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Posts about Ward 8

Sustainability


A more accessible Anacostia Park would mean a healthier community

Anacostia Park is part more than 1,200 acres of parks and wetlands that sit along the Anacostia River. It's not in great shape, but there are people working to turn it around. If they succeed, residents are set to reap the health and social benefits that come with quality parks.


The waterfront trail running through Anacostia Park. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Overshadowed by the Washington Monument on the National Mall, the Anacostia Waterfront, which the National Parks Service and District government manage together, is one of Washington's most undervalued landmarks.

Originally planned nearly 100 years ago, the waterfront was designed under the McMillan Plan to be a grand public park running along the river, featuring promenades, islands, and bathing lagoons.


Image from the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.

Over the ensuing century, however, Anacostia Park was neglected and underused. Despite all that it has to offer, Anacostia Park never achieved the kind of recognition from tourists or regular use from residents that places like Rock Creek and Meridian Hill do.

Part of the problem is that much of the park is bounded is by the Anacostia River on one side and a busy highway on the other, limiting access by public transportation and connection to the rest of the city.

Parks can help address public health issues in Anacostia

Communities east of the Anacostia River are plagued with elevated rates of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, so much so that there's clearly an expanding the gulf between these underserved areas and the rest of the District. According to the city's most recent assessment, residents of Ward 8 have the highest rates of obesity and are the least likely to exercise of anyone in the city.

The health woes people in Anacostia face persist despite the fact that many people live within a mile of Anacostia Park or Waterfront Trail.


The Anacostia Waterfront trail has an aast and west branch along both sides of the river, and runs for a total of 15 miles.

There's proof that the active lifestyle parks encourage mean lower obesity rates and high blood pressure rates as well as fewer doctor's visits and fewer annual medical costs. Further benefits include lower levels of cholesterol and respiratory diseases, enhanced survival after a heart attack, faster recovery from surgery, fewer medical complaints, and reduced stress.

Recognizing what Anacostia Park can do for residents as well as how much it's been ignored, recent administrations—starting with Anthony Williams, who was in office from 1999 until 2007—have championed the park and waterfront, slowly shifting investment across the river. In the past decade, new playgrounds have gone up, and 15 miles of new trails have formed the nucleus of the Anacostia Waterfront Trail.

Both what's coming to the Waterfront and what's already there make for tremendous opportunity to serve community health needs in Wards 7 and 8.


Anacostia park lacks the public transportation options that other places have. This is the only bikeshare station located along the eastern branch of the Waterfront Trail.

New programing is a great tool for increasing park attendance. Last year, the National Park Service hosted the first annual Anacostia River Festival to promote "the history, ecology, and communities along its riverbanks." The inaugural event was an opportunity for the community and local politicians to come out in support of the Park and another is in the works for this upcoming spring.

Here's how DC can connect Anacostia Park to its community

For progress to continue, interest in Anacostia Park has to go beyond these periodic events and promising proposals. The easiest way to support active use is making sure people know about all that Anacostia Park has to offer.

According to the American Planning Association, for a park to increase physical activity it needs to be accessible, close to where people live, and have good lighting, toilets, and drinking water, and attractive scenery. Today, Anacostia Park has some of these things, but others are sorely lacking.


This is the south-eastern tip of Anacostia Park and Waterfront Trail, seen from across the river at Yards Park.

The first thing that would get more people using Anacostia Park would be creating convenient points of access. Creative infrastructure and programs could be replicated in Anacostia Park based on what other cities have used to successfully boost attendance and forge a connection with the community.

In Chicago, The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance helped community members create a "Quality of Life Plan," identifying top issues facing the community in order to craft policies that the park to meet the most pressing needs. Since 2005, the initiative has facilitated coordination between local employers, provided employment for 84 local youth, and mobilized over 10,000 residents to support a number of projects.

In New York, a collaboration between the Prospect Park Alliance, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) High School resulted in a curriculum based on the physical and educational resources of the Botanic Garden. Such a partnership could be replicated between the National Arboretum, Park Service, and City if the interest and collective will are demonstrated.

Fortunately, creating new ways to access the park and things to do once people are there does not require large sums of money because Anacostia Park doesn't need to be built or set aside. What it does demand, however, is public and private support as well as a willingness to incorporate the communities these changes are meant to benefit into the planning process.

To foster dialogue between the community and other stakeholders, The Anacostia Waterfront Trust has recently partnered with 13 other organizations to form the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative.

While still taking shape, the APCC is designed to engage with nearby residents in order to promote active use and develop long term plans. Efforts like these can help ensure that the many projects and initiatives intended to help residents of the Anacostia Waterfront actually serve their purpose.

Other parks are blossoming nearby

Work is ongoing to create an additional 13 miles of trails connecting the park to other sites along the Waterfront, including the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Yards Park, and the National Arboretum.

