Greater Greater Washington

Events


Events roundup: Silver Line opens, Rapid Transit happy hour, central public spaces, and more

Years of anticipation have led up to this weekend: The Silver Line will officially open to passenger service. Don't miss a ride on the first train! On Wednesday, drink to rapid transit in Montgomery County or discuss Pennsylvania Avenue or Arlington's Courthouse Square.


Photo by Ben Schumin on Flickr.

And at long last... it's here!: The first Silver Line train taking passengers on the new tracks will leave at noon on Saturday, July 26. Let's ride together! We'll be congregating at the new Wiehle-Reston East station leading up to the noon train.

We had been organizing carpools, but it's not necessary to drive there any more: Fairfax Connector is running shuttle buses all morning from West Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue, so Metro on out to WFC and hop on a bus (or bike, or drive yourself) to get to the opening.

We'll meet at the North entrance to the station. From the Fairfax Connector bus bays, go up the escalators to the glass enclosed area of the Plaza. There's a large space here, and we'll have signs to help you find us. See you Saturday!

The future of America's Main Street: Pennsylvania Avenue is a major symbol of our nation's capitol, but poor urban design and aging infrastructure inhibit activity there. The National Capital Planning Commission and other federal agencies are hosting a workshop to kick off a new study for the street. It's Wednesday, July 23 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm at 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500 North.

Rapid transit happy hour: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Communities for Transit, and Friends of White Flint also on Wednesday, July 23rd at 5:30 pm at Paladar Latin Kitchen (11333 Woodglen Drive, Rockville, 20852) to hear the latest news about the MD 355 corridor and our booth at this year's Agricultural Fair. Did we also mention that Paladar has $5 Mojitos and Margaritas at happy hour? RSVP here.

A new Courthouse Square: Come and get a first look at the future of Courthouse Square. Planners will unveil three draft plans based on input from the public and a working group. See them on (once again) Wednesday, July 23rd at the 1310 N. Courthouse Road Office Building, third floor, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm (Metro: Court House).

Remember Southeast Southwest: Come out of the heat and watch the latest in the Summer in the City Film Series Thursday, July 24th, from 6:00 to 8:30 pm at the Southwest Library (900 Wesley Place, SW). This week's film, Southwest Remembered, follows the effects of urban renewal in Washington during the 1940s. Southwest was one of the first neighborhoods to undergo this effort, which displaced more than 23,000 residents in the process.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

History


McPherson Square's namesake died 150 years ago today

Washington has many squares and circles named after generals in the Civil War. McPherson Square is no exception, named after General James B. McPherson, who died 150 years ago today at the Battle of Atlanta.


Photo by Wally Gobetz on Flickr.

McPherson was the second-highest ranking Union officer killed during the Civil War. At the time of his death, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee, and his death elevated General John A. Logan to command.

Logan would later lend his name to Logan Circle.

McPherson was killed in what is now the Inman Park neighborhood east of downtown Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta, fought July 22, 1864, was largely a stalemate and led to a 6-week siege of Atlanta, which finally fell on September 2. The city was later burned by order of General William Sherman on November 14, 1864.

Interestingly, the statue of James McPherson in McPherson Square was cast in 1876 using the metal of Confederate cannons captured in Atlanta. They were melted down and recast into his statue.

A 360-degree painting and diorama of the Battle of Atlanta is on display at the Atlanta Cyclorama in Grant Park (not named after Ulysses S. Grant), and prominently includes General Logan riding to the front. He commissioned the painting to bolster his vice presidential campaign in 1884, though he died in 1886 without ever seeing the completed work.

The Battle of Atlanta was part of the Atlanta Campaign, and led to Sherman's March to the Sea, which split the Confederacy in two along a line from Chattanooga to Atlanta and on to Savannah.

Zoning


Should adding more housing be illegal even when neighbors support it?

If a property owner wants to divide a row house into multiple units, the neighbors agree, and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission does not object, should they be able to?


Photo by Andrew Wiseman on Flickr.

The Office of Planning (OP)'s recent "anti-pop-up" zoning proposal would halt this practice, in an effort to keep row houses as one- or two-family homes and reduce the financial incentive to add on top and in back. But at two members of DC's Zoning Commission were not at all pleased with this proposal.

Commissioner Rob Miller said that the Board of Zoning Adjustment has been granting many variances recently to allow these multi-family conversions, but only whenand becausethe neighbors and ANC endorse the idea. In fact, he said, the BZA has been sometimes having to bend over backward to get such a request to meet the strict variance criteria. But, at least in his thinking, if this is something neighbors support, why shouldn't it be allowed?

