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Posts about Dupont Circle

Bicycling


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.

Politics


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?

Transit


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.

Transit


More households near transit mean more transit riders

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

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

It's not a coincidence. According to WMATA's PlanItMetro blog, "the more people can walk to transit, the more people do walk to 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."

Preservation


Is a big building "incompatible" with a historic area?

Dupont Circle has a mix of large buildings, medium ones, and smaller rowhouses. If a property owner wants to build something as high as zoning allows, which is lower than some buildings but taller than most, is that "incompatible" with the historic character of the neighborhood? That's one debate around a proposed project at 18th and Church streets, NW.


Perspective view of proposed building on Church Street. All images from the project team unless otherwise noted.

This corner was once a grand gothic church which burned down from arson in 1970. The St. Thomas Episcopal parish has been using a secondary building, which had been their parish hall, ever since, but wants to build a new church.

St. Thomas solicited bids from developers who could build the residential building and a new church. The winner, CAS Riegler, then reached out to neighbors to understand people's desires around the project.

Neighbors who share the alley with the church wanted some open space along the alley. The current parish hall comes right out to the alley, and the neighbors wanted it set back from the alley. It also would mean that if the residential building extends upward, it would not block light from the southwest which they get in afternoons and evenings.

The architects, from MTFA (for the church) and Hickok Cole (for CAS Riegler) accommodated this. They also reversed a parking ramp so that drivers going in and out of the parking garage would not travel all the way down the alley, and they set back upper floors from the adjacent townhouses.


Perspective view of proposed building on 18th Street.

The church and developer did not, however, accede to requests from some neighbors to significantly shrink down the project to more like four stories. Neighbors have been organizing to oppose the project.

The Dupont Circle Citizens' Association passed a resolution asking the city to consider buying the property for park, but even if it were for sale (and it is not), the recent Play DC Master Plan delineates an area of high need for parkland, and this area isn't inside it.

What will the preservationists say?

DC's Historic Preservation Review Board will examine this project, since the site is part of the Dupont Circle historic district, and will determine whether the size of the proposed building is "compatible" with the historic district. Is it?

A group of neighbors hired preservation consultant Stephen Hansen to assemble arguments against the proposed project. Among many points, Hansen's report argues that any building of 70 feet, the height that zoning allows, is incompatible with the historic district.

There are a number of even taller and larger buildings in the immediate area, including the Dupont East at 18th and Q, the Copley Plaza apartments at 17th and Church, and the Parisian-style building that used to house the National Trust for Historic Preservation at 18th and Massachusetts.

According to Hansen's report, the "Statement of Significance" for the historic district, formed in 1977, says:

the immediate area around the Circle itself contains some high-rise mid-twentieth century intrusions, the remainder of the Historic District is characterized by a juxtaposition of grand, palatial mansions lining two of the avenues—Massachusetts and New Hampshire—which traverse the historic district—and rowhouse development of excellent architectural quality of the grid streets.
Therefore, Hansen argues, the similarly-sized and larger buildings in the area are "intrusions" and allowing another building beyond row house height will "compromise the historic integrity of the entire historic district."

The arguments around this project are very similar to the ones around the Takoma Metro: This is right near a Metro station, but the proposed height, which is larger than many nearby houses but not as large as every building, is nonetheless incompatible, some say.

The Dupont Circle Conservancy, the local historic preservation group, didn't agree. In its resolution, that organization supported the overall project, though a majority of members felt the church design could be further improved and wanted the building to rise more gradually from the existing rowhouses toward 18th Street, basically setting the top floors back farther on that side.

I don't believe this is incompatible

I live nearly across the street from this project and don't think it would destroy the street or make the historic district lose its character.

The original church was also large and tall, though very different in design. Erecting a prominent building on this corner actually restores, rather than damages, this characteristic of the historic district during its period of significance. The still-standing parish hall building was always subordinate to the church itself, so incorporating it into a larger building is an appropriate and compatible way to adaptively reuse this site.


Sidewalk perspective rendering from Church Street. Image from the project team.


Photograph from the sidewalk in front of my house. Photo by the author.

Like many residents of the area, I appreciate and cherish the park-like space at the corner of 18th and Church. However, I also recognize that this is not a public park, but an empty space where a church building once stood, and that zoning gives the church every right to build a structure on this site.

If the park is to disappear, adding housing is a valuable use of this land for the public good. The District faces a housing shortage which has made living in many neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, out of reach for many people. This building will have to provide a few affordable units under the Inclusionary Zoning law. Further, adding more housing will take one small step toward adding the housing the city needs.

No one building is going to single-handedly address the housing crisis, but since most people do not want to see neighborhoods like Dupont Circle redeveloped wholesale, adding housing at sites like this one is an excellent way to make a start.

I do want to ensure that the buildings' operations do not lead to lines of cars queueing and idling on Church Street, such as for pick-up and drop-off if the church hosts a small school, for funeral processions, and regular deliveries. The applicants have promised to work out further details as the project proceeds through the development process; if they get historic approval, it looks like they will also need some zoning exceptions.

