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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Five Golf Courses That Hurt the Region

I was going to make another Top 10 this week on Top 10 golf courses that are ruining our urban fabric. I'm not a golfer, but I tried to be objective about this. I understand that people will want to golf, if I may generalize for a moment, the people who want to golf tend to have a little more pull then the people who aren't golfing.

There are always going to be lots of golf courses nearby because there are going to be a lot of well-to-do (and I'm sure plenty of middle class) folks that want them there. I searched long and hard, thinking I'd have a laundry list of golf courses that need to be nixed. Fact is, I only found five of them, and I believe two of them are public! Three of them are in Montgomery County and two of them are in DC. These five courses are disastrous to the urban fabric of the city:

5. Langston Golf Course, Northeast DC
As if the Anacostia River wasn't cut off from the city enough, Langston Golf Course sits on the western shore of the river north of Benning Road. I imagine a riverfront park that could offer more activities to engage the communities in that part of town. In addition to being a waste of valuable riverfront space in the city, a golf course doesn't seem appropriate for the surrounding communities of Carver-Langston, Kingman Park, Trinidad, Mayfair, and River Terrace. That's not a commentary on the demographics of the neighborhoods. I simply think that this much land in the middle of several neighborhoods of urban density should be able to serve more than a few dozen people at a time.

4. Chevy Chase Club, Chevy Chase
This Course chokes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor between the highly dense areas of Friendship Heights and Bethesda. This "dead zone" between the two downtowns induces speeding along the stretch. Perhaps building some street frontage along the east side of Wisconsin might do the trick, connecting Friendship Heights with Bethesda in a pedestrian sense, but I believe this club would best serve the region if it moved to another location.

3. Woodmont Country Club, Rockville
I've said before that this golf course is disastrous to Rockville Pike. Situated opposite the Metropolitan Branch railroad, it creates a choke point on Rockville Pike and puts a major strain on the road network. This in turn hampers pedestrian-friendly development from occurring along the Pike. I don't think this club needs to totally relocate, however. If only a few of the 36 holes were realigned, the county could connect Jefferson Street to ease the traffic on Rockville Pike and create ease the bottleneck there.

2. East Potomac Golf Course, Southwest DC
There are so many golf courses around here, even the Tidal Basin has one. BeyondDC also thinks this course might be somewhat ill-conceived. I agree with his proposal of putting a few buildings on the island, maybe a small mixed use community, a couple restaurants, something to make the island more of a destination. DC has tons of squandered waterfront. Do we really need two golf courses beside the rivers?

1. Columbia Country Club, Chevy Chase
This is my least favorite of all of them. Apart from the fact that it further suffocates the road network between two major corridors inside the Beltway, it's using thousands of square feet of land illegally by fencing off 84 feet of the 100 foot right of way of the Capital Crescent Trail for a quarter of a mile. Straddling the Capital Crescent Trail on both sides, this club has also been a major opponent of the Purple Line. The actions this club has taken to prevent transit from connecting PG and Silver Spring to Bethesda have in my opinion perpetuated some of the nasty stereotypes about the types of people that are members of these country clubs. Fact of the matter is that this is an utterly horrible location for a country club, and its mere existence at this location undermines regional planning.

Part of the reason I only criticize five of them is that I noticed may clubs inside the Beltway and along the major corridors are places so that they don't necessarily disrupt the layout of the city. Army Navy CC in Arlington is in the middle of the city, but it is fronted by low density housing and is primarily along the I-395 corridor. It is more "tucked away" than the five I mentioned above. Perhaps in the future this course too ought to be relocated, but for now it doesn't seem to disrupt the city layout much.

I have worked in a country club. Though I am not a golfer, I think these facilities are okay to have around a city. But diligence should be used when zoning for them. If an area is likely to become denser, then golf courses will be nothing more than a burden that serve few people at a great expense of land. This is particularly true for private courses. And what really annoys me is the fact that such clubs exist like Columbia, Woodmont, and Chevy Chase... when there are several other country clubs within the immediate vicinity! Indian Spring Country Club was forced to relocate from Four Corners up to the Layhill area when the Beltway was built. Eminent domain was used to make this happen. Why can't we use the urgent need for transit lines and denser development to do the same? Is it only okay to move a golf course if a highway is coming through?

Country clubs are devastating to the pedestrian environment. as density inside the Beltway increases, this type of land use should be squeezed out to the hinterlands. I'm not saying get rid of every gold course inside the Beltway, but we ought to at least consider forcing them to comply with the urban fabric that surrounds them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Peas are Rotting in the Pods

From a very young age, I always hated office parks. Even before I really knew what they were, they rubbed me the wrong way. My mother's failed attempt to enroll me in gymnastics when I was four is my earliest memory of this dislike for them. The gymnastics center was in Calverton off Tech Road, and even in my pre-kindergarten mind I felt an empty disposition about the place. Perhaps it was fueled by my hatred for gymnastics (which I only did for about two months) but I certainly remember hating that office park.

They're generic, they're very prefabricated, and the generally have little character. The buildings don't interact with the street or with each other. They are islands surrounded by parking and wasted land. You can't walk to them, and rarely can you take transit to them unencumbered.

Office parks are what urban planners call "pods". Pods are segregated developments with a very suburban design, generally only reachable by car. Office parks are one type. Strip malls are another. Residential pods also exist, in variable densities. What makes them "pods" primarily is their lack of street (and more often than not, pedestrian) connectivity to other types of development, only a connection to the giant arterial roads that connect them all. This creates a hierarchy of roads rather than a street grid network which greatly increases dependence on automobiles.

