Posts about Mount Pleasant
Underlying the current discussion of speed cameras is the assumption that speed limits are rationally set, presumably by expert traffic engineers and safety officials. This assumption isn't necessarily valid, and a speed camera set up in conjunction with an irrationally low speed limit will be a problem.
The principal guide for setting a rational speed limit is the 85th-percentile speed of traffic. On "the theory that the large majority of drivers are reasonable and prudent, [and] do not want to be involved in a crash," the speed limit is "generally set at the nearest 5-mph increment at or below the 85th percentile speed." (See the 2006 DDOT Speed Study.)
Are there exceptions to this guideline? Yes, "an agency may choose, on the basis of one or more of these data"
Now, an example, namely Porter Street/Klingle Road between Cleveland Park and Mount Pleasant. This looks like a bit of interstate highway plunked down in the middle of the city, evidence of a long-forgotten plan to make Piney Branch Parkway into an inner-city crosstown highway. It's a four-lane divided roadway, limited access, no residences, no businesses, no crosswalks, no cross traffic, and it's no wonder that drivers speed up at this point, not because they're crazy speedsters, but because the road is clearly built for higher speeds.
The 85th-percentile speed for this road is 41 mph, as indicated by the 2006 Speed Study Map. Hence, the speed limit should be 40 mph, or maybe, if we're being conservative, 35 mph. But in actual fact, the posted limit is 30 mph, which is more than "slightly lower" than the 85th percentile. It comes as no surprise that the speed camera placed at this location has been a bountiful source of speeding tickets.
The MPD belatedly argues that "there is a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic accessing the park" here. But there's no bike lane, no sidewalk on the north side ("Pedestrians Prohibited" is posted), and the sidewalk on the south side is virtually covered by vegetation. These are indications that pedestrian access is, to say the least, discouraged. As for bicyclists, as one of that tribe, I can say that this is one of the most bicycle-hostile locations in the city, and not because of traffic speed, but because of road design.
So, is the 30 mph speed limit appropriate? There's no apparent justification for such a large deviation from the 85th percentile speed. In fact, just to the west of this location there are apartment houses and parked cars and driveways, and traffic speed there might be expected to be a greater concern than down where this "highway" opens up. But that's not where the speed camera is pointed, suggesting that the MPD is not really interested in the safety of residents, but in issuing lots of $125 speeding tickets.
The speed camera wouldn't matter if the speed limit were reasonable. Nobody can complain about a ticket for going much over the 85th percentile speed. The problem is not the speed camera, but the unreasonable speed limit, such that that 85th-percentile driver would, in this case, be exceeding the posted limit by a solid 11 mph.
So one has to wonder about other speed-camera locations in the District. The question is not the speed camera, but the appropriateness of the speed limit where the camera is located. Anyone defending a speed camera at a certain location should begin by confirming that the speed limit at that location is reasonable.
The Republic of the Congo has begun removing its unauthorized paving at the insistence of DDOT and the State Department, and DDOT restored a pedestrian walkway on Irving Street after residents complained. Let's thank our public officials for getting these small but important neighborhood issues fixed.
Over at 16th and Corcoran, the Congo had a deadline of December 17, Saturday, to de-pave the front yard of the Toutorsky Mansion they made their embassy earlier this year. On that day, Dupont Conservancy member Rich Busch took the below right photo of crews removing the concrete.
DDOT sent the Congo and the State Department a letter a month ago, finding that the paving violated DC regulations. That was the basis for the State Department's follow-up letter telling the Congo to take the paving out.
Another successful fix comes from Mount Pleasant, where ANC commissioner Jack McKay alerted us recently to a change that had destroyed the pedestrian walkway along Irving Street. This section, where Irving climbs from Adams Mill Road along the edge of Rock Creek up into the neighborhood, has high-speed traffic and no sidewalk.
...that bit of road is also a vital pedestrian link between a bus stop and the Harvard Towers, a 193-unit DCHA structure housing mostly the aged and the disabled. Being aged and/or disabled, the residents mostly take the bus, and for years walked in the street, into oncoming traffic, to reach this bus stop.Recently, the jersey barrier was moved over, creating a less crash-prone arrangement for the speeding cars but blocking the path for pedestrians.
