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Parking


Top 6 reasons a parking garage near 14th and U is a bad idea

Some are pushing for a municipal parking garage on S Street, NW near 14th Street. To break even, such a garage would need to charge $3.51 to $4.33 per hour. What if it didn't have to break even? Should taxpayers subsidize a parking garage here?


Photo by Michael Kappel on Flickr.

Many cities do subsidize parking, often heavily. They often believe, rightly or wrongly, that unless public money contributes to making it easy for people in cars to drive and park in the area cheaply, then businesses won't thrive.

But a publicly-subsdized parking facility is not the answer for the 14th and U corridors. Here are the top 6 reasons this is not the right solution to Logan Circle's and U Street parking.

1. The area is doing great without it.

A presentation touting the garage proposal says that "Cultural and retail uses have led to the vibrant, walkable neighborhood we enjoy. However they also rely on a significant number of visitors to succeed." Does this argument really hold water for the Logan Circle and U Street area?

In his column supporting the concept, Roger Lewis writes that "the neighborhood around 14th and P hums with activity around the clock." In fact, restaurants on 14th Street are mostly full night after night, and the most popular ones have an hours-long wait or a weeks-long line for reservations.

It certainly seems like there is no shortage of people going to the businesses on the 14th and U Street corridors. That's not to say that some people couldn't benefit from adding even more subsidized parking beyond the existing free spaces on residential streets, but it probably wouldn't affect businesses' health or tax revenue for the neighborhood.

Some, like people with disabilities, have a particular claim to need help getting to an area, which is why DC has rightly proposed dedicating some meters for disability parking. For a lot of other folks, it seems this would just be a subsidy to make it cheaper to get to an area that doesn't really need it, and which they can still drive to, for a cost.

2. It won't solve residential parking frustration.

As we discussed in the last part, people will often bypass a pay garage to park on the street when street parking is free. Today, people can park for free on one side of every residential street near 14th and U during evenings and weekends.

So long as that is true, people are going to circle for neighborhood parking. Besides, for almost all destinations along 14th and U, nearby residential blocks are much closer than this garage would be. The bottom line is that adding supply is not going to make local streets clear and easy to park on. The moment they are easy to park on, people will park on them for free!

3. It might not even fill up.

In Columbia Heights, the large DC USA garage continues to go largely empty, even though it costs just $1.50 an hour. Parking remains scarce on many nearby blocks, for exactly the reason above: the street parking is far easier to find and more convenient.

DC would run a serious risk of building an expensive garage and then finding it largely unused.

4. It will have significant downsides to the neighborhood.

A garage would draw a lot more traffic to the area. That traffic would be particularly bad on S Street, but also bad in the rest of the neighborhood. If people didn't park on neighborhood streets, then a lot of traffic from people circling would go away, but there's every reason to believe that this garage wouldn't stop on-street parking.

5. There are much better ways to deal with parking.

It would be technically simple to require that anyone from outside the neighborhood parking here use the pay-by-phone system (or an alternative for those who can't use it) to pay a rate for parking that equalizes supply and demand.

Plus, on-street parking has another advantage: you can park a block or two from your destination, instead of always having to park at 13th and S.

Lewis mentions a shuttle from the parking garage, but there already is a Circulator from the Metro at McPherson Square and from the corner of 14th and U, a block from the U Street station. For those who can't walk from the Metro, the garage might be a little closer, but it would save only at most 2 blocks.

Karina Ricks, of Nelson\Nygaard, said that another approach some cities like Asheville have taken is to set up shared valet parking systems. People can drop their cars off at one or more fixed locations, and valets will park the cars. This would save restaurants from all having to staff their own valets.

Where would the cars go? Perhaps to some of the buildings that have garages but only open them up during the day. The valet provider could reach a deal with these buildings to use the garage at night. And if only valets are parking there, it wouldn't be necessary to staff each garage.

6. There are better uses of land here.

Any proposal to have the city provide cheap land always needs to be weighed against what else could go on the land. Housing would actively bring in tax revenue, as opposed to a parking garage which would burn through money. With public land, the District's policy has been to seek affordable housing, which could help more people of lower incomes live in this booming area.

Plus, existing residents probably would much rather live near residences than a large parking garage. Even if the garage were underground, it would generate a lot of traffic and diminish the value of whatever could go on top, or cut down on the amount of affordable housing that DC could get in a bidding process for the land.

