Greater Greater Washington

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Roads


Muriel Bowser promises to finish the DC streetcar from Georgetown to Ward 7

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser gave the annual State of the District address Tuesday night. Among many other statements, one caught the eye of most reporters, people on Twitter, and others: She has definitively decided to finish the main east-west streetcar line.


Image from Muriel Bowser.

DDOT director Leif Dormsjo made something of a stir when he told the DC Council that all options were on the table for the streetcar including scrapping it entirely. But it's now totally clear that this option, while perhaps truly on the table, is not on said metaphorical table any longer.

Further, the line will stretch to Georgetown in the west and "downtown Ward 7" in the east (and, presumably, to a Metro station). Such a line will be far more useful than just the "starter segment" that has been built. Plans always called for this to be just one piece of a line stretching across the District, and now that will be the policy of a third consecutive administration.

Bowser did not, however, commit to building any more streetcar lines. While DDOT's former plan was compelling, the agency has not yet demonstrated it can build a citywide network of streetcars. It may indeed be sensible to try to make one line work very well before moving too quickly to build more.

To make the line work well, it should have dedicated lanes for a considerable portion of its length. There are already plans to rebuild K Street from Mount Vernon Square to Washington Circle with dedicated transit lanes for a streetcar. But if the streetcar sits in traffic around Mount Vernon Square, between that square and Union Station, and along K into Georgetown, it won't be as valuable of a transportation facility as it could be.

Advocates will need to push DDOT to really study dedicated lanes and other methods of ensuring the streetcar is actually a good way to get to and from downtown instead of the novelty some critics fear.

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Public Spaces


Ask GGW: Where do you enjoy the outdoors?

With spring weather almost here, it's time to get out and enjoy the less concrete-filled parts of our region. We asked our contributors to tell us about their favorite outdoor spots and why they love them. We also gave bonus points for places you can get to by transit!


A fall sunset on Greenbelt Lake at Buddy Attick Park. Photo by Matt Johnson.

The answers were as wide-reaching as our contributor base itself, but the District had the highest concentration of locations. We'll start there, then get to Maryland and Virginia.

Payton Chung named some downtown and Georgetown favorites:

The urban blocks of the C&O Canal in Georgetown don't just let you snack on a cupcake next to a waterfall while dreaming of escaping it all and riding a CaBi deep into the woods. You also get a great glimpse at what urban places (and transportation) looked like before the car.

Pershing Park is perhaps the most thoughtfully designed park in downtown DC, and a great quiet escape on a hot summer day.

One of the more fantastical park experiences in the District is to run a kayak aground on Theodore Roosevelt Island or Kingman Island and pretend you're an early explorer who's discovered an uninhabited island.

Dumbarton Oaks Park was Topher Mathews' pick:

Dumbarton is a hidden corner of Rock Creek Park tucked below its more famous and rich Harvard-owned sister in Georgetown. It has woods, glades, and a meandering stream criss-crossed by stone bridges, and it's a beautiful example of landscape architecture by one of the country's preeminent landscape architects, Beatrix Farrand.
Tracey Johnstone enjoys the grounds of the National Cathedral:
It's on a hill, so there's often a refreshing breeze. Some of the lawns are large enough you can play catch without endangering others. Or you can sit in the rose garden on the lower, south side of the grounds. There are secluded benches and some small lawns ringed by azaleas and other foliage. It's a great place to read or to have a picnic.
On top of Rock Creek Park and Beech Drive, both of which are largely closed to motor vehicles on weekends, Eric Fidler noted another road, Ross Drive, which parallels Beach Drive south of Military Road but runs along the ridge. It provides great views of the valley and gets very little car traffic. There are moments on Ross Drive when you can stop and not hear or see any signs of human civilization (aside from the road pavement, of course). It's surreal to think such a place exists in DC."

On warm weekends, you'll probably find Mitch Wander out on the river:

Fletcher's Boathouse at Fletcher's Cove is an absolute outdoors gem. You can rent rowboats and canoes to explore the Potomac River and C&O Canal. The fishing is beyond wonderful. Fletcher's Boathouse staff can sell you everything needed, including fishing gear, the required DC fishing license, and insider tips, to catch a variety of fish. Over the coming weeks, the annual shad migration from the Chesapeake Bay will a fishing experience not to be missed. The D6 bus goes to MacArthur Boulevard and then you can walk down to the Boathouse.
"Frederick Douglass National Historic Site has the greatest panorama of the city," added John Muller.

