Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Veronica Davis

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities. She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC. She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation. 

Bicycling


When condo bylaws prohibit bike parking

The bylaws of older condominium associations often hinder the ability for communities to evolve as the needs of residents change. Some condo associations grapple with this issue as more residents start to ride bicycles.


Photo by Jeffrey Beall on Flickr.

Matt Johnson rents a condo in Greenbelt. His condo association's rules prohibit storing bikes on balconies. But there's nowhere else to store them outside; there are no bike racks outside anywhere.

They do have a "bike room" in the basement. It is completely unmarked; Matt just assumed it was an electrical closet for the first 3 years he lived there. After the building captain mentioned it to Matt, he went and looked inside.

There are no bike racks or any other elements to which it is possible to lock a bike. It's a big square room with cinderblock walls. Most of the room is full of junk from other residents, just stacked in there, no organization whatsoever. It looks like the only thing not stored in that room are bikes.

Instead, Matt keeps his bike in the dining nook during the warmer months. Whenever he and Ryan have guests over or during the winter, he moves it to their storage locker (also in the basement). It barely fits inside.

Even if they had a bike room, Matt probably wouldn't use it, because having to carry it up and down a bunch of stairs and going through 2 locked doors (for which each unit gets only 1 key) would inhibit daily use of his bike.

Veronica finds high hurdles to change her condo bylaws

When Veronica was president of her condo board in Fairfax Village, in DC's Ward 7, she looked into adding bike racks in their parking lot. However, the association's bylaws, written in 1974, prevent storing bikes outside:

Co-owner shall not place or cause to be placed in the public hallways, walkway, driveways, parking areas or other Common Elements any bicycles, furniture, packages or objects of any kind. The public hallways, walkways and driveways shall be used for no purpose other than for normal transit through them.
Once that was a no-go, she looked at the possibility of converting a basement space into a bike room. However, the same provision includes "other Common Elements." Another section of the bylaws has a half page definition of "Common Elements," which includes basements.

Amending the association's bylaws would require approval by two-thirds of owners at a meeting called specifically for that purpose. That's not an insurmountable task, but it would take a significant effort to get that percentage of owners at a meeting.

Given all of their other projects such as the community garden, bike parking fell to the bottom of the list. Fortunately, unlike with Matt's condo, most (if not all) of the residents that have bikes either own a garage unit or store them in a neighbor's garage unit.

DC's proposed new bike parking regulations might trump the bylaws, at least for some condos in the District. It's unclear if they would affect Veronica's condo, since the regulations only apply to buildings of 8 units or more, and Veronica's is 3 separate structures of 6 units, all connected together with plumbing. We emailed DDOT yesterday to find out, but hadn't heard a definitive answer by posting time.

Sustainability


Hillcrest residents turn tennis courts into gardens

Vacant for years, the tennis courts at the Fairfax Village condominium in Hillcrest were choked with weeds and litter. Last week, residents and volunteers came together to transform it into a community garden and gathering space.


Residents and volunteers prepare the site to build a raised garden bed. All photos by the author.

Hillcrest, located in Ward 7, is a quiet suburban neighborhood that the City Paper nicknamed "Lawn and Order." But the two tennis courts at Fairfax Village, located on Southern Avenue SE, have been derelict for the last decade. The courts are overgrown with trees and weeds and filled with litter.

The original plan was to sell the land to builder IDS Homes, who wanted to build single-family homes there, but the deal fell through. Neighbors, community leaders and ANC Commissioner Robert A. Jordan, had another idea: turn it into community space.


Plans for the community garden.

One court will be used for community events, such as outdoor movies. Thanks to a grant from the District Department of the Environment, the other court will be transformed into a community garden. The plans include two raised garden beds, a gazebo in the middle, and fruit trees on the perimeter.

Earlier this year, workers removed the tennis court's surface and crushed its subsurface concrete, which will be reused to build a retaining wall for the raised garden beds. Here's what the site looked like without the tennis court:

Last Saturday, we had a community day at the garden. Volunteers from Fairfax Village, the Anacostia Watershed Society, and Georgetown University toiled away to build the retaining wall, remove overgrowth from the stairs, and add mulch. Youth from the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) led many of the tasks.


Fairfax Village neighbors being trained to lead tasks.

