to where it turns into Irving Street at the hospital. From there, Irving Street will be converted to have a two-way center-running bikeway. A few more measures, like a possible signal at Kenyon Street and Irving Street, will maximize safety and guide the flow of people walking or biking along Irving Street. The first stage of the plan will establish two-way bike lanes, but the ultimate goal is to create a shared use pathway for bikes and pedestrians along Irving Street at the hospital center.

The intersection of Irving and Kenyon Streets. Photo by Nicole Cacozza.

Where Irving Street runs into Michigan Avenue in Brookland, there will again be a two-way protected bikeway. Then, at Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street, there will be marked bike lanes on either side of the road until South Dakota Avenue NE.

The plan will also install another option for cyclists who turn off Michigan Ave onto Monroe Street through Brookland. A meandering sharrow will "wiggle" through the neighborhood to give cyclists a route where they'll encounter fewer cars.

There will be dedicated bus lanes

The buses that travel these routes often hit bottlenecks and run slowly. To combat this, another major focus of the plan is making those transit routes faster and more efficient. DDOT hopes to combat sluggish buses with a series of dedicated and shared bus lanes.

Michigan Avenue will have a shared lane from Harvard Street to the hospital, but at First Street NW that lane will become a dedicated bus lane stretching farther east towards Brookland. In Columbia Heights, two one-way streets, Irving and Columbia Road, will be split into car and transit lanes: buses will have a dedicated lane going east on Irving and west on Columbia.

Here, and in the map directly below, the dark blue lines are dedicated bus lanes.


Walking around won't be so dangerous

The plan also highlights intersections that need more appropriate signaling for the amount of foot, bike, and car traffic that they see. At 14th and Irving Street, the site of the Columbia Heights Metro Station, DDOT will create a dedicated crossing time for pedestrians only—the design should be somewhat similar to the "Barnes Dance" intersection at H Street and 7th Street in Chinatown. The Columbia Heights intersection is extremely busy, and this kind of change could ease commuter congestion and keep the crossing safe.

The final plan will also simplify a collection of intersections in Columbia Heights, west of the hospital. The proposal will remove the Michigan Avenue overpass as well as a service road and a segment of Hobart Place NW in order to create a street grid. Cleaning up the arrangement of streets will improve cycling and walking conditions by slowing cars and getting rid of the high-speed ramp, as well as eliminating unsafe intersections where multiple streets arrive at a single light.

A new street grid.

No more cloverleaf

DDOT also recommends modifying the cloverleaf ramps at North Capitol and Irving St to create a simple intersection with one traffic light. This will help regulate traffic speeds, and give cyclists and pedestrians a safer crossing by providing a clear view of all oncoming cars. It will also add green space to the area.

The cloverleaf is on its way out.

When will all this happen?

The time frame varies for each project based on the cost, complexity, and partnership with other agencies. Some projects, like the sharrows in Brookland, only need to go through the design and construction phases and could start in 2017. Others, like the bus lanes, where DDOT will need to work with WMATA, will take more time.

The measures furthest from completion are the cloverleaf change and the creation of the street grid, which will require significant planning. Both projects are slated to begin in 2021, but will take years to finish.

The changes that DDOT has planned will be necessary to manage the new residents and commuters using this corridor. Though we are still a few years out from some of the major project milestones, hopefully today's plan indicates that transportation will be ready to keep up with growth.


When it comes to food in our region, here's what "local" actually means

A lot of people think buying "local" food is a way to do your part in making sure you're eating something sustainable. But that word is more nuanced that it may seem at first glance.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

Farmer's market season is winding down in DC, so I've been stocking up on apples. There's nothing like the crisp crunch of a farm-fresh apple. Or even better—fresh-squeezed apple cider, warmed on my stovetop on a chilly evening.

I skip over to my favorite cider vendors at the Columbia Heights farmer's market. They hand me a jug, I hand them $5. I stare at my juice lovingly, until I notice something that surprises me.

"Pennsylvania?" I comment, reading the label on my cider. "I didn't realize you guys came from so far away."

The vendor shrugs. "It's not as far as you think."

I have a feeling it's farther than most people think when they walk down to their neighborhood farmer's market for "local" produce. I'm sure I'm not the only naive urbanite who subconsciously harbored the mental image of a farm just-down-the-lane when I shelled out an extra two dollars for produce.