Another great view can be had from the top of the hill at Fort Reno Park, one of Claire Jaffe's favorite spots growing up. "It might be partly the nostalgia factor, but it is the highest land point in the city and has a nice view of the surrounding area. Especially in the warmer months when it's green and sunny, it's a wonderful place to sit and relax. You can also run up and down the hill... if that is what you're into."

Tina Jones gives a shout-out to the Melvin Hazen Trail:

The trail crosses Melvin Hazen Creek three times en route to the confluence with Rock Creek. At the eastern end there's a big, open green field, a covered picnic pavilion with a fireplace, bathrooms, Pierce Mill and the fish ladder, and access to more trails north and south.

From the west, you can get there from Connecticut Ave at Rodman Street, just north of the Cleveland Park metro, and by the L1, L2, and H2 buses. From the east it's accessible on foot from Mount Pleasant.

David Koch went with a classic, Meridian Hill Park:
It has a great classic design and a location that can't be beat, and it's mostly well-maintained by the National Park Service. It always brings a smile to my face to see the sheer variety of uses that it gets from locals, from picnics to Frisbee to yoga to tightrope walking, not to mention Sunday's drum circle. There's also a multitude of quiet, secluded places you can find to read a book in solitude, even on the most packed weekend afternoons. I'd say it's the closest thing DC has to Central Park, pace the Mall.
Speaking of the Mall, Canaan Merchant gave "America's front yard" his nod, saying how much he enjoys people watching there while he bikes home in the summer.

Personally, I'll add the National Arboretum, a sprawling green space off New York Ave NE accessible by bike from NoMa or Eastern Market Metro stations as well as via the B2 bus. There's also Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on the other side of the Anacostia River from the Arboretum, easily walkable or bikeable from Deanwood Metro, and Hains Point, a great biking spot along the Potomac.

To close off the District review, Neil Flanagan noted the solace to be found at Rock Creek Cemetery, and Dan Malouff called Dupont Circle "perfectly awesome" for its "mix of hard plazas versus landscaping, of city noise versus calm serenity, and of grand landmarks versus intimate hideaways."

Our contributors' Maryland favorites

Greenbelter Matt Johnson makes Buddy Attick Park part of his walk home from the bus when the weather is nice. It "surrounds Greenbelt Lake, and is an integral part of the green belt that surrounds and permeates the planned community. Some of the neighborhoods closest to the park have direct access to the loop trail that encircles the lake. And the town center is just steps away from the east entrance. The easy access and bucolic setting means that almost always, the park is full of families picnicking, teens playing sports, joggers exercising, and couples strolling."

Katie Gerbes loves Lake Artemesia in Berwyn Heights, alongside the Green Line between College Park and Greenbelt. "The lake has lots of gazebos, fishing spots, and a trail going around it. It also connects to the Paint Branch Trail, so a trip to the lake can be part of a larger run or bike ride. It gets a little buggy with gnats in the summertime, but it's a great place for a leisurely walk in the spring and fall."

Jeff Lemieux also takes to the outdoors in that part of Prince George's County:

My favorite natural spaces in the DC area are USDA's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and MNCPPC's Anacostia Tributary trail system. USDA allows bike riding on most roadways through the research farms, which affords a lovely rural experience in the midst of sprawling suburbia. The Anacostia Tributary trails provide scenic recreation and also form the spine of an extensive commuter bike network in northern Prince George's county. Both areas are easily accessible from the Green Line's College Park and Greenbelt stations.
Closing out Maryland, Little Bennett Regional Park in northern Montgomery County is great for rambles in the woods. The downside is that it's only barely transit-accessible, via RideOn route 94—I used a Zipcar to access it.

Virginia destinations

Meadowlark Park, Northern Virginia's only botanical garden, got praise from Jenifer Joy Madden:


Meadowlark Park near Tysons Corner. Photo by Jenifer Joy Madden.
There, paved trails wind through rolling formal gardens and around sparkling ponds. Wilder paths draw you into the woods and great stands of native species. Kids love the Children's Garden, where they are encouraged to smell and touch the fragrant herbs and flowers.

Only a few months ago, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority opened a beautiful paved trail that connects cyclists on the W&OD trail with Meadowlark. Also, Fairfax Connector 432 now gets within striking distance of Meadowlark, but unfortunately it only runs Monday through Friday during rush hours.

