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Posts about Maps

Development


What's wrong with this map of DC's social services?

This map shows where DC's halfway houses, drug treatment centers, and mental health facilities are. What's wrong with this picture?


Map from DC's Office of Planning.

In 2006, DC's Office of Planning published this map of group homes in the city,grouping them into five types: halfway homes and facilities for community residence, mental health, substance abuse and youth rehab.

The easiest, clearest takeaway: most of these places are east of Rock Creek Park. The map may be 10 years old, but that's just evidence that neighborhoods in that part of the District have historically opted out of helping to solve the city's broader problems.

We actually came across the map while reviewing DC's Comp Plan. Let's hope the re-write of the plan, which which the Office of Planning will start next year, results in maps that show more people doing their part to make this a better region for everyone.

Transit


If Metrobus asked me to redesign its info brochures, I'd make them look like this

I've lived in DC and used Metrobus here for 14 years. I'm also a designer, and I have a few ideas about how to make the bus timetable brochures clearer for people using them to understand the system.


Metrobus brochures could included a map like this to give riders a sense of where they are even if they've never heard of the specific places.

Some of the brochures' most important information, like where bus lines run and which bus stops have Metrorail stations nearby, isn't shown at all. And if you aren't familiar with the bus line numbers or street names, you won't have the context you need.


Mockup from the author based on the original Metrobus brochure.

While many people have smartphones to get their information in other ways or know what apps to download, visitors to the city often don't. And many low income travelers either don't have a smart phone nor money for data plans.

Here's my new design:

I designed a new brochure that I think would help readers know where they are even if they don't understand the geography of the District.


Redesigned Metrobus brochure by the author.

In short, I think Metrobus brochures should give users a visual understanding of where they are rather than assume riders know street or neighborhood names and that they should provide further information on how they can connect with Metrorail.

Do you see any other ways to make my new brochure better? If you have ideas, post them in the comments!

Development


Help us map out DC's vacant buildings

DC doesn't have an accurate count of how many vacant buildings it has, which means lots of missed opportunities for more tax revenue or new housing. We've created a map of the vacants the city knows about. Tell us about the ones that are missing, and we'll send the full list to the DC Council before it votes on a law to fix the counting problem.


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

We've written about problems with DC's system of accounting for vacant buildings and enforcing the regulations aimed at them a couple times over the past few months. It's a mess of loopholes where owners can skirt detection and penalties by doing things like applying for work permits but not doing any actual work for years.

In a place like DC, where space for new housing is at such a premium, this is infuriating.

DC's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs publishes lists every year showing which properties it has officially designated vacant and blighted (which means a building is a threat to health and safety). When a building goes on the list, its owner has to pay higher tax rates of 5% for vacant buildings and 10% for blighted.

While the agency's count is far from complete (which is a significant part of the problem), we thought we'd start by mapping out what it has provided:

Map by Thad Kerosky (@thadk).

Remember, these are not "For Lease" buildings, vacant lots, or buildings under construction. These are buildings that 1) have no occupants, and 2) have an owner who is not actively pursuing construction or new tenants.

DCRA most often investigates a building after receiving a report from a neighbor or agency, though many people will tell you they have filed reports repeatedly with little reaction from the agency.

Get out your red pens... we can correct this!

On Thursday, July 14th, the DC Council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs is having a hearing on a series of bills that would fix many of the problems with DCRA's current system. Greater Greater Washington would love to submit testimony in support of that legislation, but we need your help.

If you know of or suspect a vacant building nearby, use the search function above to see if DCRA has already classified it as such. If it hasn't, fill out the form below and help us collect further evidence that this system needs fixing.



Bicycling


Capital Bikeshare members ride here, bike lanes or not

Over half of the miles that Capital Bikeshare members ride are on streets without any sort of bike lanes. This map shows you which of those streets are the most popular:


Heat map of where Cabi members ride when there aren't bike lanes. Image from Mobility Lab.

Jon Wergin, of Arlington's Mobility Lab, put together the map after checking out data from GPS trackers on a number of CaBi Bikes, which showed what specific routes riders actually took between taking and returning a bike.

