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Public Spaces


Work on the Rock Creek Park Trail will fulfill a long-ago promise

Two complementary projects starting in the near future promise to completely change the bike trails in Rock Creek Park. Both will address trail issues first raised over 20 years ago.


Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.

The first project will rebuild Beach Drive and 1.5 miles of the 5.9 mile trail that runs alongside it. It will reconfigure the part of the trail that runs through the tunnel that goes under the National Zoo, build a new bridge over Rock Creek, and reshape the trail's intersection with Shoreham Drive. It should start this year, and finish in 2018.

Meanwhile, the District Department of Transportation wants to start a complementary project in the spring of 2017 that will build one new mile of trail within Rock Creek Park and rehabilitate another 3.5 miles of trail.

This project has been a long time coming. It was first publicly announced in October 2005, at which time work was to start in January 2007 and be finished by the end of that year, but since DDOT and the NPS couldn't agree on some details, it's been delayed. But it actually goes back even further: Many of the problems it's hoping to address (along with some the FHWA project will address) were first identified all the way back in 1990, in a National Park Service report called "Paved Trails of the National Capitol Region." That plan is currently being updated.

But at the Bicycle Advisory Council's March Meeting, DDOT's Michael Alvino said the project is moving forward. A rebuilt and expanded Rock Creek Trail promises to make the trail safer and and more useful. Here's a rundown of the specifics:

Rose Park and the P Street Ramp

Rose Park is on the east side of Georgetown, south of P Street and east of 27th. On the east side of the park there is a trail, about 40 feet above the parallel Rock Creek Park Trail (RCPT), called the Rose Park Trail. From M and 28th to P and 25th, that trail will be widened by about one foot, making it about six feet wide.

From the northern end of the Rose Park Trail, a ramp connects P Street to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Right now, there's a trail connection on the downhill side of that ramp, and there's now a plan to install a second path along the uphill side. This should help cut down on the number of times cyclists need to cross the ramp, and help minimize times those climbing up the hill and others biking down come into conflict. This project will add trails to both sides of the ramp.


Trail at the P Street Ramp. All images from DDOT unless otherwise noted.

The Devil's Chair

The Devil's Chair Bridge just north of Q street requires trail users to make two quick 90 degree turns to cross Rock Creek. While it won't be realigned, it will get a wider curve on the Mt. Zion cemetery side. Also, the fenced in landing on the opposite side will be replaced with a curved approach.


The north landing of the Devil's Chair Bridge.

Trail straightening

DDOT will straighten the trail in several places. One example of what this looks like is below the Calvert Street Bridge, where the trail curve has resulted in a well-worn desire line. Realizing the people have spoken, DDOT will make the desire line the new trail, and the curved portion will be removed.


Straightened Rock Creek Trail beneath Calvert Street.

New access to Harvard Street

Between Cathedral Avenue and Klingle Road, a distance of about a mile, the only trail access point is Zoo Drive, just south of Harvard Street. Zoo Drive gives trail users a roundabout access to Harvard Street, but only when the Zoo is open. The trail project will create new, more direct access to Harvard Street, via a route that is not impacted by Zoo hours. A small trail spur will connect to a crosswalk across Beach Drive. On the other side of Beach, trail users can connect to Harvard Street at Adams Mill Road via a five foot wide ramp. Part of the ramp can be bypassed by a set of stairs with a bicycle runner.


New trail connection to Harvard Street.

Paved desire line north of Tilden

Just north of Tilden, the current trail splits in two. A paved trail connects to the parking lot off Broad Branch Road and a desire line leads to the current crosswalk. DDOT will pave the desire line, connect the two trails and create a new curb ramp at the existing crosswalk across Broad Branch.


Twin trails between Broad Branch and Tilden.

Improved Beach/Blagden/Broad Branch intersection

The double intersection of Beach Drive with Blagden Avenue on one side of Rock Creek and Broad Branch on the other side will be reworked to make it safer for trail users, and to create a better connection to the trail along the south side of Blagden Street.

The new intersection will remove the slip lane from Beach to Blagdon to slow down turning vehicles. Three new crosswalks with curb ramps and new sidewalk on the east side of Beach will connect the RCPT to the trail along Blagden. Another curb ramp will connect the end of the RCPT to Beach.


New Beach Road intersections with Blagden and Broad Branch.

New trail along Piney Branch Parkway

In addition to improving miles of existing trail, DDOT will build about one mile of trail along Piney Branch Parkway. Connecting, via a crosswalk across Beach, to a new section of trail that the FHWA will construct adjacent to Beach Drive, the Piney Branch Trail will climb up to Arkansas Avenue on the north side of Piney Branch Parkway, passing under 16th Street on the way.

Once at Arkansas Avenue, DDOT will extend the trail east to Taylor Street and west to 16th Street.


