Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Riverdale Park


Behold how the Purple Line corridor is changing

When built, the Purple Line could dramatically improve transit commutes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. To explore that and other changes the line will bring, researchers created a series of maps including this one of the "commute shed" of each Purple Line station, or how far you can get on transit before and after it's built.

All images from the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

Two weeks ago, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition organized a workshop called "Beyond the Tracks: Community Development in the Purple Line Corridor" to bring different stakeholders together and talk about ways to prepare for changes along the future light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, which awaits federal funding and could open in 2020.

The coalition is a product of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, which hosted the workshop. Members of the group include nonprofit organizations, developers, and local governments in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. At the workshop, they looked at examples from cities like Minneapolis and Denver, which recently built light-rail lines.

The 16-mile corridor contains some of the region's richest and poorest communities, in addition to major job centers and Maryland's flagship state university. When it opens in 2020, the Purple Line will help create the walkable, urban places people increasingly want. However, rising property values could potentially displace small businesses and low-income households. To illustrate and explore these issues, the Center for Smart Growth produced a series of awesome maps.

Like the DC area as a whole, the Purple Line corridor is divided from west to east, with more jobs and affluence on the west side, and more low-income households on the east side. Many of the estimated 70,000 people who will ride the Purple Line each day in 2040 will come from communities in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's county to jobs in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

But today, getting between those areas can be difficult and time-consuming, whether by bus or by car. It's no surprise that many commuters along the eastern end of the Purple Line have one-way commutes over an hour.

These maps, and the map above, show the "commute shed" of three Purple Line stations, or how far you can get on transit in an hour. In all three cases, the Purple Line opens up huge swaths of Montgomery, Prince George's and DC to each community. While the Purple Line only travels through a small portion of our region, it adds another link to our existing Metro and bus network, meaning its benefits will go way beyond the neighborhoods it directly serves.

But better access comes with a price, namely rising property values. The revitalization of downtown Silver Spring has resulted in higher home prices in surrounding neighborhoods because of the increased demand to live there. But Silver Spring and Takoma Park still have substantial pockets of poverty, meaning that low-income residents may not be able to afford to stay in the area once the Purple Line opens.

There are two ways to ensure that neighborhoods near the Purple Line remain affordable for both current and future residents. One is to protect the existing supply of subsidized apartments. Many complexes near the Purple Line have price restrictions for low-income households, but they will expire before it's scheduled to open in 2020.

The other is to build more new housing near the Purple Line. New homes are usually expensive, but increasing the supply of housing to meet demand can result in lower or at least stabilized prices. We're starting to see this in downtown Silver Spring, where thousands of apartments have been built in recent years. But Montgomery officials reduced the number of new homes allowed in Chevy Chase Lake and Long Branch due to concerns about changing the character of each neighborhood.

There are a lot of great and interesting communities along the Purple Line. But many of them are dramatically different places than they were even 10 years ago. They'll be different in 10 more years, whether or not the Purple Line is built. We can't preserve these places in stone, but we should try to ensure that the people who enjoy and contribute to these places can stick around in the future.


What about an infill Metro station at the Cafritz property?

Prince George's County recently approved a new town center in Riverdale Park that will have the county's first Whole Foods. This might be a good location for a new Metro station as well.

Map by the author.

The Cafritz Property covers 37 acres along Route 1 between East-West Highway and the University of Maryland. Developer Calvert Tract, LLC plans to build nearly 1,000 townhomes and apartments, a 120-room hotel, 22,000 square feet of office space and about 168,000 square feet of retail space, including the Whole Foods. But the project has been controversial due to concerns about traffic.

Concentrating different uses and activities at the Cafritz Property can make the development more walkable and likely to draw customers willing to patronize the location without adding single-occupant vehicles to local roads. But a new Metro station on the property could make it even easier for people to travel there without a car.

I took a visit to the property last year, not to scout out the area where the store would be built, but to take a look at the area where the Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail will extend through the site. One of the things you notice while traveling south from College Park's Calvert Hills neighborhood is that WMATA's Green Line emerges from a tunnel just to the east of the property.

Earlier plans from the developer show that WMATA owns the piece of land that separates the Cafritz property from the city of College Park to the north. What if, as part of the negotiations for future phases of the development, Prince George's County worked with the developers to fund an infill station here?

Current site plan for the Cafritz Property with WMATA property highlighted. Image from the developer and edited by Dan Reed.

