Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


More than 20% of people bicycle to work in some DC neighborhoods

Over 20% of commuters in Bloomingdale, Mount Pleasant, and Petworth get to work each day primarily using a bicycle. That doesn't even include people who use bikes to reach Metro.


Bike mode share in central DC. Image from DDOT.

This fascinating map is part of the background data DDOT is preparing to study a possible protected bikeway on or around 6th Street NW.

It shows how hugely popular bicycling can be as a mode of transportation, even in the United States. What's more, this data actually undercounts bicycle commuters by quite a lot.

It's originally from the US Census' American Community Survey, which only counts the mode someone uses for the longest segment of their commute. People who bicycle a short distance to reach a Metro station, then ride Metro for the rest of their commute, count as transit riders rather than bicyclists.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Links


Breakfast links: Too close for comfort


Photo by philliefan99 on Flickr.
Close call: An Orange Line train ran a red light signal and came within 150 feet of another train on the platform at the Smithsonian station last Friday before the Rail Operations Control Center intervened and stopped the train. (NBC4)

Bike lane battle: Three Shaw churches said they are open to compromise over a proposed bike lane in the rapidly changing neighborhood in a meeting on Saturday. But the United House of Payer is holding firm in its anti-bike lane stance. (WAMU)

Unresolved problems: WMATA missed a deadline to submit plans on improving smoke detection in Metro tunnels and other serious items to the FTA. The agency also rejected WMATA's plan to address reduced resources for walking track inspection. (WTOP)

More flair, please: The future Reston Town Center Metro station will basically look the same as the other Silver Line stations. Local officials would have preferred a design with more "artistic flair." (Reston Now)

A bold, new strategy: The DC Taxicab Commission is considering creating Xclass, a ride-hailing service similar to UberX that will require drivers to undergo background checks and follow DCTC regulations. (WAMU)

Some justice served, finally: The MPD arrested 13 robbery suspects last week, and seven of them were juveniles. Chief Lanier says a small number of people are responsible for a large share of recent robberies. (DCist, Post)

New hope for Prince George's?: Prince George's County residents hope a proposed federal office complex near several Green Line stations could be a catalyst for economic development that they feel the county has long missed out on. (Post)

Fire station compromise: The Montgomery County Planning Commission reached a compromise on the redevelopment of the Bethesda Fire Dept. station that will allow for a 70-foot maximum building height and mixed-use "floating zone." (Bethesda Beat)

More rail for BWI: The FRA approved plans to add a fourth track to a section of the Northeast corridor around BWI. The project hopes to reduce congestion and improve safety with new platform and pedestrian bridge. (Capital Gazette)

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Pedestrians


Walkers were left out in the cold after the blizzard

If you try to walk around in many parts of our region, particularly in the suburbs, it's easy to get the feeling that you're an afterthought, at best. Governments' actions in the recent "Snowzilla" blizzard show even more clearly how being "multimodal" is more lip service than reality.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn.

In Fairfax County, sidewalks in neighborhoods and along major arterial roads were impassable a week or more after the storm. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and other jurisdictions closed for seven consecutive weekdays, putting many parents in a bind. Children lacked safe routes to school and safe places to wait for buses.

This was no simple issue of having to prioritize; as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told residents, the Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows all of Fairfax's public roads, was not going to clear the sidewalks, and the county had no plan to either.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Meta


You helped us build a townhouse in 2015! Will you do it again in 2016?

We didn't actually build a townhouse. But you did give Greater Greater Washington enough last winter to beat our 2015 "townhouse thermometer" goal and raise $18,517 to help keep this blog going.


Our 2015 "townhouse" thermometer. Original photo by ekelly80 on Flickr.

Thank you for investing in Greater Greater Washington! Now's your chance to do it again.

Today is Greater Greater Washington's 8th birthday, and we're kicking off our 2016 reader drive. Between now and March 8, will you help us reach this year's goal of $25,000?

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Last year, your financial contributions helped make Greater Greater Washington the "Best Local Blog in the Washington Area," according to Washingtonian Magazine!

