Greater Greater Washington

Posts about U Street

Pedestrians


"Bulb-outs" could make crossing the street safer at key trouble spots

People on foot could get a little more space at the corners of 14th and U NW, Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue NE, and M and Wisconsin in Georgetown. Those are a few of the concepts in a new analysis of how to make DC's most dangerous intersections safer.


Image from NACTO.

Transportation officials, local community and business members, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and councilmember Mary Cheh toured five of the highest-crash intersections in August and September. A new report from DDOT recommends ways to make each safer.

The intersections were: Columbus Circle in front of Union Station, New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE, 14th and U NW, Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE, and Wisconsin and M in Georgetown. Between them, three people died and 12 had "disabling injuries" since 2012, a total DC is committed to reducing to zero.

The report is full of interesting statistics on crashes and small fixes for people walking, biking, and driving. One piece of note is are a few spots where the study team is proposing temporarily or permanently creating some more space for people on foot, such as "bulb-outs" at corners which add to the sidewalk space and shorten crossing distance.

At 14th and U, plans are already underway to rebuild that intersection as part of a 14th Street streetscape project expected to start this fall. That design includes bulb-outs at the corners:

On Benning Road, DDOT will look into adding a pedestrian refuge using flexible posts for the spot where people walking and biking get onto the bridge sidewalk to go over the railroad tracks (and later the river).

The always-thorny corner of M and Wisconsin has large numbers of people waiting on the narrow sidewalks to cross the street (and then short times to cross). The report suggests studying possible bulb-outs for three of the corners to add more space for people to wait.

For New York Avenue and Bladensburg and Columbus Circle, the report doesn't recommend any changes of the same scale, but notes that there are sidewalks and pedestrian islands on New York Avenue that are too narrow and which should be widened, as well as are some missing crosswalks on Columbus Circle.

What else do you notice in the report?

Public Spaces


A new pocket park and safer street layout are coming to Florida Ave NW

Much of the discussion around a new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW has centered on disagreement about its affordable housing component. That aside, the project will add a lot to the neighborhood, including a new pocket park and a better layout for the intersection in front.


The new pocket park is the two green triangles on the left side of the image, with the building at 965 Florida on the right. All images from MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group unless otherwise noted.

Developers MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group will build a new 4,478 square foot pocket park on the west side of the reconfigured Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. This will act as a "buffer" between traffic and the existing town houses, their application says.

To create the pocket park, the developers will reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Sherman Avenue, eliminating the continuous diagonal on Florida and a disused pedestrian island between the northbound and southbound lanes of Sherman.


The existing Florida Ave and Sherman Ave intersection. Image by Google Maps.

The sidewalk along Florida and Sherman will be widened by six feet to 14 feet and there will be a new "private street"—essentially an extension of Bryant Street that is part of DC's plans to reconnect Georgia Avenue and Sherman Avenue.


An eastern aerial perspective of the site.

The project, along with others proposed for the block of Florida Ave between V Street and Sherman Avenue, will create a nearly unified streetscape of mid-rise, mixed-use buildings.


Florida Ave street level elevation.

Affordable housing has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the 965 Florida development. While MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group have committed to setting aside 30% of its 428 residential units for households earning up to 30% or up to 50% of area median income, criticism has erupted over the District government's decision to sell the property for just $400,000 when it was reportedly worth $27.6 million.

Some argued DC coud build more affordable housing if it sold the plot outright, while others said the deal guaranteed that affordable housing would go up in DC's core.

Either way, 965 Florida is moving forward and will bring many attractive—and needed—improvements to the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods.

Note: If you read this post when it first published, your eyes aren't deceiving you! We re-ordered it to emphasize the key changes coming to the neighborhood.

Development


A new Florida Ave development is getting more affordable units than originally planned

Plans for the much-discussed development at 965 Florida Avenue NW now include 129 affordable residential units, almost 18% more than earlier plans. The additional housing may alleviate some concerns over whether the DC government made the best deal for the site.


Rendering of 965 Florida Avenue. Image by MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group.

The planned 10-story mixed-use building includes 428 apartments, with 30% set aside for the District's inclusionary housing program, leaving 299 to be rented at market rates. The affordable component includes 32 units for households that make up to 30% of area median income (AMI) and 97 for households making up to 50% of AMI.

