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Posts about Prince George's


What happens when people without cars move to places built for driving?

What happens when people without cars move to neighborhoods built for cars? In Langley Park in Prince George's County, an increasing number of people want to walk to jobs and retail—even though doing so isn't all that safe (yet).

The number of people who walk along University Boulevard in Langley Park is on the rise, but the area is still most accommodating to cars. Image from Google Maps.

Langley Park is on the county's northwestern border with Montgomery County. It used to be a farm, but after World War II it was sold to developers who built small bungalows and garden apartments for newly returned GIs and their new families.

In the early years most residents were white, but during the 1970s African American families began moving to the neighborhood. In the 1980s immigrants began trickling in as well. They hailed from diverse places—El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Vietnam to name just a few. Immigrants continue to live in Langley Park, but today Hispanics are the largest racial/ethnic group, comprising 76.6% of the area's 2010 population.

We usually think about walkability in the context of young professionals who want to walk to bars and restaurants and get to work via bike lanes or public transportation, but in Langley Park, walkability is about immigrant families who need to walk bus stops and shops for everyday errands.

Lots of people want to walk around Langley Park

Langley Park has two main thoroughfares: University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue. Both are state highways with concrete median strips. Based on what I see on Google Earth, I'd estimate that cross streets in Langley Park are usually at least 2/10ths of a mile apart. The area's retail is concentrated on University Boulevard in small- and medium-sized strip malls with parking lots out front.

A Google Maps image of Langley Park. 193 is University Boulevard.

As the distance between cross streets and the abundance of parking lots on University Boulevard demonstrate, Langley Park's developers assumed the area's residents would drive to local retail establishments. There are still plenty of cars in Langley Park—traffic jams are common during rush hour—but now there are also lots and lots of pedestrians. And, there are many businesses for them to walk to.

In fact, retail in the corridor is thriving. Strip mall vacancies are rare, and most businesses target local residents instead of commuters driving through the area. There are only a few fast food chains on University Boulevard, for example, and the most visually prominent one—Pollo Campero—originated in El Salvador and tends to cater to Central Americans missing the tastes of home.

Other shops include nail salons, pharmacies, international groceries, and Salvadoran and Mexican restaurants. The area also has a variety of clothing stores, including an African fabric store, a Sari shop, and a Ropa Colombiana. Value Village also has a store in the area, and serves as a sort of second hand department store, selling clothes, toys, furniture, and small appliances.

All of this adds up to the streetscape in Langley Park being more vibrant than your typical suburban area. People aren't just going to and from their cars; they're walking, hanging out in front of stores, or sitting on retaining walls and shooting the breeze. One strip mall even has a semi-regular street preacher. Armed with a megaphone and boundless conviction, he exhorts and cajoles passersby in equal measure.

Photo by the author.

Most importantly, there are lots and lots of kids—in strollers, holding their parents' hands, and carrying a backpack on the way to or from school. Except for the built landscape, this could be in any kid-friendly area in DC—think the Palisades or Chevy Chase.

Pedestrian safety is a big concern here, and quick fixes aren't long-term solutions

That built landscape is a big deal, though. Getting from home to shop and back again isn't easy when you have to cross six lanes of traffic. And unlike the Palisades or Chevy Chase, the distance between cross streets in Langley Park is substantially longer.

As a result, pedestrians often cross between crosswalks, which can be dangerous given the volume and speed of traffic in the area. Crashes involving cars and pedestrians have been a consistent problem in the area for more than a decade. The latest pedestrian fatality happened last July when a police officer struck and killed a man as he was crossing the street in between walk signals.

To try to address this problem, the county installed new medians along University Boulevard last year, along with six foot metal fences to prevent pedestrian crossings between signals.

Photo by the author.

While these may make the street safer in the short term, they come at the cost of increasing the root problem, which is that there aren't enough crosswalks to handle all the demand. The fences prioritize making sure cars can move through the area without worrying about people on foot, making the road even more like a highway. That's actually the opposite of how you build a street to be genuinely safe and useful for pedestrians.

