Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Topher Mathews

Topher Mathews has lived in the DC area since 1999. He created the Georgetown Metropolitan in 2008 to report on news and events for the neighborhood and to advocate for changes that will enhance its urban form and function. A native of Wilton, CT, he lives with his wife and daughter in Georgetown.  

How transient is Washington?

With a talented new quarterback and a baseball team in the major league playoffs for the first time since 1933, Washington sports are getting a lot of attention recently. In commenting on the state of Washington sports culture, a lot of writers assert that DC is apathetic towards its team because the population is so transient. But how transient is DC?


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The Census Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that in some ways the conventional wisdom is correct, but there's not necessarily a correlation between a transient population and a lack of local fervor.

According to the Census ACS's 2011 one-year estimate, 9.1% of DC's population lived in another state the year before. How does that compare with other sports towns?

DC9.1%
Boston (Suffolk County)5.9%
Philadelphia3.2%
Atlanta4.8%
Chicago3.2%
Baltimore City3.0%
New York City2.8%
... Manhattan6.2%

Of these cities, DC is far and away the highest. However, this is not necessarily an apples-to-apples analysis. If someone moved from Arlington to DC, they would count in this tally, whereas if someone were to move from Buffalo to Broadway, it wouldn't.

That caveat aside, it's surprising to see what cities are higher on that list. Boston has the second highest, yet many would call the Hub the most parochial town on the list (or at least a close second to Chicago). Notice also how much higher Manhattan's numbers are compare with NYC as a whole. Not surprisingly, the most urban part of New York has the most new residents.

Now, consider the same cities but also include residents who moved from a different county within the same state. The numbers (with the obvious exception of DC's) jump up:

DC9.1%
Boston10.0%
Philadelphia4.6%
Atlanta11.0%
Chicago4.1%
Baltimore6.7%
New York City4.9%
... Manhattan9.1%

This demonstrates that these other cities are often the destination of regional migrants. Sports-wise, these new arrivals probably already rooted for their new home team. But if the criticism of DC is that too many residents have only just arrived to the city itself, it's got plenty of company.

When you look just at 25-34 year olds—the prime ages of migration—the respective positions are similar, but the numbers are much higher:

DC16.9%
Boston14.0%
Philadelphia8.1%
Atlanta15.2%
Chicago7.5%
Baltimore11.7%
New York City9.2%
... Manhattan14.6%

By middle age, however, DC residents are positively planted. Here are the numbers for 35-44 year olds:

DC5.3%
Boston7.0%
Philadelphia3.1%
Atlanta8.8%
Chicago2.9%
Baltimore6.2%
New York City5.3%
... Manhattan5.1%

So, in general, it is correct to say that DC has a higher transplanted population than other cities. But as the example of Boston demonstrates, there's not necessarily a correlation between transplants and a lack of a parochial esprit de corps. If in fact DC lacks such cohesion, don't blame it on the new residents.

Students: Don't listen to the Hoya, vote in DC

Yesterday, the Georgetown Hoya student newspaper published a provocative editorial calling on students to not vote in DC, and rather vote absentee in their home states. That's terrible advice.


Photo by NewsHour on Flickr.

The reasoning behind the piece was that with DC disenfranchised in Congress and its 3 electoral votes guaranteed for Obama, students would "get more bang from their ballot" by voting in more competitive and consequential elections back home.

The heart of the editorial points to the slim 537 votes by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore in Florida in 2000. It notes that 250 current Georgetowners are from Florida, and concludes that "you never know beforehand if voting will make a difference."

There's some undeniable truth to this reasoning, but it's myopic. The editorial throws a bone to the admirable DC Students Speak effort, but kicks the legs out of that campaign by stating "it's evident that poor student turnout in DC has been problematic." In other words, because students don't vote here, why bother voting here?

Here are some other numbers: Georgetown University has over 7,000 undergrads. GWU has over 10,000. In 2008, Jack Evans beat Cary Silverman for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 2 on the DC Council, 3,100 votes to 1,700. This year he ran unopposed and only drew 2,900 votes.