Another example of a Waterfront project that can do a lot for its community is the 11th Street Bridge Park. The project will include an education center, outdoor performance spaces, and urban agriculture, and when it's finished, it will be a link Wards 6, 7, and 8.


Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park design team.

Development


Good deal or not? DC will build a Wizards practice facility near Congress Heights Metro

Tens of millions of dollars in public money would pay for a pro basketball practice facility and small arena at the St. Elizabeths campus, under a deal reported Monday. Will it spur needed economic development or take away funds from needed public projects like schools?


Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.

A recent candidate for public office said about sports subsidies, "We have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list."

That was Muriel Bowser in 2014. Will she make a persuasive case for this one?

What's in the deal?

Under the deal, Events DC, the authority that runs DC's convention center, would pay up to $32.5 million toward building the facility, which it would own. The NBA Washington Wizards would use the complex as a practice facility, while the WNBA's Mystics would play games there instead of the Verizon Center. It would also host arts, cultural and community events.

The buildings could cost up to $56.3 million, and the difference could come from some combination of funds from the DC budget and from Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the entity that owns the Wizards and Mystics. The exact mix is reportedly still being negotiated, and would also need approval from the DC Council (not a foregone conclusion).

Monumental would also contribute $10 million for as-yet-undisclosed (or undecided) amenities for the nearby Congress Heights area, Jonathan O'Connell reported in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, the District would provide the land gratis, along with roads, lighting, utilities, and parking lots.

Is this a good idea?

While its sports deals haven't come close to the ridiculous giveaways of some stadium deals, DC has still been willing to throw substantial public money at pro sports despite near-unanimity among economists that such deals rarely make fiscal sense.

If there is any good spot, St. Elizabeths isn't such a bad one. DC took control of the huge east campus, which abuts Congress Heights Metro, and the Gray Administration announced grand plans for a technology innovation center there, but progress has been very slow.

If this center actually kicks off economic growth at St. Elizabeths, that could be valuable, as could drawing people across the Anacostia River to a part of the city many never see. What we don't know, and have only heard snippets about secondhand, is whether the lack of change at St. Elizabeths is due to a lack of private sector interest or just government slowness; for example, most of the site still lacks power and roads.

DC will have to put those in as part of this deal; if it simply put them in anyway, would that be enough to trigger growth without a large sports subsidy? Economic development officials have not disclosed enough to answer that.

What would candidate Bowser say?

During her 2014 campaign, I interviewed Bowser along with her competitors, and sports subsidies were one of the topics. She said,

My approach is that there is economic development that it's okay for the city to incentivize... but it has to make sense for us. ...

We also have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list, and other public buildings. So what are we going to get out of this investment?

Now having said all that, I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District. There are a lot of District residents that support this team. And I hope they come to a deal that makes sense for us.

Bowser was talking then about the proposed deal for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. She primarily opposed a "land swap" where the District would give developer Akridge the Reeves Center at 14th and U in exchange for land in Buzzard Point, and she later followed through and blocked that piece of the plan.

But the soccer deal ultimately cost about $150 million out of the DC budget. Supporters said it would revitalize Buzzard Point and keep a beloved soccer team in the city, while detractors noted that the budget delayed many capital projects like school renovations.

Bowser added at the time, "I think when you know we have a billionaire owner, which we do, some people have to ask the question of why do we have to give them $150 million. We have a lot of priorities for DC."

Watch this segment of my interview with Bowser here:

Roads


DC made it more appealing to drive through East of the River neighborhoods to get between Maryland and Virginia. You'll never guess what happened next.

When DC rebuilt the 11th Street Bridge with more lanes and more highway ramps, officials insisted it would make traffic better, while many worried it would only worsen the situation by encouraging drivers to cut through DC between Maryland and Virginia. Now, residents east of the Anacostia say that the change has been a disaster for their communities.


Photo by Gary Butler on Twitter.

The 11th Street Bridge connects the Southeast Freeway, which divides Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard area and is now signed I-695, with the Anacostia neighborhood and 295. North of there, the highway along the east bank of the Anacostia is called DC-295; west, it's I-295.

Before a massive project to rebuild the bridge over the past few years, there was no direct car connection from DC-295 to the bridge. Some drivers got off 295 at Pennsylvania Avenue and crossed the river there before getting back on the highway.

It made a certain sense to add a connection. Surely it's logical to have ramps connecting all of the highways, right? Some drivers in neighborhoods around DC-295 found their commutes quite awkward, and the drivers getting off the highway and back on clogged up some neighborhood roads.

However, some people warned that the cure could be worse than the disease. By building a connection, it would be simpler for people already driving this route, but could also attract more drivers to make the trip, adding to traffic and pollution for people living near the highways.

I predicted in 2008 that map software would soon move away from exclusively suggesting the Beltway to circumvent DC, directing unsuspecting itinerant travelers through DC and on the 11th Street bridge. Sure enough, that started happening.


Image from Google Maps.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society, a preservation group, commissioned their own independent traffic study of the bridge project. It predicted that traffic would increase on DC-295, the bridge, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (695 and 395), Pennsylvania Avenue in the neighborhoods on both sides of the river, and in other places, while decreasing on the Beltway and on 295 near Bolling Air Force Base.


Drawing by the author.

At the time, DDOT officials defended the project, saying that even if it increases traffic in DC, it should move some from local streets to the highway. The project's "Purpose and Need," in fact, said a goal was to "reduce the volume of freeway traffic that spills onto the neighborhood streets due to current traffic patterns."

By that yardstick, the project seems to have failed. Residents east of the river say traffic has gotten worse in their neighborhoods. Gary Butler, Justin Lini, and Marie Fritz told Martin Di Caro that more people are driving on 295, creating traffic jams, leading people to try getting off and taking local streets to get around the traffic.

DDOT might double down despite evidence of the danger

DDOT engineer Muhammed Khalid seems to feel that the solution is to keep doing even more of what his agency has already been doing. He confirmed to WAMU that traffic got worse on 295, but said all DDOT has to do is "adjust" the "deficiencies" to "minimize or mitigate" traffic problems. In other words, he wants to do even more road work to move more cars on 295.

That will almost surely only draw even more traffic to 295, making traffic worse somewhere else, and pushing people off the highway again into neighborhoods.

Khalid's comments sound like what you hear from a lot of transportation engineers who learned one way to do things in engineering school and haven't noticed the ways our understanding of traffic have advanced since. Traditional traffic engineering sees wider roads or more interchange ramps as the solution to any traffic problem. Unfortunately, in reality those steps only induce more traffic and make the problem worse.

If DDOT just keeps doing the same thing, the people east of the Anacostia will pay the price in worse air quality and even more traffic.

Politics


Tomorrow's special election candidates talk streetcar, bus lanes, and more

The DC chapter of the Sierra Club asked candidates in tomorrow's Ward 4 and Ward 8 special elections about their stances on transportation issues. The Club heard back from Brandon Todd in Ward 4 and from Eugene Kinlow and LaRuby May in Ward 8.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

The questionnaire, which covered bus lanes, streetcars, parking, and bike trails, was part of the Sierra Club's endorsement process. In total, the Club reached out to one candidate in Ward 4, Todd, and to three in Ward 8—of all the candidates in the mix, that's how many it deemed to be running viable campaigns.

In the Ward 4 race, Brandon Todd's campaign answered "Yes" (but didn't elaborate) to all four of the Club's questions. That means he's in favor of endorsing "parking cash-out" so that employees can choose not to drive to work, creating transit-only travel lanes on key corridors downtown, fully funding DC's 37-mile streetcar plan, and reallocating District resources to complete major off-street trails.

The Kennedy Street Development Association also polled Ward 4 candidates on transportation and smart growth. KSDA's Myles Smith noted:

No candidate supports a Streetcar on Georgia Avenue, though they do support other transit investments: all back $2 billion in funding for the Metro Forward plan. Andrews, Todd, and Toliver support 16th Street bus lanes, adding new bike lanes even at the cost of parking, while Bowser opposed.
Oddly, on the Sierra Club questionnaire, Brandon Todd endorsed the full streetcar network—including… a streetcar on Georgia.

In the Ward 8 race, Eugene Kinlow's campaign answered "Yes" to three of the Club's questions, but "No" regarding the streetcar. "I still have doubts about the benefits of this investment and believe that other transit opportunities such as small area circulators and increased access to affordable biking options may prove more worthwhile for the ward," he said.

LaRuby May's campaign answered "Yes" to the Club's questions about parking cash-out and about bicycle trails. In response to the question about the streetcar, the campaign wrote that May "supports the creation of alternative transportation methods to better address the connectivity issues faced by Ward 8 residents. Whichever method most efficiently gets the people I serve to where they need to go is the one I will support." The campaign also wrote a similar response about bus lanes.

The Club contacted Marion C. Barry's campaign several times but got no response.

Full text of the questionnaire's transportation-related questions:

Subsidies for Parking and Driving: Subsidized employee parking favors commuters from the suburbs who disproportionately drive to work, as compared to DC residents. Employers would retain the authority as to whether, to what degree, and to which employees they provide a parking subsidy, sometimes called parking cash out.

Q: Will you support legislation requiring DC employers that choose to subsidize employee parking to offer an equivalently-valued subsidy to non-driving commuters?

