Posts about Route 1
May is a great month to bike to school or work (and so is every other month!) Tomorrow is the national Bike to School Day, Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 17, and Greenbelt is having a vintage New Deal-themed bike ride later this month.
Also, there are public meetings to learn about and weigh in on some of the most important questions shaping our communities, like what the Purple Line will look like and how tall buildings should be in DC, a more walkable Route 1 in Fairfax, and Montgomery's Bus Rapid Transit plans, and more.
Here's what's coming up on the Greater Greater Washington calendar:
Purple Line open houses: The Maryland MTA is holding 5 open houses to inform residents about the Purple Line, now looking a lot more likely to actually become a reality. They're tonight (Tuesday) in Silver Spring, Thursday 5/9 in Riverdale, Saturday 5/11 in Langley Park, Tuesday 5/14 in Bethesda, and Wednesday 5/15 at Woodridge Elementary School in Hyattsville. Each is 5-8 pm, except the Saturday one which is 11-2.
Bike to school: If you have children in school and don't bike to school regularly, tomorrow is a great time to try. 17 DC schools are participating, and for the dozen on those which are on Capitol Hill, families can congregate in Lincoln Park for an event featuring Ray LaHood, then form bike trains to the schools. Sandra Moscoso has more on Greater Greater Education.
Walk Route 1: CSG's next walking tour looks at Route 1 in Fairfax, the oft-forgotten highway where big box sprawl has the potential to become eco-friendly, walkable communities. Volunteers will help groups take the bus from Huntington Metro for those arriving by transit. RSVP before it's full!
Height "master plan" meetings: The National Capital Planning Commission and DC Office of Planning are working together on a study that might recommend changes to the federal height limit, or might not. Regardless, the issue is sure to be completely noncontroversial, since as we know nobody ever wants to argue about the height limit. (Kidding.) The first public involvement is next week, with a meeting Monday, May 13, 6:30-8:30 pm at the Petworth Library, and then Saturday, May 18, 10:30-12:30 at the MLK Library by Gallery Place Metro.
Learn about, push for BRT: There's a big hearing on Montgomery County's BRT plans on Thursday, May 16, 6-9 pm in Silver Spring. Can you testify? Also, Montgomery transportation planner Larry Cole will talk about BRT as well as MARC expansion at ACT's monthly meeting Tuesday, May 14, 7:30 pm in Silver Spring.
What's up with Pennsylvania and Potomac? The second public meeting on the intersection at Potomac Avenue Metro is Thursday, May 16, 6:30-8:30 pm at Payne Elementary. Have DDOT and its consultants listened made the early designs even better to walk and bike, or have they gotten worse? We'll find out!
Bike to work: Just a little over a week after Bike to School Day (but much farther down our chronological calendar) is Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. Pledge to ride, stop by one of the pit stops around the region, join one of the commuter convoys along popular routes, and support almost all of the event sponsors.
Talk Smart Growth with David Grosso: Ward 3 Vision, the smart growth resident group in upper Northwest DC, is having a meet and greet on Tuesday, May 21, 6:30 pm at Guapo's by the Tenleytown Metro. At-large councilmember David Grosso will be there to hear from you about your vision for a more walkable and vibrant Ward 3 and all of DC.
Roosevelt Ride: Ride around Greenbelt, the New Deal planned community, in your best New Deal-era attire, followed by a picnic. You can also get a free tour of the Greenbelt Museum, which shows how families lived in what was built as working-class housing in 1937. That's Sunday, May 26; the ride starts at 11, the picnic after, and the tours at 1.
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The Virginia legislature is gearing up for its annual session. Each year is an opportunity for the legislature to fix some of the ways state law fails to provide even some of the most basic protections for cyclists, protections which exist in most other states.
For example, Virginia has no law requiring drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian or the operator of a human-powered vehicle," and is one of only 4 states without this rule. Even though police in most jurisdictions with the rule rarely ticket or investigate drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists, it should be a no-brainer to at least make it illegal to recklessly hit someone.
Likewise, Virginia has a rule against "tailgating" other motor vehicles, but not cyclists. Both proposals failed last year, with Delegate Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) casting a deciding vote against them. Constituents should urge her to support these bills, which are really the very least Virginia could do to protect vulnerable road users.
"Dooring" bill isn't quirky, it's essential
Senator "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) has introduced a "dooring" bill to make Virginia law match Maryland, DC and many other states. In those places, it's a driver's or car passenger's responsibility to make sure when they open a door, it's not right in the path of a cyclist or other "moving traffic" (but really, it's cyclists). In Virginia, there's no requirement to be careful when opening a door, which means that if someone doors a cyclist, police can cite the cyclist for hitting the door instead.
