Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Takoma

Development


Otherwise-progressive Maryland elected officials choose exclusion at the Takoma Metro

In our region, in 2014, shouldn't building housing on top of Metro stations be an uncontroversial idea? To many people and elected officials in Takoma Park, that's only tolerable as long as you add a very small number of residents and don't build anything larger than surrounding buildings.


Photo by bradleygee on Flickr.

This attitude ensures that housing costs stay high and many communities remain off-limits to many people who would like to live there. Montgomery Council candidate Tom Hucker, gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, congressman Chris Van Hollen, councilmember Marc Elrich, state senator Jamie Raskin, and delegate Sheila Hixson all reinforced much or all of this exclusionary attitude last week.

They were writing about the planned 200-unit apartment building atop the Takoma Metro station. It will cover what's now the Kiss and Ride parking lot and a patch of trees. The site is inside the District of Columbia, but is across the street from some houses in Maryland. The WMATA Board held a hearing last week on the proposal.

A group of people, led by Takoma Park councilmember Seth Grimes, have been fighting against the project. They want the project to preserve some open space, be shorter, have fewer residents, and include fewer parking spaces. And they say that the developer, EYA, has not listened to them enough in the process.


Image from EYA.

Plan has a lot of good, some room to improve

The current proposal isn't perfect. It probably does have more parking than is necessary. Some elements of the current design aren't as attractive as they should be.

On the other hand, it's not an unreasonable size for the area and for the fact that it's atop a Metro station. In fact, EYA has already shrunk it down from the first iterations of this apartment building plan, which had 225 units. WMATA and DC worked out a deal to keep the other half of the site as a park.

This building will be more compact than a 2006 proposal to construct townhouses. Neighbors also fought against that plan, and successfully delayed it into oblivion.

The plan may get even better in the future. WMATA wouldn't be approving the final design for construction. Rather, this project is what's called a Planned Unit Development, where the DC Zoning Commission has extensive input into its design. That part of the process hasn't even begun, and so there will be a lot of opportunities for people to ask for changes.

Maryland residents will be able to testify at Zoning Commission hearings on the project, and especially with two federal representatives on the Zoning Commission, there's every reason to believe that board will listen to any reasonable arguments they make.

However, Raskin, Hucker, Hixson, and Mizeur, who are the sitting state legislative delegation for the area, argue in their letter that Maryland "has limited formal involvement" in the PUD process. They therefore ask the WMATA board to delay approval until there can be yet another process, where a neighborhood working group with members from DC and Maryland get to push for more changes (surely including reducing the amount of housing even further).

"More dialogue" is a smokescreen

That letter also states that neighbors haven't been involved enough. So does at-large councilmember Marc Elrich's letter. Perhaps the developers have listened as much as they could; perhaps not. In countless development disputes, however, opponents say that they are just looking for "dialogue" and haven't been listened to, when in fact they are demanding a substantially smaller project with less housing, and that is not a realistic request.

Years of delays and battles killed the 2006 townhouse effort. Maybe if opponents can just delay this project enough, nothing will get built, or only a very small amount of housing will end up going at this site. That would be an enormous loss to the region. There are limited developable parcels around Metro stations, and those are best places for new housing and jobs. This building may be larger than many around it, but it's not really that big.

Hans Riemer, another at-large member of the Montgomery County Council, confined his letter to making specific recommendations to improve the project. That's a good approach and the developer should heed his suggestions. Opponents, unfortunately, have responded to his more constructive approach by campaigning against him in tomorrow's primary.

When other elected officials like Hucker (who hopes to win a primary contest tomorrow to represent the district on the council), Raskin, Elrich, Van Hollen, and the others ask in letters for delay and more consultation, they aren't standing up for good civic process. They are just strengthening obstruction.

Building apartments at the Takoma Metro means more customers to support Takoma's thriving local businesses, fewer people who need to drive everywhere, and the ability to meet the demand for housing, resulting in lower or at least more stable housing costs. That's the truly progressive thing to do, not trying to keep new people out in favor of those who came here first.

