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

Posts about Maps

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?

Public Spaces


This map shows a very different East Capitol Street

In the 1940s, there was a proposal to make East Capitol Street into a wide, monumental avenue. This map shows what it would look like, and provides some other glimpses into what DC was like at the time.


1941 NCPC Plan for East Capitol Street. Image from Library of Congress.

I spotted the map in a recent Washington Post story about cartographer Pat Easton painting it on his dining room wall via a projector. I took one glance and saw how different the DC it depicts is from how DC looks today.

Today, East Capitol Street is a typical Capitol Hill street: It isn't very wide, and most of the buildings along the street are small. The map shows an East Capitol that looks like the National Mall continuing east past the Capitol building and stretching to the Anacostia River.

It turns out the map was drawn up by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission (NCPC) in 1941. It details proposals that would have incorporated much of the land between Constitution Avenue NE and Independence Avenue SE into new space for federal and District government buildings. The Library of Congress has a copy of the map on their website, where you can zoom in and see many of the details.

One of the most notable things is how many of the (now historic) buildings along East Capitol Street today would have been razed to make room for wider streets and office buildings. The corners of Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill would have been rounded off to make the space shaped more like an oval, and Independence and Constitution Avenues would have been widened to include some freeway-like sections along with tunnels underneath the Capitol Building itself. That would have meant that the roads stayed very wide for their entire length across the city.

Had all of this this happened, East Capitol would probably look similar to today's Independence Avenue SW near the USDA Complex.


East Capitol Street (top) today compared with Independence Avenue SW (bottom). Images from Google Streetview.

The map has lots of signs of the times

Other details I notice are that there is a stadium near where RFK stadium sits today, along with other athletic facilities, including tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool.

There's also no bridge across the Anacostia River. Instead, Consitution and Independence Avenues both veer off the map, traveling along the Anacostia's western shore. That's obviously different from today, as we now have the Whitney Young Memorial Bridge.

It also looks like there where plans for a new railroad bridge and tunnel that would cross the Anacostia closer to today's RFK site and, presumably, link up with the current right of way near L'Enfant Plaza.

And of course, since this map was drawn in 1941, there are no interstate highways cutting through the southwest and southeast quadrants of the city, and Constitution Avenue dead ends at the Potomac rather than leading to today's Roosevelt Bridge.

What do you notice in the map? What do you think of some of these ideas? Let us know in the comments.

History


In 1861 Maryland almost annexed Virginia

This amazing map from 1861 shows a federal government proposal to redraw the borders of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and DC. The reason: To spite Virginia for the Civil War and better-protect the capital from attack.


1861 proposal to redraw the borders of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and DC. Image by Harper's Weekly.

The map is from an 1861 edition of Harper's Weekly, and is based on an idea from federal Secretary of War Simon Cameron. Here's how Harper's Weekly described the idea:

This arrangement would reduce the size of the State of Virginia at least one-half, leaving the name of Virginia to that part only which is now mainly loyal.

The disloyal section, comprising all the great cities of Virginia—Richmond, Norfolk, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, etc.—and all the sea-coast, would be annexed to Maryland, while Delaware would rise, by spreading over the whole peninsula between the Chesapeake and the ocean, to be a State of considerable magnitude.

Under this reconstruction Maryland would become one of the three great States of the Union. We need hardly direct attention to the clause in the Secretary's report which hints that emancipation in Maryland must be the price paid for this acquisition of territory.

Alexandria and Arlington would have returned to DC, which would have remained independent of any state.

When Cameron came up with his idea, the Civil War was less than a year old. The western more rural portions of Virginia had hoped to remain in the Union, while the more urban eastern portions had voted overwhelmingly to secede. In theory, this proposal therefore would have accomplished several goals. It would have:

1. Separated off the loyalist western parts of Virginia, allowing them to be reintroduced to the Union as a northern state.

2. Punished eastern Virginia, the intellectual and economic heart of the Confederacy, by taking away its independence as a state.

3. Rewarded Maryland and Delaware for remaining in the Union.

4. Protected Washington from having a hostile territory directly across the Potomac.

It's not as crazy as it seems

In 1861, as Cameron was making this proposal, West Virginia was already in the process of splitting off from Virginia to become its own state. How exactly to draw its borders and what to call it was a perfectly reasonable question.

The most doubtful part of this idea is the notion that new-and-bigger Maryland would be a safe northern state. Although Maryland never seceded, it was a slave state and its loyalty to the Union during the Civil War was tenuous at best.

Adding the wealthy and populous parts of Virginia to Maryland seems more likely to have drawn Maryland towards the south than vice versa. Presumably that's why the deal would have required Maryland to free its slaves.

