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

Posts about Ward 5


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 5

Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, Fort Totten—these are a few of the neighborhoods included in Ward 5, which covers much of northeast DC. There are a lot of contested races for the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions this year, with well over 50 candidates total. We found eight who deserve your vote.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes—Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

The historic seminary building, as seen from 13th Street NE. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In ANC 5A, we endorse Will Gee and Gordon-Andrew Fletcher

Much of ANC 5A is made up of Michigan Park, Fort Totten, Catholic University and the Old Soldier's Home. This ANC covers the areas east and west of the Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten Metro stations. One of larger controversies in the area is the development of 90 new row houses at St. Joseph's Seminary. Some neighbors have argued vociferously against this development, saying the buildings will "irrevocably damage [the] community" and destroy green space, even though the land is currently private.

A similar battle is unfolding nearby at the Takoma Metro station, which is just outside of 5A. There, a large underused parking lot has been slotted for redevelopment for years, but some community members have stalled it. One stop down, the mixed-use Cafritz development near the Fort Totten Metro is already under construction, but has been the source of community pushback in the past.

In situations like these, strong, reasonable, and proactive ANC leadership is desperately needed.

One leader we like is Will Gee, a candidate for 5A03, the district at the northeastern corner of the ANC on the Maryland border.

Will had smart and nuanced answers regarding the different developments in the area. For example, regarding Cafritz: "This is the kind of density around a Metro stop that we should be encouraging, though such a large-scale development is bound to have significant consequences, both good and bad." He similarly is excited about working with the developers at St. Joseph's, saying it is an "excellent place to add more housing" and a "critical opportunity for the Michigan Park community."

Will is a solid supporter of alternative transit, and was one of the few candidates who took our survey who unabashedly supported removing street parking if it meant improving bus infrastructure. This is a courageous and smart stance in a neighborhood where, as he puts it, such parking is "sufficiently available" and the change would be in the "neighborhood's best interest." Let's get this man a seat already.

Directly west lies 5A08, the area adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro station. Here, we endorse Gordon-Andrew Fletcher. Gordon-Andrew is also impressed by the efforts at St. Joseph's, and is "a firm believer that these townhomes will be a benefit for the area." He also envisions bike lanes along South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. To us, Gordon-Andrew seems like a thoughtful and responsive choice for commissioner, and we hope he gets a chance to serve his community.

Photo by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr.

In ANC 5B, we endorse Henri Makembe

North and east of the Brookland-CUA Metro stop lies Brookland and the rest of ANC 5B. Besides the development at St. Joseph's, neighbors here have their eye on the revitalization the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, and they want to know what commissioners will do to address public safety in their area.

There are only two contested races in 5B. For the first (5B03), we like Henri Makembe. Henri says that one of the reasons he is running is because he believes the "neighborhood should be thinking about how we want we want to grow in the future and go after it," and he sees Rhode Island Avenue as key to that growth. He also is supportive of developing more housing, "especially those suited for families.

Henri also envisions better connectivity between bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and wants to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve community policing.

Finally, Henri voiced his approval for the controversial homeless shelter proposed for Ward 5. While he agrees that "legitimate questions have not been answered and the process thus far has been opaque," he is unwavering in his support. We appreciate his rational, positive, and firm approach to these issues.

The other contested race is 5B04. This is an important district for any supporters of transit-oriented development, as it runs directly adjacent to the Red Line between the Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue Metro stops.

Unfortunately, we cannot endorse either candidate here.

The challenger, Carolyn Steptoe, has long been an opponent of development in the area. Her extraordinary comment here praises the neighborhood group known as the "200 footers," who won an incredibly impactful court case halting the construction of housing on the vacant property at 901 Monroe Street.

As further proof of Carolyn's consistent opposition to smart growth, she told us that "5B04 is fully saturated" when it comes to housing, and was against the very idea of accommodating new growth and residents."

Incumbent Rayseen Woodland is not any better. Frankly, this quote in response to our questionnaire astounded us:

I am not for too much housing. The more housing that come to the community, the more changes. People bring their own perspectives and they may not match with ours. I would not like to see residential parking become more of a disaster.
We cannot support a commissioner who, rather than address the needs of our growing city and citizens, values parking and keeping new people with different ideas out. We hope you won't support such a commissioner either.

If you live in 5B04, we encourage you to get involved in your ANC (though we wish you luck), and if you're interested in running for a seat next election, make sure to let us know.

New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. Photo by Randall Myers on Flickr.