SYEP and DYRS youth will continue to build the community garden throughout the summer, but we hope to have more community work days during the planting season. This community garden has been two years in the making, and we are excited to reap the rewards when it is complete.

For more photos, visit Life in the Village.

Roads


What would fix Pennsylvania and Potomac?

It's confusing and inconvenient to cross the intersection of Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues on foot, to get to and from the Potomac Avenue Metro station. Could a different intersection design work better?


Two early concept designs for the intersection.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) kicked off an environmental study of the intersection with a public meeting Thursday night. This was the first of 3 meetings they will hold this year. They've also posted their presentation online.

Last week's was a "scoping meeting," the required first meeting of a NEPA process. Next, the team will develop alternatives, present them to the public, review their impacts, have public agencies review the draft document, and present a third time.


The intersection today, with sidewalks in red and parkland in green.

Redesign would accommodate crossing straight through

According to the study team, many people end up crossing straight through the intersection, and have worn a "desire line" in the median. They are crossing between signals, however, which may not be very safe. The team plans to design the intersection to help people cross safely in the direction they want to.

A prior study proposed rebuilding the intersection as a square, which would include crosswalks directly through the center from the Metro. However, that concept design hadn't gone through engineering review, and included turns too sharp for buses, Geoff Hatchard reported from the meeting.


2006 concept for a square.

The presentation has two concept sketches for the intersection. One would make Potomac Avenue end on each side at a T-intersection with Pennsylvania, and another would build an oval, though smaller and rounder than the one in the 2006 concept.

These sketches don't show crosswalks across Pennsylvania Avenue except in the center, but the planners explained in person that they will indeed include marked crosswalks at every intersection. That's important, especially since by DC law, every place a street meets another is a legal crosswalk, whether or not there are stripes.

Factors to consider in the design

The team stressed that these are not the final options, just early concepts, and they will refine and develop them more throughout the next phase of the process. As they do, here are some concepts they should keep in mind:

Traffic calming: One of the ways to make this intersection safer for pedestrians is to slow down the vehicles. DC recently installed a speed camera Pennsylvania Ave between 12th and 13th, which is a little over one block to the west. However, cars still speed through this stretch of road. The alternatives should include engineering solutions that will calm the traffic.

Seamless transit connections: This intersection has a Metro station and is a major bus transfer hub. Many of the pedestrians in this area are trying to transfer between buses or bus and Metro. The current configuration usually leads pedestrians to dash across Pennsylvania Ave to catch a bus. The proposed alternatives should consider bus stop locations.

Location of the CaBi station: When DDOT designed the original "square" concept, the Capital Bikeshare program didn't exist. The station is currently located on the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and Potomac Ave.

One of the residents at the meeting pointed out that the current location is awkward if a rider wants to go westbound on Pennsylvania Ave. Also, people taking CaBi to or from the Metro have to cross Pennsylvania to reach the station. DDOT should consider where to locate the bikeshare station to make it as easy as possible to access the bikes and to help riders enter the flow of traffic safely.

Cyclist safety: One of the proposed concepts is a traffic oval. The engineers on this project explained that the traffic ovals are a method to calm traffic. While that may be the case from a technical perspective, traffic circles and ovals can be a cyclist's worst nightmare, especially when there aren't any identified bike lanes. In trying to address pedestrian safety, DDOT should not create unsafe conditions for cyclists.

Connect projects on both sides of the river: Another NEPA process is underway for reconfiguring the Minnesota Avenue-Pennyslvania Avenue intersection, immediately east of the Anacostia River. A NEPA process for Barney Circle, on the immediate west side of the Anacostia River, will start later this month. DDOT needs to make sure as these projects progress, the designs connect communities on both side of the river.

Rethink the Kiss-and-Ride: The Potomac Avenue Metro Station has a Kiss-and-Ride area that adds to the pedestrian-vehicle conflicts in this intersection. Stations in urban neighborhoods generally don't have Kiss-and-Rides, and this might be the time to remove it.

What will happen with green space? The National Park Service controls the current median of Pennsylvania Avenue, and would likely control the larger green space if DDOT chooses an oval-type design, Brian McEntee reported from the meeting. However, NPS does not have the resources to maintain its small parks around DC very well, and regulations often inhibit actively programming the space for the neighborhood.

