Posts about Mount Vernon Square
On Wednesday, a driver on Massachusetts Avenue hit me while making an illegal and dangerous turn onto 9th Street NW. I was bicycling east on Massachusetts Avenue, waiting to cross 9th Street on the south side crosswalk. The driver fled the scene.
I travel this area frequently, and know this is a dangerous intersection because it includes a right red arrow to allow pedestrians to cross 9th Street safely even while other through lanes get a green light. Many drivers nevertheless illegally turn right when the light turns green for people continuing straight.
I have asked the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) on multiple occasions to add enforcement here, but have never witnessed any.
I have seen this behavior numerous times before at this spot, so I am ready for it. However, this time the first car, a black Chevy Suburban waiting to turn right, remained stopped. But the driver second in line could not stand for this, changed lanes to the left, then drove around the Suburban to make the right turn.
I saw this coming from the corner of my field of vision, but it was too late. The driver cut in front of me, clipping my front tire with the rear corner of his car. It was a grazing blow, but enough to knock me off the bike.
The driver left the scene, never bothering to stop. Fortunately, my spill was fairly minor and I was able to continue to Union Station with little injury. However, if I had been a few seconds faster, I would have been more squarely in his path and would likely be in the hospital.
Without enforcement, lawlessness runs rampant
There was no police officer to witness the incident. Police can't be be everywhere and catch everything. However, I've also seen MPD simply ignore dangerous infractions by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians occurring directly in front of them.
Last weekend, while riding in the 15th Street cycletrack, a driver illegally turned left against the protected left turn signal at 15th and U Street NW, right behind my wife and me. By coincidence, a MPD patrol unit was directly behind this illegally turning driver but did nothing.
On the same trip, my wife and I witnessed two illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue right in front of police cars and officers stationed along the street for the marathon. At the time, there were lots of pedestrians and cyclists around but they refused to enforce against illegal driving right in front of them.
This is even more frustrating because this episode occurred during the regional Street Smart campaign, an annual campaign to raise safety awareness and increase enforcement. Mayor Vincent Gray stood with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier to announce DC's part of the program a week ago, alongside advocacy groups such as WABA. The Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track was supposed to be an area targeted for enforcement during this campaign.
Drivers are not the only problem. Cyclists and pedestrians also contribute when they ride down one-way bike lanes in the wrong direction, run out in front of cyclists and drivers without bothering to look, and more.
The roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks all function as a transportation system and users interact with this system according to a set of laws. When these laws go unenforced for long periods of time it creates a broken system of lawlessness.
Mayor Vincent Gray has called for a 25% mode share for walking and cycling by 2032. To reach this goal, sustained and consistent traffic enforcement will become pivotal. The city doesn't need any more public safety campaigns, advertisements, lip service, and promises. We need results.
Martin Austermuhle made a whimsical point on Twitter about this picture, a 1992 historical photograph DCist featured to celebrate the convention center's 10th birthday:
Martin wrote, "D.C., pre-war on cars. The place was motorist heaven."
This makes a real point. We've been hearing a lot about the "war on cars" lately as AAA, the car lobby organization, has been really pushing the theme hard in the press and outlets eager for controversy lap up the destructive rhetoric.
But let's not forget where we were. Not that long ago, much of DC had been shaped by a multi-decade "war on the city." Well-meaning urban renewal efforts tore out large swaths of the urban fabric to build things like the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and big parking lots, like the ones in the picture.
The 1958 zoning code that DC is currently trying to replace was a weapon in that war. Its author, Harold Lewis, wrote that the city's form was unable to adapt to a more car-oriented form and zoning must therefore compel it "for the salvation of the downtown area."
In 1950, the federal government decreed that places like Shaw, Southwest DC, and more were "obsolete" and had to be replaced with more car-oriented development patterns. The "obsolete" zones include the area in this picture; this was the result.
It's also worth remembering this era to understand the time when, as we discussed yesterday, very strong historic preservation protection was not only clearly necessary but absolutely urgent. The preservation plan quotes one resident saying "The next generation of preservation leaders is not there; where are the future activists?" Commenter drumz pointed out that there isn't really "an example in DC today of the same sort of large scale clearing that inspired the first preservation movement."