Development


Events roundup: Takoma, Braddock Road, and more

Beat this week's summer heat by attending one of these (very likely) air conditioned events to stay cool. We have important hearings for mixed-use redevelopment projects at the Takoma and Braddock Road Metro stations, presentations on complete streets and BRT in Montgomery, a book talk, and much more.


Takoma Metro station

Public hearings on Metro station redevelopments: WMATA plans to redevelop the areas around some Metro stations, and is holding community meetings and about projects at two stations to provide project updates and hear testimony from the public.

At Takoma, the agency will present the latest plans to build an apartment building and parking garage on the current Metro station parking lot. The meeting is Wednesday, June 18th from 4:30-5 pm, with a formal hearing from 5-10 pm.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a factsheet about the proposal if you're interested in testifying. The hearing will take place at the Takoma Educational Campus at 7101 Piney Branch Road NW.

Braddock Road: The community meeting for redevelopment at Braddock Road is Thursday, June 26th, 7 pm in the Charles Houston Recreation Center on Wythe Street in Alexandria. WMATA officials will present initial concepts and timelines for the redevelopment project, and will gather feedback from the community.

Complete streets in Old Town: Alexandria officials will host an open house about upcoming complete streets projects in Old Town in the Sister Cities room of City Hall, 1101 King Street. That's tonight, Tuesday, June 17th at 6 pm.

Stead Park construction: DC will soon renovate Stead Park, on P Street NW between 16th and 17th, to add a splash park, seating, running track, and trees in part of what's now the large athletic field. Hear about the plans and ask questions on Monday June 23 from 7-8 pm in the ballroom of the Chastleton, 1701 16th Street, NW.

Smart Growth, Happy City: Charles Montgomery, author of the urban planning book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design will give a seminar on his work and how the design of cities can influence how we feel, behave and treat one another. He draws on brain science and urban experiments around the world to explain how we can change our lives by changing our relationships with cities. The talk is at the National Building Museum on Thursday, June 19th from 12:30-1:30 pm. Pre-registration is required.

Rockville rapid transit open house: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Communities for Transit to hear the latest updates about Montgomery's planned 81-mile network Bus Rapid Transit plan. That's at the Rockville library on Wednesday, June 25th from 6:30-8:30 pm.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Links


Breakfast links: Is the bar tender here?


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.
This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Termites: the new face of gentrification?: Angry neighbors in Woodley Park argued with zoo keepers at a public meeting last night, saying that the African Termite mound at the zoo's new insect exhibit is taller than what existing zoning allows.

Silver line encounters another setback: Officials have discovered that the Silver Line does not meet the current Virginia fire code and construction will have to start over from scratch. A MWAA spokesperson says the estimated opening is now the year 2525, "if man is still alive."

A religious need for speed?: One motorist sect seeks a religious exemption from traffic laws. The Supreme Court will hear a case that followers of the Futurist Manifesto, who must "sing the beauty of danger" and exalt the "roaring motor-car which seems to run on machine-gun fire," are unfairly burdened.

If this bus is rockin' then it's probably full of passengers: The DC Commission on Human Rights has officially ruled in favor of recommending changing the name of WMATA's H8 bus line to something more friendly like L0V.

Streetcar opponents agree: Skeptics of the Columbia Pike streetcar had asked for a new study comparing the return on investment of streetcars versus enhanced bus on Columbia Pike. When the study, tailored to their specific requests, showed huge benefits to streetcars, at least two skeptics admitted they were wrong.

Takoma Park residents discover station: Some in Takoma Park were surprised to find out that adjacent to the Takoma Green, a park mostly made up of asphalt with some trees around the edge, there is also a Metrorail station. One surprised resident said, "Now I can tell my neighbors they can take the train when I see them walking on the sidewalk while I'm driving to my job near Union Station."