But if someone wants to pay for some land, build a garage which isn't an eyesore or a source of unnecessary noise, or build some parking underneath a new building to sell to the public, that could be okay. But this isn't happening, which is why some nearby businesses are hoping the government will subsidize parking. That's not a good investment.

Parking


A municipal parking garage for 14th and U? It would not come cheap

A number of businesses and residents around 14th and U Streets are interested in trying to create a municipal parking garage in a large government-owned parcel on S Street. Is this a good use of the land? What if it cost $4 an hour, or required heavy subsidies from the DC budget?


Image from Bing Maps.

The DC Department of Parks and Recreation now uses the property, 1325 S Street NW, to park vehicles and for other service uses. Proponents of a municipal parking garage suggest an above-ground parking structure lined with retail or residential, or an underground garage with buildings or a park on top.

But those advocating for the garage assert that it would pay for itself. Based on a quick analysis based on numbers from parking experts, it seems likely that such a garage would have to charge $3.50-4.50 per hour just to break even.

Do those supporting this garage idea realize that would be necessary? Or, if a garage would require significant ongoing subsidies to operate, is there a good reason to spend public money on making parking cheaper in the hot Logan Circle and U Street area?


Image from the DC Zoning Map.

A committee of Logan Circle's ANC 2F heard a presentation on the concept in January, as did ANC 1B in March. The concept is getting support as a part of a larger effort to establish a Business Improvement District for the area, and the JBG Companies, which owns a lot of properties nearby, has given $150,000 to help set up the BID.

A lot of the impetus is coming from the Studio Theatre at 14th and P, which, the presentation said, saw "significant reductions in their show subscribers and customer base, largely due to the lack of available public parking."

Arguments for the garage

Recently, many residential blocks in the area got the "red sign" parking restrictions that limit parking on one side of each street to residents with the appropriate ward sticker (1 or 2, depending on where in the area you're talking about). That has made parking easier for residents (or people driving in from places like Mount Pleasant or Georgetown in the same wards) but even scarcer for others.

The presentation to ANC 2F claims that there are not many buildings with "abundant nighttime parking" in the area, and that "case studies of many great urban areas show how centrally-located public parking facilities solve transportation issues and spur economic development (locally, including Clarendon, Bethesda, and Shirlington)."

Architect Roger Lewis praised the idea in a recent column for the Washington Post, where he suggested cities need a "flexible approach" to parking. He said,

Along 14th Street for several blocks north of P, public parking is a scarce and expensive commodity. Moreover, the nearest Red Line and Green Line Metro stations are a half mile or more away, just far enough to be a challenging walk for older folks, for people with disabilities and for parents with very young children in tow. ...

Either the city or a parking garage operator could construct and manage the garage, which would be self-financing. From such a garage, people could comfortably walk or hop on a local shuttle to reach their destinations.

How much would this cost?

Is this a good idea? Certainly parking is often difficult in the area. If one could make parking easier, without any costs or tradeoffs at all, that's not a bad thing. But it's always important to understand the proposal clearly.

There are plenty of arguments to be made about the garage. I will get into most of those in part 2. First, we need to talk about cost. How much would this cost the DC government? How much would people pay to park? Often in these discussions, people make assumptions that turn out not to be true. Let's delve into them.

Lewis suggests a garage would be "self-financing." What does that mean? Does it mean that a private company could afford to buy the land at market price, build a garage, run it, and break even? (Probably not, because if that's true someone would probably have done it).

Does it mean that the city would lease the land for free to the operator, who would then build a garage and maintain it? Or would the city have to pay for a garage which then an operator could maintain?

Many suggestions to build parking (like the National Coalition to Save Our Mall's proposal for the National Mall) assert that garages will pay for themselves, but often without numbers to back up the assertion.

Fortunately, the Victoria Transport Policy Institute has some detailed research on the cost of parking structures. Their report estimates that an urban parking garage costs about $18,000 per space to construct, and $600 per space per year to maintain. Karina Ricks of Nelson\Nygaard says DC has higher costs than around the county, so $20,000 would be a better estimate.

If a property pays no taxes, therefore, the annualized cost of construction per space, plus maintenance, is $1,569 to $1,744 at a 6% interest rate. With operating costs, that's $181-195 per space per month. Already, this rivals the cost one would pay for an off-street space in the neighborhood, meaning that the revenue from parking is unlikely to even pay for just constructing and maintaining this garage.

Plus, we haven't even talked about land. This property is about 2 acres. The square to the west, once you get past the commercial area right along 14th, has about 120 townhouses in 5.74 acres. The property assessment database shows that DC assesses the land for each townhouse at $400-500,000, so at an average of $450,000 per townhouse, that's $9.4 million in land value per acre in this area, comparable to what VTPI lists for center cities in most of the country.