Nobody is trying to wage a war on cars. AAA is just pushing the idea because after their long and successful war on urban places, the trend is moving in the other direction. And anyone who lives in the Mount Vernon Triangle today instead of that 1992 wasteland is pretty glad it is.
After nearly a decade of publicized struggles at the Historical Society of Washington, a newfound optimism has emerged that this steward of the city's past will not itself fade into history.
The organization shut down this summer, unable to pay its staff or afford its high electric bills and maintenance of its headquarters, the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square.
After a failed attempt to create a City Museum in 2003, the organization struggled to brand itself or gain sufficient support from city politicians. Its voice waned in the active dialogue of a changing city. The close-knit membership of city activists, academics, community historians, and business leaders were left to speculate about the future of the organization.
But a new surge of energy, funding for a strategic plan, and a likely deal with the Washington Convention and Sports Authority have brought new hope.
Two public meetings later this month will guide the organization's future. "We want to hear from the community on how we can best engage them in our mission to continue to protect the history of Washington," said Julie Koczela, Chairman of HSW's Board of Trustees. The Meyer Foundation is bankrolling the creation of a strategic plan that will determine "what the community wants out of the Historical Society of Washington," according to Koczela.
Meanwhile, the Convention and Sports Authority will assume utility expenses and maintenance costs of the building and grounds while occupying the great hall, adjacent map room, basement, and upstairs office space. It will retain the ability to collect revenue from renting out the space, a popular venue for public and private events.
Koczela said an agreement with WCSA will help to stabilize the organization by ameliorating the restrictive operating and maintenance costs of the building, the old Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square. This summer Koczela told the Post's John Kelly, "The electric bills are $15,000 a month."
This operational transfer will allow HSW to focus exclusively on maintaining and making available its collection, growing organizational capacity, and once again becoming active in the community. HSW will maintain its space consisting of the Kiplinger Research Library, storage rooms, and office space of approximately 11,000 total square feet. Among other valuable documents, the library houses District real estate records and resident directories dating back over 125 years.
With the library director recently leaving for a position at a nearby college, HSW is searching for a replacement, but in the meantime plans are to re-open the library with a collection of dedicated volunteers and part-time staff.
With the District's living history evolving every day, its past often framing conversations about what is or is not authentic, those concerned with our city's future would do well to get involved with sustaining one of our city's most valuable institutions.
Last week, the DC Council redistricting committee issued its proposed boundaries, which included a strange and surprising line between Ward 2 and 6 which moves territory based on the personal and political self-interest of one person, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans.
At-large members Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson have let themselves be complicit in this clear conflict of interest by unquestioningly accepting this line, which has been dubbed a "Jackmander." They should look for objective ways to draw the line fairly rather than letting one colleague pick and choose his own boundaries.
Image by Geoff Hatchard.
In the above map, thick yellow lines represent current ward boundaries. Medium burgundy lines represent tract boundaries. Wards are colored red (1), green (2), purple (5), and blue (6). Areas moved are dark blue (from 2 to 6), dark green (from 6 to 2), and dark purple (from 6 to 5).
To address population changes since the 2000 Census, wards 7 and 8 both had to grow and 2 had to shrink. The most logical change to Ward 8 reunited the Fairlawn neighborhood, and the committee chose that. To grow Ward 7, they made the widely-anticipated yet very unpopular choice to move much of Hill East from Ward 6 to 7. Residents of that area fought against the idea hard, and are expected to continue doing so at a hearing tomorrow.
The bigger surprise came in the boundary between Ward 2 and 6. To make Ward 2 smaller, moving Mount Vernon Square and/or Shaw to Ward 6 was the most logical change. But the committee also made substantial other changes, moving big chunks of the Penn Quarter and Judiciary Square areas from Ward 6 to Ward 2 and the southwest federal buildings from 2 to 6.
This is particularly odd since most of the changes directly contradict principles in the committee report. The report rejects the option of moving Carver-Langston from Ward 5 to 7 because it "draws new neighborhoods into redistricting" and is "not as compact" as the other option.