Fortunately, signal timing and crosswalks in some places have recently been improved to give people sufficient time to cross. And the new Takoma-Langley Crossroads Transit Center, set to open in late 2016, will also be a good step since it will consolidate stops for 11 bus routes that currently carry 12,000 passengers a day. That means transfers will be much easier and safer.

The Takoma-Langley Crossroads Transit Center. Photo by the author.

Also, when the Purple Line is built, the transit center (a planned stop on the line) will further concentrate transportation options, making getting to or from public transportation easier.

Langley Park is certainly making progress when it comes to being safer for people on foot. But there's also a long way to go in order to truly retrofit the area to be safe, easy, and enjoyable to walk around.

More crosswalks would be a great start, and traffic calming to slow cars down would likely go a long way. A pedestrian bridge over University would be the dream, and planting trees and foliage would also help reduce noise and air pollution while also providing a more attractive thoroughfare.

Whatever the specifics, I hope resources go into making the area safer and easier to walk around. Langley Park deserves it.


Tuesday is election day. Here's a recap of our endorsements.

Tomorrow is election day, one of our single biggest opportunities to make the Washington DC region even greater. Please vote! If you didn't vote early and are headed to the polls tomorrow, here's a recap of our recommendations on how to vote.

Photo by Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin on Flickr.

Where to vote

Not sure where your polling place is? Plug your home address into Google's voting tool, and it will tell you your polling place, your voting and ID requirements, and a pretty good roundup of what will be on your ballot:

Our (non-ANC) endorsements

Over the past several weeks, GGWash has released its official endorsements for a number of races. Per reader request, here they all are again, in one easy place to reference (or share).

We recommend area voters choose:

  • Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President
  • David Grosso and Robert White for DC Council at large
  • Mary Lord for DC State Board of Education
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton for DC Delegate
  • For DC's statehood referendum
  • LuAnn Bennett and Don Beyer for Congress in Virginia
  • John Delaney and Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland
  • For the Prince George's at-large council seat proposal
  • Against Montgomery County term limits
Read our rationales and more details on these races here.

ANC endorsements

Are you a DC resident but unsure of which race you vote in? Use to find out.

To determine this year's ANC endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and recommended endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

A note about ANC candidates noted as write-in: because they completed our survey long after we began to publish our endorsements (with the exceptions of Eve Zhurbinskiy and Nicole Cacozza, who submitted in early September), candidates had the opportunity to review our analyses before submitting their responses. While they had that advantage, we do believe our endorsed candidates would make for great commissioners and deserve your write-in vote.

ANCs Ward 1


ANCs Ward 2


ANCs Ward 3


ANCs Ward 4


ANCs Ward 5


ANCs Ward 6


ANCs Ward 7


ANCs Ward 8


Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts. This is especially true for write-in candidates, whose biggest challenge is simply getting enough people to remember their name when they go to the ballot box.


This map shows what percentage of our region's population is registered to vote

Most of us have at least a vague understanding of the political leanings of the communities we live in, but we tend not to know what fraction of our neighbors actually vote. I recently made a map showing what fraction of the population is registered to vote in legislative districts throughout the region.

Each district or ward is color-coded based on the percentage of residents who were registered voters in 2014; the darker the color, the more people who were registered. I only included Maryland and Virginia legislative districts that contain part of Prince George's, Montgomery, Fairfax, or Arlington counties, or the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, or Fairfax.

Because it was easiest to find data on registered voters for electoral districts, I decided to use lower house state legislative districts in Maryland and Virginia and wards in the District of Columbia for the map. (DC is split up geographically into eight wards, each of which has a representative on the DC Council.)

It is worth noting that while this data tells us what percentage of residents vote, it does not take into account the fact that not all districts have the same population of eligible voters. Unfortunately, I was unable to find data on the number of eligible voters, or of citizens eighteen or older, tabulated by legislative district.

One thing I think is noteworthy is how much the the percentage of residents registered to vote varies across the region. In Maryland's District 47B, only 28% of the population is registered to vote (granted, the district does include the immigrant-heavy area of Langley Park), while in DC's Ward 6 (which includes Capitol Hill), 86% of the population is registered to vote.

As a Prince George's County resident, I was also surprised to find that the percentage of registered voters is generally lower in northern Prince George's County than anywhere else in the DC area, since I had thought of the northern half of the county as more politically engaged than the south. However, the large immigrant communities in the northern county, and the associated larger numbers of non-citizens, are probably part of the reason for this effect.


