The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Virginia

Development


This graph shows which parts of our region are walkable, affordable, and equitable

The Washington region is blessed with many walkable places. But with more and more people hoping to live and work in them, some are more affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people than others. A nifty analysis from GWU looks at which walkable areas in the region are the most affordable and equitable over a wide variety of factors.


Scatterplot by the author.

The scatterplot above shows the combined economic and social equity score for 50 walkable urban places in our region, or WalkUPs, a phrase my research group coined when we first started measuring this in 2012. The chart below summarizes how we find and define WalkUPs.

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

These places are the site of the most intense and rapid development and demographic pressures and changes in our region, and it often seems like these two metrics are in direct conflict in those circumstances. However, we've identified some special places in our region that are at a "sweet spot" for both investors and residents. Those places are in the upper right quadrant of the plot.

Places in the upper left quadrant have relatively higher rents than the region as a whole, but lower social equity scores. But it's interesting to note that there are places, even in the geographic northwest of DC, that score high on both indices, such as Friendship Heights. In these places, while rents are high, lower transportation costs help keep them within reach for average renters (note: this analysis does not include for-sale housing).

The quadrant where walkability, lower rents across product types, and equity meet is in the lower-right hand corner. Silver Spring scored number one of established WalkUPs on equity, and it's affordable too! Housing hunters, take note.

This plot is a snapshot of 2015. The really interesting question is where our region is trending. The future sustainability of many of these places, especially suburban TODs, and many "emerging" WalkUPs that we've identified, hinge on the future of transit in our region. As Metrorail struggles and the Purple Line remains tied up in court, where market demand for walkability will land is an open question. Local jurisdictions whose budgets are supported by property taxes should take note, however, that walkability and value remain inextricably intertwined. All the places on this plot are walkable, and command significant premiums over a region that is mostly...not...yet?

If you'd like to hear more about this analysis, I'll be presenting these findings at an Urban Land Institute event this Wednesday, September 21. Or, stay tuned for a forthcoming report.

Public Spaces


Car-free travel idea: Backpacking via Metro

Sure, the Metro can take you to many places, but did you know that you can take it to go backpacking? Parks in both Maryland and Virginia have campgrounds that are less than a one-hour hike away from Metro stations.


Greenbelt Park has family-friendly hiking trails. Photo by Brian Vallelunga on Flickr.

Greenbelt Park in Greenbelt, Maryland

This 174-site campground sits atop a heavily wooded ridge between two small streams that feed into the Anacostia River, within a National Park Service-run park that also has nine miles of hiking trails. It's a two-mile walk from the east entrance to the College Park Metro, about half of which is on sidewalks (going near the College Park Aviation Museum) and the other half on trails; NPS even provides convenient turn-by-turn directions.

The park is also about three miles south of Old Greenbelt, an experimental town built by the federal government during the Great Depression.


Lake Fairfax Park's group campground. Photo by Adam Theo on Flickr.

Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Virginia

The three campgrounds near Lake Fairfax are run by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The hike from Wiehle Metro to the nearest campsite is just under two miles, both along suburban streets and along the uppermost reach of the Difficult Run trail, which ultimately leads to Great Falls Park. Besides the recreational lake, the park also has a skateboard area and an "activity pool" with waterslides and a lazy river.

Reston was also built as an experimental planned community, albeit in the 1960s, and the campground is three miles from Reston's original "village center."


Lockhouse 6, one of six cabins for rent along the C&O Canal. Photo by TrailVoice on Flickr.

C&O Canal National Historic Park in Brookmont, Maryland

If a cabin with a kitchen and water views is more your style, Lockhouse 6 is a restored cabin right along the C&O canal that you can rent out for $150 per night. Built almost 200 years ago for canal employees, it's now decorated in a 1950s style and includes a kitchen and bathroom.

Getting there takes either a three-mile walk from the Friendship Heights Metro—or just a five-minute walk from RideOn's bus route 23, which runs Monday through Saturday and stops at Broad Street and Maryland Avenue in Brookmont. A campsite that convenient does have one drawback: the cabin backs up to busy Clara Barton Parkway.

Parking


For a day, we're getting a bunch of tiny new parks

Friday, September 16th is Park(ing) Day! Park(ing) Day is an annual, international event where people turn parking spaces into miniature parks for a day, prompting impromptu public gatherings and calling attention to our need for more open spaces.


Landscape architecture firm Oculus' 2013 Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

Here's a list of where some of the miniature parks (aka "parklets") will pop up tomorrow:

District parklets

DC's official list of parklets is here. More than 25 locations will serve as pop-up parklets, including locations near Metro stations like NoMa, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market, Gallery Place, McPherson Square, and Shaw-Howard.