Wergin then separated data from riders who were regular CaBi members and those who were casual, less frequent users. Wergin's map focuses on the regular users, as the more casual ones overwhelmingly stuck to off-road paths close to the Mall and Monuments.

Only about 10% of DC's roadways have some sort of cycling infrastructure, but those routes still got about 1/3 of the bike traffic from regular CaBi members. Even more frequently, though, regular riders took the most direct route possible, which is why the long state avenues seem to have some of heaviest usage. Thick bands dominate Massachussetts, Florida, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania Avenues. M Street in Georgetown, K street near NOMA, and 14th in Columbia Heights also see heavy usage.

Some of these streets are due for new bike infrastructure in the next few years. Louisiana Avenue is slated for protected lanes that would connect existing protected lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street NE, and new bike lanes might also go in west of the White House.

But plans for Massachussetts and Florida Avenues are more vague. This map shows that DDOT may want to think about more specific plans for these and other roads since they're proving popular with cyclists, even without bike lanes.

What do you notice about the map? Tell us in the comments.

Transit


Maps of late night bus service are nice, but effective late night bus service would be even better

With Metro's weekend service now stopping at midnight, many will turn to buses for their late night transportation. PlanItMetro recent posted maps of all the bus service that's available in our region after midnight. They're a great step toward giving riders the information they need, but they also highlight some of the ways our night bus network falls short.


Our region's bus service between midnight and 1 am. Maps from WMATA.

There are three maps in all: One showing service from midnight to 1 am, one from 1 to 2 am, and one from 2 to 3. On top of Metrobus, the maps show routes offered by Arlington's ART, Montgomery County's Ride On, the DC Circulator, and the Fairfax Connector.

How thick a route is on the map indicates how long the wait between buses should be, with the thickest lines meaning the headway should be less than 20 minutes.


Service between 1 and 2 am.

PlanItMetro notes that the maps are missing some existing routes, like the Z8, which is a major line in Montgomery County; the maps should be updated soon. The maps also include some routes with such low frequency (once an hour or less) that it's debatable whether they're useful at all.

Most importantly, though, there's very little late night service after 1 am aside from what WMATA offers (other than some Fairfax Connector service), and most of that is designed to feed into or out of the Metro system—which isn't running past 12 anymore.


Service between 2 and 3 am.

Two of the most frequent routes between 2 and 3 AM (running every half hour) are the 16E and 82. However, the 16E is completely unconnected to DC, running only from Metro stations in Alexandria and Arlington west to Annandale. When the Metro is shut down, this route is a lot less useful—though at least it does connect with some other bus routes.

Even worse is the 82: it runs between Rhode Island Avenue Metro station and Mount Rainier, but without the Metro there is no way to reach this route via transit.

Compiling these routes is an important first step toward providing solid late night bus service, and it highlights where the network could get a lot better. Hopefully the maps can be improved, made more user-friendly, and placed on the WMATA website for riders to access them more easily.

And ideally, we can then start to take concrete steps to fill in the significant gaps in the area's night bus network.

Bicycling


Use this map to make Fairfax more bike-friendly

Little River Turnpike, a major road that runs across Fairfax, is difficult to bike along. The county is looking to change that, though, and a new interactive map lets you make suggestions for how it can.


Click this map for a version that you can comment on. Image from Fairfax County.

Stretching from Fairfax City to Alexandria, Little River Turnpike has been a major road since the 1800s and its interchanges with both 495 and 395 mean the road sees a lot of traffic today.

Right now, there are no bike lanes on Little River Turnpike, and sidewalks are hit and miss. Fairfax wants to make it easy to bike between the many neighborhoods and businesses up and down the road.


Riding a bike here could be a whole lot easier. Image from Google Maps.

While there is a master bike plan for Fairfax, some of its roads need a more detailed and focused approach. Little River Turnpike is one of them (the county has deemed it a "policy road"), so planners in Fairfax are conducting the Little River Turnpike Bicycle Study to determine the best way to improve bike riding options there. They're starting with the interactive map above.

One challenge for bike projects along the road is a narrow right of way, which means there isn't much space for bike lanes (and it'd be expensive for the county to buy the space). Also, there some places along the road do have ample space for a stretch, but then it ends abruptly.