Unfortunately, a Post article on "quirky proposals" in the legislative session highlights this one, even in the first paragraph. Reporter Errin Haines mentions this bill in more detail shortly after quoting Speaker William Howell talking about how he keeps a file of "the stupidest bills."
It's perhaps understandable that one might not immediately know the reason for the bill by reading the legislative summary, but this is actually an important issue that the legislature needs to take seriously.
If Route 1 has to be too wide, leave room for cyclists, too
WABA is also asking Virginians to submit comments on the Route 1 widening in southern Fairfax. Alex Eidson explained many of the problems with the proposal from an urban design standpoint, but as long as they're going ahead, the new road could at least safely accommodate bicyclists.
As Allen Muchnick explains, the original EIS for the road, which is basically the only way to bike through the Fort Belvoir area, had 15-foot curb lanes, enough for cars and bikes to share the space side by side. However, the Federal Highway Administration reduced this to only 14 feet.
Bike advocates would like to restore 15 feet, and stripe the lane as a 10-foot regular lane and a 5-foot bike lane. You can send comments using this WABA form.
The US Department of Defense has approved a $180 million plan to widen Richmond Highway in Fairfax County. The proposal is unlikely to reduce traffic over the long term. It's more likely to harm the community character, degrade historic sites, and make traffic worse.
Moving so many jobs to Fort Belvoir, far from effective transit, was a mistake in the first place. Unfortunately, that decision is out of local hands. But rather than impose an ineffective and undesirable highway, DoD and Fairfax County need to find a more creative way to address the area's congestion.
Communities along Route 1 have long fought to revitalize the corridor. The current plan, however, would turn Richmond Highway into such an expressway that it would make revitalization along its sides difficult. It would divide rather than knit together the two sides of Route 1.
Expanding the road would also harm adjacent historic sites like Woodlawn Plantation and the Woodlawn Baptist Church. It risks repeating the scale and sterility of the massive 10-lane expanse of pavement that already exists around historic Pohick Church to the south.
Lanes and other elements can be narrower
Even if the number of lanes grows, the highway doesn't need to be so wide. The current proposal for the southern portion of the project, from Telegraph Road to the new Mulligan Road, is for a whopping 148 foot-wide cross-section. That's enormous. It includes a 32-foot median reserved for future transit and overly-wide, highway-scaled lanes that are up to 14 feet across.
Several components of the highway could be a more reasonable scale without reducing the number of road lanes. Doing so would be more appropriate for the area, and would better accommodate other modes. Many arterial streets in the DC region have lanes of 11 or 12 feet wide. There is no reason why the lanes on Route 1 need to be so much wider.
It is commendable that the DoD plan designated land specifically for rapid transit in the future, but DoD and Virginia should go further. They should include transit in a dedicated right-of-way as a core component of the proposal. This could use existing buses right away. Perhaps the transit lanes could replace the new third lane of the highway in each direction.
Walking, biking, carpooling and living on post can all reduce traffic
Addressing the traffic generated by Fort Belvoir requires a comprehensive solution, including transit, bike and pedestrian access, as well as creative solutions specific to the military base.
Although it's true that many workers will commute to the base from too far away to walk or bike, the current plan would force even those who live nearby to get in their cars. That's a mistake.
While the plan appropriately includes a bike path and sidewalk, the width and speed of the road would discourage walking and biking. It would be so difficult and dangerous to cross such a wide road that few people would ever try. Furthermore, if the entrances to the fort are not designed with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind, it is even less likely that the paths would be used.
DoD should take advantage of Fort Belvoir's status as a military complex to reduce traffic congestion. One way to do this would be greater use of federal transit benefits and carpooling. For example, DoD could design parking policies with strong incentives for carpooling, especially for those with regular work schedules.
Fort Belvoir should continue to maximize opportunities for soldiers and their families to live on post. The base has earned praise and awards for its "new urbanist" military housing, and should expand those communities. This would reduce single-occupant vehicle demand and allow for a reduced number of through and turn-lanes, particularly in the areas most endangered by the current plan.
Narrowing the road in this manner, while maintaining the number of through lanes, would make the road more manageable for non-automobile modes, without disrupting car traffic too much. A narrower road would be safer, would reduce the necessity to take land from historic sites, and could potentially move more people, by converting car trips to other modes.
It is important that DoD and Fairfax County consider all options before hastily widening Route 1. The changes coming to Fort Belvoir are significant, but turning a community's main street into a through highway is not the answer.