DC will auction off the affordable units to households through its inclusionary zoning lottery. Households must register for the lottery by providing documents proving that their size and combined income meet the AMI requirements.

AMI for a household of four in the Washington DC metropolitan area was $107,300 in 2013, according to the DC Department of Housing and Community Development. Using this number, a household making up to $32,190 would qualify for 30% of AMI units and one making up to $53,650 would qualify for 50% of AMI units.

The previous proposal for 965 Florida included 107 affordable units out of 352 planned in the new building.

More units but still just 30%

While there will be more affordable units, the developers, MRP Realty and Ellis Development Group, are also building more apartments overall. That means the percentage of below-market units at 965 Florida isn't going up.

The 30% number follows a bill by Ward 5 councilmember Kenyan McDuffie requiring that 20% to 30% of residential units built as a result of public land deals are included in the District's affordable housing program.

Questions have been raised over whether the District made a poor deal when it agreed to sell the 965 Florida site for just $400,000 and a 30% affordable unit commitment from the developers when the plot was reportedly worth $27.6 million if sold outright.

Some argue that DC could have created more affordable dwelling units by selling the plot and using the proceeds to build below-market units elsewhere in the city.

Others point to the fact that the project guarantees that affordable housing will be built in one of the city's most popular, transit-oriented neighborhoods rather than just on its fringes.

The debate has died down somewhat since the DC Council approved the deal in September.

History


How U Street almost became strip malls and office parks

Planners in the 1950s wanted to replace large swaths of central Washington with freeways. Canceling those plans saved the city not just from the freeways themselves, but also from an equally stunning plan to demolish thousands more blocks alongside said freeways and "renew" them with a suburban landscape of strip malls, office campuses, and apartment towers.

Justement U St 1
The cloverleaf to the right is what the intersection of 16th, U, and New Hampshire nearly became. Aerial perspective rendering by Louis Justement. Photo by author.

Architect Louis Justement was tremendously influential from the 1920s through the 1960s, both locally and nationally; he chaired the American Institute of Architects' national Committee on Urban Planning for a spell. Gravely concerned with the tremendous overcrowding and traffic congestion that characterized wartime Washington, Justement published a short book in 1946 called New Cities For Old.

In it, he proposed not just replacing many major streets within DC with limited-access freeways. He also wanted to replace the neighborhoods that had grown up alongside those routes—or, rather, along the streetcars which traversed said streets—with modern new buildings suited to line those modern new roads.

Justement U St 2
A more detailed look at the proposed Jefferson Boulevard. Plan by Louis Justement, photo by author.

Justement's startling vision for the U Street corridor would have replaced T Street NW with "Jefferson Boulevard," and the slightly confusing intersection of 16th, U, and New Hampshire would have been radically simplified with a giant cloverleaf. The backs of two-block-long stripmalls, fronted by broad parking areas, would have lined Jefferson.

Between R and S Streets, the rowhouses and small apartments would be replaced by regimented rows of slabby tower-block apartments. Lining the towers up north-south and leaving space in between would, in theory, make sure every unit got an equal chance at sunlight, and would leave room for plentiful surface parking as well.


Development surrounding a freeway that would have run between Decatur and Emerson Streets NW and between 7th and 16th streets NW, north and west of Sherman Circle. Image from the Theodor Horydczak Collection at the Library of Congress.

For the blocks between Buchanan and Gallatin Streets NW, around Sherman Circle in the Petworth area, Justement proposed something even more radical: a ""Lincoln Boulevard" circumferential freeway bound by surface "access roads," with a constant series of loops permitting cars to switch back and forth.

A giant parking garage would fill the two blocks currently bound by Georgia, 13th, Emerson, and Gallatin, serving a monstrous shopping mall (crowned with office towers) stretching from 7th Street over to 16th. The blocks beyond would see yet more towers-in-parking-lots.

Justement plan for NW
Connecticut Avenue NW between Cathedral Avenue NW and Albemarle Street NW. Plan by Louis Justement, photo by author.