What rhymes with "No Parking"?: A new developer has joined the ongoing debate on the controversial parking lane on Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park, submitting a plan to redevelop the road into a 35-yard hopscotch course. Proponents who want to see the lane kept for parking are, naturally, hopping mad.

DC to hold election: The District of Columbia will select nominees for mayor, DC Council, and federal races today, over 7 months before the general election and 9 months before any new winners would take office. If Mayor Gray does not win renomination, the DC government may achieve absolutely nothing of note for ¾ of a year while staff have no idea who will run their agency come 2015.

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Development


Takoma Metro development proposal is a real compromise

For more than 10 years, we've discussed what kind of development at the Takoma Metro station would make this station a lively, safer place. A new plan for a residential building does just that, while offering a compromise to neighbors concerned about open space and parking.


Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.

Since 2000, WMATA has attempted to develop the area around the Takoma station. Last year, developer EYA proposed building about 200 apartments on a surface parking lot. The building would have 3 stories on Eastern Avenue and step up to 4 toward the train tracks. It would replace most of the parking, only about half of which is used at one time.

The plan keeps the existing 2.5 acre green space open, and offers some enhancements to make it more usable. The proposed building and residents overlooking the site will help foster a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment by orienting the building to the bus drive, with entrances and windows facing the lane. Previous plans for live-work units or retail space have been dropped because of the weak market for retail at the site.

A 2006 plan that later stalled out offered about 90 townhouses and a one acre village green, but no replacement for the Metro parking, which is only for short term use. While the attractive townhouse and inviting village green were worth pursuing, I always thought this site would be better for an apartment building.


Image from EYA.

Then and now, some neighbors in both Takoma and the adjacent city of Takoma Park, which sits across Eastern Avenue, have opposed the project. In 2006, both supporters and opponents gave the developer grief about building homes with 2-car garages at a Metro station. But many critics also said that WMATA should replace all of the existing parking, in addition to preserving the whole 2.5 acre open space in front of the station and adding more bus bays.

The new plan responds to nearly all of the major criticisms, while at the same time more than doubling the amount of housing originally proposed. Now, opponents mostly object to the potential building's height, even though it is on a block with other 3-story apartment buildings, all of which face single-family houses.

The proposal's modest scale is in sync with the downtown district's eclectic variety of buildings. EYA has already agreed to make the building shorter and reduce the number of units from 266.

At a March 13 WMATA committee meeting about the project, the board members incorporated amendments that the city of Takoma Park requested into its resolution to move the project forward. This Thursday, the WMATA Board will vote on an agreement with EYA to pursue the project, and to hold an official public hearing.

If WMATA approves the project, it will go to the DC Zoning Commission, which will have an opportunity to refine the design in its review process. Neighbors will have ample opportunity to raise their concerns about any aspect of the proposal then.

Like with any proposal, there is room for more improvement. The proposal offers much less parking for residents than before, which makes sense for a site next to a Metro station. But it could be lower still, since this is the transit agency's land and the point is to build housing for more transit customers.

The new proposal offers residential parking at about 0.7 spaces per unit, down from 1.5 to 2 spaces per unit in the townhouse proposal. It would be sensible for WMATA to require that developers on their property to build less parking and offer their residents incentives to ride transit and use carsharing. That makes it easier to market the building to transit-oriented households who rely much less on personal cars.

The other important way the WMATA Board could improve this project is to honor the DC Council's 2002 request that 20% of any housing at this site be set aside for households making 30%, 60%, and 80% of the area median income. This is still the right commitment for a property that the public transit agency and District of Columbia control, and our need for more affordable housing has only grown in the intervening years.

It's been a long time coming, but this proposal for the Takoma Metro station will make downtown Takoma a better place for everyone. It will help a greater number of people use transit, have daily access to local shopping, and live with a lower carbon footprint. This is exactly where our region should be growing, and where we can accommodate more people who seek a transit-oriented lifestyle.

If you agree, ask the WMATA Board to move ahead with this project. Click here to let them know.