In ANC 5C, we endorse Carlos Davis and Sumner Shaw

Further south, ANC 5C is a heavily industrial area with housing mixed throughout, including neighborhoods like Brentwood, Fort Lincoln and Woodridge. It is bordered on the south by the National Arboretum and Mount Olivet Rd, and in the north it lies mostly below Rhode Island Avenue.

Rhode Island Avenue's future is critically important to many of these neighbors, but perhaps more immediately pressing are the continuing controversies and stories coming from Brookland Manor, a large block of low-income housing that is set for redevelopment but is under scrutiny because of allegations of discriminatory practices.

The strip of land running north along of Bladensburg Road and bordering Brookland Manor is 5C02. In a close race, Carlos Davis struck us as the strongest candidate for this seat.

Carlos is in favor of bike lanes along Bladensburg, and is frustrated by the many missing sidewalks in his neighborhood, something he will work to fix. He envisions walkable urban villages for his neighborhoods, something he thinks is readily achievable with consistent "community and developer engagement."

Opponent Kevin Mullone seems generally reasonable, but he believes "the city is over saturated with new apartment units" and was against removing any street parking even if it meant improved bus services. We encourage you to give Carlos your vote.

Geographically the largest district in the ANC, the southern edge of the area bordering the National Arboretum is 5C04. There are three candidates running for the same seat here, and we think Sumner Shaw is a good choice.

Sumner has good ideas for the continued enhancement of Rhode Island Avenue, and seemed generally open to new ideas, as shown by his response about Brookland Manor: "I feel that progress in the form of development is a good thing as long as the constituents and their concerns are included prior and during said such progress."

More than anything, we think Sumner is a much better choice than his opponent Bernice Young. In reply to Brookland Manor: "No comment." Sorry, voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on perhaps the most public controversy in the ANC. Other answers were similarly terse and unhelpful. How would she like the neighborhood to look in 20 years? "I would like it to stay the same."

The third candidate, Jacqueline Manning, did not respond to our survey. Given the options, we think Sumner is the best choice here.

Trinidad. Photo by nauseaflip on Flickr.

In ANC 5D, we endorse Adam Roberts

Resdients who live in Ivy City, Trinidad, and Carver Langston live and vote in ANC 5D. It's a narrow district bounded on the southern edge by Florida Avenue and Benning Road, and on the north generally by New York Avenue.

Given those two thoroughfares, transportation is a big issue for the neighborhood. ANC commissioners will have opportunities to make their streets safer during their terms, as well as influence any work done around the Starburst Plaza at the end of the H Street corridor. We also wanted to know what prospective commissioners had to say about the ongoing redevelopment at Union Market, including the newer debates surfacing about historic preservation.

Within this ANC, the triangle in between Maryland Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Mount Olivet Road is 5D03, and for this seat we endorse Adam Roberts.

Adam's previous term has been busy, and he was proud to support "projects that have both positively activated space and met or surpassed the city's affordable housing requirements," including "13 brand new Habitat for Humanity homes" along Florida Avenue.

He recognizes that more can be done to expand the uses of the Starburst Plaza and looks forward to the coming redevelopment of the Hechinger Mall as opportunity to bring resources and vitality to the area. On transportation: "We do not need a six-lane highway running through Bladensburg; bike lanes are one way to slow down vehicular traffic, and get more visible people on the road, which I believe will certainly help deter crime."

Sounds good to us. We think Adam will continue to be a thoughtful, active and competent commissioner moving forward.

Eckington. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In ANC 5E, we endorse Hannah Powell and Michael Henderson

Along both sides of North Capitol Street are neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood, to name a few. This area is covered by ANC 5E. The well-fought-over McMillan Sand Filtration Site (what all those "Save McMillan Park" signs are about) is a huge issue for this ANC to tackle in the next few years, as well the substantial mixed-use redevelopment of the Rhode Island Shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro stop.

There's potential for a serious influx of housing and smart development in some of these areas, though it will take strong support from ANC leaders to help make that happen.

One person who has our confidence is Hannah Powell in 5E03, which is the eastern half of Eckington.

Out of the three candidates running in this race, two responded to our survey and we liked both. Hannah's opponent, Mike Aiello, had strong answers to our questionnaire on transportation, historic preservation, and housing. It is clear he has a strong grasp of the issues in the neighborhood, but he did not take as clear a stance on McMillan.