If 30% of college students living in Ward 2 would vote for an alternative candidate they would swamp Evans. Or, if they supported Evans, he would have to count them as one of his most important constituencies.

The Hoya's pages are often filled with angst over the way students are treated by the District government. Don't they see the connection?

The editorial's view reflects an unfortunate yet common attitude among DC residents who work in or cover national politics (or, as the case may be, aspire to do so): namely, that local politics is bush league, that it's something to be concerned about only when there's a scandal, and that the epic battle between the national parties to control Congress and the White House is all that matters. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Local politics do matter. As David Alpert wrote recently: "If you live in the District, you should vote here. It's the right thing to do. It gives you a stronger voice in local affairs." For students in particular, these local affairs can dramatically affect their daily lives.

Don't like MPD's new noise policy? Want better public transportation to your internship? Don't want the Zoning Commission to force your school to house you on campus? The people making all these decisions answer to local politicians, the same politicians that students could throw out of office if students organized and voted in DC.

Yes, registering to vote in DC carries with it the added price of removing your (tiny) voice from Congress. And that sucks. But removing your relatively larger voice from the local conversation based upon the statistically improbable chance that your vote might be decisive back home is just delusional.

Where will Georgetown get 100 acres?

The agreement on the Georgetown University campus plan says that so long as relations go well, the parties will start discussing in 2018 some long-term goals, including one to "identify and develop next 100 acres."


Photo by the author.

The agreement doesn't give context for this goal. Given the timing, I'd guess the purpose of this new 100 acres is to relocate the hospital and medical school. But regardless of what purpose this 100 acres would serve, the bigger question that jumps to mind is: where is GU going to find 100 acres?

Georgetown University's main campus is 100 acres. There aren't many available parcels close by that are that large. But there are a few:

St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths is a historic psychiatric hospital located across MLK Ave. in Ward 8. It has 350 acres spread over its west and east campuses. At one point the hospital served 8,000 patients. Nowadays it serves only a very small group of patients, primarily those determined mentally incompetent to face trial (including Albrecht Muth).

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to consolidate its many offices around the DC area onto the west campus of St. Elizabeths. The District kept the east campus, and is planning to redevelop it. The east campus is 170 acres itself. So there's definitely room if GU wanted to be an "anchor tenant" of the development. The city would probably be happy to make a deal with GU if it meant the construction of a top notch hospital square in the middle of the city's poorest ward.

Alternatively, DHS has dragged its feet actually moving to the west campus. A senior DHS official said that they doubted the move would ever happen. It's remotely possible that DHS might be looking to back out of the deal, and GU could step in.

Old Soldiers Home

The Old Soldiers Home is a massive 250-acre plot of land in Ward 5 that contains the historic Lincoln cottage, where Abraham Lincoln escaped the summer heat. Right now the campus still houses a small population of retired veterans, but about half of the property is a golf course.

In 2005, the administrators of the home proposed to develop the southern section of the property. After some pushback from the surrounding neighborhood (and, as I hear it, from retired generals who like to golf) the plans seem to have been shelved.

It's a lot less likely an option for GU than St. Elizabeths, but you never know.

Reservation 13

Reservation 13 is the location of the old DC General hospital. The city has been working on plans to redevelop the parcel for years. Despite having issued an RFP several years ago, the city recently went back to square one on the project.

If building a hospital is part of plans, rebuilding a hospital on the site of the old DC General could make GU's pitch appealing to the city. But I doubt this would happen.

For one, the whole Reservation 13 is only 67 acres. And the city doesn't want to go from one single use to another for the property. Second, even if the city thinks it's a good idea, the neighbors really don't want one large institutional use for the property.

Those are the only properties I can think of in the District proper. GU, of course, could explore site in Virginia or Maryland, but I suspects they want to remain more central.

So if I had to bet, I'd say St. Elizabeths.