However, the proposed change draws many new neighborhoods into redistricting and is not as compact. Had the committee only moved the tracts east of 7th Street to Ward 6 and left downtown alone, they would have ended up with a more compact map. Likewise, they could have moved the western Shaw tract and just the Penn Quarter area west of 5th Street and again ended up with a more compact map that affected fewer neighborhoods.
Two alternate Ward 2/6 lines. Left: most compact, affecting fewest neighborhoods. Right: Unifies more Census tracts.
The committee report pats itself on the back for several changes that reunite some split Census tracts. Moving the southwest federal buildings to Ward 6 does make sense, since those are in the same Census tracts as the neighboring parts of Southwest Waterfront and are in ANC 6D. Likewise, the plan moves the small piece of Ward 6's "chimney" northeast of New York and New Jersey Avenues to Ward 5. That also reunifies a Census tract and makes geographic sense.
Why do Census tracts matter? For one, the law requires redistricting to try to keep Census tracts together. The current committee seems to have ignored that dictate. Also, a great deal of data is reported on the Census tract level. When government agencies compute statistics for wards, they save time and money if ward boundaries primarily conform to tracts.
Yet the plan leaves 3 blocks from 9th to 11th between P and O in Ward 2 while moving the rest of tract 49.01 to Ward 6. It moves 2 other blocks from 7th to 9th between N and O into Ward 6 despite not moving any more of tract 49.02. And it grabs an arbitrary-seeming half of tract 59, around Judiciary Square, excluding the small triangle between 5th, H, and Massachusetts.
Jack Evans represents Ward 2, and was the only ward-specific member on the 3-person committee. He always has coveted having downtown in his ward, because of the many businesses in the area. Representing the region gives him fundraising power and some authority over more of the city's activity out of proportion to his ward's size.
Evans even admitted much of this at the markup on Thursday. The boundaries move most of ANC 2C and the Mt. Vernon Square Neighborhood Association (MVSNA) to Ward 6, but circumnavigate the Convention Center. Jack Evans said at the markup, "Nobody has done more for the Convention Center than me."
Convention Center Community Association head Martin Moulton posted this picture, advocating for the Convention Center to be kept with the Shaw neighborhood as it moves to Ward 6:
It seems that the other two members of the committee, at-large councilmembers Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson, simply let Evans draw his own lines. Evans even introduced two amendments during the markup the day after the map was released. Brown and Mendelson simply let them through without discussion or debate, even though one of the amendments as Evans explained it on the dais mistakenly moved part of Ward 1 into Ward 6. Mendelson is usually the most attentive to detail, but that day, he seemed to be napping.
On committees I serve on, such as the WMATA Riders' Advisory Council, many members are extremely careful to avoid doing anything that benefits one member in any way. Members have even been reluctant to do things that might benefit this blog, even though I get no remuneration from the blog and its goals are aligned with those of the RAC. There's just a strong aversion to even allowing an appearance of a conflict.
Having a ward member on the redistricting committee is already a dicey proposition. Members justified it because Evans is the longest-serving member of the Council and has participated in two redistrictings. But it should have been obvious to Brown and Mendelson that they must avoid an appearance, let alone the reality, of letting Evans manipulate the decisions for his own gain.
They should have identified some objective criteria for choosing the 2/6 boundary, whether that's keeping Census tracts whole, or neighborhood associations whole, or changing the fewest blocks, or maximizing the happiness of residents using the metrics in our own Redistricting Game analysis (which they used in the report to justify some changes while making other changes directly contrary to the data).
They should have kept Evans out of that part of it, and decided on the Ward 2 boundaries without giving him an extra voice. Instead, they apparently outsourced all decisions about the 2/6 boundary to Evans himself, oblivious or uncaring about the clear conflict of interest.
Cars and streetcars could flow counterclockwise around a Mount Vernon Square enlivened with retail, seating and events in the park and along the Convention Center's façade, under draft recommendations the DC Office of Planning unveiled last night.
Mount Vernon Square resembles Dupont Circle in many ways. It carries just as much car traffic and sits at the crossroads of several major thoroughfares and transit lines. Yet as an urban space, few would rank Mount Vernon Square as successful. The Office of Planning (OP) hopes to change that.