For a 4-level parking structure of 130 spaces per level, that's $36,000 more in land costs per space; for a smaller 3-level garage, it would be over $48,000. That adds $263-$351 per month to the parking cost.


Image from the ANC presentation.

Oh, and that's just if the garage is above ground. Move it underground, and your construction cost skyrockets. Ricks says DC construction costs usually run around $60,000, or $5,231 per space. That makes the monthly cost per space about $486 per month with operating costs, even if you ignore the cost of the land entirely. You can do that to some extent because you can still build something else on top of the garage, though that building then becomes more expensive, and having a commercial garage below diminishes the value of whatever can be built there.

The price per hour to break even is...

How much would the garage have to charge per hour to recoup these costs? Ricks said that a very generous estimate would assume the garage averages 70% full each day over an 8-hour peak period of 4 pm to midnight.

This assumes the garage is totally full at the busiest times, like Saturday at 8 pm, tapering off toward the edges with low occupancy on weeknights at 5 or 11 pm. There will be little if any revenue from the daytime in this area, which has few offices except the Reeves Center, which has its own garage.

If Sundays and holidays stay free, that is 270 days per year. With the numbers from above, the garage would have to charge $3.52 to $4.33 per hour just to recoup its costs, whether it is underground or above ground.

You can see all of the math and calculations on this spreadsheet (XLS).


Image from the ANC presentation.

Would people really park in the garage?

So, we've got a parking garage which costs $3.50 or $4 an hour to park in. To go to 14th or U for dinner, that would set you back maybe $10-15. The presentation to ANC 2F CDC suggests that a garage would "relieve parking pressure on nearby streets and reduce circling." That's only true if it is considerably more desirable than parking on the street.

Right now, it's not. At night, it's free to park on the side of the street which isn't reserved for residents of the ward. Lots of people (including myself) circle for long periods of time in Georgetown to find free spaces or cheap metered spaces even though there is pay parking, because the cost is so different.

If this garage has to pay for itself, it would provide some parking, but that probably wouldn't be cheap enough to dissuade people from trying for a street space. We could change the on-street policies to charge more of a market rate there, but then would a garage be necessary?

For those who don't want to circle, there are businesses with valet parking on 14th and U already. Le Diplomate, for instance, has valet parking for $12. It seems that there are options to park if you are willing to pay a market rate, and building a garage wouldn't lower the market rate.

One problem with many of these parking proposals is that they assume, on the cost side, that the garage would make so much revenue to not cost the public anything, but on the other hand they assume that the parking is cheap enough to not cost the public much there either. It can't be both.

Cost isn't the only reason to build or not build a garage. In the next part, we'll look at other arguments for and against the proposal.

Politics


Candidates voice skepticism about a soccer stadium land swap deal

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

Would swapping land at 14th and U for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point be a good deal for DC? Some candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary don't think so, while others want to ensure that a change benefits the affected neighborhoods of Buzzard Point and U Street.


Photo by Chase McAlpine on Flickr.

The Gray administration is negotiating to transfer the Reeves Center municipal office building at 14th and U to developer Akridge, in exchange for Akridge's land in Buzzard Point. This would be one element of a multi-faceted deal to assemble land for a DC United soccer stadium.

The full details of the deal aren't public or may not even be worked out yet, but candidates reacted to what we do know so far. Many think the land swap plan is too complicated.

Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham said, "The numbers that I have seen suggest that we're paying high for a scrappy piece of property in an undesirable area, and underpaying for a government asset in a highly desirable area. Hold an auction for the Reeves building. People tell me you would be amazed how much money would be bid for the property."

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 member who's running for mayor, said, "I wouldn't do it that way. If you start with the premis that building a soccer stadium at that site is a good idea, and I do, the mayor's proposal is too complicated. It's hard to understand, hard to evaluate. People become very distrustful. If I would do it using the Reeves Centerand I'm not saying I would do thatI would just sell the Reeves Center and use the market price to buy the land, rather than trying to do it a way that looks suspicious."

John Settles, running against Anita Bonds for council at large, feels similarly. "I love DC United. I'm a soccer fan and a soccer coach. I don't think swapping the Reeves Center is a good strategy. I'd rather see the city just buy the 2 acres of land." He said that a new project to replace Reeves could represent an opportunity for affordable housing for families, coworking and incubator space for technology companies, and the arts.

