Posts about Trinidad
DC's Historic Preservation Review Board approved a roof deck for a row house near 15th and T last month, but not before a few members lamented ever setting a precedent of allowing them in the first place.
Left: The rear of the house on T Street requesting a deck. Right: A less attractive deck across the alley. Photos from the DC Historic Preservation Office.
In the Dupont, Logan, and U Street historic districts, many alleys have a wide variety of decks on the backs and tops of row houses. The practice for many years has been to deny additions to row houses which are visible from in front of the house, but to be much more permissive about changes on the alley side.
Following that precedent, Historic Preservation Office staff reviewer Kim Elliott recommended the board approve the deck.
However, Elliott also noted that unlike on some blocks, all of the 2-story row houses here have the same, uninterrupted roof line from the back (as well as the front). The 3-foot high railing for this deck would create a pop-up effect from the rear. Elliott pointed out that the board started allowing roof decks some years ago, setting a precedent.
The Historic Preservation Review Board ultimately agreed with Elliott and approved the deck, though Bob Sonderman suggested making the owner shrink the deck a few more feet by pushing the railing back away from the rear of the house.
Members Graham Davidson, an architect at Hartman-Cox, and Nancy Metzger, formerly with the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, both wondered if the board might have made a mistake allowing roof decks in the first place. The pair have been fairly consistently the most skeptical of buildings and have pushed hardest for changes like removing floors from new buildings.
Here are the comments from Davidson and Metzger on this case during the board's meeting:
Still allow decks, but insist on quality?
Davidson noted that many of these decks are fairly "poorly built" and "clunky," because people are trying to get them done at low cost. He'd like to "improve the quality of alleys" throughout the city. That's a worthy impulse, but why do many preservationists thus feel that the solution is to reject the decks or shrink them toward invisibility?
The preservation board also has power over the materials people use for additions, decks, and other projects. It can demand a higher quality of design and construction.
As with the pop-up across from Geoff Hatchard's house in Trinidad, which he just wrote about, he doesn't seem to object so much to the house getting a 3rd story as to the cheap vinyl siding design. In that case, we might wish a preservation board had the power, and willingness, to let the 3rd story go through but demand better quality.
The DC Comprehensive Plan calls for exploring "conservation districts," a less restrictive form of historic preservation. Preservation can control, or not control, 2 categories of changes: where and how large to build, on the one hand, and its materials and quality, on the other.
Some might want a conservation district to be the equivalent of lower zoning, where the board gets to veto anything that builds up in any way, but it would make far more sense for such a district to permit additions that meet zoning rules, but ensure that their appearance be compatible with surrounding buildings.
Of course, "compatible" is always tricky to define, as is "higher quality." Most neighbors would want an addition like the one on Geoff's street to simply make the building look like it had always had 3 stories. But many preservationists think that any new construction should stand out from the old, and might push instead for something of modern appearance. This is a question the neighborhood should discuss if such a district came into being for Trinidad, and written guidelines should codify those choices.
Preservation, even a limited form, would potentially raise the cost of building. Certainly it might make the pop-up across from Geoff more expensive. In some neighborhoods, that can limit new supply and/or make new housing more costly. In an area like Trinidad today, though, prices are rising so fast that rules to push for higher quality would likely affect profit margins more than the growth of supply.
On T Street and other areas with historic protection, the city could indeed "improve the quality of alleys" as Davidson wishes. But let's not define "higher quality" as "bereft of decks." Instead, it can mean "filled with attractive decks that don't look cheap."
Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.
Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.
This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.
While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.
At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield's life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.
The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage
Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open. Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.
The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.
Photos by Yancey Burns.
For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it's not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk.
Hansel Bauman, the University's Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called "DeafSpace" to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.
The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length. DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue.
Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its "Immediate Action List" for completion within 24 months. That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.
Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is "starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes."
The planning study won't wrap up until the middle of 2014. Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield's neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.
The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?
When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.
We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.
There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.
Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).
It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.
Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:
- Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
- There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
- Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situation
— people drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.
Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.
According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.
Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.
The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.
SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.
Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.
Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.
A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.
ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.
For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.
This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.
Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.
Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:
Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.
These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.
These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:
As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.
Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.
These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.
The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.
Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.
Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.
The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.
Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.
West Virginia Avenue forms the boundary between Gallaudet University and Trinidad. A fence lines the university property, making diffusion between the school and the neighborhood difficult. Were it not there, crossing West Virginia Avenue would still be very difficult, because traffic doesn't have to stop anywhere along this boundary.