Our endorsements for races across the Washington region

Tuesday, November 8 is Election Day, and most area jurisdictions have early voting which has already begun. Here are our endorsements for some key races on your ballot.

Photo by League of Women Voters of California LWVC on Flickr.

We recommend area voters choose:

  • Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine for President
  • David Grosso and Robert White for DC Council at large
  • Mary Lord for DC State Board of Education
  • Eleanor Holmes Norton for DC Delegate
  • DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission: Read our endorsements here
  • For DC's statehood referendum
  • LuAnn Bennett and Don Beyer for Congress in Virginia
  • John Delaney and Jamie Raskin for Congress in Maryland
  • For the Prince George's at-large council seat proposal
  • Against Montgomery County term limits
Below is our rationale for all endorsements in races other than Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. You can read our detailed reasons for our ANC endorsements by choosing your ward from this page.

President and Vice President of the United States

We know, the whole nation was waiting with bated breath to find out what Greater Greater Washington thinks about the presidential race. Your long suspense is over: after some very contentious balloting, our contributors unanimously recommended voting for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. We figured we'd start this post off with a shocker.

Seriously, whether you're Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, pro-urbanism or anti, for goodness' sake, vote for Hillary Clinton. As one contributor put it, "because it's the only choice to keep our national government from slipping into utter chaos." Clinton is, they said, "most likely to continue the Obama Administration's urban policies and really enhance his domestic policy legacy."

Anyway, you probably want to get on to the local races where our endorsement is more likely to sway you. Fair enough!

David Grosso (left) and Robert White (right). Images from the candidates' websites.

DC Council at large

Each November in even years, voters pick two at-large members of the DC Council, but the law limits the number of Democrats (or members of any other party) who can be on the ballot simultaneously. The Democratic nominee is Robert White, whom we endorsed in the June primary against Vincent Orange. Also running as a technically-not-a-Democrat is incumbent David Grosso, and both deserve your vote (if you vote in DC).

One contributor, who lives east of the Anacostia, said of White: "Robert White is appealing for a person East of the River, as he has articulated a policy for preserving affordable housing, but also pairing such efforts with economic development. Typically we get one but not the other. His proposal to increase density along major corridors also has the beneficial effect of encouraging improvements in mass transit."

As for Grosso, he has been a progressive champion on many issues and a strong fighter for better education in DC as head of its education committee for the last two years. He is one of the council's best members and we look forward to the next four years on the council with Grosso and White.

State Board of Education

Voters also choose members of the State Board of Education. Incumbent Mary Lord is running against two challengers, and we encourage voters to return her to the board. While we don't talk about the SBOE much on Greater Greater Washington (want to write about it? Get in touch) and one contributor said, "I'm pretty sure I keep forgetting this group exists until election time," the board sets important education priorities.

Our contributors said that Lord "has the experience and knowledge" to serve effectively on the board, and others noted that respected ANC commissioners and neighborhood groups are supporting her.

There are also races for council ward seats (not expected to be competitive) and some State Board of Education seats (some possibly competitive) in wards 7 and 8 (and uncontested ones in 2 and 4). We did not have enough contributor consensus to make endorsements in the contested races.

Photo by Michelle Kinsey Bruns on Flickr.

DC Statehood

DC voters will weigh in on an advisory ballot referendum about statehood. Our contributors who filled out our survey universally agreed DC deserves statehood, and even if some didn't agree with every detail of the proposed constitution or process, they felt it sends an important message for voters to ratify this by large margins.

One contributor, who didn't support the process, said, "I think there are a lot of issues with how residents will be represented in the constitution developed (ANCs stay with similar power, bigger council). If we really want statehood, we need to put forward a more serious, thoughtful constitution before taking this further, or else no one else will take it seriously."

But others, while agreeing in part, suggested a yes vote: "Its not perfect, but we goddamn deserve to be a state," one wrote. Another: "It's not perfect, but it's still worth supporting."

