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Politics


America's most unattainable housing is right by downtown DC. That's a huge problem.

Tuesday is Election Day! In celebration, we're re-running our favorite April Fools post from earlier this year to remind everyone exactly how important it is to go vote! The polls are open until 7:00 in Virginia, and 8:00 in the District and Maryland. Find your polling place here, and Greater Greater Washington's endorsements here. Don't forget to vote!

Five people are currently vying for the chance to occupy the White House this November, but only one will win. This is a classic supply and demand problem, and the solution is simple: Build more housing.


Concept rendering for The Estates At President's Park. Original image by Jeff Prouse.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is an extremely low-density property, with 82 acres housing a population of only 5 people (and a very small amount of office space). Even without adding new buildings, the existing one could become a taller apartment building with plenty of room for the Clintons, Sanderses, Trumps, Cruzes, and Kasichs, even without changes to Washington, DC's federal height limit.

This building is also located in a gated community with large open spaces around it which serve little purpose. They are off-limits to most pedestrian foot traffic and residents of the exclusive community are rarely seen using them either. The Ellipse, just to the south, is largely used as a parking lot. Developing some of these open areas could have provided even more housing.


Significant underutilized land. Photo by US Department of Defense via Wikimedia.

The exclusionary nature of this area has already prevented numerous families from being able to move here. According to news reports, families from Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, Arkansas, California, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and others gave up on their hopes of being able to move here for a better job. The lack of available housing is an clear impediment to labor mobility.

Historic preservationists and other groups may complain about such a move. After all, this house is one of many which tour groups frequently pass by on their tours, and some (but not all) US Presidents lived here, adding to its historic value.

However, Washington has many historic buildings; this one is not as architecturally interesting as the office building next door to the west. The National Park Service, which controls the area, is so under-funded it may have to shut down a bridge which carries 68,000 vehicles a day. NPS needs to prioritize its funds and not waste so much money on a property which few people can enjoy.

Original architect James Hoban actually proposed a larger building, but changed his initial design, supposedly to better reflect the "monumental" nature of Washington, DC. As Kriston Capps put it, it's a "Hoban cut off at the hipbone." "It's a perfect architectural metaphor for the almost-urbanism that characterizes life in Washington," he wrote.

Candidates react to the idea

Reached on his corporate jet, Donald Trump said, "I think it's terrific. I can make a great deal to build this and I'm working with the GSA on the hotel down the street which will open early and will be the best hotel in all of DC. I'm good at building things. I'm the best. I have built so many things. Good things, you know, really good things. I know how to build. I have the skills, the best skills. And I can get this done. And I have great taste in furniture, the best taste. We'll increase the quality of the finishes substantially, marble finishes, very, very high quality of luxury marble, the most luxurious marble you've ever seen. Just phenomenal luxury."

Based on the District's inclusionary zoning ordinance, the new White House will be required to include one affordable dwelling unit, which will likely go to Marco Rubio.

In a press release, Hillary Clinton's campaign manager said they'd worked out an agreement to use the basement to build an ultra-secure server room inaccessible to the House of Representatives.

Reached on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, Ted Cruz expressed his opposition to the proposal. "I'm an outsider. I don't need a building to live inside."

The Burlington, Vermont headquarters of Bernie Sanders' campaign sent this statement: "This is why we need to break up the big banks and make sure everyday Americans benefit instead of just Wall Street and big corporations."

While many are excited about the 1600 Penn project's increased density, others have expressed concern that this is simply another situation where developers will trigger displacement of another black family from a neighborhood with an overwhelming percentage of African-American residents according to the 2010 Census.

Still, this neighborhood is very close to ample parks, stores, jobs, and transportation, including multiple Metro stations. The low quantity of housing is a clear public policy failure. Let's end the Lafayette Square housing crisis immediately.

Links


National links: Haunting housing

Costumes are one thing, but buildings can be scary too! Also, a look at how we can use design to make life better for everyone, not just some pople, and a question about whether self-driving cars will actually lead to less car ownership. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Casey Hugelfink on Flickr.