Your support also allowed us to:

  • Publish more than 1,200 articles that reached 1.53 million unique readers
  • Host live chats with Paul Wiedefeld and Leif Dormsjo
  • Educate residents and policy-makers about important issues in housing, transportation, education, and more
  • Get a two-year grant and private donation to expand our work
  • Hire two full-time staff
In 2016, your gifts will help Greater Greater Washington:
  • Continue to bring you more, awesome content
  • Push for more content about Maryland, Virginia, and areas east of the Anacostia while keeping up everything we're already talking about
  • Host "How to Blog" workshops to train new contributors
  • Organize even more happy hours and other social events to connect the Greater Greater Washington community offline
  • Experiment with new forms of content (maybe a podcast or video?)
We have grown a lot in the last year, thanks in large part to your financial support. Even though growing up means a bigger budget and funding from foundations and other sources, your financial support is still vital to Greater Greater Washington's success.

Our foundation grants which will help us launch a new housing effort don't cover all of what we need to run the blog, and in fact were based on an expectation that our support from readers would continue to grow. So if you enjoy Greater Greater Washington, please give today!

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Links


Worldwide links: Cheap(ish) houses

Cheaper housing is doable, but it's about way more than just construction costs, strict rules are killing Sydney's night life, and a potential light rail line from Brooklyn to Queens. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!


Photo by Hans Drexler on Flickr.

A house, on the cheap: Auburn architecture students have developed a house that costs $20k to build and that, by conventional standards, is very nice. But building costs are only one challenge to affordability; remaining hurdles include formidable zoning codes, trouble securing mortgages, and finding a knowledgable contractor. (Fast Company Co-Exist)

Say goodnight, Sydney: Regulations that restrict alcohol servings and bar hours in some key entertainment districts are killing Sydney's night life. From 2012 to 2015, foot traffic dropped by 84%, and 42 businesses in the night life industry shut down. (Linked In Pulse)

Big Apple transit: New York City is considering a 16-mile light rail line that'd run between Queens and Brooklyn. The Mayor hopes that it will connect places on the waterfront but the idea is getting mixed reviews from residents and pundits. And those on Staten Island wonder when their time for investments will come. (New York Times)

Even on trains, voices carry: Thanks to new technology, it's now less likely that a train operator or bus driver makes an announcement on a transit system, and more likely that it comes from a pre-recorded or even non-human voice. That can mean more consistency, but matters like pronunciation have left some riders unhappy. (Guardian Cities)

Consider the flip side:Do the usual anti-transit suspects make you want to pull your hair out? Jarrett Walker, the author of Human Transit, says its worth considering the good points they make even if they're buried in bad ones. (Human Transit)

Alley cats: Hong Kong's alleyways can be cluttered, messy, smelly... and beautiful. Cleaning them up, says photographer Michael Wolf, can lead to a feeling of "sterilization" that dismisses character and charm. (Smithsonian Magazine)

Quote of the week: "Soon enough, the park could be growing trees from trash and rats would no longer have a buffet of garbage to feast on every night." - Cole Rosengren writing about a future in which vacuum tubes take our compost away. (Fusion)

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Photography


Goodbye, pretty snow in the Flickr Pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.


Rush hour on 15th St NW. Photo by John Sonderman.


Photo by nevermindtheend.


Photo by Beau Finley on Flickr.


Photo by charmcity123 on Flickr.


The Washington Post building on 15th Street. Photo by Joe Flood.


Westbound Arrival. Photo by Beau Finley.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!

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Pedestrians


If students were cars, schools would have opened sooner

Many of the region's schools closed for a full week after the recent blizzard, leaving parents to scramble for childcare and students missing out on valuable classroom time. That's what happens when your storm recovery efforts prioritize making it easy to drive rather than giving everyone a safe way to move around.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn on Twitter.

The historic storm hit the DC area on Friday, January 22nd. By the time the last flakes fell on Saturday night, just about everything was covered in over two feet of powdery, slippery, transportation-crippling snow.

It was soon pretty easy to drive, but not get around by any other means

As crews throughout the region got to work on their respective snow clearing plans (impressive work for which they deserve a lot of thanks), roads became passable and then completely clear. In contrast, sidewalks, curb cuts, and bus stops were often blocked not just by snow, but also frozen slush.

Some of the area's bike trails were cleared, but access points were plowed in, and the network as a whole was not rideable. Metro returned to service, but getting to stations was a dirty, icy, boulder-climbing adventure and plowed-in bus stops left people waiting often in very busy streets.

Without good options, the only choice left for most people was to drive, clogging our already strained roadways that the remaining snow had narrowed.

As the week wore on and roads became clear, adults returned to work. But faced with the conditions that would have left children walking and waiting for buses in the streets, school officials decided there were not enough safe routes to school, and kept most of the region's schools closed for the entire week.