Politics


Where will DC's next 200,000 residents go? The mayoral candidates weigh in

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the first of 2 posts on discussions about housing with candidates for mayor. See all of the posts here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

"We've been a city of 800,000 before, and we're going to be a city of 800,000 again," said Muriel Bowser. "Keep in mind, the city's population at one time was 800,000 people," said Jack Evans. "The city used to have 800,000 people, but we have only 640,000 today," said Andy Shallal.

When talking about growth and development, multiple candidates for mayor brought up this number. In many cases, they were citing it as evidence that there must be plenty of room in the city to add 200,000 new people. How can there notthere used to be!

But the city looked very different in 1950. Families were much larger. A lot of row houses had become boarding houses during World War II. Homeowners lived in one room and rented the rest out to unrelated people. Americans got married younger and had children younger. In short, our existing houses that have one or two empty nesters or a young couple with one child today might have held 5 or even 8 people 60 years ago.

What would our candidates for mayor do about it? Mayor Gray talked about "air rights." Evans and Bowser both pointed to less developed areas of the city; Evans highlighted Shaw, where we were speaking, as a corridor ripe for new housing and retail. He talked about his experience pushing for the Whole Foods, then Fresh Fields, to come into Logan Circle; during the first meeting, Fresh Fields representatives wouldn't even step out of the car, while today that is "the largest-grossing Whole Foods in the chain on a per-square-foot basis."

Bowser referred to her efforts building support for development at places like Walter Reed. She would like to see DC more proactively plan for the housing we need, through citywide and small area plans. She promised to make sure that the Comprehensive Plan, which is up for revision again soon, finds room in the city to grow back to 800,000. That's important, because according to the Office of Planning, even building everything to the limits in the Comp Plan won't be enough for our housing needs after 10-20 years.

Where exactly the housing might go, Bowser was less clear. She also proudly defended her efforts to remove a floor from a proposed building at the Takoma Metro, saying that there needs to be a participatory process to make sure residents are comfortable with a new development. But, I asked, doesn't that mean that every project will get a little smaller, lose a floor, and so on, I asked? Will that prevent us from building enough housing in the aggregate?

She wasn't concerned. "There are going to be some very smart people to make sure [the new residents] will have a place to live." And later, "The thing I know where there is a lot of demand is that the units will be created. In markets where people are looking for housing, and it's profitable for them to create housing, they will."

Tommy Wells criticized most of the thinking on this issue as being very "linear" and "two-dimensional," saying that as our needs change, many people will use space differently. More younger residents are willing to move into smaller spaces because instead of needing to own or rent all the space they'll use, people are "using the collective of shared space that they all pay for together," such as common rooms in buildings and public places like parks in the city.

Meanwhile, he said, offices are also using less space as fewer employees have their own offices, employees spend more time working at home, and people use common areas. Therefore, he said that people at one of the downtown business improvement districts think that some office space can become housing.

Andy Shallal is worried about the trend toward building smaller units. "I think those types of developments [are] overdone throughout the city," he said. "They're temporary housing, because when people get married, have a child, they can't really live in those small spaces. I'm just worried about this rush to build these small units, cookie cutter units, is going to make the city less desirable for families that want to live in larger homes."

Wells has an idea to deal with that:

I've been working with another architecture firm and a major developer to do what I call "flex buildings." With a flex building you can build small apartments, but as your life changes you can aggregate, so if you have a small child or your life changes in another way, you can add above or below or to the side, instead of bldg a fixed infrastructure with 3-bedrooms, 2-bedrooms and 1-bedrooms. That's an old way of thinking. The future of cities like ours is an adaptable way of thinking, not a linear use of space.

Another way to add flexibility is to let people rent out their basements or garages, as has been proposed in the DC Zoning Update. Shallal said, "I think we have to have some flexibility in those types of zoning laws. ... These homes are empty nesters now with one or two people living in a 3-4 story townhouse. For those people who are becoming elderly, maybe they want to have a little income and stay in their home. ... I think it's a great way to keep people who have lived here a long time to be able to stay in the home they've lived in ... rather than building another high-rise of apartments that are overpriced and end up requiring lots of parking."