On the other hand, Hannah summarizes the situation at McMillan very well: "While it would be wonderful to turn the site back into the large park it was before WWII, it is readily apparent that there is simply no way the District can fund the needed repairs on its own. Absent a public-private partnership and compromises on all sides, the site will likely remain in disrepair and fenced off from the community, unusable by anyone."

She also supports the plans for the Rhode Island Shopping Center: "I am supportive of smart, sustainable development clustered close to Metro, and the MRP/Rhode Island Avenue development is, for the most part, a good example of exactly that," though she says that "[t]he developers stand to gain significantly by increasing the number of housing units through their" request for zoning relief, and the community "should also share in the benefits, including an increase in affordable housing units." Hear, hear.

One reader also respected Hannah's "desire to welcome new residents but to honor and maintain the diversity of the existing neighborhood," in particular regarding different housing types and options.

In the end, Hannah rose to the top our list for this district.

In the middle of the ANC lies 5E10, where we endorse Michael Henderson. This SMD abuts the Rhode Island site directly, and it was good to read that Michael is "happy to see the Rhode Island Shopping Center being redeveloped," though he promises to advocate for better access for residents in Edgewood Terrace, more affordable housing, and more green space as part of the project. He did not take a strong stance on McMillan, but at least seemed open to see some positive development happen there.

Readers wrote in that Michael's answers reflected his "thoughtful nature and his commitment to making Edgewood an even better place to live." We hope he lives up to that!

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by carfreedc on Flickr.

It is worth mentioning that there were many candidates in 5E that we chose not to endorse, primarily because of their answers about the McMillan site.

In 5E06, Katherine McLelland did not commit to much in her answers, and in particular on McMillan she refused to take a stance either way: "Whichever the direction that our ANC is in favor of, I am personally in favor of." In 5E07, Aravind Muthukrishnan wants a museum on the site, and Bertha Holliday had a host of concerns about the current proposal and seemed to threaten "delays, modifications, and increased costs." Finally in 5E09, Kirby Vining has been an outspoken "Save McMillan Park" activist for some time, and in our survey was against adding housing or bike infrastructure in his neighborhood.

The McMillan site is one of the few remaining large parcels of land in the District where we can significantly add to our housing stock and bring mixed-use amenities to the area. Having reasonable, compromising, and courageous commissioners nearby will make a real difference for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. We hope readers help vote some in.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 5 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 5. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Zoning: The hidden trillion dollar tax

Zoning in cities like DC is starting to get expensive. Maybe trillions of dollars too expensive.

Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Economists Enrico Moretti and Chang-Tai Hsieh find that if we lowered restrictions that keep people from building new housing in just three cities (New York, San Jose, and San Francisco) to the level of the median American city, US GDP would have been 9.7% higher in 2009about $1.4 trillion, or $6,300 for every American worker.

The intuition is straightforward. These cities' strict zoning rules limit their housing supplies. That sends rents soaring and prevents people from moving in. But because these cities are hubs of finance, healthcare, and technology, they are unusually productive places to work and do business. When people have to live elsewhere, they miss out on all this.

As a result, displaced workers, who can't move to New York or San Jose, are less productive and therefore earn lower wages. The country misses out on their untapped potential--fewer discoveries are happening, fewer breakthroughs are being made--and we're all poorer as a result.

Just changing zoning practices in those three cities would lead to some massive shifts, according to the authors. One-third of workers would change cities (although they wouldn't necessarily move to those three metros). Even under a less drastic scenario, in which 20% of US workers were able to move, GDP would be 6.5% higher. Fewer people would live in places like Detroit, Phoenix, or Atlanta, but those who remained would earn higher wages. And, of course, the likely reduction in sprawl would help address local air pollution, global warming, and habitat loss.

Zoning rules have clear benefits, but it's a question of balance

Zoning and land-use regulations have benefits. Some ensure basic health and welfare; they keep toxic dumps away from your child's school, for example (though this works better if you're well-off). Others aspects of zoning provide more marginal benefits, and to say these laws safeguard your health would be a stretch, like rules that keep duplexes and other multi-family housing out of your neighborhood.

Large swaths of Wards 2, 3, 4 and 5 have these types of rules: they're zoned "R-1-A" or "R-1-B," which only permit suburban-style detached homes. As the "general provisions" section of the zoning regulations say, "The R-1 District is designed to protect quiet residential areas now developed with one-family detached dwellings."