Pedro Rubio, also running for the at-large seat, also said he supports the stadium at Buzzard Point, especially since many Latino residents and young people follow the team, but said, "I don't like the land swap." He worries about losing city services at the Reeves Center like the LGBT community center and Office of Latino Affairs.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 councilmember and candidate for mayor, doesn't think the city would be getting a good deal on the land swap, and isn't very supportive of using public resources. for a stadium at all. She said, "If the mayor can make a case for using $150 million of city resources, we have to be assured we're getting what we deserve for the Reeves center, and what I've heard preliminarily makes me nervous."

On the question of whether a $150 million deal makes sense overall, she said, "We have a billionaire owner .... Some people would ask the question, why do we have to give them $150 million? We have a lot of priorities for DC." Though, she noted, "I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District, and there are a lot of District residents who support the team."

Ward 1 candidates want office space at Reeves

Other candidates, especially candidates for individual ward seats, focused on the impacts to individual communities and the best ways to use the land. Both the Reeves Center and the Buzzard Point are in Wards (1 and 6, respectively) with competitive council races.

Both Graham and his Ward 1 challenger, Brianne Nadeau, want to make sure there is office space at 14th and U in any building that would replace Reeves. Graham said, "We've got plenty of luxury condos and rentals. What we don't have is enough daytime commerce. If we lose the Reeves Ctr and those government agencies, that will be very upsetting."

Nadeau said she wants: "to create some dynamic ground-level retail and community space. Even before this deal came about, I had been thinking, what could we do about the Reeves Center? Open up that atrium, create lunch space and music like you see in some cities like Norfolk. For me it's about how do you take this an make it an opportunity."

"The reason I want that is, if you want a commercial corridor that has balanced options, you need an anchor and foot traffic for the daytime retail. ... We fought first for the hotel at 13th and U, and having lost that, we're fighting for the commercial anchor. It's essential we get the best use for the community and not just the best for the city."

As for the overall merit of the deal, Nadeau said she's amenable to city resources helping fund a soccer stadium which could create jobs, so long as "those are good jobs" with a Project Labor Agreement, and opportunities for the workers to unionize.

Ward 6 candidates think about Southwest residents' needs

In Ward 6, Charles Allen wants to ensure that any deal comes with investments for the area, including improving the public housing in the area, and adding parkland. He said, "When the baseball stadium was built, the city build Yards Park. Yards Park brings just as many people into that neighborhood and has been just as catalytic for that neighborhood as the baseball stadium has been. Southwest needs its own version of Yards Park. I think we need to use this as am opportunity to invest in our public space, and invest in our green space, and invest in the river."

Darrell Thompson started his statement being strongly supportive of the potential deal, though as he spoke he also brought up concerns about getting a good deal and making sure immediate neighbors have input. "It's a good idea," he said. "It's a very good idea. ... It first and foremost gives us an opportunity to come back to where we started, providing jobs, job training and apprenticeships for District residents.

"But we also have to make sure it's a good deal for District residents. We have to have input, make sure their concerns are heard. There's a tax structure to this project that's still being worked out. We have to make sure this is a good deal for District taxpayers."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Jim Graham:

Jack Evans:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Muriel Bowser:

Brianne Nadeau:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

Transit


An "Abe's to Ben's" Circulator could connect tourists to DC neighborhoods

The National Park Service plans to create a new Circulator route around the National Mall. NPS and the city could also improve transit options to nearby neighborhoods with a line from the Mall to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, and U Street.


Our proposal for the "Abe's to Ben's Circulator." Click for an interactive map.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) for Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle have voted to ask NPS and the city to consider such a route, which we have nicknamed the "Abe's to Ben's" or "A to B" route.

The planned Mall Circulator route, which NPS plans to fund in part with revenue from new parking meters along the Mall and in West Potomac Park, is an excellent beginning and will improve transit accessibility to some of DC's most popular attractions.

At the same time, the route, which goes east-west along the Mall to and from Union Station, doesn't give tourists an easy path off the Mall and into the neighborhoods to support our local businesses.

More than 4 million tourists visit the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, two of the most popular landmarks, each year. But the area still has poor transit service, with little Metrobus service and the nearest Metro station ¾ of a mile away.

Our proposal

The "Abe's to Ben's" line would begin at the triangle in between 23rd Street NW and Henry Bacon Drive, by the Lincoln Memorial. The bus would then travel north along 23rd Street and provide service to the State Department, Columbia Plaza, and George Washington University's main campus before meeting up with the Blue and Orange lines at the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station at 23rd and I Streets.