Bowser isn't on board. She opposes the Accessory Dwelling Unit recommendation in the DC zoning update, though she tried to couch her opposition as minor and generally praised the zoning update. "I think that having our zoning codes not be reviewed in a comprehensive way for 50 years ... I think that they spent a lot of time on a lot of different issues. I think at the end of the day I have only 4 areas I wanted them to ... that's pretty remarkable for a 5 yr process. I think they have looked at all of the concerns."

What she didn't say is that the "only 4 areas" of concern are essentially the major policy recommendations of the zoning update, such as accessory apartments, corner stores, and parking.

Bowser also reiterated her opposition to any changes in the height limit.

I think the Congress should focus on things that we've asked for, and we've asked for budget autonomy. I think Congress should focus on how we unhinge our city from the federal government's budget. We're not a federal agency, we're a city. We collect our own taxes and we should be able to spend our own revenues. ...

You've got to wonder why they are focusing on something that nobody in the city has saideven including the development community, the government, the councilmembers saidthat we need or want and the things we do need and have asked for have been totally ignored. You've got to wonder about the motive, don't you?

Mayor Gray, meanwhile, defended his administration's efforts to change the federal Height Act.

What I think wasn't entirely clear was that we weren't proposing a particular change or a specific change in the height limits. What we were proposing was that the District have more control over setting the height limits, which would still give the people of the city a chance, through the Comprehensive Plan, through zoning, through legislation, a chance to be able to address, specifically, proposed height changes.

It was not that we would go out on Rhode Island Avenue and say we were going to have buildings that would be 37 fett tall. It was to say, just like we say with budget autonomy, shouldn't we have greater control over our city, especially areas outside the L'Enfant city? So we've sort of stopped at this stage, and we're working now to try to make sure people are clear about what it that we were proposing. But it wasn't that Building X was not going to become 14 stories higher than what it was.

In fact, Gray became the most energetic and animated just after we'd turned off the cameras, when perhaps he was more relaxed. He told stories about how he'd contacted DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson when Mendelson introduced his resolution against the height limit. It's a home rule issue, not about the heights, he'd tried to convince Mendelson, an argument which didn't go anywhere to Gray's evident frustration.

Tomorrow, we'll look at what the candidates said about public land and subsidized housing. Meanwhile, you can watch the entire exchange on housing with each candidate.

Evans:

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Development


Citizens band together to make Kennedy Street NW a retail destination

While new investment and street life arrive in Northwest DC neighborhoods like Petworth, Brightwood, and Takoma, Kennedy Street has been slow to respond. But a group of local citizens seeks to change that.


A woman walks down Kennedy Street NW. All photos by the author.

Shuttered storefronts define Kennedy Street today, despite its population with rising incomes, newly-arrived young families, and relatively low crime. Folks who arrived in the neighborhood ten, five, or one year ago all say they thought the same thing when they first arrived: "Kennedy Street will arrive any time now." Long-term residents also complain about the lack of services, and are resigned to driving to other neighborhoods for restaurants, groceries, arts and entertainment.

Growing weary of hearing complaints and disappointments, a group of citizens and I started the all-volunteer Kennedy Street Business and Development Association (KSBDA) in January help hasten the evolution.

Geography and the street experience hold Kennedy Street back

Challenges beyond supply and demand explain why Kennedy Street has been slow to change. The street is oriented east-west, against the grain of the city's main north-south commuter routes, and it is bisected by the imposing four-lane Missouri Avenue, isolating the eastern end of Kennedy Street from the rest of the corridor closer to Georgia Avenue.


Retaining walls pinch the sidewalks, making it hard for stores to thrive.

The area's public transport connections are not ideal, as much of the street is just beyond walking distance of the Fort Totten, Takoma, and Petworth metro stations. Except along Georgia Avenue, bus service is limited outside commuter hours.

