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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.


There's a word for that

On a recent post about short bike lanes near intersections, a discussion started up about whether we should use a technical term or simpler ones. To help you learn some transportation lingo, here are some recently-discovered, never-published verses to the Barenaked Ladies' children's song, A Word for That. Listen below first, then read along:

There's a word for that
But I can't quite recall
When cars wait at a corner and I go around them all
The word for that
Some drivers are annoyed
But others say it's safe and isn't something to avoid

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(The word you are looking for is "filtering.")

There's a word for that
It sure is aggravating
To not remember what's the term for how long I am waiting
The word for that
In sun or snow or rain
How far apart arrivals are for any bus or train

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Do you mean "headways"?)

There's a word for that
It's different every day
Sometimes I walk or ride a bus or go another way
The word for that
When traffic engineers
Ensure the road is safe no matter what your type of gears

There's a word for that
What does it start with?
The word for that
I'd sound so smart if I only knew
The word for that
Perhaps you do

(Are you nuts, it's "multimodal.")


Can you guess these Metro station names from their emoji?

Here are the names of 14 Metro stations written in emoji. Can you guess each one?

Michael Schade created this quiz to kick off the recent Metro Hack Night, where coders from around the region showed off fun and useful projects they'd done to integrate with Metro's publicly available data or otherwise aid riders.

How many can you get?

(Note: This question uses a combination of new and old names for this station.)

Can you come up with some other Metro station emoji of your own?

Also, I'm excited to announce that on our new site, we will replace the map reading spam detector with emoji quizzes. (Kidding.)


Silverman, White, Gray, and White can form a paint caucus on the next DC Council

Tuesday night, three incumbents lost their primaries for re-election to the DC Council: Robert White beat Vincent Orange at large, Vincent Gray unseated Yvette Alexander in Ward 7, and Trayon White took out LaRuby May in Ward 8. Many observers noticed that there's something similar about all of their last names: They're (achromatic) hues.

We supported Robert White and Gray, and from a policy standpoint, this election means a big step up for the quality of the DC Council. White and Gray will likely cast many better votes than Orange or Alexander would, and write better quality, better thought through legislation as well.

But putting all of the serious stuff aside for a moment, after each election recently I've made a graph of the number of elected officials whose names are also on the Photoshop palette.

While Orange, the most colorful sitting member (literally) lost, the three new ones bring the total up to four, the all-time high last achieved in 2011. That's the three victorious challengers plus Elissa Silverman, who came onto the council two years ago.

(Note that these folks haven't technically won election; they all are on the ballot in November. But in overwhelmingly Democratic DC, a Democrat is virtually assured of winning the general election.)

This chart excludes Carol Schwartz, whose name derives from the German word "schwarz," meaning black. She was on the council from 1985-1989 and again from 1997 to 2009, when Michael Brown defeated her for a non-Democratic at-large seat.

Are there any more Quentin Tarantino characters waiting in the wings for 2018? There's often speculation about a comeback for Kwame Brown or Michael Brown (which, let me say, would be a terrible idea). Orange also could seek another seat in the future; it wouldn't be the first time he left the council and then returned.


Why long waits to cross the street might be good for humanity

We've often criticized "beg buttons," those buttons you have to push (and then wait) before being able to cross a street. But maybe civilization depends on them?

Photo by Dylan Passmore on Flickr.

Beg buttons, by their very nature, put people on foot at a lower level of priority than people driving. The drivers get a green light at set times whether they're there or not, but people walking don't.

Many force pedestrians to wait much longer than otherwise necessary, as Tony Goodman wrote about 10th Street and Maryland Avenue NE in DC:

If someone presses the button during a green light, they have to wait for the light to turn red and then green again to get a walk signal, despite the fact that the sensor will extend the green time if more cars show up during the cycle.

But now, Ben Hamilton-Baillie has uncovered some archaeological records that show that perhaps we should thank beg buttons for our very society:

So thanks for those long waits, for those traditionally-minded traffic engineers out there! Also, thanks to Ben Hamilton-Baillie for the revelations and for permission to repost this cartoon.