Where did I think that lane was going? The National Mall?

"Local" isn't always as local was we may think, and that's not necessarily bad

Local food isn't necessarily grown 10 minutes away. At my favorite market in Columbia Heights, the produce comes from all over. A farm called 78 Acres is in Smithsburg, Maryland, some 70 miles away. Three Springs is based in Aspers, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles away and across two state lines. The farms that service local DC markets fall within a broad radius, and it goes beyond the region.

Because the word "local" as applied to food systems is not a hard-and-fast definition, some people have grown dubious about the term. Customers who feel they have been duped by "local" label especially bemoan the ostensible damage to the environment that comes when you expand a city's "local" food systems.

But in many cases, especially when it comes to farmer's markets, this isn't always deserved. Transportation is only a small part of the carbon footprint inherent in agricultural production. The proverbial problem is buying strawberries in the winter—shipping food by air for an out-of-season shortcake. And the problem of sustainability doesn't end with transportation. Even if their fields are in Pennsylvania, farmers with years of experience are better equipped to efficiently manage the of water, soil, and energy so that as little is wasted as possible.

This means that plenty of "local" projects, like farmers markets, are sustainable in the grand scheme of things, even if they stretch the definition of the very term. That's good, because their food tastes better, and buying it in-season promotes genetic diversity among crops. Produce from these kinds of providers is also usually better for you; it spends less time in transit, so it loses fewer nutrients it the time between the vine, ground, or stalk and your mouth.

Buying from local farmers also offers a level of transparency—they know where they're coming from, and they aren't afraid to tell you—so you can decide where to draw "local" lines.

Most importantly, at least to me, buying helps support the families that I see every Wednesday night when I'm buying my groceries. Because even if I can't walk down the road to their farm, they're inevitably a part of my extended community.

Plus, it turns out that food grown right next door may not be so great

The most vocal response to the obsession over "local" has come from proponents of urban farming. Many urbanists have tackled the issue of local food systems by developing gardens on rooftops or small plots of land within the city. But while these projects have brought a whole new tenor to the word "local," their costs often outweigh the perceived benefits.

For instance, studies show that urban farms can increase sprawl. City land is limited, and when these small projects are prioritized over density, the urban spaces diffuse. Urban farming can even increase carbon emissions as inexperienced (though certainly well-meaning) farmers plant crops in less favorable growing environments that require more energy and chemical inputs to sustain.

There are, of course, environmental virtues to the community gardens cropping up on city blocks—decreased air pollution, cooling down cities, building natural habitats for urban faunabut they are not inherent to them being local food systems.

Location is just one thing. Let's consider our habits, too.

City dwellers need to consider the scope of what it takes so sustain our urban cores. We consume and waste without thinking twice about the steps it takes to create our daily lives. We order groceries online without thinking what it took to get them to our door.

Perhaps it's more appropriate to call these food systems "regional" rather than "local" for the sake of clarity, but regardless, making an effort to understand what "local" means forces us to grapple with the true extent of our metropolitan area.

This winter, I'm going to miss the days when I can pick up fresh shallots from Pennsylvania, apples from southern Virginia, and kale from western Maryland—but they'll be back in the spring. Whether 25 or 250 miles away, our local farmers keep urban life tenable, sustainable, and deliciously palatable.


Our endorsements for write-in ANC candidates

There are 20 Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) seats this year with no one on the ballot: no candidate registered before this summer's deadline. Write-in candidates for eight of those empty seats filled out our candidate questionnaire. Here are their responses and our endorsements.

If there is no one on the ballot for your ANC seat, you can still write someone in! Photo by Michael Rosenstein on Flickr.

Last week we wrote about the 20 ANC races this year with no candidate on the ballot. We asked any write-in candidates already out there to get in touch and take our survey so we could evaluate their stances on issues we care about. Eleven candidates answered the call, and we've collected their responses here.