The station would be close to the midpoint between the College Park and Prince George's Plaza stations, approximately 4/5 of a mile from the College Park station and 1.1 miles from Prince George's Plaza. Direct rail access to the Cafritz Property would be a win for the property developers as well as the neighbors in University Park, the southern neighborhoods of College Park, and Riverdale Park, all of which can be a long walk from existing Metro stations.

It's probably too late in the process for a Metro station to be built as part of the first phase of the Cafritz Property, but there's no reason this couldn't be seriously considered for the future.


Purple Line stations will range from simple to iconic

As Maryland moves forward with planning for the Purple Line, station designs are being released. They range from simple sidewalk shelters at the smaller stations to landmark aerial cylinders at Silver Spring and Riverdale Park. Here are 6 renderings, illustrating the range of designs.

Bethesda, in a subway.

Silver Spring, elevated.

Langley Park, at-grade.

Riverdale Park, elevated.

Typical at-grade side station.

Typical at-grade center station.

More graphics are available at

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Ride the 82 streetcar from 5th & G to Branchville

Thanks to video posted on YouTube, we can take a historic ride on the DC Transit 82 streetcar line from 5th & G (near what is now WMATA headquarters) all the way to the Branchville neighborhood of College Park.

Between downtown and the northern end of the line at Branchville, the streetcar passes through Eckington, Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, Riverdale, and College Park.

It's difficult to determine the exact date of this film because it was posted without a source cited. However, the streetcars are all sporting DC Transit livery. Before July 1956, the system was known as Capital Transit. It also has to be before January 1962, because that's when the streetcar system closed in DC.

We can actually narrow the dates a little more because the 80 (North Capitol Street) and 82 (Rhode Island Avenue) lines were discontinued on September 7, 1958.

Here is a map of the route the streetcar takes in this film:

Image from Google Maps.

There are a few interesting things along the route visible in the video.

At 0:48, the streetcar takes a "private right-of-way" between New York Avenue and Eckington Place. Today, this is the Wendy's in "Dave Thomas Circle," at New York and Florida Avenues.

A little farther up the route, at 1:58, you see the T Street "plow pit," where the car changed from using underground conduit to overhead wire. The bridge in the background is the T Street bridge over what is now the WMATA Brentwood Yard.

Starting at 10:18, the line begins to cross the Cafritz property in Riverdale Park. This section of the line will be converted into an extension of the College Park Trolley Trail whenever the site is developed.

At 11:20, the streetcar begins running on what is now the College Park Trolley Trail, and it continues on what is now the trail until the end of the film.

At 12:15, the trolley comes to a grade crossing of a spur of the B&O Railroad which was used to deliver coal to the University of Maryland. That right-of-way is now used for Paint Branch Parkway. Just north of that crossing (at 12:25), the streetcar crosses a tributary of Paint Branch Creek on a bridge that is is still used to carry the Trolley Trail.

At 14:18, the trolley arrives at the Branchville Loop, where Greenbelt Road, Rhode Island Avenue, and University Boulevard intersect. The narrator mentions that the line used to run further north along what is now Rhode Island Avenue. As late as 1948, the 82 line was still running as far north as Beltsville. However, the line used to run all the way to Main Street in Laurel, at the far northern end of Prince George's County.

What else do you notice in the film?


Cafritz project tests Prince George's commitment to TOD

The owners of the Cafritz property in Riverdale Park want a zoning change to build a major mixed-use development on a wooded, 37-acre single-family-zoned property with, at best, mediocre access to transit. If Prince George's County is serious about its commitment to smart growth and development around its 15 Metro stations, it will deny the rezoning.

Boulevard at Cap Centre, a better site for this development. Image from Google Earth

In recent years, Prince George's has repeatedly rezoned low-density sites with poor transit access all around the county, such as the Westphalia and Konterra mega-projects.

The county is desperate to attract high-quality mixed-use development, but all too often, this desperation leads it to act against its own best interests. Each time the county allows a huge project in any arbitrary location, it becomes less likely that the right kind of development will come to the Metro sites.

The Cafritz owners want to build 2 million square feet of mixed-use commercial, residential, and hotel space, including a Whole Foods Market. Building the retail there would make stores less likely to locate at other sites which are closer to transit and already zoned for high-density mixed-use development, like the Boulevard at Capital Centre near the Largo Town Center Metro, University Town Center at Prince George's Plaza, or Arts District Hyattsville.