And: "Any vote against this will be used as a cudgel by those opposed to statehood for a generation." This referendum is not even binding on the DC Council, let alone Congress which has to act to make DC a state. So the vote really is symbolic, but for an important symbol. Please vote yes on DC Advisory Referendum B.

Delegate to Congress

Speaking of DC's non-representation in Congress, our contributors support re-electing Eleanor Holmes Norton as DC's nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives (but support changing that to a voting representative, of course).

While we haven't always agreed with all she's done, contributors said "she has years of experience working across the aisle in Congress and bringing home much needed funds for DC transportation projects; she has proven herself a partner and ally to my community;" and called her "a long-time fighter for social justice."

LuAnn Bennett on a sidewalk. Image from the candidate's website.

Congress in Maryland and Virginia

If you live outside the District and are a US voter, you can cast a ballot for a voting member of Congress. By far the most hotly contested race in our area is in Virginia's 10th district, between incumbent Barbara Comstock and challenger LuAnn Bennett. The district contains parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties as well as all of Loudoun, Clarke, and Frederick counties, plus the cities of Manassas Park, Manassas, and Winchester.

Comstock, the Republican, is portraying herself as a moderate, but as one contributor noted, she "is much more conservative that most people realize, for example a 3% environmental vote score." But even more critically for Greater Greater Washington, she has been unhelpful on issues about WMATA and transit funding.

Further, one contributor noted, "she's shown that she is not very friendly to legislation that would protect cyclists and she also signed legislation that prioritized driving over public transit infrastructure. Knowing her record indicates to me that the 10th district should have a candidate who wants to work with others to promote smart growth, which LuAnn Bennett has made one of her campaign issues."

Just over the Potomac, Maryland's 6th district streches from Montgomery County to western Maryland. Incumbent John Delaney (D) faces Amie Hoeber (R). Our contributors are not huge fans of Delaney, noting that he "is a captive of the highway lobby" and "is determined to widen I-270." However, they said, "his opponent is even worse" and "Amie Hoeber wants to basically widen everything." We encourage voters to return Delaney to office despite his flaws.

In less competitive Congressional races, contributors also had glowing things to say about Don Beyer in VA-8, who "has made smart growth and transit part of his campaign. He's promoted clean energy and public transit, including BRT in Fairfax County."

They also recommended Jamie Raskin, who won a 3-way primary for the open seat in Maryland's 8th district. "Jamie Raskin should easily win but he has been a progressive champion in Annapolis and deserves to be recognized," one wrote. And "Jamie Raskin has been great on Purple Line for many years despite opposition." Raskin has sometimes sided with residents opposed to any new housing in their areas, like on the Takoma Metro station development, but as a member of Congress he would be even more removed from this day-to-day NIMBYism and his record on other issues is very strong.

Images from the campaigns for No On B (Montgomery County term limits) and Re-Charge At Large (Prince George's Question D).

Montgomery County term limits

Montgomery and Prince George's voters will decide whether to change some of the mechanics of their counties' systems with ballot initiatives on November 8.

In Montgomery County, the main question is whether to impose a 3-term limit on county executive and all county council seats. Our contributors who answered the survey unanimously recommend no on Question B. Here's some of what they said:

  • Term limits shift the balance of power away from democratically elected officials and into unelected entities forces like interest groups and agencies.
  • Depriving the Council of experienced members is likely to lead to a Council with a short-term outlook that aims to split the difference between nimby homeowners and real-estate developers, at the expense of county residents who need housing.
  • Honestly, I'm really frustrated with the councilmembers in place today and would like to see them change, but I'm not convinced that term limits will guarantee the change I seek.
  • Term limits remove choices from the voters, and in this case is just a trojan horse for creating several open seats for wealthier residents to buy their way onto the Council.
One particularly nasty part of the term limits proposal would count a full term against anyone who served even a single year (or a day) of a partial term. That would force out Nancy Navarro, who won a special election in 2009 and then her first full term in 2010.

The county council has put Question C on the ballot to change this so that a partial term only counts if it's two years or more, the same as the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution for Presidental term limits. While we hope voters reject term limits entirely, voters should vote yes on Question C to make the law fairer if it does pass.