Revitalizing suburban highway corridors in the Washington area presents a challenge, with small parcels, uncooperative property owners, opposition from neighbors, outdated plans, auto-oriented zoning, and identity issues. Route 1 from the Beltway in Alexandria to Fort Belvoir, also known as Richmond Highway, shows the good and bad of revitalization.
For many people, Route 1 conjures up black and white photographs of big American cars, roadside motels, and drive-in movies. It may also bring to mind a less lofty vision, where you could visit a souvenir shop, a fortune teller, a greasy spoon diner, or maybe even a flea market.
The economy that created all of this development dried up more than 50 years ago when Interstate 95 was completed, diverting most of the through traffic away from Route 1. Yet, remarkably, even in a thriving metropolis like ours, the past traces of the former highway are still visible.
Along Baltimore Avenue in Prince George's County, Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast DC, or Richmond Highway in Fairfax County, roadside motels, ramshackle retail buildings, and ancient diners still survive. Even Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City still bears some reminders of the motor age amidst its gleaming high rises.
As the executive director of the Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation (SFDC), my job is to promote revitalization along Richmond Highway, our eight-mile long segment of Route 1 from the Beltway to Fort Belvoir.
At first blush, revitalizing this area would seem to be a simple task. The area abuts Old Town, Fort Belvoir, and National Harbor, is quite affordable relative to other close-in areas, and is very convenient to Arlington and the District via Metro's Yellow Line. From the Huntington Metro station, located at the north end of the corridor, it is just a 20 minute ride to L'Enfant Plaza.
All of these assets have begun to catch the attention of the development community in the past few years. Three major retail developers, Saul Centers, Federal Realty, and JBG Rosenfeld, have collectively invested more than $100 million into modernizing dated suburban shopping centers.
The area's long-forgotten tourism industry is making a BRAC-related comeback, as Baywood Hotels and OTO Development have combined to open 4 new national-flag hotels with 364 rooms since 2009, with much of the demand coming from Fort Belvoir. Finally, and most importantly, the Richmond Highway corridor is drawing strong interest from developers of high density, mixed-use projects, especially near the Huntington Metro.
Recent projects like Kettler's Midtown Alexandria Station and Home Properties' Courts at Huntington Station have already added more than 800 units next to the Metro station. About a mile to the south, directly on Richmond Highway, Redbrick Partners is developing the 290-unit, mixed-use Beacon of Groveton that is set to open later this year. Looking ahead, more than 2,500 additional multi-family units are currently proposed by several other developers in the corridor.
And then there's the hard part.
Though this task may seem fairly easy given the area's many assets, any seasoned GGW reader knows well that revitalizing aging commercial areas is never easy, whether in urban or suburban settings. In addition to the common obstacles to revitalization identified above, several other factors make revitalization along Richmond Highway a challenge in spite of strong market demand:
- Significant portions of the corridor have environmental constraints like floodplain, wetlands, or poor soils that make development very expensive if not entirely impossible.
- Traffic congestion in the area, which was already severe, was worsened by the BRAC-directed employment growth at Fort Belvoir, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency in Springfield, and Mark Center, none of which is located near Metrorail.
- Fairfax County is committing both its funding and planning resources to the Silver Line corridor, and is not likely to be willing to invest heavily in transit improvements along Richmond Highway anytime soon.
- Richmond Highway faces an enduring image as a lower-end, auto-oriented strip.
- It lacks a distinct identify, underscored by the fact that the area's mailing address is Alexandria, but it is outside the city limits in unincorporated Fairfax County.
I plan to post occasional dispatches from Richmond Highway. If you haven't been here for a while I encourage you to revisit the corridor to see how things are evolving, via car, bike, or bus
Arlington County is seeking your input in naming stations on the new Crystal City/Potomac Yard (CCPY) Transitway, the first phase of which will provide Bus Rapid Transit service over part of a 5-mile corridor between the Pentagon in Arlington and Braddock Road Metro Station in Alexandria.
Arlington County has been moving aggressively with the project and is finalizing the designs for the portion that will run from the Crystal City Metro station to Four Mile Run, which separates Arlington from the City of Alexandria. As part of the design, the County has identified eight station stops and is seeking input from the community on station names.
Station names carry a particular significance as many of the bus rapid transit stations will become the core of a future light rail line, if current longer term planning carries through.
With few exceptions, the survey's choices pit effective wayfinding against more colorful, albeit sometimes less useful, station names. For most stations, it presents a fairly descriptive choice, such as "27th and Crystal" and a more creative option like "Potomac Yard Gateway." The survey also asks whether to name the key transfer station at the Crystal City Metro station "Metro Gateway" or "Crystal City Metro."