Don't waste public money to woo Bloomingdale's

Both Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chair Kwame Brown may want to use tax increment financing to lure a high-end tenant like Bloomingdale's to the Georgetown Park mall, the Current reported. That's a foolish policy.


Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

In tax increment financing ("TIF"), the city issues bonds for a particular project and gives the money to a private developer. A portion of the taxes from the project go towards paying off the bonds. In theory, the city pays back the bonds out of the extra property and/or sales taxes from the now-improved property.

DC has used TIFs in the past. For instance, it set up a $74 million TIF to help the Gallery Place development along. It used a $46 million TIF for the Madarin Oriental hotel. And a $7 million TIF helped pay for the Spy Museum. Each of these projects was successful and they even paid off the bonds ahead of schedule.

But TIFs only work when there's an increment to be found. In other words, they work in areas that will likely see a big improvement in value, and thus tax revenue, from the public investment. If there's no increment, then the only way to pay off the bonds is to cut into the taxes that would arise from the property without the public financing. In that case all you've really done is give free public money to a private developer.

According to the Current article, the argument goes that if there's no TIF for the mall, then Vornado won't be able to land Bloomingdale's and will instead lease to a store like T.J. Maxx. So, the theory goes, the "increment" of having a Bloomingdale's instead of a T.J. Maxx is enough to justify a TIF for the mall.

The twist with this proposal is that a part of the incremental tax proceeds (i.e. the difference in sales taxes that Bloomingdales would pay over T.J. Maxx) would be directed to tax breaks to attract retailers to less established retail districts in DC. Chairman Brown called this a potential "win-win."

This is completely backwards.

If the District wants to get into the TIF game again, it should be directing the TIFs to those less established areas, not the mall. That's where there will be an actual incremental increase in value. That's where we'll get much more bang for our buck. If Vornado, which owns the mall, can't put together a package to attract Bloomingdale's with its own resources, then so be it. Maybe that means they and their partners paid to much when they bought the mall at auction last year. That's not our fault.

I don't want a T.J. Maxx to move in to the mall, but using public funds to help attract one tenant over another is unacceptable. And it's shameful that the Mayor and the Chairman are even thinking about such a ludicrous proposal.

Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.

Citywide historic review is not the answer to ugly pop-ups

Ugly home additions or new construction often lead to calls to expand historic preser­vation citywide, but our current historic review process is far too cumbersome and limiting. Instead, less stringent design review or neighbor­hood-specific zoning could help shape development effectively.


Photo by In Shaw on Flickr.

Last week, Richard Layman provocatively suggested applying design review rules to the entire District.

The historic preservation design review process can indeed prevent undesirable projects from moving forward, but the process also too often serves objectives unrelated to genuine historical preservation, such as simply wanting to limit development.

Layman writes:

For years I have been surprised that a city so defined by historical excellence in planning (L'Enfant, McMillan Commission) and excellence in architecture, does not require design review for the entire city, regardless of whether or not a neighborhood or building is designated as historic. ... This would be a way to right the terrible wrong that occurs in so many neighborhoods, when alteration of the housing stock is done in ways that diminish the value of place.
Applying design review for the whole city would definitely reduce the diminishment of the historic housing stock outside the designated historic districts, but it would come at a steep cost.

In DC's historic districts, such as Georgetown or Capitol Hill, any modification or new construction of a building requires the approval of the federal Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) or the District's Historic Preservation Office (HPO) design review board.

During the review, these boards often (if not nearly always) deny applicants the right to build as much on the property as zoning allows. For example, while the zoning code for the property may allow a building of 40 feet in height, the board requires a shorter building.

Sometimes this process protects against projects that even advocates of more density would oppose. This classic "pop-up" was labeled by the Prince of Petworth as the "Worst Pop-Up of All Time":


Photo by Prince of Petworth.