A map of where parklets will pop up in DC. Click for an interactive version.

The DC Department of Transportation is hosting a parklet and commuter spa at Farragut North, complete with a reading nook and a professional masseuse.

Several organizations promoting Anacostia River revitalization, including Waterfront Trust, Living Classrooms, Nature Conservancy, Washington Parks and People, and DC UrbanGreens will host a parklet in front of the Wilson Building.

Virginia parklets

Alexandria City will have five parklets throughout Old Town Alexandria, including City Hall and the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center of Virginia Tech.

Arlington will host five parklets, including one at Courthouse Plaza that will feature art by Kate Stewart.


A shot from Park(ing) Day 2013 in Arlington. Photo by Aimee Custis Photography on Flickr.

Maryland parklets

Montgomery County will host pop-ups in Wheaton, Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Takoma Park. Docs in Progress, a group that teaches documentary filmmaking, will be interviewing residents at its Silver Spring parklet.

Hyattsville will host four parklets, including an evening parklet from 6 pm to 8 pm at the City Municipal Building, which will have lawn games, food, beer, and live music.

Help us crowdsource PARK(ing) Day 2016

If you know of a parklet we've missed or if you see a parklet tomorrow, let us know in the comments. Share any photos of parklets and add them to the Greater Greater Washington Flickr pool or tweet it (#parkingday) and tag us (@ggwash). We'll post photos in a roundup next week.

Transit


How to give Metro's safety commission real teeth

Erek Barron and Marc Korman are members of Maryland's House of Delegates, representing Prince George's County and Montgomery County, respectively.


Photo by Kurt Raschke on Flickr.

A 2012 federal statute requires the jurisdictions that make up WMATA to establish a safety oversight commission to oversee Metrorail safety. This will succeed the discredited Tri-State Oversight Committee, a partnership between Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia that was supposed to oversee safety but has been blamed for many of Metro's safety-related woes.

Recently, the federal government has increased its pressure on the jurisdictions to create the new safety oversight commission by having the Federal Transit Agency take over Metro safety oversight and threatening federal funding should the commission not be stood up by early 2017.

As state legislators that would have to vote on establishing the commission and funding it, we support meeting the federal requirement but would like to go even further in bringing real improved oversight to Metro by merging Metro's Inspector General (IG) into the commission.

The Federal government is rightfully concerned about Metrorail safety. Unfortunately, we know that Metro's issues go far beyond safety and include significant issues related to fiscal management, operations, communications, and more. We support creating the safety commission as required, but why just check that box for the feds when a relatively simple, structural move may succeed where other oversight efforts have failed?

Metro oversight is complicated by the multi-jurisdictional nature of the system: the Federal officials, Maryland, DC, and Virginia each have a role to play—and we have worked from our perch at Maryland's WMATA-Metro Work Group to improve oversight—but with so many players the buck stops with no one. In theory, Metro's Board is charged with oversight, but how is that working out?

The Metro IG was established in 2007 out of the old Auditor General's office. It was created by WMATA's Board and then passed into law by the jurisdictions as part of the WMATA compact. But it has never lived up to its potential and many of its recommendations, including those related to safety, have been left unheeded. Moving the IG from WMATA to the new commission will place more oversight power in the hands of the new independent agency and help the IG grow from its historical background as just an auditor.

Congress passed the federal IG Act in 1978 amid historically low public confidence in government. Since then, IGs have been watchdogs, annually saving billions in public funds and providing an $18 return on every dollar invested.

But Metro's IG is chained to an institutionally ineffective board, unable to harness its potential. Its limited powers are vague and subject to change by board resolution. And, its budget and resources are weak, especially its short-staffed investigatory arm.

Several factors prove critical to an effective IG, including independence, jurisdiction, investigatory and enforcement powers, and complainant incentives and protections. We have a lot of thoughts on how to shape the IG position under the commission in a way that positions it to do the best job possible with regard to each of these factors, and they boil down to allowing the IG to operate as it truly sees fit, having it oversee all of Metro, including the board, and giving it the ability to actually take action if it finds a problem.

We have heard a few criticisms of the proposal to move and empower the IG, all of which are unavailing.

First, we are told that the IG is responsible for supervising Metro's annual independent audit of financial reporting and is one of just three Metro employees that reports directly to the Board. But Metro has a Chief Financial Officer and Audits and Investigations Committee that can provide those functions and, if necessary, the IG could continue to do so as well from its new position. Moreover, the Board functions no better institutionally now than it did before it had an IG reporting to it.

