Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Paris


Fruit stands abound within Paris Métro

Throughout the Paris Métro are ubiquitous vendors of fresh fruits and vegetables. Vending machines on station platforms sell candy and bottled beverages. The option to quickly grab a snack is readily available to Parisians and riders of New York's subway, but not our own. Should it be?

Fruit stand at BarbèsRochechouart station. Photos by the author.

Apples, clementines, bananas, mangoes and tomatoes are readily available at reasonable prices throughout the M´tro system, from the modern Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station on Line 14 to older stations like Barbès-Rochechouart on Lines 2 and 4.

Fruit stand at Place de Clichy station.

There are no restrictions on eating on the Paris Métro. While there is ample supply of discarded chicken bones, sunflower seeds and fast food on Washington's Metro despite a ban on food, the Paris Métro is comparatively clean, with no traces of food on the trains or station platforms.

Some of the stands are free-standing, requiring the proprietors to set them up and take them down every day. Others rent existing kiosk space. Each vendor stand has a digital scale uses to weigh your purchase. From one vendor a clementine cost 0.35 Euro, while at another stand, a clementine and green apple ran to 1.37 Euro.

Vendor at Bibliothéque François Mitterrand station.

Two years ago, a New York State Senator proposed a law that would ban eating on New York's MTA. The law was widely opposed, even by MTA's chief, and did not pass.

Even with a ban on eating, Metro still employs a rodent exterminator, who the Post recently profiled. Is Paris' Métro clean while Washington's Metro is dirtier, despite a ban on food here and not there, a result of varying cultures?

Is it time for the Washington Metro to change its orientation towards food, or is the ban appropriate? Would you patronize a fruit and vegetable stand at Metro Center, L'Enfant Plaza or Rosslyn?


No, DC is not going to be like Paris

Supporters of DC's height limit say restricting building heights has worked to keep Paris beautiful. But embracing the Parisian built form would have unintended consequences on DC's neighborhoods.

Demolition near l'Opéra in Paris, 1877. Photo by Charles Marville

The mid-rise Paris that we know today was built not by a democracy, but by a mad emperor and his bulldozer-wielding prefect. As Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning said in a recent WAMU interview, "Paris took their residential neighborhoods and made them essentially block after block of small apartment buildings."

"If we were to do that in our neighborhoods, we could accommodate easily 100 years' worth of residential growth," she added. "But they would be very different neighborhoods."

A haunting exhibition of photographs by Charles Marville, now on view at the National Gallery of Art, offers us a glimpse at how this change manifested itself in Paris.

The city government hired Marville to document the systematic demolition of central Paris' low-rise neighborhoods, the construction of new mid-rise neighborhoods (the ones we know today) in their stead, and the widespread displacement of the center's low-income residents to the urban fringe. (Numerous books have been written about the era, notably "Transforming Paris," by David Jordan.) There were technological limits on buildings in that era, too: elevators were slow and expensive, and the new water mains could not supply satisfactory water pressure to the upper floors of many buildings.

Not dissimilarly, downtown DC's horizontal march has steamrolled numerous low-rise neighborhoods in its wake, from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom. Now that only a few blocks are left for downtown to grow into, office buildings are muscling into Shaw. This is only natural for a mid-rise city: Paris' mid-rise urban fabric superimposed on DC would spill outside the diamond, vastly larger than the existing downtown.

That path of destruction is why most other growing cities in this century (i.e., built-out but growing central cities, from London and Singapore to New York, Portland, Toronto, and San Francisco) have gone the Vancouver route and rezoned central industrial land for high-rises. This method allows them to simultaneously accommodate new housing, and new jobs, while keeping voters' single family houses intact.

By opposing higher buildings downtown, DC's neighborhoods are opposing change now, but at the cost of demanding far more wrenching changes ahead: substantial redevelopment of low-rise neighborhoods, skyrocketing property prices (as in Paris), or increasing irrelevance within the regional economy as jobs, housing, and economic activity get pushed further into suburbs that welcome growth.

