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

Posts about Dupont Circle

Public Spaces

Better management can transform downtown parks into gems

It takes more than a tuft of grass to make a good urban park. Some of the best downtown parks in America have non-profit management organizations that produce spectacular results. It's time for DC to join them.

Photo by thisistami on Flickr.

DC is unusual in that the vast majority of the city's parkland is under National Park Service (NPS) control. While this arrangement spreads the cost of local parks across all American taxpayers, it also shackles the parks to restrictive and sometimes uncompromising NPS regulations that have hampered events, food sales, bikesharing, and change in general.

NPS regulations are great for preserving Yellowstone, but not so great for making city squares lively.

Other cities have found that municipal control of parks can be just as disappointing. In the case of New York's Bryant Park, for example, it wasn't until the city turned the park's management over to Bryant Park Corporation, a non-profit, that it went from being a dilapidated den of crime and drug needles to a vibrant space where residents feel welcome.

Bryant Park, New York. Photo by brianac37 on Flickr.

Because BPC isn't part of a municipal government, it's been able to bypass onerous procurement rules. Its full time management staff host events like fashion shows and holiday markets year round. It also cleans the park everyday, works with food vendors, and maintains a temporary ice rink, outdoor ping-pong tables, chess sets, and porch chairs.

Bryant Park's full time staff is something a lot of conventional parks just don't have. At a park panel at the 2010 ASLA conference, Jerome Barth of the Bryant Park Corporation noted that its staff can repair benches the day they break and rearrange movable park furniture as crowds change throughout the day. Imagine DC's parks getting that kind of attention to detail!

Bryant Park, New York. Photo by Mat McDermott on Flickr.

The District could do the same with a lot of the downtown parks that NPS currently controls. The result would be parks that were both more attractive and more useful, and land near these public gems would surely go up in value.

There is already some political support for making the shift. While campaigning, Muriel Bowser told the told the Committee of 100 that if elected, she'd improve downtown parks:

I would work with federal officials to transfer jurisdiction of the many park spaces currently managed by the National Park Service so they have better amenities and programming for residents and visitors to enjoy. Freedom Plaza in particular is an area particularly well suited to the creation of a central park, though I would not limit my focus to this one location.
In its recent environmental assessment for renovating downtown's Franklin park, NPS contemplates a new management system where private partners could explore ways to generate revenue and share responsibility for park maintenance. The private partner would be held to NPS standards for maintenance and preservation, and NPS staff would be free to attend to other nearby land like the National Mall and its surrounding memorial parks.

In DC, good candidates include Franklin Park, Mt. Vernon Square, Farragut Square, Dupont Circle, and Freedom Plaza. Georgetown Waterfront Park, Meridian Hill Park, and the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park are other good candidates outside downtown. Whether the District created a single partner for each park, or one to manage them all, would depend on exactly what each park needs.

Funding sources for parks organizations can vary, from government appropriations, to a special assessment or share of recordation taxes on surrounding property, to vendor fees. Whatever the funding source, the rise in land value would help the District's bottom line.

Other cities have successfully managed parks this way. Aside from Bryant Park, New York uses similar non-profit groups for the High Line (Friends of the High Line) and Madison Square Park (Madison Square Park Conservancy). A local BID-type organization, Union Square Partnership, maintains Union Square.

In Philadelphia, the non-profit Historic Philadelphia Inc. operates Franklin Square, which contains a carousel, a miniature golf course for kids, food concessions, a playground, bathrooms, and a holiday light display.

Non-profits provide the bulk of these parks' operating revenue, and they maintain them as high-quality, attractive public spaces that are open and free to the public.

Union Square, New York. Photo by David Robert Bliwas on Flickr.

Washington deserves top-notch urban parks. We already have an abundance of parkland, and if it were free of so many management constraints, our parks could reach their full potential.


Here's what Dupont's abandoned streetcar tunnels look like

The old streetcar tunnels under Dupont Circle have sat vacant and abandoned for years. A group of arts organizations has been trying to reactivate the tunnels, and recently signed a 5-year lease with DC. This video from PBS Digital Studios gives you a sneak peek at the space.

Making the space work will be a difficult task. The tunnels need a lot of work, and underground spaces can pose challenges like water getting in. What do you think of the space, and the possibility of it seeing use again one day?


Communication problems leave residents in the cold amid bus and electricity failures

Every snowfall brings its inconveniences and problems. Most of us depend on critical infrastructure that can't keep running for everyone in bad weather. But communication problems compounded some already-frustrating service disruptions for Metrobus riders and Pepco electric customers yesterday.