This, of course, is not an accident: DC's zoning map also shows who has power in the city, and who does not. Parts of Georgetown, for example, have a unique zoning designation called "R-20"; it's basically R-1, but with stricter controls to "protect [Georgetown's] historic character… limit permitted ground coverage of new and expanded buildings… and retain the quiet residential character of these areas and control compatible nonresidential uses."

Meanwhile, equally-historic Barry Farm is zoned RA-1, which allows apartment buildings, like many other parts of Ward 8. And, of course, Barry Farm abuts a "light industry" zone, sits beside a partly abandoned mental hospital, and was carved in two by the Suitland Parkway. While Washington's elite can use zoning with extra care to keep Georgetown the way it is, the same system of rules hasn't exactly led to the same outcomes for Barry Farm.

Barry Farm. Image from Google Maps.

What to do?

Washington is better than San Jose, where the majority of neighborhoods are zoned for single-family homes, but our own suburban-style rules still have room for improvement.

This could be Atlanta, but it's actually Ward 4.

Addressing this problem doesn't necessarily require us to put skyscrapers in Bethesda or Friendship Heights, turn the Palisades into Tysons Corner, or Manhattanize Takoma. More human-scale, multi-family housing in these places, currently dominated by single-family detached homes, could be a massive boon to the middle class and poor.

If half of such houses in Chevy Chase rented out their garages, or became duplexes, I'd estimate that could mean 25% more families living near world-class transit, fantastic parks, good jobs, and good people.

As Mark Gimein wrote recently on the New Yorker Currency blog:

The cost of living in New York, San Francisco, and Washington is not just a local problem but a national one. That these cities have grown into centers of opportunity largely for those who already have it is not good for the cities, which need strivers to flourish. It would be a shame if the cities that so resiliently survived the anxieties of the atomic age were quietly suffocated by their own success.

If you're curious for more on Moretti and Hsieh's work, see this short description of their paper and this PBS interview with Moretti. For an in-depth discussion of zoning's effect on the economy (with less math), see this speech by Jason Furman, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.


Even more development may come to North Capitol Street. Will transportation be ready?

A whole new mixed-use neighborhood may soon arise on a portion of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the large 272-acre estate off North Capitol Street. Will the new neighborhood become an isolated suburban island, or integrate into the urban fabric of the city?

The Armed Forces Retirement Home-Washington. Image from AFRH.

The Armed Forces Retirement Home, also known as the Old Soldiers' Home, has been serving resident retired and disabled veterans since 1851. Abraham Lincoln spent much of the Civil War there and wrote the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in the historic Anderson Cottage.

The home operates as an independent federal agency with its own trust fund, and in 2002 Congress authorized leasing some of the land to raise funds to keep the home afloat. A 2008 Master Plan proposed carving out 80 acres on the southeast corner, along North Capitol Street and Irving Street, for the development.

Possible layout of future buildings, from the 2008 master plan.

The General Services Administration will soon start soliciting developers for the project, which will have to go through substantial federal and local review.

What will happen to North Capitol and Irving?

This isn't the first time the home has shrunk. This 1948 map shows the home's land extending all the way to Michigan Avenue, encompassing what's now the Washington Hospital Center, the VA Medical Center, National Rehabilitation Hospital, and Children's National Medical Center.

National Geographic 1948 map, detail around the AFRH. Click for an interactive version where you can fade between old and new.

That part of the land was a dairy farm and orchards until the hospitals replaced them. North Capitol Street used to end at Michigan Avenue, but was extended all the way through the estate. Between the hospitals and the Soldiers' Home appeared a new-freeway-like road, Irving Street.

Where Irving and North Capitol meet is a large suburban-style cloverleaf interchange. It's the only full cloverleaf in DC and a relic of a time when people assumed that freeways would cut through most District neighborhoods.

In 2009, the year after the Armed Forces Retirement Home finished its Master Plan, the National Capital Planning Commission and the DC Office of Planning came out with their own study of the cloverleaf. They considered ways to replace it with an intersection more appropriate to DC, such as a circle.

The four options from the OP/NCPC study. Left to right, top to bottom: The current North Capitol interchange, the "parkway/memorial," the "circle," the "four corners."

It would be an enormous lost opportunity for this development to go forward without a decision on how to change the intersection. If AFRH builds around a cloverleaf, the new neighborhood will turn its back on the interchange and create a permanent, impenetrable wall.

On the other hand, if there's at least a plan for the cloverleaf area, the architects could design internal roads and pathways to connect to future buildings between AFRH's property and the intersection.