Among large North American cities, only Toronto has joined DC in making a concerted effort to redirect growth into mid-rise buildings along streetcar lines, and only as an adjunct strategy in addition to hundreds of high-rises under construction. (The two metro regions are of surprisingly similar population today.) Yet there, just like here, neighborhoods are up in arms at the very notion.

DC cannot put a lid on development downtown, in the rowhouse neighborhoods, in the single-family neighborhoods, and on the few infill sites we have left, and yet somehow also accommodate enough new jobs and residents to make our city reliably solvent, much less sustainable. The sum of remaining developable land in the city amounts to 4.9% of the city, which as OP demonstrates through its analysis, cannot accommodate projected growth under existing mandates.

Something will have to give. A good place to start is a loophole-ridden law imposed back when DC was a protectorate and when Greater Washington counted fewer residents than today's Asheville or Quad Cities.

The Office of Planning has suggested a reasonable framework for a subtly revised Height Act that can accommodate growth and change while preserving the city's cherished urban design and historic neighborhoods. Adapting the rigid 130' cap to a street-width rule maintains the Height Act framework along our ceremonial avenues, where our city's namesake actually set a height minimum.

Along streets like L'Enfant Promenade, Washington had the right idea: taller buildings will better frame vistas. Beyond the L'Enfant City, the Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance will continue to ensure that most buildings never reach the 90' Height Act maximum, but the city will have the flexibility to adapt to evolving construction techniques and special opportunity sites.

As DC re-adjusts to a new century of urban growth, after a lost generation of population decline and disinvestment, inaction poses a far greater risk than action. Paris' combination of horizontality and verticality is undeniably beautiful, but its unique form resulted from a peculiar historical process that I would not wish upon an American city today.

The District of Columbia Council is accepting written testimony about the Height Act until next Tuesday. For more information or to send your comments, visit their website.

A version of this post appeared on West North.


Weekend video: Can you outrun the train?

We've all probably run to catch a train at one time or another. But have you ever gotten off a train, and then ran to meet it at its next stop? One man in Paris attempted to do just that.

He is running between Cluny-La Sorbonne and Odéon trying to catch the same westbound Paris Metro 10 train he just got of off. Despite having to cross a busy road and even falling down at one point, he manages to catch the train.

Are there any Metro station pairs that one could make this trip?


"Metro sprawl" misses better opportunities in the core

WMATA planners have been studying possibilities for system expansion, from lines in the center to extensions at the ends of lines. While every Metro enthusiast has fantasized about dozens of Metro lines running out nearly to West Virginia, this "transit sprawl" overlooks better opportunities to strengthen the system's core.

Photo by justindc on Flickr.

Adding a line in Arlington is more useful than adding a line to Front Royal. The existing land uses closer in are more conducive to higher ridership because they have higher densities, lower rates of car ownership, and, because of their proximity to existing business districts, enjoy shorter travel distances and times.

Furthermore, closer-in lines improve transit networks, expanding service north, south, east, and west. Far-out lines only provide linear service, that is, north and south or east and west, but not all four. As such, the lines far out are less useful to the people they serve.

Ultimately, far-out extensions end up exacerbating Metro's dual and conflicting mandates to provide long-haul service and short-haul service on the same railroad. The argument for 4-minute rush-hour headways inside the Beltway is much stronger than the argument for 4-minute rush-hour headways all the way out to Frederick.

Modern rail systems like our Metro, San Francisco's BART, and Atlanta's MARTA try to combine long-haul and short-haul services into the same systems. Other cities have wisely divided the two.

New York has express subway trains, the Long Island Railroad, and Metro North for long-haul service and the regular subways for local service. These serve different markets with different service frequencies and provide better regional mobility.

Commuters from Long Island are spared the suffering of having to stop 100 times in Brooklyn and Queens just to get to business districts in Manhattan.

At the same time, residents in Brooklyn and Queens get decent service within their own boroughs and to Manhattan. This separation improves the practicality of transit for everyone.