OP's Jennifer Steingasser acknowledged that in the recent BZA cases, there has indeed been neighborhood support. Often that's because a property is vacant and crumbling, and neighbors are eager to see someone invest the considerable capital that might be necessary to overhaul it. Small developers have said that the economics only work out to do such substantial work if they can create more units.

Federal representative Michael Turnbull, who works for the Architect of the Capitol, doesn't believe that. He said, "I'm not really convinced by these marketing studies. For every marketing study that says one thing, you can get another marketing study that says, well no. ... So it's a little bit self-serving. I always look askance at these things."

But Miller does not agree. He said,

I think this proposal significantly constrains the ability of our existing housing stock ... and the existing zoning code to accommodate a growing population, including a growing proportion of smaller household sizes. We are very fortunate to have an existing housing stock that can partially accommodate this change and growth in our city. Cities are dynamic and we need to manage the change and make sure it doesn't change the residential character of a neighborhood, but I think we should do more to manage the change rather than just throw up additional roadblocks.
In response to much of the pushback OP has already received on its draft, Steingasser has developed some alternative approaches. One, which garnered some praise from the commission, would still allow converting row houses into apartments, but require that units beyond the first and second be below market rate units under DC's inclusionary zoning law.

This would permit more housing, but set some aside for people with lower incomes, perhaps ensuring that these neighborhoods remain mixed-income as they grow more dense. It would be helpful to know more about the economics of these conversions to ensure that property owners would still be able to afford them; otherwise, it's just a ban in another guise.

Miller also asked OP to add another option that would make multifamily conversions a "special exception" instead of a variance. In a special exception, impact on the neighborhood is the main test, rather than uniqueness financial need.

Where's the big picture?

Commissioner Marcie Cohen argued that OP should be making any proposal as part of a larger housing strategy instead of as a one-off reaction to public pressure. "I just don't think we have a comprehensive housing policy in this city and I'm worried about all the unintended consequences of [this proposal]. I personally prefer the alternatives that you have [proposed]. I do believe we must have opportunities that are supported by an ANC and supported by a neighborhood to move ahead with higher density in an R-4 district."

In response to questions about the impact on housing supply, Steingasser repeatedly said that the rules didn't originate out of an analysis about housing; rather, they were an effort to respond to public outcry about pop-ups (including a sudden election-year interest in the issue from councilmember Jim Graham, who later lost his primary).

But this is exactly the problem. OP has now in several cases proposed new limits on zoning which, officials readily acknowledge, arose entirely in response to some requests by some neighbors. OP should certainly listen to neighbor concerns, but needs to also think about the big picture. Miller pointed out that they got feedback on many different issues, like fixing Inclusionary Zoning, and asked, why has OP reacted so quickly to this particular one right now?

Every change, especially one that affects the overall housing supply, has an impact beyond just the immediate neighbors and the people who have specifically met with Steingasser or testified at a hearing. The Office of Planning needs to have a broader idea of how much housing of different types DC has and how much it needs.

A policy that pushes more row houses to be family-sized housing and discourages small apartments in row houses could be a reasonable one, so long as DC also has a bigger plan for how to provide the smaller sized housing that other people want. As UrbanTurf recently discussed, many families would prefer a row house (we certainly did).

Maybe a comprehensive housing supply strategy will conclude that fewer row houses should turn into apartments while more apartments should go on other spots. But at the moment, there are no concrete numbers about the demand and likely supply. There are just handwaving statements about how more units will appear at places like McMillan (maybe not enough, and even fewer if opponents get their way) or that we need more family housing.

The Office of Planning is going to be doing more quantitative housing analysis as it prepares to revise the DC Comprehensive Plan. Steingasser also told the Zoning Commission that OP has more data on row houses and family-sized housing. While this proposal might be a piece of a puzzle, it would make far more sense to propose it as part of a fuller plan to ensure DC has the amount and sizes of housing it needs.