Five trains, 20 buses, one awesome transit nerd poster

Between rail, bus, and now the streetcar, there are quite a few ways to get around our region by transit. I made an illustration of the vehicles our extensive network uses. Can you identify all of them? The answers are after the jump!

Here's a zoomed-in and labeled look at all the vehicles I included.

I have also created similar designs for other cities including Toronto, the Bay Area, and more. You can order a print or mug with these designs here.

Public Spaces

There's a "Washington" neighborhood in Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy's second largest city, has a neighborhood named "Washington." Its main street: Via Giorgio Washington.

Washington, Milan. Map by Google.

Washington Quartieri is about a mile from the center of Milan, outside its historic Renaissance core but very much in the midst of town. It looks like this:

Via Giorgio Washington. Photo by Google.

Milan isn't the only European city to honor Washington. At least one other, Paris, has a short Washington street near Champs-Élysées.

Both Milan's Via Giorgio Washington and Paris' Rue Washington are more likely named for George Washington himself than for our fair District of Columbia. But still, it's interesting to look at a map of a European city and see "Washington" in bold letters.

What other foreign cities have streets or neighborhoods named Washington?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Local (and federal) governments want you to go sledding!

For the first time in recent years, government officials are actually encouraging (or at least tacitly allowing) area residents to have some winter fun on hills that were previously off limits to unsanctioned sledding.

Photo by Stephanie Clifford on Flickr.

Last year, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton slipped a rider into the federal Omnibus Budget that overturned the 140 year-old ban on sledding on the West Lawn—other activities like throwing Frisbees, to our staff editor's chagrin, remain banned.

Local officials are also trying to bring some semblance of reason to sledding in the region: Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson recently released a list of sanctioned sledding hills in all parts of the county.

Here is a list of sledding hills across the region. Some are sanctioned, others... not so much.

Government officials have long been accused of not letting "kids be kids" and letting liability concerns keep residents from sledding on a number of the area's totally great hills. It came to a head in 2015, when US Capitol Police vigorously enforced a longstanding ban on sledding on Capitol Hill, ending in an odd detente between families with small children and heavily armed officers.

Similar stories were playing out all across the region on local levels, sledders being chased away out of safety or liability concerns, or being worried about property damage (think golf courses).

It's worth noting that these concerns aren't always unfounded, as a local child was severely injured last year while sledding. But strict rules put local authorities in the difficult position of enforcing bans, when many hills were safe in most circumstances.

Sledding is great for communities

Lots of people in more spread out places joke that they only meet their neighbors during snowstorms and power outages, when everyone is outside with a common cause. Shared use recreation, particularly during a time when most residents are home, is a fantastic way to build community and promote neighborhood cohesion in general. Some neighborhoods across the area even close certain streets in snowstorms to allow children to safely sled on them.

From a government policy perspective, this is a "quick win" that provides a tangible benefit at little cost.

"Sometimes it takes so long and it is so hard to get things done or change a policy, so it feels great to be able to do something like this that doesn't require years of study and analysis or figuring out where to find the budget," said Anderson. "I want to make sure everyone knows that we are working to maximize access to parks wherever and whenever we can. In some cases we can't allow access, but I want to look for ways to say yes, not for reasons to keep people out."

This weekend, enjoy those sledding hills, and make a point of getting to know your neighbors while you're out there! You'd be surprised at when that will come in handy.

Feel free to list your favorite sledding spots the comments!


How well do you know your WAMU reporters? It's whichWMArtin week 1

Which WAMU reporter named Martin is this a picture of?

#WhichWMArtin? Photo by Edward Kimmel.

From the beginning, I've loved Matt Johnson's WhichWMATA series. But when did I know it was a hit?

When WAMU transportation reporter Martin Di Caro began trolling us on Twitter.