The neighborhood where I grew up had three separate pods: the low density single family houses, the medium density town houses, and the high density apartments. Though adjacent to each other, you could not go between the three without driving on University Boulevard. (or trespassing, which I did quite a bit as a youth)

I find this situation to create relative disharmony among the different classes. Assuming wealthier people tend to live in the single family homes and lower income families live in the apartments, the lack of connectivity between the two of these groups denies them opportunity to interact with each other, which can result in misunderstanding each other. In the book Suburban Nation, the authors state that this phenomenon can lead to higher crime in the lower income areas which eventually lowers the value of the adjacent areas. This starts a cycle that winds up with high crime and a lower tax base. And of course, congested roads. This effect can also ravage retail and office areas.

Our region is plagued by scores of these "pods". Many of the higher density residential pods in our suburbs could be considered our most unsavory areas. Ironically, fear of lower social classes can probably be blamed for a good portion of this situation; wealthy people don't want to live around lower middle class people, so they box themselves into their McMansion neighborhoods, leaving the less wealthy in disconnected apartment complexes that are homogeneous collections of one particular socio-economic class. This effectively ghettoizes areas of denser apartments, particularly in car-dependent areas.

Road connectivity between various zones (both density and function) works in a lot of places around here. the Orange Line corridor in Arlington is a grand example. High rise apartments closer to transit, single family houses along the same streets further from transit. Downtown areas of Bethesda, Silver Spring, Cleveland Park, and Alexandria work well also, despite their inter-zone connectivity.

What about the areas that pod off different zone densities? Langley Park, Briggs Chaney, Mayfair (NE), Largo (near the town center), Greenbelt, Hybla Valley, White Oak, Aspen Hill, Chillum, and on and on... Not all of these areas are horrible. In fact, each on of these communities has at least a couple of developments in which I would consider living. However they do not serve well as functional communities. They are fractured enclaves disconnected from services and activities. They are subdivisions rather than communities. And of course, they are all riddled with traffic because the lack of connectivity forces people to drive everywhere.

The mother of all pod cities, is Columbia, MD. This car-oriented zone-segregated "city" is choked with traffic, making it a less desirable place to live, making property values go down, bringing down the tax base, reducing the quality of services, lessening the quality of life, ultimately leading to decline. Columbia's decline has been slowed by the fact that it has no municipal boundaries and, like everywhere else in Howard County, is run by the county and not a municipality. I predict that HoCo will experience urban decay all at once unless they enact land use policies that better integrate the city's residential, commercial, and retail areas.

I believe we could do the region a great deal of good if we connected residential and commercial developments with a better road grid. Open residential areas up to commercial areas. Give equal access to parks and recreation; whether you live in an apartment, a condo, a townhouse, or a detached house, you should be going to the same parks, walking to the same bus stops, and shopping at the same markets. Commercial areas should be accessible without driving from the residential areas. Then we are offering equal opportunity for services to the people. It certainly wouldn't serve businesses poorly to have more foot traffic, rather than cars whizzing by.

Anywhere in the region that you think is "podded"? What do you think of Columbia's layout?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Top 10: Schools that Need Train Stations

Catholic University, Gallaudet University, and University of DC sit atop Red Line stations. Tiny Southeastern University is right outside Waterfront station on the Green Line. Bowie State has its own dedicated MARC station. What's great about this is that it connects these students to a city that can offer experiences and opportunities that add value to any type of education. It creates a higher standard of living for the students, and it makes the campuses more accessible to people who want to learn. It connects communities to the cultural exchanges that occur on college campuses: the concerts, the plays, the sports, the festivals. It better prepares students for the real world, and to some degree, it prepares the real world for them.

Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to go to college around here if you have a car, particularly if it is a school where you can't live in the dorms. We all know a forced bus-to-train transfer automatically decreases the likelihood of ridership, so I compiled my list of colleges and universities that most need train stations.

All figures are from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.

10. Columbia Union College
This is basically just a commentary on how Takoma Park needs a trolley or something running through that town. Adventist Hospital, the shops at Carroll and Philadelphia Avenues, and the dense-ish areas of the town are a tad isolated from the rail infrastructure. Columbia Union College has only about 1100 students, but I believe the community could benefit from connecting this school to the outside world.

9. University of Maryland, College Park
Hopefully soon this will not be an issue. Flagship University of the State of Maryland, largest employer in Prince George's County, and educating over 36,000 students, This school is underserved by a Metro station miles away from the campus center. The forgotten factor: UMCP also houses University of Maryland University College, which has over 90,000 students. Most of these are online, but several classes are taught on the campus, and plenty of jobs are located at its headquarters near the proposed Purple Line West Campus station.

8. United States Naval Academy
Considering its proximity to the Nation's Capital, the Naval Academy's 4,400 midshipmen do not have a single rail line connecting it with DC. Since it's also part of a military base, there would be dual purpose to have the option to connect it to facilities located around the district.

7. Howard University
Supposedly served by the Shaw station on the Green and Yellow lines, Howard ought to have better rail access. The current station serves the medical center well, however another station on/under Georgia Avenue could also serve the campus a bit better.