While a walkable circle or other design would only serve AFRH at first, it would open up opportunities for future changes at the VA hospital site, development on Catholic University's land east of North Capitol, which the home sold to the university in 2002.

How can people get here?

Today, the easiest way to reach this area is by car. The 80 bus travels on North Capitol, but most of the existing developments (like the hospitals and the Park Place condominiums southeast of the cloverleaf) turn their backs on those streets. The proposed McMillan Sand Filtration site will engage North Capitol somewhat, but still has a large landscaped setback (in large part, to please neighbors) and buildings front onto interior streets.

The same goes for the conceptual design in the AFRH plan

Possible future roads. Image from the 2008 master plan.

These buildings primarily turn their backs on North Capitol and Irving and face a new street. There is a grid of streets, and if North Capitol and Irving stop being near-freeways, more of the streets that radiate from the historic Pasture could intersect urban boulevards.

If that doesn't happen, will buses have to wind through this area to be at all appealing for residents and workers? Transit works best when the densest uses cluster along a linear corridor rather than in self-contained office parks and cul-de-sac neighborhoods.

DC doesn't have room for massive amounts of new traffic. This project contemplates 4.3 million square feet, twice what's being proposed at McMillan and more than what will come to the Walter Reed site along Georgia Avenue. There has to be good-quality, desirable transit from all directions.

Already, many feel that the transit plans for McMillan are still a weak point. If another three McMillans of development are coming in this area, it's time for the District to get working on the transit that can go here. In the best case, the Yellow Line could branch off Green and run here; barring that, this should get high-quality light rail or bus rapid transit with dedicated lanes and frequent service.

A circle or other urban intersection at North Capitol and Irving can be a centerpiece of that, if DC and the federal government can agree on what to build. If so, the AFRH development can focus around the intersection instead of standing away from it.

Will governments be ready?

This project is still years away, and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will be involved as it moves forward. Associate Director Sam Zimbabwe of DDOT said:

We have had initial discussions with AFRH representatives as they prepared for their solicitation. They are still at a very preliminary stage. ... We will be working with them on a comprehensive transportation report (CTR) similar to how we work with developers on large and small projects. ... With major development projects like AFRH, this process can often take years and multiple iterations. With McMillan, we probably had discussions over about 2-3 years as their designs and program evolved.
As for the cloverleaf, nothing has yet come of the study. NCPC spokesperson Stephen Staudigl said that "the buildings could be built in a way that could connect to any future traffic circle redevelopment," but added, "While NCPC remains interested in replacement of the North Capitol Street Cloverleaf, we have not done any work on the project since completion of the study."

GSA spokesperson Kamara Jones was unwilling to be quoted on the record.

Zimbabwe said DDOT is working on starting a study of the general cross-town transportation issues between Brookland and Columbia Heights through this area, including but not limited to the cloverleaf. DDOT is "starting the consultant selection process," so it's still in the early stages as well.

Reconfiguration of the cloverleaf would be a pretty expensive undertaking, and something that is not currently in our capital program.​ The whole of area around the hospital center and in this broader east-west corridor is a real challenge in terms of providing multi-modal options, and there will likely need to be quite a bit of investment needed. As the timing of the various development projects becomes a bit more defined, I think each of these things will interact and we'll be prepared to take advantage of this opportunity.
Residents will have to watch this project closely as it moves along to ensure that DC plans and budgets for the transportation necessary to make it successful. The other option is to get behind the curve or let a bad and un-urban design, like today's cloverleaf, become even further entrenched.


A bike-ped trail is in the works for New York Ave NE

An effort is underway to turn a stretch of land along New York Avenue NE into a biking and walking trail, connecting Ivy City to NoMa and beyond.

Map of the potential New York Avenue trail route. Image from Google Maps with edits by the author.

The western end of the trail will be at 4th Street NE in what many know as Union Market—the Office of Planning and Douglas Development, one of the district's biggest developers, actually call it by its original name, the Florida Avenue Market. This area used to be the rail yards for the wholesale market, and there's an unused tunnel under New York Avenue that DDOT could repurpose for a trail.

The south side of the tunnel leads to a large plot of city-owned land, which could eventually be a park that the thousands of new residents coming to the neighborhood could enjoy while at the market.

"The New York Avenue Trail has been in our plans for several years," said DDOT bicycle program coordinator Jim Sebastian. "With new activity and community support in the corridor, we can start a more concerted planning effort that will end with better neighborhood connections for walking and bicycling."