After reviewing all responses, we found eight we'd like to endorse for write-in candidates. If you live in one of these neighborhoods, please consider writing these names in! Without their name printed on the ballot, these candidates need all the help and exposure they can get.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts. This is especially true for write-in candidates, whose biggest challenge is simply getting enough people to remember their name when they go to the ballot box.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Howard University. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In Ward 1, we endorse John Cochrane, Nicole Cacozza, Albert Lang, and Ryan Strom

Many write-in candidates from Ward 1 completed our survey. Two answered from ANC 1B, which includes the neighborhoods of Pleasant Plains, LeDroit Park, and U Street. We wrote about some of the key neighborhood issues there in our earlier endorsement post.

One empty seat this election is ANC 1B06, the area stretching west from Cardozo High School. For this district, we think you should write-in John Cochrane.

Cochrane had clear ideas for where new housing could go in his neighborhood, in particular pointing out some "surface lots that are screaming to be re-purposed along 14th Street." He had specific recommendations for bike and pedestrian improvements throughout the area, and when asked about possibly removing street parking for better bus service said he was "inclined to tip... towards better bus service" if all else were equal.

To the east, Nicole Cacozza was the only candidate we heard from in ANC 1B10. This area includes some residential areas near Howard University and McMillan Reservoir.

Cacozza is excited about what is in store for her neighborhood: "As we can see from the renovations and construction on Georgia Avenue, our neighborhood is already changing into what it could be in 20 years. While the promise of new businesses and apartments is exciting, I think that the best thing for the neighborhood is to preserve a balance of livability and open space alongside the development that is already occurring."

She is supportive of adding more housing and bike lanes in the area, and approves the current dedicated bus lane on Georgia Avenue, saying she supports "extending it further north into my district."

Full disclosure: Nicole also volunteers as one of our Breakfast Links curators, so of course we are excited to support her in this goal!

Adams Morgan. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

There are two candidates we want to endorse in Adams Morgan's ANC 1C, which is great because as you might have read in our previous post, originally we did not have any candidates in competitive races to endorse there.

ANC 1C01 is generally the area south of Wyoming Avenue between Columbia Road and 18th Street—the southwestern edge of Adams Morgan. Here we support Albert Lang.

When asked how he would address public safety in the area, Lang says the issue goes "hand in hand with flourishing businesses and additional housing," that "more people living in the area means more people patronizing business means more people around," which makes the area safer. He is also strongly supports the redevelopment of the SunTrust bank, and says there "is no reason in today's world that the process should be so drawn out and contentious".

Farther north in the upper part of Lanier Heights lies ANC 1C05, and here we endorse Ryan Strom as a write-in candidate.

Strom's answer to our question about the SunTrust bank is incredibly in tune with how many feel about this ongoing controversy:

I think there is a small minority of residents who are set in how the neighborhood should look and feel. I look around at my changing neighborhood and see progress. The 18th street streetscape, the Ontario Theater building's renovation, the historic hotel's construction to name a few. All of these have increased retail, foot traffic, housing values and residents in such a great urban mixed-use neighborhood; this is exactly why this is my favorite section of the city. The Sun Trust Plaza redevelopment is simply a continuation of such work.
...I think many residents fear that increased construction would destroy their way of life in their neighborhood, but in reality it simply seeks to improve it offering more. More retail, more restaurant options, more amenities and offering these services to more people to enjoy. The ANC should of course seek to balance many things, but the ANC should not be exclusionary in its mission or view itself as protecting the status quo to the detriment of all others.
Well said.

On affordable housing, Strom is also frustrated that "the ANC has not been... pushing affordable housing as a benefit they want to see developers offer." Instead, the commission has used "its political clout (and successfully) to limit the buildings scope/design and size" and not used its energy and "clout to increase affordable housing." Additionally, Strom is in favor of better connecting bike lanes across the area, and is supportive of improving bus infrastructure.

We received a response from another write-in candidate in this race: Ron Baker. Ron has been a long time advocate for the area and was instrumental in organizing opposition to the downzoning in Lanier Heights that unfortunately passed earlier this year. Based on the two candidates' responses to our survey, we decided to endorse Strom here, but it is great that two strong candidates have stepped forward to fill this empty seat!

George Washington University. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

In Ward 2, we endorse Eve Zhurbinskiy

Incumbent Eve Zhurbinskiy is looking for a second term as commissioner for 2A08, and we think that's a good idea. Her SMD encompasses George Washington University and the area directly east along Pennsylvania Avenue; read here to learn about the issues affecting neighbors there.