6. American University
Similarly to Howard, American is "served" by the Tenleytown station. In practice, it's almost a mile from campus center to Tenleytown station. With over a thousand full-time and adjunct faculty and nearly 10,000 students, and a popular venue like the Bender Arena, transit ought to evenutally be able to come a little closer to this prestigious institution.

5. Prince George's Community College, Largo (no dorms)
The flagship campus of PGCC, the Largo campus could feasibly be served by a Purple Line that connected from New Carrollton through Largo Town Center. 37,000 students attend PGCC, mostly at the Largo campus. As PG County begins its renaissance, educating the community is of utmost importance. Rail access to the community college will make this happen.

4. George Mason
I have no idea how this campus got it's name on the Vienna Metro station. It has to be two to three miles away. The Fairfax Campus is home to the majority of the school's 30,000 undergrad and graduate students, as well as the Patriot Center, a popular concert and sports venue. But don't take the Metro unless you are wearing your hiking boots. It's a pedestrian-unfriendly trek.

3. Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale (no dorms)
Serving over 63,000 credit and a quarter of a million non-credit students, NVCC is the second largest multi-campus community college in the nation, and the largest educational institution in Virginia. Unfortunately the headquarters is in Annandale, with nary a train station to be found. The Annandale campus serves the most of the eight campuses, 23,000 students according to NVCC's website. One look at the giant parking lot on the campus and you can guess the preferred method of reaching the campus.

2. Georgetown University
Here's a campus where the students don't even have a fixed transit service to watch their beloved Hoyas basketball team play at the Verizon Center! Set in a very walkable part of town, the closest Metro station is across the Potomac in Rosslyn. Perhaps the city's most prestigious institution of higher learning, Georgetown holds over 6,800 undergrads and almost 7,300 graduate students, as well as a hospital. The Blue Line may eventually be diverted from Rosslyn to run under M Street, which would serve the school and the hospital. Right now, students and faculty will have to settle for the walk across the Key Bridge.

1. Montgomery College, Rockville (no dorms)
Nearly 60,000 students from all 50 states and 170+ countries (more than any Ivy League school) attend what is certainly amongst the world's most diverse institutions of higher learning. Over half of them attend the Rockville Campus, which, like the other MC campuses, has no housing. The critical flaw is that the campus is situated in the middle of a three mile dead zone along the Red Line between Rockville and Shady Grove stations. An infill station at Montgomery College would likely have high ridership, and make the Rockville Campus more accessible to the Takoma Park Campus (the second largest campus, Germantown is the smallest of the three Montgomery College campuses.) Considering the array of demographics that attend Montgomery College, this would greatly assist in educating the lower socio-economic groups, which is good for them and great for the region as a whole. And all we have to do is build a station on the existing track right across the street.

Educating the region is important. Educated people are good for the economy. They are less likely to commit crimes. They are more likely to embrace the abundance of diversity that this region boasts. Unfortunately, school is expensive. It's even worse if you have to own a car to get there. Additionally, college campuses are a great place to breed a culture that releases itself from car ownership. People are walking everywhere; to school, to work, to leisure activities. With a transit connection, we're not only linking students to opportunities to learn, we're teaching them the value of getting out of their cars. What could be better for the urban environment?

Did I leave anyone out?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fixing the Freeway

Last night I attended a DC United game. I'm not a big soccer fan, but that team is just so much fun to cheer. I did my usual when attending events at RFK: drive to Cheverly Metro station and train it in from there. After the game, I went back to a friend's house near Waterfront to dry off (the rain was intense!) and then the plan was to give me a ride back to Cheverly, as Metro had stopped running. My chosen route was Southeast Freeway to PA Av, over the Sousa Bridge and then 295 to 50. but halfway up 295, we hit traffic. At 1 am. Apparently, 295 was flooded so bad they closed it. Same with Canal Road and Rock Creek Parkway.

I understand that there is construction on 295, but closed for flooding? This road is a primary evacuation route in case of emergency! That bodes poorly.

Furthermore, it's bad for the argument I am about to make. I have a real problem with the freeways within the District. We don't have too many, we don't need more... we just did them very, very wrong.

A route running north-south through the city is a good idea, as long as it is relatively unobtrusive. 395 in Southwest isn't nearly as bad as freeways in other cities. There are connections relatively close to each other. It needs a lot of work between South Capitol Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, but I believe it can be an asset to the city. I don't mean as a commuter route; more for the reasons Eisenhower pushed the Interstate System in the first place.

My idea would be to boulevardize two routes in favor of building one new freeway connection:

Green: Boulevardized roads
Yellow Improved functionality of Freeways/interchanges
Red: New freeways alignment.

The upper green area is New York Avenue. Let's turn that back into a city street. Get rid of the interchange at Brentwood Parkway. Downplay the connectivity to the two freeways (50 and 295) at Fort Lincoln. Put some mixed use housing/retail along the route, bikeways, and maybe a nice median with some trees. If it is possible to engineer, I'd say its worth investing in a giant deck over the rail yards. This road leads to the Capitol Building, not an office park in Loudon County. Let's make it look and function like a grand avenue and not a traffic gutter.

The lower green is the Anacostia Freeway between the Douglass Bridge and the proposed bridge. Open it up, return the river to the residents of Anacostia. This road- I'll call it Anacostia Avenue- ought to invite people to cross it and engage the riverfront. The current Anacostia Drive could become a bike path. The new Anacostia Avenue could offer street level retail with river view condos above them.