The street itself creates a difficult environment for thriving retail. Fortuitously, Kennedy Street is zoned C-2-A between Georgia Avenue and North Capitol Street, permitting a mix of housing and commercial uses. But many of the true commercial buildings are clustered around corners with row houses in between, creating gaps in potential retail clusters. In some places, alleys, the sides of houses, wooden fences, and back yards break up the street wall.

Meanwhile, the sidewalks are narrow, with retaining walls and telephone poles creating bottlenecks. Though there are few places to plant, residents and business owners alike lament the street's general lack of greenery. Some commercial buildings have no alley access at all, requiring business owners to leave waste receptacles on the sidewalk.

Limited support for Kennedy Street

The city's support for the street appears uncoordinated and uneven. After a model effort in community buy-in, the Office of Planning issued a Revitalization Plan for the street in 2008. The plan is as valid today as it was six years ago. But few of its recommendations have been implemented.


Shops along Kennedy Street.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) offered $3.75 million in funding for streetscape improvements, but it's tied up a separate $3.1 million fund to reconfigure the intersection of Kennedy Street with Missouri and Kansas avenues, both of which are behind schedule. Quick fixes like new parking lines, street furniture, and bike racks have been generally unrealized. City programs to improve building facades and invest in businesses have barely touched Kennedy Street.

Oddly, the eastern portion is not eligible for several city incentives, though the commercial buildings there are in worse shape. Pepco has refused requests to bury or even reduce the number of overhead wires, citing the cost and reliability of the existing infrastructure.

Businesses are determined to make it work

Still, some current businesses are determined to grow with the neighborhood. Culture Coffee, a community-oriented cafe at 7th and Kennedy streets NW, has fast become the neighborhood's third space. A block away, a new outpost of Taqueria DF will add patio seating for tacos and cervezas this summer. Local take-out favorite Andrene's, at 3rd and Kennedy, has pledged to remove its plexiglass windows and open up to the street.

KSBDA has found some businesses who seek locations here, but would need to buy and invest in a space. Most owners are only looking to lease, but don't have the capital to install commercial kitchens, quality floors or new facades. Some owners are speculating on appreciation, but their marginal tenants or unavailable vacant storefronts hold the street back.

More than a few prime commercial locations are shuddered and their status is entirely unclear: are they operating irregularly, defunct, or hiding from city regulators? Other owners are absent, often elderly, and have little faith that the street could ever change. Two owners have even tried to talk me out of starting a business on the street!

So how do we overcome these challenges to help Kennedy Street fulfill the potential that residents and businesses all see? How can a movement of volunteer residents and true mom-and-pop businesses help the street become a walkable, welcoming destination, without turning to major outside developers with no attachment to how we define our neighborhood?

Many of us are ready to take action to help grow the street from the bottom up, but we need your help, your lessons, your advice, and your resources to get it done.

Development


Takoma plan addresses resident objections; is it better?

A plan to build some transit-oriented development at Takoma Metro has been in the works since 2000. After a lull of at least 5 years, it's back on the front burner. Developer EYA has devised a totally new plan that may address the objections neighbors raised to the previous plan last decade.


Image from Google Street View via WMATA.

The original concept involved 90 townhouses across most of the site and creating a "village green" of more active, but smaller, open space. Residents didn't like losing that much open space, and also argued that 2-car garages would foster too many car trips for a project right at a Metro station.


Image from EYA via WMATA.

EYA now proposes a much more compact developmenta 5-story, "approximately 200" unit condo building that's almost entirely on the footprint of the existing parking lot. According to a presentation on the WMATA Board agenda for this Thursday, the large open space on the southeast side would stay mainly as is, though pedestrian "desire lines," where people cut through the site today, would become real paths.


Image from EYA via WMATA.

The bus bays would remain where they are, and expand to have 1 new bus bay and 1 "layover bay" for a bus to wait between runs. Metro would build a bike station that can hold 105 bikes.