When asked about addressing homelessness in the neighborhood, Zhurbinskiy has a host of ideas, many of which she developed while serving on the Foggy Bottom Association's Homelessness Task Force. She says she "will continue to work to identify neighborhood projects related to ending homelessness that qualify for grant funding from the ANC."

Zhurbinskiy also had a number of successes in her first term on everything from improving policing to pedestrian improvements in the ANC. All of this on top of being a student at George Washington! We hope voters nearby grant her a second term.

Cleveland Park. Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

In Ward 3, we endorse Beau Finley and Michael Sriqui

Just east of the Cleveland Park Metro Station is 3C04, part of an ANC where there are a number of pressing issues this election.

We think Beau Finley is a good candidate to fill this seat. Finley is fully supportive of the homeless shelter proposed nearby, saying "homelessness is a city-wide issue in need of multiple city-wide solutions, with each Ward doing its part."

He is also excited about the chance to "reimagine Woodley Park" with the development at Wardman Park. He understands that there are many issues to be addressed with such an influx of new residents, but ultimately that "redevelopment cannot be rejected or concessioned into abandonment simply because it would upset the status quo."

We think Finley's reasonable and positive responses reveal a good candidate for this ANC.

To the west is the Palisades neighborhood, part of ANC 3D and an area we wrote about here. The westernmost corner of this commission is 3D04, and write-in candidate Michael Sriqui looks like a solid choice for that neighborhood.

Sriqui wants the ANC to focus less on the small disagreements and issues between themselves and American University, and instead reiterate "the general benefits having a major college campus brings to a neighborhood." He also believes through experience that "[w]e can have growth, promote housing policies that better reflect our professed progressive values, and maintain the leafy, residential character of our neighborhoods without much sacrifice."

He has clear ideas for improving bike infrastructure, and sees clear opportunities for better bus service that would only affect un-zoned parking. Finally, Sriqui shares his frustration with the obstructionist past of his ANC: "There is little, beside irrational fear of change, to suggest that empty store fronts, lightly used parking lots, and 'historic' garages promote the bucolic vision supposedly behind always saying 'no' to development."

We hope Sriqui will be a part of a real culture change in ANC 3D and encourage neighbors to write him in.

Takoma Metro station. Photo by art around on Flickr.

In Ward 4, we endorse Tanya Topolewski

Finally, we received two responses from write-in candidates in Ward 4, specifically for the Takoma-area ANC 4B which we discussed in this post. For the empty ballot on 4B02, the neighborhood along Piney Branch Road just south of the Takoma Metro station, we support Tanya Topolewski.

Topolewski is "a strong supporter of development at Metro stations, including Takoma's." In particular, we really liked her thoughts about the controversial elements of this redevelopment plan, namely that parking should be limited and that rather than get upset about height, neighbors should instead focus on "how any building works on the ground level," encouraging walkable spaces and retail.

She has grand visions for increased development along Georgia Avenue, saying "it's time to make sure that it becomes a place people want to be with great urban design emphasizing welcoming sidewalk space," something she has thought a lot about while serving on ANC 4B's Design Review Committee. She supports the dog park in the area and sees many opportunities for growth throughout the neighborhood within existing zoning.

Another write-in candidate responded to our survey for this ANC: Jaime Willis. We liked a lot of what Willis had to say, and it's great that this district has so many informed and positive neighbors who want to get involved in their ANC! In the end, we endorsed Topolewski based on her experience and in-depth responses.

Want to read the responses of all of the write-in candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF here. You can also see the responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page.

A note about all of these write-in candidates: because they completed our survey long after we began to publish our endorsements (with the exceptions of Eve Zhurbinskiy and Nicole Cacozza, who submitted in early September), candidates had the opportunity to review our analyses before submitting their responses. While they had that advantage, we do believe our endorsed candidates would make for great commissioners and deserve your write-in vote.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 1

If you live in U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, or nearby neighborhoods, you probably live in Ward 1. Here are our recommendations for seven competitive races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission seats in that area on November's ballot.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

These are our Ward 1 endorsements:


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 1, we chose seven candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses many unopposed candidates.