As for Alexandria's portion, the City received an $8.5 million design/build grant for the CCPY Transitway. It is anticipated that a design/build firm will be selected and under contract later this month.
The project will begin this fall with construction to be completed in Winter 2013. It is anticipated that a the bulk of Alexandria's portion will run along a dedicated center lane on Highway 1.
The survey is short and simple. If you think you might be likely to use the CCPY Transitway, you should make sure your voice is heard. Please share your preferences (or any suggestions for alternatives) in the comments.
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.
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.
Congressman Gerry Connolly and local officials are holding a public meeting September 26 in Prince William County to discuss extending Metro to Woodbridge.
It this a good idea? Like any proposal, it has pros and cons. The issue also depends greatly on whether you look at the problem from a transit planner lens or a public opinion lens.
Is actually bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? If money were no object, probably. However, it would worsen capacity crunches in the core, and so really needs to be paired with a project like the separated Blue Line or separated Yellow Line in DC.
Is bringing Metro to Woodbridge worth the money? It depends what else you spend the money on, but if the same money went to other transit, expanding VRE and express bus options is probably better. However, the budgetary tradeoff is rarely between Metro and other transit of equivalent cost.
Is talking about bringing Metro to Woodbridge a good idea? Absolutely, because talking about how transit can best serve the people of Prince William County can only lead to better thinking about how to grow the Woodbridge area and general public support for transit. Besides, most likely if the state isn't planning a Metro extension, it would instead be planning some much more sprawl-inducing highway proposal.
First, let's talk about the actual tradeoffs in serving the area with transit.
Any Metro extension in this area absolutely has to serve Fort Belvoir. This is the largest focused job center in the area thanks to BRAC and will likely continue to grow. Putting any new transit here without going to Fort Belvoir would be foolish.
In particular, one factor that makes Metro much more cost-effective than other transit systems which serve suburbs, like BART, is the way Metro has significant reverse commuters. Instead of mostly empty trains out to the ends of lines in the morning, many people are riding those trains to federal facilities like those at Medical Center and Suitland.
There's already been talk about extending the Yellow Line down Route 1 instead of the Blue Line. This has the added benefit of helping the communities along the way, many of which are just the kind that could plan constructively around transit. Just like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor 30 years ago, there are aging and often struggling commercial properties which could become mixed-used transit-oriented communities serving people who work to the south in Fort Belvoir or to the north in Alexandria, Arlington and DC.
Building any new rail line, however, is quite expensive. Most of the area is low density. Meanwhile, there's another rail line already here: VRE, which goes to Woodbridge (and has a station not far from Fort Belvoir).
Why not make VRE run far more frequently? It could even combine with MARC to create Metro "express lines." With fewer stops, these would provide a quicker route to the Pentagon and downtown than any Blue or Yellow line extension would.
The biggest obstacle is that VRE doesn't own the tracks, which also serve as the primary east coast freight line. CSX is planning to run even more freight here, which is why they're expanding the tunnels on Capitol Hill as part of the National Corridor plan.
The freight trains don't necessarily need to go through downtown DC. In fact, it's probably better if hazardous material weren't being transported a few hundred feet from the Capitol. NCPC looked years ago at adding a freight bypass, but it's expensive and encountered political opposition in Southern Maryland.
Without building the freight bypass, Virginia could still improve capacity on the VRE Fredericksburg Line by adding passing tracks and a third track as much as possible. Some of that is already happening to accommodate more Amtrak service. Plus, improving this line can enhance intercity rail to Richmond.
Any added Metro service would increase the numbers of passengers coming into the central sections of the Metro system (Arlington and DC). As that ridership grows Metro will need to run the maximum possible numbers of trains on the Blue-Yellow segment, but to do that, they'll need one of the core expansion projects to separate lines.
That's either a new M Street Blue Line subway from Rosslyn to Georgetown to downtown, so the Blue Line trains don't have to merge with Orange and Silver trains at Rosslyn, or a separate Yellow Line tunnel from Southwest to either downtown or Union Station, so Yellow Line trains don't have to merge with Green at L'Enfant Plaza.
The other option is more express buses. Virginia has looked at projects which add special bus exits on and off the freeways, so buses can run in HOV or HOT lanes, get off and stop at a station near the freeway, then hop back on. Light rail could also serve the corridor.
These options are far cheaper. If the tens of billions of dollars required for such a project were sitting in a special bank account marked "TO BE USED FOR TRANSIT IN SOUTHERN FAIRFAX AND EASTERN PRINCE WILLIAM," then a combination of buses and light rail is likely the most productive use of the money. However, that's never the way it works, and planning a big transit project may be the best option compared to the likely alternative, which is planning big and destructive highway projects.