The current surface parking lot has 141 short-term spaces, but according to WMATA documents, the lot is rarely more than 50% full, so the new project's garage would include 100 metered Metro spaces along with some resident parking.


Photo by the author.

Why did people oppose the previous plan?

The first time I visited Takoma, on a WalkingTownDC tour, the tour guide stopped at the Metro parking lot, and held up a photograph of the old commercial street that was once here, long before the Metro station.

She opposed the previous EYA proposal, and made some strong points about its weaknesses, such as the 2-car garages. However, she also talked about Takoma's "small town" feel, and seemed at some level to oppose the idea of more neighbors. The question lingered in my mind: how many were opposing the plan because of its flaws, and how many out of resistance to building anything or adding new residents at all?

The new building will bring a similar number of residents or maybe even more, but provides the 2 things residents asked for most strongly: more open space, and fewer garage spaces.

There is a community meeting on July 16 for residents to hear more about the plans and discuss with WMATA and EYA. As residents get to see more details, we will be able to understand if this is truly a better design than the old one.

This plan keeps a lot of open space, but instead of small blocks of townhouses, it'll be one large apartment building. From the massing sketches, it looks like just a parking garage will face the Metro station. For better or worse, smaller condos will probably be less attractive to families, which have been strongly drawn to the Takoma area. The Metro presentation says that "mid-rise development has occurred surrounding the site bringing into question ... the suitability of townhomes for the site."


Image from EYA.

This new plan provides a good opportunity for those who want better TOD to push for a plan that builds what would be best for Takoma. As the process continues, perhaps they can find other ways to make the plan even better, as long as that doesn't just mean shorter, smaller, or housing fewer people.

Bicycling


Ride shows the need to expand Montgomery's bike network

Capital Bikeshare could come to Montgomery County this year, along with an influx of new riders. It's time to look at how to improve the county's bike network. To do so, a group of 20 bicyclists took to the streets of Silver Spring and Takoma Park last Saturday on a 5-mile ride organized by myself and the Montgomery County Sierra Club.


Photo by the author.

Last summer, I began working with Ethan Goffman, bicycle and Smart Growth coordinator for the Sierra Club, on a Bicycle Statement outlining 6 principles that policymakers, community leaders, planners and transportation engineers should follow to make bicycling safer, more efficient and more enjoyable for everyone.

The statement echoes calls from other bike advocates to improve the county's cycling network, particularly in the Downcounty, where the 29 new bikeshare stations will be.

The six principles are:

Make a complete network: Bicycle lanes and paths should connect to each other and to major destinations like schools, transit stations and job centers, making them a reliable way to get around.

Be context-appropriate: A network with different kinds of bicycle facilities will best be able to fit into different neighborhoods.

Provide comfort: Bicyclists will be more likely to use the network if it provides multiple route options, is easy to navigate, and has conveniences like secure parking.

Safety: Bicyclists will feel safe on facilities that are well maintained, well-lit, and have "eyes on the street" to watch over them.

Engage the public: Making community members part of the bicycle planning process will build public support for bicycling while showing that bicyclists are valued and respected by the county.

Education: All road users, whether they are cyclists, pedestrians or drivers, should understand their rights and responsibilities and the rights and responsibilities of others.

Keeping those in mind, I designed a route that takes riders on different kinds of bicycle routes, ranging from a trail through a park to bike lanes to riding in mixed traffic.

We had a pretty diverse crowd with a wide mix of ages and skill levels, ranging from kids just out of training wheels to experienced bicyclists. Most riders came from inside-the-Beltway Silver Spring, though one person came from Takoma Park and another from Capitol Hill. The ride was pretty smooth, though there were a few spills and some emergency repairs.


Sharing the road with drivers and pedestrians in Silver Spring.

Along the way, we stopped to talk about each principle, along with things the county and local municipalities are doing well, like the extensive trail network in Sligo Creek Park. While none of the neighborhood streets have bike lanes, they're slow and quiet, making them a nice alternative to busy main roads when they're not closed to through traffic. In a few places, our group had its own cheering section of neighbors.