The Columbia Heights fountain, which is in Ward 1. Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1A we endorse Valerie Baron, Darwain Frost, and Amanda Frost

ANC 1A covers Columbia Heights and Park View north of approximately Harvard Street, give or take a block. The main housing-related activity in the area involves redevelopment plans for the old Hebrew Home, on Spring Street at the ward's northern edge, and Park Morton, a public housing complex just east of Georgia Avenue.

Debate has also been raging online about whether the neighborhood is "going downhill" after one (former) resident sent an angry letter to PoPville about trash, crime, and a litany of other complaints; others, like ANC 1A chair and occasional GGWash contributor Kent Boese argued his characterization of the neighborhood was unfair.

The neighborhood, and all of Ward 1, has a high level of transit ridership and many bus lines in addition to the Green Line Metro service, but buses often spend a great deal of time stuck in traffic. Bicycle ridership is also high and rising, but there is a big need for bike connections to nearby areas, particularly east and west.

In district 1A01 near 14th and Spring, Valerie Baron and Ernest Johnson are vying for an open seat. We're endorsing Baron, who says she supports "fairly dense housing near the Metro" and would "prioritize affordable housing at the Hebrew Home." She bicycles regularly and endorses improving bus service.

We asked all candidates how they would react to proposals that make bus service better (such as with a bus lane) but require removing some parking. Baron was one of the few candidates to give a specific suggestion: Spring Road just east of 16th Street.

Ernest Johnson is unwilling to consider speeding up bus service if doing so takes away even a small amount of parking. He also thinks both housing and retail are "over-developed" and does not want more of either. His responses showed no vision for a better future for Columbia Heights beyond vague claims to want affordable housing; Baron is the clear choice.

A few blocks to the east in 1A07, Sharon Farmer is challenging sitting commissioner Darwain Frost. We're endorsing Frost. Farmer's answers were short and vague, except to clearly oppose contraflow bike lanes on one-way streets, bus lanes if they affect parking, or other changes. In his questionnaire answers and record on the ANC, Frost has shown much more openness to learning and considering possible solutions to neighborhood problems.

1A10 is the commission's southeast corner, along Columbia Road and the Soldiers' Home. There, we support Amanda Frost against incumbent Rashida Brown, who did not respond to our survey. Frost showed an open-minded view about growth, saying the Hebrew Home should prioritize "density, sustainability, maximizing and maintaining public space, and economic and environmental impact" to "balance livability with growth"; she'd also like to add housing at vacant properties along Georgia Avenue. On transportation, she'd like a bike lane and better sidewalks on Georgia, and praised the recent Sherman Avenue streetscape.

Photo by Craig James on Flickr.

In ANC 1B, we endorse Jonathan Goldman

The U Street area and hill up to Columbia Heights, as well as LeDroit Park, make up ANC 1B. Besides many of the same issues around crime and the area's evolving demographics as 1A, readers wanted to hear what candidates planned for improving transportation options, in particular bike infrastructure.

There is only one contested seat among the twelve districts in this large ANC, LeDroit Park's 1B01. The open seat there has two candidates, Jonathan Goldman and Anita Norman. We're endorsing Goldman, who is "never opposed to more bike share stations," and is paying particular attention to the "deplorable condition of the Kelly Miller", a public housing complex in the neighborhood. He plans to make working with those residents to improve conditions a top priority, and while he seems in favor of building more housing near the Metro, he says that it will be difficult to add more density because the SMD is "mostly historic."

Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

In ANC 1C, we aren't endorsing anyone

1C is Adams Morgan and the neighborhoods (Lanier Heights, Kalorama Triangle) which some people also refer to as Adams Morgan. By far the biggest issue in 1C is the SunTrust bank building and plaza, which could soon be redeveloped.

Sadly, ANC 1C historically has exemplified the public image of ANCs as entities that only say "no." Here, the ANC has been steadfastly opposed to essentially anything replacing this SunTrust building; they want to preserve the plaza, but also don't want a taller building that could make preserving the plaza feasible.

Over the last year, the neighborhood has seen other, similar battles where the ANC has opposed new housing, including zoning in Lanier Heights and a development at the Meridian Center on 16th Street.

In the two contested seats in 1C, none of the candidates distinguish themselves. In 1C07, Wilson Reynolds, the incumbent "is opposed to removing parking in Adams Morgan," even for bus improvements, and is in favor of using "[e]very legal tool... to diminish the size and impact" of development "on our citizens," such as plans on the 1700 block of Columbia Road.