The bottom of the yellow line is the existing Southeast Freeway. This road needs work. It cuts Near Southeast in half, which destroys much of the area's character. Could this be a cut-and-cover freeway under Virginia Avenue? I think it would help if we got rid of the connection to the 3rd Street Tunnel. If all the traffic goes up the new portion, the need for a connection to New York Avenue is greatly decreased. Take GreaterGreaterWashington's suggestion and use it as a Metro tunnel.

Now the red, the part I'm sure many would deplore. I believe it is necessary for a contiguous freeway to serve every city. A four lane bridge from Barney Circle paralleling the freight train tracks and connecting to 295 would do the trick. Remove most of New York Avenue's connectivity with the B-W Parkway and the John Hanson Highway, keeping commuters off New York and other neighborhood streets and charge congestion pricing for anyone opting to drive their commute into the city. It would shake up the status quo for driving, but it could improve life in the city quite a bit. So I'm saying build a highway connection. Cue the barrage of tomatoes.

Why don't we just get rid of all the highways?
In my opinion, we can't yet. DC is a city that probably can't ever. These roads serve as evacuation routes (when they're not flooded). They also carry some types of traffic that shouldn't be on a regular DC street, such as military vehicles and various motorcades. This isn't Pyongyang. I never want to see Hum-Vees on New York Avenue unless it's a Veteran's Day parade.

We can utilize a mostly-existing freeway infrastructure as a means to trade two routes for what will ultimately amount to just a bridge. And we can charge people to drive on a continuous highway a lot easier than three fragmented highways that basically dead-end in various places. Going from Hywattsville to Lincolnia? drive all the way around or pay a couple bucks and save time. It will encourage a third option too: transit.

What transit infrastructure would we need with this?
I always caveat that I'm not an engineer, my degree is in general geography (engineers, feel free to set me straight!) But to help this, I would start by suggesting residential-focused transit-oriented development on the Orange line from Minnesota Avenue to New Carrollton. These five stations are greatly underutilized, and my experience is that they are best reached by car if you're in the suburbs (like my trip to the United game from Cheverly). Perhaps something along the heavy rail route from Deanwood to Hyattsville and onto College Park as well, as Matt at Track Twenty-Nine suggested a while back. And TOD the heck out of that region of PG county.

Also, better MARC service. And by better, I mean more frequent, dedicated tracks better service. If our regional system is only running during rush hour and sharing tracks with freight trains and AMTRAK, driving will look like a much more palatable option. I'd even suggest another MARC line in the median of US 50 with stops in Bowie and Annapolis (and who knows? Maybe one day fulfill my dream of taking MARC to Ocean City for vacation.)

Transit along New York Avenue would help redevelop the stretch as well. Perhaps a line connecting Union Station to College Park or New Carrollton along the existing freight/MARC rail with a few stops along the way (versus the existing MARC line). Of course, most of these suggestions would be a good idea anyway, and virtually nothing I've proposed for the trains is a wildly original idea. But these changes in particular would be a good compliment to the freeway realignment.

Eisenhower's original plan for freeways was for national security, not for commuting. I say keep one freeway and use it as a reason to get rid of the rest of them. Make sense to anyone else?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BRAC: A Transit Nightmare

So there's this Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) thing going on, moving tons of jobs to bases that can't possibly handle the increased population, and it's going on all over our area. What's affected? Fort Meade, Fort Belvoir, Quantico, and Andrews AFB, for starters, are all juuuust far enough outside the city that they have no Metro connection and absolutely disgraceful transit options. Then there's Bethesda Naval Medical Center, which has its very own Red Line stop but chokes off the MD 355 corridor creating perennial traffic issues. Though fiscally I imagine it makes plenty of sense to consolidate military jobs, it's going to take a lot of growing pains for this gigantic realignment, which was initially announced in September of 2005.

Having served four years in the United States Army, I can assure all of you that I find most military bases damn near impossible to get to and get around without a car. Absolutely horrible. Why do think so many bases are surrounded by car dealerships? Every soldier needs a car. And every base at which I've been stationed, sergeants and petty officers warn their troops about getting ripped off by said car salesmen. I was once in a battalion where I was required to attend a briefing specific to this matter!

Let's start with getting TO the base. Fort Meade, which houses the National Security Agency, is getting approximately 5,000 new jobs. there are two MARC stations that "serve" Fort Meade, Odenton and Savage. In practice, both are miles from a base entrance, and there is virtually zero pedestrian access. There are shuttles that operate from the MARC stations, but this system is far more time consuming than driving and I don't believe that it encourages ridership much at all. If there is any kind of bus service, I didn't hear about it the four years I was stationed there. I know that Corridor Transit offers a bus to the NSA twice in the morning and twice in the evening. Yeah, that ought to handle the 30,000+ commuters there. I can't speak to Andrews, Quantico, or Belvoir, but I imagine the problems are similar to some degree of those at Fort Meade. But instead of bringing transit to these areas, the big lobby is to bring the Purple Line to Bethesda Medical Center even though it would better serve Bethesda's central business district. Priorities!

Next let's talk getting AROUND these bases. So great, a bus/train/shuttle dumps you off at the main gate to Fort Meade. You are likely miles from your office. Military bases, in my experience, exercise little to no land use economy whatsoever. For a military service that prides "beating feet" I did an awful lot of driving around Fort Meade when I was stationed there. The only thing centrally located on that base is the golf course! Wasted land and few sidewalks between buildings, much of it nowhere near the main entrance. No regular base shuttles. It was not uncommon for me to make 20+ car trips a day while I was stationed there.