Second, some observe that the safety commission will only have oversight of Metrorail, not the entire Metro enterprise. But so what? The Metro IG does not have regulatory power now. Reports unrelated to safety can still be transmitted to the Metro Board—and hopefully more robust reports will be acted upon in a more transparent and effective matter—but at least those related to safety will be implemented and enforced through the new power of the oversight commission.

Third, critics note that this does not solve every problem Metro has like the lack of a dedicated funding source or an insufficient quantity of track inspectors. Fair enough, but Metro is in a significant hole and no one reform is going to solve every issue.

Fourth, we have heard some fret that this threatens a federal mandate to establish a safety commission. But the federal government should embrace efforts by the jurisdictions not to just meet the bare minimum requirements but actually put forward a reform that could significantly improve Metro oversight and performance. Indeed, many elected officials in Maryland and Virginia do not appreciate Metro and this reform would be an important step in demonstrating that the region is getting serious about fixing Metro, not just careening from one crisis to the next.

We are both supporters and users of Metro. This proposal is not designed to make the work of the General Manager or Metro staff more difficult. Our vision is for a truly useful oversight agency. We are committed to doing the right thing for Metro, not the most expedient thing.

We must do something—both the federal government and the region demand it, so why not make it meaningful. For a better Metro, unleash the IG.

Bicycling


The Park Service plans to connect key bike trails on the Mall, in Arlington, and elsewhere

A 15th Street protected bikeway that extends through the Mall and a Mount Vernon trail with more connections are two of the many changes that a new plan from the National Park Service (NPS) would make to the region's trails.


The Mount Vernon Trail near National airport. Photo by the author.

In its recently-released Paved Trails Study, NPS makes 121 recommendations for improvements that include everything from bridge access to safety and closing missing gaps in the trail network. It prioritizes 18 projects for implementation in the next two years, including:

  • Extending the 15th Street NW protected bikeway about a mile, across the Mall to the 14th Street bridge. It currently ends at Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
  • Connecting the Mount Vernon Trail to the south side of the Roosevelt Bridge, which would make it easier to get between the trail and the Mall by using the existing path on the bridge that ends on the west side of the Potomac River.
  • Studying the possibility of a protected bike lane from Rock Creek Park to 16th Street NW along Military Road, a stretch of road that is like a four-lane highway with scant shoulder and no sidewalks or bike lanes.
  • Studying the possibility of an off-street connection between Oxon Hill and the planned South Capitol Street Trail that would connect to National Harbor and the Woodrow Wilson bridge path. Closing this gap in the trail system east of the Anacostia River would provide cyclists and pedestrians with access to job and activity centers in Prince George's County and Virginia.
  • Improving safety at the "intersection of doom" where cyclists and pedestrians on the Custis and Mount Vernon trails must share space with cars at the corner of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street in Rosslyn.

Map of NPS and other trails in the Washington DC region. Image by the NPS.

NPS will make prominent trails easier to get to

Extending the 15th Street protected bikeway to the 14th Street Bridge would close a prominent gap between the District's burgeoning bike lane network and one of the busiest bike crossings of the Potomac River. The bridge saw an average of 2,400 to 2,500 cyclists on weekdays during June, July and August, Bike Arlington's counters show.


The route of an extended 15th Street protected bike lane to the 14th Street Bridge. Image by the NPS.

The lane would replace parking along 15th Street north of Constitution Avenue NW, be built in the space between the curb and sidewalk from Constitution to Independence Avenue SW, and replace a southbound traffic lane on Maine Avenue SW to the bridge, the report says. It would be built in partnership with the DC Department of Transportation.

The other planned connections listed above also close gaps in the regional trail network. One of the more exciting is probably the off-street trail to Oxon Hill that would provide District residents who live east of the Anacostia River an off-street bike route to jobs and activities in National Harbor and in Virginia. It would also create a new bike loop on both sides of the Potomac River using the 14th Street and Woodrow Wilson bridges.


The proposed off-street connection between South Capital Street and Oxon Hill. Image by the NPS.

A fix is coming to the "intersection of doom"

The Park Service plans to work with Arlington County to improve safety at the busy intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn, otherwise known as the "intersection of doom."

The intersection is one of the most frequent sites of bicycle and pedestrian collisions, Arlington County Police data has shown. Pedestrians and cyclists going from the Mount Vernon trail to the Custis trail, or waiting to cross Key Bridge, must pass through the intersection, sharing the space with two lanes of auto traffic that is trying to turn onto the Key Bridge from I-66.