Of course as we all know, this proposal didn't work out. West Virginia's boundaries and name became official in 1863 when it was admitted to the Union as its own state, and Virginia was itself readmitted in 1870 following four brutal years of Civil War.

But it's interesting to look back and see what could have happened, had history turned out just a little bit differently.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


All the railroads we had in 1921, in one subway-style map

In 1921, you could take the train from downtown DC to Annapolis, from Baltimore to Harrisburg, or Winchester to DC. I built a subway-style map of the rail service our region once had.


Map by the author. Click for the full version.

In the Mid-Atlantic region, hundreds of trains and ferries used to serve passengers at over 1,370 stations. But they were run by dozens of individual companies, meaning there was no single unified system map to let people know how to get from A to B. Passengers had to pour over dozens of often-opaque timetables to know how to get around.

Doing that was no simple task, as I can now attest to after having trawled hundreds of these tables in The Official Guide of the Railways to pull together this one map.

Subway-style maps were a genius invention of the early 20th Century. By combining old railway maps with service schedules, they allow travelers to understand at a glance how the transit system works without relying on byzantine schedules.


Map by the author. Click for the full version.

This map says a lot about how the region worked back then

My Mid-Atlantic map shows about 29,000 square miles, centered on DC and Baltimore. I tried to map to the logical endpoints of the railroads, where they converge before diverging again.

Baltimore's prominence as a major transportation hub is clear, especially for waterborne travel. Ferries hit remote villages and towns along rivers up and down the Chesapeake, delivering people and goods between the villages or back to the dozens of railroads serving Baltimore. Though it's tough to imagine the Rappahannock or Piankatank as transport corridors today, steamer service was often a lifeline to the rest of the country.

And while the city itself is absent from this map, you can see Philadelphia's strong influence in the northeastern corner. The Baltimore & Ohio's Main Line to Washington, the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line along the top of the map, and Pennsy's Washington lines all point to that formidable hub.

Clear, too, is the shape of our contemporary rail infrastructure in the old system. MARC and VRE both make use of old passenger routes, while Metro and Baltimore's light rail both make use of abandoned rights-of-way.


From this GGWash post, this map shows the MARC, VRE, Metro and Baltimore light rail.

There are also some particularly evocative and historical station names. One wonders about Tuxedo, just outside DC, or Screamerville on the PF&P. Buck Run and Doe Run are adjacent stops on Pennsy's Pomeroy Branch. Baltimore's Penn Station was once optimistically named Union Station, though since city's eight stations made it hard to centralize everything, the name never took off.

This is hardly a complete transit map, of course. Because it is almost impossible to find contemporaneous timetables for every company, I had to limit myself to the companies and stations appearing in The Official Guide. Hence, the jarring absence of Silver Spring from the B&O and the lack of the streetcar line from DC to Glen Echo.

What kind of system could we have today?

Beyond just being fun for train buffs, I hope this kind of map will inspire transit advocates to think big about what we might have again one day.

Some months ago, a caller to the Kojo Nnamdi Show was hopeful that Winchester might someday get commuter rail service. It actually turns out the B&O ran through Winchester as well as a number of small West Virginia towns before hitting the main line to Union Station. Maybe that would be a good place to expand MARC's Brunswick Line.

Or perhaps, if Baltimore again becomes the kind of major metropolitan center it once was, it would make sense to reactivate the Old Main Line between Baltimore and Frederick. Or, maybe it wouldn't! The point is to think big, to see where nostalgia and practicality might align.

That in mind, what line do you wish would see a revival? Also, I'm still open to suggested revisions for this map before releasing it as a poster that's for sale. Feel free to nitpick in the comments below!

Roads


Use this map to share your ideas for better east-west travel across DC

Is it frustrating to try to travel from Columbia Heights to Brookland on foot, bike, bus, or car? The District Department of Transportation is studying ways to make it easier to travel east-west in this area, and a new interactive map lets you point out problems.


Map by DDOT. map. Click for an interactive version.

This WikiMap is part of DDOT's Crosstown Multimodal Transportation Study, the goal of which is to improve all modes of travel between 16th Street NW and South Dakota Avenue NE. It lets users identify problems with and suggest solutions for
walking, riding a bike, driving, transit, public space, parking, and intersections, and is a user-friendly way to participate in DDOT's search for long-term solutions.

People who frequently commute by foot, bike, bus, car, or other means through the corridor have firsthand knowledge on the area's congestion, safety, and streetscape issues. They're also likely to have ideas on how these issues can be addressed to improve transportation mobility and mitigate impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Beyond the crowdsourced map, DDOT recently kicked off the first in a series of public meetings for the project aimed at gathering feedback.


A map of the study area.

The interactive map will be available on DDOT's website (just click the first image in this post) for several months.