Since this property is not in a neighborhood subject to design review, the owner was able to build to the zoning maximum. This completely breaks up the consistent roof lines of the block and the clapboard building material of the addition is completely out of place tacked on to a Victorian brick rowhouse.

Here's another atrocious example of what happens when poor design meets maximum building size:


Photo by Hyperlocal Glover Park.

I have no doubt that neither of these pop-ups would see the light of day if they were subject to historical review. The buildings are out of scale with their neighbors and the building materials and styles are completely out of place.

The fact is that historical review is generally effective at preventing inferior projects like these from going forward. So Layman is right that expanding the entire District to review by the CFA or HPO could address "bad" projects that disrupt the aesthetic harmony of a neighborhood.

But a literal application of this approach would be a disaster. Neither CFA nor HPO has remotely enough resources to perform the design review that would be necessary if the entire District were one large historic zone. Moreover, enforcement would be nearly impossible. I can speak from experience that dealing with historical review is incredibly frustrating, and if it were applied across the District, I would fear a grassroots rebellion against any and all historic protection.

But more importantly, historic review prevents plenty of good projects as well. In Georgetown, for instance, Eastbanc has proposed to replace the Canal Rd. Exxon with a five story condo building. From a true historic preservation perspective, there's not much of a case against the project. It wouldn't break up the rhythm of the block and the proposed style, while not particularly elegant, was at least not discordant.

But neighbors along Prospect Street would lose a part of their fabulous view across the Potomac. So they argued vociferously during the design review process that the project should be reduced to preserve their views. This had little to nothing to do with genuine historic preservation. While the Old Georgetown Board (a sub-body of the CFA) did not endorse the Prospect Street residents' objection specifically, they did hem and haw over the "massing" of the building before Eastbanc pulled the proposal. They are currently working on new plans.

This pattern is repeated frequently in Georgetown and in other historic districts. I've sat through dozens of meetings discussing scores of projects. Time and time again, neighbors use the historic preservation design review process to object to the size of the project rarely out of any genuine concern for the preservation of the neighborhood's historic character but rather because they simply just don't like the project. The basis for the complaints would be no different than if the project were in a brand new development with no historic character: it blocks my view, it's too big, you'll be able to see into my garden, et cetera.

So while historical preservation design review can prevent projects that could truly degrade the historic quality of a neighborhood, it's also used to prevent projects that don't pose that threat and would in fact enhance the neighborhood.

But it is certainly worthwhile for the District to develop alternatives for neighborhoods looking to prevent the pop-ups, and the like, while avoiding the burdens and drawbacks of full historic district designation. The scope and objectives of such a review should be narrowly tailored.

A sliding scale of review could apply depending on the nature of the neighborhood. For instance, older townhouse neighborhoods like Bloomingdale may warrant stronger controls than a neighborhood full of detached houses of diverse styles.

Layman hinted at how the possible mechanics for this review could work. Rather than expand the jurisdiction of the CFA or HPO, tailor the zoning envelope to a neighborhood, or even to each block. If someone wants to build beyond that envelope, make a special exception the standard of review by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).

This is a lower standard than a variance. It would introduce a small degree of design review, without being the proverbial camel's nose under the tent that the historic preservation design review often becomes.

Georgetown liquor moratorium brings both good and bad

A group of U Street residents and business recently formed to fight a possible liquor license moratorium along the newly bustling corridor. The reaction has been swift and strong. Georgetown's experience with a similar one shows some benefits for a moratorium, but also bears out some of the concerns that moratorium opponents raise.


Photo by the author.

Eric Fidler weighed in yesterday with a list of reasons why a moratorium would be bad for the greater U Street neighborhood, including:

  • It makes no distinction between "good" establishments and "bad" establishments
  • A moratorium on liquor license is in effect a moratorium on new restaurants, period.
  • It will reduce pressure to offer a good customer experience.
  • It unfairly rewards current businesses over future businesses.
  • It sets the cap at an arbitrary level.
  • It doesn't address the supposed problems those advocating for a moratorium raise (loud crowds, vandalism, etc.).
  • It's difficult to administer.