The recommendation includes "clearly separate" spaces for bikes, pedestrians, and cars at the intersection, as outlined in Arlington's Realize Rosslyn Sector Plan, the report says.


Concept plan for the intersection of the Custis and Mount Vernon trails in Rosslyn. Image by Arlington County.

However, beyond saying that the NPS will work with Arlington County on the plan for the intersection, the report does not detail exactly how they plan to clearly separate pedestrians and bikes from car traffic.

A change of heart from NPS?

The recommendations hopefully signal a change of heart for NPS. For years, the agency did not take bike travel seriously, instead emphasizing keeping existing auto-only roads as they were. For example, it took NPS 20 years to respond to trail user and resident requests for improvements to the popular trail through Rock Creek Park.

"Trail usage has increased significantly and as the area continues to grow in residential and employment population, walking and biking trips will also continue to increase," NPS says in the report. "These trends place increased pressure on the trail network, particularly the trail segments that form the backbone of the larger regional trail network."

The plan has one big hole: funding. None of the proposed improvements can be implemented in the timeline outlined by the report without funds to pay for them.

The plan does not gloss over funding entirely. It points out that NPS parks in the Washington region have been more successful at securing funding for projects from non-federal sources, like partnering with local jurisdictions, than parks elsewhere, but that it also receives fewer federal funds.

Such partnerships certainly present an opportunity for funding the 121 trail improvement recommendations but fall short of a firm plan that leaves the fate of many of the proposed projects in limbo.

Arts


Seeking cheaper space and new audiences, DC artists head to MD and VA

Rockville might seem like an unlikely place for a queer punk show. But for artist and curator Eames Armstrong, hosting a show is a way to connect to local kids who need creative outlets. It's also a sign of how DC's art and music scenes are expanding into Maryland and Virginia.


A not-so-unlikely place for a punk show. Photo by the author.

From Wednesday until October 16, Armstrong will present Noise Body Music, an exhibition of queer and gender non-conforming visual artists and musicians, at VisArts, a non-profit arts center in Rockville Town Square. Next Friday, September 16, there will be a free concert in collaboration with electronic music promoters Select DC featuring musicians from around DC and the nation. The show features what Armstrong calls a "really huge range of sounds," from the "queercore punk" of DC's Homosuperior to Fire-Toolz, a Chicago band they describe as "20 different genres put together." (A closing concert October 16 will bring in Scottish artist FK Alexander.)

The show is part of VisArts' Emerging Curator Program, which pairs budding artists with mentors to craft an exhibition. Armstrong, who recently received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art at George Washington University, wanted to create the kind of show they would have wanted to see as a teenager growing up in Bethesda ten years ago. (Armstrong uses they/their/they're pronouns.)

Montgomery County has long been an extension of the DC punk scene, hosting concerts in church basements and group houses. "I did go to shows and it was such a crucial part of my weekends," says Armstrong. "Occasionally I'd go into the city to Warehouse Next Door, or other venues which have now closed."


Dreamcrusher, one of the artists performing in the Noise Body Music opening party. Photo from http://mwashphoto.tumblr.com.

Going to shows helped Armstrong embrace their queer identity. "As a person who wasn't particularly out in high school, having a queer narrative in visual art and music I didn't know about helped," Armstrong says. "I was wanting to bring those things together."

As part of the Emerging Curator Program, Armstrong led a workshop with local teenagers whose work appears in the show, and was surprised at how progressive they were about LGBT issues. "It sounds really corny, but it's remarkable how much times have changed," says Armstrong.

The Emerging Curator Program, and by extension Noise Body Music, is supported by a grant from the Windgate Charitable Foundation. But as space in DC gets more expensive, artists and musicians are increasingly migrating to Maryland and Virginia, where there's lots of cheap, underused space for people to make things. Last year, developer Federal Realty offered up its vacant office space in North Bethesda to an experimental art festival, while the Artomatic unjuried art festival took over a vacant office building in New Carrollton.

"It's probably inevitable that artists are moving ahead of the general population into more affordable areas...it's so expensive," they say, laughing. "I know a lot more folks who are moving to PG County, with the Hyattsville Arts District, and Mount Rainier."

Shows like Noise Body Music also help connect artists and musicians with kids who can't always travel to DC to visit a gallery or see a show. "I hadn't been in Rockville in years...it had changed so much," says Armstrong. "It was really crucial to address in some way my experience growing up there."

"I really want high school students to come," they add. "I've been reaching out to all the [student] newspapers."

Noise Body Music opens Wednesday, September 7 through Sunday, October 16 at VisArts, located at 155 Gibbs Street in Rockville. The opening concert is Friday, September 16 from 7 to 11pm. For more information, visit the VisArts website.