DC's 5th and Sheridan NW, the Tuesday after the storm. To the right on 5th (the street going left to right) is Coolidge High School. To the left is Whittier Education Campus. Photo by Julie Lawson.

This didn't happen randomly. Arlington is an example of why.

These conditions were a result the fact that our systems for clearing snow focus first on getting cars moving again. People walking and biking are, at best, an afterthought in the region's snow clearing plans.

For example, Arlington posts a clearly thought-out snow operations plan on their snow operations web page:

  • Phase I: During the storm, county crews keep the arterial and collector roads as functional as possible to make sure that emergency access like EMS, fire, police, utility trucks etc. could still get through.
  • Phase 2: Immediately after the storm, they keep working those major corridors, widening lanes so everybody else could start driving again, too.
  • Phase 3: When those are under control they start working their way into residential streets.
Arlington has no unified public plan for clearing the rest of the transportation network - the sidewalks, trails, curb cuts and bus stops that are necessary for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Private individuals are responsible for clearing the majority of sidewalks, and various agencies of the County government are responsible for some routes. Apparently, there are designated "safe routes to schools" that are meant to get priority in snow clearing, but those routes are not made public and are not given priority if the schools are closed. However, many stretches are left without anyone to clear them, unless the County chooses to on an ad-hoc, complaint-based basis.

For example, the stretch of sidewalk along Lynn Street between the intersection of Lee Highway and the Key Bridge is along National Park Service Property. After this storm it took more than a week before the snow and ice were clear along this stretch, which cut off the main sidewalk access between Rosslyn and DC.


Arlington's "Intersection of Doom," at Lee Highway and N Lynn Street, just south of the Key Bridge. People walking and biking would need to climb over this snow/ice mound to get to the iced over sidewalk that leads to Key Bridge. Photo by the author.

When this snow plan was implemented, the streets were cleared, but the sidewalks and bus stops students would have needed to get to school were covered, often in mounds of snow deposited by snow plows. Instead of forcing kids to walk or wait for buses in the street, officials closed most of the region's schools for the entire week after the snow storm, forcing students to lose valuable instructional time at the end of the grading period.

Meanwhile, the region began to get back to work. By Wednesday, after three full days of being closed to allow the region to focus on digging out, most business were open and workers were working.

There are other ways to do this

During and immediately after the late winter blizzard of 1996 that dumped about the same amount of snow as last week's storm, New York City shut down all streets in Manhattan to private cars. The only vehicles on the roads were emergency equipment, garbage trucks, transit vehicles and of course snow plows.

NYC-DOT knew it could never get the city up and running again quickly if they decided that their first priority was to make it possible for everybody to drive their cars again. Roads were opened to traffic only after the sidewalks and bus stops were clear. In New York this took two days.

Arlington could do the same thing: Clear just enough of the roadway to accommodate emergency and service vehicles and eventually transit, but not more. With virtually no cars on the roads, people could at least get around on foot without putting their lives in danger.

And because transit and school bus stops would be cleared and almost no traffic on the road, these buses could actually get through and run on normal schedules. All kids, walkers and bus riders alike, would have a safe way to get to school.

Arlington does transportation well… when it doesn't snow

Fortunately, a good model exists right under our own noses. Arlington's transportation program looks at mobility as a public right, and sees all modes as legitimate. This includes mobility for people in cars, but doesn't leave out people on bikes, people on transit and people on foot.

Arlington's snow operations planners should try looking at mobility the same way when they plan for snow removal.

In this storm we saw a snow removal plan focused on getting cars back on the road. That happened by Wednesday. But cars don't occupy desks at schools.


After snow storms, it'd be smart to prioritize getting schools up and running. Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

Our public schools closed for a week because there wasn't a safe way for kids to get to them. We need a transportation system that serves the students, whether they drive, ride the bus, walk or bike to school.

We didn't have that after the recent blizzard, so we didn't have school.

