Posts about Connecticut Avenue
Tim Craig, Mike DeBonis, and Emma Brown asked the at-large candidates about a number of different issues that matter to DC residents, from testing in schools to police to bike lanes.
A question on bike lanes revealed some interesting differences of opinion. Patrick Mara (and Anita Bonds and Perry Redd) seem to prioritize not removing any parking over bike lanes, while Elissa Silverman was the strongest supporter:
"Would you support a new bicycle lane on Connecticut Avenue NW, even if it resulted in fewer on-street parking spots or altered traffic patterns?"
Matt Frumin and Paul Zukerberg would need more information about the lane's design before giving an opinion. Bonds, Redd and Mara are inclined to oppose it, worried about a loss of on-street parking. Silverman is inclined to support it. "If we are to promote cycling, we need to promote cycling on our major thoroughfares," she said.
Accommodating bicycling on Connecticut Avenue is a good idea, though I'm not aware of concrete plans to put a bike lane there right now or whether it would cost parking. Some bicycle infrastructure does supplant a small amount of parking, like on L and M Streets downtown, so the general thrust of the question is helpful.
On the Post interview, all candidates agreed on relaxing the height limit in a few places outside the core. Everyone but Zukerberg thinks there should be more restaurants east of the Anacostia. Mara and Bonds appear the least supportive of legalizing marijuana.
On a possible NFL stadium on the RFK site, the Post asked if candidates would support a stadium if Dan Snyder would pay for it but wouldn't change his team's name. All but Mara opposed the idea:
Redd, Zukerberg, Bonds and Frumin all said no. Silverman would oppose it, saying the focus should be on redeveloping the area around RFK Stadium with new housing and retail. Mara hopes the Redskins change their name, but the matter would not dissuade him from supporting a new team-funded stadium.On top of that, a stadium proposal very likely would not actually mean Snyder paid all of the cost; at the very least, DC would have to fund considerable infrastructure and site work. It'd be helpful to know if Mara (or any of them) would spend city dollars for a stadium, and how much.
These are just a few of the issues that matter to residents. Read the whole article.
The disagreement over what should happen in Chevy Chase Lake wasn't surprising: developers wanted taller buildings and higher density, while neighbors wanted the opposite. What's surprising is that both sides found a compromise in the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, now going before the Montgomery County Council.
Located on Connecticut Avenue just south of the Beltway, Chevy Chase Lake was originally an amusement park at the turn of the 20th century, built by developer and Senator Francis Newlands at the end of the streetcar line he built down Connecticut to downtown DC. Newlands also used the streetcar to draw homebuyers to several neighborhoods he built along Connecticut Avenue, including Chevy Chase.
The lake, the amusement park and the streetcar are all gone, and in their place are a couple of strip malls, some garden apartments, and a lot of traffic on Connecticut.
The Montgomery County Planning Department recently finished work on a sector plan for Chevy Chase Lake in anticipation of the Purple Line, which when built will have a stop there. They envision creating a compact, but dense neighborhood around the station, with housing, shops and a new urban park, and a stretch of Connecticut Avenue into a real main street.
Disagreement over future of Chevy Chase Lake
However, the size and scale of that neighborhood was up for debate. In 2011, the Chevy Chase Land Company, which was originally founded by Senator Newlands and still owns several offices and shops in Chevy Chase Lake, proposed building up to 4 million square feet of new development there, including up to 3,000 new homes and several buildings up to 19 stories tall.
Transit advocates supported their vision, arguing that concentrating housing around the future Purple Line will help alleviate congestion in the future, but some neighbors were upset about the amount of development, fearing it would cause traffic. They found common ground with county planners, who sought a more nuanced approach to development in Chevy Chase Lake.
"There is no transit system in the world that creates 18-story buildings at every transit stop," wrote then-planning director Rollin Stanley. "Not every transit station has to be downtown Silver Spring or Bethesda. In reality, the best transit systems have a very diverse network of transit stops."
The resulting plan, which was approved by the Planning Board in January, calls for 2.2 million square feet of new development, including about 1,300 new homes, in the entire commercial district. Most of it won't be built until after the Purple Line is funded and built; until then, most properties would either stay the same or be allowed slightly more density than there is today.