The hope with the map is that planners will be able to identify quick fixes in some of the road's trouble spots. The entire study could lead to broader-sweeping changes, but those would be further down the line.

This isn't the only bicycle project coming to Annandale. A number of bike lanes will go in when Ravensworth Road, Guinea Road, John Marr Drive, and Heritage Drive get repaved this summer (all of these roads connect to or run near Little River Turnpike).

Fairfax did this last year as well, when it used an interactive map to crowdsource ideas for bike projects across the county.

Retail


These storefront maps show which parts of US cities are most lively

These maps show nearly every retail storefront in central DC compared to those in New York, Detroit, and other cities. Since retail streets are usually the most lively streets in a city, the maps offer a nice proxy illustration of urban vitality.


Storefronts in DC, New York, and Detroit. Image by City Observatory.

These maps are from City Observatory's Storefront Index report, and are part of a series of 51 such maps of the largest US metro areas.

In general, the more red dots you see in a small area, the more lively that part of town will be. More stores, after all, mean more destinations for people to visit.

Here's the DC map in greater detail:


Image by City Observatory.

You can easily see retail streets like U Street and H Street, and bigger clusters like Georgetown and Dupont Circle. On the other hand, primarily residential neighborhoods are mostly blank.

Unfortunately the data clearly isn't perfect: The retail complex in Columbia Heights seems to be missing, as are the giant gift shops in the Smithsonian museums, and some neighborhood corner stores.

Still, the maps are an instructive illustration of urban vitality in general. You can see patterns here, and those patterns are real.

Zooming out to the regional scale, downtown areas outside the District like Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Alexandria become prominent.


Bethesda and Silver Spring are the clusters at the top. Alexandria is at the bottom. Image by City Observatory.

Compared to other US cities, DC looks decently lively. The country's dense, transit-oriented cities like San Franicsco and Boston fare well (New York is a crazy outlier), while economically disadvantaged cities like Detroit and sparser more suburban-style ones like Raleigh show fewer stores, indicating less urban liveliness.

Of course, retail storefronts are a simplistic way to look at this. New York's streets have a lot of stores because New York is tremendously dense, so there are lots of customers to support them. On the other hand Tysons Corner has a lot of stores because it's a big suburban mall that people drive to from miles around.

Even suburban malls offer a sort of liveliness, however. So while these maps may say little about walkability, they are a good proxy for liveliness.

History


Check out this DC bike map from 1896

Did you know our region had bike lanes all the way back in 1896? This map shows the best way to get around DC and parts of Maryland and Virginia on two wheels before the start of the 20th Century.


Image from the DC Public Library.

The map is one of 70 that the DC Public Library recently added to its Dig DC collection.

These newly available maps are part of DCPL's ongoing effort to digitize the Washingtonia Map Collection, which includes material from various sources dating back to 1612. So far, the collection on Dig DC includes maps from 1768 through 1900.


Image from the DC Public Library.

According to the note above, the direction and frequency of triangles along paths indicates the slope and incline of hills. If topography is your top concern, this map could still be helpful in choosing your best route: The gentle decline of Bladensburg Road as you travel southward into the city could certainly offset traffic considerations.

It's also interesting to note that certain roads—7th St. NW, Connecticut Ave. NW, Pennsylvania Ave. SE, among others—are as preferable now as they were then. One detail begs the question: was Virginia Avenue SW/SE once a preferred bike route?

What else about this map do you notice?

Sustainability


See how much more land is paved now than in 1984

In 2010, there was much more pavement covering more of the region than 26 years earlier. These images from the University of Maryland, highlighted by NASA's Earth Observatory blog, show the change.

The region has grown, in population and in economic activity, and some new impervious surface is a consequence of that. However, the region can grow in ways that minimize impervious surface, by building larger buildings in the core and transit-oriented development around Metro stations. Or it can grow in more environmentally destructive ways, through sprawl.

Some of this new impervious surface reflects already urban places getting denser. That's a good thing; by adding a little impervious surface in Arlington or along Connecticut Avenue, for example, the region saves a greater amount from being built outside the Beltway.