Piney Branch Trail terminus at Arkansas Avenue.

Klingle Road connection

The current trail spur to Klingle Drive will be removed and a new one will replace it about 10 feet closer to Rock Creek. This will allow DDOT to install two new crosswalks to the sidewalk on the other side of Klingle and use the existing median as a pedestrian refuge. The sidewalk along Klingle will also be improved, connecting to the new FHWA-built section of trail along Beach to the Piney Branch Trail.


Crosswalk to Klingle Road Sidewalk.

As comprehensive as these projects are, and as much of an improvement as they represent, they—and other ongoing or previously completed projects—still don't address all the needs identified in the 1990 Paved Trails report. In fact only one of the four "high priority" projects have been completed. We still need a complete trail between Broad Branch and the Maryland boundary, a re-design of Zoo security "so that the streamside trail can be used 24 hours a day all year", and a trail along Broad Branch (though a plan to install a sidewalk and bike lane is scheduled for construction in 2019).

Since the Klingle Valley Trail is currently underway, there is only one unaddressed medium priority project: using the Lover's Lane path to connect the trail to Massachusetts Avenue.

Finally, the three unaddressed low priority projects are a trail from W Street and 44th to Rock Creek via the Whitehaven Parkway and Dumbarton Oaks Park, rehabilitation of the Oregon Avenue/Bingham Road loop and the addition of a trail along Park Road NW from Beach Road to the Piney Branch Parkway.

Still, this project represents a major step towards the fulfillment of that plan.

Public Spaces


Would it be the end of the world if fewer cars could pass through Rock Creek Park? We'll find out soon.

Work to reconstruct a nearly 6.5 mile stretch of Beach Drive, from Rock Creek Parkway to the Maryland line, will start soon. That will mean closing a section of the road that the National Park Service, environmentalists, and cyclists have long wanted to close but that motorists and some neighbors have fought to keep open.


Cyclists enjoy Beach Drive without automobile traffic. Photo by Oblivious Dude on Flickr.

The work, which the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will oversee, will happen in five phases, with a section of Beach Drive closing for between four and eight months during each phase. The fourth phase will involve the section of Beach that runs from Joyce Road to Broad Branch Road, which officials have considered closing in the past but have not due to strong opposition.

The closures could be a chance for traffic engineers and Park staff to study the impacts of closing parts of Beach Drive to cars.

There was a movement to close Beach Drive in the 60s and 70s

Rock Creek Park has a long history of turning its roads over to cyclists and pedestrians. The first time Beach was limited to bike and pedestrian traffic was in 1966, on the section from Joyce Road to Broad Branch on Sunday mornings only. Over the following years, additional sections of roads eventually closed, and for more of the weekend. There was even an experiment with closing a lane of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway north of Virginia Avenue for a week.

Efforts to encourage recreation in Rock Creek Park, and to make it more of a park and less of a commuter route, continued through the 1970s. Pointing to how both Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City had seen success with limiting car traffic, NPS announced in 1983 that it would gradually close the section of Beach from Joyce to Broad Branch.

At first, one lane would be reserved for cyclists and joggers during weekday rush hours, and the lane pointed in the direction of the rush hour commute would stay open to cars. Later, once the Red Line was completed beyond Van Ness, the Park Service planned to place a gate near Boulder Bridge and permanently close the section of Beach from there to Joyce.

Political pressure has pushed against efforts for long-term closures

Three months later, however, under pressure from automobile groups, commuters, and the DC Department of Public Works and Transportation, the Park Service backed off from that plan and decided to keep Beach open. Instead they promised to build a 2.5 mile trail on that section of Beach Drive. Later, due to the constrained geography of the area and the objection of the National Parks and Conservation Association, the plans for the trail fell through altogether.

In 1988, a FHWA report concluded that Beach Drive was getting more traffic than it could handle. Since expanding the road wasn't an option, FHWA recommended adding tolls, instituting HOV requirements, or permanently closing all or part of Beach Drive.

The report, along with the limited impact of a 10-week closure of the Zoo Tunnel in 1990, emboldened both activists and the Park Service to again look at further limiting automobile traffic in the park.

The process of writing Rock Creek Park's General Management Plan (GMP), which lasted from 1996 to 2006, turned into a showdown between the People's Alliance for Rock Creek Park (PARC), a coalition of environmental and cycling advocacy organizations in support of closing Beach Drive, and a less-organized coalition of Maryland commuters, Park neighbors, and motorist organizations, like AAA.

The fight over how to use Beach Drive left it open for cars

Several possibilities for closing Beach Drive received consideration, and advocates for limiting automobile traffic finally settled on a compromise to close only the section between Joyce and Broad Branch—the same section as in 1983, where no trail exists and where Ross Drive is an alternative—in the time between rush hours.