But in 2006 the Mount Pleasant ANC persuaded DDOT to build a temporary barrier of jersey wall, creating a safe pedestrian passageway to that bus stop. (The ANC also purchased a bench for that bus stop, which DDOT installed so that those folks would no longer have to sit on an uncomfortable guard rail while awaiting the bus.)
Initially there was a series of posts in the street to guide drivers away from that jersey barrier and into the traffic lane. The posts gradually vanished, amputated by careless drivers. That left the jersey wall barrier exposed in the street, with only the post mounting hump remaining to direct cars away from it.
Was this a misguided DDOT crew thinking they were making the road "safer"? We don't know, but after being alerted to the situation, DDOT restored the jersey barriers to their correct spots and added one of the sand-filled crash barrels.
This stretch of road still feels like a highway, and crash barrels are more usually seen on high-speed highways than local streets, but making the roadways in and around Rock Creek Park more hospitable to all modes is a longer-term issue that will involve additional significant changes from both DDOT and the National Park Service. Meanwhile, it's great that residents can at least walk safely to their bus stop.
The success of the Mount Pleasant Temporium and the battles to clamp down on liquor licenses in Mount Pleasant illustrate two opposite approaches to community development and commercial revitalization: one positive and constructive, one negative and limiting.
During the month of March, nearly 6,800 people, mostly from Ward 1, visited the Mount Pleasant Temporium, a "pop-up shop" featuring local artisans and performers and funded with a small grant from the DC Office of Planning. Volunteers organized the shop, planned events and promoted it through marketing. The 24-day pop-up shop rang up a whopping $31,000 in sales.
During the same period, the city's ABC Board, the body that grants and revokes liquor licenses, announced three landmark decisions. They released three restaurants from their "voluntary agreements" with a small group of activists, ending a six-year legal battle.
Mount Pleasant has housed an array of artists, musicians, bands, and arts groups. Why for so long did it seem that revitalization has passed Mount Pleasant Street by? The activism behind the now terminated-VAs represents part of the problem, and the Temporium represents part of the solution.
In both cases, a small group of motivated residents turned their attention to the neighborhood's commercial corridor. And in both cases, the city intervened to help them, but with vastly different results.
During the Temporium's 23-day run, over 50 volunteers donated a total of 850 hours of time to the month-long pop-up shop and program of events. Local businesses offered space, free advertising and supplies worth thousands of dollars. The Temporium's success delivered what the best marketing campaign couldn't buy: living proof that creative daytime retail can be successful in this off-the-beaten-path neighborhood.
The Temporium capitalized on a key quality of urban living and created an outlet for some of the more scrappy and local forms of culture and entertainment that happens in the city. Its organizers understood that people love living in cities not only because of the convenience of living close to downtown or because of bike lanes, green space, and transit, but because of the rich and multilayered social opportunities and cultural venues available close to home.
A 2008 Knight Foundation study found that most of its 46,000 respondents chose the availability of spaces for socialization and entertainment venues as the most significant qualities connecting them to their urban neighborhoods.
The Temporium organizers tapped into people's hopes for Mount Pleasant. It brought not only the kind of business mix they want to see, but the kind of community and local culture they want to foster. They partnered with restaurants to publicize and cross-promote the project and the neighborhood. Local DJs, performers and musicians were included and valued.
This approach to community economic development on Mount Pleasant Street stands in stark contrast to the activism behind the now-terminated VAs. Instead of building on their hopes for the neighborhoods, the small group of activists behind the VAs focused on what they most feared: "becoming another Adams Morgan."
Among their chief targets were business models that blurred the boundaries between restaurant, bar, and nightclub. The liquor license protest process provided a powerful tool, not so much to manage issues like noise and trash, but to preclude this allegedly "community unfriendly" hybrid business model.
The liquor license protest process enabled a few neighbors to impose rules through "voluntary" agreements which made it very difficult for most local establishments to operate legally outside the rubric of a traditional sit-down restaurant.
For example, some of the Mount Pleasant VAs strictly prohibited happy hours, even though few people find them disruptive. All Mount Pleasnt VA's also forbade places from offering live music and dancing. VA activists put these restrictions in place, they said, to protect "quality of life" and to keep Mount Pleasant Street from becoming a nightclub district.