But much of this new surface isn't responsible development. The NASA post points this out, saying,

In addition to the widening of the Beltway, notice how pavement has proliferated in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia and Prince George's and Montgomery counties in Maryland. The District of Columbia was already densely developed in 1984, so the changes there are less noticeable.

The map also doesn't even zoom far enough out to show places like Frederick, Howard, Prince William, Fauquier, and Stafford counties, where the change is even more dramatic, and where even less of the new pavement is in places that are walkable or oriented to transit.

This is an effect of "height-itis"

Week after week, local boards in many jurisdictions make decisions, like taking housing away from the Georgetown Day School project in Tenleytown, which remove a little potential housing in the core. Those choices don't keep even one square foot of land unpaved (and even if they did, it wouldn't be worth the tradeoff), but they do push a little more growth out to where it affects maps like this.

Our region can protect natural resources, but not until people are willing to make them a priority. Until then, this trend will continue.

Government


Had Maryland annexed Virginia, here's what demographics would look like

Had an 1861 proposal come to fruition, much of Virginia would have become Maryland, much of Maryland would have become Delaware, and West Virginia would have simply remained Virginia. Here's what their demographics would look like today if all that had happened, and a look at what that might have meant for the 2012 presidential election.

First, a look at these states' boundaries today:


Images by the author.

This includes the population totals and some demographic information from the 2010 Census, as well as the electoral votes allocated based on that census.

What's below shows the "new" states, along with the current state boundaries.

With a population of over 11 million, New Maryland would be the 8th most populous state in the 2010 Census. Despite having a couple of hundred thousand less people than #7 Ohio, it would have the same 18 electoral votes as the Buckeye State. New Delaware's extra population would add an electoral vote to what Delaware has, and New Virginia would have two more electoral votes than West Virginia.

Even if the 23rd Amendment didn't limit DC (and presumably New DC!) to no more electors than the least population state, the almost-million residents in New DC would not be enough to get it an additional elector.

When it comes to race, Delaware and New Delaware (as well as West Virginia and New Virginia) have very similar compositions, and New Maryland's numbers are similar to Maryland. Clearly, Virginia's eastern population is racially similar to Maryland. With the addition of Arlington and Alexandria, New DC's racial population percentages are almost exactly swapped. (Although not shown here, New DC's Hispanic population would be double that of DC.)

Here's how I made the new map

I used current county/city jurisdictional boundaries when creating the new states. While these boundaries may be different from those in 1861, the general analysis presented here would be relatively unaffected. (The most noticeable boundary difference would be modern Alexandria, which has expanded beyond the original DC "diamond.")

The post that inspired mine states that the Blue Ridge Mountains would be the boundary between New Virginia and New Maryland. I georeferenced the 1861 map onto a current and geographically accurate map to determine which current jurisdictions would fall into each state.

Alexandria and Arlington would return (or "be retro-retroceded"??) to New DC. New Delaware would inherit all of the Delmarva Peninsula. And, the three counties in the panhandle of Maryland would move to New Virginia.

I re-calculated the electoral votes for each "new" state based on the populations shown in the second image (and assuming there are only 49 states since West Virginia is no more). Overall, the proposed multi-state area would lose two electoral votes, as there is one fewer state in the calculation.

2012 election would have been different, but not that different

I also decided to take a look at how the reconfiguration of the region may have impacted a recent election. The image below shows the 2012 election results (by county/city), along with the aggregated totals (and electoral votes) of the new states.

In the actual election, Obama took 29 electoral votes in the region and Romney took West Virginia's five votes. Under the new configuration, Obama would have received 25 electoral votes while Romney would have garnered New Virginia's 7 votes.

This very brief analysis doesn't show any earth-shattering differences between the current state configuration and the proposed one. It doesn't touch on economic issues like Gross State Product, employment, personal net worth, salaries, etc. Redrawing state boundaries would not have changed the result of the 2012 election, but can you think of an election where it might have made a difference?

Another point of interest: An overwhelming majority of Metro stations would be in New DC, so would New DC even bother trying to participate a multi-jurisdictional hydrid commuter-subway system like Metro, or would it have just decided to create a District-only system and had New Maryland feed commuters into the Metro via a New Maryland MARC?

What else do you think could be different, for better or worse, if these were our state borders?

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