Instead of 19-story buildings throughout the commercial district, there would be 3 buildings between 100 and 150 feet tall adjacent to the Purple Line station. Elsewhere, building heights would be restricted to 55 to 80 feet, while townhouses would form a transition to adjacent single-family homes.
Connecticut Avenue would transform from a traffic sewer into a main street, with on-street parking, new traffic signals, and sidewalks with streetscaping. New bike paths, trails and improved connections to the Capital Crescent Trail would knit the commercial center into the community, making up for the area's disconnected street network.
Meanwhile, the Chevy Chase Land Company's plans have shrunk, to just 1.5 million square feet of development and fewer than 900 apartments, and split into three phases. The first, which would occur before construction of the Purple Line, would replace the Chevy Chase Lake Shopping Center at Connecticut Avenue and Manor Road with 3 buildings containing a mix of apartments and retail space around a half-acre park.
Once the Purple Line is built, later phases would replace their headquarters building at Connecticut Avenue and Chevy Chase Lake Drive and the Lake West shopping center across the street with additional retail, apartments and townhouses, and a new headquarters.
Neighbors use Purple Line to discourage development
While this is much less than what the Land Company first wanted, not everyone's satisfied. Some neighbors formed a group called Don't Flood the Lake, raising concerns about traffic and calling the plan "wildly out of scale with the area." They also question whether we should allow new development around the Purple Line when there's no money for it yet.
It's unclear whether this group has any connection with Save the Trail, an anti-Purple Line group that's campaigning against funding for the Purple Line and other transportation projects. But not building the Purple Line or development associated with it won't fix traffic. No Purple Line means people have fewer alternatives to driving, while no new housing in Chevy Chase means people working next door in Bethesda, one of the region's largest job centers, have to commute from further away.
1,300 new homes in Chevy Chase Lake will be far less of a burden on Connecticut Avenue than the influx of thousands of workers, patients and visitors who currently drive on Connecticut Avenue to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.
Besides, the scale proposed at Chevy Chase Lake isn't much different than what Senator Newlands built around streetcar stops just a few miles down Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase, DC: mid- to high-rise apartments interspersed with shops and offices and steps away from quiet streets lined with single-family homes. If this could work a century ago, why can't it work today?
Traffic is a big issue in Greater Washington and will continue to be so as the region grows. Yet the answer, in Chevy Chase Lake or any other neighborhood, isn't to stop anyone new from moving there. If neighbors don't want to see more traffic on Connecticut Avenue, they should join groups like Get Maryland Moving to ensure that the Purple Line gets the funding it needs.
And they should support the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan, which will not only give them a great town center within walking distance and allow others to live in a place where they don't have to drive everywhere.
The Montgomery County Council will hold a public hearing on the Chevy Chase Lake Sector Plan on Tuesday, March 5 at 7:30 pm. To sign up to testify or to send written comments, visit the County Council's website.
As enclosed malls continue to decline and close, more and more retailers are opting to locate in pedestrian-friendly urban districts.
3 years ago, I expressed sentiments that the car-oriented shopping mall was a business model with no future. The events since have offered further proof that retailers and customers now prefer an urban format, at least in our region.
Recent news that Bloomingdale's in White Flint and Macy's in Laurel will close has little to do with the sales performance of those stores, and everything to do with their host malls being unable to survive. Both have been visibly declining for years, and will soon be redeveloped into mixed-use walkable urban places.
The Laurel Macy's has managed to remain open for years despite much of its host mall being shuttered. That store would likely have closed years ago if it wasn't making money, especially in the wake of the Great Recession.
Similarly, if it had not been profitable the White Flint Bloomingdale's would have closed in 2007 when another location of the luxury retailer opened a mere 3 Metro stations away.
Within the Favored Quarter, the most economically competitive and healthy part of our region, only the largest and most dynamic enclosed malls are continuing to thrive. The rest are slowly dying.
In Maryland, Montgomery Mall is the most vibrant, while in Virginia the Tysons cluster reigns supreme.
When the White Flint redevelopment plan was approved in 2010, it provided the owners of White Flint Mall the opportunity to earn a healthier profit by giving the market more of what it wants: walkable urbanism.
Elsewhere in the region the malls are doing as bad or worse. Most have either closed or are in the process of being converted to walkable town centers.
Arlington has had success turning the area around its two enclosed malls into mixed-use towns, first at Ballston and now at Pentagon City, where the process is still under way.
In Prince George's County, the area around the Mall at Prince George's (formerly Prince George's Plaza) has been undergoing a process similar to Pentagon City. At Bowie Town Center, County officials are looking at adding more entertainment and housing options.
Meanwhile, urban shopping areas that I mentioned three years ago have increased in prominence:
In the District of Columbia, there are four shopping districts that support clusters of national retail chains that are usually mall-based: Downtown (Old Downtown clustered around Metro Center), Connecticut Avenue between Farragut Square and Dupont Circle, Friendship Heights, and Georgetown. Columbia Heights is emerging and has a different mix of retailers.Urban-format suburban shopping districts also continue to thrive and grow.
Silver Spring's retail is more vibrant than ever. The space vacated by Borders was quickly filled by Smart Toys. Bethesda and Clarendon are continually adding to their mixture of chains and smaller upscale retailers. Wheaton is a work in progress.
Even outside the Beltway, urbanism is catching on. Rockville Town Square and Gaithersburg's Washingtonian Center are growing, and National Harbor is setting the standard for Prince George's County. Two decades ago, all those developments likely would have been enclosed malls.
While purely car-dependent malls aren't going to go completely extinct, they are becoming far more rare. In the future, it is likely the only enclosed malls that remain will be the largest super-regional "winners" inside the Favored Quarter. Meanwhile, no new malls are planned.
As the 21st Century continues, both living and dead mall sites will be either be completely redeveloped or will evolve into mixed-use walkable urban places. Retailers will continue clustering at transit-oriented, walkable urban locations, both downtown and at new suburban "uptowns."
We have a short but sweet DD'ohT! this week from a tipster along Connecticut Avenue, where DDOT has two conflicting signs at the intersection with Hawthorne Street, just south of the National Zoo.
So which is it, 6:30 or 7:00? While there can't be that many drivers who might want to turn left onto this residential street during the half-hour in question, it's an easy enough fix for DDOT to eliminate the confusion.
Montgomery County's DOT wants to increase vehicle speeds on Connecticut Avenue, build a road through parkland, and cut off a neighborhood's local street connections to Connecticut, further showing that they are out of touch with what we've learned about traffic and the design of communities since the 1960s.
The upcoming move of Walter Reed to Bethesda Naval will bring more traffic, partly due to the increased employment and partly because the county's DOT has taken few steps beyond a few bike trails to improve non-auto access to the area.
Instead of aggressively increasing transportation choices to the facility, the DOT has primarily focused its energies on finding ways to make the surrounding roads handle even more cars and move them at higher speeds.
Their biggest plan is to try to make the entrance to the complex and NIH on Wisconsin Avenue into a freeway-like interchange, but it's not the only one. They also want to widen Connecticut Avenue and restrict turns in and out of the Chevy Chase Valley neighborhood.
To compensate, they propose building a road through adjacent parkland, to create a back entrance to the neighborhood. There are even some houses whose driveways connect directly to Connecticut Avenue. MCDOT is suggesting cutting those off as well in the long run and building more roads inside the neighborhood.
Across the region and the world, communities are trying to make large roads more hospitable to their surrounding communities by increasing the connectivity of roads and adding places for pedestrians to cross. Virginia now requires a certain level of connectivity for new subdivisions. At White Flint, plans call for making a more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly boulevard, and even Prince William County is adding a stoplight on VA-234 where a pedestrian (ironically the contractor about to install the light) was killed.
In Montgomery County's DOT and the office of the County Executive, however, no transportation idea less than 50 years old seems welcome. DOT officials constantly talk about "level of service," a measure based on the premise that moving motor vehicles is the only purpose of roads, and use that obsolete concept to grade intersections "F" or "failing." County Executive Ike Leggett keeps trying to kill the White Flint boulevard because it will slightly slow travel times through the area but create a better immediate area.
And in Chevy Chase Valley, they have convinced neighbors that since they need to move Connecticut Avenue cars at high speed, that poses a danger to that neighborhood, and therefore the neighborhood should be partly or fully cut off from Connecticut Avenue.
The better way to avoid the impact of higher speed traffic on Connecticut Avenue is not to make higher speed traffic the objective. Improve access to Medical Center Metro. Build the Purple Line. Build some of Marc Elrich's BRT proposals, too. Put in bus lanes so that transit vehicles can navigate the county more efficiently and become a more appealing alternative.