But for many Mount Pleasant residents, neighborhood restaurants were much more than places to purchase meals or grab drinks. They were gathering places and cultural venues. The fact that these places blurred the lines between restaurant, bar, and club was what made them so valuable and what fostered such a strong sense of community in what was once DC's most economically and culturally diverse neighborhoods.
Therefore, a large number of people felt the VA restrictions, especially the ban on live music and dancing, cut them off from a unique aspect of Mount Pleasant community life they once treasured: evenings spent at little restaurants listening to mariachi bands and other local musicians.
Lilo Gonzalez performs at a Don Juan's family night, April 26th, 2011.
It's important to note that the whole effort was as much about creating more venues for music and culture as it was about building capacity among local operators to better manage potential negative impacts. Residents seeking to overturn the live music ban worked with businesses to help them plan proactively to minimize potential negative impacts, especially around noise and crowds. Those licensees who wanted out of their VAs conducted noise assessments and implemented sound management plans. Their staff attended extensive trainings in security and responsible alcohol service.
This is just one reason why there was poetic justice when the VA terminations and the Mount Pleasant Temporium coincided. Both show that there is a willingness to work on a civic agenda that's built on hopes for a neighborhood commercial strip as well as one that values, rather than fears, what "entertainment" and communities more traditionally associated with nightlife can bring to the table. The Temporium organizers tapped into this energy. The activists behind the VAs rejected it.
Moving forward, other agencies should follow the Office of Planning's lead and invest political capital into helping neighborhoods attract the kind of community-friendly investment and foster the civic energy that will make DC neighborhood's both more vibrant and livable. Instead of codifying the fears of self-selected neighborhood gatekeepers into the law, we need city leaders to invest in better ways to manage, plan and police mixed-use neighborhoods so they can be both vibrant and livable.
Have you ever looked at a storefront that's been empty a long time and wondered why it couldn't be filled, at least temporarily, by a small local business?
After all, nobody benefits when a storefront sits empty too long. The property owner isn't making any money, potential businesspeople aren't operating their business, and neighborhood residents have fewer shopping options and have to travel farther for them.
Unfortunately, it's common practice for property owners to charge such high rents that it can take a long time to find a tenant. Months, even years sometimes. This is especially true for new buildings, and for buildings developed by large-scale corporations (which can eat the losses from an empty lease if they need to).
Why not let small businesses use some of these spaces on a short-term basis at reduced rent, while deals with longer-term, higher-paying tenants are being sought?
DC rowhouse print for sale at the Temporium.
The Temporium is a project by the DC Temporary Urbanism Initiative, which seeks to promote economic development, incubate local businesses, and activate underused commercial properties. It's an absolutely fabulous idea that benefits just about everyone, and should be emulated across the city.
The Temporium is at 3068 Mt. Pleasant Street and is open 2-7 pm, Monday through Friday, until March 13.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Ward 1 is DC's densest, and gentrifying row house neighborhoods make up the majority of the ward. Retail, parking, and transit are all key issues in its numerous commercial corridors, and local ANCs play a big role.
ANC 1B will be losing one of the city's best ANC commissioners, Brianne Nadeau, who turned a commission that faced financial irregularities into a solid neighborhood organization. Plus, she pushed hard to extend the 15th Street bike lane northward into her Meridian Hill Park district of 1B05, one of many great examples of how an ANC can be a very positive force in its community instead of either obstructing or doing nothing.
1B02 covers the east side of 14th Street above and below U. Incumbent Peter Raia has worked very hard for the neighborhood, but has been too obstructionist on business growth in the area. While Aaron Spencer seems like a good candidate, we prefer Tucker Gallagher, who lives car-free and talked about promoting a neighborhood that's lively 18 hours a day.
Incumbent Deborah Thomas has strong respect from her constituents in 1B04, centered around 14th and W. She has worked hard to represent the many residents of her district, including families, seniors, and lower income people, who are able to stay in the community despite the economic pressures toward displacement.
She is a single mother, and gives a voice to groups who are underrepresented in traditional community structures. ANC 1B and the residents of the neighborhood benefit from participation. Her opponent, William Girardo, would probably also make a fine commissioner but has few neighborhood accomplishments on his resume.