In the next part, we'll talk about the political and public opinion ramifications of talking about such a project.
Yesterday, we discussed the plan for Prince George's County first Whole Foods store. Besides the inappropriate strip mall design, it also contains a huge "buffer" between the development and Route 1, which could fatally damage the ability for this area to be successful.
Both the 2007 and 2008 versions of the project planned for a wooded buffer along Route 1 to separate the development from the single-family homes across the street in affluent University Park.
The current plan removes much of that wooded buffer, but not to create an active streetscape along the main street. Instead, it's been shrunk from the interior edge to make room for more parking lots. If the latest sketches are accurate, there will be only a couple trees saved along Route 1.
It's worth calling into question the provenance of such a buffer in the first place. One assumes it was to be set aside to preserve the wooded view for the 12 to 13 houses across from the property on the west side of Route 1. Those houses are already facing a four-lane arterial highway.
One would have to entertain a willing suspension of disbelief to think those houses are anywhere but on a busy road. Shielding the development from these dozen or so houses would make it nearly impossible for passing traffic to realize there is commercial space behind the trees, and the lack of visibility would almost certainly be a turn-off for business proprietors.
Right now, the proposed development site is zoned R-55 (residential-single-family). Before the Cafritz developers can build any portion of their proposed mixed-use development, they will need to obtain a zoning change from the Prince George's County Planning Board of the Maryland-National Capital Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), and from the District Council (which is what the County Council calls itself when it sits as a zoning agency).
The M-NCPPC and the District Council approved a mixed-use town center plan for the Town of Riverdale Park in 2004. This plan covers the commercial areas of the town just south of the Cafritz Property. Thus, one rezoning option that the Cafritz developers would have is to apply to extend the Riverdale Park Mixed Use Town Center (M-U-TC) zone northward, to cover their property. This would allow them to build the Whole Foods along with the other commercial and multifamily residential components of their proposed development.
The Riverdale Park M-U-TC zoning regulations for that portion of Route 1 just south of the Cafritz property specifically prohibit parking between the street and the front of buildings. The intent of those regulations, according to the plan, is "[t]o retain and create a consistent street wall (abutting buildings aligned along a build-to line) that promotes a sense of enclosure (a street room), defines the sidewalk, and frames the street."
Instead of designing its project to follow the streetscaping requirement of the plan, however, the development team uses creative language to explain its intent to sidestep those standards:
[W]e intend to deviate from the Riverdale Park MUTC Plan development district standards in one way. The current MUTC Plan encourages development to create a Route 1 street wall, with buildings tight to the Route 1 sidewalk. We intend to deviate from this pattern primarily because, in order to be compatible and respectful to the existing houses across the street, we are proposing a landscape buffer zone as our transition from Route 1 to our proposed multilevel retail/office buildings. In keeping with the spirit of the Riverdale Park MUTC Plan, our buildings will be tight to the internal sidewalk to create a comfortable and lively pedestrian experience, along our internal streets and not Route 1.These "internal sidewalks" are simply pedestrian walkways alongside their parking lots. The "internal streets" are simply the driveways for the parking lots. By playing fast and loose with language, the proposed plan sounds like it's adhering to good urban design principles, while it's really a standard suburban big-box development.
The Riverdale Park MUTC Plan's build-to line design standard is a "shall" command, which the Plan describes as "mandatory and not discretionary." It says:
All new buildings shall be built within a specified distance (the build-to line) of the face-of-curb depending upon location, plus or minus the allowable variation.In that area of Route 1, the mandatory build-to line is 10-15 feet from the curb, depending on the size of the sidewalk, with a permissible 4-foot variation. Therefore, if Cafritz wishes to obtain the M-U-TC zoning approval necessary to construct its project, the M-NCPPC and District Council should insist that Cafritz's proposed development conform to the mandatory design standards of the Riverdale Park plan for Route 1.
The question is, will they? Unless somebody who becomes a party of record (like a neighborhood association or concerned citizen) raises the issue Even then, if history is any guide, the county will often strain to find a way to either ignore the standard or find a way to grant the developer a departure. But at least if the issue is raised, the M-NCPPC and the District Council will have to address it. The good news is anyone can become a party of record by filling out this form and/or by appearing at the hearing and testifying.
Even then, if history is any guide, the county will often strain to find a way to either ignore the standard or find a way to grant the developer a departure. But at least if the issue is raised, the M-NCPPC and the District Council will have to address it. The good news is anyone can become a party of record by filling out this form and/or by appearing at the hearing and testifying.
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