Posts about NoMA
DDOT is considering a 3-block cycle track on 1st Street, NE from K to M Streets to help people biking between the Metropolitan Branch Trail or NoMa and Union Station and places farther south.
The off-road segment along west side of the railroad tracks currently runs from L Street in the south to Franklin Street in the north. However, it has a set of stairs just north of L, so cyclists using this portion will generally get on and off at M Street.
From there, users continuing south toward Union Station can go west to 1st Street NE, which leads to the Metro station, the Bikestation, Columbus Circle and more. DDOT is reconstructing the segment from K Street north, and has designed this cycle track for the portion up to M.
According to Mike Goodno of DDOT, they aren't looking at extending the cycle track north of M because because of parking and hotel drop-off issues north of M Street. That means that someone riding southbound on 1st Street from NoMa will have to cross over somehow to get to the cycle track, either by queueing up in front of the traffic on M Street and then turning right into the track, or turning left onto M, or crossing as a pedestrian at the crosswalk.
A few streets cross the segment in question. Drivers can turn right from the northbound lanes or left from the southbound lanes across the track. Therefore, turning conflicts might be an issue. Goodno says they haven't yet decided how to handle these turns.
There are also a few curb cuts accessing the adjacent properties, like the Greyhound bus terminal. The diagrams show some of these potentially being closed. The project wouldn't immediately close them, but DDOT would want to work with property owners to locate any curb cuts on side streets instead as those properties are redeveloped.
The project is currently slated for 2013 or 2014. DDOT also hopes to continue the cycle track south of K eventually, though that is not part of this current project.
They're interested in hearing feedback. What do you think of the plan?
At the beginning of October, I caught a young boy in the act of stealing a bicycle wheel at the New York Avenue Metro station. Last night, I helped police finally catch him. But he wasn't arrested.
Photo by the author.
Jaime and I were taking a quick walking tour of NoMa with ANC 6C04 commissioner Tony Goodman when we saw the boy ride his bike past us. An extra bicycle wheel was hanging from the handlebars. I recognized him immediately, and called 911 to report what we saw. The police arrived a couple minutes later, took a report, and promised to check the area where we saw the boy going to see what they could find.
Ten minutes later, we were at the corner of 1st and M NE, in front of the CVS, when we saw the boy bike past us again. Jaime saw a police cruiser coming south on 1st Street, and I flagged them down. The police asked me to jump in, and we headed the wrong way down M Street toward North Capitol, where the boy was headed.
At the corner of M and North Capitol, we caught up to him. The officer driving the car chirped the siren, and pulled to the curb when the boy started biking faster. Both officers (from the 1st District) got out of the car and started questioning the boy about the wheel we had seen him carrying minutes earlier.
He denied knowing anything about it. The officers talked to him for a few minutes until a gentleman showed up. It turned out this was the boy's father. More questioning eventually led the boy to admit that the wheel was in his room in their house. His father sent him home to bring it back to the police.
It turns out the boy was 13. The police didn't arrest him, and I don't know what his father did or said after we drove away. I hope that he realizes what he's been doing is wrong, and I hope (at least) he really knows he's being watched now.
Remember, keep using a cable lock and a u-lock when you park at the New York Avenue Metro station. Don't leave a wheel unlocked where this boy, or anyone else for that matter, could walk away with it and take it home.
Gallaudet University students are mobilizing to oppose the idea of moving their university's name into a subtitle on the nearby Metro station. They're creating a petition in favor of "NoMa-Gallaudet U."
At lunchtime on Monday, students gathered on campus for a brief talk by student body government leaders and Fred Weiner, the Executive Director of Program Development for the university. Most students attending raised their hands when asked if they use the Metro station.
Speakers gave a brief history of Gallaudet's involvement with the station. Gallaudet has been in the neighborhood since before much of the neighborhood existed. Recently, the school has been working hard to reassert its connections to the surrounding community. One way to strengthen those connections is visibility. To that end, the leaders want to keep the university's name on the local Metro station as a primary element.
Weiner noted that the WMATA Board would be discussing station name changes on Thursday. The public will not be able to speak, but a public hearing will follow on October 27th.
In the meantime, the school will be setting up a petition online advocating for the name "NoMa/Gallaudet U." Weiner noted that "members of the DC Council," which likely means at least Ward 5 council member Harry Thomas, Jr., favor this name over DDOT's proposal, "New York Ave-NoMa" with a subtitle of "Gallaudet U."