The proposal recommends mid-block crosswalks to connect the square to the Convention Center on the north and to 8th Street on the south. This will help fuse all three sections together. In the square itself, OP recommends reprogramming the walkways and for a more intuitive pedestrian flow through the square and adding two small retail or food pavilions and outdoor seating.
Concept sketch showing streetcar path and retail pavilions.
On the north side, OP wants to rethink the south entrance to the Convention Center. The building is massive and has the potential to host more permanent attractions like a "mini-Smithsonian" or something similar. To enliven the south façade more, planners envision the construction of small cafes or retail spaces at the southwest and southeast corners of the building.
Much as the old Convention Center site now hosts temporary events, 8th Street from the Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art to the square could likewise become programmed into an active public space. The study team said that the owner of the adjacent Techworld Plaza is amenable to accommodating more events.
DDOT will ultimately decide the traffic flow configuration, but the planners recommend a counterclockwise loop, much like the configurations at Stanton Park and Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill. The loop configuration will allow expanding the interior sidewalks of the square and would eliminate the terribly congested two-way stretch of 7th Street on the east side of the square.
The loop configuration will also accommodate extending the H Street streetcar line onto K Street from NoMA to Washington Circle. Streetcar stops along the edge of the inner square will enliven and activate the space throughout the day. If the streetcar uses "grass tracks" around the square as proposed by this video, the streetcar lane would also visually expand the park.
Under the recommended option, 7th Street south of the square would become one-way northbound, to match 9th Street which is one-way southbound. However, one-way streets have drawbacks. They tend to serve more as through highways than serving the local area, and downtown, especially on 7th Street, there is plenty of local activity. One-way streets force drivers to circle more to reach a destination, and reduce connectivity.
This study doesn't look at 7th and 9th farther south, but if such a plan were coupled with widening the sidewalks on crowded 7th Street, adding cycle tracks to 7th and 9th, and perhaps building bus lanes that aren't susceptible to the rampant violation the current ones experience, that could be beneficial; if it simply makes 7th into 3 or 4 lanes in the same direction and it becomes a high-speed northbound artery, it wouldn't be.
The other options the planners examined include making both 7th and 9th two-way, including through the square, while only turning the east-west roads into one-way roads, or making all roads two-way.
Finally, no lively public spaces project can work without permanent management. OP recommends something on the order of a business improvement district (BID) or a smaller management entity to clean and plant the square and adjacent triangle parks. This entity would also facilitate events on the square and manage leasing the Carnegie Library to a potential co-tenant of the Historical Society, which currently occupies the entire building.
To simplify jurisdictional issues, they suggest transferring the park and adjacent small spaces, like the "bow-tie" parks, to the District. Current NPS rules make it more difficult to enliven spaces, like their concession procedures which would greatly slow if not prohibit the proposed food pavilions.
OP will release its full draft recommendations next week, but you can view the 10 priority projects (PDF) now. What would you like to see at Mount Vernon Square?
Ward 2 has no competitive races west of 15th Street, but along 14th and 7th Streets in its eastern half, a number of challengers are trying to dislodge longtime, entrenched neighborhood powers.
ANC 2B09 covers the southwest corner of 14th and U, and Commissioner Ramon Estrada has formed one-third of the triumvirate exerting the most pressure against new restaurants and bars in the neighborhood. We support Sunit Talapatra, who is challenging Estrada.
Estrada opposed any increase in the ARTS Overlay's limitation of 25% restaurants and bars, and has had a hand in many a liquor license protest. He also has gotten himself into hot water on a few occasions with his flair for creatively interpreting the votes of his ANC. When he was chair of ANC 2B in 2008, he sent a few letters to zoning boards that other commissioners felt took a few liberties with the wording of the resolution they had passed.
Talapatra would represent the district in a more inclusive and collaborative way. He's not in favor of unlimited restaurants and bars by any means, emphasizing his desire to maintain peace, order and quiet, but he also recognizes that 14th and U is a growing neighborhood and that successful businesses, as opposed to vacant storefronts, is best for residents. He walks to and from his office at the Georgetown waterfront most days.