Development


Worldwide links: Bernie knows housing

A program for making housing more affordable is among Bernie Sanders' proudest achievements; 16 different graphics point to one conclusion: Toyko is mind-blowingly big; A Texas town got creative with a shut-down Walmart. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Michael Vadon on Flickr.

Bernie's housing model: When he was the mayor of Burlington, Bernie Sanders set up the land trust the city still uses today. The government owns the land but the residents own the house, which supporters say lets people build wealth faster than renting. (Slate)

Tokyo is gigantic: The greater Tokyo area dwarfs other big cities from New York and Los Angeles to Sydney and London. Tokyo isn't that much smaller than all of Great Britain, and its subway maps might make your head spin. (Buzzfeed)

Walmart transformed: After a local Walmart shut down, a Texas town turned the building into a farmers market, indoor winter shopping center, and the largest single floor library in the country. (Daily Kos)

A fight for BRT in Indianapolis...: In Indianapolis, proponents of a BRT project say the 35-mile line will garner 11,000 daily rides and provide new connections to jobs. Opponents are worried about lost parking space and more congestion on side streets. (Indianapolis Star)

...and a goodbye to BRT in Dehli: Dehli is doing away with its BRT line because residents blame it for congestion on the road it runs along. Officials say BRT was a good idea that they implemented poorly, and that they are planning to bring it back with a new design. (India Today)

Mimicking Minneapolis: Minneapolis freezes over in winter, but it's still a top spot for cycling. Former Mayor RT Rybak told leaders in (relatively) nearby Des Moines that "expressway trails" that connect bike lanes, as well as inexpensive tools like paint and flex-posts, are keys to building a bike-friendly city. (Des Moines Register)

Angry but effective: Some call Lansing, Michigan mayor Virg Bernaro the "angriest mayor in America." But he's very popular, and he has succeeded at both attracting new development and improving parks and trails. (City Pulse)

Quote of the Week:

"We don't force [developers] to build the right number of bedrooms for people! We just force them to build the right number of bedrooms for cars" - Nelson\Nygaard's Jeff Tumlin speaking with Mother Jones on how self driving cars will affect parking.

We're signing off for the day. Stay warm and safe, and please please post snow pictures in our Flickr pool or email them to snow@ggwash.org!

Transit


This new tool maps transit developments across North America

Ever wonder what transit projects are in under construction, planned, or proposed in Denver or Honolulu? Check out a captivating new Transit Explorer that maps transit development in more than 40 cities in North America.

Developed by Chicago-based urbanists and transit professionals Yonah Freemark and Steven Vance, the new transit project visualisation is an extension of the popular transit openings and construction starts post that Freemark has published on his blog The Transport Politic annually since 2009.

"We wanted to provide people an open-source, easy to use, and good-looking interface by which to explore transit in North America," says Freemark. "Transit Explorer is all about helping people understand where fixed-guideway transit is now and where it could go so that they can imagine how to improve transportation systems in their own cities and compare plans across the continent."

Transit Explorer shows the wide variety of transit projects in some stage of development in the Washington DC region, including the Silver Line phase two in Virginia, H Street streetcar line in DC and the Purple Line light rail project in Maryland.

History


You can see "scars" from old rail lines all over today's maps of the region

As places change, linear routes like rail lines and canals sometimes turn into new roads or trails. Other times, the old lines stay on the map but become harder to spot.


In Deanwood, a line of houses curves along what used to be a railroad route. Images from Google Maps unless otherwise noted.

Typically, new roads or trails replace the long, narrow rights-of-way, which means the shapes you see on a map are the same, they just host a different mode of transportation. In our region, the Georgetown Branch Trail is named for the former Georgetown Branch of the B&O railroad that it follows. Old Dominion Road in Virginia follows the route of the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.

But in some cases, open land left behind by railroads is sometimes rezoned and filled in with buildings. When that happens, the historic lines might become something like what you see in the image above, where the line of houses along Nannie Helen Burroughs Ave NE in Deanwood curves along what used to be a railroad alignment that ran to Seat Pleasant and beyond.

Here's another shot from Deanwood:

Writer Geoff Manaugh observed that such buildings resemble scar tissue, and blog Web Urbanist coined the term "scarchitecture" for this phenomena.

With the Deanwood examples, there's even clearer evidence of this alignment in the DC Zoning parcels that the buildings occupy.


Image from the DC Zoning Map.

Another great example of this happening in DC is at 7th and K Street NE, where there's an alley that follows an old rail line that ran down West Virginia Avenue.


Just southeast of where West Virginia Avenue hits K Street, you can see an alley that follows the rail line that West Virginia Avenue replicates. Image from Google Maps.

Another examples is the southern end of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. Here's a section of the former route along West Glebe Road in Alexandria:

And here's one from along Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington:

Have you seen any examples of this phenomena in the Greater Washington region? Let us know in the comments!

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