This was a primary concern of many people at the meeting, McEntee said. Many worried this would create a dead space without any activity. Some suggested a playground; NPS rules have interfered with efforts to build a playground downtown as well.

DDOT will present its alternatives at the second public meeting sometime this spring.

Bicycling


Lessons from biking in Detroit

Although people may not associate Detroit with biking, there are a few things Washington can learn from the Motor City. I recently got to ride 2 new trails that include features which could work well in our region.


Photo by Dave Hogg on Flickr.

The Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance and the Detroit Food & Fitness Collaborative recently invited me to Detroit for a bike tour and to talk about biking in the nation's capital. My tour guide, Todd Scott of Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, showed me the Detroit Riverwalk and the Dequindre Cut Greenway, a rails to trails project in the heart of Detroit.

Detroit is still in the beginning phases of building a bike infrastructure, their trails already sport some excellent features.

Separate bicycles and pedestrians

The trail is wide enough for a bike lane in each direction plus a wide pedestrian lane. For the most part, everyone stayed in their allotted space. I was on the trail during the middle of a weekday, so I can't speak for when the trail is busy on a weekend.


Dequindre Cut Greenway. All photos by the author.

Make wayfinding and signage clear

Immediately I noticed the signage along the trail. Below is the sign at the beginning of the trail that serves as wayfinding and provides the rules of the trail.


Sign at the entrance of the Dequindre Cut.

The trail mile/kilometer markers are spaced every 0.1 mile. In the background there are banners on the lights. I didn't get a good photo of them, but they say things like "play," "bike," and "fun."


Mile Markers along Dequindre Cut.

Incorporate public art

Public art gives an area a sense of place. There are murals all along the Dequindre Cut on the walls and bridge underpasses. Some range from graffiti to elaborate works of art. This mural was my favorite.

Ensure security and safety

I saw security guards patrolling the trails. In addition, there are emergency lights about every 200 feet along the trail. They have security cameras and an emergency button.

I really enjoyed the bike tour of Detroit. They have aggressive plans to implement new bike infrastructure, including a new bike sharing program. If they can keep expanding the system, bicycling could become a real travel option for a great many Detroit residents.

Public Spaces


Riverwalk will connect communities and the Anacostia River

Cyclists and runners, nature lovers, communities in DC's Ward 7, residents of Prince George's County, and the Anacostia River will all gain from the final segment of the Anacostia River trail network. An impressive lineup of elected officials and agency heads from DC and Prince George's County gathered yesterday to unveil the segment's design.


North end of trail at Bladensburg Park. All photos from the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative.

When completed in 2014, this trail alignment, segment 9 on the below map, will run from Benning Road north to the Maryland border. It will complete a crucial link between the District's Anacostia Riverwalk Trail and Maryland's Anacostia Tributary Trail system.

In April of this year, DDOT completed a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the CSX tracks on the west side of the Anacostia River, which creates a seamless connection between M Street SE/11th Street SE and Benning Road NE. The bridge on the east side is scheduled to open the end of this year. It will close the missing link between Anacostia Park and Benning Road NE. Both appear on the map as segment 11.


Map of the trail's complete and planned segments.

Completing this trail network is exciting for a lot of different reasons.

It connects DC and Maryland, uniting our communities. Once complete, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail will connect 16 different waterfront communities in DC and Maryland.

Not only will the continuous trail create recreation opportunities, but it creates a potential bike commuter route. For example, if a cyclist wants to bike from the Sousa Bridge (at Pennsylvania Ave SE) to the Bladensburg Waterfront today it would require a daunting excursion through local roads, including biking on Bladensburg Road.


Pedestrian bridge over tidal gut, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

It advances local and regional transportation goals. In anticipation of the transportation challenges that come with the DC region's expected population and job growth, local and regional governments have developed aggressive goals to facilitate alternative modes of transportation. For example, the Region Forward Plan seeks to create a "transportation system that maximizes community connectivity and walkability, and minimizes ecological harm to the Region and world beyond." Completing the ART system creates a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists, which moves the Region Forward Plan closer to fruition.


Crossing below Amtrak bridge.

It gives some Ward 7 neighborhoods access to parkland. As exciting as it is to think that people from all over the metro area will rediscover the Anacostia River, one of the best outcomes of this new trail segment is the access it will provide for the Ward 7 communities east of the river, but west of DC-295, to park lands and the river. (Note: the Kingman Park neighborhood of Ward 7 is west of the river).