I've always found it funny. But according to Di Caro's co-workers at WAMU, he doesn't know when to end a joke. They documented his persistence, and it has me laughing just as much:

Thanks for the laughs, Martin! You'll have to be our guest quizmaster one of these days.


NoMa has a new, transportation-themed restaurant

A new NoMa restaurant celebrates transportation, from drinks named for train travel to multimodal options for getting there.

Inside Union Social, you'll find a list of all the cities with a Union Station. All images by the author.

Union Social sits at the base of Elevation at Washington Gateway, a new mixed-use development across Florida Avenue NE from the NoMa Metro station. Elevation opened in late 2014 with 400 units on 14 floors, and Union Social opened in October.

The property abuts the Metropolitan Branch Trail and parallels the rail tracks that run toward Union Station, just one Metro stop away.

Union Social's interior design reflects its transit-oriented environment. A chalkboard names all the cities with a Union Station and a traffic light adorns the wall. A familiar M denotes the men's restroom, and it's inverted on the women's room door. Green and yellow lines snake along the restroom walls.

The drink menu honors transit, too

Union Social did extensive historical research to conceive its cocktail menu, steeped in allusions to trains and their mid-century glory days.

The Redline is a tequila sour with Fresno pink peppercorn and a red line of Angostura bitters atop meringue.

The Third Rail is a gin fizz with both literal and symbolic meaning. It refers to the electrified third rail that carries voltage and powers a train. This being DC, the cocktail also denotes the "third rail of politics" and its implied dangers. The drink gets color from blueberries and bubbles from "charged water," yesteryear's name for club soda.

A Third Rail.

The Angel's Seat is a whiskey smash with Angel's Envy bourbon, citrus and rosemary garnish. In the rail world, the angel's seat is raised observation seating in a caboose.

An Angel's Seat.

The Gandy Dancer is a champagne fizz modeled after the French 75, but made with vodka. Traditionally, a gandy dancer is an early 1900s railroad construction worker who laid tracks manually.

If you order a spirit plus soda or just a soft drink, you'll get a retro eight-ounce glass bottle. Beer comes only from the tap, like it did during the heyday of train travel in the mid 1900s.

Happy hour at Union Social brings the bygone train-centered lifestyle into modernity. A bustling, cosmopolitan vibe pervades the glassy space. Evoking the train café cars, two bars bookend the rectangular dining room. The dining room is laid out like a standard Amtrak car, with a row of tables on each side and a center passageway. On any given night, a private party might enliven the second bar down at the far end.

Union Social is a marker of NoMa's rapid expansion

In developing Union Social, owner Reese Gardner set out to recreate the historic role and atmosphere of the train station. "It was the hub where people socialized in the 1940s and '50s," said Gardner. "The best bars and food were at the train station because so many people were passing through or waiting for trains."

Today, NoMa is considered a textbook example of successful transit-oriented development. Since the NoMa Metro station opened in 2004 as DC's first infill station, NoMa has seen exponential growth, and national and international officials tour the area to study its development.

Partying in the house that transit built, Union Social patrons prove the development theories true. NoMa resident Rocio Acevedo Medlin has eyewitnessed the neighborhood's transformation and planted her flag at Union Social, visiting regularly from the day it opened.

"It's really different from anything else in NoMa," said Acevedo Medlin, who has frequented the area since 2000. "It's the kind of place you keep coming back to because it just feels good. You can be inside or out on the sidewalk and you see other people through the glass. It's not like it's walled off from the rest of the neighborhood. Everything about it is open and inviting."

NoMa Business Improvement District President Robin-Eve Jasper puts the new restaurant in context. "Union Social and all of NoMa is an amazing demonstration that a great development plan can truly have extraordinary impact," said Jasper.

While NoMa's growth was methodically charted, some elements weren't in the initial blueprints. Case in point: restaurants, which weren't on the drawing board.

"The original thought was not mixed use, so there was no forethought to build space for restaurants," said Jasper. "The Elevation building was the first with a restaurant. Now all upcoming residential buildings will have restaurant space."

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