Photo by Dustin Renwick on Twitter.

Cold residents can't get the bus in Glover Park

In Glover Park, the neighborhood streets pose a challenge when snow falls, because the streets are hilly and narrow. Side streets often take time to get plowed and become impassable to buses and cars.

The D2 bus, which runs through Glover Park, stopped venturing into the neighborhood during the day. By late afternoon, WMATA officials told Glover Park residents that the bus was running on a snow detour. But the information coming from the agency didn't match what drivers were actually doing.

Instead of taking the planned snow detour, buses were stopping their routes at 35th Street and Whitehaven Parkway.

Ann Chisholm, Government Relations Officer for WMATA, told Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jackie Blumenthal that drivers do not decide where to go; instead, they follow the prescribed route. On Twitter, @MetroBusInfo communicated the same detour. But the bus drivers found ice on 39th Street and told one another to turn back at 35th.

The D2 snow detour map. Image from WMATA.

It is understandable that there are times when bus routes are blocked, but when the actual routes don't match the information available, it leads residents to wait outside in the cold and snow for a bus that will never come.

Last year, after a very minor snowfall, buses stopped running on some major routes including Wisconsin Avenue. Crowds of riders lined up at the corner of Wisconsin and Calvert St. with no hope of getting on a bus. These types of stories are a constant for riders throughout the region.

Cold, power-free residents don't know when they'll have heat again

Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, and U Street usually don't suffer from power outages because their lines are underground, but something happened at 18th and New Hampshire yesterday at 6:45 am, which resulted in smoke coming out of manhole covers and no power all the way to 13th and U or beyond.

These things happen, and Pepco quickly dispatched crews to the scene. However, the utility gave constantly-shifting time estimates for a fix: 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, 5:00, 7:00, 10:00, and finally 11:30. The power came back at 11:15 pm for all but a few blocks.

During the evening, many residents were tweeting with great apprehension about whether they would have enough heat to make it through the bitterly cold winter night.

DC operated a warming center at Raymond Recreation Center, near Petworth Metro. But as several pointed out on Twitter, that's over two miles from much of the affected area. This area has a lot of car-free households, and transit doesn't operate all night.

Pepco's official statement said, "Pepco recommends that customers monitor the estimated time of restoration and make their own decision whether to vacate their home based on their individual needs and circumstances." But monitoring the estimated time wasn't helpful when it had become fairly clear earlier in the day that the estimated time meant little.

Local resident Noah Bopp wrote in an email, "My family has options, but I think about older neighbors who may have depended on Pepco's predictions and then were effectively trapped in freezing weather with no real means to get out. Anyone walking down [our] street last night knows how pitch-black-icy-treacherous it was. Expecting an aging resident to walk through that to hail a cab on Connecticut to go to the warming center is just crazy."

There's still scant information about what exactly happened in that manhole yesterday. But things do happen, and these neighborhoods are lucky not to have had many other power outages. Better estimates and fuller communication could have enabled everyone to make sound judgments and alternate plans. Without it, people are left cold, scared, and confused.


The Lincoln Memorial just became Capital Bikeshare's busiest station

For most its history, Capital Bikeshare's busiest individual station has been at Dupont Circle. Not anymore. As of this summer, the Lincoln Memorial station is the new king.

This animation shows trips coming and going to the Lincoln station.

Video from Mobility Lab.

Capital Bikeshare's most recent usage data is from its third quarter report, and covers the period from July 2014 through September.

During that period, the station at Massachusetts Avenue and Dupont Circle NW (historically the busiest) served 42,237 total trips. That's an average of 459 per day.

But the Lincoln Memorial station served 44,177 total trips over the same period, averaging 480 per day.

Follow the tourists

Dupont Circle is usually the busiest station because it combines a nearly perfect storm of bikeshare ridership ingredients: Lots of nearby bike lanes, a Metro station feeding transfers, high job and population density, and a busy nightlife. It's hopping at nearly all hours.

The Lincoln Memorial has virtually none of those things, but does have its own advantages. It's one of the most popular parts of the National Mall, and is a far walk from convenient transit. For tourists who don't want to drive and aren't part of a group with a tour bus, bikeshare is an obvious way to access the Lincoln.

The animation shows how tourists drive most of the station's usage. Blue lines show trips from regular members, while red lines are trips from short term users more likely to be tourists. Aside from a spike of blue around rush hour, the animation is a flood of red lines.