Riders pointed out places where the bike network needs improvement. Many off-street trails are poorly maintained, leading to ruts and standing water. The Metropolitan Branch Trail abruptly stops a half-mile short of the Silver Spring Metro station, held up by historical preservationists who don't want it passing by the historic, but empty B&O rail station.

On-street riding can be equally frustrating. We used the block-long Cedar Street bike lane in Silver Spring, which was once named "America's stupidest bike lane" before being redesigned by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, streets like Maple Avenue in Takoma Park are wide enough for bike lanes but were given sharrows instead, which means bicyclists have to share the road with drivers that are encouraged to speed because the street is so wide.


Riding past a construction site on Carroll Street in Takoma, DC.

Another issue was the need to educate everyone on how to share the road. On narrow Carroll Street NW in Takoma, drivers came too close to our group or sped into oncoming traffic to pass us, violating both DC's and Maryland's 3-foot passing laws. Meanwhile, on the Sligo Creek Park trail, a pair of joggers reminded us that we have to ride single-file so as not to block the whole path.

How can we improve the cycling environment? One recurring theme in our discussion was that the Department of Transportation made bike improvements based on their idea of what bicyclists want or need, like the Cedar Street bike lane, but were surprised when bicyclists actually didn't use them.

Casey Anderson, Planning Board member and Silver Spring resident, and Jack Cochrane of MoBike stressed the need to for bicyclists to let county officials know what they need. County officials need to listen to bicyclists, but they can only do so if bicyclists make themselves heard.

Overall, this was a great bike ride. I was blown away by the turnout and the enthusiasm of all our participants. It's been about 20 years since the Montgomery County Sierra Club last held a group bike ride, but this is definitely a tradition that they should resume. Ethan and I are already talking about when our bike ride will be.

Thanks to everyone who came! This wouldn't have been a success without you. And if you were unable to make it, check out this slideshow of our ride.

Pedestrians


Closed sidewalks force pedestrians into dangerous spots

When construction must close a sidewalk, barriers should be placed in the roadway to create a temporary space for pedestrians. That often doesn't happen, and didn't in two recent cases in Takoma and Silver Spring, forcing pedestrians to walk in traffic or cross illegally.


Left: Carroll Street in Takoma. Image by Julie Lawson.
Right: Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring. Image by William Smith.

Julie Lawson tweeted about one case at Carroll and Maple streets, along the main path from the Takoma Metro to Takoma Park. The sidewalk was blocked for construction at an adjacent building site.

Following resident complaints, DDOT sent an inspector to check out that site. ANC Commissioner Sara Green reported in an email to the Takoma listserv that the contractor was required to restore the sidewalk. Next week, when they get a permit, they will be able to close it again but will need to put up barriers to create a temporary walking path.

Meanwhile, Montgomery Sideways posted about a case where the Maryland State Highway Administration closed the Georgia Avenue sidewalk as it dives below the railroad tracks in Silver Spring, despite a policy against doing that. William Smith writes,

I stood there for a awhile and saw pedestrians crossing Sligo Avenue a few yards to the east of the crosswalk. Sure, there is a sign there telling you to cross the street, but if you need to go the other waysay, to Jackie's, or Lotus Cafewhat do you do? Cross illegally, that's what you do.
And if a driver hit one of these pedestrians crossing, would police blame the pedestrian for not walking far out of the way to find a legal crossing?

Each case may be individually relatively minor, but they all create danger that can cause injury or death. And when many exist in the same area, they create a broadly unsafe situation. Worse yet, sometimes these closures last for months or years, like a closing on East-West Highway in Silver Spring which Eric Fidler documented in a video:

Update: Commenter Shipsa01 pointed out a hilarious example in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood, where buildings on both sides of a street both tried to close their sidewalks and posted signs instructing pedestrians to cross to the opposite side... where there was an identical sign pointing the other way.

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