Buildings of fear: Gory costumes make for good Halloween fright, but what about architecture and city design? Here's a list of eight movies where the featured buildings and urban design will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Got any scary building stories yourself? Share them in the comments! (Fast Company Design)

Social justice in design: In much of the US, wealthy neighborhoods have been getting infrastructure upgrades like plazas and bike lanes while areas with less economic and political power still need sidewalks and basic safety features. How can we make our investments more equitable? Partly by understanding the different needs of different riders, but also by advocating for others. (Momentum Magazine)

Which road does the future take?: In the future, will people ditch their own cars and share vehicles, or will individual ownership continue to be the norm? Having the former would mean convincing people to forego the most immediately appealing option, which is a tall order. (Transport Politic)

That sinking feeling: San Francisco's Millennium Tower is sinking, but the reason why isn't so clear. Some residents blame the construction of the Transbay Terminal, which is next door, but others wonder why the tower only went up on a concrete foundation rather than going into bedrock. After all, this is earthquake country. (San Francisco Magazine)

First transit, then higher prices? Since the Green Line light rail recently started running between Minneapolis and St. Paul, real estate prices along the corridor have slowly gone up. One bedroom apartments that used to rent for $550 per month now cost over $800. This isn't the neighborhood's first go-round with transportation infrastructure being related to displacement, and while affordable housing is going up, it doesn't seem like it will be enough to stem the tide. (Pioneer Press)

Quote of the Week

University of Southern California urban planning professor Lisa Schweitzer sharing her thoughts on how nobody is doing enough to make climate a priority in land use policy:

"Ever notice that you don't generally see big developers necessarily advocating for broad land use changes, despite being packed on many a city council and zoning board? Instead, they seek variances for their own individual projects. That's because they, too, get a nice rent boost from the constrained housing supply when their projects luck into variances and other developers are kept out."

Roads


If car commercials were honest, this is what they'd look like

A sporty coupe glides joyfully along a seaside highway, all by itself. It's heaven for the anonymous driver. That's the standard, ridiculous car commercial.

This video shows what car commercials would look like if they were actually honest.

We initially ran this post last year, but we wanted to share it again! It's also cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


This is the best route for checking out DC's breweries

It's DC beer week, an annual event that celebrates local brewers, who add to the region's character and economy. There are ten brewers in DC plus one that's just across the border in Silver Spring. To see them all, I created what I'm calling the Washington Beer Trail.


Map by the author.

These are the breweries on the trail, which I selected by narrowing down Kate Rabinowitz's dataset of over 70 breweries and brewpubs around DC:

  1. Capitol City Brewing Company (1100 New York Avenue NW)

  2. District Chophouse & Brewery (509 7th Street NW)

  3. Bluejacket (300 Tingey Street SE)

  4. Bardo (1200 Bladensburg Road NE)

  5. Atlas Brew Works (2052 West Virginia Avenue NE)

  6. DC Brau Brewing (3178B Bladensburg Road NE)

  7. The Public Option (1601 Rhode Island Avenue NE)

  8. Right Proper Brewing Company (920 Girard Street NE)

  9. Hellbender (5788 2nd Street NE)

  10. Three Star Brewing (6400 Chillum Place NW)

  11. Denizens Brewing Company (1115 East-West Highway)

The inspiration for the beer trail comes from Dr. Randy Olson. Dr. Olson has gained notoriety for using genetic algorithms to compute the fastest road trips across the United States and Europe. While genetic algorithms are less necessary when you're mapping out 11 locations in a relatively small place, they're quite fascinating when you're thinking about, say, a road trip that spans a whole continent.

If seeing eleven brewers in a single day is not for you, or if you'd prefer to walk or bike between locations, a truncated version of the beer trail is also possible: Start at Bardo (#4), continue on to Atlas Brew Works (#5), skip DC Brau if navigating New York Avenue on bike isn't for you, next hit the The Public Option (#7), and finish at Right Proper Brewing Company (#8).

If you're hungry by the end, grab some fantastic Neapolitan pizza at Menomale at 12th and Franklin NE before you get to Right Proper.

All of these establishments are open on Saturday, and most stay open as late as 9 or 10 pm. Hellbender and Three Star, however, close much earlier at 7 and 5 pm, respectively. Plan accordingly.

Did I miss a brewery or your favorite brewpub? Should beer gardens and notable beer bars be included next year? Let me hear about it in the comments below.

The code and data I used to create the beer trail can be found on my Github.

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.

Fun


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.")

Transit


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.)

Politics


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.

Pedestrians


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.

Transit


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.

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