But in 2005, the Park Service, again facing opposition from commuters, automobile advocates, and political leaders like Maryland's congressional delegation, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the majority of the DC Council (Phil Mendelson, Jack Evans and Harold Brazil, all who had supported the closures) and others, chose a different option that was close to the status quo: leave the road open during the entire weekday.

Despite a 2004 traffic study that found midday limits on Beach Drive between Broad Branch and Joyce would have "minimal impact" on travel times and on nearby streets, especially if drivers were encouraged to use Ross Drive and Glover Road, one of the main concerns of the GMP was spillover traffic.

In fact, all of the letters from members of Congress were about the closures, ignoring all other aspects about the GMP. They questioned the utility of the closures, criticized the methodology of the traffic study, expressed fear that diverting traffic onto other roads would be unsafe and inefficient, and promised to find money for a trail in this section.

DC Councilmember Carol Schwartz, for example, feared that closing any part of Beach Drive at any time during the week would have "severe" impacts on Cleveland Park, Crestwood and Mount Pleasant.

Another concern, brought up by Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, was that closing this section to through traffic would limit access for those with disabilities. NPS pointed out that "all park facilities, such as picnic areas, parking lots, historical features, and trails, would continue to be available to visitors traveling by automobile. The only limitation would be on driving the length of Beach Drive between these facilities."

Instead of midday closures, NPS proposed a lower speed limit in this section, down to 20 mph, increased enforcement, and speed bumps or speed tables. But to date, none of those things have actually happened.

NPS also promised to improve the existing trail south of Broad Branch—a process which is, finally, nearly underway—and study expanding the trail north of Broad Branch to Joyce. The upcoming projects will not build a trail north of Broad Branch, nor are there any plans to ever do so. It's not clear that there was ever money to study the trail in that segment or if a study was performed.


Beach Drive Closure similar to 1983 and 2005 proposals

Upcoming work is a chance to test some of these hypotheses

Phase four of the Beach Drive rehabilitation project involves the closure of the very section of Beach Drive, Joyce to Broad Branch, that faced opposition in 1983 and 2005. Will the impact of such closures—during the midday, not rush hour—be "minimal," as the Park Service concluded, or will it be "severe?" Will neighborhood roads be filled with traffic? Will safety be compromised? Will travel times dramatically increase? Will those with disabilities stay away from the park? And what are the impacts during rush hours?

We'll now get a chance to study these things in a much more robust way—during a real-world experiment, which is exactly what Norton, Van Hollen, Mikulski and others asked for.

Unfortunately, since the road won't be open for non-automobile traffic, we won't be able to determine to what extent its closure would increase recreational use.

With phase four still more than a year away, now is the time for DDOT and FHWA to put a plan to study the impacts into place. There is still no trail on the section of Beach Road between Broad Branch and Joyce. Perhaps such a study will show something two reports have already shown: limiting this section to non-automobile use, for part of the day or permanently, is not that big of a deal.

Transit


Who needs Metro? Duck Rapid Transit is the answer to the Blue Line crunch

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Metro's total shutdown earlier this month forced many people to travel by other means for the day. But maybe that's just the way things should be. All the time. It would be much cheaper to get around using existing water infrastructure if the region built Duck Rapid Transit (DuRT).


Concept rendering of a possible Washington-area DuRT line from the from the Institute for Tub and Duck Policy (ITDP). Base duck photo by Jonathan Chen.

DuRT would be perfect for the Washington region, especially the overburdened Blue Line. With minimal investment, passengers could ride aboard a high-speed fleet of DC Duck Tours' amphibious boat/bus vehicles, running primarily on the Potomac River but also on dedicated Duck Occupancy/Toll (DOT) lanes in both Virginia and DC. Travel times would be competitive with Metro.

"Why isn't now the time to ask whether we should keep investing in the Metro system?" asked Thomas O. T. B. Fired, a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute. "Any reasonable metric shows it's not a good form of transit compared to other ones."

If Fired had his way, he said he would close Metro. He was previously quoted by the Washington Post's Kendrick Bunkle saying he'd fill in the tunnels with dirt, but we now know Bunkle misheard him and he really meant DuRT.

Here's one possible transit line alignment, with stops at eight existing Metro stations: Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn Street, Eisenhower Avenue, Pentagon, Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom-GWU, Dupont Circle, and U Street. A future stop could also be added at the Watergate complex.

The idea garners mixed reviews

The Georgetown Business Improvement District, which spearheaded a study of a gondola from Rosslyn, is eager to see an analysis. "I just want a feasibility study of DuRT," said BID director Stone Jerlieb. However, some residents immediately inveigled against the idea on the local listserv. In response to counter-arguments that this is far in the future, local neighborhood curmudgeon, Ima Ghenstytt, said she had to be opposed "just to be sure."

