Greater Greater Washington

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Transit


Virginia commits to fund the Columbia Pike streetcar

The Commonwealth of Virginia will dedicate funding for up to half the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar project.


Photo by Fairfax County on Flickr.

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced $65 million in dedicated streetcar funding today, above and beyond state money Arlington and Fairfax had already hoped to receive.

More state funding means Arlington and Fairfax won't have to rely on the cumbersome federal New Starts funding process. That will speed up construction by a year, and save at least $25 million in costs.

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette has repeatedly said that Arlington would not finance the project using homeowner property taxes. This new money guarantees Arlington can stick to that promise.

Transit


Join us to ride the first Silver Line train

The first Silver Line train taking passengers on the new tracks will leave at noon on Saturday, July 26. Let's ride together!


Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.

We'll be congregating at the new Wiehle-Reston East station leading up to the noon train. Since this spot is not Metro-accessible at that time (but will be after), we've set up this form to organize carpools as well as get a count of how many people to expect.

We'll ride the train from Wiehle to East Falls Church together. Then you can keep going back to your part of the region, or turn around and head back to Wiehle. If you want to see the new Tysons Corner stations, part of the group will be getting off the train at each of those stations, then exploring the station until the next train arrives.

So mark your calendars and RSVP here!

Fairfax County is trying to determine what buses could take you from a Metro station to Wiehle that morning. The Fairfax Connector 505 bus currently runs from West Falls Church to Wiehle, but won't anymore after the Silver Line opens, and Fairfax is switching the bus schedules at the start of the day. According to Nick Perfili of Fairfax County, officials are working on planning how to have some service to Wiehle that morning. We will post the information when it's available.

Then, do a pub crawl!

Also, Payton Chung is organizing a Silver Line-based pub crawl beginning at 4 pm (with a clever Old West theme):

The long awaited RAIL-ROAD linking the NATION'S CAPITAL to the Province of FAIRFAX to its West has at long last been completed!

The "SILVER ROUTE" will see passenger trains leave LARGO through WASHINGTON to RESTON.

To celebrate this Most Momentous Occasion, a PUB CRAWL shall call upon the Most Esteemed Saloons located along the new "SILVER ROUTE."

Gathering within the Prosperous Village of EAST FALLS CHURCH at 4 P.M. at Chasin' Tails, 2200 Westmoreland St., overflowing next door into One More Page Books. Then, in a scant 12 Minutes, avoiding the Dangers of the Road, arriving at 6 P.M. at Clyde's, 8332 Leesburg Pike, near GREENSBORO. After a Short Stroll through the "Walkable, Sustainable, Urban Center" of Fairfax, the Crawl will conclude at 8 P.M. at Wasabi Sushi, at the heart of the dazzling TYSONS CORNER Center.

Come One, Come All!

See you on the 26th!

Transit


Which Metro stations are physically "walkable"?

Anyone who's seen the area around a variety of Metro stations knows that some are very walkable and some are not. Is there a scientific measure of that? Metro planners crunched the numbers to find out.

Metro rider surveys have shown that most people are willing to walk up to about a half mile to get to a Metro station. Research in other cities also has settled on the half-mile zone.

But the land within a half mile of a station is not the same all across the system. You can't walk in any direction; there are things in the way, whether buildings, rivers, or highways. Where there is a good grid of streets near the station, it's possible to reach a lot by walking up to half a mile. Elsewhere, most of that half-mile radius circle actually requires a longer walk.

Landover, for instance, is right next to a highway. There is only one road leading to the station's parking lot, and no connection over the highway to the nearest residential neighborhood. At Takoma, on the other hand, the street grid lets riders reach many commercial streets and neighborhoods with a half-mile walk.

Metro planners calculated the percentage of land within a half mile you can reach by walking a half mile. It's little surprise that the worst stations are mostly in Fairfax and Prince George's, two jurisdictions that did not try to locate their stations in walkable areas or, during Metro's first few decades, work very hard to plan transit-oriented development around them.


Images from WMATA.

Which stations and jurisdictions fare best and worst?

The worst stations in DC appear to be Fort Totten, a station in the middle of a federal park, and Rhode Island Avenue, a station hemmed in by strip mall development and lacking a good street grid on most sides. (The pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the railroad tracks to the Metropolitan Branch Trail may improve that station's score once it opens.)

In Arlington, it's National Airport (no surprise there; you can't walk on most of an airport) and East Falls Church (but the county has a plan for that area). The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, most of DC (especially in the L'Enfant city) and Montgomery County (particularly inside the Beltway) fare well.

Alexandria is very mixed, with two stations hemmed in by the Beltway and in areas with weaker grids. Prince George's stations are generally more unwalkable than walkable, with College Park the biggest exception. In Fairfax, only Huntington gets anywhere close to a good score. It will be interesting to see how the Tysons stations rank once they open, now and in the future.

The planners also found that the walkability rank correlates very strongly with a station's morning peak ridership. This makes sense, because at the vast majority of stations, even when there is parking there is not that much compared to all the capacity of the trains that pass through. The stations which get a lot of use are those with many people living or working nearby.

There's more to walkability

It's important to note that this is one of several measures of walkability. This analysis computes the size of a station's "walk shed," or how far you can physically get by walking. That is a necessary first step to making a place walkable.

While the Metro planners excluded highways, this analysis still treats roads the same, even though some have no sidewalks, or are multi-lane high-speed roads that are intimidating and unsafe to walk on. But since most of the time good street grids go hand in hand with safer streets to walk on, that shouldn't affect the results much.

More significantly, when people talk about walkable neighborhoods, they are generally thinking beyond just the literal ability to walk. Walkability also includes whether there are amenities such as stores, parks, and more that you can reach by walking. The WalkScore tool computes these in its scores for an area.

Some Metro stations are in places which are physically walkable, but where there isn't much to walk to except for the houses immediately nearby. Glenmont or Forest Glen might be good examples. On the other end of the scale, Prince George's Plaza has a terrible walk shed, but there are lots of stores right near the station.

Regardless, this analysis says something important, and something that's most directly under government planners' control. If jurisdictions want their Metro stations to thrive, a critical first step is making sure people can get to them from the immediate area without having to drive and take up a scarce (and expensive) parking spot.

Development


Northern Virginia skyscraper rivalry has a new leader: Fairfax approves 470′ Capital One tower

Last Friday, Fairfax officially approved a new headquarters tower for Capital One in Tysons Corner. At 470 feet tall the new building will be the tallest in the DC region after the Washington Monument.


Proposed Capital One skyscraper. Image from Fairfax.

If that news sounds familiar, it's because in May of 2013 Fairfax approved developers proposed a 435 foot tall building, then the tallest in the region yet. And when Alexandria approved a 396 foot tall tower, that also would've been the tallest. Meanwhile, Arlington's 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore tower recently finished construction, officially taking over the title of region's tallest skyscraper (for now).

There may not be an explicit competition, but the fact is undeniable: Northern Virginia's in a full-on skyscraper rivalry. And Tysons is pulling insurmountably ahead.

At 470 feet tall, this new Tysons building will be the first in the DC region to officially eclipse Richmond's tallest, the 449 foot tall Monroe Building. Baltimore and Virginia Beach each have towers above 500 feet, often considered to be the breaking point for a true skyscraper.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Government


DC's daytime population is over a million

According to a US Census report, the District of Columbia's daytime population, including commuters, swells to over 1,000,000. The difference between DC's day and night populations is second greatest in the US.


Downtown DC.

The report dates from 2010 so the numbers are surely a bit different today. With DC's (then) nighttime residential population of 584,400, its 1,046,036 daytime population represents a 79% increase. Among US counties, only New York County (Manhattan) has a larger percentage increase.

Arlington looks much the same. Its 26% increase in daytime population is 13th largest nationally. That's higher than San Francisco on the list.

At the other end of the spectrum, two DC suburbs top the list of places with decreased daytime population. Dale City and Centreville in Northern Virginia both drop by over 40%, making them America's ultimate bedroom communities.

Montgomery County's Germantown is Maryland's top entrant on that list; it clocks in at #20, with a decrease of 31%.

Part of the explanation for this is simply where boundaries are drawn. For example, even though Houston has a large downtown with many commuters, it doesn't appear on the increased daytime population list because the City of Houston annexed so many of its suburbs that more of its commuters still technically live within the city limits. Likewise, Houston's Harris County is gigantic and more or less envelopes the entire metropolis, so there's little difference at the county level either.

Geographically smaller jurisdictions in large metropolitan areas are disproportionately more likely to show up in this data. So it's not a great comparison of commuting patterns across different metropolitan regions. But it's nonetheless interesting to know.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Ask GGW: Why is there no Silver Line station at Wolf Trap?

Contributor Jason Levinn posed this question:

Has anyone else wondered why WMATA/MWAA/DTP chose not to put in a Wolf Trap stop on the Silver Line? There's such a large gap between Spring Hill and Reston, one would think it might make sense for several reasons.


Photo by A.Currell on Flickr.

Indeed, the distance between the Spring Hill and Wiehle-Reston East stations is about 6 miles. That would make it the longest gap between stations once Phase 1 of the Silver Line opens. And being able to get off the Metro and take a short walk to see an event at Wolf Trap would be much more convenient compared to what exists today. But some of our other contributors had some great explanations as to why there is no station currently planned there:

Michael Perkins: It would be a total waste of money. An inline stop would cost somewhere between $100-200 million, maybe more, and there is essentially no development potential around the site. There's a national park and single-family homes.

No one is going to agree to rezone that area to allow anything like transit-oriented development, and the road access isn't appropriate for a commuter lot. Wolf Trap has several dozen events a year, but it's not enough by itself to drive much transit use.

Matt Johnson: Originally, the Silver Line plans included a provision for a future station at Wolf Trap, but in the deal struck (by Ray LaHood) to make it cost effective, the planned provision was deleted.

Tony Goodman: The agreement between Fairfax County and MWAA includes a "Concurrent Non-Project Activity" (or CPNA) to allow for a future possible station. These CNPAs are items that MWAA is providing that are outside the scope of the FTA project agreement.

Although currently there are no plans to build a Wolf Trap station, the current project includes accommodations necessary to allow the addition of a future passenger station, including a vertical tangency (flat spot).

Transit


The DC region has over 250 miles of planned light rail, streetcar, & BRT

What do you get when you plot onto a single map every known light rail, streetcar, and BRT plan in the DC region? One heck of a huge transit network, is what.


Every planned light rail, streetcar, and BRT line in the DC region. Click the map to open a zoom-able interactive version. Map by the author, using Google basemap.

This map combines the DC streetcar and MoveDC bus lane plan with the Arlington streetcar plan, the Alexandria transitway plan, Montgomery's BRT plan, and Fairfax's transit network plan, plus the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Long Bridge study, the Wilson Bridge transit corridor, and finally the Southern Maryland transit corridor.

Add the route mileage from all of them up and you get 267 miles of proposed awesomeness, not including the Silver Line or other possible Metrorail expansions.

To be sure, it will be decades before all of this is open to passengers, if ever.

The H Street Streetcar will be the first to open this year, god willing, with others like the Purple Line and Columbia Pike Streetcar hopefully coming before the end of the decade. But many of these are barely glimpses in planners' eyes, vague lines on maps, years or decades away from even serious engineering, much less actual operation.

For example, Maryland planners have been talking about light rail extending south into Charles County since at least the late 1990s, but it's no higher than 4th down on the state's priority list for new transit, after the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Baltimore Red Line. Never mind how Montgomery's expansive BRT network fits in.

Meanwhile in Virginia, the Gallows Road route seems to be a brand new idea. There's yet to be even a feasibility study for it.

Even if governments in the DC region spend the next few decades building this network, there are sure to be changes between now and the day it's all in place. Metro's original planners didn't know Tysons would become the behemoth it is, and contemporary planners can't predict the future with 100% accuracy either.

Last year the Coalition for Smarter Growth published a report documenting every known route at that time, and already a lot has changed. More is sure to change over time.

Holes in the network

With a handful of exceptions these plans mostly come from individual jurisdictions. DC plans its streetcars, Montgomery County plans its BRT, and so on.

That kind of bottom-up planning is a great way to make sure land use and transit work together, but the downside is insular plans that leave gaps in the overall network.

Ideally there ought to be at least one connection between Fairfax and Montgomery, and Prince George's ought to be as dense with lines as its neighbors.

But still, 267 miles is an awfully impressive network. Now let's build it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Walk and hack around Washington

Enjoy the warm weather and learn about area history at events this month. Over the next two weeks, hear about how to plan great communities, help make Montgomery even greater, and hack on tools to help people understand DC laws.


Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading three more Saturday walking tours over the next month: Twinbrook, on May 17; Pentagon City, on May 31; and H Street NE, on June 7. Come hear about the past and future of these changing neighborhoods while enjoying some spring sunshine.

After the jump: details about the walking tours, a hackathon, and talks about designing better communities.

On Saturday, June 7, visit the Twinbrook Metro station and see how a community is taking shape on an area that used to be an expanse of parking lots.

On Saturday, May 31, come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.

And finally on Saturday, June 7, explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.

Each of the CSG walking tours runs from 10 am to noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Hack on the DC Code: DC has become a pioneer in making its laws freely available to the public and open in computer-readable formats, thanks to strong support from the DC Council's General Counsel, David Zvenyach. The open data lets anyone write tools to browse and understand the laws of the District.

Coders started building such tools at a "hackathon" a year ago, and this Saturday, they're having another. From 10 am to 5 pm, people will talk about what the "DC Code Browser" can do better and start making it happen. The hackathon is at Mapbox Garage 1714 14th St NW.

Great spaces: What makes a great space? Listen to experts from the Urban Land Institute, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Arlington County Center for Urban Design and Research, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth talk about the benefits of "great spaces" at the 2014 State of Affordable Housing talk. It's Wednesday, May 14 from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th St South) in Arlington. Go here to RSVP.

Urbanism book talk: Urbanism and transit are hot button issues, but should they be? Ben Ross, a Greater Greater Washington contributor and author of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism will discuss why these ideas face opposition from suburban value systems in a book talk at the National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) on Monday, May 12, 12:30-1:30 pm. You can RSVP here.

Healthy community design summit: Live Healthy Fairfax is sponsoring the Healthy Community Design Summit, a forum where residents and professionals alike can discuss how economic, environmental, and public health play a role in good communities. Local businesses and industry professionals will present and then discuss topics like planning, urban design, architecture, and real estate. For more info and to RSVP, go here.

Zoning update open houses: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses conclude this week with two chances to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed changes. Planning staff will be in attendance to discuss the updates. The schedule of remaining open houses is below:

  • May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
  • May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)
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