We support Brittany Kademian in her challenge to Juan Lopez for 1B07 northeast of Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park. Residents and even the manager of a condo building association in the district say they were unfamiliar with Lopez. His partner also filed a challenge to Kademian's nominating petition.
Meanwhile, Kademian herself wants to raise the accessibility of the ANC in the area, tutors local students, bicycles and supports a bike lane on 14th north of U, wants improved lighting to reduce crime, is passionate about the environment, and more. Plus, she has gotten the greatest number of commenters to vouch for her in our discussion threads.
To the east, RT Akinmboni (1B08) has been a positive influence on the ANC; her opponent, Ahnna Smith, is a Teach for America alum new to the neighborhood who we hope to see get more involved in local advocacy.
We support Lauren McKenzie in the open seat in Pleasant Plains' 1B09; the other candidate, Shahrzad Rastegar, does not seem to have any email address listed or any information online.
Bill Brown, the commissioner of 1A06 east of the Columbia Heights Metro, is excellent, serving on the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council and bringing his strong passion for pedestrian issues as well as his expert grasp of other topics to his role on the staff of presumptive Council Chairman Kwame Brown.
We are very excited that contributor Kent Boese is running (unopposed) in northern Park View's 1A08. In the central Park View 1A09, Sam Moore is challenging incumbent LaKeisha Thomas. While Thomas is not ANC 1A's best most thoughtful commissioner, her experience going to school in and living in the neighborhood is valuable, and she wants what's best for the neighborhood.
Moore seems very promising and supports transit and smart growth, but we're a little nervous about the way he said he'd fight a Starbucks on Georgia Avenue when Georgia needs whatever successful coffee shops it can attract and ANC commissioners need to avoid the temptation to micromanage their commercial corridors too much. We hope Moore stays involved as well.
In Park View's southernmost district, 1A10, Howard student Jonathan Madison deserves the seat over longtime incumbent Lenwood "Lenny" Johnson. Madison has shown a tremendous amount of energy in this race by attending block parties and knocking on doors. Johnson, meanwhile, has often been divisive and is seen as something of a loose cannon. He forwards private disputes to the Columbia Heights listserv and long refused to register a firearm.
We've heard good things about both Jose Sueiro and Olivier Kamanda, vying to succeed Bryan Weaver in the central Adams Morgan district 1C03. Kamanda, a former Hillary Clinton speechwriter and journalist, has Weaver and ally Mindy Moretti's support, while some other 1C Comissioners are behind Sueiro. Sueiro has been a good problem solver in his role as head of the Association of Park Road Businesses, but made some troublesome comments about parking at a Columbia Heights performance parking meeting. Therefore, we give the edge to Kamanda.
In Mount Pleasant, a number of commissioners are not running for reelection. Phil Lepanto, an excellent commissioner who is very supportive of non-automobile options, is sadly not running again, but supports Ben West as a write-in in his district, 1D01. China Terrell, a staffer for Tommy Wells, also will be a promising addition to the commission, replacing outgoing Commissioner Dave Bosserman in 1D05.
Laura Phelan is the only name on the ballot in 1D02, a small district at the northeast corner of the neighborhood. Phelan is well-liked and will make a good commissioner to replace Oliver Tunda, who is also not running again. Phelan faces a write-in from Adam Hoey of Mount Pleasant Main Street, but we think Hoey can best serve the neighborhood by continuing in that role.
In 1D06, along the neighborhood's southeastern edge, John Craig is running as a write-in against incumbent Angelia Scott, who rarely attends meetings and is not often reachable. She served briefly as chair but gave up because it was too much of a time commitment. Craig, who wants to reform the ANC's transparency and work better with business, would do better.
Gregg Edwards (1D04) is an extremely smart person who has a number of very clever ideas to address neighborhood problems. However, sometimes he lets the value of his particular idea interfere with the pragmatic need to build consensus and community. He and fellow Commissioner Jack McKay promoted a great "pedestrian encounter zone" plan for Mount Pleasant Street, but which in practice mostly served to threaten progress on other street improvements for which Mount Pleasant Main Street had already secured grant money.