The Gallaudet University community believes that theirs should not be the only university in the region to have its name used as merely a subtitle for a station, rather than a part of the primary heading. Actually, 2 other stations with universities on their names, West Falls Church-VT/UVA and Vienna/Fairfax-GMU, also are slated to receive subtitles. However, 8 other stations with universities will not.
David suggested using subtitles for all stations with points of interest, including universities. Interestingly, Weiner mentioned that the university was promised from the beginning that their name would always be part of the station name. While making it part of a subtitle would technically keep that promise, I believe it would not be in the spirit of such an agreement to relegate the school's name to a secondary role.
What do you think?
Update: The Program Development office at Gallaudet University sent this comment:
When the station was in the planning stages, I. King Jordan, president of Gallaudet at the time, was on the advisory board that supported establishing the station. He participated in the groundbreaking and was in attendance at the opening. Some of the WMATA meetings regarding the station were held at Gallaudet. At one such meeting, the chair of the board, Gladys Mack, committed that Gallaudet would be in the name of the station. Furthermore, advertisers have used the station to target the deaf community, knowing that it is heavily trafficked by Gallaudet students, staff and faculty.
DDOT has formally asked WMATA to change the names of 4 Metrorail stations in the District. It also recommended, but later withdrew, a 5th:
|Current name||Proposed name|
|Waterfront - SEU||Waterfront - Arena Stage|
|Navy Yard||Navy Yard - Ballpark|
|New York Ave. - Florida Ave. - Gallaudet U.||New York Ave. - NoMa|
The National Mall
|Foggy Bottom - GWU|
Thankfully, the idea of including a "curly W" logo on Navy Yard has been sent to the dustbin where it belongs. But for better or worse, most of these still violate WMATA's approved policy limiting name length.
Under the process laid out by WMATA for station name changes, the jurisdiction containing that station needs to first request a name change and
identify someone willing itself be willing to pay for the cost of changing signs, pylons and more. The WMATA Board then approves or disapproves each proposal.
Various organizations including Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and nonprofits have asked DDOT for station renames. The NoMA BID wanted its name on the station in its area, for example. The National Park Service and the Trust for the National Mall requested the name change for Smithsonian.
The Golden Triangle BID also asked to add its name to one of the Farragut stations, and Capitol Riverfront wanted to be on Navy Yard, though DDOT didn't advance those requests. ANC Commissioner Kent Boese has been pushing to change Georgia Ave-Petworth to Georgia Ave-Petworth/Park View or Petworth-Park View.
Of the proposals DDOT accepted, only "Navy Yard-Ballpark" conforms to WMATA's naming policy, which calls for a maximum of 19 characters including subtitles. As Matt Johnson wrote, subtitles should not be an excuse to add more to names.
DDOT has withdrawn adding Kennedy Center to the Foggy Bottom stop since there was no organization willing to front the $100,000 or greater cost of changing a name. That must mean the Kennedy Center couldn't or didn't want to pay for the change. If that's not getting added, is it appropriate to add Arena Stage? Was it appropriate to add Strathmore, currently the only private non-educational organization on a station name?
The important principle is not to let station names become "the Yellow Pages," as one WMATA Board member put it, advertising nearby organizations and attractions. The purpose of a station is to help people find their way around the system, not to promote things to do.
But if Kennedy Center is not going on and Arena Stage might be inappropriate, is it right to add Ballpark? To me, it does seem appropriate somehow, but should we be promoting organized sports (owned by a for-profit entity that's acted fairly rapaciously toward the District) and not a nonprofit and donor-funded arts organization that's contributed a great deal to its neighborhood?
(Disclosure: I am a member of the board of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which isn't part of a station name, and may in some ways compete with other theaters or with other entertainment such as baseball.)
New York Avenue also runs very close to McPherson Square and Metro Center, and tourists in downtown hotels do get confused and take Metro to this station by mistake. "NoMA-Gallaudet U" would be short and appropriate.
As for Smithsonian, does anyone not know how to get to the Mall? This proposal seems unnecessary. Additionally, several stations, not just the Smithsonian stop, serve the Mall. Naming one stop ignores the usability of other nearby stations, like L'Enfant Plaza.
Already, many tourists use Smithsonian to get to Smithsonian museums when other stations would work better, such as L'Enfant for Air and Space. When major events come to the Mall, Smithsonian can face severe overcrowding, and Metro tries to encourage visitors to use other nearby stations. Adding National Mall could exacerbate these problems, leading visitors to use Smithsonian to get to rallies at the Capitol end of the Mall when they really should be getting off at Federal Center SW or Judiciary Square.