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Links


Breakfast links: Safe and secure on Metro


Photo by Emergency_Vehicles on Flickr.
A few bad apples: Some question whether DC students should get free transit access after six high school students assaulted another Metro rider last month. But DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson says the incidents are isolated and free transit helps kids who can't afford transportation get to school. (WTOP)

Smile! You're on WMATA cam: Metro's new Security Operations Control Center is helping Metro identify and apprehend people when assaults, robberies, or other crime occur in the system. (Post)

WMATA's new finance wrangler: WMATA has hired a bankruptcy lawyer who once helped Detroit get back on its feet. Kevin Orr wants to lower WMATA's debt load, get its jurisdictions to invest more, and negotiate better labor deals with the unions. (Post)

Disabled in snow: The recent snowstorm highlighted just how difficult severe weather is for people with disabilities. DC has created an advisory committee to improve its snow response so people with disabilities can still get around. (City Paper)

Kicking Baltimore while it's down: A recent Washington Post article makes light of Baltimore's troubles. Does the DC press look down on Baltimore in the same way that New York does when they try to talk about DC? (City Paper)

Parking to housing: A developer wants to transform a parking lot near the Wiehle Ave Metro station into 260 residential units. Several developers are seeking rezoning in the formerly industrial area so that they can build more housing. (Reston Now, KC)

Surprising no one: As expected, former Mayor Vincent Gray announced that he is running for the Ward 7 seat. A recent poll shows him easily beating the incumbent, but ongoing controversy about his 2010 campaign financing could hurt him. (WAMU)

Housing zipcode by zipcode: This interactive map breaks down 2015 home sales in our region, showing sale prices and how quickly they sold by zip code. (Post)

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Development


DC added record housing in 2015. That's slowing down price increases.

In 2015, DC permitted more new housing units—4,956, to be exact—than in any year since the Census started keeping track in 1980. This pace of housing growth compares favorably to other cities, and there's reason to believe it's helping to slow rent increases.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

The record-setting year is most likely due to both long-term factors (a shift towards city-living among young professionals) and short-term, cyclical ones (federal government job growth having recovered from the sequester).

The composition of 2015's housing permits in DC skewed heavily towards large multifamily buildings, as it has in recent years. Neighborhoods like Navy Yard and Southwest Waterfront, where there are fewer neighbors to oppose large development projects, are contributing strongly to the city's overall housing production.


Graph by the author, with data from the Census Bureau.

Accounting for population, DC got more permits than most other major coastal cities

How does DC's year stack up against other cities? Well, it's somewhat difficult to compare these numbers across cities for a few reasons:

  • Initial population matters. For example, 10,000 new units in one year would be a ton for DC, but very few for a bigger city like New York.
  • Population growth matters too. Baltimore has about the same number of people as DC, but there's little reason to build new houses if few people are moving to town.
  • Cities have arbitrary political boundaries. We could use a standardized geographic unit (like MSAs), but that captures a lot of single-family, sprawling development. At the end of the day, we're interested in the extent to which cities are allowing their cores to densify.
But we can still make some back-of-the-envelope calculations. One useful starting place is to scale permits by a city's population. In 2015, DC permitted 7.5 housing units per 1,000 residents.

That matches or exceeds the rates of most comparable coastal cities: Boston (also 7.5), Portland (7.1), New York (6.6, an outlier driven by regulatory uncertainly for the usually low-growth city), San Diego (4.5), San Francisco (4.3), and Los Angeles (4.1). It easily surpassed cities with lower-than-average job growth, like Philadelphia (2.4) and Chicago (2.1). And DC was out-produced by growth-happy Seattle (17.0), Denver (12.0), and Austin (11.0).

There's evidence that all this new supply is slowing rent growth

In recent years, real estate analysts have noted that DC's higher pace of building has led to rents that are slowing in growth, or even declining. This effect is especially seen at the higher end of the market, since most new construction is luxury.

Here's Multifamily Executive covering a new Yardi Matrix report:

The cities that had the smallest rent gains in 2015 were Richmond, Va.; Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore. Echoing other reports, Yardi says Washington's rent gains have been held back because of the large amount of new supply in its market, while Baltimore still lacks job growth. These cities can expect to see similar results in 2016, Yardi says.
A Bloomberg reporter who interviewed DC developers last summer collected relevant anecdotes:
Tepid job gains and a spate of construction that created almost 20,000 units in the past two years made Washington one of the worst markets for US landlords, forcing owners to grant tenants concessions such as months of free rent to keep new luxury apartments from going empty.
And early last year, The Washington Post wrote that an increasing supply had driven down rents, partly by pushing landlords of luxury buildings to lower prices so they could compete.

Any effort to make our region more affordable will require a good deal more market rate housing than what we currently have. Hopefully, DC will build on the successes of 2015 and continue to allow high levels of dense housing construction.

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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.

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