Ironically, the National Park Service ownership along the Anacostia effectively "walls off" the river for communities like Mayfair Mansions and Kenilworth-Parkside. The new trail will provide new access routes into the park lands from the communities that surround them. Residents who have suffered living along a polluted Anacostia should certainly be among the first to reap the rewards of a clean river.


Aerial view of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

One challenge that still remains is connecting the remaining local communities east of 295 to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. Even once completed, 295 still cuts of access to the majority of residents living in Ward 7 and Ward 8.

It provides access to a beautiful section of the Anacostia River that is currently reachable only from the water. The biggest challenge facing the Anacostia River restoration is countering widely held beliefs that the river is a dirty place to avoid.

Make no mistake, there's a lot of work left to be done before we have an Anacostia River that is safe for swimming and fishing. But even now it is a place of surprising beauty where people can walk, see wildlife, and seek solace in the heart of the city. This final trail segment will make these recreational uses possible in the most natural and hardest to access portion of the river.


Entrance to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Right now, at most a few hundred people enjoy this section of the river in any given yearrowers, kayakers, and others who can access the river by water. The new trail segment will take the number of people exposed to the beauty of the Anacostia River to tens of thousands yearly. More people that see and know the river means more people who care about its restoration.

The last several years have been unprecedented in terms of restoration progress, and we can consolidate and build on that momentum. We'll need to if we are to reach DDOE's goal of a swimmable and fishable river by 2032.

Bicycling


Small changes could make crossing Sousa Bridge safer

Anyone who has walked or biked across the Sousa Bridge, which carries Pennsylvania Avenue over the Anacostia River, knows that it is one of the most dangerous bridge crossings in DC. DDOT needs to make this route safer, but in the meantime, it and NPS can make an alternate route through Anacostia Park more efficient and desirable.


Photo by GeraldFittipaldi on Flickr.

When you bike or walk across the Sousa bridge, you have 3 options when you arrive east of the Anacostia River. The 2 most-used, and also most hazardous, are the sidewalks on each side of Pennsylvania Avenue, which require crossing multiple 295 on and off-ramps.

All 5 ramp crossings have poor sight lines. Motorists can't see pedestrians or bicyclists wanting to cross and pedestrians. In addition, pedestrians and bicyclists waiting to cross can't always judge the speed of motorists on the ramps. The map below shows the dangerous crossings that pedestrians and cyclists face:


Dangerous ped/bike conflict areas. Click to enlarge.

The best solution would be to make the sidewalks one each side of the bridge actually safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Unfortunately, that's almost impossible without actually reconfiguring the interchange to make it less like a cloverleaf.

The current curb ramps are very narrow and line up with sharp turns on the adjoining sidewalks, which is not ADA compliant. Cyclists can't easily navigate them. Fixing these would also help.

Meanwhile, there's a viable, and only slightly longer, third option: a bike and pedestrian work-around through Anacostia Park.


An alternate route. Click to enlarge.

While this option seems like the safest route on a map, it is not without its share of challenges. DDOT and NPS could make this safer and more inviting, and perhaps make it a more popular option.

1. Improve wayfinding at the entrance to the path


All photos by GeraldFittipaldi on Flickr.

There is a bike route sign at the start of the path. The sign is not visible if you are traveling eastbound on the bridge, as depicted in the photo above.

DDOT recently added wayfinding signs in Anacostia Park. However, if you aren't familiar with the area, it appears the path will only take you into the park. DDOT and NPS should consider adding a map at the entrance that shows how to access Pennsylvania Avenue SE via the park.

2. Repair the path

Having biked down this path, it is not a comfortable ride. The cracks and bumps on top of the steep slope can be intimidating for novice bicyclists. It's also dangerous for pedestrians with baby strollers.

In response, bicyclists have developed their own solution, and most going to the park prefer their carved path over the official one. This worn desire path has been here for years.

3. Make the area under the DC-295 bridges inviting

Once bicyclists and pedestrians enter the park, they must go under 3 bridge spans for 295. The sidewalks are in need of repair, and that could be a good first step. Another important element for cyclists would be replacing the in-line grates that can catch wheels and cause a cyclist to crash.