It probably won't last

Will the new champion hold its spot, or will the Lincoln's dynasty prove fleeting?

Tourists flock to Washington in the summer, but there are far fewer of them in the winter. When data for autumn comes out, it's extremely unlikely the Lincoln will still be the busiest station. Odds are that honor will return to Dupont.

And next summer, bikeshare will face added competition from the new DC Circulator route scheduled to run along the National Mall beginning in 2015.

So this may well be the Lincoln's only moment in the sun. It will be interesting to follow.


In some DC neighborhood commission races, urbanism, walkability, and growth are the issues

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in many DC neighborhoods have a reputation for just being obstacles to any change, but that's not always true. In many parts of the District, ANCs have been a positive force for steps to improve communities. Will this election bring representatives who would continue or arrest those trends?

Each ANC covers one or a few neighborhoods and is divided into Single-Member Districts of about 2,000 residents each. You can find your district at here and a list of candidates here.

All of the regular neighborhood battles crop up in ANCs as well: density, bike lanes, sidewalks, parking. Good ANC commissioners work to shape change for the better instead of block it. They find ways to build consensus for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. They work to make development projects better respond to community needs rather than just oppose them or push to make them smaller. They listen to neighbors, but also recognize that after everyone has a chance to be heard, there comes a time to make a decision and move forward.

Here are a handful of the many ANC races across the city. In these districts, a resident stridently opposed to a change or to a particular project may be challenging a more constructive commissioner, or someone is challenging a more obstructionist incumbent, or two candidates with differing views are vying for an open seat.

3E (Tenleytown)

Many parts of Ward 3, in upper Northwest DC, have warmed up to urban-friendly growth in the past few years and even led with key steps to improve walkability. A lot of that comes from hard work of a few ANC commissioners who face challengers in Tuesday's election.

ANC 3E includes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights. The commission worked out a good deal for a new parking-free building at Brandywine and Wisconsin and endorsed new bicycle boulevards.

Tom Quinn represents 3E04 in Friendship Heights east of Wisconsin Avenue, and received our endorsement two years ago. He has been a champion of smart growth with particularly enthusiastic support for the zoning rewrite. Quinn faces Sandy Shapiro, who has said she would like the physical neighborhood to stay the same and expressed a desire to further delay zoning changes that have been under consideration for six years.

In 3E01 around and west of the Tenleytown Metro, the incumbent is stepping down, and the two candidates present dramatically different views. Anne Wallace has expressed a desire for a mixed-use and multi-modal Tenleytown. In an interview on TenleytownDC, she talked about how much she loves the diversity of the neighborhood and wants to see it thrive.

Her opponent, Kathleen Sweetapple, is running on a platform criticizing the current ANC commissioners and their efforts. She often says she worries about "outside influences," "one-size-fits all approaches" and smart growth strategies that she says do not fit in Tenleytown. Tenleytown needs responsive commissioner, but one who sees neighborhood's issues in connection to the challenges that all of the city faces.

3G (Chevy Chase)

In the leafier parts of Chevy Chase DC, Barnaby Woods, and Hawthorne, ANC3G has been fairly moderate, pushing for positive change instead of outright opposition on a new building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue and strongly supporting pedestrian safety activities.

Carolyn "Callie" Cook, the incumbent in 3G01, dissented from the rest of her ANC to oppose the new residential building at 5333, supporting instead a legal challenge to the by-right building. She testified to keep in place the District's often-abused disability parking placards. Brian Oliver is running against Cook. He is a parent of school-aged children and is interested in school improvements, revitalizing the Connecticut Avenue commercial area, improving parks, the library, and sidewalks.

In 3G06, an open seat, Dan Bradford is a small businessman who has promised a balanced focus on issues like pedestrian safety while seeking to preserve the vitality of the current community. In contrast, Alan Seeber has been a strident opponent of the more progressive elements of the zoning rewrite, and continues to criticize the idea of reduced parking minimums in transit zones. He also promises to fight any increased cross-town bus transit if it runs on roadways through Chevy Chase.

ANCs 3B (left) and 3G (right).

3B (Glover Park)

Farther south in Glover Park, the incumbent in 3B01, Joe Fiorillo brings an honesty and enthusiasm to a diverse district that includes both single-family homes and high-density apartments. Two months ago he voted in favor of a small new development in his district. That move brought him an opponent, Ann Mladinov, who felt that she and her neighbors were not heard in the process.

She's facing no opposition, but it's worth mentioning that GGW contributor and editor Abigail Zenner is on the ballot to represent 3B03. She will surely make as valuable a contribution to the ANC as she has to Greater Greater Washington!

District boundaries for ANC 2B.

2B (Dupont Circle)

Moving eastward, ANC 2B, which spans from the Golden Triangle area to Rock Creek to 14th and U, will be changing substantially between this year and next. Four of the nine members are not running for re-election this year, and two of those districts are contested along with two others where an incumbent faces a challenger.

In 2B02, west of Connecticut Avenue, Daniel Warwick and Jonathan Padget are both vying to succeed Kevin O'Connor, who moved out of the neighborhood. Perhaps reflecting the way this district is rich in transit, bicycling, and walking, both candidates answered a question about parking by discussing ways to reduce parking demand rather than add more parking.

Warwick served as the ANC's Public Policy Fellow recently and also helped start the transportation committee. He has a very deep understanding of many issues, as is clear from his interview on the Short Articles About Long Meetings blog. Padget expressed good ideas as well, but in much less detail, and Warwick's valuable work on the ANC already seems to make him an ideal candidate.

Nicole Mann, who commutes by bicycle every day from north Dupont to H Street, has been an integral part of the ANC's transportation committee, which I also serve on. She is bidding to represent 2B08, as recent ANC chair Will Stephens is stepping down. Meamwhile, Mann's opponent, Robert Sinners, sounded quite pro-car-dependence and anti-new-residents in his SALM interview.

The ANC's chair, Noah Smith, has has done an excellent job as commissioner and chair of the transportation committee. He also drawn a challenger in his district 2B09, Ed Hanlon, who focuses extensively on his complaints about growth and argues for one-side-of-the-street parking which would be very problematic without additional tweaks in Dupont Circle.

In the neighborhood's southeast, commissioner Abigail Nichols in 2B05 has been a regular voice against new housing, nightlife (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not), and other elements of a vibrant, urban neighborhood. Jonathan Jagoda takes a more balanced view of many of these issues.

6B (Capitol Hill)

Last year, we highlighted two key races in southern Capitol Hill's ANC 6B, where residents staunchly opposed to development on the Hine school site were running on an anti-growth platform against Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate in the two districts closest to the site.

Pate and Frishberg are stepping down this year, but the races in those districts still maintain the same tenor. In 6B05 northeast of 8th and Pennsylvania SE, Steve Hagedorn is running for the seat. Hagedorn has been involved with the ANC already as part of its Hill East Task Force, and as a volunteer with Congressional Cemetery.

He faces Carl Reeverts, one of the leaders of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), which has organized opposition to Hine and is part of litigation trying to block or delay the project. Ellen Opper-Weiner is also stridently against the development and many other changes in the neighborhood.

Just to the west, the race in 6B02 pits Diane Hoskins, a wetlands lobbyist and environmentalist (formerly with the District Department of the Environment) against Jerry Stroufe, another EMMCA leader who ran last year against Frishberg.

And many more!

There are hundreds of ANC seats across the city, many contested, many not. Many have a spirited contest which doesn't turn on policy to the extent that some of these do. And there are far more races worth talking about than we have time or space to discuss.

What ANC races in your area are worth watching?


The Circulator could go more places and be more frequent

The DC Circulator could soon go to Howard University, Southwest Waterfront, Congress Heights, and the Cathedral. But to do that, it'll need more buses. More than that, it needs more buses now to actually deliver on the service every 10 minutes that is a key hallmark of the Circulator.

Circulators in central DC. Image from DDOT. Click for full map.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) released an updated plan for the Circulator system. That plan emphasizes that the Circulator is more than just "a nicer and cheaper bus," but it means some specific things which couldn't apply to any bus route, like:

  • It connects key activity centers that have all-day transit demand (as opposed to, say, neighborhoods of mostly commuters);
  • Buses run every 10 minutes, all day (which makes sense only because of the activity centers);
  • The routes are easy to understand
  • (Also, the bus is nicer and cheaper)
But as for "every 10 minutes," the Circulator is not really achieving that now. The wait is more than 15 minutes 20.47% of the time, according to the plan. It doesn't even say how often the wait is more than 10 minutes, because the metrics have been set to consider any wait under 15 minutes "on time." (I've asked DDOT to clarify why that is and will update the post when I hear back.)

On the Dupont Circle-Georgetown-Rosslyn route, "actual headways average over 11 minutes, and up to 13 in the PM peak period." 11 is the average on Union Station-Navy Yard as well. On Potomac Avenue-Skyland, the time between buses is more than 15 minutes one-third of the time.

But enough about the piddling task of actually running the existing buses efficiently—where will they go next?

The Mall: The Circulator will go on the National Mall in 2015, in partnership with the National Park Service (and thanks to some revenue from meters on the Mall). In the first year, DDOT estimates 880,900 people will ride this line.

The Cathedral: Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) put money in the budget to extend the Circulator on Wisconsin Avenue from its terminus at Whitehaven Street to the Cathedral. On a survey, 60% of people said this was an important destination, but DDOT says, "the extension itself performs very poorly, with only 13 boardings per hour, high subsidy per passenger, and low farebox recovery ratio."

In the longer run, DDOT proposes splitting this route into two. One would go from Union Station to Georgetown alone, while another route to the Cathedral would only go as far east as McPherson Square. This would make the routes more reliable since a very long route is hard to keep on time.

U Street and Howard: The Circulator from Rosslyn to Dupont Circle would continue past the circle, up 18th Street to U Street and then in a loop on 8th, Barry, and Florida at Howard. This gives DDOT an opportunity to put a Circulator stop under 300 feet from my house (or more likely about 500), which is of course the main reason this is the best extension. But seriously, the line with the extension would serve an estimated 1,790,000 rides a year, most of which won't be me, including a lot of people who don't ride Circulator today.

Congress Heights: The Potomac Avenue-Skyland route was a political creature, started by politicians who wanted the Circulator to go east of the river for appearances' sake. While more transit is welcome everywhere, and people in wards 7 and 8 absolutely deserve great transit service even at higher cost, improving existing buses (for example, by implementing these recommendations from Ward 7 transit experts) probably would have done more per dollar to help people.

The line is very long (the longest in the system) and has low ridership (but, actually, not as low as the Union Station-Navy Yard route, which goes through a lot of areas that just don't have very high density). It duplicates a lot of WMATA Metrobus service, and most of the riders along the route take transit to commute rather than for all-day car-free activity. (The fact that the waits between buses are long can't help, either.)

The council funded an extension to Congress Heights on the southern end, which DDOT feels will help the route by offering a "much stronger southern anchor" at a current (and growing) activity center.

Southwest Waterfront: The Union Station-Navy Yard line would continue just a little bit farther along M Street to Waterfront Metro and the growing activity center there.

All planned and future Circulator corridors. Image from DDOT.

Longer-term: The plan also lists several corridors for future service some more years out. One would restore a north-south Circulator between the Convention Center and the Waterfront (at least until a streetcar maybe plies that corridor). That route was part of the original Circulator but discontinued in 2011.

Another would connect Dupont Circle to Southwest Waterfront through the National Mall. Both this and the north-south line would give Mall tourists another way to get to interesting places that aren't actually on the Mall and spend some of their dollars at taxpaying DC businesses, as well as more ways to get to and from the Mall.

Finally, DDOT wants to study a line from Columbia Heights to the Brookland Metro (via Washington Hospital Center) and then down to NoMa. The areas in the middle of this corridor, like planned development at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and Armed Forces Retirement Home, aren't yet all-day activity centers, but in the future they well could be.

Besides these, DDOT officials considered a wide variety of other routes like Adams Morgan to H Street, Dupont to Petworth, Fort Totten to Friendship Heights, H Street to Congress Heights, Tenleytown to Columbia Heights, and the Abe's to Ben's route some Foggy Bottom and Dupont leaders suggested.

DDOT didn't advance these because they duplicate existing Metrobus service, the activity centers don't have enough all-day demand, or otherwise don't meet the criteria for Circulator in particular. See page 66 of the plan for a detailed explanation for why DDOT didn't pick your particular Circulator idea.

Making these routes happen will of course require money. Phase 1 (the Mall, the Cathedral, U Street/Howard, Waterfront, Congress Heights, and splitting the east-west line) will require 23 buses and $8.7 million in operating subsidy. This budget season, the DC Council chose tax cuts over investing in transit; upcoming budget seasons will tell us what priority the next mayor and members of the DC Council put on giving residents high-frequency, easy-to-understand bus service to connect key centers across the city.


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 transit—and 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.

Public Spaces

DC's cooperative play programs for toddlers can't keep up with parent demand

There's a huge demand for the cooperative play programs operated by DC's Department of Parks and Recreation. DPR will open 4 additional programs this fall and plans to add more in the future, but officials say there's a limit to how much they can do to accommodate the many parents who want to participate.

Photo of toddlers playing from Shutterstock.