The area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 2B, will discuss the project tonight at its meeting at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. The meeting runs from 7-10 pm and this project will probably come up between 8 and 9. Any residents or other people can (and should) speak up with their views.

Roads


Do red lights encourage reckless choices?

I almost hit a cyclist last week while driving. The cyclist would have been at fault; he ran a red light. But did the red light encourage his bad behavior, and would a stop sign be safer?


Red light photo from Shutterstock.com

I was driving down 18th Street mid-morning, approaching P. The light was green and I was traveling about 25 mph. As I started to enter the intersection, I suddenly saw a cyclist ride into the intersection from the right at a full cycling speed.

I hit my brakes, he hit his and swerved. We both stopped before reaching the point where our paths would have crossed. Fortunately, had either of us not seen the other, we probably would still not have collided, but it was very harrowing.

As my heart rate returned to normal, I thought about why this man would have ridden this way. He surely knew, as he rode at a good clip from Dupont Circle to 18th, that the light was red; it had been for tens of seconds already and the pedestrian countdowns showed it wasn't about to change. What we he thinking?

Some people are just foolish, but perhaps he was not expecting any cars to come down the road. I hadn't been in a long line of cars; the road was pretty empty. While that's no excuse—and even for people who believe in the Idaho Stop, the only safe thing to do at a light is come to a complete stop before proceeding—he might have drawn the wrong conclusion from the street's emptiness.

I've spent a lot of time waiting at that light as a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver. Except when in a car I've gone through it, too, though only after stopping. Since, outside rush hour, there really is not much traffic here, maybe we need to ask a deeper question: should there be a traffic light here?

Why not a stop sign? Or if 18th is so busy at rush hours, how about a flashing 4-way red (which acts as a stop) at other times?

There are many intersections that could have stop signs instead of lights

Several similar intersections come to mind just in Dupont, which I'm very familiar with, and there are surely others in other neighborhoods. The light at 19th and R forces drivers on R to often wait a long time before getting to queue up to cross Connecticut Avenue, while little or no cross traffic passes on 19th. There's a triangle of lights at 18th and New Hampshire where you more often spend time waiting for no apparent reason than actually getting somewhere.

At 18th and N, if you're driving north on 18th, it often turns red just as cars cross Connecticut, forcing an immediate stop; driving south on 18th, almost everybody is turning right on N to cross Connecticut, but the odd person who wants to turn left often has to wait for northbound cars and block everyone else.

People race on P from 16th over to 17th to beat a light they know might change at any moment, making them wait 30 seconds while few cars pass on 17th. The list goes on. At all of these places, pedestrians and cyclists routinely go through red lights because there is so much time when no traffic is going through with the green.

Stop signs manage traffic better on medium-traffic streets

A stop sign may let fewer cars move through an intersection per minute when there is heavy demand, but when it's light, it actually can reduce the amount of delay each driver encounters because they have to just take the time to stop, not wait a somewhat random amount of time for the light to change.

Certainly stop signs are not appropriate on the major multi-lane streets like Connecticut and 16th, but for the many intermediate streets, even ones that are longer-distance through streets, stop signs (or part-time flashing red stop signs) could make the road network work better for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

In our discussion of Portland cyclists stopping at red lights, Paul H wrote,

On the question of stop and proceed at quiet residential street traffic lights, these are exactly the kind of places that should have simpler traffic controls—lights (expensive to operate and maintain as well) should be replaced by four-way stops, four-way stops replaced by mini-traffic circles (familiar in Portland, Arlington and MoCo). Smplifying traffic controls at intersections without heavy traffic encourages all users to pause, evaluate, negotiate with each other, and proceed cautiously. Stress, danger, cost, and travel times are all reduced.

Similarly, as a downtown cyclist and pedestrian, I'm always amazed at the decision to time lights that run 60-90 seconds. In the burbs it can be two minutes or over. Add a bunch of those together and it's maddening, particularly when the streets are empty but also when one local street has clearly been timed to facilitate long-distance travel over local passage—understandable for arterials, not cool for neighborhood streets.

Shorten interval times, I'd be much more likely as a pedestrian and cyclist to participate in the motorist management system (we all know the lights and signs exist primarily to manage cars, if there were only bikes and peds it would look extremely different and in many places wouldn't exist). As a driver, yes I do, I'd be more likely to drive calmly and cautiously—nothing makes you feel the urge to floor it like a yellow light when you know that you'll be waiting forever.

Stop signs can also be good for buses, which tend to spend a lot of time waiting at lights before or after they drop off passengers. With a stop sign, the bus can just continue after the doors close.

The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), the traffic engineers' bible, defines standards for when an intersection can or should have a stop light, stop signs, nothing, or other options. But there is leeway, and many decisions in cities end up being political. Often residents think they want a light, assuming that one is always better, but it's not.

Had there been a stop sign at 18th and P, I would have been stopping that day instead of driving on through. Even if the cyclist hadn't stopped as he legally should have, there would then have been less chance of a crash. I'd much prefer to have that, even when I drive.