On February 2, the Prince George's County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) will resume its deliberations over whether to recommend the rezoning to the County Council. The County Council will then hold a second public hearing and receive additional public comments before deciding whether to rezone the property.

Recently, I argued that the Boulevard at Capital Centre is a better location for the Whole Foods and the rest of the project. Alex Block argued, "Metro isn't the be-all and end-all of transit. The [Cafritz] project is a perfectly reasonable infill development site."

The Cafritz property site may indeed be perfectly reasonable for some kind of infill development, such as a suburban residential subdivision of 200 homes with some limited "corner store"-type convenience retail. But 2 million square feet of development, including 995 housing units and more than 370,000 square feet of retail, office, and hotel space, is not a reasonable infill project for that location. That's more than 4 times the size of the current development at the Boulevard at Cap Centre, near a Metro station.

Without excellent existing transit options, this much development will induce a disastrous amount of auto traffic. Even the Planning Board staff says the traffic generated by this proposed development will exceed countywide master plan of transportation vehicle limits for the US-1/East-West Highway area. (See pp. 33-36 of the staff report.)

Meanwhile, the 69-acre Boulevard site can easily accommodate the level of development proposed for Cafritz Property. It's also already zoned for high-density mixed use development. In fact, the county's 2002 General plan designated the Largo Town Center station area as a "Metropolitan Center," suitable for the most intensive "downtown-style" development in the county. The county Revenue Authority owns the Boulevard site, so it could easily facilitate this development.

The Boulevard site is already cleared, so developing there would not require further deforestation and could even improve stormwater treatment by replacing the existing sea of surface parking with buildings and additional trees. The Largo Town Center Metro would absorb more of the travel demand, and deevlopment here would be more consistent with the county's master plan of transportation and with smart growth principles generally.

Besides taking retail and housing demand away from potential Metro sites, the Caftitz project could detract from nearby mixed-use projects already in progress. The brand-new 25-acre Arts District Hyattsville development is just 1 mile south of the Cafritz site. Although construction is still underway on the first phase of that development, the entire project will eventually have 500 housing units and 40,000 SF of commercial space when completed.

Similarly, about 1.3 miles to the west of the Cafritz site, near Prince George's Plaza Metro Station, sits the 56-acre University Town Center development. Construction began in earnest on that site in the 1990s and was really beginning to gain momentum in the mid-2000s, until the economy tanked. Recently, several buildings in that development were foreclosed upon and are being held by Wells Fargo, until the original developer can recover or a new owner is found.

There is still oodles of space remaining at UTC for high-density mixed-use residential and commercial development of the type proposed for the Cafritz site, without the need for any zoning changes or clearing of wooded land. Furthermore, UTC is within a half-mile of a Metro station and can accommodate any additional need for high-density retail, residential, and commercial development in the surrounding retail market area, which includes nearby Riverdale Park.

Before authorizing the up-zoning of new greenfield sites like the Cafritz property, the county should insist that developers maximize the development potential at existing Metro stations, such as the Boulevard at Cap Centre or University Town Center, or at existing inner-Beltway mixed use projects like Arts District Hyattsville. If Prince George's County is going to be successful in attracting the type of quality investment and development it says it wants around its Metro stations, its leaders have to be disciplined about following the county's comprehensive land use policies.

The county can't keep approving the wrong type of development in the wrong locations just because a particular property owner or developer wants it. It would be great for the county to gain 2 million square feet of high-quality transit-oriented development, but that needs to happen at the Largo Town Center Metro or one of the other existing Metro station areas in need of such high-intensity development.


Largo is transit-ready for Whole Foods

Recently, there has been quite a bit of hoopla among northern Prince George's County residents over whether the Cafritz Property, a single-family residential-zoned tract in Riverdale Park, is an appropriate transit-oriented place to locate the county's first Whole Foods Market.

Photo from Google Earth.

Meanwhile, in central Prince George's, at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo, there sits a large, recently-vacated anchor tenant space, formerly occupied by Borders Books, where the iconic organic grocer could locate and be open for business within a matter of months.

The Boulevard is an open-air, Main Street-style shopping center with 485,000 square feet of retail space. It was built in 2003 on the site of the former Capital Centre sports arena, which was (until 1997) the home arena for the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, and the Georgetown University Men's Basketball team.

It is located just off of the Capital Beltway at Arena Drive—steps away from the Largo Town Center Metro Station on the Blue Line, and approximately one mile away from FedEx Field.