From there, it would proceed up New Hampshire Avenue and around Washington Circle to the southern entrance to the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line. It would continue around the circle to 18th Street and travel north to U Street before heading east to the U Street Metro station, the Green and Yellow lines. It could then end near the African-American Civil War Memorial (linking Park Service sites at each end) or Howard University.

This Circulator route would improve transit connections for both residents and tourists, providing a one-seat ride between the Mall, downtown, and mid-city neighborhoods. It would provide a direct connection to all 5 Metro lines, a crucial reliever of core Metro capacity and an alternative during service disruptions.

It would also restore bus service on the east side of Dupont Circle which ceased two years ago when Metro re-routed the L2 away from 18th Street. With this proposal, all of the bus pads that were installed as part of the streetscape project on 18th just a couple of years ago can serve a purpose again.


An L2 bus (formerly) stops on 18th Street. Image from Google Street View.

What about other routes?

DDOT's 2011 Circulator master plan envisions extending the current Rosslyn-Dupont route to the U Street and continue the National Mall route up 23rd Street and over into Georgetown by way of Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are better ways to expand service. An extension of the Mall Circulator into Georgetown would be redundant with the 31 Metrobus, but with less utility since the 31 serves the entirety of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor up to Friendship Heights.

Extending the Rosslyn-Dupont route, on the other hand, raises issues about service reliability and neglects to serve Foggy Bottom and the National Mall. The current route already must traverse congested L and M through Georgetown and the West End.

Our proposal introduces a more direct, less traffic-choked connection to the Blue and Orange lines for Dupont and mid-city residents, while implementing service in areas of Foggy Bottom that don't have good transit service.

Our proposal isn't perfect. We're not transit professionals; we're community activists looking to improve connectivity between our neighborhoods in a way that reduces automobile dependence and hopefully serves many of the city's goals.

We know, for instance, that there many not be enough demand for Circulator service on the National Mall at 11 pm on a Saturday, but there may be a lot of demand in U Street and Dupont Circle. We also would love to extend this route proposal farther east to Howard University, with its transit-dependent student population. We welcome suggestions as to how to resolve these, and other, potential dilemmas.

Next steps

Tonight, February 25th, DDOT will hold its semi-annual forum on the Circulator, where members of the public can comment on future service. This is a critical opportunity to ask agency officials to consider our proposal.

Despite the long road and uncertainty that lies ahead, we feel that this idea is one worth sticking with and fighting for. It would benefit residents, workers, and tourists alike, while providing benefits for local businesses and inducing additional tax revenue for the District.

Now that the National Park Service has changed the rules of the game, it's time to examine the opportunities, and provide better transit options for everyone.

Public Spaces


Shipping container restaurant opens on U Street

Shipping containers continue to proliferate as an affordable building material. The latest addition is a new restaurant near the corner of U Street and Vermont Avenue, NW, called El Rey taqueria.


El Rey taqueria on U Street. Photo by BeyondDC.

In this case, El Rey owner Ian Hilton says it wasn't actually cheaper to build using shipping containers. But that could be due to El Rey's particular layout or needs. It's hard to know for sure.

Elsewhere in the region, shipping containers are used or will be used at Half Street Fairgrounds near the baseball stadium, and possibly in Tysons Corner.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


To build a soccer stadium, DC will swap the Reeves Center

DC has agreed to a preliminary deal to build a dedicated soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, and to redevelop the Reeves Center at 14th and U streets NW with a new mixed-use building.


Rendering of a Buzzard Point soccer stadium. Image from DC United.

Under the deal, the stadium would be located at the southern base of Potomac Avenue SW, just 4 blocks from Nationals Park. It would seat 20,000-25,000 people, and cost around $150 million to build. DC United would pay for construction, but the District would donate the land.

Development firm Akridge currently owns the land for the stadium. Instead of buying the land outright, DC would swap it for the Reeves Center. Akridge would then tear down and redevelop the Reeves Center, while United would build a stadium at Buzzard Point.

The deal must still be approved by the DC Council.

Is this a good idea?

Is Buzzard Point the right place for a stadium? Usually it's not a great idea to put two large stadiums so close to each other, because when so much land is given over to sports, there's not enough left over to build a functioning mixed-use neighborhood. That's a major problem with Baltimore's Camden Yards area, with the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, and with most multiple-stadium complexes.