Working for the Department of Defense at most facilities demands that you own a car. For me, the cost of owning a car (car payment + insurance + maintenance + gas to and from work only) is 20% of my take home salary. And I'm not exactly driving a Lexus.

Which is why I was not surprised when someone in my office confided in me that his electricity had been shut off because he had recently spent a great deal of money on some car troubles. He literally had to choose between getting to work and powering his home. And this is a GS-11 with a very modest mortgage who lives less than 5 miles from Fort Meade. The DoD doesn't fathom any other method of commuting besides the automobile. This is evident by looking at the amount of parking at the Pentagon, which has its own Metro Station served by two lines.

I have a couple ideas. Extend the Yellow Line to Fort Belvoir. Extend the Green Line from Branch Avenue to Andrews AFB, or perhaps the Purple Line. Bring Metro up from Greenbelt to BWI with a stop at Fort Meade or the NSA. How about programs that encourage people moving to BRAC jobs to purchazse houses near transit lines that lead to their jobs? Developing the bases so that they can sustain a level of walkability from the main gates to the job centers? Imagine how fewer cars at checkpoints could be a good thing for bases. Hell, I even think military bases are good places to experiment with PRT to get people from transit to and around job centers on post. At this point, anything is better than the meager road widenings that have been announced.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Imagine West Silver Spring

By this point, I think I've made it clear that I'm a fan of Silver Spring. Transit-oriented works there. You've got your Metro, MARC, Metrobus, Ride-On, bike paths, and access to the Beltway. There's a night life, jobs, lots of culture, a fantastic community college, and a very eclectic mix of people, arts, and knowledge. But that doesn't mean I don't think it's under-utilized.

It blows my mind that there are large swaths of land between downtown Silver Spring and downtown Bethesda abutting Rock Creek Park that are veritable industrial dross-scapes. Wasted land along Brookeville Road, secluded by poor road connectivity, in what could be a very high end mixed use heartbeat connecting two of suburban Maryland's most important urban cores. Greater Greater Washington did a nice post on TOD zoning in Montgomery County, and I couldn't resist after I read that.

So I wanted to disrupt the low density feel of those neighborhoods in West Silver Spring; Lyttonsville, Seminary, and Woodside. Create more of an urban gateway between the two central business districts, bringing density down towards the city away from the hinterlands. I imagined West Silver Spring, and this is what I saw:

Made with Google Maps.

Pink- road network
Red- residential redevelopment
Blue- commercial redevelopment
Orange- transit stations
Purple- deck over rail

For starters, let me talk transit. I envisioned an extension of the Yellow Line that splits from the Green Line at the Petworth station running under Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring, then following the MARC/CSX right-of-way towards Rockville. This led to a station in the Seminary and Woodside neighborhoods as well as the planned Paul Sarbanes Transit Center at Silver Spring Metro. For the Purple Line I assumed the high investment light rail alternative with stations at Lyttonsville, Woodside, and of course the Silver Spring transit center.

These three new stations would be the epicenters of transit-oriented funcsionality with minimum direct impact on the low-density residential infrastructure in existing neighborhoods. Four stations that one could easily walk between, but are far enough apart that are far enough apart to efficiently serve the community. Served by only one line, Lyttonsville and Seminary would not be as dense as Woodside (served by two) or Silver Spring (in my transit vision, served by four lines of Metro plus MARC). Those overwhelmed by the growing density of downtown Silver Spring would have the alternative of moving to a dense-but-not-too-dense TOD not to far away.

And though I'm sure wholesale redevelopment of the Brookville Road corridor and the Walter Reed Annex would garner a great deal of NIMBYism, they are areas that are not exactly pleasant in their current state. The north view from the apartments on Lyttonsville place is a car salvage yard.

Major changes to the road network are mostly in Woodside. I strongly believe that the Summit Hills development at the corner of 16th and East-West Highway ought to be razed and redeveloped from the ground up. Here, I've changed the intersection of Spring and 16th streets so that 16th ends on Spring on a deck over the trains. Spring Street then connects to Porter Road, which runs to Lyttonsville. The northern end of 16th Street could be redesignated Columbia Boulevard. Summit Hills and Rosemary Hills complexes would be redeveloped to compliment the new grid street network, with row houses in the residential areas and condos over retail in the commercial areas. Perhaps the steep grade of this neighborhood might accommodate residential over retail in this manner.

Perhaps my least popular more here: I connected Jones Bridge Road across Rock Creek Park so that Jones Bridge Road, Brookeville Road, and Grubb Road all come together, perhaps in a traffic circle just west of the Lyttonsville station. Though this would mean more traffic through the park, and through those Chevy Chase neighborhoods, the stronger street grid would have a very positive impact on traffic and probably encourage more walking and bike use. I have very little sympathy for Chevy Chase residents, anyway. That town is just going to have to deal with the fact that southern Montgomery County is only going to get denser and denser.

As for the Seminary neighborhood, I imagine the closure of the Walter Reed Annex would lead to some medium-density development on that property. It would compliment the apartments that are now up for rent at National Park Seminary. So here we have a neighborhood with a very eclectic charm in a densely wooded area where existing development is/would be utilized, minimizing the impact on the wealth of mature trees. What a cool place for a transit-based community!

I once again caveat that I am not an urban planner (though I hope to be one day), nor am I an engineer. Please point out any obvious design flaws you might spot. And please, if you have any suggestions for West Silver Spring, I'd love to hear them. I'm not saying this is feasible, but I believe that West Silver Spring could benefit the region heavily if it were developed in such a manner.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Convince Me To Support the Purple Line

I like the idea of connecting all the Metro Lines in Maryland. I think it's a brilliant idea that will serve smart growth well, greatly reduce automobile reliance, and I think it will economically benefit the city as well as the suburbs.

But are we doing it right?

I haven't heard anyone from Langley Park or Riverdale complain like the whiny NIMBYs of Chevy Chase and Bethesda, who, in my opinion, are doing the entire region a disservice by allowing a Country Club to exist in an area that could be more served with some sort of denser development that serves the larger community and not just a few wealthy people that are accepted by this private club. Move that nonsense out into the country. Or better yet, get rid of Columbia Country Club. We have plenty of golf courses in Montgomery County. At the very least, the club needs to relinquish the 84' of 100' right-of-way that it currently fences off from the general public.

Those whining about the Capital Crescent Trail being harmed are in my opinion selfish. This project will undoubtedly change the character of portions the CCT, but it will extend the path into Silver Spring, connecting it to other hiker biker trails in Montgomery County. Furthermore, this rail right-of-way was purchased to serve the needs of the county, not to serve as a park for the residents of affluent Chevy Chase. I fail to see how the decreased aesthetics of the trail outweigh the increased functionality of the trail.

Then there's the occasional "I won't want a train that close to my house" by people who perhaps aren't familiar with light rail, in which case I can understand their concerns but don't believe their argument has the clout to block the initiative. In my experience, light rail is quieter, cleaner, and safer than buses running up and down the street. The only thing they lose is street parking, which ought not be a birth right in denser areas anyway.

This proposal has a lot of support, and it's generally more organized and informed than the opposition. So I'm not in anyway a NIMBY here. I think this transit link needs to happen. But I want the good people out there who read Imagine, DC to convince me that the current plan is a good idea. I'm leaning that way, but I want more information.

How is this line going to be integrated with the Metro Rail? Sure, it's going to drop people off at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton... but what's the deal? Is it going to be like a bus route? Or is it going to be fully integrated into Metro with seamless transfers? I've heard that it will be integrated with SmarTrip. That's good, but it's not good enough if it is not treated as part of the existing heavy rail system. It seems to me that would just be a glorified bus route, especially if it winds up as a BRT. Convince me otherwise. Otherwise, change the name, because "Purple Line" implies a seamless integration with Metro that won't exist.

I am not a statistician. But even the most optimistic ridership numbers seem painfully low to me. Gas isn't getting any cheaper. I would use that line 3-4 times a week if it existed, and I don't even commute along that route. 67,000? No way. I think ridership will be much, much higher than that if the line gets built, and that's before the ensuing transit oriented development pops up around Langley Park and wherever else. Is a light rail going to be able to handle those numbers? 5 years after it opens, will it be able to handle double those numbers? Triple?

Considering the large percentage of the route that will be sharing traffic lanes, how do we know it's not going to get stuck in gridlock along Wayne Avenue, University Boulevard, Kenilworth Avenue, or Riverdale Road? Will it have dedicated lanes on those corridors? Will those roads be losing traffic lanes or will additional right-of-way be constructed?

What incentives does the region have to continue this line? I know there have been talks about pushing it further in PG County to Largo. What about Branch Avenue? Will it serve FedEx Field?Andrews Air Force Base? National Harbor? I think a Purple Line ought to be a full loop running all around the city. Eventually, it ought to run through Tyson's Corner, Annandale, Bailey's Crossroads, and Alexandria. Is this feasible with this project?

Trolleys are a great idea. I think they ought to blanket this region by the time I retire, or sooner. But the Purple Line ought to be more than just a simple trolley. Montgomery and Prince George's counties' combined population is pushing two million, mostly concentrated around the regions where this vital transitway will be constructed. Whatever gets build should have been built 10 years ago, and this region has failed us terribly by not providing this transit link.

Again, I WANT fixed rail along this corridor, whatever it takes. I think the only reason I'm not a full fledged Purple Line supporter is because I don't know where to find the answers to these questions. Help me and any passers-by who want more information understand why this proposal should be supported.

I'm asking every pro-transit reader to convince me to come down off the fence onto the side of pro-Purple Line. Don't tell me this is the best idea for the money that has been alotted for this project; tell me this is the best idea for the people of the DC region who want to get around the dense built up (and up-and-coming) towns hugging our Nation's Capital. If there's not enough money for what we ought to have, let's find more. We need the Purple Line, and we need it done right.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Potential of PG

Prince George's County, even with its bad reputation, holds something of particular value to Maryland and the DC area. Communities.

There's a long list of them, many area residents have never heard of some of them. Greenbelt, College Park, University Park, Hyattsville, Riverdale, Berwyn Heights, Bladensburg, Cottage City, Colmar Manor, Edmonston, Mount Rainier, Brentwood, Cheverly, Landover Hills, New Carrollton, Fairmount Heights, Seat Pleasant, Glenarden, Morningside, District Heights, and Capitol Heights. All of these are incorporated towns in Prince George's County, and for the most party they are very dense and have reasonable access to highways and transit.

Hyattsville, for example, has been incorporating territory and redeveloping it for years. The heart of the town is a charming collection of 100 year old Victorian homes that belie the nasty reputation bestowed upon the area. It appears to have been built upon a similar model to Chevy Chase. I suspect the two towns took divergent paths because of their demographics over the last half century, Hyattsville attracting more African Americans and immigrants than their counterpart in Montgomery County.

Nowadays, Hyattsville is experiencing a boom of growth along its Route 1 corridor, and more to come at the West Hyattsville Metro station. The latter will no doubt affect nearby towns of Mount Rainier and Brentwood as the former has done in Riverdale and University Park. Prince George's County is still an infrastructural mess, but perhaps Hyattsville will illustrate the potential as people start to see it as an attractive place to live once again.

Several of the aforementioned towns were founded as "trolley towns", bedroom communities at the end of a DC streetcar line in the 19th Century. The closure of those lines-- and perhaps the racial politics of the '50's and '60's-- contributed heavily to the loss of prosperity in the region. But they all maintained (and in some cases, expanded) their incorporated municipal territory, which may prove to be a valuable asset as the DC region begins to implode upon itself. Formal communities have been able to stand up against county and state government to maintain walkable-scale neighborhoods, tightly knit grids of well-built practical houses on reasonably sized lots, streets with sidewalks, curbs, trees, and lights, neighborhoods with parks and municipal buildings.

13 of these municipalities lie between the B-W Parkway corridor and the I-95 would-have-been corridor. bisecting this are is a major rail right of way. Across the B-W Parkway is a smattering of three Orange Line stations named for the three abutting municipalities. None of these stations were built within the boundaries of the municipality that they served, though Cheverly eventually annexed the area round its station. Pedestrian access has slowly but markedly been improving to Metro Stations in PG, and with 2200 acres of open land to develop around the 15 Metro stations in the county, these areas could soon be overcoming the negative image that has been cast upon these areas, and perhaps it will bleed over into DC.

I have plans to relocate to Hyattsville later in the year. Many of my coworkers at Fort Meade laugh at the prospect of living in PG county at all, let along the areas abutting DC. But urban sprawl properties like those in Odenton and Crofton many of my colleagues own continue to plummet in value as gas prices skyrocket. There's a great deal of potential in Prince George's County, and it is finally being realized.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Traffic Gutters to TOD

I've been thinking about the Arlington model for TOD. Where else could we do that around DC? Should we do it? I say yes, but I think the capital investment required will keep such fantasies in my optimistic imagination.

As I have stated before, I believe the combination of transit access and a useful street grid is what makes Arlington's Orange Line stretch what it is today. I think, with a little elbow grease, there are a few other corridors we could likely transform to stave off urban sprawl and bring the development back into the city.

Obviously we'd need transit. It looks like better transit may be coming in the form of busses soon. Still, TOD works better where there is fixed rail. I think improved fixed rail access can benefit the region if we place it along the right corridors. Here are my top ten:

1. Route 1 from College Park to Laurel
Beyond DC stated to me (above link, in the comments) that Metro expansion would be far more expensive than upgrading MARC to Metro-like service capability. This is true, but I don't see evidence where MARC has promoted TOD. If someone believes otherwise I'd love to get a little more informed on this. Anyway, with a string-of-pearls of small cities flanked by two freeways, this corridor is halfway there with the TOD. Considering the Base Relocation And Closure (BRAC) bringing thousands of jobs to Fort Meade, Beltsville and Laurel will only become more attractive places to live. I hope we can do it right and provide connectivity between the jobs and the houses, and throw in a few walkable commercial districts while we're at it. In the mean time, at least Route 1 has an initiative. (warning: pdf)

2. Columbia Pike in Arlington.
This road is a gateway to the heart of the District. It's an attractive place to live and a reasonable place from which one could commute into the city. Fortunately, there is a streetcar on the books for this corridor. I hope once if/when it is built, it will carry passengers all the way to L'Enfant, to jobs and four lines of the Metro.

3. Columbia Pike from Silver Spring to Columbia
Also known as US29. This stretch is in the process of being turned into a limited access freeway from New Hampshire Avenue on up. But the highway design allows for light rail to be placed in the median. This could benefit some of the higher density developments in Briggs Chaney that are far from jobs. Light rail would be tricky, however, unless it went underground south of White Oak to Silver Spring, as 29 turns into another suburban traffic gutter south of there. A while back, Just Up The Pike produced this route, which would likely do the trick.

4. MD 355 from White Flint Mall to Germantown
Rockville Pike, Hungerford Drive, or Frederick Avenue... whatever you call MD355, it is a traffic gutter. I don't see why this has to be, considering that there is a freeway (I-270) running parallel a mile or so west. Many of the train stations are there thanks to the Red Line and the proposed Corridor Cities Transitway, but the corridor lacks a street grid supporting it. This vital technology corridor has been developed as urban sprawl so much that it now is seen as a major threat to Montgomery County farmland. Bringing that development inward can help reduce the negative effect on the farms and improve the corridor's positive impact on the regional economy.