Transit


Metro plans a unique canopy for Dupont's north entrance

Metro plans on covering Dupont Circle's large, circular Q Street station entrance with a tweaked version of its iconic canopy.


Rendering of the proposed Q Street escalator canopy. Image from NCPC.

The elliptical shelter will be the first unique design since Metro began regularly adding canopies to protect escalators. While most outdoor Metro escalators go underground in tight rectangular shafts, at Q Street the escalators pass through a huge drum-shaped pit.

Because the pit is such an unusual shape, Metro needs a different canopy design.

The unique design passed reviews by the National Capital Planning Commission and Commission of Fine Arts this spring, with only minor alterations.

If all continues to go as planned, WMATA expects to complete construction in 2018.

History of the canopy program

The engineers of the original Metro system didn't think it would be cost-effective to cover all the system's many escalators. But by 1999 increasing escalator breakdowns and a change to DC's building code required WMATA to build canopies over its entrances.

After a bad reaction to early canopies at Petworth and Glenmont, Metro held a design competition. They ultimately chose a simple glass design by Lourie & Chenoweth Architects because it evokes stations' coffered ceilings and can be easily adapted to multiple sites.

After finalizing the designs, Metro installed the first of its standardized canopies in 2003 at Virginia Square, Brookland, L'Enfant Plaza, and Medical Center.

The standard canopy design

Imagine a doughnut that's standing upright, 600 feet in diameter, buried in the ground. The architects took a rectangular patch of that doughnut's surface as the overall shape for the new canopy.

This meant a double-curved surface could be made out of flat pieces of glass and simple pieces of stainless steel.

If this idea sounds familiar, it was used to build the Sydney Opera House and the glass wall at Arena Stage.

Other glass roofs curved in two directions require expensive triangular construction, fragile cold-bent glass, or glass that pops out slightly. The latter is how architects designed the ceiling at the Kogod Courtyard.


The glass roof of the Smithsonian's Kogod Courtyard. Image by Foster + Partners / Buro Happold.

Because of the doughnut-like "toric" shape, the Metro canopy's glass only needs to be cut into trapezoids, and the steel girders need curves in only one direction. Most of the units repeat, simplifying manufacturing. Depending on how wide or long the escalator shaft is, Metro can stretch the geometry to fit. The architects got a lot of visual play for Metro's dollar.


Schematic drawing of the standard Metro escalator canopy. Image from WMATA.

The Dupont canopy

For the Q Street canopy, Metro brought back Lourie & Chenoweth. Their design relies on a geometric trick that keeps the structure light and window system simple, while allowing for a large enough canopy to cover the escalator pit.

To adapt the system to the circular opening, Lourie & Chenoweth simply cut an elliptical section from the torus, instead of the regular rectangular one. This means the entire rim will require curved cuts. The steel girder will take the form of a bent circle, directly above the lip of the drum.

The design is meant to keep the plantings down below alive, in addition to all the usual requirements of canopies.

Growing up, I thought the Q Street entrance was an incredibly cool way to see the sky. But as an adult, my enthusiasm is tempered by all the umbrellas I've lost to the winds this pit creates. Hopefully, this design will retain some of what makes the entrance unique, while more effectively keeping riders and escalators out of the rain.

What do you think, is it a great twist on an existing idea, or should they have gone for something totally new?

Public Spaces


Dupont will get a new park over Connecticut Avenue

Where Connecticut Avenue dives under Dupont Circle, there is a block-long space between Q Street and the circle which residents have long dreamed of covering over to create a park. Now, that is likely to actually happen.


Image by M.V. Jantzen.

Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2, which includes Dupont) announced at last night's Dupont Circle Citizens' Association meeting that the fiscal year 2015 budget will include $10 million to deck over this area and create a park.

According to Tom Lipinsky, Evans' communications director, Evans asked Chairman Mendelson to add the funding in the final phase of the budget, approved last week. ANC Commissioner Mike Feldstein has been working for some time to build support for the idea, sketch out possible designs, and get rough cost estimates, and he approached Evans about funding the project.

Feldstein said, "The next step is getting advice on what works in parks like that, and getting community input." The park could break ground as early as October if plans can be approved, Lipinsky noted.

Local architect John Jedzinak created a concept sketch for what a park might look like. Feldstein emphasized that this is not an official design, but just something showing various ideas; the real design process (which could use some of these ideas, or others) is yet to come.


Click for larger version.

Besides simply adding park space, which is always valuable, this would better connect the two sides of Connecticut Avenue, and add plenty of room to enjoy food from the eateries nearby. Further, since this would not be National Park Service land, it would be possible to program this space with events much more flexibly than NPS regulations allow for the circle itself.

Behind the buildings on the west side of Dupont Circle is a fairly large surface parking lot, which is a rarity in the neighborhood and not the best use of space when it could have needed housing. However, one argument against developing this space (besides it being up to the property owner) is that the farmers' market uses that parking lot and adjacent 20th Street. This park could possibly become the new site of the farmers' market.

There is a similar block with a sunken road on North Capitol Street between T Street and Rhode Island Avenue. Once this project is complete, it would be a good idea for the council to consider funding a deck park there as well.

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