Links


Breakfast links: Home improvement


Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.
Anacostia flips: A non-profit organization is flipping historic homes in Anacostia and using the profit to restore other run-down properties. Some residents welcome the transformation, but others fear it will push out long-time residents. (Post)

The right to sunlight?: Residents of a street in Columbia Heights are lobbying to restrict pop-ups near homes with solar panels. They argue that the one-story additions block sunlight, increasing utility bills and decreasing the value of their investment. (Post)

Obama for statehood: When asked if he supports statehood for the District, President Obama said "I'm for it" but also acknowledged it will be "difficult" to get Congress to agree. Obama had not stood up strongly for DC rights during his first term. (WAMU)

Express Lane predictions: Carpooling only accounts for 9% of travel on the 495 Express Lanes. Will the new 95 Express Lanes boost ride sharing or end up like the 495 Express Lanes, which largely just created faster lanes for single occupancy vehicles? (WAMU)

Nixon-era biking: The DC Council's transportation committee clerk in the 1970s, Carl Bergman, pushed for better bicycle laws that allowed bike racks on cars (they weren't) or bringing bikes into buildings. DC's highway department head opposed encouraging bicycling. Also, Carl Bernstein got, and fought, a ticket for running a red light. (Post)

Lanier on bike lanes: DC police chief Cathy Lanier, who once had a bike hit her car, thinks bike lanes are a "double-edged sword" and actually seems to misunderstand how to correctly turn right from a road with a bike lane. (WashCycle)

How the ramp could look: A ramp connection for the Metropolitan Branch Trail to L Street could be wider than just a simple ramp. This matters because the NoMa BID wants to put some "playable art" in the easement, which won't block a narrow ramp but might interfere with a better link. (WashCycle)

Positive externalities of cycletracks: UK residents who lived less 0.6 miles away from new, high-quality bike and pedestrian infrastructure exercised 27 minutes more per week than people 2.5 miles away. (Streetsblog)

And...: Eight Northern Virginia taxi companies are suing Uber and Lyft. (ArlNow) ... The Arlington board approves the streetcar with the expected opposition. (WBJ) ... Prince George's approved the National Harbor casino which should open in 2016. (WAMU)

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Transit


Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 15

It's time for the fifteenth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

The answers will appear on Wednesday. Good luck!

Public Spaces


"Let's use this space!" say mysterious signs around Silver Spring's unfinished transit center

While repair work continues on the Silver Spring Transit Center, the entire block around it remains roped off. On Friday morning, big signs appeared asking to turn the space into a temporary park.


Photo by the author.

Six black-and-white posters hang from the fences around the transit center on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue, reading "Move the fence? Let's use this space." They sport photos of different activities that could happen there, like outdoor movie screenings, musical performances, and festivals. In the bottom-right corner is the hashtag #DTSS, meant for people to respond on social media.

Two Silver Spring residents placed the signs early Friday morning. They asked not to be identified to keep the focus on the message, not the act itself. "The Montgomery County election has just happened; people have gotten reelected," they said. "This is an issue a lot of people ran their campaigns on, but not a lot has happened."

They added, "We wanted to do this to bring back the bigger discussion…which is: what is the future of the transit center? What are the short-term uses of the site?"

Montgomery County broke ground on the transit center in 2008, which was supposed to tie together local and regional bus routes, the Red and future Purple lines, and MARC commuter rail. Work stopped in 2011 after workers discovered serious structural defects within the $120 million complex.

After some disagreement between the county and builder Foulger-Pratt about who was responsible and how to fix the building, repairs began in June. County officials say the transit center could open next year.


The transit center in 2012. Today, the space around it is covered in grass. Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Recognizing that the fence is necessary because the transit center is still an active construction site, the sign-hangers say they hope WMATA, who owns the land, would be willing to move it away from the sidewalk. "We talk about Silver Spring being this urban, vibrant place, but our biggest asset, our front door, is horrible," they said. "What is a chain-link fence for us to be presenting to the region when we're trying to attract people to live here, to work here?"

Moving the fence even 20 feet away from the sidewalk, they argue, could still keep people out of danger while creating space for aesthetic improvements or other activities. "This can significantly improve the experience of people who use the transit center," they say. "You could add some trees and planter boxes, so you could move them easily."

This isn't the first time community members have discussed the land around the transit center. Earlier this year, Councilmember Hans Riemer and former Planning Board chair Gus Bauman proposed turning it into a park.

The sign-hangers say that's not their goal. "It's a prime development site, not a future long-term open space site," they say. "But we can enjoy it while it's here, and help inform what happens here in the future."

So far, the two signs immediately outside the Metro station have been taken down, but the other signs on Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue remain.

Transit


See the view from a Silver Line train with this video

Can you barely wait until Saturday to ride the Silver Line? Get a sneek peek of the new line with this video from WMATA.


Video from WMATA. The video has no audio, so if you don't hear anything, your sound isn't (necessarily) broken.