Georgetown has had a moratorium since 1989. Right now, only about 70 liquor licenses can be issued to Georgetown bars and restaurants. Liquor stores and hotels are not subject to the moratorium. Here are some of the results attributed to the long standing moratorium:

  • Opening a new restaurant in Georgetown is more expensive than opening one elsewhere. On top of the higher rent, you need to purchase a liquor license on the secondary market from a license holder who no longer wants it. This has reportedly driven the cost of such licenses close to $100,000.
  • Georgetown restaurants are pretty boring. No new exciting restaurant has opened since Hook did, and it's closed already.
  • Drunken revelry is only a problem in certain spots around the neighborhood.
So some of Fidler's predictions have already come true in Georgetown. The moratorium cannot be waived for particularly "good" restaurants, the quality of the restaurants has not kept up with the dining renaissance seen in other neighborhoods, and the cap seems arbitrarily set.

Some of Fidler's predictions for U Street have not come true for Georgetown. Restaurants have opened in Georgetown without obtaining a liquor license. They are more likely to cater to a lunch crowd, but a restaurant is a restaurant. And it isn't really difficult to administer. The zone basically is everything south of Q Street.

Also, it's true that moratoriums don't address the negative externalities of existing drinking establishments. But they do address the negative externalities of bars that haven't yet opened. (And of course it also eliminates the positive externalities of those unopened bars and restaurants too!)

The cap may be arbitrary, but right now U Street has 107 licenses, over 50% more than Georgetown. Maybe it's arbitrary, but it doesn't seem likely that it's low.

All that said, U Street should not pursue a moratorium. New and interesting restaurants open there almost weekly. It would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg to stop that now. It would make sense for U Street to trust the market but verify with strong voluntary agreements that address hours and outdoor patios, etc.

One criticism of moratoriums that Fidler did not mention, but should be pretty obvious from Georgetown's experience: they don't go away. Georgetown's has been renewed multiple times, and nobody seems to even make the case to let it expire. (To the ANC's credit, they did add seven new licenses to the cap last year, but that only brought us back to the level that existed in 1989).

Finally, many believe that moratoriums make existing licenses worth a lot more. And that appears to be mostly true. Last year, when the city "released" those seven new licenses into the Georgetown moratorium zone, they were quickly snapped up, in some cases by parties with only sketchy plans for actually opening. It was a land rush.

The thing is, half of those licenses have already been forfeited because the speculative plans simply fell through (or in one case the restaurant didn't want to comply with voluntary agreement restrictions). At least a couple now sit in ABRA unclaimed. Supposedly the lack of cheap liquor licenses is a huge obstacle to new restaurants opening in Georgetown, but the longer the free licenses sit there, the more that conventional wisdom seems wrong.

Nonpartisan DC primary would give winners more legitimacy

Since the 2010 general election, DC has had 3 council elections where the winning candidate gained less than 50% of the vote. Our current system too often hands a victory to someone who most voters vote against, in elections that too few voters participate in.


Photo by KCIvey on Flickr.

"The way District residents elect a mayor and Council members needs to change," Chuck Thies noted this week. He's right. It's time for a new voting system.

In the 2011 at-large special election, Vincent Orange won with only 29% of the vote. This month, Yvette Alexander won her primary with 42%, and Orange got 40% in the at-large primary.

It diminishes winners' legitimacy and support for our electoral process to end an election without strong public support for any candidate. And it's no way to choose our decision makers when we have better options available.

Back in 2010, I argued for scrapping DC's primary system. DC should replace it, I said, with a single general election with some form of a preferential voting system (like Instant Runoff Voting, Approval Voting, or one of several others).

These other voting systems represent a big change, and stand little chance of becoming law any time soon. But a less radical, yet still effective, option is available.