Edwards also stands up strongly for the proper role of the ANC, which by law deserves "great weight" from city agencies. That is usually interpreted to mean that, at the very least, agencies must respond in writing to points made by the ANC, though often they do not. Edwards is right about the proper role, but his zeal to push this process often again interferes with moving issues forward in the neighborhood, and has often led to tension when other groups take the initiative.
Phil Grenier, who has worked with Mount Pleasant Main Street, would be more pragmatic and we support him. It's too bad this race has gotten framed as businesses versus residents and especially lower income residents, since a thriving business corridor in Mount Pleasant would benefit all residents.
Now that we have a Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, we'll be featuring photos entered in the pool on a weekly basis.
Here are some of our favorites from our first week:
If you use Flickr, please join the group and submit photos to the pool. Photos should show off any great feature of a place in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, or show off a not-so-great aspect (such as the Park Road bike lane photo.)
We'll look to pool photos to illustrate posts, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth may use some in flyers, presentations, and other materials.
Tourists often reach the National Zoo by Metro to the Connecticut Avenue entrance. But many local residents walk or bike to the east side gate off Harvard Street from Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, or nearby neighborhoods. Begninning this spring, they have been turned away, as the Zoo closed all east side entrances due to construction.
At the Harvard Street bridge, a sign directs visitors to the Connecticut Avenue entrance. While this detour may inconvenience someone in a car, it forces a nearly 1.5-mile walk for pedestrians. Rather than walking back through Adams Morgan, people began walking down the dirt shoulder of an off-ramp and crossing Beach Drive to enter the Zoo.
Rather than finding a way to accommodate pedestrians, the National Park Service put up a temporary fence to prevent people from walking on the shoulder. This resulted in people simply walking on the actual onramp, resulting in an even more dangerous situation. ABC 7 News reported on this matter earlier in the month.
Eventually the Zoo established a shuttle bus to take visitors from the Harvard Street gate around to Connecticut Avenue. The bus service, however, is infrequent and not a solution for pedestrians. On at least one recent weekend, the Park Serivce stationed police to keep pedestrians off the ramp. This past weekend, a reader reports that a jogger was struck by a car while crossing Beach Drive at this spot.
While the inconvenience is only temporary, it calls into question the Zoo's interest in being a good neighbor to those on the east side of the park. By closing the Harvard Street bridge, the Zoo not only cut off pedestrian access, but also to the jogging and bike trail.
The bike lane on Harvard Street directs cyclists to use the Zoo's bridge to connect to the trail in Rock Creek, but even under normal conditions that bridge is closed whenever the Zoo is closed. As a result, residents on the east side of the park must go all the way through Adams Morgan and cross Rock Creek via Calvert Street. The other option is going north to Klingle Road, and then going across via Porter Street.
Adding a connection somewhere in the middle, that is not dependent on Zoo hours, would solve this problem. Reader John C. suggests a bike and pedestrian bridge connecting Mount Pleasant to Jewett Road, a street that travels the perimeter of the Zoo. Jewett Road currently has no pedestrian access, and is only open during Zoo hours. A bike and jogging path alongside Jewett Road would let pedestrians and cyclists easily travel from Mount Pleasant to the Rock Creek Trail, or to the businesses on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park. This would involve cooperation from the Zoo, but would prove a great benefit to the community.
A possible location for a pedestrian bridge connecting Jewett Road to Mount Pleasant (via Kenyon Street, for example).
The east side gate to the Zoo is only 0.7 miles from the Columbia Heights Metro, and is within walking distance of many growing neighborhoods. The Zoo should take more interest in encouraging people who live nearby to visit by foot.
Presently, the DC Circulator advertises that it goes to the zoo, via its stop in Woodley Park. Interestingly enough, the Circulator's westbound stop at 16th and Columbia is only 0.5 miles from the eastern gate, while the stop at Woodley Park is 0.4 miles from the main gate on Connecticut. There are plenty of options out there to make the Zoo more a part of neighborhoods both to the east and the west.
After hearing about the closure of the Harvard Street bridge, Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) asked Zoo officials about the construction project, and if the end result would be more pedestrian friendly. The Zoo responded noting the addition of the shuttle bus service, as well as the temporary signage at the closed bridge.
Debra Nauta-Rodriguez, the acting executive officer of the Zoo, has promised Graham a further response to these concerns.
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