To the south, three of the four seats in Shaw's ANC 2C have contests. 2C has been split for many years between two clear factions. One, which dominated the ANC for many years, is led by former ANC chair Leroy Thorpe, who many charge ran the commission in an opaque way that excluded most residents and catered to the interests of very few.
In 2006, Kevin Chapple beat Thorpe in 2C02 on promises of greater transparency and inclusiveness, but he and ally Alex Padro only had half the votes on the ANC, leading to constant deadlocks. Thorpe has tried to reclaim his seat each year, and this is no exception, using alleged dirty tricks during this campaign and in the past.
The 2008 election unseated another Thorpe ally, 2C04's Barbara Curtis, and there was hope for a new day in ANC 2C. Unfortunately, for reasons that remain mysterious, the new Commissioner Theresa Sule allied herself with remaining old guard member Doris Brooks (scroll down), keeping Brooks as chair and again deadlocking the ANC.
Sule promised new leadership, a Web site, and conversations with the neighborhood, but has not followed through. Facing strong criticism from betrayed supporters, Sule has shut herself off from neighborhood events and email lists.
Rachelle Nigro is the best candidate trying to fulfill the promises Sule made two years ago. She is known as something of a stickler for rules, which this ANC sorely needs to move beyond the fast and loose days of Thorpe and Brooks. Derrick Barrett seems to be a Thorpe ally possibly running to try to split the anti-Sule vote, and Cary Shieh has not been present on the campaign trail or in neighborhood discussions.
Meanwhile, Rickey Williams is running to unseat Brooks herself in 2C03, and has been a very involved member of the Mount Vernon Square association. That district, which encompasses blocks north and south of the square including most of the Penn Quarter, has changed substantially in recent years, and it's time for more residents of the Penn Quarter to get involved in selecting the leadership of their neighborhood.
We hope ANC 2C will develop a clear 3-1 or even 4-0 majority in favor of cleaning up its act and embracing participation by the many new residents as well as longtime ones in this changing part of the city.
In between, in the oddly-shaped 2F06 district from the old convention center to Vermont Avenue northeast of Logan Circle, current commissioner Mike Benardo faces a relatively unknown challenger, Kate McMahon. Bernardo has a good record of responsiveness to constituents and is well liked, while McMahon has not submitted statements to area blogs and has little information on her Web site. We hope she will try to get involved in the neighborhood in other ways.
N Street NW, between Connecticut Avenue and North Capitol Street, has horrible pavement. It's rutted, full of potholes, and patched so poorly that it's a stretch in places to call it a paved street. But N Street NW has other holes as well.
Gaps in its urban fabric. Small lots big enough for a rowhouse and nothing more. These lots don't lend to exciting speculation, like the large developments including City Center DC or The Yards, but small infill development projects are having an easier time getting financing in the current sour economy. Progress is happening here, things are moving forward, unlike those large projects.
Here are pictures of a couple of them (the photos are already a few weeks old, so progress has made things look different from what you see here):
Left: 907 N Street, NW before. The lot is full of Ailanthus trees. Image from Google Street View. Right: 907 N Street, NW after.
Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.
Even with the H Street streetcar project on track, it'll be several years before the streetcar can extend westward to K Street.
The K Street Transitway plan would reconstruct K Street to have dedicated transit lanes in the center. The original design didn't include a streetcar, but anticipated adding one to the transit lanes in the future. The Downtown BID and DDOT hired ZGF Architects to plan that streetcar, and to create this video showing the streetcar on K.
Note how at 1:34 it shows the streetcar approaching Farragut Square and dropping the pantograph to enter the wire-free zone, and then from another angle at 2:02. Another car then approaches from the other direction, stops at a station, and raises its pantograph back up.
At the streetcar technology meeting, officials showed this video. When asked whether the streetcar could really drop the pantograph while in motion, the technology experts said that some models do allow that. Of course, it can also just stop to drop the pantograph if that's not possible.
Mount Vernon Square would be another wire-free zone, and the designers envision a dedicated lane on the inside edge of the square. By using "grass tracks," the park could seem to extend out beyond the current edges. You can best see this in the video clip starting at 4:20.
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