Prince George's at large

In Montgomery, DC, and other jurisdictions, there are at-large councilmembers alongside ward members. This means everyone still has one person representing his or her area, but also some people who take the larger view. This system works well, and Prince George's could adopt some of it with an initiative to add two at-large members to its currently nine-member council.

Our contributors suggest approving this idea with a vote of yes on Question D. One said, "I live in a city now without any at-large representation. It's awful. You need some politicians who can focus on the governance of the municipality as a whole, instead of just parochial issues in their own district." Another felt at-large seats are "essential to end the pattern of individual councilmember vetoes over building in their districts, which empowers NIMBYs and promotes corruption."

One controversial element of this proposal would let members who are term limited as ward members then move up to at-large. Tracy Loh and Matt Johnson discussed this, and other facets of the proposal, in an earlier post.

We hope voters approve Question D and make the Prince George's council more effective.


How would at-large seats change the Prince George's County Council?

Prince George's voters will decide whether to create two new at-large county council seats in the November 8 election. If the measure (Question D) passes, it will mean more councilmembers who have the entire county's interest in mind.

Photo by Carol Raabus on Flickr.

Currently, the Prince George's legislative branch is made up of nine council districts of roughly equal population. Each district is represented by one council member, and residents can only vote in the race in that district. The county executive is elected at large by residents throughout the county.

Question D would change the makeup of the council. In addition to the nine council districts, there will be two at-large seats, and all county residents will be able to vote for those at-large members, like they do for county executive now.

Parochialism and sprawl go hand in hand

Matt wrote about why Prince George's would benefit from at-large council seats in 2013, after he went to testify on an issue in Upper Marlboro (the current county seat, pending a possible move to Largo) and found the only council member paying attention was his. In his case, as with many others, the other eight council members had no need to pay attention or fear retribution. After all, only their district's residents can vote for or against them.

A district-based focus is particularly a problem when it comes to establishing priorities at the county level. For example, every council member wants development in their district, but the result of that is sprawl.

Without at-large members, the council can have difficulty thinking of the good for the county versus only the good for their districts. So instead of focusing development around Metro stations and existing communities, some council members push for more development in their districts even though they may be far flung from existing infrastructure.

At-large members, on the other hand, would be responsible to county residents as a whole, which incentivizes them to think of the county rather than just their district. It won't necessarily mean that the needs of any one district won't sometimes prevail over the needs of the county as a whole, but at-large members will help to shift the debate.

Prince George's council districts. Map from the county.

Term limits and cost add controversy

The current proposal before Prince George's County voters calls for the creation of two new at-large seats. In addition, district members will be eligible to run for the at-large seats, even though Prince George's County has a two-term limit for council members.

This proposal means that, hypothetically, a district council member could serve two terms and then get two more terms as an at-large member. The Washington Post therefore mocked the measure as "a jobs plan for Prince George's County council members."

This initiative would have had an easier political road if it didn't mean a budget increase for the council to cover new salaries, staff, and discretionary budgets, or effectively lengthen existing eight-year term limits, which the county's voters recently narrowly affirmed.As it stands, for those who are passionate about term limits, this proposal is a Trojan horse that allows politicians to stay in office longer than the spirit or the letter of the current charter allows.

On the other hand, for those who don't think term limits are a good idea (which in 2014 was 49% of Prince George's County voters), this part of the proposal is a benefit. Creating a small path for career advancement for legislators through the at-large system actually could be a good way to ensure the best members can keep serving the public, they argue. Oddly, the Post editorial board recommend against term limits for Montgomery County while criticizing the Prince George's proposal for weakening them.

Creating at-large seats could have equity impacts as well

The county's charter provides for the council districts to be drawn on the basis of population after each census, to contain roughly equal population. That's why the districts bordering the District of Columbia are relatively small and and they're much larger farther out.

Voter registration, however, is not nearly so evenly distributed:

voters (2012)
2010 pop.% registeredAvg. median household income by census block% 19 & younger
Total568,591862,83766%did not calculate27%

In District 2, where Tracy serves on the Mount Rainier city council, only 40% of the population is registered to vote. There are a lot of demographic reasons for this: there are more immigrants and lower incomes in this part of the county, both of which tend to make it harder to both register to vote and to actually get out and vote.

In districts 6 and 9, on the other hand, the vast majority of the population is registered to vote. That means at-large candidates building from these bases will have an advantage when running. It also means places with more poor people and immigrants have less of a voice in choosing those representatives.

The county needs voter registration, education, and turnout efforts in order to actually fulfill the hoped-for potential of the at-large seats. Otherwise, the densest and most urban parts of the county will continue to be under-represented.

At-large seats likely mean more accountability to voters

The legacy of this decision extends far beyond the next one or two elections. Over the long term, demographics in the county will continue to shift, voter registration efforts can pay off, and the basic political theory undergirding at-large seats (that those holding them have an incentive to think regionally) will still apply. The people sitting in the at-large seats will be accountable to more voters.

If Prince George's is going to be competitive in the region and attentive to the needs of all of its residents, it's important that someone at the legislative level is thinking about the good of the county as a whole, and not simply one district.


Peter Shapiro is nominated for a seat on the powerful DC Zoning Commission

Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated Peter Shapiro, a resident of the Chevy Chase neighborhood of DC, to the board that decides DC's zoning and rules on many large development projects.

Image from Prince George's County.

Shapiro would replace Marcie Cohen, a former affordable housing and community development professional. Cohen has been a strong advocate for zoning that allows more overall housing in DC, speaking about the need for more housing many times.

Shapiro's day job is head of the Prince George's County Revenue Authority, an entity which acquires and helps develop land in the county to boost its economy. He used to live in the Prince George's town of Brentwood, where he served on the town council for two years and then the county council for six.

He helped bring community members, developers, businesses, and others together around a vision for the Route 1 corridor just east of DC, which ultimately led to the Gateway Arts District spanning four towns (and including Bird Kitchen, the site of our extremely successful recent happy hour with County Executive Rushern Baker).

Left to right: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Chief of Staff Glenda Wilson, Communications Manager Barry Hudson, and Revenue Authority Executive Director Peter Shapiro. Photo by the author.

Shapiro later moved back to DC where he ran unsuccessfully for DC Council against Vincent Orange four years ago, winning our endorsement but splitting the anti-Orange vote with Sekou Biddle. (Our endorsed candidate Robert White beat Orange this year.)

He has long been a proponent of better transit and transit-oriented development. Way back in 2001, he endorsed the Purple Line and supported running it through existing communities with people who need to get to jobs, such as the area he represented.

He served on a Maryland "Special Task Force for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)" in 2000, chaired the regional Transportation Planning Board in 2003, co-chairs the Urban Land Institute's Regionalism Initiative Council, and is part of a joint ULI Washington and Baltimore TOD Product Council. He is an elected member of his neighborhood's the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, but says he would resign that seat if confirmed to the Zoning Commission because both are very time-consuming, volunteer jobs.

Nomination, take two

Mayor Bowser initially nominated developer David Franco for the seat, but DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson refused to hold a hearing.

Mendelson told the Washington Blade that he's concerned about having developers on the commission. Franco is very civic-minded and more supportive of affordable housing than most developers, but according to the Blade, Mendelson opposed confirming any developers, period.

Shapiro does not have the potential conflicts of interest that a developer would, but as someone with long experience with how well-designed development can enhance communities and boost the economy, he would be a valuable member of the Zoning Commission. Mendelson will hold a hearing on Shapiro's nomination at 1 pm on Thursday, November 10.

What is the Zoning Commission?

The Zoning Commission is far more powerful than planning boards in other jurisdictions. When DC got home rule, Congress did not want to give the local legislature full authority over land use. Instead, the Zoning Commission has the final say (other than potential court appeals) over zoning and development decisions in DC.

The DC Council can guide the future direction of growth through the Comprehensive Plan and smaller plans, which the Zoning Commission is required to follow. But when it comes to changing zoning rules or approving particular developments, it has no authority; all councilmembers can do is write letters expressing an opinion.

There are actually two zoning boards in DC, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Zoning Commission. Mainly, the BZA handles smaller individual projects; it grants variances and special exceptions to zoning rules for unusual circumstances. The Zoning Commission makes bigger-picture policy, like changing a neighborhood's zoning or a citywide zoning rule. It also reviews Planned Unit Developments, generally big development projects which need more flexibility and also provide more community benefit. The BZA is somewhat more legalistic, while the Zoning Commission focuses more on policy.