It's also unclear if Georgetown could even get a DuRT stop, but the BID isn't worried. "The line for Georgetown Cupcake starts in Foggy Bottom, anyway," said Bill Footsfield, BID Coordination Coordinator.

In addition to new Duck Loops at each of the stations, the route would require the construction of ramps to connect dedicated lanes along existing roads like I-95, Virginia 110, and New Hampshire Avenue to waterways like Backlick Run, Cameron Run, and the Potomac River, including a funicular ramp near Key Bridge.

Local transportation innovator Gabe Gross also roundly applauded the idea, saying, "This is a bold step towards having fully accountable public-private partnerships operate all of America's transit. Also, having more transportation options improves the region's resilience in the face of imminent disasters, like floods and electrical cable insulation."

DC Ducks could receive the same fares and public subsidy levels that the Blue Line currently receives, but DuRT operating costs would be lower than Metrorail, since the vehicles can be powered primarily by stale bread crumbs.

The DC government actually considered DuRT under former DDOT head Tan "Danger" Lini. That concept would have further extended the line to Columbia Heights by making the Meridian Hill Park fountain into a log flume. But that plan foundered after the National Park Service told DC it would require a public EIS process that would conclude, at the earliest, on April 1, 2036.

Some park advocates also opposed the idea at the time. Referring to the alignment near the Watergate, Ivana Park, co-chair of the Committee to Re-Engineer Extant Plans (CREEP), said, "The 1930 landscape plan for this area does not show the canal being used for boat transportation, so this use would plainly violate the historic nature of the C&O National Historical Park."

Will people ride it?

A major criticism of DuRT nationwide is whether riding on a duck boat carries a stigma as compared to more upscale-seeming vehicles. For that reason, some cities have tried using swan boats instead.

Miami politicians recently asked to replace a duck project, long in planning, to swans. "People don't like to take ducks," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, "unless they have no alternative."

But proponents like Yorick Yoffe of Citylab argue that these are myths, and if a good-quality DuRT line were built, people would ride it.

The US has not successfully built a DuRT line without it devolving to a bathtub-sized project through "DuRTy Creep," but proponents hope a Backlick Run/Potomac River line could be the one that finally succeeds.

Development


America's most unattainable housing is right by downtown DC. That's a huge problem.

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Five people are currently vying for the chance to occupy the White House this November, but only one will win. This is a classic supply and demand problem, and the solution is simple: Build more housing.


Concept rendering for The Estates At President's Park. Original image by Jeff Prouse.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is an extremely low-density property, with 82 acres housing a population of only 5 people (and a very small amount of office space). Even without adding new buildings, the existing one could become a taller apartment building with plenty of room for the Clintons, Sanderses, Trumps, Cruzes, and Kasichs, even without changes to Washington, DC's federal height limit.

This building is also located in a gated community with large open spaces around it which serve little purpose. They are off-limits to most pedestrian foot traffic and residents of the exclusive community are rarely seen using them either. The Ellipse, just to the south, is largely used as a parking lot. Developing some of these open areas could have provided even more housing.


Significant underutilized land. Photo by US Department of Defense via Wikimedia.

The exclusionary nature of this area has already prevented numerous families from being able to move here. According to news reports, families from Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and others gave up on their hopes of being able to move here for a better job. The lack of available housing is an clear impediment to labor mobility.

Historic preservationists and other groups may complain about such a move. After all, this house is one of many which tour groups frequently pass by on their tours, and some (but not all) US Presidents lived here, adding to its historic value.

However, Washington has many historic buildings; this one is not as architecturally interesting as the office building next door to the west. The National Park Service, which controls the area, is so under-funded it may have to shut down a bridge which carries 68,000 vehicles a day. NPS needs to prioritize its funds and not waste so much money on a property which few people can enjoy.

Original architect James Hoban actually proposed a larger building, but changed his initial design, supposedly to better reflect the "monumental" nature of Washington, DC. As Kriston Capps put it, it's a "Hoban cut off at the hipbone." "It's a perfect architectural metaphor for the almost-urbanism that characterizes life in Washington," he wrote.

Candidates react to the idea

Reached on his corporate jet, Donald Trump said, "I think it's terrific. I can make a great deal to build this and I'm working with the GSA on the hotel down the street which will open early and will be the best hotel in all of DC. I'm good at building things. I'm the best. I have built so many things. Good things, you know, really good things. I know how to build. I have the skills, the best skills. And I can get this done. And I have great taste in furniture, the best taste. We'll increase the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very, very high quality of luxury marble, the most luxurious marble you've ever seen. Just phenomenal luxury."

Based on the District's inclusionary zoning ordinance, the new White House will be required to include one affordable dwelling unit, which will likely go to Marco Rubio.