But Buzzard Point may be different. Nationals Park has helped induce strong redevelopment east of South Capitol Street, and along M Street SE/SW, but the west side of South Capitol Street has lagged behind. The west side clearly functions as a different place, and a stadium there could help.

On the other hand, maybe the west side of South Capitol Street hasn't redeveloped as much precisely because Nationals Park superblock is a barrier.

From a transportation perspective, Buzzard Point makes sense. Although it's further from a Metro station than Nationals Park or RFK, it's still within walking distance. And actually, a little bit of distance is a good thing, since it means soccer fans will pass by retail areas between the stadium and Metro, and that the most valuable land nearest the station can still be used for mixed-use development.

On top of the Metro connection, DC is planning for both the Georgia Avenue and Anacostia streetcar lines to terminate at Buzzard Point, directly adjacent to the proposed stadium site.

As for the Reeves Center, it cannot be redeveloped soon enough. A large city office building was a useful and necessary investment along U Street in the 1980s, when central DC was declining. But now the neighborhood is booming, the land is in high demand, and the Reeves Center is obsolete.

In a perfect world, I still think Poplar Point would have been a better location for a soccer stadium. But in the real world, Buzzard Point works. Since DC taxpayers won't be on the hook to pay for construction, let's do it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Are Logan Circle's changes wonderful, or something else?

14th Street and Logan Circle have developed into a premier destination in DC, and there is much to celebrate about that. But the neighborhood is also becoming an ever-more-exclusive neighborhood that increasingly feels out of reach for many.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Transformation has raced ahead

The Washington Post wrote this weekend about "Gentrification in Overdrive on 14th Street." What is occurring along 14th Street now, one could scarcely even call "gentrification" any more.

I work just a few blocks west of 14th Street, and venture over there occasionally. Before, I lived there for 5 years, wrote a blog about the area, and was on a first-name basis with many 14th Street business owners. I felt as if I knew every building and block by heart.

What I find is a neighborhood that, in less than two years' time, has transformed to a point where even I barely recognize it.

The admittedly sensitive topic of "gentrification" came up in roundabout ways numerous times during my 14th Street blogging days. Commenters would bemoan the loss of the supposed "character" of old 14th Street with the opening of every new wine bar or high-end furniture store. Escalating housing costs and businesses that were increasingly perceived to cater to a certain demographic (often white, always wealthy) led to a great amount of suspicion. And even many of us who didn't regard every restaurant opening with skepticism, such as myself, still questioned in what direction the neighborhood was headed, and who stood to benefit.

With the skyrocketing real estate prices and the nature of the businesses flooding into the corridor, I now feel that we have an answer to those questions. And if you aren't in a position to afford a $900,000 condo, you probably aren't going to like those answers.

It's better... but is it 'wonderful?'

It's a given that a city needs revenue in order to provide services to its citizens. Inhabited, maintained, tax revenue-generating properties are a positive for the city. And when the businesses that fill properties along commercial corridors succeed, they not only put revenue in the city's coffers, they incite more businesses to open and help to cultivate an energy and vitality that many seek via city living. Ideally, you have a win-win situation: a more bustling, energetic city that is providing more and better-quality services to its residents.

Harriet Tregoning, director of the DC Office of Planning, told the Post, "What is going on on 14th Street is fascinating, anomalous and wonderful for the city." Fascinating, yes. Anomalous, perhaps. Wonderful? Well that depends on who you ask, and who you are.

You won't find many who clamor for the conditions of the "old" 14th Street, or at least not the social ills that plagued it and surrounding streets throughout much of the latter-half of the 20th century. I have family members who lived along the corridor in the mid-80s who can regale you with stories of the drug transactions, prostitution, and other activities that took place just outside their front door.

The corridor was woefully underdeveloped, a victim of the flight out of the city that began in the late 1950s and reached its zenith immediately following the 1968 riots. In that respect, there's little argument that 14th Street is in a better place today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.

But there is no shortage of people who clamor for a more connected and sustainable neighborhood, one more accessible to a broader array of people where there's a greater likelihood that many of its residents will be able to put down roots and investment in its improvement for the long term.

A significant reason why 14th Street was able to turn around and become a desirable address was the tireless work of many residents who moved there during the 1970s, '80s and '90sand remained. There were no million-dollar penthouse condos there then, and that was part of its appeal. But at some point the prices started rising, and haven't stopped since.

Stability quickly turns into unaffordability

For many people, there didn't seem to be much of an "in between" stage for 14th Street and Logan Circle. The neighborhood never really seemed to strike that balance between offering stability and a good quality of life with affordability and approachability.

It seemed to vault between two extremes over a relatively short period of time. The change that took place along 14th Street was drastic, and whenever change occurs that quickly, there will be people who were able to "get in" and are largely satisfied, and there will be people who find themselves shut out.

My wife and I found ourselves in the latter category. After living in a one-bedroom Logan Circle apartment for 5 years, we determined that, in addition to needing to provide my wife with a saner commute to her Montgomery County employer, we had tired of running into each other and simply needed more space.

We would have preferred to remain in Logan had we been able to, but aside from a handful of two-bedroom apartments and condos that were approximately the size of (or smaller than) our one-bedroom home, we found ourselves largely priced out of the market. A $600-$700,000 "luxury" condo, with its associated condo fees and taxes, was simply beyond reach.

But my evolving feelings about my old neighborhood don't just come from my own experiences while living there. They're also shaped by what has happened there since we left. The types of businesses that have continued to move into the neighborhoodposh eateries and bars, furniture stores selling $6,000 sofas, boutiques selling $100 pairs of yoga pantsare good at attracting young, moneyed visitors to the neighborhood, but aren't necessarily the kinds of businesses that serve the daily needs of residents. How many times a week, for example, are you going to drop $80 or $100 on dinner? How many $15 cocktails will you consume? How many $2,000 chairs will you purchase?

Beyond the upscale boutiques and restaurants, and the neighborhood's overall shift in commercial character, lies an even greater issue: who is moving here for the long term? I certainly do not mean to suggest that there aren't many fine, committed residents in Logan Circle invested in the long-term betterment of their neighborhood. I know from firsthand experience that there are. But much of the new housing along and around 14th Street and featured in the Post story isn't being built with long-term inhabitance in mind.

Many people can only live in a studio or cramped one-bedroom apartment for so long. Eventually you couple off, have a child, or simply decide you need more room. Where to, then? With, as the Post notes, two bedroom condos in the neighborhood fetching close to $1 million, and houses garnering more, it's safe to assume that many will not remain.

How do you build a community with such a constant revolving door of residents? And what happens if you can't? They are questions Logan Circle residents will need to answer over the coming years and decades.

Trendy destination, yes; good neighborhood?

14th Street is a very popular destination, but as a neighborhood Logan Circle today can feel a bit hollow. Undoubtedly, there are many fun places to go, good drinks to be drunk, and great food to be eaten. It's lively, it's safer, and it's generating a lot of money for the city. "Huzzah!" to all of that.

But before we stamp it with a "wonderful" and seek to determine how we can emulate it in other DC neighborhoods, consider everything that it may not be: Affordable. Approachable. Sustainable. Economically diverse. And then ask yourself what the District would look like if every neighborhood developed along a similar path.

I recently took a stroll along 14th Street, past old haunts like Thaitanic, Great Wall, and Pulp, and past new additions like Be Too, Black Whiskey, Ghibellina, Pearl Dive, and everyone's new favorite French brasserie, Le Diplomate. I felt some nostalgia for the street I walked along so many times, and I marveled at the frantic energy and the rapid pace of change that brought it to this point.

And then I studied the people dining outside at 14th Street's many sidewalk cafes, and I wondered how many of them live in the neighborhood? How many could? How many would make it their home for 10, 20, 30 years? And how many simply view it as a playground of sorts, good for a night out or a stroll, but otherwise not a place they canor care tosettle in?

Change is inevitable, and there are many things to enjoy about the "new" 14th Street. It's a great destination, and can be a fine place to live. But I'm not sure that everything's wonderful.

A version of this article was posted at North FlintVille.

Preservation


Preservation board members regret ever allowing roof decks

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."

Bicycling


"It must have been your fault. C'mon. You are a biker."

Getting in a crash is one of the scariest things that can happen to a cyclist. Even worse is when police assume that bicyclists are always at fault, even if they've got evidence to the contrary.


The crash about to happen. Photo captured from MPD surveillance video.

On a pleasant March morning in 2011, I was on my way to work, biking south on 14th St NW in the center of the right lane. As I approached W Street, I looked to make sure I had ample time to cross. The light was green. As I left the intersection, an SUV driver made a left turn across traffic, directly into my path. All I could do was hit the brakes hard.

The next thing I knew, I was on my back in the middle of the street. I tried to sit up, but failed pathetically and landed back on the road. My glasses were in a mangled heap nearby. Seconds later, some cyclists stopped by. None had seen the collision, but they locked my bike at the scene and helped me to a safe place. Someone called an ambulance, which showed up a few minutes later.