Boulevard at the Capital Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Borders Books was one of the Boulevard's original anchor tenants. However, in 2011, Borders shut its doors as part of the company's bankruptcy and eventual nationwide liquidation. The space, pictured below, has been vacant ever since.

Former Borders Books at the Blvd at Cap Centre. Image from Google Earth.

Based on the guidelines established by Whole Foods for consideration of new retail locations, the old Borders space at the Boulevard is an ideal site. This is what the retailer says it is looking for:

  • 200,000 people or more in a 20-minute drive time
  • 25,000-50,000 square feet
  • Large number of college-educated residents
  • Abundant parking available for our exclusive use
  • Stand alone preferred, would consider complementary
  • Easy access from roadways, lighted intersection
  • Excellent visibility, directly off of the street
  • Must be located in a high traffic area (foot and/or vehicle)
Let's see how the old Borders space matches up. In terms of demographics, more than 252,000 people live within a five-mile radius—well within a 20-minute drive. In addition, all Blue Line Metrorail stations from Capitol South eastward to Largo Town Center are within a 20-minute ride of the Boulevard (and within a 20-25 minute drive on a good day). This dramatically increases the population count within the target area of this retail space.

The average household income in the immediate three-mile radius is $80,600, and more than 64% of the adult population within a one-mile radius of the Boulevard has either attended or graduated from college. Taking into account the entire area within a 20-minute drive or Metro ride of the Boulevard, including the affluent and highly-educated Capitol Hill neighborhood, the household income and educational attainment levels increase significantly.

The old Borders space is also very well situated, meeting all of Whole Foods' desired site location criteria. It is clearly visible from Arena Drive, just off of a lighted intersection. There are multiple signalized vehicle access points to the Boulevard—two from Arena Drive at the north end, and one from Harry S. Truman Drive at the south end. In addition, there is a lighted pedestrian path (near Truman Drive) that provides direct access to the Boulevard from the Largo Town Center Metro station.

Finally, there is ample parking directly in front of the store space that would be available for the near-exclusive use of Whole Foods customers. Simply put, in terms of foot and vehicle traffic, visibility, and parking availability, few locations in Prince George's County can match it.

Aside from the necessary construction to convert the old Borders space from a bookstore into an upscale specialty grocery store, Whole Foods would need to do very little work to get the store up and running. At 22,915 square feet, this one-story stand-alone space is currently slightly smaller than the Whole Foods stated minimum goal of 25,000 square feet. However, as you can see from the above picture, the space was built with a faux second floor, complete with ample window lighting.

Although I am not an architect or structural engineer, it seems that it should be feasible to add the necessary floor and ceiling to convert this space into two actual stories—in which case, there would be nearly 44,000 square feet of usable space. If not, the existing space is sufficient for a specialty grocer like Whole Foods. Similar competitors, like Greensboro, North Carolina based The Fresh Market, regularly build stores that are about 20,000 square feet.

So what would be the downside, from Whole Foods' perspective, of coming to the Boulevard? Sure, the Boulevard has had its challenges over the years with crime and rowdy teens, but so have other great Metro-accessible shopping centers, like Gallery Place and DC USA in the District. The Boulevard has also had the misfortune of having three of its anchors—Borders, Circuit City, and Linens 'N Things—file for bankruptcy and close their doors.

Recently, though, things have been looking up for the Boulevard. HH Gregg and Shoppers World have taken over the Circuit City and Linens 'N Things spaces, and a new T.G.I. Friday's recently opened in the space vacated by Uno's Chicago Grill. The Boulevard's property managers have instituted a "Parental Escort Policy" that has been successful in discouraging teenagers from loitering.

Increased security and police presence throughout the Boulevard have improved both public perceptions and the realities of safety. Furthermore, it should be noted that the old Borders property is located on the opposite end of the mall, far from the movie theater and other venues that attract many of the youngsters.

The success of the nearby Woodmore Town Center development, which houses a Wegmans grocery store, Costco, Best Buy, and other retailers, shows that there is sufficient spending power in central Prince George's County to make a speciality grocer like Whole Foods extremely profitable.

Indeed, locating a Whole Foods at the old Borders Books store at Boulevard at the Capital Centre offers two advantages that Woodmore Town Center cannot: walkable proximity to Metro and direct visibility from a major street. (Not to mention that Whole Foods probably could not open at Woodmore anyway, given the likelihood of a restrictive covenant in favor of Wegmans that would prohibit another grocery store in that development.)