DC's 2005 DC Bike Master Plan designated New York Avenue NE as the site of a future off road multi-use trail. A feasibility study, conducted by the Rails to Trails Coalition and commissioned by Douglas, will look at the corridor from Union Market to the Arboretum.

A trail through the area would provide access to new development in Ivy City and help connect several Ward 5 neighborhoods to the NoMa Metro.

"We couldn't be more excited about the potential of linking the Florida Avenue Market all the way to the Arboretum," said Paul Millstein, a vice president and head of construction at Douglas. "We think it's key to the pedestrian-friendliness of the entire sector as this industrial area transitions to a livable community."

Hecht's development, from the north. Image from Douglas Development.

The trail will help make it easier to travel to and from Ivy City

Wedged between New York Avenue NE and West Virginia Avenue NE, Ivy City has long been one of DC's poorest neighborhoods. Some have even called it a "dumping ground" for undesirable industrial and parking uses.

But change is underway, as the DC Department of Housing and Community Development is working with several non-profits to build dozens of new houses and Douglas Development is constructing 400 apartments with several hundred thousand square feet of retail in the historic Hecht's warehouse. Douglas also owns other nearby buildings and land.

Tunnel under New York Avenue. Photo by the author.

Trail users will skip the steep New York Avenue bridge and have access to downtown

The tunnel gives the trail a way to avoid the steep New York Avenue bridge over the railroad tracks. In Ivy City, the tunnel connects to a path that descends back to the trail and track level at Fairview Street.

Trail users will be able to connect to downtown and elsewhere through the M Street NE cycletrack, which leads to the Metropolitan Branch Trail and may eventually link with the M Street NW cycletrack across town.

Unused railroad right of way along New York Avenue near Brentwood Parkway NE. Photo by the author.

Safety will need to be a priority for the trail to serve its purpose

The nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail has had issues with safety and maintenance, and without many parks or retail locations along the way, the trail from Ivy City to NoMA will run through areas that are even more devoid of activity. Excellent lighting, connections to area businesses and the main road, retail kiosks, and pocket parks, then, will be a must.

MOM's Organic Market just opened its first DC store at 1501 New York Avenue NE. For now, the safest and easiest way to get there is by driving, which is inviting because MOM's sits at the base of a five-story parking garage. But hopefully, sometime in the not-too-distant future, it will also be safe for MOM's patrons and other Ivy City and Ward 5 residents to bike or run there along this new trail.


First flowerpots, and now, a cycletrack

Last week, people noticed flowerpots appear on 6th Street NE between Gallaudet University and Union Market. But that wasn't all. Yesterday, officials put in the next piece: a cycletrack.

Photos by Mike Goodno of DDOT.

This is a "tactical urbanism" project by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Gallaudet University to make 6th Street NE safer for all users, including a new 2-way cycletrack and small plaza.

6th Street NE between Florida Avenue and Penn Street is extremely wide, with 70 feet of asphalt for only two parking lanes and two driving lanes. Each lane was 22 feet wide before DDOT recently re-striped the road. This is double the width of typical travel lanes.

The new layout still provides parallel parking on both sides, but also adds a two-way cycletrack on the east side while narrowing the travel lanes to 12' wide. This is similar to Option 3 for 6th Street in the ongoing Florida Avenue Safety Study, which will set plans for a future project to permanently rebuild the street.

Drawing from DDOT.

Gallaudet has been a huge supporter of this project, and worked with DDOT to have this open now that their Neal Place entrance will be open full-time. The university owns most of the real estate on both sides of 6th Street NE and they were concerned about the campus community crossing the street to access Union Market and other businesses. They also have high hopes for future growth on this street.

While most of this land is now used for maintenance or parking, Gallaudet is planning a new campus neighborhood to improve the campus experience, provide revenue and improve links to the surrounding neighborhoods and Metro. The university recently chose JBG as the development partner for this 1.3 million square foot project.

The changes on 6th Street were able happen so quickly because DDOT did not need to remove any travel lanes, parking, or other elements which require more time to approve. This has also recently become a highly-traveled pedestrian area not only because of Gallaudet and Union Market, but also because KIPP has opened a high school at the former Hamilton School on Brentwood Parkway.

The planters at the Neal Street NE campus entrance will help protect a small plaza on either side of the street. This will make it easier to cross between Gallaudet and Union Market by shortening the crossing distance and making pedestrians more visible. Gallaudet provided and will maintain flowers in the pots.

Photo by Mike Goodno.

This cycletrack will transition to the existing bike lanes on 6th Street south of Florida to K Street NE (which will eventually be rebuilt as part of the Florida Avenue NE project). For access to the southbound 4th Street NE/SE bike lane or to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, DDOT is planning new bike facilities for M Street NE.

The funding comes from DC's new Sustainable DC Innovation Challenge program. David Levy, program manager for Sustainable DC, says the program "funds innovative pilot projects that demonstrate ways to make the District more sustainable."

Sam Zimbabwe of DDOT said planners are "always looking for ways to improve safety and create usable public space. We did some short-term improvements on Maryland Avenue NE at 7th Street earlier this year, so it's definitely more and more in our toolkit, but we don't have other locations identified just yet."

A project like this will have a major impact on safety for all users, and was completed very quickly through collaboration by many partners. Where else are there opportunities for tactical sustainability projects like this?


"Dave Thomas Circle" could get fixes or disappear entirely

A new study of pedestrian and bicycle safety along Florida Avenue NE is suggesting changes to the "virtual" traffic circle at New York and Florida Avenues. In the long run, that "circle" and the nearby Wendy's could become a simpler intersection and green space.

The current "circle" and short-term fixes. Images from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created the "virtual circle" arrangement as an "interim solution" in 2010 to deal with this difficult intersection. It was very difficult to navigate on foot or bike, and which had seen some very serious crashes.

The circle pattern routes traffic heading eastbound on Florida counter-clockwise along First and O Streets. It got the nickname "Dave Thomas Circle" because that triangle circumnavigates a Wendy's, and to play off the name for Thomas Circle. Wendy's also has many driveways connecting to the surrounding roads, and Eckington Place NE joins the tangle of roads here as well.

Since DDOT set up the "circle," the severity and number of crashes has gone down, said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's planning head who is overseeing the study. However, many people find it confusing and it takes up a lot of space.

Once, some suggested an interchange

At the time this pattern was conceived, DDOT studies recommended building a new overpass or tunnel so New York Avenue traffic could bypass the intersection. Some plans suggested extending the I-395 tunnel from its current terminus near 4th Street NW past Florida Avenue.

Image from the 2006 DDOT study.

But a 2006 NCPC study raised concerns about new tunnels or bridges. NCPC worried about how new large-scale auto infrastructure would create an even larger pedestrian barrier in the nascent NoMa neighborhood and between other adjacent areas. Since then, DDOT has largely dropped the idea of tunneling as a solution.

What could replace the circle?

The Florida study proposes some options to simplify the intersection. They would eliminate some turns, delete the block of O Street that's now part of the "circle," and either eliminate the block of First Street or reroute it to connect to Eckington Place NE.

2 options to replace the "circle."

Florida and New York Avenues would get a bit wider to make room for turning lanes instead of the "jughandles" of the old design. Adding this right-of-way would almost certainly mean the city would have to take the Wendy's by eminent domain. But that could make the intersection significantly better for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike.

It would also open up some land for green space or other uses. The National Capital Planning Commission has long envisioned this intersection as a potential future memorial site. In 2001 they named it as one of their top 20 "Prime Sites" in the region in the Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

In addition to the longer-term proposals, later this year DDOT will make minor modifications to tweak how this intersection works. That includes changing which lanes get used for which types of turns, striping bike lanes, and adding new signs.

One change will widen the turn radius at some key spots so that the 90s buses can traverse the circle. When DDOT set up the circle arrangement, Metro discovered its buses couldn't fit, and had to reroute them onto North Capitol Street, adding minutes of extra time for every rider.


Florida Avenue NE and nearby streets could get wider sidewalks and bike lanes

Florida Avenue, NE and other roads in the area could become safer and more comfortable to walk and bike along in the future. The public will get to see several options this week that would widen sidewalks and add bike lanes to key roads.

Photo by Yancey Burns reproduced with permission.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT), along with consultants Kittelson & Associates and Rhodeside & Harwell, has been working with the community for the past 6 months to identify safety issues in this area. Florida Avenue suffers from extremely narrow sidewalks, with less than 2 feet of space directly in front of many homes and across from Gallaudet University. That width doesn't meet ADA guidelines.

Officials have said there is room for wider sidewalks and bike lanes, since the current traffic volume on Florida does not warrant more than 2 motor vehicle lanes in each direction.

Currently, the number of lanes on Florida varies from 2 to 6 within the span of a few blocks. Some of the lanes on Florida are also quite wide, up to 17 feet. DDOT will present projections for traffic up to 2040 and considering upcoming land use changes, to demonstrate that more lanes aren't necessary in the future either.