Even upper Connecticut Avenue, where developers had been building auto-oriented buildings since 1930, was to be comprehensively renewed. Within 20 years, Justement forecast, Connecticut would become a freeway, with underpasses and "feeder streets" carrying local traffic. The streetcar would be replaced with buses that would pull off the freeway into parking lots.

Cleveland Park's shops, which Justement said caused "traffic hazzards" by being arrayed on both sides of Connecticut and thus inviting pedestrians to cross the road, would be consolidated into a shopping center where Tilden Gardens stands today. The grand apartment houses lining Connecticut would be summarily demolished, replaced with new towers further from the unceasing traffic.

While most of DC was lucky to escape these ideas, there was one DC neighborhood where Louis Justement's vision came to pass: the Southwest Waterfront.

The rest of the country was not as lucky, though. Many of the ideas that Justement sought to impose on DC found their way into other plans all across America. His ideas for Petworth resemble the march of office towers lining the access roads of the Katy Freeway outside Houston; his sketch of Connecticut Avenue looks like the geometric clusters of offices arrayed between Sunrise Valley and Sunset Hills, the "feeder streets" paralleling the Dulles Toll Road in Reston; his plan for U Street resemble any number of Edge Cities, like Tysons Corner or Parole outside Annapolis.

Development


Why the right is wrong about affordable housing

On Wednesday, we discussed what's wrong with the notion that supply and demand don't apply to housing. But on the other end of the spectrum, a free-market approach isn't the whole answer to housing affordability, either.


Free market image from Shutterstock.

Some people (on the left) oppose new market-rate housing development. They claim that new development only provides high-end housing, which doesn't do anything to help the supply of more affordable options.

Others with a more libertarian view (a more right-leaning view in our region) claim that if we get rid of all zoning regulations, the free market will take care of it and build housing for everyone.

Both arguments are wrong.

Yes, adding more housing must absolutely be a part of the strategy to make housing more affordable. And zoning changes to allow people to build taller and more usable space near transit, rent out carriage houses, and avoid expensive and often-unnecessary parking are all steps in the right direction. But some proponents go on to say relaxing zoning will solve the problem all on its own. It won't.

The free market will only build housing for higher incomes

Even if cities roll back many land use regulations, squeeze down construction costs, and leverage new financing tools, the cost of building new housing won't fall below a certain point.


Graph from McKinsey.

This report from McKinsey found that even if you take all of these steps together, it will only cut the gap between what housing costs and what people can afford to pay in half (assuming people spend 30% of their income on housing—a generally-recommended level).

A developer finances a new development by offering investors a return. If the return is higher than investing in something else, investors will finance the project. If the return is not high enough, especially given the risk, investors will put their money elsewhere and the housing simply doesn't get built. Regulations add to development costs. The development review process also adds costs when projects get delayed or shrunk down, and it increases the risk.

The city's baseline costs for But even without these costs a newly-constructed one-bedroom apartment in DC are over $2,000 a month to meet the level of return the market demands.

A person's income has to be about $38 per hour, or $80,000, for this kind of rent to only take up 30%. If someone earns $15 an hour, or $32,000 a year, he or she can only afford an $800 apartment—or less than half of this level.

More density does not change the basic math

Even if land is free (which it's not) and regulations offer unlimited density, buildings still cost money to build. And taller buildings cost more money per unit than short ones.

In the DC Office of Planning's study on DC building heights, Anita Morrison, a principal with Partners for Economic Solutions, found that while regulations might reduce potential development, unlimited height and density is not the simple solution to affordability.

"Unlimited FAR [density measure Floor Area Ratio] is not the magic cure, because the cost of building with concrete and steel is much more per square foot than low-rise stick-built [wood frame] construction up to five or six stories," Morrison explained.

To prove this point, Morrison offered an analysis of varying scenarios for a new apartment building. Assume a new building on a half-acre lot where the land price is set at zero (such as a deal to build on public land). Rent would be $1,127 for a one bedroom apartment, which is affordable to households making 60% of AMI ($51,600 per year). Is this building economical to build?

To find out, Morrison tested different heights ranging from 65 feet (six stories) to 250 feet (23 stories). The rent didn't cover the cost of construction or meet the minimum return on investment in any of these cases.