Whatever decision the Prince George's County Planning Board and County Council eventually make regarding the rezoning of the Cafritz Property in Riverdale Park, it will likely result in years of litigation before Whole Foods, or any other commercial retailer, can start developing there. Local opposition to that new greenfield development is stiff (e.g., see here and here.)

Whole Foods cannot and should not wait that long to bring a store to Prince George's County. Neither should Whole Foods think that there can be only one of its stores in the entire county. The old Borders Books at Boulevard at Capital Centre in Largo is "transit ready" and waiting for a store like Whole Foods.

If you agree that Whole Foods (or another specialty grocer like The Fresh Market) should come to the Boulevard, contact the following people and let them know you support the idea:

  • Whole Foods' Master Broker for Maryland: Mark J. Katz, H&R Retail, 2800 Quarry Lake Drive, Suite 320, Baltimore, MD 21209; Email:; 410-308-6366.
  • The Fresh Market's Director of Real Estate for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region: James Dewey, 628 Green Valley Road, Suite 500, Greensboro, NC 27408; Email:; 336-272-1338.
  • Property Manager for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Mark Nicholas, Inland US Management, LLC, 2901 Butterfield Rd, Oak Brook, Illinois 60523; Email:; 866.646.5263.
  • Brokerage Contact for Boulevard at the Capital Centre: Ryan Wilner, KLNB, LLC, 100 West Road, Suite 505, Baltimore, MD 21204; Email:; 443.632.2058


Breakfast tweets: Drops on Metro

Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
  • Weekend ridership falls on Metro after aggressive trackwork starts (Examiner, @kytja, @perkinsms)
  • Crime on Metro drops in 3rd quarter of 2011 (Post, @vebah)
  • A group of senators is pushing to extend the commuter tax benefit before it runs out (The Hill, @ajfroggie)
  • Even the Competitive Enterprise Institute opposes GOP plan to subsidize roads with oil drilling revenue (National Review, @MilesGrant)
  • Study shows WI "non-users fork over $779 per household for roads, as opposed to $50 for transit" (Streetsblog, @MilesGrant)
  • Whole Foods in Riverdale Park delayed again; town unhappy with proposed connection to surrounding n'hoods (Patch, @justupthepike)
  • In DC, you're 4x more likely to have somebody drive into you on purpose than anywhere else on the planet (NPR, @cityglaze)
  • Staunton News Leader calls on @BobMcDonnell to support a higher gas tax (News Leader, @MilesGrant)
  • London Tube Map made out of Drinking Straws by artist Kyle Bean (The Slow Hunch, @nickgrossman, @perkinsms)
  • Gabe Klein grew up in a Virginia ashram and played D&D with Rivers Cuomo (Grid Chicago, @Naparstek, @bogrosemary)


Improved access to Cafritz development is a step forward

The Cafritz development along Route 1 in Riverdale Park is slated to bring the first Whole Foods to Prince George's County. While one neighboring community is trying to cut off access, another sees opportunity in increasing connectivity.

Photo by *Brujita* on Flickr.

The Riverdale Town council, at first inclined to restrict access to the project only from Route 1, may now see access to the development from the south, along Maryland Avenue, as a chance to open its own town center to additional traffic. This commercial area adjacent to the MARC station, and home to a popular farmers market, has struggled to find tenants. It could become a successful complement to the Cafritz project.

By contrast, University Park wants any new traffic signal on Baltimore Avenue at Van Buren Street to prevent traffic from crossing into its residential streets. Yet access works both ways.

Without such a light, town residents will have to use some part of Route 1 to shop at Whole Foods. And that feeling of being trapped by traffic, which residents have commented on at council meetings, would only grow worse.

Good news on access was heard at Cafritz's presentation last Thursday to the Riverdale Park council. The cost of building a bridge or ramp over the CSX line at the rear of the property is possibly much lower than the $15 million first expected. This would provide access to River Road on the the other side of the tracks, with its significant office developments.

Vehicular access into College Park to the north, along Rhode Island Avenue, may remain a dream. This means that College Park residents from adjoining neighborhoods will have to make a left onto Baltimore Avenue, and another left into the site, to get to the development.

Yes, they can use buses and shuttles, which should be integrated into the design from the outset. Or perhaps they can walk or bike along the trail that the Cafritz development will now complete. But many people who go grocery shopping choose to take their cars. Forcing them all onto arteries won't repeal this preference, but it may make traveling on those arteries more difficult for everyone.

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