Nonpartisan blanket primary is the answer

If the District must keep holding primaries, the best model would be to hold a single primary open to all candidates and all voters. The top two vote-getters would then face off again in the general election in November. This system, known as a "nonpartisan blanket primary," is used in several states including Louisiana and Washington, and was recently adopted in California.

This system would easily work well for electing the mayor, the council chair, the ward councilmembers, and the attorney general (which will be an elected position starting in 2014).

How would at-large seats work?

Electing the at-large seats gets a little more complicated. Currently, 2 at-large seats (not including the chair) are up for election every two years. No party can hold more than 3 of the at-large seats, and because the chair will remain a Democrat for the foreseeable future, only 1 of the 2 at-large seats can go to another Democrat in a given election year.

This creates a complication for a blanket primary, since the top 2 vote-getters in the primary may not both be able to win in the fall if they're both Democrats. However there is a solution: eliminate these set-asides. The rule isn't accomplishing anything, anyway: Michael Brown, one of the "independent" members of the council, is in all practical senses a Democrat, and more aligned with his party on a number of issues than some members who are officially Democrats.

This move may also appease a DC Democratic party that might resist opening up the primary. While non-Democrat candidates could be unhappy about losing their set-aside seats, non-Democratic voters, who account for 25% of registered voters, would finally have an opportunity to cast a vote that matters.

Since there are 2 at-large seat open each year, 3 at-large candidates should advance from the primary to the general election. Voters would continue to cast 2 votes for the 2 seats. This would not guarantee that either of the victors would garner 50% of the vote, but it would guarantee that every voter that voted both votes would have chosen at least one winner.

Would the Democratic Party support this?

To implement this new system, the DC Democratic Party will have to get on board. The party has historically resisted any attempts to open the Democratic primary. Typically the argument is that it will lead to "meddling" or mischievous voting by people who aren't "true Democrats."

But there is scant evidence that mischievous voting actually occurs in open primaries. In fact, there would be little incentive to vote mischievously because your preferred candidate will need all the votes he or she can get to reach the general election.

Incumbents who have historically been elected and reelected with more than 50% of the vote, which often happens in the ward primaries, would likely continue to win easily under the non-partisan blanket primary system. They'd just have to beat their opponents twice. If they're popular, this shouldn't be a problem.

Moreover, with the primaries now so early in the year, an incumbent who loses would be a lame duck for 9 months. How would they govern for so long, knowing they have already been fired? Would they become indifferent? Ineffective? Venal? Voters won't find out this year, but eventually it will happen. In a nonpartisan blanket primary system, the campaign would continue into the fall, making the lame duck period very short.

Some might argue that the flaws of DC's voting system are hardly unique, particularly in jurisdictions dominated by one party. That's true. But it doesn't make it any more acceptable, especially when a better system is available.

We can continue to use a system where the 60% of the voters, in an election that only 9% of the registered population votes in, vote against a candidate who wins. Or we can demand a better system that produces victors with wider support from a larger electorate. This proposal could deliver that.

Old survey maps show Georgetown around 1903

The Library of Congress has a fascinating resource called "Researching Historic Washington, DC Buildings," which includes dozens of links to databases and collections with reams of information on old DC buildings.

One collection is a digitized version of Baist's Real Estate Atlas of Surveys for Washin­gton, DC. It's a highly detailed map of every street and building in the city in 1903.

Here are the maps for Georgetown:

Here's southeast Georgetown. Note the wooden bridge for K St. across Rock Creek, the factories and lumber yards on the water, and the fact Virginia Ave. used to go across the waterfront.

Here's southwest Georgetown. What's notable about this map is the streams that ran through Georgetown at this point, as represented by the black lines meandering through the neighborhood.

Here's northeast Georgetown. Notice that Q St. wasn't constructed yet, and Dumbarton House hadn't been moved yet. Plus, there was a giant streetcar facility on P St. (not to mention homes in what is now Rose Park).