The 65-foot building costs $168,000 per unit, while the costs for high-rise steel and concrete buildings of 130 to 250 feet are higher. The 200-foot building costs $241,000 per unit. Even if the building's parking is above-ground (cheaper) rather than below-ground, the return only improves to 4.6 percent, "still nowhere close" the 7 percent required return on investment, according to Morrison.

Of course, most development projects include paying for land. The higher the zoning, the more valuable the land, so some of the gain also turns into higher land costs rather than lower housing costs.

What about "filtering"?

In response, free market advocates claim that "filtering" helps supply housing at rents below new construction. Instead of living in new buildings, poorer people can live in unrenovated older ones.

Like the argument about new market-rate housing, this is true, but only to a degree. It is true that increasing supply eases upward pressure on all prices. But the reservoir of naturally cheaper, older buildings runs out after a while.

When many people moved out of urban areas, a lot of buildings started decaying and so prices went down. Now that urban areas are popular again, in growing cities like DC, older buildings are a dwindling resource. New buildings won't get old fast enough, and they won't offer cheap-but-only-adequate places to live, to actually offer housing for the lower end of the income spectrum.

Old buildings need renovation. Even if they're low-income housing, they still need repairs and rehabilitation—they may not need granite countertops, but the plumbing has to work well. Once a market-rate building in a growing neighborhood needs renovation, there's enormous incentive just to go further and make the building higher-end to capture the higher rents or sell it as more expensive condos.

Take the 1400 block of W Street NW, just north of the booming epicenter of 14th & U Streets. Six nearly-identical apartment buildings line the southern side of the street. In 2000, all started out as unsubsidized market-rate, affordable rental apartment buildings, except 1424 W Street. The one exception was converted to a limited equity mixed-income cooperative in the early 1990s by the tenants. Today, two of the buildings are high-end market rate, while four are part of two affordable cooperatives.


Image from Bing.

During the early 2000s, all of these buildings changed hands and filtered up to a higher rent market. The three westernmost buildings, totaling 100 units, formed an affordable cooperative with financial help from the District government through the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which lets a tenant group match a buyer's offer. The buildings were renovated for $11 million, and many of the existing tenants were able to become owners.

Without direct intervention via TOPA the program and funding from the city, all of these old apartment buildings would be high-priced market rate housing today—despite the hundreds of new units being constructed on vacant lots adjacent to this block.

While there were some regulatory limits on construction, there was a lot of vacant land nearby at the time. Supply was not constrained by zoning, but rather by financing and property owners' readiness to build. It's hard to speculate that any amount of nearby new construction would have prevented these buildings from being renovated into high-end housing.

On a larger scale, the increased supply of housing in the area helps absorb demand for more housing, but it's not enough to stem the demand for such a sought-after location. Between 2005 and 2011, the rental housing market's growth added more than 12,500 units. But at the same time, $800/month apartments fell by half, while $1000/month rentals nearly doubled. Strong market demand will shrink the availability of low-priced units. That's what has happened over the last decade as DC transformed from a declining city into a rapidly growing one.

Supply matters, but it's not the whole story

Building more housing is important. But simply relaxing constraints on density and height isn't enough to build and sustain a housing stock that's affordable to the working class, which makes up a large share of our overall population and workforce.

We should roll back some of the regulatory delay and restrictions that do a lot more harm than good. We can reduce parking requirements, allow accessory apartments, increase height limits in a few parts of town, and fight for projects that will add housing, especially near existing transit.

At the same time, the District needs to find ways to create new affordable housing for people of making under 50-80% of AMI (a household of two earning up to $70,000) and preserve the affordable housing that already exists. The market will not meet those needs on its own.

Transit


Communication problems leave residents in the cold amid bus and electricity failures

Every snowfall brings its inconveniences and problems. Most of us depend on critical infrastructure that can't keep running for everyone in bad weather. But communication problems compounded some already-frustrating service disruptions for Metrobus riders and Pepco electric customers yesterday.


Photo by Dustin Renwick on Twitter.

Cold residents can't get the bus in Glover Park

In Glover Park, the neighborhood streets pose a challenge when snow falls, because the streets are hilly and narrow. Side streets often take time to get plowed and become impassable to buses and cars.

The D2 bus, which runs through Glover Park, stopped venturing into the neighborhood during the day. By late afternoon, WMATA officials told Glover Park residents that the bus was running on a snow detour. But the information coming from the agency didn't match what drivers were actually doing.

Instead of taking the planned snow detour, buses were stopping their routes at 35th Street and Whitehaven Parkway.

Ann Chisholm, Government Relations Officer for WMATA, told Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Jackie Blumenthal that drivers do not decide where to go; instead, they follow the prescribed route. On Twitter, @MetroBusInfo communicated the same detour. But the bus drivers found ice on 39th Street and told one another to turn back at 35th.


The D2 snow detour map. Image from WMATA.

It is understandable that there are times when bus routes are blocked, but when the actual routes don't match the information available, it leads residents to wait outside in the cold and snow for a bus that will never come.

Last year, after a very minor snowfall, buses stopped running on some major routes including Wisconsin Avenue. Crowds of riders lined up at the corner of Wisconsin and Calvert St. with no hope of getting on a bus. These types of stories are a constant for riders throughout the region.

Cold, power-free residents don't know when they'll have heat again

Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, and U Street usually don't suffer from power outages because their lines are underground, but something happened at 18th and New Hampshire yesterday at 6:45 am, which resulted in smoke coming out of manhole covers and no power all the way to 13th and U or beyond.

These things happen, and Pepco quickly dispatched crews to the scene. However, the utility gave constantly-shifting time estimates for a fix: 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, 5:00, 7:00, 10:00, and finally 11:30. The power came back at 11:15 pm for all but a few blocks.

During the evening, many residents were tweeting with great apprehension about whether they would have enough heat to make it through the bitterly cold winter night.

DC operated a warming center at Raymond Recreation Center, near Petworth Metro. But as several pointed out on Twitter, that's over two miles from much of the affected area. This area has a lot of car-free households, and transit doesn't operate all night.

Pepco's official statement said, "Pepco recommends that customers monitor the estimated time of restoration and make their own decision whether to vacate their home based on their individual needs and circumstances." But monitoring the estimated time wasn't helpful when it had become fairly clear earlier in the day that the estimated time meant little.

Local resident Noah Bopp wrote in an email, "My family has options, but I think about older neighbors who may have depended on Pepco's predictions and then were effectively trapped in freezing weather with no real means to get out. Anyone walking down [our] street last night knows how pitch-black-icy-treacherous it was. Expecting an aging resident to walk through that to hail a cab on Connecticut to go to the warming center is just crazy."

There's still scant information about what exactly happened in that manhole yesterday. But things do happen, and these neighborhoods are lucky not to have had many other power outages. Better estimates and fuller communication could have enabled everyone to make sound judgments and alternate plans. Without it, people are left cold, scared, and confused.

Places


We're heading to U Street for our next happy hour

Ring in the holidays with your favorite GGW contributors, commenters, and fellow readers at our next happy hour! Join us at JoJo on U Street next Tuesday, December 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm.


Photo by Robb Hohmann on Flickr.

This month, we're heading up the Green Line to JoJo, a bar that blends a "hip 1920s vibe with a contemporary flair," for drinks, food, and conversation. You'll find it at 1518 U Street NW, near the corner of 16th and U. They've got an extensive food and drink menu, and happy hour specials until 7 pm.

JoJo is three blocks from the U Street Metro station (Green and Yellow lines). If you're coming by bus, Metrobus routes 90/92/93/96/97 stop outside the bar, the S2/S4/S9 stop is around the corner at 16th and U, and the 52/53/54 stops two blocks away at 14th and U. There are Capital Bikeshare stations at New Hampshire Avenue and T Street, and outside the Reeves Center at 14th and U, both two blocks away.

This year, we've held events at Metro-accessible bars in Alexandria, Bethesda, Tenleytown, Tysons Corner, Silver Spring, and Eastern Market. Next month, we'll be returning to Northern Virginia. Where would you like us to go next? Let us know in the comments.

Politics


In some DC neighborhood commission races, urbanism, walkability, and growth are the issues

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in many DC neighborhoods have a reputation for just being obstacles to any change, but that's not always true. In many parts of the District, ANCs have been a positive force for steps to improve communities. Will this election bring representatives who would continue or arrest those trends?