Finally, each name is something of a hodgepodge that contains 2 elements both in the primary name, or has a subtitle. I continue to believe WMATA missed a big opportunity by not moving into the subtitles all pieces of names after dashes or slashes. Why should "West Falls Church-VT/UVA" become "West Falls Church" with a subtitle, but "Brookland-CUA" not become "Brookland" with a subtitle of "CUA"?
If the new policy is to use subtitles, then all stations with multiple pieces in their names should use the subtitles for all but the first piece. In this case, Navy Yard-Ballpark could be an acceptable name, but Navy Yard with a subtitle of Ballpark is even more appropriate; if Arena Stage is indeed added to the nearby station, it should likewise be in the subtitle to avoid making the name on pylons and signs, and spoken by conductors, even longer and more confusing to riders.
If you want to convey opinions to the WMATA Board about these changes, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
DCRA has decided that large billboard-style signs on the side of the Uline Arena are illegal.
Photo by the author.
Douglas Development placed 3 large signs on the side of the building where MARC, Metro, and Amtrak riders can see them.
I questioned whether these are legal, since DC has a short list of allowable billboard-sized "special signs" which doesn't mention the Uline.
According to DCRA, they sent inspectors to take a look at the signs, and they've issued an infraction notice to Douglas, the property owner. Douglas has the right to appeal, but if they choose not to, they'll have to pay a fine of $2,000 and take the signs down.
Since Douglas Development acquired the Uline Arena, the company has added three large signs to the side of the building, strategically placed to catch the eyeballs of those on passing Metro, MARC, and Amtrak trains.
Uline Arena. Photo by the author.
A look at DC's signage rules suggests these advertisements may not be legal. But they also may be profitable, and Douglas Development owes the city quite a bit in property taxes.
Is the city ignoring the offense for its own gain?
In 2009, years of effort to remove three billboards at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and P Street NW came to an end when the billboards were cut down with a welding torch. The event marked the conclusion of a long campaign by the residents of Shaw to remove what they saw as blight from a neighborhood street corner.
One of the lasting results of that fight was that it made DC residents aware of the list of "special signs" permitted by the District. The "Special Signs Inventory," maintained by DCRA, lists 32 authorized large-scale advertisements that aren't technically billboards, according to DC regulations, located on the sides of buildings.
The Uline Arena signs are not on that list. There has been a Douglas Development sign on the side of the building for as long as I can remember, surely to entice interested parties to inquire about available space in the building. Last year, when Carmine's opened in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, a large advertisement for the Italian restaurant appeared on the side of the arena, as well. A sign advertising FroZenYo turned up within the last couple weeks.
That's 3 large "special signs" located on the building. Is this legal? I contacted Douglas Development to ask them about the regulatory process required to place these signs, but did not receive a call back. If they reply, I'll be sure to post an update.
The signs aren't on the city's official list, so they certainly appear to flout the rules. However, as Michael Neibauer noted two weeks ago, Douglas Development carries a sizable property tax debt to the city. Perhaps DC doesn't mind looking the other way if this helps bring Douglas Development income that can be used to settle the tab.
Photo by the author.
Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.
Surface parking lots are the scourge of urbanism. They take up valuable land that could be used for activity-generating buildings, and they spread development out so that walking and transit use are more difficult.
They're more harmful to cities than empty lots, because they encourage more driving, which in turn encourages more parking lots. Washington, DC is lucky not to have very many of them.
We do have some, however, and their locations can tell us something about our city.
Where are DC's surface parking lots? Where is there a lot of underused land? What property owners are doing harm to the city? Where can future development be most easily accommodated? With these questions in mind, I mapped the surface parking lots of downtown Washington:
Red indicates typical parking lots that could presumably be used for other purposes, purple indicates parking lots that appear to be owned by the government or other institutions and are unlikely to be developed, and orange indicates the locations for CityCenter DC and the future downtown Walmart.
A few points jump out.
- Downtown is almost completely devoid of surface parking lots, an accolade that very few other American cities claim.
- Government and institutional uses are major offenders.
- NoMA and the Mount Vernon Triangle (outlined in yellow on the map) still have a lot of development potential left.
- 7th Street near the new convention center is begging for attention.
All I did to create this map was to simply color on top of aerial imagery, so it's possible some of the details are wrong, or that I missed a few lots. If you see something that should be corrected, let me know in the comments. Regardless, it's an interesting study.