In a press release, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager said they'd worked out an agreement to use the basement to build an ultra-secure server room inaccessible to the House of Representatives.

Reached on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz expressed his opposition to the proposal. "I'm an outsider. I don't need a building to live inside."

The Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Bernie Sanders' campaign sent this statement: "This is why we need to break up the big banks and make sure everyday Americans benefit instead of just Wall Street and big corporations."

While many are excited about the 1600 Penn project's increased density, others have expressed concern that this is simply another situation where developers will trigger displacement of another black family from a neighborhood with an overwhelming percentage of African-American residents according to the 2010 Census.

Still, this neighborhood is very close to ample parks, stores, jobs, and transportation, including multiple Metro stations. The low quantity of housing is a clear public policy failure. Let's end the Lafayette Square housing crisis immediately.

Public Spaces


This plan would make it easier to walk or bike from L'Enfant Plaza to the Southwest Waterfront

For the past year, the National Park Service has been working on a way to make it easier to pass through Banneker Park, from L'Enfant Plaza to the forthcoming Wharf development and Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It just released its plan for making that happen.


The NPS's preference for the Banneker Park design.

Right now at Banneker Circle, there are no curb ramps to get from the roadway to the I-395 pedestrian bridge, the path to the intersection of Maine Avenue and 9th Street NE, or the informal path to Maine Avenue. The plan to change that, which NPS has identified as its "preferred alternative," calls for two new paths and a new staircase. It's a continued improvement over the concepts presented last summer.

The staircase replaces the existing informal pathway with a direct connection between the park's west side and the crossing that leads people across Maine Avenue and to the Wharf development at the Southwest Waterfront. The staircase is set to include transition areas for safe and comfortable access, integrated lighting, and a bicycle trough.


A rendering of Banneker Park from the Wharf side of Maine Avenue.

An 8-foot wide, ADA-compliant sidewalk will go in place of the existing path, running from the corner of Maine Avenue and 9th Street SW to the park's east side. About halfway up the hill, it crosses the eastbound lane of L'Enfant Plaza, then follows alongside that lane before crossing the westbound lane at the top of the hill.

There will also be a new crosswalk on the north side of the park, and all of the new sidewalks will get curb ramps, which aren't there now.


Rendering of Banneker Park from 9th and Maine

In addition, a second 8-foot wide ADA-compliant path will connect the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf to the other path's L'Enfant Plaza crosswalk.

The new design also includes new trees, paying homage to the park's original design by Dan Kiley. There will be restored landscaping, potential stormwater retention areas, and the 6-foot wide sidewalk along the north side of Maine Ave will get wider.

The addition of curb ramps, stairs, crosswalks and ADA-compliant paths should make the whole area easier to traverse for people on bikes, on foot, or in wheelchairs. It should also create an improved connection between the I-395 bicycle/pedestrian bridge, the National Mall and the Anacostia Riverwalk.

NPS has considered another design, calling it the "non-preferred alternative." That one would create a parallel staircase and ramp around the east side of the park that ran to the pedestrian crossing to the Wharf.

NPS has taken the project, started by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), through the Environmental Assessment process and will be returning to the NCPC for a revised concept review on April 7.

Bicycling


Memorial Bridge fixes could help more than just cars

Arlington Memorial Bridge needs serious repairs, or perhaps even a full replacement, in the next five years. As the National Park Service works to make that happen, there's also a chance to address some surrounding conditions that are hazardous for people on foot and on bike.


Photo by Bernt Rostad on Flickr.

NPS first sounded the alarm about the bridge last year after an inspection forced emergency repairs that partially closed the bridge, and started a ban on heavy vehicles, like buses, that's still in place today. Now, NPS says those repairs didn't do enough, and that it's inevitable that without $250 million in repairs, the bridge will be too dangerous for automobile travel by 2021.

Northern Virginia's Congressional delegation is on board with funding the effort to fix it, citing the fact that 68,000 people cross the bridge daily. Hopefully, they can convince their colleagues to join them.


Rust underneath the Memorial Bridge. Image from NPS.

The bridge is unsafe for more than just cars

Memorial Bridge bridge itself has wide sidewalks that usually allow enough room for most cyclists and pedestrians to share space. But the routes that connect to the bridge aren't safe for people on foot or bike.

In Virginia, the bridge connects to the George Washington Parkway and its accompanying trail, which is one of the region's most popular. Despite its popularity the trail has some particular challenges, namely that it intersects with the parkway—a limited access, high speed highway—in several places. Drivers are supposed to yield or stop for anyone trying to use the crosswalks, but there have been a number of crashes thanks to people rear-ending cars that were stopped to allow people to cross.


Image from Google Maps.

Issues on the DC side of the bridge stem from a confusing web of roads that force cyclists on their way to the Mall or downtown to either ride in very busy car traffic or on a narrow sidewalk.