Each ANC covers one or a few neighborhoods and is divided into Single-Member Districts of about 2,000 residents each. You can find your district at here and a list of candidates here.

All of the regular neighborhood battles crop up in ANCs as well: density, bike lanes, sidewalks, parking. Good ANC commissioners work to shape change for the better instead of block it. They find ways to build consensus for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. They work to make development projects better respond to community needs rather than just oppose them or push to make them smaller. They listen to neighbors, but also recognize that after everyone has a chance to be heard, there comes a time to make a decision and move forward.

Here are a handful of the many ANC races across the city. In these districts, a resident stridently opposed to a change or to a particular project may be challenging a more constructive commissioner, or someone is challenging a more obstructionist incumbent, or two candidates with differing views are vying for an open seat.

3E (Tenleytown)

Many parts of Ward 3, in upper Northwest DC, have warmed up to urban-friendly growth in the past few years and even led with key steps to improve walkability. A lot of that comes from hard work of a few ANC commissioners who face challengers in Tuesday's election.

ANC 3E includes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights. The commission worked out a good deal for a new parking-free building at Brandywine and Wisconsin and endorsed new bicycle boulevards.

Tom Quinn represents 3E04 in Friendship Heights east of Wisconsin Avenue, and received our endorsement two years ago. He has been a champion of smart growth with particularly enthusiastic support for the zoning rewrite. Quinn faces Sandy Shapiro, who has said she would like the physical neighborhood to stay the same and expressed a desire to further delay zoning changes that have been under consideration for six years.

In 3E01 around and west of the Tenleytown Metro, the incumbent is stepping down, and the two candidates present dramatically different views. Anne Wallace has expressed a desire for a mixed-use and multi-modal Tenleytown. In an interview on TenleytownDC, she talked about how much she loves the diversity of the neighborhood and wants to see it thrive.

Her opponent, Kathleen Sweetapple, is running on a platform criticizing the current ANC commissioners and their efforts. She often says she worries about "outside influences," "one-size-fits all approaches" and smart growth strategies that she says do not fit in Tenleytown. Tenleytown needs responsive commissioner, but one who sees neighborhood's issues in connection to the challenges that all of the city faces.

3G (Chevy Chase)

In the leafier parts of Chevy Chase DC, Barnaby Woods, and Hawthorne, ANC3G has been fairly moderate, pushing for positive change instead of outright opposition on a new building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue and strongly supporting pedestrian safety activities.

Carolyn "Callie" Cook, the incumbent in 3G01, dissented from the rest of her ANC to oppose the new residential building at 5333, supporting instead a legal challenge to the by-right building. She testified to keep in place the District's often-abused disability parking placards. Brian Oliver is running against Cook. He is a parent of school-aged children and is interested in school improvements, revitalizing the Connecticut Avenue commercial area, improving parks, the library, and sidewalks.

In 3G06, an open seat, Dan Bradford is a small businessman who has promised a balanced focus on issues like pedestrian safety while seeking to preserve the vitality of the current community. In contrast, Alan Seeber has been a strident opponent of the more progressive elements of the zoning rewrite, and continues to criticize the idea of reduced parking minimums in transit zones. He also promises to fight any increased cross-town bus transit if it runs on roadways through Chevy Chase.


ANCs 3B (left) and 3G (right).

3B (Glover Park)

Farther south in Glover Park, the incumbent in 3B01, Joe Fiorillo brings an honesty and enthusiasm to a diverse district that includes both single-family homes and high-density apartments. Two months ago he voted in favor of a small new development in his district. That move brought him an opponent, Ann Mladinov, who felt that she and her neighbors were not heard in the process.

She's facing no opposition, but it's worth mentioning that GGW contributor and editor Abigail Zenner is on the ballot to represent 3B03. She will surely make as valuable a contribution to the ANC as she has to Greater Greater Washington!


District boundaries for ANC 2B.

2B (Dupont Circle)

Moving eastward, ANC 2B, which spans from the Golden Triangle area to Rock Creek to 14th and U, will be changing substantially between this year and next. Four of the nine members are not running for re-election this year, and two of those districts are contested along with two others where an incumbent faces a challenger.