Agnès Artemel recommended Great Falls Park and Huntley Meadows Park (both in Fairfax County), along with Daingerfield Island and Marina and Winkler Preserve (in Alexandria) for nature lovers, and added she appreciates the stream and trees along Spout Run Parkway between the George Washington Parkway and Lee Highway in Arlington.

There's also the well-known Mount Vernon Trail, hugging the river through Alexandria and Arlington. And Founders Park on Alexandria's waterfront and Ben Brenman Park at Cameron Station, also in Alexandria, deserve mention as great open spaces.

Adam Froehlig, an avid hiker, goes a little farther afield, pointing out the hiking trails along the north side of the Occoquan and along Bull Run. There's Fountainhead Regional Park towards Manassas, as well as the Appalachian Trail, which isn't all that far from DC and is accessible by commuter rail, as it runs through Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and served by MARC and Amtrak.

And when it comes to wildlife watching, nothing beats the beaver-tended wetlands of Fairfax's Huntley Meadows Park, accessible via Fairfax Connector routes 161 and 162, which connect it to Huntington Metro.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

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Architecture


Imagine a Kennedy Center that's part of downtown

The Kennedy Center is a marble island cut off from downtown by highways. What if instead, it was the heart of a new urban neighborhood linking Georgetown and the National Mall?


Watercolor perspective. All images from Aragon, Hensley, and Sponseller.

In 1997, Andrea Aragon, Jon Hensley, and Robert Sponseller created the above rendering for Capital Visions: Architects Revisit L'Enfant: New Plans for the Millennium, an exhibit at the National Building Museum whose projects considered how different values could reshape the historic Federal City in the 21st century.

Their plan contemplates a Foggy Bottom where urban fabric replaces a mish-mash of midcentury projects like I-66, the Watergate, and the State Department. The stub of I-66 and the Whitehurst Freeway are totally gone. A new Roosevelt Bridge runs directly onto Constitution Avenue, and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway runs underground from the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge to Constitution Avenue.


Public space diagram. The dashed line is an underground parkway. The dots are commemorative sites, like the Arts of War and Peace on the Memorial Bridge.

A restored version of the L'Enfant grid, with some additions, takes the place of what's there now. E Street, which is currently a trench, becomes a boulevard that runs to the Kennedy Center and down to the water. New buildings with new uses break up what are currently blocks and blocks of Federal offices. Beyond new activity on the street, the reclaimed blocks offer acres for new residential and commercial development.


In this vision, buildings define the outflow of Rock Creek. Washington Harbor is on the left.

In addition to the practical street grid, the designers connect three neighborhoods with major corridors, punctuated by landmarks and parks, not unlike Pierre L'Enfant did in 1791.

E Street extends to the Kennedy Center, and Georgetown is just a skip away. The plan also extends Virginia Avenue and K Street across Rock Creek, which itself pools at an artificial basin since the Whitehurst Freeway is gone. The basin joints the burbling creek, the still canal, and the powerful river.


The continuous waterfront extends Georgetown, DC's hottest neighborhood in 1997.

Along the Potomac, a boardwalk runs from Washington Harbor to the realigned Roosevelt Bridge. Buildings run right up to the edge of the waterfront. Kayakers and rowers move downstream from Thompson's Boathouse to a new wharf at the Kennedy Center.


The proposed new Kennedy Center. A glass atrium connects E Street with the river.

The designers make some rather extreme changes to the Kennedy Center itself. The venue's three main halls have to be structurally independent for acoustic reasons, so they strip off Edward Durrell Stone's critically reviled exterior and work their exteriors into the street design. They also demolish and move the Opera House so pedestrians can walk from the White House, along E Street and down steps to the Potomac.


Navy Hill fits neatly into the city. The telescope is not exactly where it's depicted.

The plan also integrates Navy Hill, which the General Services Administration is currently transforming it into State Department buildings. This was the original Naval Observatory and later housed the CIA. The designers could have left it as a semi-rural hill, but instead, the they integrated the historic buildings back into the grid and made one of the remaining telescopes into a local landmark.

It's worth mentioning that a few buildings need demolishing for the plan to work. To reconnect 22nd Street, the designers cut the State Department back to its prewar section, the "War Department Building." They also do away with better-liked 20th century projects, like the Pan American Health Organization and the Watergate complex.


A grid of normal urban blocks replaces highways and mega-developments.

What's great about speculative designs like this is that when politics and economics aren't an issue, designers are free to examine radical ideas that put our collective values up for debate. How that makes us think about pragmatic issues is important.

Should we preserve unloved buildings? How do we balance monuments and background buildings? Does recreation outweigh ecology? The project raises more questions than answers, and that's great.


Nolli map of the entire project.

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Roads


Cities worldwide are building beautiful, landmark pedestrian and bicycle bridges. Could Georgetown be next?

A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge may one day connect Georgetown with Roosevelt Island. Some recent bridges like this in other cities have become iconic landmarks. Could DC do the same and compensate for its freqently lackluster bridge designs? Here are a few of the world's great pedestrian bridges.


London's Millennium Bridge. Photo by Dominik Morbitzer on Flickr.

Such a bridge was part of Georgetown's recent 15-year action plan and made it into DC's MoveDC citywide transportation plan last year.


Where the bridge could go. Image from the Georgetown BID.

Many cities have built new bridges as opportunities to showcase distinctive design while adding vital pedestrian links. The London Borough of Wandsworth is sponsoring a design competition right now for a new footbridge across the Thames.

Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed the glass-floored Sundial Bridge across the Sacramento River in Redding, California.


The Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. Photo by David W Oliver on Flickr.


Photo by dwhartwig on Flickr.

London's Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 to bridge the Thames between the Tate Modern to St. Paul's Cathedral. The bridge is tall enough to allow river navigation, but short enough not to obstruct the historically protected view corridor of the cathedral.


Photo by Duen Ee Chan on Flickr.


Photo by andre.m(eye)r.vitali on Flickr.

The Simone de Beauvoir Footbridge has been undulating across the Seine in Paris since 2006.


Photo by Tim Brown Architecture on Flickr.


Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz on Flickr.

The crescent Gateshead Millennium Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, tilts back to allow ships to pass.


Photo by Ian Britton on Flickr.


Photo by Martin Sotirov on Flickr.

The Henderson Waves bridge soars 120 feet over a valley in the Southern Ridges park of Singapore. The bridge deck provides shade and seating areas to view the park valley.


Photo by edwin.11 on Flickr.


Photo by Steel Wool on Flickr.

Although it spans a relatively short distance, Sarajevo's Festina Lente Bridge features a playful loop that shades a seating area midway across the bridge.


Photo by the author.

Could one of these bridges come to DC?

Such a connection would provide many advantages. Although the island is inside the boundaries of the District of Columbia, visitors can only access it from Virginia. Visiting the island requires a half-mile walk or bike ride from Rosslyn down the Mount Vernon Trail. There's a small parking lot on the Virginia shore, but it fills up quickly on warm weekends, and drivers can only reach it from the northbound GW Parkway.

A bridge from Georgetown would give District residents and visitors easier access to this wooded and marshy parkland, which serves as a stark contrast to the dense urbanization of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom.


The view from Georgetown Waterfront Park. Image by the author.


Georgetown Waterfront Park (left) and Roosevelt Island (right) as viewed from the Key Bridge. Image by the author.

There isn't money for the bridge today. MoveDC lists the bridge as a second-tier priority, meaning it is not within DC's six-year capital plan. DDOT planner Colleen Hawkinson said external factors, such as outside funding or public support, could shift the bridge's priority.

Even if funding arises, multiple federal agencies will have to act. The National Park Service controls the island and would have to agree to any changes. MoveDC classifies the bridge as a bicycle transportation project, but the National Park Service, which controls the island, prohibits cycling there. The National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission on Fine Arts, which are providing advice on the Frederick Douglass Bridge replacement, would play a strong role in reviewing designs.

Any project will require an environmental analysis which could take years (one for a proposed boathouse on Park Service land on the Arlington shore of the Potomac is dragging on into its third year, for example). If the bridge does come to fruition, it will be years away, but it would be a major asset to help people enjoy and appreciate the Potomac River.

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Pedestrians


Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: "DC government is the worst offender" (and Arlington too)

After a warm Sunday, many buildings and property owners were able to clear their sidewalks, as the law requires. But some did not. We asked you to submit your photos of snow clearing scofflaws or, as reader Jasper Nijdam dubbed them, "snoflaws."


Photo by Jasper Nijdam.

He sent along this photo of the sidewalk past the Key Bridge Marriott, at the corner of Lee Highway and Ft. Myer Drive in Rosslyn. He writes,

I'd like to nominate eternal snoflaw The Marriott at Key Bridge. Their own parking lot is so well treated that I doubt snow ever reaches the ground. But they utterly refuse to do anything about their busy sidewalk.
Update: Commenter charlie says that this is National Park Service land, and thus NPS is responsible for clearing it rather than Marriott. However, both agree in the comments that Marriott could do a public service and clear it anyway.

Nijdam continues:

Also nominated, whomever lives on the west side of 35th [in Georgetown] between Prospect and M Street. Note how the east side is nicely cleaned.

Georgetown from the Key Bridge. Photo by Jasper Nijdam.

Bridges remain treacherous

While local governments have avidly plowed streets, sidewalks along bridges have not gotten the same love. These are especially problematic for pedestrians since the bridges often represent the only nearby path across a major barrier like a highway, railroad tracks, or a river.


Left: North Meade Street overpass over Route 50 in Rosslyn. Photo by LMK on Twitter. Right: H Street "Hopscotch Bridge" over railroad tracks in DC. Photo by Emily Larson on Twitter.

Twitter user LMK tweeted a picture of the bridge over Route 50 at the south end of Rosslyn, which connects Ft. Myer Heights, the eponymous military base, and the Marine Corps Memorial to Rosslyn. The already-narrow sidewalk is now a sheet of ice.

Across the Potomac, we have a similar condition on the "Hopscotch Bridge," where H Street crosses behind Union Station. Dave Uejio alerted us to this photo on Twitter by Emily Larson.

"DC government is the worst offender"

Ralph Garboushian writes an email with the apt subject line, "DC government is the worst offender." He calls out DC's Department of General Services, which is responsible for maintenance in and around District property including parks. He says,

DCDGS never clears the sidewalks around the triangle parks between 17th Street, Potomac Avenue and E Street SE and at 15th & Potomac. Both see pretty heavy pedestrian traffic—people walking to the Metro, going to the grocery store, taking their dogs to Congressional Cemetery, etc. A neighbor and I usually tackle the one at 17th.

Photo by Ralph Garboushian.
It infuriates me to see Mayor Bowser patting herself on the back for doing such a great job clearing the snow. On Potomac Avenue SE, the main beneficiaries of her efforts are the suburban motorists who speed up and down the street with no regard for pedestrians or neighborhood residents.

By Sunday morning the street was bare pavement. Meanwhile, the sidewalks along the triangle parks were a disaster, even as most homeowners had already shoveled their sidewalks. It boggles my mind that taxpaying neighborhood residents have to pick up the city's slack to ensure we can travel safely on foot while non-taxpaying suburban motorists get gold-plated treatment.

Many of DC's square and triangle parks (like the triangles along Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House, for instance) are not local, but federal, and it's the National Park Service (NPS) which should (and doesn't) clear their sidewalks. This one, however, is DC land and not federal, though it's next to Congressional Cemetery, which NPS controls.

Garboushian and his neighbors later shoveled this sidewalk themselves, which is a great public service, but they shouldn't have to. The DC government (and Arlington government, and other governments) should take responsibility for clearing sidewalks that don't abut private property. Arguably, they should just handle all sidewalks, but we can at least start with these.

Thanks to everyone who sent in images! We didn't have room for them all, and I preferred ones showing conditions Monday, after everyone had ample time to clear sidewalks on a warm day.

Correction: The original version of this article identified the property on the west side of 35th Street as the Halcyon House. That is actually on the west side of 34th Street. We apologize for the error.

Update: Here's one more, from whiteknuckled, who tweets, "Our neighbor never shovels his side-sidewalk, only the front. But digs out his driveway and piles snow on sidewalk."


Photo by whiteknuckled on Twitter.

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Transit


Ask GGW: Is a Georgetown gondola practical?

The Georgetown Business Improvement District and neighborhood leaders have been floating the idea of a gondola linking Georgetown with Rosslyn. But many transit experts seem skeptical. Who's right?


Image from the Georgetown BID.

Georgetown BID head Joe Sternlieb says it could be an inexpensive way to build a high-capacity transit link. On the other hand, the National Park Service and other agencies would have to approve any wires over the Potomac, and jealously guard this territory against encroaching structures.

This week, we asked the contributors, why does Georgetown seem so enthusiastic but most others aren't? Is there a good transportation reason that these aren't the best choice (and why most US cities don't have them)? Or is it just that people don't believe it could ever get federal approval?

"Two words: 'Wire ban,'" retorted Matt Johnson.

"A zip line would be my preferred alternative," Tracy Loh joked.

Gray Kimbrough said, "I heard that there are wireless gondolas in development which will solve this problem," but Matt Johnson said the technology is "in its infancy." "A wireless hoverboard is much less complicated than a wireless gondola," he claimed. Steven Yates reminded us all, "Sadly, you need extra power to make hoverboards work on water."

Dan Malouff weighed the meta-questions:

Transportation people, at least the ones who aren't hopelessly close-minded, roll their eyes because the Georgetown idea specifically puts the cart before the horse, not because gondolas are inherently useless.

It's sort of like a transit fantasy map. There's been no analysis about what problem it's supposed to be solving, or about whether it's the best way to solve whatever problem that is. It could be, but nobody knows.

So my position on the gondola is "skeptical but open-minded." It could totally work, maybe even very well, but so far I just don't feel strongly enough about it (either pro or con) to become particularly vested in its outcome. I'd like to see some actual analysis on it, and maybe after that I'll feel differently.

Payton Chung laid out the reasons why one might use a gondola:
Any technology will have its proponents, and I'm prone to eye-rolling whenever someone claims that the technology is what will make or break a transit project. (They're wrong: it's the corridor.) As Malouff says, it's putting the cart before the horse.

However, having talked about gondolas with the relatively technology-agnostic Jarrett Walker, there are a few situations where a gondola makes sense:

  • Few stops
  • Challenging topography or limited ROW/footprint
  • Relatively level passenger flows through the day
I can think of worse corridors than Georgetown to Rosslyn. In particular, surface transit will require too large a footprint in a corridor that's heavily restricted by NPS, and the shopper/tourist traffic this would draw isn't sharply peaked.

However, there are better ones, like ski resorts or universities on mountaintops (e.g., OHSU [Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, which has one today] and SFU [Simon Frasier University in Vancouver, which has considered one]).

Gray Kimbrough relayed the history of New York City's Roosevelt Island Tramway:
Much of [Roosevelt Island] was redeveloped in the 1970s, and as an interim solution until the promised subway station opened, they built a tramway with one stop on the island and one in Manhattan. It opened in 1976, and ended up being so popular that when the subway station opened in 1989, they kept the tramway running.

For many people, it's a very convenient way to commute into Manhattan. It's also one of my favorite ways to view the city from a different angle, and I encourage tourists to ride it whenever they go.

Finally, Topher Matthews, who served on the steering committee that wrote the Georgetown 2028 report which recommends a gondola study, explained why the community is excited about the possibility:
I understand the eye rolling that transit people are doing in response to this proposal. It's tiresome, but I understand it.

Here's why this could be a good idea:

  • It's much cheaper than streetcar and Metro
  • It can be built incredibly fast (months not years)
  • It can be an attraction in and of itself
The best argument, though, is this: the plan is not simply to go from Rosslyn to M Street, but rather to continue to end at Georgetown University. Currently the GU GUTS bus carries 700,000 people from Rosslyn to campus every year. That's just a starting point to what the gondola would expect in terms of ridership. I have no doubt the ridership from GU alone would increase substantially with a gondola. And that's before even considering a single tourist, resident or worker wanting to use it to get to M Street faster.

Lots of the eye rolling comes from supposedly more level headed pro-transit people thinking that a cheaper more effective solution can be found with less exotic technology. But with the exception of Metro (which the plan admits will make the gondola no longer necessary), all the ways to improve the Rosslyn to Georgetown/GU connection go over Key Bridge and through Canal Road.

Do you really think transit only lanes on these routes is remotely politically feasible? Arguing this way is no different than Matt Yglesias saying that to improve streetcars we just need to completely smash the car lobby.

[Joe Sternlieb] is obviously a big booster of it, but he makes it clear: all he wants to do now is a feasibility study. If it comes back as unfeasible, then that's it. He'll drop it.

It's easy to laugh it off. But, seriously, if you can't even consider it while simultaneously defending streetcar without dedicated lanes, I'm not sure how you're making a distinction between what's a fanciful waste of money and what's worth defending.

Sounds like doing a study of the gondola concept isn't such a bad idea.

Do you have a question? Each week, we'll post a question to the Greater Greater Washington contributors and post appropriate parts of the discussion. You can suggest questions by emailing ask@ggwash.org. Questions about factual topics are most likely to be chosen. Thanks!

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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Events


Events roundup: Make change

Boats in Georgetown and bikes and sustainability in Alexandria: contribute your input this week to make positive change in your community. Also, learn about the federal transportation budget.


Kayaking in Georgetown. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Transportation budget with APTA: The Obama administration will announce its 2015 budget proposal on Tuesday. Tuesday night, join US DOT Assistant Secretary Sylvia Garcia to talk about it.

Garcia will speak at the American Public Transportation Association on Tuesday, February 3 at APTA's offices, 1666 K Street NW. Arrive at 5 pm for wine, cheese, and mingling. The presentation and discussion begins at 5:30 pm. RSVP requested to cowens@apta.com.

After the jump: Alexandria walking, bicycling and budget plans. Plus, planning for kayaks and paddleboards in Georgetown, and a rescheduled zoning hearing in Prince George's.

Alexandria walking and biking plan: Do you live in Alexandria? Care about getting around on foot or by bike? The city is updating its bike/ped master plan, and advocates report that now is a key time to get involved. Alexandria's Ad Hoc Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan Advisory Committee is meeting is this Wednesday, February 4, from 7 to 8 pm in Room 1101 at 301 King Street.

Georgetown boating plans: How can Georgetown increase access to the waterfront and water sports like kayaking, and improve the CCT's connection to Waterfront Park? The National Park Service is collecting comments on its preliminary alternatives (PDF) on February 4 at 6 pm at the Palisades Public Library. The meeting will include an open house with a short presentation and NPS staff will be available for questions.

Money for a green city: Alexandria is deciding where to invest resources for the 2016 fiscal year. The meeting this Thursday, February 5 will focus on a "Livable, Green and Prospering City". Join the city from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Lee Center at 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria to discuss and comment.

RESCHEDULED: Prince George's zoning code: Prince George's County is the latest local jurisdiction to be rewriting its zoning code with an extensive public process. If you planned to attend last week's north county listening session, it has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 10.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers that should go on our events calendar? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

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Pedestrians


For one weekend, Georgetown got wider sidewalks

Georgetown widened the sidewalks along M Street for a weekend in mid-October. Temporarily borrowing 47 parking spaces from the street created a comfortable walking experience for thousands of people.


Photo by Sam Kittner for the Georgetown BID.

American, Georgetown, and George Washington universities all held their annual parent and family weekends October 17th-19th. Since these events cause foot traffic to spike along M Street, my organization, the Georgetown Business Improvement District (BID), placed barricades that turned street space into pedestrian walkways on M from Wisconsin Avenue to Potomac Street.

The average sidewalk on M Street in Georgetown is only eight feet wide, much narrower than most around the city. Given that we've recorded nearly 4,000 people using the M Street sidewalks during any given hour on busy weekends, that's a problem.


Photo by the author.

In 2013, the Georgetown BID started Georgetown 2028, a community planning process to look at changes the neighborhood will need over the next 15 years if it is to continue to thrive and to enhance what is great about this community. The pedestrian experience is an important theme of the plan.

This isn't the first time Georgetown's sidewalks were temporarily widened: a sidewalk on Wisconsin Avenue added space in both 2013 and 2014 for the Georgetown French Market. That project, though, merely made room for sidewalk vending. October was the first time a sidewalk grew just to add space for pedestrians.

How the sidewalk widening worked

A lot went into making sure both pedestrian and car traffic ran smoothly throughout the weekend. We used steel barricades and some water-filled barriers to block off roadway space.

The change maintained all moving lanes of traffic and the existing bus stop. Where there wasn't an existing curb ramp, we installed temporary aluminum curb ramps to ensure that the space was accessible for people with disabilities or stroller users. We created specialized loading plans for the businesses along M Street that load through their front doors, including four restaurants that need daily food delivery and trash pickup.

We didn't want to encourage drivers to simply circle the neighborhood looking for a free street space. To lessen the impact of removing 47 parking spaces during one of the area's busiest weekends, we arranged discount parking rates at nearby garages and posted signs telling drivers about them. We also made the northbound Circulator free so that people could park in garages on K Street and ride up the sometimes steep hill to the retail stores on M.


Photos by the author.

How well did it work?

After the weekend, we compared how many people walked along M Street to the average over four weekends. The data comes from automated counters which don't cover the expanded pedestrian area. Even still, the total pedestrian traffic rose by 9.8%, yet the overall sidewalk congestion on M Street was lower than usual.

As for parking, the 47 spaces that disappeared for the sidewalk widening were replaced three-fold by available spaces in the garages. The garage at 3307 M Street reported 56% more cars than average entering their lot on Saturday the 18th.

We think those numbers, coupled with the feedback we've received, makes it fair to call the M Street sidewalk widening a success.

"I walked through the sidewalk closure area along M today on the north side," wrote Eileen McCarthy, a DC Pedestrian Advisory Council member. "It certainly does help to relieve sidewalk congestion."

"I believe any effort to make M street more pedestrian friendly will provide for a more enjoyable experience for tourists and shoppers," added Thomas, a Georgetown visitor. "That was certainly my experience this past weekend. I can recall in recent visits to Georgetown that it was a challenge to navigate the sidewalks without being overly crowded by others. I am happy with the expanded sidewalk, and hope this measure becomes a permanent feature."

Finally, Jamie Scott, Georgetown University's assistant director of community engagement, wrote us to say, "the parking deals during Parents Weekend were very popular. ... Our garage attendants had the information, and when the garages filled up on Friday, they directed guests to the garages in Georgetown."


Photo by Sam Kittner for the Georgetown BID.

Let's do it again!

The BID is currently evaluating all facets of the experience, but early feedback from residents and businesses is to do more of these types of widenings on weekends when conditions warrant. We will be meeting with our community partners to get their views and ensure we get these projects right on all the details.

For example, we learned that we need to make it easier for people to load things like small furniture pieces into a car or taxi. A 36-inch high fence makes that very challenging.

We at the Georgetown BID appreciate the District Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s willingness to work with us to try a new way of managing our sidewalks. Support for this type of project is critical if we're going to develop better ways to use our limited public space. It's an experiment we're glad we got to try.

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Events


Events roundup: Bicycle tech, bicycle art, bicycle tours

Get your helmet on; this week is all about the bicycles. Learn about new apps and technology for cycling, bundle up for an urban design bike tour, and warm up at a bike-themed art show. You can also learn about historic preservation in Georgetown and planning for large buildings.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Biking and technology: The second Bike Hack Night is this Thursday, November 6. People will present software and hardware bike projects like a counter from New York City, dockless bikesharing, apps for crowdsourcing, an "invisible" helmet, and more. The event is at 1501 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1100, Arlington, VA from 6 to 8 pm.

After the jump: Georgetown history, a bike tour, bike art, and planning talks.

Change in Georgetown: Moving historic neighbor­hoods into the future can be difficult. Georgetown is trying to do that with its "Georgetown 2028" plan. On Tuesday, November 4 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield will discuss how the area can continue to develop a thriving commercial district and preserve its historic flair.

Urban design bike tour: The Potomac Chapter American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) will lead an urban design and landscape architecture themed bike tour on Saturday, November 8. The tour will stop at notable design landmarks where riders will hear from the designers themselves. It starts at 11 am at Diamond Teague Park near Navy Yard and runs until 2 pm. RSVP here.

Bike art: ArtCrank, an art show that features handmade bike-themed prints made by local DC artists, is Saturday, November 8. It's free to get in but all of the proceeds if you buy a print go to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. The show is 4-10 pm at the 1776 incubator, 1133 15th Street NW in the 12th floor penthouse.

Large buildings, large cities: Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program's weekly lecture series is talking about "planning large buildings in large cities." On Monday, November 10 at 5:30, James Von Klemperer, a Managing Partner at Kohn Pedersen Fox, will discuss the pros and cons of planning large buildings in cities. The talk is at Georgetown's SCS building at 640 Massachusetts Ave, NW. RSVP here.

Parks are smart growth: The smart growth movement has focused a lot on building transit and adding housing near transit, but it's also important to help people live near parks. Peter Harnik will talk about "Parks-Oriented Development" at the American Planning Association on Tuesday, November 11, 5:30 pm a 1030 15th Street, NW, Suite 750W. RSVP here.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

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