Transit


When a train pass gets you rides on more than just trains, it's good for the region

Did you know that a weekly or monthly ticket for MARC commuter rail and certain types of tickets for VRE commuter rail, during the time when they are valid, are also good for unlimited rides on every many other transit systems in the DC and Baltimore region except for Metrorail? It's a well-kept secret, and an example of a partnership across agencies that should happen more often.


Photo by Ryan Stavely on Flickr.

MARC, or Maryland Area Rail Commuter, is a service of the Maryland Transit Administration that operates daily between DC's Union Station Baltimore Penn Station via New Carrollton throughout the day in both directions (the Penn Line), as well as rush-hour trains on weekdays between DC and Baltimore Camden Yards via Greenbelt (the Camden Line) and DC and Frederick, Maryland/Martinsburg, West Virginia via Montgomery County (the Brunswick Line).

Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is a service of two Northern Virginia regional transit commissions that runs weekday rush-hour trains, in the peak direction of travel, between DC's Union Station and Fredericksburg and Manassas/Broad Run.

You can buy single ride, weekly, and monthly MARC passes, all for a flat fee. That obviously gets you onto a MARC train, but if you show your ticket to the driver, you owe no additional fare on all many of greater Washington's bus services, including Metrobus and RideOn DC Circulator RideOn. Your MARC ticket is also an unlimited pass to all of Baltimore's transit system, including the subway, light rail, and buses. Simply show it to the station agent when entering the subway or to a fare inspector on light rail.

Similarly, a paper VRE ticket (single ride, weekly or monthly) is valid for rides on any bus service that connects with a VRE station (including Metrobus, ART, DASH, Fairfax Connector, FRED (Fredericksburg) and PRTC/OmniLink buses) at no additional fare. VRE riders can also purchase monthly Transit Link Cards, which are like SmarTrip cards, but are good for unlimited rides on both Metrorail and VRE during the month.

These features make MARC and VRE passes a great deal not only for those who travel regularly between DC and Baltimore, but also for commuters who come into DC from places like Rockville, Gaithersburg, Kensington, College Park, Greenbelt, New Carrollton, Alexandria, Crystal City, and Franconia/Springfield. MARC and VRE riders can use buses (and VRE riders with Transit Link Cards can use Metrorail) to cover the first or last mile at either end of their train trip as well as to get around on evenings and weekends, all for no additional cost.


Photo by JanetandPhil on Flickr.

There are precious few other examples of similar interagency cooperation in our region. One notable one is the interchangeability between DC's SmarTrip (administered by WMATA) and Baltimore's Charm Card (administered by the Maryland Transit Administration); either card works on all the greater DC jurisdictions' bus systems (including regional bus passes loaded onto a SmarTrip). However, you can't use a SmarTrip or Charm Card to pay commuter rail fare on MARC or VRE, except for Transit Link Cards (many other regions' contactless fare cards can be used on commuter rail as well as local transit), and you also must have separate form of payment to use Capital Bikeshare, commuter buses, taxis, etc.

Only recently has WMATA introduced a pass that works on both rail and bus (the SelectPass), but it still costs significantly more to add a bus pass to a rail pass and vice versa. WMATA could entice more riders to buy passes and not lose significant revenue by allowing monthly Metrorail passes to also include unlimited bus rides.

VRE should offer its weekly and monthly ticket holders the same connectivity benefits as MARC does—at least for Metrobus and northern Virginia local buses, if not also for Maryland buses. MTA, Loudoun County Transit, PRTC, and other commuter bus riders could also give their monthly pass holders the same benefits as MARC and VRE.

Eventually, there should be one card that pays fare on all the DC-Baltimore region's public conveyances—Metro, local bus, commuter bus, commuter rail, ferries, taxis, bikeshare, and special buses like Washington Flyer and the YTS New Carrollton-Annapolis bus—to which weekly and monthly passes could be added that could include all these modes, either at no additional charge or at a discount, or as many of them as the user wishes to add.

The simpler it is to determine and pay the fare on transit, and the more people feel like they are getting a good deal by "buying in bulk," the more people will be attracted to use all of these forms of travel and to think of and experience them as one interconnected system. MTA and VRE obviously overcame the hurdle of administrative siloing when it made deals with WMATA and other agencies for MARC and VRE pass holders. There's no reason other agencies can't do the same.

Correction: This article originally said that MARC passes work for the DC Circulator, and omitted facts about VRE tickets working on other transit systems. It has been updated to for accuracy.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC