Greater Greater Washington

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Bicycling


The Park Service wants to fix a dangerous spot near Roosevelt Island

The National Park Service is trying to make the Mount Vernon Trail safer as it passes by the parking lot for Roosevelt Island. The agency devised four alternatives, but has already dismissed two, one of which which would have done more to fix the problem than the more conservative remaining ones.


Location of the parking lot. All images from NPS.

In this area, the trail passes the entrance to the parking lot which drivers use to access Roosevelt Island. There is a lot going on in this area. Pedestrians and cyclists crowd the trail. Cars enter and exit the parking lot. Hikers cross to get to the Potomac Heritage Trail and Roosevelt Island.

To make matters worse, the trail crosses the parking lot with two sharp 90° turns. ADA ramps and at least one tree extend into the trail space, and the trail through the area doesn't even meet NPS' 9-foot trail width standard. As a result, there have been numerous crashes in the area, some involving cars, others between cyclists and pedestrians.


Current layout of the parking lot and trail.

Besides improving safety, NPS wants to install a water fountain, more and better bike racks (since bicycles are not allowed on Roosevelt Island), and better signage.

Alternative 1 keeps the trail separated from the parking lot by a curb and widens it to 9 feet, with a 2-foot grass shoulder on one side and a 2-foot paved shoulder on the other. It also shifts the parking lot crossing to a gentler angle.


Alternative 1.

This makes it easier to navigate, but harder for cyclists to see oncoming traffic. It also elevates the trail crossing on a speed table (a wide speed bump) which forces cars to slow as they cross the trail. It would also remove an existing curb cut from the west end of the trail that cyclists currently use to go from the trail into the parking lot.

Alternative 2 lowers the trail to parking lot level, separating it from the parking lot by only a stripe of paint, similar to a bike lane. It also widens the trail to 9' and provides a separate 3'-wide pedestrian trail. Like Alternative 1, it changes the angle of the crossing but the crossing would be at parking lot level, rather than on a speed table.


Alternative 2.

Alternatives 1 and 2 are the options NPS officials are still considering. They also developed a 3rd and 4th, but discarded them.

Alternative 3 was the most aggressive proposal. It separated cars from cyclists and pedestrians entirely by eliminating the parking lot and trail crossing. It shifted the parking lot closer to the parkway and rerouted the trail to be entirely on one side of the lot. NPS dismissed this option because it would have eliminated 11 parking spaces.


Alternative 3.

Alternative 4 proposed moving the trail to cross the parking lot entrance and then run between the parking lot and the parkway. This would have been less safe due to the speed of traffic entering the parking lot from the parkway, and the bad sight lines at that spot.

What is best?

The reason many cyclists use the parking lot is to avoid congestion between bikes and pedestrians. Alternative 1 largely takes that option away, while providing only 1 foot of additional width to address the problem. The possibility in alternative 2 to separate bikes and pedestrians onto different trails is a nice step.

However, moving the trail to parking lot level could increase conflict between bikes and cars, as cars could back out of parking spaces directly onto the trail. The speed table from Alternative 1 seems to be a better approach.

It's too bad NPS didn't consider widening the trail beyond the agency's 9-foot minimum trail standard, despite the huge amount of bicycle and pedestrian congestion here. Nationwide, a 10' minimum is more common, and Arlington prefers 12 feet.

Also, Alternative 3 was the the only alternative that would fully separate cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic, but it has already been discarded.

To review the full details of the project, or to submit comments, see the project website. You can submit comments through April 22nd.

Events


Events roundup: From Silver Spring to Shaw to Sweden

Talk about transit, walkability, and sustainability in Montgomery County, Shaw, and even Sweden at upcoming events around the region.


Photo by Evil Sivan on Flickr.

Rapid transit happy hour: If you like chatting about transit while enjoying a post-work beverage, join Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth at a Montgomery County transit happy hour on Tuesday, April 15.

Learn about the county's Bus Rapid Transit plans and talk with other transit enthusiasts at the Metro- and MARC-accessible Communities for Transit office, 8630 Fenton Street, Suite 500, in Silver Spring. RSVP here.

After the jump: Walking tours of Shaw and East Falls Church, budgets in Arlington, and zoning in Montgomery County.

Smart growth and sustainability in Sweden: Interested in how other cities handle neighborhood and district planning? Walker Wells, a green urbanism program director at Global Green, will discuss sustainable planning practices in three Swedish cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo. The presentation is at the National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) on Tuesday, April 15, 12:30-1:30 pm. RSVP here.

Tour Shaw and East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours resume with two great ones this month. On Saturday, April 26 from 10 am-noon, see how new development is bringing a renaissance to the historic Shaw neighborhood in DC. And on Saturday, look at ways the area around East Falls Church Metro could become more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Arlington Capital Improvement Plan forum: Arlington is preparing its 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan and needs your input! From streetcar funding to pedestrian projects to street paving, provide your opinions at a public forum on Wednesday, April 16 from 6-8:30 pm in the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd at Courthouse Plaza.

Montgomery zoning update open house: Montgomery County planners have been hard at work rewriting the county's zoning code to update antiquated laws and remove redundant regulations. The Planning Department is hosting a series of six open houses beginning next Tuesday, April 22. Planning staff will be in attendance to answer questions. The full open house schedule is below:

  • April 22: Rockville Memorial Library (6-8 pm)
  • April 24: Wheaton Regional Library (6-8 pm)
  • April 29: Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring (5-8 pm)
  • May 1: Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville (6-8 pm)
  • May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
  • May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)
Do you have an event we should include in next week's roundup and/or the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send it to events@ggwash.org.

Public Spaces


Lipstick can help the Tysons pig, a little

Fairfax County is considering dressing up the Silver Line's mammoth concrete pylons with murals. The idea could help animate the otherwise bleak, gray structures.


Mock up of a possible Silver Line mural. Image from the Tysons Partnership.

Ideally the Silver Line would've been underground through Tysons Corner. But federal rules that have since changed prevented that, forcing the Metro line above ground, onto a huge elevated structure.

That wasn't the end of the world, but it did condemn Tysons to some unnecessary ugly.

So why not dress it up? Murals can unquestionably make big gray structures more colorful and interesting. They're easy to implement, don't cost very much, and help a little. There's not much down side.

Murals are, however, still just lipstick on a pig. They don't solve the underlying deadening effect of bare walls. For example the Discovery building mural on Colesville Road in Silver Spring is surely better than bare concrete, but shops & cafes would've been better still.

And Tysons' murals won't be as effective as the one in Silver Spring. Colesville Road is basically urban, basically walkable. The block with the mural is the weakest link on an otherwise lively urban street.

But in Tysons, the Silver Line runs down the middle of Leesburg Pike, one of the most pedestrian-hostile highways in the region. If murals are added to the Silver Line, they may become the best and most interesting part of the streetscape, as opposed to the worst.

So by all means, Fairfax County should absolutely do this. Murals are a great tool to cover any large blank structure. But what Tysons really needs is walkable streets with lively sidewalks.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Tetris on the side of a skyscraper? Why not, it's the future

What does it look like when one of Philadelphia's most prominent skyscrapers becomes a giant Tetris game board?

It looks awesome, that's what.


Photo by Bradley Maule for PhillySkyline.com.

Last Saturday, organizers for Philly Tech Week temporarily turned the 29-story Cira Centre into a huge game of Tetris. And it wasn't just for looks. Actual people played actual games, with the whole city looking on.

Meanwhile, construction is wrapping up on the DC region's new tallest skyscraper. Just sayin'.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Bus rapid transit, light rail, and a longer Yellow Line are choices for Route 1

Better transit could one day come to Virginia's Route 1 between the Beltway and Woodbridge. A transit study looked at transit options and narrowed down the choices to curbside or median Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), light rail, or a hybrid of BRT and extending Metro's Yellow Line.


Transit alternatives for Route 1. Map from the study.

The study presents a wealth of data and a thorough analysis, but raises key questions, including what speed limit is appropriate for a more transit-oriented Route 1. A new high-capacity transit system would transform the corridor, but there would be challenges to ensure a safe pedestrian and bicycle environment and preserve affordable housing.

Transit alternatives

The study considered 8 transit options before eliminating streetcar, enhanced bus, express bus, local bus, a Yellow Line extension all the way to Woodbridge, and monorail. The 4 alternatives that remain for further study are:

  • Curbside Bus Rapid Transit (including a stretch in mixed traffic from Pohick Road to Woodbridge)
  • Median Bus Rapid Transit (with a shorter mixed traffic section in Prince William County to Woodbridge)
  • Median Light Rail Transit
  • A Metrorail-BRT Hybrid, extending the Yellow Line to Hybla Valley and then switching to BRT.
The evaluation considered ridership, estimated capital, operations and maintenance costs, cost per rider, and land use. All alternatives terminate at Huntington Metro, both to simplify the analysis and because Alexandria has raised concerns about extending transit up Route 1 into the city.


Ridership and preliminary costs. Chart from the study.

The study looked at 3 land use scenarios:

  • A baseline forecast for 2035 from the regional Council of Governments model;
  • 25% more growth based on what a BRT or LRT line would likely generate;
  • 169% more which is necessary to support Metrorail service.
Conceptual illustrations for one development node, Beacon Hill, show how much development would correspond with each level of transit.


The Beacon Hill area now.


Scenario 1: 2035 COG projection.


Scenario 2: Growth with BRT or LRT.


Scenario 3: Metro-supporting density.

For the road itself, the study rejects widening Route 1 to four lanes in each direction, as well as converting existing lanes to transit-only. That leaves a recommendation for three general lanes in each direction as well as transit in a separate right-of-way.

What transit do you think should go in this corridor? In part 2, we'll talk about how to create a sense of place and what this plan means for housing affordability.

You can also give the study team comments through a survey, but because the questions are limited, either add explanatory comments or make more extended comments on their share-your-ideas form.

Development


Fairfax City is starting to lay down a strong foundation for smarter growth

The City of Fairfax has long struggled to establish a clear vision for future development. Despite a strong master plan for Fairfax Boulevard, the town hasn't established strong guidelines for revitalizing its central commercial corridor. While nearby areas such as Merrifield and Fair Lakes have flourished, Fairfax City's commercial tax base has been stagnant.


Photo by the author.

But the tide has started to turn. Since a new mayor was elected in 2012, Fairfax City has approved 250 new apartment units near its downtown and has started to rewrite its zoning code. Two major redevelopment projects on Fairfax Boulevard are in the queue. The city has also made pedestrian and bicycle projects a higher priority.

Supporters of smarter growth in Fairfax City should be encouragedand press for more. With elections for mayor and all six city council seats scheduled for May, Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth has released a progress report on the performance of the current mayor and council. They have gotten some important things done, including:

Expanding housing near downtown: Last June the city council approved a pedestrian-friendly redevelopment of Layton Hall apartments. This will bring more residents near downtown and better connect downtown businesses with the apartments and nearby neighborhoods. The project also prompted difficult decisions about housing affordability, which the city is grappling with.

Zoning overhaul: The city has commissioned Duncan & Associates to review and thoroughly update its zoning code. In March the consultants released their initial report, including strong recommendations for enabling mixed-use development.

The redevelopment of Fairfax Circle Plaza is moving through the city's land use review process. The proposal would add 400 apartment units and new retail to the eastern end of Fairfax Boulevard near Vienna, and improve pedestrian and bicycle access between the property and nearby neighborhoods, trails and the Vienna Metro station.


Image from the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan.

The mayor and council have been laying the foundations, but the heaviest lifting still lies ahead. The city has a lot of catching up to do after allowing the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan to lie idle while nearby communities, such as Merrifield, built on their foundations of solid planning to spur revitalization. The retail and office markets are extremely competitive. How will the City attract and guide quality redevelopment?

A big part of the answer lies overhauling the city's zoning code. Excessive one-size-fits-all parking standards and the lack of any mixed-use categories are among the vexing elements of the current ordinance. The city will also need to focus on the redevelopment of Northfax at the intersection of 123 and Fairfax Boulevard. Both the zoning rewrite and Northfax are extremely complex processes that will require a lot of political will to see to a successful finish.

The next month is a good time to influence the conversation about future development in Fairfax City. Along with our progress report, Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth has sent a questionnaire to the mayoral and council candidates to gauge their support for smart growth priorities.

Mayor Silverthorne and City Council members are signaling a new receptiveness to compact, walkable, mixed-use development. City voters who want more walkable communities and vibrant public spaces can send their own signal by attending upcoming candidate forums, going to the polls and making informed choices on May 6.

Politics


For Arlington County Board: Alan Howze

Greater Greater Washington endorsed Alan Howze for Arlington County Board in the recent Democratic caucus. He is still the best candidate in what is shaping up to be a very competitive special election April 8.


Image from the candidate website.

Howze strongly supports Arlington's streetcar plans, investment in transit, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. He deeply understands the connection between land use and transportation, between density and affordable housing.

While the streetcar is not the only issue in Arlington, it is the main focus of this campaign. Howze wrote a convincing argument in Arlington Streetcar Now's questionnaire explaining how streetcar is an investment that will pay dividends and support other county projects, rather than just another desirable amenity.

The recent return on investment study shows clear economic benefits for the streetcar versus the "enhanced bus" alternatives that streetcar opponents have been pushing. That has not stopped a contingent of dedicated opponents from rallying behind Howze opponent John Vihstadt, who is a member of the anti-streetcar group AST.

Vihstadt is trying to win with a coalition of streetcar opponents, residents upset about some other specific county initiative, and those who oppose county spending in general, because much of it doesn't benefit them directly. He has been trying to paint the current county board as profligate spenders, when in fact investing in projects that make the county better during times of strong budgets is a wise move.

Janet Murphy, an Independent Green, agrees very strongly with our views on many issues, but is not running a significant campaign and has raised virtually no money. Stephen W.C. Holbrook's candidacy is also marginal and he is running essentially on one issue, against a homeless shelter in the Courthouse area.

This election will likely draw very low turnout. In such a strongly Democratic county, the Democratic candidate would be the overwhelming favorite in a November election, but many Arlington residents are not paying very close attention to the issues or don't even know there is an election. Vihstadt may be able to assemble enough angry and motivated voters with his platform that opposes the streetcar and other popular county initiatives.

It is very important for Arlington voters to participate on April 8 and we urge them to support Alan Howze.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this endorsement, regular contributors who live in Arlington discussed the race and reached a consensus about the endorsement.

Bicycling


"Bikeometer" shows cyclists are significant

Yesterday Arlington unveiled the region's first "bikeometer," a high-tech device that counts how many cyclists pass by, and displays the daily and yearly totals for anyone to see.

By publicly displaying the data, the bikeometer helps illustrate that a lot of people really do use bikes to get around.


Arlington bikeometer. The numbers aren't visible in the photo due to the camera scanning frequency. Photo by the author.

The bikeometer is on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge. It's a busy crossroads for cycling traffic headed into DC from Virginia. Older bike counts have shown thousands of cyclists per day at the location.

As of about 11:30 am yesterday, after only a couple of hours running, the display already showed 768 cyclists.

The device is technically called an Eco-TOTEM. It reads an underground wire, which counts bikes rolling over the trail above and sends the data to a digital display.

Arlington's bikeometer is the first such device in the eastern US, although they're common on the west coast and in Europe.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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