In the ambulance, Carlos Carter, a DC police officer, asked me what happened, and I told him. Once the EMTs realized I had hit my head, it was straight onto a backboard and off to the emergency room.

At George Washington University Hospital, an X-ray found that my shoulder was separated and several ligaments were torn. Doctors took me to a CAT scanner to check for broken bones.

During the test, Officer Carter entered the room. He asked me to sign a ticket for running a red light. I asked him to take a look at footage since I was certain I hadn't. He wasn't interested and asked me to sign the ticket and admit fault. I didn't. He left.

Video proves that I was right

Often that would have been the end of the story, but, thankfully, not this one. I was confident that I was right, but after spending a day at the hospital, I began to doubt myself. When the police report was ready, I picked up a copy. Both the driver and another witness said I had run a red light.

Once I was mobile again, I returned to the scene of the collision. I tried to reconcile their version with mine. Was it possible that the light showed red in their direction but green in mine? I watched a few light cycles: the lights turned red at the same time. As I watched the cars roll through, I took a careful look around and noticed a camera with a Metropolitan Police Department label.

The camera was part of MPD's CCTV Neighborhood-Based Cameras program. After calling the department, I learned that I had to file a DC Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the footage, which is erased every 7 to 10 days. Thanks to the careful work of Commander James Crane, Kaylin Junge Castelli, and Ofc. E.A. Hoffstetter, I was able to obtain the footage before it was deleted.

Here is the relevant segment. I appear 32 seconds into the video.

The video was extremely clear: I did everything right, while the driver did something dangerous and in violation of traffic laws. At 9:13:09 am (7 seconds into the video clip above), the light turned green. At 9:13:42 (32 seconds in), I appear on screen, and less than 2 seconds later, I cross the intersection. At 9:13:44.524, the driver made a left turn. 8 more cars pass through the intersection. At 9:14:08, the light turns red.

I was left with the same question I had before: why did the driver turn? She claimed that I ran a red light, which meant she saw me but decided to turn anyway. Or maybe she didn't see me? I was wearing a bright orange jacket, and it wasn't very sunny or dark out. Maybe she had really bad vision, she didn't look, or wanted to hit me on purpose?

I will never really know for sure, but I do know that my shoulder ligaments will never regrow. I really wish she had bothered to look.

MPD refuses to admit its error in crash reporting

Now it was time to take action against the claims that I was at fault. I returned to the Third District police station, where a supervisor told me that only the officer who wrote the report and the ticket could change it. He asked me to tell my story again.

"Wait, you mean, you were biking and you want a ticket canceled?" he said, incredulous. "We all know how bikers behave. It must have been your fault. C'mon. You are a biker."

When I suggested that he review the video, he refused. The supervisor said he'd contact the officer but that I shouldn't expect anything to come of it, as I was a bicyclist.

So I filed an appeal. I scheduled a hearing and brought my evidence, but the officer didn't bother to show up. The ticket was canceled. It took an extra several hours of unnecessary hassle, but it felt great.

However, to get compensation for my permanent injury, my medical bills, lost work, pain and suffering, I had to sue the driver and her insurance company. It's hard to do in DC, which along with Maryland, Virginia and 2 other states, uses the "contributory negligence" standard for liability after crashes. Under that standard, if the victim was doing anything at all wrong, no matter how small, he or she can't collect any damages.

Without the video, it would've been nearly impossible to prove that I did everything right. But thanks to the footage and the work of Patrick Regan and Paul Cornoni of Regan, Zambri, Long, and Betram, I subsequently sued and then settled with the driver and her insurance company, receiving compensation for my permanent partial disability.

I would rather the whole thing never happened, but it's refreshing to know that the legal system can sometimes help hold negligent parties accountable and compensate those that they harm.

What I learned

From this experience, I learned two things. One is that police officers need substantially more training in different types of bicycle-automobile crashes. A driver turning left into oncoming bike traffic is a common form of collision, and that driver is usually at fault. Officer Carter botched the incident report by not asking the right questions.

Once the driver claimed I ran a red light, meaning she admitted to seeing me, the officer should have asked her why she decided to cause a collision, rather than assuming I was at fault. This would have helped him write the correct tickets and prepare an accurate report. And when someone shows up with clear evidence in their favor, he should've admitted his error, apologized, and fixed it.

Second, I learned that if you get hit by someone while bicycling, check for cameras. Without them, you'll have to fight against the assumption that you were operating in an unsafe way, no matter what the driver did.

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