One of the crosswalks where few drivers slow down. Image from Google Maps.

NPS has actually known about these issues longer than they have known about the bridge being in disrepair. But the agency has been resistant to do anything to fix them except in small ways where the first priority was not to slow down cars using the parkway.

Here are some ideas for fixing the bridge

NPS is straightening out some parts of the trail near Washington National Airport, where curves snake around a large tree and make it hard to see. The agency is also working to make it so cyclists don't have to travel through a busy parking lot near Teddy Roosevelt Island. But closer to the bridge itself, the trail could still get a lot safer.

One option is to create separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on popular parts of the trail. NPS could also keep working to remove some of sharp curves and blind corners that are on the trail beyond what is being fixed at the airport. Finally, NPS needs to decide what to do about the crosswalks. If the GW Parkway is going to remain a high speed highway, then crosswalks more appropriate for a city street just won't work. Solutions might include rerouting the trail, slowing down speed limits, or even adding trail overpasses.

For the bridge itself, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) put forth its own idea for removing two car lanes and creating protected bike lanes a while back:


Diagram of a redesigned memorial bridge. Image from WABA.

Cutting the number of car lanes on the bridge would work since congestion there is pretty low. Average speeds at rush hour are higher than the speed limit, and a new bridge wouldn't need six car lanes.

The crux of the Memorial Bridge issue is safety, and that of cyclists and pedestrians shouldn't go ignored. But a safe bridge and surrounding area for them would also mean a safer place for drivers, as deciding to follow the law and share the road would become far less dangerous. Both NPS and leaders in Congress should be concerned about all bridge users.

If a concern for safety is a big reason why NPS is sounding the alarm now then they should also be using this opportunity to fix the persistent hazards that cyclists and pedestrians have faced on the trails around the bridge.

Snow


How would you grade the region's snow response?

The Kojo Nnamdi Show is asking how you would rate your government's response to the snowtorm, your neighbors', and your own. At 12:40, I'll be on the show to discuss this, and I asked our contributors for their ratings.


Photo by Clif Burns on Flickr.

Joe Fox gave a succinct set of ratings:

  • PEPCO/Dominion/BGE: A+. Don't forget what a disaster the last few real storms have been. Teaming up w/ plow trains & tree trimming crews meant that what problems that did pop up were fixed, and fast.
  • WMATA communication: A. They were ahead of the needs, and explained what they were doing and why.
  • MNCPPC [Montgomery and Prince George's parks agency]: A. Many of the county park roads were cleared, with bonus points for sanctioning sledding hills this year.
  • DC Government: B. Execution was good, but farther from downtown was rough. Bowser had some head scratcher remarks on cars vs. peds, as well as why no travel ban that were a bit hard to comprehend.
  • WMATA execution: C. Is it still a surprise that when OPM gives a three hour delay, that rush hour will happen three hours later, and to set up service accordingly? Even with trains every 8+ minutes, still no 8 car trains...
  • Citizens: C. These storms bring out the crazies, I noticed a lot more anger this time than in 2010. But sidewalks on private property were cleared faster than before.
  • Montgomery, Prince George's, and VDOT (handling VA counties): D+. They did what they could, but were woefully overmatched. Clumsy declarations of victory and broken data trackers brought up comparisons with PEPCO of days gone by.
  • National Park Service: F. [See below.]
Contributors' views varied, but overall, there was a good amount of consensus. Here are some key points and ratings, broken down by agency.

The National Park Service

The Park Service controls a lot of downtown parks and major trails around the region, but does very little on snow clearance. Contributors unanimously agreed it flunked the storm.

  • David Cranor: "The Park Service deserves a very low grade. The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the only ones that was not plowed (thought I don't know about the Rock Creek Park Trail). Sidewalks along NPS property were untouched. I realize they're budget limited, but something needs to be done."
  • Neil Flanagan wrote back on Monday: "On my walk to work, through downtown to Georgetown, most government sidewalks were walkable (if not clear), with the exception of NPS."

Photo by Bill Couch on Flickr.

WMATA

  • Kristy Cartier: WMATA gets an "A" for communication.
  • Abigail Zenner: I agree with Kristy about WMATA. Our ANC has battled with WMATA about better explanation on bus route changes. I was irritated they went to severe snow routes Friday morning, hours before the storm was due. BUT, they were very clear about when and where service would be restored and it was exactly as they said, at least in Glover Park.
  • Dan Malouff: WMATA I think was OK but a bit too gun-shy on closing everything early, and hasn't clearly communicated some stuff about reopening. For example, it's understandable that some buses have to go on detour, but Metro seems to have no system in place to let riders know if their bus is detouring or not.
  • Mathew Friedman: I rode the G2 to work Thursday morning for the first time since last Wednesday. It doesn't run from the "moderate" snow plan on up. Neither does the G8, which is a major route running down Rhode Island Avenue. From my neck of the woods, those are the only 2 bus lines that run downtown and for a full week, neither was running. I can at least walk 5 blocks to Shaw Metro if I need to, but for folks further out, that's not an option. I would think that taking so long to bring these bus routes and many others back online must leave a lot of people stranded.