Prompted by the urging of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, this spring DPR added 4 new programs to its popular Cooperative Play Program, for a total of 15 programs at 13 locations. Even so, demand was so high that the new slots were filled 15 minutes after registration opened.

The Co-op programs, which are open to children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, meet 5 mornings a week at District recreation and community centers. A paid facilitator oversees each program, but parents are required to volunteer as "duty parents" once a week and to share responsibilities for providing snacks. Parents pay about $1900 a year, or $200 a month, to participate in the program, which runs from September to May.

Kishan Putta, a member of the Dupont Circle ANC, says that he started pushing for an expansion of the program after hearing repeatedly from parents that they didn't have enough affordable child-care options. He originally asked DPR to open one additional Co-op location and demonstrated that there would be ample demand for it. He says he was pleasantly surprised when DPR decided to expand the program to 3 new locations.

The Co-op program has two components, one serving children from 18 to 29 months, and the other serving older children up to age 5. In addition to the 3 new locations, DPR will also add a program this fall for older children at the Columbia Heights Community Center, which already had a program for younger children.

When Putta saw the overwhelming response to the newly added programs, he decided even more were needed. He argues that DPR has "a lot of unused space" on weekday mornings, and that the costs of opening additional Co-op locations would be minimal.

"I won't rest until they provide several more by 2015-16," he said.

Obstacles to expansion

But Vanessa Gerideau, DPR's Early and Middle Childhood Programs Manager, says that while she understands the need for more programs, it's not that simple.

Each program costs around $45,000 to $50,000 a year. That includes the cost of equipment and the salary of the facilitator, who is a full-time employee with other duties beyond overseeing the Co-op program in the morning.

Gerideau pointed out that some locations can only accommodate 10 children, which means that the revenue from parents is only about $19,000, less than half the cost of the program.

Gerideau also said that not all recreation and community centers have spaces suitable for young children, especially when they're housed in older buildings. For example, parents in the Dupont Circle area had pushed for a Co-op program at Stead Park, on P Street between 16th and 17th Streets.

But Gerideau said that the staircases were too narrow at the Stead building, and that there was no first-floor egress in case of emergency. Especially given that parents in the area wanted a program for younger children, those safety issues were insurmountable, she said.

Low-income parents

Putta also wants changes that would enable more low-income parents to participate in the Co-op program. He called for DPR to waive the fee in cases of financial need, and to move to a lottery registration system rather than one that requires people to race to their computers at 10 am on a weekday morning. That registration system excludes many parents with inflexible jobs and those who lack access to a computer, he said.

Gerideau said that DPR does offer a 50% to 70% discount on the fee when parents can demonstrate financial need. And she said the Department is planning to switch to a lottery system, along the lines of the new school lottery, for both the Co-op program and its summer camp program.

Putta also has called for additional Co-op locations outside of Northwest DC. Currently only one location is outside that quadrant: Turkey Thicket in Northeast, which is one of the newly added sites.

But Gerideau says that most of the demand for the programs is in the neighborhoods that already have them. She cites the example of Deanwood Recreation Center in Northeast, which had a Co-op program for 3 years until it closed in September 2013.

Gerideau says that initially all slots in the Deanwood program were filled, but families peeled off as they got into other Co-op locations off of waiting lists. In the end, only two children were signed up.

She says DPR intends to make use of the Deanwood space, which was designed with young children in mind. But she says a Co-op program isn't the right fit for that location, and that DPR is exploring other possibilities in consultation with the community.

Lack of demand in some areas

Gerideau says the lack of demand for Co-op programs in low-income areas has multiple causes. The fact that the program is only half-day poses a problem for working parents, as does the requirement that a parent or caregiver work one morning a week.

But she says that waiving that requirement is not an option, because the Co-op program would then be classified as day care. That designation would subject the program to regulations that could interfere with its continued operation.

The Co-op is a "recreational program that is outcomes-based," Gerideau said. She added that the purpose of the program is not to provide child care, but to help children grow socially and emotionally and get ready for school.

At the same time, Gerideau says that she understands that DC urgently needs more child-care options for young children—and especially, with the advent of universal public preschool, for children under 3. She says that about 90% of children in the Co-op program are 3 and under, and DPR is focused on expanding its services for that age group. But, she says, providing child care falls outside the Department's mission.

"We want residents of DC to see us as their first option for recreation and leisure activities, and for out-of-school-time programs," she said. "But we have to manage their expectations. We don't want them to think we're the catch-all for whatever the city needs."

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