The bigger concern is the lack of adequate lighting along Nicholson Street SE and underneath the bridges. These photos were taken during the day. At night it is even darker. Brighter lighting and murals can enliven the area and make this route safer and more attractive.

The current interchange is really not designed to be safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and in the long run needs to be replaced with one that is more befitting its location in an urban area. Perhaps when the 11th Street Bridge is complete, some of the traffic from this area will relocate, but that alone won't solve the pedestrian and bicycle safety problem on the Sousa Bridge.

In the meantime, there are safety improvements that do not require expensive engineering solutions. DDOT and NPS can work together to make these low-cost aesthetic improvements throughout Anacostia Park to ultimately provide a safer route for pedestrians and bicyclists.

All photos are by Gerald Fittipaldi, P.E., a civil engineer from New Jersey, who met with me to discuss challenges to biking east of the Anacostia River. For additional photos, visit his DC - East of the Anacostia River album on Flickr.

Bicycling


Ideas rule the roost at the Ward 7 transportation summit

Sometimes it's the little things that need the most attention. At last Saturday's Ward 7 transportation summit, residents offered many productive ideas. One recurring theme was to pay more attention to the low-hanging fruit, small projects that could make a big impact.


Ward 7 discusses bus performance. Photo by Neha Bhatt on Twitter.

The summit, planned and organized by Ward 7 residents Veronica Davis, Neha Bhatt, Kelsi Bracmort, Gregori Stewart, and Sherrie Lawson, focused on ideas from the community to improve transportation.

Attendees left energized and hopeful that more progress is coming regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety, equitable bus service, and better streets.

One of the best-received presentations came from students participating in the mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, who brought up a number of specific, solvable problems. They recommended reintroducing driver education classes in schools, and having WMATA meet with students to help them understand how the Metro budget works.

Crime against SYEP youth: The pay days for students participating in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) are well-known around the community, which has led to youth being targeted for robbery outside of Metro stations like Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue.

In response to this problem, the students said they would like to see an increased police presence. They also noted that police have a tendency to clump together and talk to each other rather than fully patrol the stations, so the students suggested that police spread out to cover a larger area.

Subsidized fares: SYEP paychecks will be cut by $2 per hour this summer. Therefore, the students recommended having WMATA or the District subsidize transit fares for SYEP participants. At the very least, the presenters asked for subsidized fares during the first two weeks of the program while participants wait for their first paycheck.

Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6) and Muriel Bowser (ward 4, the Council's representative on the WMATA Board) asked DDOT and WMATA about the cost of a subsidy and what its fiscal impact would be, noting that youth who go to summer school already get a similar transit subsidy.

Youth advisory council: After last year's summit, WMATA was interested in establishing a youth advisory council to discuss activity on buses. Unfortunately, there had not been follow-up from the local councilmember, Yvette Alexander, to move this forward. At this year's summit, WMATA reaffirmed their interest in a youth advisory council.

Aging in place: One resident noted that the very young and the very old have unique needs when it comes to transportation, and asked how WMATA can help residents age in place, and how it can better accommodate strollers on buses.

Deaf riders: Other participants said that Ward 7 has an increasing population of the hearing impaired and deaf, and that transit employees should be trained to both recognize deaf customers and help them use the system.

Pedestrian safety: Organizer Neha Bhatt discussed pedestrian safety concerns at Benning Road's intersections with Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street. She had organized a recent walking tour with Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the committee overseeing transportation, to look at problem intersections.

Capital Bikeshare: WABA executive director Shane Farthing raised the idea of subsidizing bike sharing for residents east of the river, and suggested changing Capital Bikeshare rules to allow younger members. Currently, one must be at least 16 years old to use Capital Bikeshare.

There was also an open house where community members could find information from DDOT, WMATA, Capital Bikeshare, and WABA, as well as discuss ideas with representatives from these groups.

The summit's two-hour timeframe turned out to be somewhat too short, so presentations and discussion were rushed at the end. The organizers are hoping to reformat for next year to avoid this issue.

Overall, residents came away with a widespread belief that working to pick the low-hanging fruit is a smart way to move forward and begin to bring positive change to Ward 7.

Poverty


Homeless shelter with no retail will hinder Anacostia

Anacostia residents are eager to create a vibrant main street. But plans to put a homeless shelter in the middle of the business district, especially one without any ground-floor retail component, would impede Historic Anacostia's progress.