    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steven Yates: WMATA's response was...mixed. Trying to shelter the trains was maybe a good theory, but the execution was obviously not great. Would it have been better to run the trains underground on Saturday instead? I'm inclined to say no, just because you probably don't want to be encouraging people to be out and about. The running of trains for free on Monday was certainly a nice gesture.
    • Travis Maiers: Metro is still operating at reduced service levels. They are apparently still short railcars due to the blizzard. I give them high marks for communicating their storm plan and being realistic on when service could be resumed, but I feel by now, 5 days later, they should be back at full service. Their plan to shut down the system for safety and to store railcars underground was prudent, but I'm not sure it was executed as well as it could have been.
    • Svet Neov: I think WMATA did pretty well, since almost everything was running on Tuesday. At my stop (Grosvenor) they did a great job cleaning the sidewalks—those were done wayyy before the parking lot was.
    DC
    • Abigail Zenner: I thought they did a great job all things considered. Even northern cities have trouble with storms of this size. I grade them a B+ or A-. The poor rhetoric notwithstanding, DC did well.

      I thought that many District agencies did a good job communicating on social media and through emails to ANCs. My ANC colleagues would then send information to our lists.

      [The Department of General Services] promised to clear areas around DCPS schools by midnight Monday and Tuesday morning, the sidewalks all the way around Stoddert Elementary was cleared including curb cuts and bus stops. I have never seen these walks cleared so fast. I did also tweet at DCPS, Stoddert, DPR, and DGS.


    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • Steve Seelig: From a cycling perspective in DC, it was great. I rode from Friendship to downtown on both Monday and Tuesday, and because only part of the roadways were plowed, there was plenty of room in the curb lanes to ride where a car could not fit.

      As for biking infrastucture plowing: an A+ for the Capital Crescent Trail -plowed from Bethesda to Georgetown. An F for NPS on any of its trails. DDOT gets a C+ for just getting to the L Street, M Street and 15th Street bike lanes.

    • Justin Lini: In DC's Ward 7, snow removal was a bit inconsistent. Parkside and a number of other communities saw plows nearly every day of the storm. In some cases, even blocks with public housing were cleared during the storm. However, some of my neighbors in other communities didn't see any attention at all until Monday.

      The Mayor's office also did daily briefings by teleconference with the ANCs. These were useful because they communicated DC government's plans so we could set expectations, but they also keyed us in on potential trouble. They also assigned us extra staff liaisons that could help resolve issues with trouble spots.

      We were able to get an important pedestrian bridge cleared by Monday evening. In the past this bridge was never consistently cleared even in routine snow events. I don't know if the other ANCs used their liaisons, but I found mine to be a good partner. I don't know if previous administrations employed this measure, but I thought it was very effective.

      Uncleared sidewalks are a huge problem in the ward. As of Tuesday many property owners, especially large apartment buildings and retail areas, did not clear sidewalks along some high volume corridors like Minnesota Ave NE. In some cases contractors had blocked sidewalks or intentionally used them to store piles of snow. Many crosswalks are also plowed over. The decision not to enforce sidewalk clearing laws on these properties until late was a big mistake that shouldn't be repeated.


    Mayfair Mansions, Ward 7, on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Lini.
    • Steven Yates: I can't really speak for other jurisdictions, but in my time here, I've been mostly impressed with how well DC handles large amounts of snow, given that these sorts of storms don't happen that often (oddly, smaller amounts of snow they seem to do less well with). This storm has been no exception. The street I live in (which is by no means a major street) was at least passable a few hours after the snow ended.
    Alexandria & Arlington

    • Ned Russell: Alexandria streets were far worse [than in DC] both for cars and pedestrians, not to mention the DASH bus service did not run even on a limited schedule to serve rush hour on Tuesday. Sidewalks across the station that peds need to use to access Braddock Road were not cleared until this morning.
    • Svet Neov: The only complaints, other than slow sidewalk cleanup, I've heard is dead end or small streets in Arlington which didn't get plowed until [Tuesday] night.

    King Street Metro. Photo by Justin Henry.

    Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax

    • Ben Ross: "I grade MoCo an A- on street clearing but an F on sidewalks. Our businesses, at least in Bethesda, did very well on sidewalks, much better than in past big snowstorms. [But] 27 hours after it has finished opening the roads to cars, the county has announced, it will begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks.begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks 27 hours after it finishes opening roads to cars. Ike Leggett announced "common sense" enforcement of the snow shoveling law. In my mind, common sense means that if you have shoveled out your driveway, you should have shoveled the sidewalk.
    • Kristy Cartier: In Fairfax County, the roads had at least one lane Tuesday so I'd give them a B+ (only because there are disappearing lanes). For sidewalks, I would give a D. One person was walking on Rte. 50 near Rte. 28 and two people were standing on Reston Pkwy Wednesday morning waiting for the bus. I hope that the addition of the Silver Line stations improves Fairfax County's response to clearing at least some of the sidewalks.
    • Matt Johnson: I didn't have any trouble [Wednesday] morning. But [in the] afternoon, I had to go to an appointment in the city, and drove to Glenmont. On my way from Glenmont to the ICC, I discovered that the 3 northbound lanes are essentially functioning as 1. The curb lane never appeared, except for the dashes periodically peeking out from the edge of the snow. The center lane would run for a few blocks and then suddenly, without warning, disappear, forcing drivers to swerve into the left lane, the only one left.

      In addition, pedestrians were walking in the lane, since the sidewalks were impassible, and unaccessible from the buses that run on Georgia. On the day after the storm, this might be acceptable. But several days later, on one of the region's most important radial corridors, this is quite intolerable.

    • Joe Fox: I've noticed that roads maintained by both state agencies (MD SHA and VDOT) fared the worst, by far. I've posted several tweets about Colesville Road this morning, which, despite having the ability to reverse lanes, has gone from 3 lanes to one the last two days, wreaking havoc in the neighborhoods, and with a slew of bus lines.

      To me, the fact that county/local roads/sidewalks/paths seemed to fare a lot better brings to mind the argument that counties (Montgomery, Fairfax), should follow the lead of the independent cities in their respective states and take control over their transportation infrastructure (save for perhaps interstate highways and maybe toll roads) from the state agencies, who are simply not equipped to handle local issues like intersection design, traffic signals, and snow clearing.


    Photo by Aimee Custis.

    Overall

    • Svet Neov: Given the amount of snowfall I would give the region a B. I flew home on Monday morning after being stuck in Texas and used almost every mode of transportation in several places around the area. The airports were back up and running on Monday (as normal as possible). I flew into BWI which seemed to have no problems.
    • Ned Russell: After reading the discussion and thinking about all the things that go into snow response, I give the region a B-. But there are a lot of things that could have been done better.
    • Canaan Merchant: I'd give it a B-. For what we can expect of the region I think they did well. But to get an A they're going to have actually acknowledge that people like to use sidewalks, bike facilities and transit and work towards that as well.
    What grades would you give? Fill out the Kojo show's poll and post your thoughts in the comments. And listen in at 12:40 to hear me and Petula Dvorak discuss the issue.

    If you're reading this before 12:40, it's also worth tuning in to Kojo for a segment on whether high traffic fines change behavior (they don't), including Gabe Klein as one of the guests.

  • Public Spaces


    The National Park Service turns 100 this year

    2016 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, which oversees lots of outdoor space in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. All year, there will be special events throughout our region to celebrate.


    The Korean War Memorial. All images from the NPS.

    The NPS is celebrating its milestone birthday with events and fee-free days all across the country. During National Park Week, which is April 16th-24th, admission to all NPS sites will be free.

    In May, an exhibit celebrating biodiversity in the US will come to the DC, with an accompanying festival on the National Mall. There are battlefield and garden tours scheduled in Virginia throughout the spring, and a few chances to learn about Maryland's roads and trails are coming up soon.

    Since its establishment in 1916, 44 years after Congress designated Yellowstone National Park as the country's first national park, the NPS has come to oversee 400 unique places, ranging from national parks and monuments to battlefields and parkways.

    The DC region has a unique relationship with the NPS. In the city alone, NPS manages 23 places, notably Rock Creek Park, National Mall, and its surrounding monuments. These parks represent a significant portion of our green space, generating more than $600 million in economic activity, supporting physical and mental health, and providing cultural resources.


    The National Mall and its monuments are among the most popular places in the NPS system.

    Of course, the NPS' involvement in local land use decisions does have its downsides. NPS controls the open space within DC's L'Enfant City, subjecting urban parks to the same planning and permitting process as Yosemite National Park. In 2014, its representative to the DC Zoning Commission successfully led the push to keep the 1910 Height Act intact.

    Maryland and Virginia have an additional 37 sites combined, including the George Washington Parkway, Mt. Vernon Trail, or Great Falls Park.


    Great Falls Park on the Potomac River in both Maryland and Virginia

    NPS sites generate nearly $250 million and $1 billion in economic activity in Maryland and Virginia, respectively.


    Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, a Civil War battlefield.

    What are your favorite NPS parks in the region, and why? Tell us in the comments!

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