DDOT will propose four alternatives. All widen sidewalks to varying extents. Plus,

  • Alternatives 1a and 1b widen the sidewalk while keeping 6 lanes for motor vehicles.
  • Alternative 2 adds narrower painted bike lanes along the curb on each side, and creates a center turn lane along with 4 travel lanes.
  • Alternative 3 skips the center turn lane and adds a buffer alongside the bike lanes, to give cyclists some extra distance from fast-moving cars.

Cross-sections for Florida Avenue: Current 1a 1b 2 3
Images from DDOT.

On 6th Street north of Florida Avenue, which separates Gallaudet University from the Florida Avenue Market, the lanes are 22 feet wide, or more than double typical widths. For this segment, there are three options:

  • Wider sidewalks and and painted bike lanes, plus "curb extensions" (also known as "bulb-outs") to shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross (Alternative 1)
  • Wider sidewalks and a cycle track in each direction, plus curb extensions (Alternative 2)
  • A "curbless flex space" along the market side of the road and a two-way cycle track on the Gallaudet side (Alternative 3)

Cross-sections for 6th Street: Current 1a 2 3
Images from DDOT.

The agency also plans to reconstruct 6th Street between K Street and Florida Avenue, NE; West Virginia Avenue NE; and "Dave Thomas Circle," at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenue (which currently has a Wendy's in the center, hence the nickname). DDOT's report will also likely include some safety improvements within the Florida Avenue Market.

Officials will present the proposals at a public meeting Wednesday, April 2, at the Two Rivers PCS Middle School building on 1234 4th Street, NE, at 7 pm. Feedback from this week's meeting will shape the final report, expected later this spring.

The agency has not announced construction dates for any of the projects. Before it can build anything, changes will also have to go into the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan, which according to DDOT planning head Sam Zimbabwe is the reason the agency can't make any temporary changes to try out new configurations and make the road safer in the meantime.


For DC Council in Ward 5: Kenyan McDuffie

When councilmember Kenyan McDuffie was elected two years ago, DC's Ward 5 swung from having one of the city's most corrupt councilmembers to having a widely-respected one. We encourage voters to renominate McDuffie in the April 1 Democratic primary, or in early voting starting March 17.

Image from the candidate website.

McDuffie won the 2012 special election to replace former Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. Thomas resigned and pled guilty to multiple felonies, including diverting public funding for youth baseball to personal expenses such as vacations and an SUV. McDuffie is now seeking his first full 4-year term.

Here's what our contributors wrote about McDuffie:

"Kenyan is easily one of the most progressive-thinking members of the council, in a ward that can often be quite conservative. He has to toe the line between pulling the ward with him and meeting the voters where they currently are sometimes, but he generally threads this needle with aplomb."
"He is a nice guy who has humble beginnings. He can related to young black teens as well as he can developers. He seems to be one of the few councilmembers that wants to do his best to improve DC. He is able to balance the needs of his diverse constituents."

"Kenyan has delivered on his promise in the last election—he's been a CM with integrity, thoughtfulness, and even in the sort time he's had in office so far, has made a lot of positive moves, both for the ward and for the city."

"Kenyan has done a fine job. He's a champion of ethics and election reform, he has been successful without taking corporate funding, and he's been supportive of redevelopment in Ward 5 that is walkable and transit-accessible and includes affordable housing, including the McMillan Site development."

"I have the utmost respect for McDuffie."

Some contributors expressed concern with some of his stances, like opposing the streetcar maintenance facility at Spingarn High School, as seeming to react to strong sentiment in the ward rather than formulating the best conclusion based on his own analysis and beliefs. On the other hand, on McMillan development, McDuffie has not gone along with the angry hordes.

McDuffie's two challengers have not been consensus-builders in their own communities, and have often been hostile to new residents participating in community dialogue about the future. Steptoe was one of the leading opponents of any development around Brookland Metro, for instance.

We hope voters in Ward 5 (whose neighborhoods include Truxton Circle, Bloomingdale, Stronghold, Edgewood, Eckington, Brentwood, Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Arboretum, Langdon, Gateway, Fort Lincoln, Woodridge, Brookland, Michigan Park, North Michigan Park, and Fort Totten) will renominate Kenyan McDuffie in the Democratic primary on April 1, or in early voting beginning March 17.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement based on the responses in the survey and whether there is a clear consensus.

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