In 2B02, west of Connecticut Avenue, Daniel Warwick and Jonathan Padget are both vying to succeed Kevin O'Connor, who moved out of the neighborhood. Perhaps reflecting the way this district is rich in transit, bicycling, and walking, both candidates answered a question about parking by discussing ways to reduce parking demand rather than add more parking.

Warwick served as the ANC's Public Policy Fellow recently and also helped start the transportation committee. He has a very deep understanding of many issues, as is clear from his interview on the Short Articles About Long Meetings blog. Padget expressed good ideas as well, but in much less detail, and Warwick's valuable work on the ANC already seems to make him an ideal candidate.

Nicole Mann, who commutes by bicycle every day from north Dupont to H Street, has been an integral part of the ANC's transportation committee, which I also serve on. She is bidding to represent 2B08, as recent ANC chair Will Stephens is stepping down. Meamwhile, Mann's opponent, Robert Sinners, sounded quite pro-car-dependence and anti-new-residents in his SALM interview.

The ANC's chair, Noah Smith, has has done an excellent job as commissioner and chair of the transportation committee. He also drawn a challenger in his district 2B09, Ed Hanlon, who focuses extensively on his complaints about growth and argues for one-side-of-the-street parking which would be very problematic without additional tweaks in Dupont Circle.

In the neighborhood's southeast, commissioner Abigail Nichols in 2B05 has been a regular voice against new housing, nightlife (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not), and other elements of a vibrant, urban neighborhood. Jonathan Jagoda takes a more balanced view of many of these issues.

6B (Capitol Hill)

Last year, we highlighted two key races in southern Capitol Hill's ANC 6B, where residents staunchly opposed to development on the Hine school site were running on an anti-growth platform against Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate in the two districts closest to the site.

Pate and Frishberg are stepping down this year, but the races in those districts still maintain the same tenor. In 6B05 northeast of 8th and Pennsylvania SE, Steve Hagedorn is running for the seat. Hagedorn has been involved with the ANC already as part of its Hill East Task Force, and as a volunteer with Congressional Cemetery.

He faces Carl Reeverts, one of the leaders of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), which has organized opposition to Hine and is part of litigation trying to block or delay the project. Ellen Opper-Weiner is also stridently against the development and many other changes in the neighborhood.

Just to the west, the race in 6B02 pits Diane Hoskins, a wetlands lobbyist and environmentalist (formerly with the District Department of the Environment) against Jerry Stroufe, another EMMCA leader who ran last year against Frishberg.

And many more!

There are hundreds of ANC seats across the city, many contested, many not. Many have a spirited contest which doesn't turn on policy to the extent that some of these do. And there are far more races worth talking about than we have time or space to discuss.

What ANC races in your area are worth watching?

Transit


The Circulator could go more places and be more frequent

The DC Circulator could soon go to Howard University, Southwest Waterfront, Congress Heights, and the Cathedral. But to do that, it'll need more buses. More than that, it needs more buses now to actually deliver on the service every 10 minutes that is a key hallmark of the Circulator.


Circulators in central DC. Image from DDOT. Click for full map.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) released an updated plan for the Circulator system. That plan emphasizes that the Circulator is more than just "a nicer and cheaper bus," but it means some specific things which couldn't apply to any bus route, like:

  • It connects key activity centers that have all-day transit demand (as opposed to, say, neighborhoods of mostly commuters);
  • Buses run every 10 minutes, all day (which makes sense only because of the activity centers);
  • The routes are easy to understand
  • (Also, the bus is nicer and cheaper)
But as for "every 10 minutes," the Circulator is not really achieving that now. The wait is more than 15 minutes 20.47% of the time, according to the plan. It doesn't even say how often the wait is more than 10 minutes, because the metrics have been set to consider any wait under 15 minutes "on time." (I've asked DDOT to clarify why that is and will update the post when I hear back.)

On the Dupont Circle-Georgetown-Rosslyn route, "actual headways average over 11 minutes, and up to 13 in the PM peak period." 11 is the average on Union Station-Navy Yard as well. On Potomac Avenue-Skyland, the time between buses is more than 15 minutes one-third of the time.