If Metro lines were to extend to the far exurbs, the ride to the area's business districts would still be long and would discourage ridership. These areas are by definition only peripherally connected to the regional economy and residents would already have less reason to take jobs and commute 20 miles in the first place.

Our geography in Washington, however, is more like that of Paris than New York. Both Washington and Paris are interior cities that just happen to have a river or two running through them. We can expand in all directions, whereas New York, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco are bounded by harbors, bays, oceans, or lakes.

There are some interesting charts in Steve Belmont's book Cities in Full that illustrate how different cities' transit systems are spatially laid out.

Draw a circle with a 5-mile radius from Metro Center and the circle will more or less fit just inside the bounds of the DC-Arlington diamond. In that circle, we have 51 stations. Outside of that we have lines reaching as far as Shady Grove, a full 17 miles from Metro Center as the crow flies. The system will reach 26 miles to Loudoun County when the Silver Line is complete.

Map by the author.

Now draw the same 5-mile circle for Paris with the Châtelet hub as the center point and you will notice that nearly the entire Métro system fits inside the circle. The RER commuter trains, not mapped, extend far beyond. Parisians enjoy 240 stations in that circle by Belmont's count.

The distance from Châtelet to Créteil-Préfecture, the farthest station, is only 7.5 miles as the crow flies. In contrast, the Silver Line extension merely begins 8.5 miles from Metro Center.

Map by the author.

Not only that, the network they have built makes it practical to take the Métro anywhere in the circle since your travel journey will not stray too far off of a straight line drawn between two points.

Yes, Paris's densities are much higher than DC's, but our densities are rising since the population is rising. As we plan for the transit system we will need in 2040, we will need to think big.

Far out extensions provide a modicum of very high quality transit to a small population whereas strengthening transit within the existing circle, that is, to people who are more likely to use transit anyway and who are more likely to use it for non-commuting trips, should produce a greater return on the transit investment.

We have to prioritize because transportation funding, like funding for everything, is limited. Sure it would be nice to have Metro service to Gainesville. However, such extension fantasies should not come at the cost of providing service to areas closer in where people are more likely to use the service in the first place.

While enthusiasts and politicians tout outward expansion with a pioneer's zeal, they miss the better opportunities to strengthen the network and construct new lines in the core. Strengthening the core will provide a greater returns on our transportation investment.


What Metro could be in 2100, if our priorities were different

Reader thisisbossi created a fantasy Metro map with a LOT of lines:

He writes,

Yes, this is an absolute pipedream... hence the [title "DC 2100"]. While I laid these out to be at least somewhat technically feasible, everything shown would still require immense amounts of funding, right-of-way, and political will.
That's true, though this map also brings to mind another heavy rail system that does exist:

Paris has more lines than even thisisbossi's map, and in a smaller space, too. It's just that there, the political will exists to build some of the best transit in the world in a nation's capital city, while here, at least a significant part of one major political party would spend absolutely nothing on transit or the capital city.


Weekend reading: "Taking my talents to South Beach"

The inescapable news in the sports world last week was LeBron James' decision on where to play professional basketball. James spurned his current (and hometown) team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in favor of joining forces with multiple, talented free agent players in Miami.

"We are all witnesses." Photo by partie traumatic on Flickr.

The hoopla, as well as James' decision to leave his hometown for greener pastures raises several interesting points about sports, place, labor mobility, and the economic benefits from professional sports and athletes.

Talent migration: Richard Florida takes note of how LeBron and his compatriots took control of their situation in picking a new location to showcase their talents, framing the decision as an entrepreneurial coup in the controlled world of professional sports. The decision, he argues, isn't all that different than the ones that many talented and skilled workers go throughminus the media circus.

Most people attempt to optimize their interests within the constraints imposed by their existing environmentwhat the great economist Joseph Schumpeter dubbed the typical "adaptive response." But at critical junctures, certain kinds of entrepreneurs step outside the bounds of what is given and undertake to shape and actively construct an new environment of their ownwhat Schumpeter called the "creative response."

Miami offered the best place where these three savvy, talented, and surpassingly entrepreneurial young men could create their own kind of spacea more open-ended space, where they could realize their ambitions and dreams.

Teams tied to place: Florida's argument, however, doesn't do much to dispute the common criticisms of LeBron's decision (including one from the Cavaliers owner) that it was selfish and about ego more than anything else. While professional athletes may be individuals free to chose between teams, the teams themselves are rooted in place. Teams profit from their connection and emotional bonds with local fans. It's no surprise that fans see this as a direct insult to their sense of place. In Richard Florida's context, they are the ones attempting to optimize their interests within given constraints.

The narrative that ties teams and cities together is extraordinarily strong. The recent passing of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner offered a chance to reflect on that complex connection between city, fans, team, and players:

The life of George Steinbrenner is a ramp across modern New York, a bridge that spans the whirlpool of one man's spinning psyche and the transformation of America's biggest, baddest city... He championed ordinary New Yorkers, then took them for every last penny...

He remembered the elation of the city when the Yankees won the World Series in 1978, a troubled time. "We put the trophy in the rotunda at City Hall," [former Mayor Ed] Koch said. "I knew, as the Romans knew, that the people require circuses and theatrics."

Economic impacts: Perhaps George Steinbrenner's crowning achievement as owner of the Yankees has been the creation of New Yankee Stadium, on the backs of substantial public subsidy. Plenty of economists consistently argue that stadium subsidies are not wise investments, but the emotional connection between team and city is difficult to quantify.

Likewise, there is a question of geography. Sports teams might not have an impact at the metropolitan scale, but many in Cleveland have seen a direct impact from LeBron James in the area immediately adjacent to the arena. A similar narrative exists for DC's Verizon Center and the subsequent revitalization of Chinatown.

However, accurately calculating all the costs and benefits of the intangible, emotional connection between a city and their team might be next to impossible.

There is no 'Next Big Thing': Aaron Renn uses LeBron's departure from the Midwest to take a long, hard look at the strategic decisions behind the move and the reaction:

In a sense though, Cleveland's disappointment was inevitable. LeBron James was never going to turn around the city. No one person or one thing can. Unfortunately, Cleveland has continually pinned its hopes on a never-ending cycle of "next big things" to reverse decline. This will never work. As local economic development guru Ed Morrison put it, "Overwhelmingly, the strategy is now driven by individual projects....This leads to the 'Big Thing Theory' of economic development: Prosperity results from building one more big thing."
The 'Big Thing' theory has usually been applied to things like sports stadiums and arenas, not the individual players that use them. Nevertheless, the comparison is illustrative. The push to keep a team or even a player by giving them a new stadium might not make economic sense, but losing that player can be painful. And even though a new stadium might not make economic sense for a metropolitan region, that doesn't mean the team itselfdespite being deeply rooted in a single placecan't also migrate to greener pastures and better opportunities. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that's something they also know far too well.

There are a few other items of note, only semi sports-related:

LeBron likes bikes: One thing LeBron does like is bikes. He's a partial owner of Cannondale and hosts a bike-a-thon for kids in his hometown of Akron, OH. Given the negative reaction in Cleveland to his professional decision to play basketball in Miami, it's unclear what will happen to events like this.

New York and Barcelona are boring: Mayor Bloomberg and others were on hand to see the final push of the tunnel boring machine for New York's 7 line extension. Second Avenue Sagas notes the challenges of urban tunneling, even with the advanced technology available today. A few weeks ago, The Transport Politic took an in-depth look at Barcelona's massive subway expansion, also making extensive use of tunnel boring machines operating in dense urban environments.

Paris, automated: Jarret Walker, of the Human Transit blog, offers some observations from Line 1 of the Paris Metro. The line is in the midst of an upgrade to fully automatic, driverless operation. That's no small feat for a line initially built in 1900.

Cross-posted at City Block.

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