The road is often busy with Maryland commuters heading to and from Capitol Hill and downtown, buses coming from and going to the Bladensburg Road bus garage, and municipal vehicles coming from the DPW garages north of the neighborhood.
Neighborhood traffic looking to leave the neighborhood often has to wait a long time for a break in the traffic, and cyclists run the risk of riding on a street, though designated as a bicycle route, full of large trucks and buses doing well over the 25 mph speed limit.
It made me wonder if there was any place in DC other than freeways, parkways, and other limited access roads like Military Road or North Capitol Street north of Michigan Avenue, where traffic has such a long stretch without having to worry about stop signs, traffic lights, or even yield signs. Here's what I found:
The only stretches longer than West Virginia Avenue (between Florida Avenue and Mount Olivet Road) that I found are on Massachusetts Avenue SE (east of Randle Circle), Ridge Road SE (along Fort Dupont Park), and Hayes Street/Jay Street NE (around the Mayfair neighborhood).
All of these examples are streets that lie between a neighborhood and adjacent institutional land, whether a park or a school. West Virginia Avenue is unique among the four in that it is the only one to border a gridded neighborhood.
I'm currently participating in the Ivy City and Trinidad Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative, which is looking to leverage grant money for better housing, neighborhood services, business development, and greening in the neighborhoods. At one of the meetings, participants brought up the dangerous nature of West Virginia Avenue, and some of us recommended traffic calming (preferably some stop signs) along the road to slow traffic and create breaks and give cars on neighborhood streets a better chance to exit Trinidad. With the potential for increased connectivity between Gallaudet University that was also discussed, traffic calming will be a necessity so cyclists and pedestrians can safely get from homes in the neighborhood to classes and jobs at the school.
Can you think of any longer stretches of city street in DC where traffic doesn't have to worry about pedestrians legally crossing the street or having to slow down for a traffic light or sign? If so, please, describe them in the comments.
Some wards divide up their ANCs by neighborhood. Ward 5, already a geographically large ward, is carved into only three ANCs, each containing a whopping 12 single-member districts and even splitting Brookland up between ANCs.
That means people vote on issues often very far from their own neighborhoods, such as ANC 5C where commissioners from as far away as Fort Totten Park voted to oppose Big Bear's license way down in Bloomingdale, against the wishes of Bloomingdale's own representatives. That's about the distance from the White House to Columbia Heights.
We support Jioni Palmer, who is running to unseat incumbent Marshall Phillips in Edgewood's 5C08. Palmer wants to do more to improve retail in Edgewood, which has lost some high-profile businesses such as the Safeway on Rhode Island Avenue. Phillips appears to have missed qualifying for the ballot, but is trying to hold his seat as a write-in. With the small turnout of many ANC SMD races, a write-in candidacy can succeed, so we urge residents to vote for Palmer.
Another worthy challenger is James Fournier, who is challenging incumbent Barrie Daneker in Stronghold and northern Bloomingdale's 5C07. Daneker has taken a combative and condescending tone on the ANC, which has created more strife over the McMillan development than need be. Daneker also opposed the Big Bear license, as did all but two of the commissioners.
In 5C06, spanning Rhode Island Avenue with parts of Eckington and Edgewood, Darin Allen would do more to communicate with constituents on the street and through his Twitter account than longtime incumbent Mary Farmer-Allen.
Bloomingdale's John Salatti (5C04, Rhode Island to Adams Street) has been a model commissioner and has led the way in encouraging more commercial development that responds to residents' needs, and is running unopposed. In 5C03, south of Rhode Island, green business entrepreneur Hugh Youngblood is running unopposed as well, also with the support of the friends of Big Bear and of a more vibrant Bloomingdale.
Intense debates over development at CUA and the Brookland Metro drove tempers high in Brookland last year. Carolyn Steptoe, the ANC Commissioner for 5A07 from Irving to Michigan east of the railroad tracks, vociferously opposed projects to make better use of the parking lots at the Metro. John Daggett, her opponent, more reasonably pointed out that some development won't "destroy" the neighborhood or the local parks that residents treasure. Steptoe is also extremely combative toward residents on neighborhood email lists. We endorse Mr. Daggett.
Just to the east, in 5A10 east of 15th and 16th Streets, there is a three-way open seat race between Jehan Carter, Corey Griffin and Allen Tillman. We don't have much information on Carter and Tillman, but residents who've spoken with Griffin came away impressed by his ability to have a strong opinion about the direction of the city, while simultaneously displaying a great deal of respect for dissenting opinion. He would bring a younger perspective to an ANC that has been dominated by an older demographic and created speed bumps for local businesses trying to enhance the 12th Street corridor.
In Trinidad, along Ward 5's southern border, incumbents Thalia Wiggins (5B06, West Virginia Avenue and the Florida Market) and Tina Laskaris (5B08, southeast Trinidad) have very ably represented their neighborhood and enjoy widespread respect. Both should be reelected.
India Henderson, the incumbent in 5B10 which contains the Carver half of Carver-Langston, is not a communicative commissioner and is rarely seen in the district. Camille Tucker seems very likely to do better. India Henderson is also the daughter of Council primary candidate and Kathy Henderson, who often acts as the de facto ANC commissioner and was recently embroiled in a bizarre sign-removing scandal.
A common complaint about many ANC commissioners surrounds their level of outreach to the community, through regular district meetings, email lists, and other mechanisms. Many commissioners stop reaching out to those they don't know after being in office for a period of time, and many don't use new means of reaching constitutents like email and the Web.
While we don't have concrete information on policy positions in all districts, based on the potential for more community engagement we lean toward challengers Joyce Robinson-Paul against incumbent Sylvia Pinkney in Eckington and southern Truxton Circle's 5C02, Tim Clark over sitting commissioner Denise Wright in eastern Eckington's 5C05, Vaughn Bennett against Rayseen Woodland in 5B04 in southern Brookland, and Laura Casperson versus Arthur Yarbrough and incumbent David Hooper in central Trinidad's 5B07.
On the other hand, Angel Alston, representing 5A03 in
Fort Totten Riggs Park, has made strides recently to listen more to residents instead of just casting votes on most distant matters, such as Brookland development, based on a few people's opinions.
The Trinidad car barn at 15th and H Streets, NE, was once the last remaining structure in the city to have once housed a cable car power plant. According to a 1970 Washington Post article, the mechanism The structure was erected in 1895 to replace a horse-car barn that was erected when the line first opened in 1871. The cable service that replaced the horse cars on May 9, 1895, lasted only four years before being replaced by faster electric cars. The Trinidad barn was used by electric streetcars until 1942, when it was converted to a bus garage.
A few years before it was demolished by the Redevelopment Land Agency for moderate-income housing, it was abandoned by D.C. Transit and sold for $500,000 to help pay off some of D.C. Transit's debts.
More pictures below.
The structure was erected in 1895 to replace a horse-car barn that was erected when the line first opened in 1871. The cable service that replaced the horse cars on May 9, 1895, lasted only four years before being replaced by faster electric cars. The Trinidad barn was used by electric streetcars until 1942, when it was converted to a bus garage.
A few years before it was demolished by the Redevelopment Land Agency for moderate-income housing, it was abandoned by D.C. Transit and sold for $500,000 to help pay off some of D.C. Transit's debts.
More pictures below.
The intersection of H Street, Benning Road, Bladensburg Road, Maryland Avenue, Florida Avenue, and 15th Streets, NE will become more hospitable to pedestrians with new crosswalks and the addition of a plaza at the northeast corner. The Rosedale Citizens' Alliance obtained the latest sketches of the intersection, which implement the recommendations from the H Street-Benning Road Great Streets study. The change will reroute Maryland Avenue northeast of the plaza to intersect Bladensburg Road, rather than continuing directly into the main intersection. This opens up space for a new plaza, with trees, benches, and a mural or fountain.
Frozen Tropics covered the neighborhood debates over the plaza during the design four years ago (part 1, part 2). These debates closely resemble the discussions over 17th Street in Dupont Circle, where some criticized the placemaking suggestions of the project team and pushed for a basic design devoid of ornament to keep maintenance costs down and devoid of street furniture to dissuade homeless people.
Despite the much smaller scope of the Dupont project, DDOT ended up removing features and reducing the project to low-maintanence bare concrete, while they retained this plaza in the Great Streets project. If anything, H Street is more prone to many of the problems that Dupont residents feared, but H Street will get its public space while 17th Street will retain its empty expanses of sidewalk. After the H Street plaza opens, we'll know for sure if it improves the area as most think it will, but by then it will be too late for other areas like 17th.
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