Posts about Minnesota Ave
Once the initial H Street segment opens (now estimated for early 2014 at the earliest), the next step for DC's streetcar system is to extend the line east across the Anacostia River. DDOT will present the options in a report this month, but major decisions remain, such as whether to end the line at Minnesota Avenue or Benning Road Metro stations (or both).
DDOT staff and AECOM consultants told the approximately 50 attendees at a Nov. 27 public meeting that the government is focused on completing a streetcar line linking Ward 7 to Georgetown via H Street by 2025.
Its moniker, the "One City Line," references Mayor Vincent Gray's campaign slogan, which has become an official slogan of the District government. A study on the Union Station-Georgetown segment of the line will begin next year.
Having held the final public hearings as part of the study's final concept development phase, the study team will release its final report next month, which will be followed by the environmental impact review process.
Among the decisions left to be made is whether the Minnesota Avenue or Benning Road Metro station will be the line's (initial) eastern terminus, or if streetcars will serve both stations. The final report will present options for either terminus, but not both simultaneously. DDOT staff acknowledged that if the community put significant pressure on the DC Council to pursue having the streetcar serve both stations, that would be possible.
The other key unresolved question is whether streetcars will run alongside the curb or in the road's median as they continue east along Benning Road. The main disadvantage of curbside running is that it takes away on-street parking spaces, but median running means either widening the road or taking travel lanes away from motor vehicles.
Options for streetcar track placement at Minnesota Avenue Metro. Yellow indicates proposed streetcar platform locations; turn-around track shown in purple. Image from DDOT/dcstreetcar.com.
At either Metro station, both streetcar tracks will merge into one and extend briefly onto off-street right-of-way to allow streetcars to pause for several minutes and reverse direction. To be determined is whether this terminal track will be in the median of Minnesota Avenue or between the road and the Metro tracks (if Minnesota Avenue is chosen as the terminus), or in the median of East Capitol Street versus into the small parking lot next to the Benning Road Metro entrance escalator.
Keeping the proposed streetcar configuration at Minnesota Avenue would mean taking at least one travel lane from the avenue. That would turn it from a 4-lane road with only a double yellow line in the middle to a 3-lane road, 2 regular lanes plus a center turn lane or a reversible lane like the one on Connecticut Avenue.
The study determined, however, that streetcar operation would not worsen existing traffic congestion at the Minnesota-Benning intersection, which is already over its designed capacity.
At Benning, having the terminus in the small Metro parking lot would allow streetcars going both directions to serve one platform and provide more convenient access to Metro, but would make it more difficult and expensive to extend the line farther east in the future. Having the terminal station and turn-around track in East Capitol Street's median, on the other hand, would make it simple to continue the line east to Capitol Heights Metro.
The study found there to be a "huge" demand for transit in the Benning Road corridor. The X bus line is overcrowded, and there are now more employment opportunities and activity centers in Ward 7, the Minnesota-Benning intersection being one of them. DDOT is also doing a lot of work on pedestrian safety around this intersection and along the block of Minnesota Avenue leading to the Metro station.
During the first round of public hearings, community members told DDOT they wanted to see bus and streetcar service integrated so that they don't duplicate each other. They also wanted more efforts at placemaking along the corridor, such as public art.
It will be possible to build streetcar tracks across the twin-span bridge that carries Benning Road across I-295 and the CSX railroad tracks, but it will require raising the entire road surface to the height of the tracks above the undergirding, or building new undergirding lower than the existing. There is enough room to do this while maintaining required highway and railroad clearances.
New development is coming to Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, near the Minnesota Avenue Metro Station. Yesterday's Post, DCMud, and others wrote about the plans, which will feature more "affordable" and "market rate" apartments and condos.
This is very important because it's a big step in development outside of the west-northwest "Favored Quarter" of our region, in an area that has seen little TOD. The Favored Quarter is the slice of a region with the highest property values. All post-suburban major American cities have them; in Baltimore it's north-northwest, in Pittsburgh it's south, etc. The largest, like New York, have multiple Favored Quarters.
It is no coincidence that when Montgomery County started TOD, it began in Bethesda, which is in the Favored Quarter. It was a good idea to experiment with a new idea in the world of real estate products in a place where the land was already highly valued. Only after TOD had demonstrated its success did the County try it in the revitalization of Silver Spring. At the time, both Silver Spring and Wheaton had been going through decades of decline because they weren't in the Favored Quarter during the suburbanization era. They are, however, "Favored Quarter Adjacent," and therefore less alien. Consequently, it was much easier to improve their reputations so that people could walk there and "feel safe." In many ways, the Fenton St. development was mainly about having an attraction for people to visit and become familiar with walking and enjoying Silver Spring.
The pattern is similar on the other side of the Potomac. Tysons, an economically vibrant edge city, and the wonderfully urban Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, are both in the Favored Quarter. Only after the success in North Arlington did Arlington County begin to think about revitalizing the Favored Quarter Adjacent Columbia Pike corridor. Likewise, in the District, first Georgetown and Dupont Circle revitalized, followed by Adams Morgan due to its proximity to the Favored Quarter. After that came U St. and Logan Circle, and most recently, Columbia Heights.
A common thread in each of these stories of urban revitalization is the appearance of new condos. Why did it start in the Favored Quarter and then radiate out, starting with those places closest to the Favored Quarter? Quite simply, the land was more expensive, so the developer could charge more for their products and make more money. There was less risk for them. As a consequence, this raised the average income in the area, creating more demand for amenities. Businesses then opened up, or existing ones thrived, meeting the new demand. During the housing bubble years of this decade, a developer could make a ton of money buying up old properties and redeveloping them into "luxury" condos for a hefty profit.
I personally don't find this to be a completely bad thing because it satisfied pent-up demand for real estate in a walkable place. However, there is the unintended, less ideal flip side: it homogenized a neighborhood with respect to income. A long term economically sustainable walkable urban place needs residents with a mix of incomes.
How does this all tie back to the new development at the Minnesota Ave. Metro? This project is the beginning of the next step in urban development and planning in our region. Just like the Metro showed that people will take quality mass transit, even if they own their own car; just like Bethesda and North Arlington showed that you can sell new real estate in a walkable place in the age of the subdivision; just like Silver Spring and Columbia Heights and U Street showed that many people would love to pay good money to live in an old urban place that's not in the Favored Quarter (but is Favored Quarter Adjacent)... this new market/affordable rate apartment/condo development at the Minnesota Avenue Metro has the potential to show developers that they can make a profit off urban housing that other than "luxury" condos and outside the Favored Quarter.
I hope the District and the developer make a deal that works out well for both parties. If the developer can turn a profit, many others will follow. That will be good for the District by attracting more residents. Those residents will then support the local businesses. The region will have another tool to create good urbanism in addition to what has already worked so well.
If we're lucky, the process will continue for decades. It took decades of suburbanization to develop the current land value distributions. Maybe in another 60 years, there will be no more Favored Quarter, just Washington and its walkable urban suburbs.
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