There will eventually be a Purple Line station nearby, which will create demand for walking along Connecticut Avenue to and from surrounding neighborhoods and businesses. This part of Connecticut Avenue already has far too few places for pedestrians to safely cross. The intersections MCDOT wants to close have no marked crosswalks today (though by law, they areas where crosswalks would be painted are considered crosswalks, like all intersections). The avenue needs to become safer and more friendly to pedestrians, not even more hostile to walking than it already is.
Montgomery County has a lot of choices for addressing BRAC and general growth downcounty. It's too bad Leggett and the officials at the county DOT only have one solution in mind.
On the calendar: Happy hour tonight on H Street, plus Alexandria tour, open data, BRAC, Connecticut Ave
Tonight is the latest in our series of Greater Greater Washington happy hours. Join us at Biergarten Haus, 1355 H Street NE, starting at 6:30.
There are happy hour drink specials until 7:00, but we'll of course stay longer than that. You can get there by X1, X2, X3, X8, or B2 buses, bicycle, car, or if you have a time machine, go into the future, ride the streetcar, then come back to tonight for the party.
Alexandria Old and New: The next terrific CSG walking tour is Alexandria, this Saturday from 11-12:30. Starting at King Street Metro, the tour will cover part of Alexandria's historic gridded Old Town, then go through Carlyle and other newer developments ending at Eisenhower Avenue Metro. RSVP is required.
What do you want from open data? On Monday, July 19, I'm leading a RAC committee meeting with the WMATA staff in charge of Transparent Metro Data Sets. This is a great chance to find out more about plans to open up data and to give feedback for data sets to open, legal terms and conditions, and more. It's in the ground floor committee room of WMATA HQ, 600 5th Street NW, left and then right past security.
Two diametrically opposite pedestrian projects: There are public meetings on adjacent days for two studies that involve pedestrians along major boulevards from DC to western Montgomery County. But they couldn't be more different.
On Tuesday, Montgomery County DOT is having their latest meeting on the Medical Center "pedestrian crossing" project that morphed from transit access and an opportunity for a new Metro entrance into interchanges to speed traffic. The meeting is at Bethesda/Chevy Chase High School, Tuesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm.
Then on Wednesday, Connecticut Avenue Pedestrian Action will present the prelimiary results of their study, which actually aims to help pedestrians along the busy street from Woodley Park to Chevy Chase. There's an open house at 6:30 and a formal presentation at 7, at UDC Building 44 (on Van Ness Street) in room A03.
The Golden Triangle BID hired the consultants HNTB to conduct a streetscape study for Connecticut Avenue between Farragut and Dupont. That stretch has some of DC's fanciest stores and extremely heavy foot traffic, and should therefore be a prime shopping and restaurant district. But the street itself leaves much to be desired, with relatively few trees and some very wide, not so pedestrian-friendly spaces.
The most noticeable change recommended is to install a tree-lined median in the center. The avenue currently has three lanes in each direction and a center lane; it would be better both aesthetically and for pedestrian safety to use that center lane for landscaping, trees, and a pedestrian refuge to stop while crossing. The median could also feature some artwork (as in the below picture, but the art would not necessarily involve multicolored cubes).
Concept sketch for Connecticut Avenue. Image courtesy of HNTB.
There is already a median just north of N Street, but as the HNTB report points out, that median is raised above eye level, creating more of a visual wall than a friendly green space, and inducing cars to drive faster rather than watching out for pedestrians. If possible, the report suggests lowering that median at some point in the future.
The study also gives examples of street furniture that could unify the avenue and make it more visually appealing. These include nicer vending carts, "newspaper corrals" to combine the free and pay newspapers that currently occupy clashing and often low-quality boxes on the street, bike racks, benches, grates and manhole covers, and more.
Potential street furniture possibilities. Left: one type of newspaper corral. Center and right: two
potential styles of vending carts. Images courtesy of HNTB.
The biggest question of the night: where will the money come from? This plan isn't going to spring into being overnight. Golden Triangle BID is applying for some grants to build the median, which would be a noticeable first step. Other components, such as more trees, better sidewalk pavers, or the street furniture will come over time, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, perhaps never. But the median alone would be a great improvement.
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