But enough about the piddling task of actually running the existing buses efficiently—where will they go next?

The Mall: The Circulator will go on the National Mall in 2015, in partnership with the National Park Service (and thanks to some revenue from meters on the Mall). In the first year, DDOT estimates 880,900 people will ride this line.

The Cathedral: Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) put money in the budget to extend the Circulator on Wisconsin Avenue from its terminus at Whitehaven Street to the Cathedral. On a survey, 60% of people said this was an important destination, but DDOT says, "the extension itself performs very poorly, with only 13 boardings per hour, high subsidy per passenger, and low farebox recovery ratio."

In the longer run, DDOT proposes splitting this route into two. One would go from Union Station to Georgetown alone, while another route to the Cathedral would only go as far east as McPherson Square. This would make the routes more reliable since a very long route is hard to keep on time.

U Street and Howard: The Circulator from Rosslyn to Dupont Circle would continue past the circle, up 18th Street to U Street and then in a loop on 8th, Barry, and Florida at Howard. This gives DDOT an opportunity to put a Circulator stop under 300 feet from my house (or more likely about 500), which is of course the main reason this is the best extension. But seriously, the line with the extension would serve an estimated 1,790,000 rides a year, most of which won't be me, including a lot of people who don't ride Circulator today.

Congress Heights: The Potomac Avenue-Skyland route was a political creature, started by politicians who wanted the Circulator to go east of the river for appearances' sake. While more transit is welcome everywhere, and people in wards 7 and 8 absolutely deserve great transit service even at higher cost, improving existing buses (for example, by implementing these recommendations from Ward 7 transit experts) probably would have done more per dollar to help people.

The line is very long (the longest in the system) and has low ridership (but, actually, not as low as the Union Station-Navy Yard route, which goes through a lot of areas that just don't have very high density). It duplicates a lot of WMATA Metrobus service, and most of the riders along the route take transit to commute rather than for all-day car-free activity. (The fact that the waits between buses are long can't help, either.)

The council funded an extension to Congress Heights on the southern end, which DDOT feels will help the route by offering a "much stronger southern anchor" at a current (and growing) activity center.

Southwest Waterfront: The Union Station-Navy Yard line would continue just a little bit farther along M Street to Waterfront Metro and the growing activity center there.


All planned and future Circulator corridors. Image from DDOT.

Longer-term: The plan also lists several corridors for future service some more years out. One would restore a north-south Circulator between the Convention Center and the Waterfront (at least until a streetcar maybe plies that corridor). That route was part of the original Circulator but discontinued in 2011.

Another would connect Dupont Circle to Southwest Waterfront through the National Mall. Both this and the north-south line would give Mall tourists another way to get to interesting places that aren't actually on the Mall and spend some of their dollars at taxpaying DC businesses, as well as more ways to get to and from the Mall.

Finally, DDOT wants to study a line from Columbia Heights to the Brookland Metro (via Washington Hospital Center) and then down to NoMa. The areas in the middle of this corridor, like planned development at the McMillan Sand Filtration Site and Armed Forces Retirement Home, aren't yet all-day activity centers, but in the future they well could be.

Besides these, DDOT officials considered a wide variety of other routes like Adams Morgan to H Street, Dupont to Petworth, Fort Totten to Friendship Heights, H Street to Congress Heights, Tenleytown to Columbia Heights, and the Abe's to Ben's route some Foggy Bottom and Dupont leaders suggested.

DDOT didn't advance these because they duplicate existing Metrobus service, the activity centers don't have enough all-day demand, or otherwise don't meet the criteria for Circulator in particular. See page 66 of the plan for a detailed explanation for why DDOT didn't pick your particular Circulator idea.

Making these routes happen will of course require money. Phase 1 (the Mall, the Cathedral, U Street/Howard, Waterfront, Congress Heights, and splitting the east-west line) will require 23 buses and $8.7 million in operating subsidy. This budget season, the DC Council chose tax cuts over investing in transit; upcoming budget seasons will tell us what priority the next mayor and members of the DC Council put on giving residents high-frequency, easy-to-understand bus service to connect key centers across the city.

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