Reynolds is facing Chris Otten, if anything an even more well-known and outspoken opponent of new development. Even though he did not complete our survey, Otten has been touring the city trying to drum up opposition to the zoning update, which won approval in January and has now taken effect; he is threatening to file a lawsuit against it, based largely on a series of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what the update would actually change.

1C08 lies just to 1C07's east. Sitting commissioner JonMarc Buffa chairs the ANC's planning & zoning committee, and has led much of the SunTrust opposition. In his responses, he said he was in support of affordable housing and thinks "providing protected bike lanes is important," but is "proud to have supported the downzoning of Lanier Heights." His opponent, Amanda Fox Perry, did not return our questionnaire.

If you live in either SMD, please consider running for ANC in 2018.

Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

In ANC 1D, we endorse Jon Stewart, Paul Karrer, and Benjamin Mann

One issue is animating many of the contests in Mount Pleasant's ANC 1D: what to do about a strip of vacant land where Lamont Street would be if it continued up a steep hill, but it does not. Many Mount Pleasant residents would like some play equipment for children in this area, but many residents of the adjacent 1900 Lamont Street building do not.

Of course, that's not the only issue in Mount Pleasant, and candidates also talked about ways to add more housing within the scope of the neighborhood's historic status, improve the vitality of the neighborhood main street, make walking and bicycling safer, and more.

Jon Stewart is challenging incumbent Frank Agbro in 1D01, in the center of the neighborhood. Stewart, who we're endorsing, is a daily reader of Greater Greater Washington and says the blog "helped spark [his] interest in running for ANC." He's for a playground on the contested vacant land, for live music at neighborhood bars and restaurants (an age-old Mount Pleasant controversy), for better bike and pedestrian safety, and for preserving the strong Latino community and businesses in the neighborhood. He as a clear goals for preserving and creating affordable housing in his neighborhood, and improving bus options and infrastructure.

Stewart had perhaps the most humble response to our question, "Why are you the best person to represent" your district, saying "Honestly, I'm not," but he thinks he can do better than Agbro, whom he says missed five ANC meetings, has threatened the neighborhood farmer's market, and more. (Agbro did not respond to our questionnaire). Stewart wrote, "I own a house, ride the bus, shop on Mount Pleasant St, walk around the neighborhood, schlep to other neighborhoods' parks, and buy produce at the farmer's market. Mount Pleasant is great... and it could be greater. :­)" Sounds good to us.

We're also very impressed with Paul Karrer, who's one of three candidates competing for an open seat in 1D02 along 16th Street in the neighborhood's northeast corner. The other two, Alex Hastie and Capree Bell, did not answer the questionnaire, but that's not the only reason to vote for Karrer.

His questionnaire had a great answer for why historic preservation can be valuable ("who doesn't love our brick sidewalks, our trees, and our beautiful rowhouses?") but also not inconsistent with adding housing. His quote: "I think about Mount Pleasant [as] being a 'neighborhood for all'...Our ANC should support sensible and sustainable development that meets the goals of historical preservation but doesn't hinder our homeowners… [and] our ANC should advise our elected officials and government agencies to craft policies addressing affordable housing, transportation options, and quality of life that will make Mount Pleasant a great place to live well into the future."

Huzzah. We hope voters will select Paul Karrer to serve on the ANC.

The final contested seat in 1D is 1D03, a northwest section of the neighborhood that abuts the controversial Lamont Street potential parkland. Incumbent Jack McKay has a long and notable record of service to the neighborhood, but we recommend challenger Benjamin Mann.

McKay says the 1900 Lamont residents should have "decisive say" over the park, and nobody else; he had no suggestions for adding housing within the context of the historic district; and he thinks bus service is good enough. Is there a bus improvement sufficient to warrant prioritizing it over on-street parking? "I don't see that as a real possibility," he said.

Mann, by contrast, had excellent answers to many questions. He wants a more inclusive approach to the park that considers many residents' needs. He'd like to preserve the neighborhood but also add some housing, such as through accessory apartments, saying that "DC needs more housing to help make homeownership and renting more affordable." He's open to changes that rebalance the use of street space as well, again only after an inclusive community process.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 1 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 1. You can also see the responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page. We'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.