The Zoning Commission has three members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council, as well as two federal members, one from the National Park Service and one from the Architect of the Capitol. This makes DC's three appointees even more crucial.

While the federal representatives serve as part of their jobs, locally-appointed Zoning Commissioners are not paid for their service. Yet, they have to attend two (often long) meetings most weeks and also sit on some meetings of the BZA, which has a seat for a rotating Zoning Commission member.

This makes it tricky to find someone with experience and knowledge who is not also a developer. The city would be lucky to get Shapiro, with his regional perspective, experience with development, and positive vision for DC.


Whether you're traveling from Virginia or Maryland, Capital Bikeshare isn't just for short trips

People often rely on Capital Bikeshare for short, local trips. But not always; lots of times, they use the system to travel a little farther. These graphs show how often people use Capital Bikeshare to go between different groups of stations in the region and where exactly they travel to and from.

A Capital Bikeshare station in Montgomery County. Photo by author.

When Capital Bikeshare first came to our region, the vast majority of stations were in DC and a few were in Arlington. As the system has expanded, so have options for traveling between places.

I wanted to analyze bikeshare trips between counties, cities, and the District, as well as trips within different parts of the same county but still outside of DC. To do this, I divided Montgomery County and Arlington County into what I'm calling geographic clusters: Rockville, Silver Spring/Takoma Park, and Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights for Montgomery County, and North and South Arlington County, with Arlington Boulevard being the dividing line. Then I looked at CaBi trips from between September 2013 and May 2016.

This graph shows how many trips from each of those clusters ended in another one:

All graphs by the author. Click for a larger version.

As you can see, the places closest to DC are the ones from which people take the most trips between clusters; about 36% of trips in North Arlington and 35% of trips in Bethesda/Chevy Chase/Friendship Heights end somewhere else, while only 1% of trips in Rockville end outside of Rockville. Among all the clusters outside of DC, approximately 30% of trips go from one to another.

A closer look shows that most of the trips from one cluster to another are trips to DC, but not all. For instance, 9% of the trips that begin in South Arlington are between clusters but do not end in DC.

Click for a larger version.

This graph shows where, exactly, most bikeshare users go from various clusters:

Click for a larger version.

Further examination of South Arlington shows that approximately 71% of the trips there are local, 20% end in DC, 4.5% end in Alexandria, and 4.5% end in North Arlington. Also notice that nearly 8% of trips starting in Alexandria and 4% of trips in North Arlington end in South Arlington. As an area that is adjacent to clusters that use bicycle share, South Arlington sees more bikeshare activity.

Similar to the dense bikeshare system in DC, bikeshare outside of DC serves mostly local trips. But that doesn't mean bikeshare doesn't have a regional value, as nearly a third of trips system-wide are between clusters. As bikeshare continues to expand in the region, municipalities, especially those near other places with bikeshare, like Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, or Langley Park, would see an increase in ridership if bikeshare users could access the regional system.

This data only shows individual trips and doesn't show the length of time of trips or whether the user has a causal or annual membership. Exploring this information, as well as specific bikeshare travel patterns in more suburban areas, would tell us more about how bikeshare fits in both the local and regional transportation system.


National Harbor's colossal never-built skyscraper

National Harbor was originally going to be called PortAmerica, and it almost included a skyscraper that might have been taller than the Washington Monument.

Port America. All images from Johnson/Burgee.

By 2008 when the first part of National Harbor opened, the concept of suburban town centers was tried and true. But developers have been trying to build a town center there since the mid 1980s. When they started, it was the most progressive of ideas.

The original plan for PortAmerica dates from 1987. It would have included a neo-classical, mixed-use town center in the same place as National Harbor's waterfront, plus a large office park on the adjacent property that is now an outlet mall will soon have a casino.

The office park would have included a 52-story trophy office tower. It would very likely have risen above the 555-foot Washington Monument, and definitely would have dwarfed the DC region's current tallest office building, Rosslyn's 384-foot 1812 North Moore (though that won't be the case for long).

We first ran this post back in 2013, but since the facts haven't changed, we thought we'd share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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