Image from Google Street View.

Lydia DePillis reported in the Washington City Paper that Calvary Women's Services will be opening a women's homeless shelter at 1217-1219 Good Hope Road SE.

Though this project has been in the works for months, many community leaders learned of the shelter through an email blast from Chairman Kwame Brown last week.

I am a small business owner on the 2000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE, which is around the corner from the proposed homeless shelter. My personal preference is to have more options for lunch and dinner in the business district.

While there is indeed a need for social services in the neighborhood, many residents east of the river worry that an overabundance of such facilities will stifle revitalization efforts. Chris Jerry, Vice President of the Fairlawn Citizens Association, stated, "Ward 8, and the portion of Ward 7 Fairlawn, soon to be redistricted to Ward 8, the areas closest to the bridges that begin or end east of the Anacostia River, have been overrun with social program facilities."

The homeless shelter would be right in the middle of the business district and less than a block from a methadone clinic, also location on Good Hope Road SE, which according to Mr. Jerry "serves addicts not only from DC, but suburban Virginia and Maryland too."

Over the last four years the 1200 Block of Good Hope Road has experienced some positive changes. ARCH Development Corporation open the Honfleur Art Gallery in 2007 to bring art to the community and display art of local residents through its annual East of the River show. The newly constructed Anacostia Gateway I, located at end intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, opened in 2009.

The 1200 block of Good Hope is home to one of the original Capital Bikeshare Stations. As recent as last month a 24/7 Express Mart opened at 1223 Good Hope Rd SE.

Putting aside that the newcomer to the block is a homeless shelter, the larger question is why put a 100% residential building in the middle of a business district?

At its proposed location there could have been more creativity by making the project mixed-use. Calvary could locate a restaurant or retail business on the street level where the residents of the homeless shelter could have employment and gain some skills. The residences could be on the upper floor. This would allow for provision of social services and create jobs, while energizing the street level.

As if it is wasn't hard enough to get economic development East of the River, decisions like this make empty store fronts more unattractive for potential businesses. Main streets like Good Hope Road in Historic Anacostia should have commerce that creates employment and cultivates new businesses.

Events


Join GGW at Anacostia Community Museum & Art Gallery

Greater Greater Washington invites you to a Sunday afternoon tour of the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum and the Anacostia Art Gallery on July 10.


Anacostia Community Museum. Photo from Congress Heights on the Rise.

Other events coming up include the Kidical Mass bike ride, a gathering on Met Branch Trail safety, a streetcar happy hour, and Arlington's Capital Bikeshare expansion meeting.

For the Anacostia day, we will meet at the museum at noon for a brown-bag lunch and networking hour. From 1-3 pm we will divide into two groups for a guided tour of the museum and the art gallery.

Space is limited, so registration is required for tours. RSVP here.

The Anacostia Community Museum is located at 1901 Fort Place SE. The W2 and W3 buses from the Anacostia Metro Station stop across the street from the museum. There is also a free shuttle from the National Mall.

This Saturday, June 18, is Kidical Mass, the monthly family-friendly bike ride. This month's starts at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Brookland at 10:30 and heads up to Mt. Rainier for a pool party. For those farther south, there will be a bike caravan going from Capitol Hill and stopping in Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood.

There are two great transportation-related events on Wednesday, June 22. From 4 to 7 pm is a Met Branch Trail safety open house at the 4th and S pocket park along the trail, organized by GGW contributor and Rails-to-Trails coordinator Stephen Miller. MPD and DDOT officials will talk with riders about recent safety and dispatching problems on the trail.

The Guardian Angels are also organizing trail safety patrols, and will talk with trail users at the event. They need people to sign up to patrol, which you can do at the event or online.

After that, bike or ride Metro (because the streetcar isn't yet running) over to the Sierra Club's streetcar happy hour at Ray's the Steaks, 3905 Dix St. NE by the Minnesota Avenue Metro, starting at 6 pm.

Finally, Arlington's meeting on CaBi expansion is Monday, June 27, 7 pm at the Arlington county offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Cherry and Dogwood conference rooms.

You can find these and other events on the Greater Greater Washington calendar. If there's something else we should know about, send it to events@ggwash.org and we'll get it added.

Architecture


Increasing heights is not a simple proposition in Ward 7

Ward 7 is one part of Washington where the federal Height Act is not the main limit on the ability to add density to the urban fabric. More relevant constraints are the community's desire to preserve their neighborhoods' qualities and the lack of land suitable for high-density development.


Photo by Carl_C on Flickr.

The Height Act bases maximum heights on the widths of adjacent streets, to a maximum of 110 feet at the largest streets except for 130 on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown. (It has nothing to do with the height of the Capitol Dome, contrary to popular belief).

Earlier this month, Housing Complex reported that Mayor Vince Gray wants to relax the height limits East of the River and discussed the legislative challenges to implementation.

But the Height Act isn't the main driver of building height. In most parts of DC, zoning limits building heights far more than any federal law. Currently, the Marbury Plaza Complex is the only building in the Ward that even peers above the tree line, let alone approaches the federal limit.

Many long-time residents have expressed a desire to limit the height to 4-6 stories to preserve some of the best views in the city and the overall neighborhood harmony. ANC 7B, which includes the Hillcrest, Fort Davis, Penn-Branch, and Fairlawn neighborhoods, went as far as to pass a resolution to limit height at the Penn-Branch Shopping Center.

Putting the community concerns aside, there are other hurdles to denser development in the Ward. Although Ward 7 is one of the geographically larger wards, there are only a handful of areas that are even candidates for development into a higher density. Most of the land use in the ward is either single family homes, medium-density condos, neighborhood-scale commercial, or parkland owned by the National Park Service.

None of these areas are completely untouchable into the future. However, given the long time-frame to amass property from multiple owners or navigate the federal process to convert parkland into development, it is a safe bet that these areas will not become more intensively used within the next 20-30 years.

The next issue is that some of the larger low-density commercial areas ripe for redevelopment already have shovel-ready projects with maximum heights of 4-5 stories. For example, Mayor Gray's proposal would not affect Skyland Shopping Center or the Minnesota-Benning project located next to the new 5-story Department of Employment Services building. It also probably wouldn't affect the potential Walmart location in Capitol View located across the street from the Capitol Heights Metro Station.

After excluding all the previously mentioned areas as candidates for redevelopment into higher density, the only areas left are around the ward's three Metro stations. Even transit-oriented development around them is a challenge.

The obscure location of the Deanwood Metro Station and odd shape of the potential development parcels around it, limit higher-density development. If the newly built Deanwood Recreation Center & Library and middle school are excluded, the only non-residential land left is a small sliver on the east side the metro station and an odd shaped industrial parcel on the west side of station. Even if the city made significant improvements to the road network to improve access, there is still the challenge of trying to put high density on small parcels.


Deanwood Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive map.

Similar to Deanwood, Benning Road Metro Station abuts single family homes and is surrounded by oddly-shaped parcels. While Clarendon is an example of higher buildings next to low-density residential, the parcels around the that metro station aren't as narrow as at Benning Road. There is potential for redevelopment into a higher density. The question for this metro station is whether the existing height limit is adequate given the size of the lots.


Benning Road Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive map.

Of all three Metro stations, the Minnesota Avenue seems like it is the only one that would even be a potential candidate for additional height over the Height Act limit. While the development projects there are already built or shovel-ready, the strip-mall commercial areas across Minnesota Ave SE and Benning Rd SE could be more densely built.

This commercial area sits in a valley with only a handful of single-family homes along Benning Road in this area. They would lose their panoramic views, but they would maintain some views of the city. The rest of the land in that area is Fort Mahan Park. One concern would be the buildings dwarfing the homes along Clay Place NE on both side of Minnesota Ave. Putting higher buildings closer to Benning Road and stepping down the height closer to the homes could resolve this issue.

The Minnesota Ave Metro Station is wedged between I-295 and Minnesota Ave. On the other side of I-295 is the PEPCO Plant. According to PEPCO, it will decommission the plant in the near future. There are a significant number of environmental issues associated with that property that need to be considered, but there are not insurmountable.


Minnesota Avenue Metro. Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive map.

Regardless of the potential for additional height, the community has expressed that it doesn't want development at heights allowed under the Height Act. If Mayor Gray decides to move forward with this proposal, he will have to work very hard to move this through the legislative process while garnering the support of the community.

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