This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.

Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.

Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.

The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.

The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.


What do 80,000 people in a square mile look like? Depends on where you put them.

When we talk about dense housing, many think of New York City skyscrapers, or Soviet blocks. But as images maps of different neighborhoods in DC show, not all density looks the same.

A high-density block in Columbia Heights. All images from Google Maps.

Google Maps recently unveiled its auto-generated 3D imagery for DC. Using this feature, I compiled snapshots of what different levels of density—measured by people per square mile (ppsm)—look like throughout DC and Arlington. The population density numbers come from the 2014 American Community Survey, and I calculated at the census block group level.

5,000 people per square mile

In the Palisades, winding streets are lined with large houses (~5,000 ppsm):

And in Brookland, detached single family homes sit on lots with front setbacks and spacious backyards (~6,000 ppsm):

15,000 people per square mile

Though walkable, most of Georgetown isn't particularly dense, with blocks of tiny rowhouses clocking in at about 15,000 ppsm:

Lamond-Riggs achieves a similar population density with suburban-style duplexes (~13,000 ppsm):

20,000 - 30,000 people per square mile

With a mix of both historic and new-construction rowhouses, this block group in Hill East sits at around 22,000 ppsm:

This section of Fort Dupont is similarly dense, but looks much different. Garden apartments centered around green space and surface parking give this area a density of roughly 27,000 ppsm:

30,000 - 40,000 people per square mile

In Glover Park, rows of attached houses line a network of relatively narrow streets (~31,000 ppsm):

A mix of duplexes and garden apartments puts this part of Shipley Terrace at about 35,000 ppsm:

40,000 - 50,000 people per square mile

These blocks bordering the south end of Adams Morgan are almost entirely filled with large rowhouses, with a few bigger apartment buildings situated on the main thoroughfares (~45,000 ppsm):

In Rosslyn, parking lots and highways surround these 7- to 10-story apartment buildings (~47,000 ppsm):

50,000 - 60,000 people per square mile

These apartment complexes on Massachusetts Avenue near American University don't cover a lot of land area, but their height makes them relatively dense (~53,000 ppsm):

Dupont Circle's streets blend rowhouses with 4- to 8-story prewar apartment buildings (~55,000 ppsm):

80,000+ people per square mile

This section of Columbia Heights is mostly close-together 4-story apartment buildings, giving it both a high density and a human scale (~80,000 ppsm):

At the north end of Mount Pleasant, a large apartment complex pushes this block over 85,000 ppsm:

Just south of Logan Circle, bulky apartment buildings both old and new give rise to densities over 100,000 ppsm:


Google Maps gives DC the 3D treatment

For a number of years now, Google Maps has let you check out the buildings and topography of most medium to large cities, and increasingly even smaller towns, in 3D—but not DC. Now, nearly all of the District and parts of Arlington come in three dimensions.

Image from Google Maps.

Initially, Google Maps only showed prominent landmarks in 3D, as models had to be crowded-sourced and created by hand with Google Sketchup, the company's modeling software. Then in 2012, Maps rolled out a way of automating 3D generation through a process known as stereophotogrammetry.

Nearly all of DC is now included in the feature, as well as Rosslyn and National Airport.

Though the automated modeling process isn't perfect, it really makes the city pop when you turn the feature on. To check it out, go to Google Maps, turn on satellite mode, and click the "3D" button in the bottom right. Be sure to rotate the view to get the full experience! Holding the control key will allow you to click-and-drag the camera angle.

Some of my favorite spots to view with the new feature are Woodley Park and the National Cathedral, Columbia Heights, the National Arboretum, and upper Georgia Avenue.

The National Cathedral in 3D.

There has been speculation that the reason DC was excluded from 3D display was for security reasons. The areas that were excluded from rendering seem to confirm that might have been the case: in DC, the areas around the National Mall, the White House, Federal Center SW, and Foggy Bottom are conspicuously absent from the feature.

Image from Google Maps.

While you can now see the Rosslyn skyline from your computer, the rest of Northern Virginia and Maryland haven't been included, though they may be added later.

Let us know what interesting things you find with the 3D feature!

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City