This shows the view from a Silver Line train as it travels from Ballston to Wiehle-Reston East.

Silver Line trains began running simulated service over the weekend. Trains carry passengers from Largo to East Falls Church under an Orange Line banner, then offload and continue on to Wiehle without any passengers.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Parking


Shepherd Park neighbors tell car2go users to stay out

While car2go is mostly limited to the District, more and more users live in surrounding areas, and often leave their cars at the edges of the city. One resident of an adjacent DC neighborhood warned car2go drivers to stay away in this note:


Photo by George Branyan.

Reader Roya Bauman found this handwritten note on a car2go in Shepherd Park, a DC neighborhood that borders Silver Spring. It reads:

This street is NOT a garage for these ugly little cars! Be more considerate. Do not park in front of a private home. It is rude and a breach of residential etiquette. We do not care what the owners of this car company tell you. You Silver Spring transients are ruining our neighborhood.
Car2go users can can park the vehicles anywhere within the "home area," which includes all of the District (except the National Mall) and two small areas outside of DC, at Tysons Corner Center and National Harbor. As a result, many people who live in neighborhoods just across the District line, like Friendship Heights, Silver Spring, and Mount Rainier, often park their cars in DC and walk home.


Map showing car2go vehicles lined up along Eastern Avenue between DC and Silver Spring. Screenshot from the author's phone.

It's not illegal to park in front of someone else's home, but whether it's "rude" varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In denser parts of the region, where the number of residents exceeds the available parking spaces, cars belonging to other people might constantly occupy the curb in front of one's own home. In low-density areas such as Shepherd Park, on the other hand, many people have come to expect that except for the occasional party, only their own family and visitors will park in front of their own houses.

Residential parking regulations stop residents of Silver Spring and similar border communities from parking private cars for long periods near the border, but car2go creates a new legal use that doesn't fit into the established etiquette as residents of those neighborhoods see it.

The ideal solution would be for car2go to expand its home area to include these surrounding communities. Company representatives have previously said they're planning to expand into Arlington and Alexandria. Expanding to closer-in parts of Maryland as well would allow car2go users to leave the cars in their own neighborhoods, and maybe even in front of their own houses. That's something that neighbors on both sides of Eastern (and Western and Southern) Avenue could agree on.

Links


Breakfast links: Silver is coming


Photo by Michael Galkovsky on Flickr.
The simulation begins: Metro is running simulated Silver Line trains this week. There will be fewer Orange Line trains west of East Falls Church and east of Stadium-Armory. (Post)

Parking lot owners prepare for commuters: Since the Tysons Corner Silver Line stations do not have Metro garages, some owners of adjacent private parking lots are welcoming commuters, while others, like the Tysons malls, are taking steps to ensure commuters don't use their lots. (Post)

Edgy redesign for Franklin Park: Among the three options for Franklin Park, "The Edge" seems to have the most support from officials. That would put a pedestrian plaza along I Street, redesign the fountain, and add a playground. (WBJ)

The seven worst guards in DC: Even though it's legal to take pictures of federal buildings from the public sidewalk, when Buzzfeed's Benny Johnson tried it around DC's seven ugliest buildings, security guards repeatedly hassled him.

National Harbor casino on the way: The Prince George's County Council will likely approve MGM's casino project at National Harbor today. But neighbors and their councilmember are demanding a transportation management plan. (Post)

Why not large condos?: Although neighbors often ask for larger, family-sized condos when a new project is built, developers say not many families actually want them (preferring townhouses or detached houses), and the profit per square foot is lower. However, larger condos may make sense in some areas like Capitol Hill. (UrbanTurf)

Cities turn contracting upside down: Rather than specifying exactly what they want to buy, Barcelona and Philadelphia are outlining the problems they want solved and letting entrepreneurs devise creative solutions. (CityLab)

RIP Ed Tennyson: Edson Tennyson, a long-time rail advocate, died last week at age 92 his home in Vienna. He was of Metro's original planners and remained an advocate to the end, with his most recent letter to Dr. Gridlock in March. (Railway Age, thm)

And...: A water-wheel pulls trash (including a tire) from Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (WTOP) ... This map shows the condition of roads and bridges by state. (Bacon's Rebellion) ... More details emerge on the freight container apartments going up in Brookland. (Post)

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Photography


Stunning streetscapes 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.


U St. Photo by Clif Burns.


U St. Photo by disposablefork.


DC Bicycle Party riders. Photo by Joe in DC.


Mt. Pleasant. Photo by Aimee Custis.


Photo by disposablefork.

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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