Reallocation of Road Space: The District has limited right-of-way for travel and access. A disproportionate amount of this right-of-way is taken up by lone travelers driving on unrestricted travel lanes and on-street parking, with the result being poorer air quality in the District and less attractive transportation options than if such right-of-way were to be rebalanced.

Q: Will you support DC Department of Transportation creating bus-only travel lanes on 16th, H, and I Streets NW, and placing further streetcar lines in transit-only lanes?

Streetcars: The District has planned for a 37-mile streetcar system, including lines along Georgia Avenue NW and Martin Luther King Avenue SE and Wheeler Road SE, which would put nearly half of DC's population within walking distance of rail transit. Last year, the Council cut funding levels for the streetcar, and the reduced eight-mile network that DDOT has now proposed to put out to bid, as a single construction contract, would serve neither Wards 4 nor 8.

Q: Do you support raising taxes or reallocating funding to restore full funding for the 37-mile streetcar plan?"

Bicycle Trails: The Capital Crescent, mainstream Rock Creek, Oxon Run, and Suitland Parkway bicycle trails are all in need of major repair and maintenance. The Metropolitan Branch and Anacostia Riverwalk are left at various stages of completion.

Q: Will you demand that the DC Department of Transportation allocate the resources and energy to complete the rehabilitation and construction of those trail segments and reallocate resources, even at the expense of other projects, to complete?

The author is a board member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Education


Struggling readers in DC's high schools need help from professional tutors

Many students in DC's high-poverty middle and high schools have reading skills far below their grade level, and they've become disengaged from school as a result. We can get them back on track if we're willing to invest in paid, professional tutors who will work with them intensively.


Photo from Resources for Inner City Children

In Ward 8's three DC Public School middle schools, only about 25% of students read on grade level, and when they leave many are several grade levels below where they should be. The percentage of students reading at grade level in Ward 8's two high schools, Ballou and Anacostia, is even lower, about 17%.

I run an organization that has partnered with DCPS to provide professional, paid tutors to students at Ballou and Anacostia, and about 10% of our freshmen read at the first-grade level or lower.

Currently, struggling readers in DCPS middle and high schools get help in the form of smaller classes, reading circles, and tutoring from fellow students. But from what I've seen, these strategies aren't working.

An expanded volunteer tutor base won't solve the problem

Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced a plan to recruit 500 volunteer tutors to work with male students of color in DC Public Schools. While that may be a worthy effort, it won't address the difficult problem of students reading far below grade level in high school.

For one thing, Bowser is partnering with tutoring organizations that primarily serve elementary school students. Moreover, middle and high school students who are three years or more behind grade level in reading need experienced, professional tutors who can work with them at least three hours a week.

Improvement won't happen overnight, but a student receiving that kind of consistent, intensive tutoring during school hours could be back on track in two years.

My organization, Resources for Inner City Children (RICH), has seen good results: almost all the low readers we have worked with who attended 80% or more of tutoring sessions made significant reading gains for the first time in years. During the four years we partnered with Anacostia High School, approximately 40% of the 90 students we targeted moved up three or more grade levels in reading.

The vast majority who didn't make significant progress were students who simply stopped coming to school regularly because it just became too hard and discouraging. That's why even intensive, professional tutoring isn't enough. We also need a well-coordinated effort by school administrators and social service workers to re-engage students who have become disaffected.

A truant, dyslexic child can't wait for a bureaucratic process that involves mailing letters, making threats, and scheduling meetings. School personnel need to visit students' homes and tell them a tutor is ready to shepherd them along a path that has become too overwhelming for them to navigate alone.

Professional tutors are expensive, but not having them is even more costly

Of course, all this will cost money. Professional tutoring can be expensive. RICH has been able to pay its tutors well below the market rate, $40 an hour, because the individuals we hire feel a sense of mission for helping low-income students. At that rate, three hours of weekly tutoring over the course of a school year adds up to about $4,000 per student.

It's also very possible that the school system would need to pay more than $40 an hour for professional tutors who meet the need.

One way to lower costs would be to tutor students in pairs or even threesomes that are compatible both socially and in terms of ability level. One model that uses a semi-professional tutor corps has found that one-to-two is an ideal tutor-to-student ratio.

But the cost of not addressing this problem is much more daunting. Consider that only 39% of the freshmen entering at Anacostia in 2010 graduated on time. That number only got up to 50% at Ballou. Nationally, over half of African-American males who drop out of high school have prison records by their early thirties.

And at each of those schools, 29% of students qualify for special education. Individuals in that category are disproportionately represented in the prison population.

Recruiting volunteer tutors to work with younger children is a well-meaning, and low-cost, effort. But if we want to solve the most intractable aspects of DC's reading crisis, we'll need to invest in luring our most disconnected older students back to school and providing them with high-quality professional tutoring once they get there.

Cross-posted at DC Eduphile.

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