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Development


Why Washington's transportation is a problem, in one map

Why does Metro have budget problems? Why is traffic bad? While there are many reasons, this map shows the biggest one: Our region keeps growing mostly on one side, which taxes strained transportation networks and wastes resources.


Image from PlanItMetro based on COG forecasts. Read the analysis.

This map shows projected growth around the region. There's a stark line between all the highest-growth areas, in the west, and lower growth to the east. The folks at PlanItMetro, who made this map, wrote:

Between 2020 and 2040, the region expects to add about 870,000 more jobs (25% increase) and 1 million more people (16% increase). As shown in the map below, much of that growth is planned where transit is already at or exceeding capacity, while many other areas that have high-quality transit continue to be underdeveloped. The result: more congestion.
These stats were part of a big new study, called ConnectGreaterWashington. Last weekend, I wrote about the broad strokes in the Washington Post. The key takeaway: Our region is not growing enough in areas, mostly on the east side of the region, where there's already ample transit (and road) infrastructure, while the growth that is happening is straining the infrastructure we have.

There's a real price tag for this.

Unbalanced growth costs money

In the ConnectGreaterWashington study, WMATA planners modeled several scenarios. With no particular change in our current path, Metro will have crush loaded trains (which are not just uncomfortable but more often delayed) on the Orange/Silver lines west of Rosslyn and the Yellow/Green lines south of L'Enfant. Meanwhile, its operations will cost local governments $350 million a year by 2040 (up from about $245 now) in subsidy.

Just making the areas around stations more walkable and bikeable and changing fares to encourage off-peak travel helped only a tiny bit on its own. Shifting predicted growth between 2020 and 2040 inside individual jurisdictions, from places far from transit to places near, helped more, but the crowding imbalance on Metro (and roads), where trains (and highways) are packed in one direction and nearly empty in the other, didn't change.

Metro could be profitable! Or, at least, closer to it

There was a scenario which fixed myriad problems: Rebalancing growth more evenly across the region from 2020 to 2040. If the region focused enough of its economic development efforts where there is underused transportation capacity, Metro could even run a surplus of $270 million a year. That's a revenue stream WMATA could bond against for fixes like a second Rosslyn station to relieve Blue Line crowding (costs about a billion), walkways between downtown transfer stations (similar), or all eight-car trains (about $1.7 billion).

Those fixes would be even more needed than they are today, as under this scenario, Metro would also need more capacity. And I wouldn't oversell the chance that Metro becomes "profitable"—it probably requires more shifting of growth than most governments, employers, or developers are willing to go for.

Besides, it's not clear that running a surplus is what a transportation system ought to plan around. We build transportation systems to move people, and they cost money. Many European cities happily spend much more on their transit systems, because they find them valuable and are willing to invest in public works projects. It's worthwhile to have transit even if its ridership isn't astronomically high.

The hole will just get deeper

However, we need to recognize that for every year the western edge of the region grows much faster than the east side, we're digging a bigger hole. New COG projections, which come from local governments' own growth plans and aspirations, estimate that Loudoun and Prince William will add 100,000 jobs each by 2045, or 75% more than they have today. Meanwhile, the forecast estimates Prince George's will just gain 19% more jobs and 10% more residents.

For every year that kind of pattern continues, we're making Metro more expensive, fiscally, than it needs to be and making the challenges of crowding on roads and rails worse. This is costing every jurisdiction and taxpayer far more than it should, including those on the west side of the region.

Or, to put it more starkly: Even Virginians and western Montgomery residents pay every day for the lack of growth in Prince George's, and it's in their interests as well as everyone else's to better balance our growth.

Architecture


A future football stadium may have a moat. Is that a symbol of a sustainable future or an exclusionary past?

We don't know where a stadium for Washington's football team will go, but now there's a design. Bjarke Ingels Group, the architects engaged by Dan Snyder to design a stadium, showed a rendering to 60 Minutes, and it includes a moat. We asked our contributors what they think.


Rendering by Bjarke Ingels Group via CBS/60 Minutes.

While there has been no decision about where a stadium would go, and the National Park Service has said that (at least under the current presidential administration) the team can't locate at the RFK Stadium site unless it changes its racist name, the moat is likely designed to relate to the Anacostia River. (Though the future Loudoun Gateway Metro station, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe wants the team to go, also is next to a small river, Broad Run.)

Ingels is clearly thinking about the fundamental problem that a typical pro football stadium occupies acres and acres of space, mostly for parking, which sit empty up to 357 days a year (a team plays eight home games, and sometimes stadiums attract a few very large concerts or other events).

According to the Post's Jonathan O'Connell, Ingels told 60 Minutes, "Is it waste of resources to have giant facilities that are only active 10 times a year. Obviously. Therefore we have worked with our team to imagine a facility that can be active both inside and outside all year and all week—not just on a game day."

He therefore designed a park around the aforementioned moat and envisions the tailgating to happen there, rather than in parking lots. "Tailgating literally becomes a picnic in a park. It can actually make the stadium a more lively destination throughout the year without ruining the turf for the football game."

However, this still leaves open the question of where people who drive would park. Would this stadium sit among mixed-use buildings with garages that serve the occasional football game? The rendering doesn't show the larger context.

Ned Russell wrote:

I like the design. I tend to like BIG's work and I really like designs that break out of DC's somewhat sterile and overused mold. But I really want to know about how they're going to do development around the stadium.
Canaan Merchant agreed:
It's not the stadium design itself I'm worried about. It's the twin issues of what is the best use of the land where it's probably going to be built and whether or not the city (or locality where it ends up) should be expected to pay for significant part of it. Architecture is nice, but we are too early for that discussion yet.
As for the design itself, which looks a lot like my Crate and Barrel fruit bowl, Tracey Johnstone worried that it appears to be much shallower than RFK.
Why do stadium architects think EVERYONE at an event wants to sit out in full sun for hours? NO cover at all. The shallow bowl is great for people with close seats and completely sucks for those who do not.

RFK was a great venue because of the upper deck overlapped part of the lower deck and there was a VERY narrow luxury level. This stadium has the upper deck up much higher and farther back than was the case at RFK. Might as well stay home and watch the game on television. And, at least there was some cover at RFK in both levels.

Many people will (perhaps rightly) remain suspicious of anything that comes from the team, given Dan Snyder's long record of anti-fan behavior and clear incentive to squeeze a sweetheart deal out of local leaders eager to give one. To Nick Keenan, the moat is a perfect symbol of Snyder's past deeds:
When I see the moat of think of Snyder's long-running effort to put up obstacles to pedestrians walking to Fedex Field so that people are forced to pay for parking.
But Steve Seelig sounded an optimistic note:
Truly a beautiful stadium design, and one that seems to evoke some of what made RFK a great venue. Going to FedEx is akin to what it must have been like at the Altamont Rolling Stones concert. I am hopeful there is a way to preserve the tailgating has become such a large part of football, but without acres and acres of surface parking.

Newer stadiums like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara have severely curtailed places where tailgating is permitted, but still have a huge parking footprint. Let's see if Snyder's desire to have a stadium in DC that will serve as a de facto national monument can outweigh his historical desire to make everyone pay to park.

What do you think of the design?

Architecture


An NFL stadium in DC could be suitably urban, but it probably wouldn't be

Rumors are swirling once more that the Washington NFL team could be moving from its stadium in Landover, possibly to the District. A new stadium in DC is almost certainly a bad idea, though it's possible—just very unlikely—it could actually have positive effects.


RFK in the 1960s. Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

The most logical place for a stadium is the Anacostia riverfront site where there's an existing, unused, aging stadium already: RFK. But RFK occupies a massive amount of waterfront land that could be far better used for new housing, fields for community sports, monuments, or just about anything else.

It's not that a stadium is so noxious. But around it is 80 acres of parking lots. Not only are they almost always empty, they're damaging ecologically, pouring stormwater runoff directly into the river, absorbing heat, and depriving the District of other ways to use valuable land.

Could a stadium exist without such surface parking lots? In theory, sure. Since games are on weeknights and weekends, one could imagine a new district with office buildings, each with underground garages that serve workers by day and football fans during games.

That, however, would interfere with tailgating, a strong fan tradition outside football games. It also would mean yielding some control over the parking arrangements, something owner Dan Snyder is unlikely to do without strong incentives. He makes big bucks on parking charges at FedEx Field (and tried to charge fans for walking to the stadium instead).

The team recently made news by hiring Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), a highly-respected architecture firm, to design a potential new stadium. The team didn't announce where, but if that's DC, BIG is capable of creating something much more innovative than the typical bowl-in-sea-of-parking.

Citylab's Kriston Capps says that even if Snyder were willing to go with an urban design that doesn't involve massive surface parking, the NFL would not then let a Super Bowl be played there, and a Super Bowl represents massive revenue.

What else a DC stadium should have

If a stadium were to come to the District, a few other elements should be prerequisites for any deal:

Change the football team's name. It's offensive. This has already been discussed extensively and need not be rehashed here. But the team should change it.

No public money. Economist after economist has demonstrated that public subsidies for pro sports stadiums rarely come anywhere close to paying off for cities, and least of all for football, where teams play just eight regular home games a year.

No free tickets for public officials. The mayor and DC Councilmembers get free tickets to Nationals games. This is a big perk for top officials, who can enjoy the games and give out tickets to staff, constituents, and donors. It also means that everyone potentially voting on such a deal has a massive conflict of interest—they can spend taxpayer dollars and get a perfectly-legal kickback.

Some argue that a city-controlled box is a valuable tool for wooing economic development to DC. If that's true and not just a rationalization, perhaps there's a way to set up an independent body that gives out tickets only when there's a strong enough case, and sells or lotteries the tickets to residents the rest of the time. But it shouldn't be yet another perk of incumbency.

This probably won't happen

Unfortunately, there's little reason to believe DC would successfully push for such features or that Snyder would accept. There's too much political pressure on officials just to get the team to DC regardless of the cost, and a traditional parking lot-ringed stadium would serve Snyder's interests fine.

The chance of that got a little stronger thanks to a baffling Washington Post editorial that called a stadium at RFK "the logical and obvious move" because of its transportation access and "waterfront vistas that can't be beat." (Never mind that there are trees in the way of waterfront views from RFK; trees on federal parkland have not stopped Snyder before.)The editorial made no mention of the opportunity cost of foregoing ball fields, bucolic parks, and buildings.

If a football stadium won't be urban in nature, there's no reason to have it in DC. The District has scarce land and huge demand for housing and offices. For something that needs 80 acres of almost-always-empty land around it and gets used eight or so times a year, suburban areas are far more sensible.

Landover is a fine place for a stadium. A site in Loudoun County, near a future Silver Line stop, has been widely discussed as a likely contender, especially since Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has been wooing the team, and its practice facilities and headquarters are already in Ashburn.

DC might have once needed the kind of pride and reputation that comes from having a team inside its borders, but now it has plenty of other reasons for pride (and the team will still be called Washington, anyway). A stadium that truly anchors a new neighborhood could be great, though. It's just extremely unlikely. I'd love to be surprised, though.

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