Does anything else jump out to you?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Some neighborhoods argue that a saturation of restaurants saps a neighborhood's vibrancy. NoMa, a neighborhood recently recreated from old industrial land, lacks vibrancy at night because the neighborhood's restaurants close soon after the office workers go home.
Though office, residential, and hotel development took off in this area once dominated by parking lots, the new buildings have not brought the street vitality of Washington's other cherished neighborhoods.
NoMa is a unique local example of trying to create a neighborhood where one didn't exist before. Though it's surrounded by well-established neighborhoods, NoMA itself used to be industrial space adjacent to the railroad, once the main conduit for freight into and out of DC.
I live in Bloomingdale and work near Union Station. I worked until 7 pm recently and expected to be able to grab a bite at one of the new restaurants on 1st Street NE, NoMa's main street.
Much to my dismay, I got there just as Roti and Potbelly were closing, and Tynan Coffee & Tea was already closed, along with Heidi's Brooklyn Deli on 2nd Street. My only remaining food options were Harris Teeter, 7-Eleven and no less than four burger joints: McDonald's, Wendy's, Five Guys, and Burger King.
Being a vegetarian, Harris Teeter offered by far the greatest selection, so that's where I wound up. But what do the limited hours of NoMa's healthier restaurants mean for the NoMa BID's efforts to create a more vibrant neighborhood?
Presumably, as more residents fill the new apartments and condos around New York Avenue Metro, they will increase demand for neighborhood venues that offer a dining experience a cut above fast food.
Yet it is somewhat surprising that Tynan and Roti aren't open later, given how much residents of nearby Truxton Circle and Eckington have been clamoring for sit-down restaurants in their neighborhoods. With the opening of Rustik Tavern and the extension of Big Bear Cafe's hours, Bloomingdale now has two restaurants, and both are often crowded.
More eateries like Roti and Heidi's would fill a niche for a dinner that is better than fast food, but less expensive than a restaurant like Rustik. Perhaps one of them should try staying open until 9 or 10 pm one or two days a week, promote the special hours to the nearby neighborhoods, and see how many customers come in after 7pm.
Restaurants improved Barracks Row and have a similar opportunity to revitalize NoMa. The neighborhood has the potential to become a destination not only during the day, but after the offices close for the night as well.
When DC officials rezoned the land north of Union Station to create NoMA, they triggered the creation of a brand-new neighborhood. Unfortunately, they forgot to leave space for a park, and created an economic dynamic that virtually ruled out any parks. Last week, Tommy Wells introduced a bill to try to fix this glaring omission.
As Michael Neibauer explains in a Business Journal article (unfortunately behind the paywall), NoMA has no parks in its 358-acre territory, a "major oversight."
Basically, before the rezoning, a number of different property owners had some land that was fairly valuable. After the rezoning, they all had land that was extremely valuable. Then, many of them sold the land to developers. The developers paid a high price, knowing that they were entitled to build 10 FAR on their sites. But that also meant the developers now have to build 10 FAR to cover their investment.
DC created a lot of value when it upzoned the land. But that value all went instantly into the pockets of the current owners of the land. It increased the likelihood of the land being developed, but it also made it almost impossible to ask for any amenities, like parks.
Plus, the height limit means that developers can't get their 10 FAR by, say, building a 20-story building on half the lot and retaining the rest for a park. DC can't even give this right to a single property owner for a single park.
This is exactly the mistake Larry Beasley warned against in his recent talk. Instead of simply adding as-of-right height, he suggested coupling higher development with requirement to provide various amenities. This is the approach Montgomery County is using at White Flint, for example. This means that a portion of the economic gain goes to the property owner, but some of it can go to making housing more affordable, or providing parks, or schools, or bike paths.
According to the WBJ article, Wells proposes allocating up to $51.5 million in tax revenue from NoMA into a special fund, but only if the revenue exceeds the 2010 level so it doesn't take away from the District's budget.
The NoMA BID and local developers support the plan, but perhaps they should also support increasing their tax rates a bit, at least in the future for a number of years, since they will benefit from the park and can sell units for more money (which will also generate more property tax).
And in the future, all cities and towns should avoid making the same mistake. Libertarian-leaning urbanists like Market Urbanism have recommended fewer development restrictions and greater reliance on the free market. In many cases that makes a lot of sense, but the NoMA experience shows a need for at least some mechanism to reserve for public goods some of the value an upzoning generates. Is there a more free market way to handle this?
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