Here's central Georgetown. What's notable here is that, as I discovered Monday, the addresses of homes north of Volta were different. And that's because Volta Place was Q St., Q St. was R St., Dent Place west of Wisconsin was S St. (east of Wisconsin it was Irving Place), Reservoir was T St. and R St. was U St. Oh and Wisconsin was called 32nd St. and 32nd St. was called Valley St.

Finally, here's northwest Georgetown. Note that Volta Park used to be the Presbyterian Burial Grounds, and that the weird Tudor style home on 33rd between Volta and Q was the Presbyterian church.

Give DC residents access to Roosevelt Island with a ferry

Roosevelt Island is a DC recreational asset and it's tantalizingly close to Georgetown. But far from easy to access for most DC residents. A ferry from Georgetown could solve that problem.


Photo by Vicki's Pics on Flickr.

Last weekend, as I was taking in the newly-completed Georgetown waterfront park, my eyes (as well as many of the eyes of my fellow layabouts) were drawn to Roosevelt Island. It sits so tantalizingly close to Georgetown, yet it's a difficult place to visit.

From the waterfront park, it's over a mile walk across the Key Bridge and along a highway. This situation inspired me to ponder the idea of creating a ferry service between the Georgetown Waterfront Park and Roosevelt Island.

The distance between the park and the island is just over 100 yards. It would be possible to build a small pedestrian ferry to shuttle small groups of people back and forth from the waterfront park amphitheater to the island. All that would be needed would be a small dock at either end. The ferry could be wire-guided or simply be a small independent boat.


Illustration by the author.

Connected this way, the two parks would truly complement each other. The waterfront park is beautifully landscaped and sunny, but it doesn't provide that much in the way of footpaths. To walk a mile, you'd probably have to walk in a circle a couple times. Roosevelt Island, on the other hand, is almost nothing but paths and wild nature. With an easy connection, visitors could come to the waterfront park, have a picnic, and then make their way over to the island for a hike.

An even better (albeit much more expensive) option would be a bridge:


Illustration by the author.

This would allow a steady flow of visitors to move between the island and the park. Just imagine the beautiful vista that would be created by a sweeping bridge like London's Millennium Bridge going from the base of Wisconsin Ave. over to the island.

Roosevelt Island is in the District of Columbia, yet DC residents have to travel through Virginia via or along a highway to get to this fantastic and wild resource. The new waterfront park is a perfect new gateway to the island. Now it's time to build the threshold.

Crossposted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.

Car Barn shows remnants of DC's brief foray into cable cars

At the far western end of M Street stands the massive Car Barn. Built in 1895, the Car Barn served as a depot for the streetcars until they stopped running in 1962. After changing hands a couple times, the building now serves as extra space for Georgetown University. But one feature in the building's architecture reflects its earlier use:

On the pediment of the building it still reads Capital Traction. The Capital Traction Co. was one of the earlier mass transit companies that operated in DC. It constructed the Car Barn with an intent for it to be a Union Station.

As Wikipedia describes:

Union Station was designed to serve four streetcar companies: The old Washington and Georgetown lines would use the ground floor on M Street NW while the Washington, Arlington and Falls Church and the projected Great Falls and Old Dominion were to come across the Potomac from Rosslyn entering the second and third floors respectively on steeltrestles. The Metropolitan would use the roof. In reality, the Virginia companies never used it and the Metropolitan only sparingly so. The Washington and Great Falls took over the third floor. The station opened on May 27, 1897 and contained Washington's only cable loop.
That's right, for a very short while Washington, DC had cable cars. From 1890-1899, the Washington and Georgetown Railroad. Its successor, Capital Traction, ran cable cars through the city.

The old power source for the streetcars is reflected in the pediment. At each side and at the peak, there appears to be a "flying wheel" (somewhat like the Red Wings logo). But if you look closely, you can see that they are actually models of the old cable car pulley:

The Car Barn was barely opened before Capital Traction moved away from cable power to electrical power. But 116 years later, a little piece of Washington's brief flirtation with cable power remains.

Cross-posted at the Georgetown Metropolitan.

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