5. Kenilworth Avenue from Cheverly to Konterra
Currently, Kenilworth Avenue ends in Beltsville, but construction should begin soon to extend the road to the Konterra site. The southern section passes though the abject blight of Prince George's County. Bladensburg, once a thriving seaport, has fallen into unsightly disrepair uncharacteristic of the charming town that 50 years ago was Chevy Chase with a waterfront. Edmonston, Riverdale, Berwyn Heights, and Greenbelt are also served by this road, which at parts looks more like a freeway. There is an effort to revitalized this stretch, though. The northern portion of this corridor could easily compliment the Route 1 corridor mentioned above. It would require more than the two existing Green Line Metro stations currently existing between the two corridors, but it is very doable and could create a far more suitable gateway between DC and Baltimore.

6. Alabama Avenue in Southeast
I wonder if a light rail along this road would promote some connectivity on the other side of the river. It certainly wouldn't have the economic impact that the other corridors boast, or even the potential for other corridors in Anacostia, but I believe it might improve the quality of life for Anacostia residents and make it a more attractive place to live or run a business. I'm sure this will never be a high priority, but it ought to get some attention as the central corridor of Southeast.

7. Georgia Avenue from Silver Spring to Olney
This is one of the first roads I picture when I think of a traffic gutter. It passes through so many great neighborhoods, commercial areas, and built up areas. It has four Red Line Stations. But the road has no charm or character. It's only there to shuttle people up and down the county. Residents would agree that there's absolutely no reason for this in Silver Spring, which is widely used by pedestrians that don't benefit from a six lane traffic gutter (or two! see #3) bisecting the town. Same at Seminary Lane. Same in Wheaton. And Glenmont. And Aspen Hill. And Rossmoor. And Olney. There's no reason Georgia Avenue can't be a real "avenue", or Main Street MoCo.

8. VA236/US50 from Alexandria to South Riding
This is a very long stretch, but again we have a road that's long and straight, passes through several town centers, and does little more for those towns than serve as a traffic gutter. There is currently no fixed guideway transit on this corridor except the King Street Metro station. That's nothing in Lincolnia, Bailey's Crossroads, Fairfax, Fair Oaks, Centerville, or South Riding. Wouldn't some transit on this stretch make it a more viable stretch to live or operate a business? Live here, walk around to do your errands, and commute to Alexandria.

9. University Boulevard from Kensington to College Park/Viers Mill Rd from Wheaton to Rockville
Yes, I'm calling out both of these entire roads. Kensington has no transit save for a MARC station, which is a shame because it's a wonderfully charming town where the walkability is swallowed up in 8 lanes of traffic. It is six lanes through Wheaton, Kemp Mill, and Four Corners. Langley Park is downright strangled by all the traffic lanes, making this "boulevard" a traffic gutter that is too clogged to effectively bring folks to its eponymous University of Maryland. As for Viers Mill Road, it connects this corridor to Rockville. driving it is painful even if it is the peth of least resistance to Rockville. It's time to admit that Viers Mill is no longer suburban, it is indeed very much urban. More transit, more TOD on these roads please!

10. New York and Rhode Island Avenues in Northeast
Could we use that MARC/CSX right of way for some local transit? I envision a line running from Union Station to Hyattsville along there. I support the District's attempts to make New York Avenue more like a city street, and what would help more than some TOD along the route? This could benefit Trinidad, Brentwood, Fort Lincoln, Ivy City, and in PG Mount Rainier, Cottage City Hyattsville, and Riverdale. These areas are so close to everything, and yet they're somewhat blighted. It would be of great benefit to the region to improve these areas.

Anyone else have some ideas about what corridors might be able to emulate the Orange Line part of Arlington?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Truth in Advertising

This is partially in response to the death of a young lady in Dupont on her bicycle the other day. There have been a lot of good threads on bike rights-of-way, and it got me thinking about how a lot of our roads are over engineered for cars and cars alone.

Route 1 in Laurel is called Baltimore Boulevard. I have a small problem with this. Sure, if you follow it, it will take you to Baltimore. But it is not a boulevard, it is a highway. A boulevard, by definition, is a straight, wide urban route with a median and trees, generally designed for parking and slow travel. Perhaps they should reconsider Route 1's odonym.

Baltimore "Boulevard" between Bowie Road and College Park is 4 lanes of high speed driving (when it's not congested) with no parking along the road and nothing but strip malls and a railroad abutting the right of way. Sidewalks, another staple of a boulevard, are a crapshoot on that stretch. Maybe they're there, maybe they aren't. In any event, you don't want to walk there if you can avoid it. Biking is even worse. I'd rather sit shotgun while driving through Sadr City, I'm sure it's slightly safer. Same goes for University "Boulevard" from end to end, College Park to Kensington.

A few weeks ago, Laurel2020 pointed out that improvements are planned for this strip to make it more pedestrian friendly. Nonetheless, developers are still designing roads like this all over the country. Over engineered, wider than they need to be, "traffic gutters" as Andres Duany would say.

What if we held developers and jurisdictions responsible when they named a street? Imagine if every boulevard was indeed a boulevard, wide and straight, low speed, tree lined, with a vista to some kind of a landmark? What if there were a set of regulations governing proper naming of streets based on their real function? Every 'avenue' must have buildings directly fronting the street. Every 'highway' must have shoulders. Every 'court' must come to a dead end or cul de sac. Every 'parkway'... wait for it... ought to run through a park.

These regulations could ostensibly govern a number of traits of a road: pedestrian functionality, lane width and number of lanes, street parking, landscaping, maximum speed limits, availability for interchanges and limited access, zoning allowances, whether or not it can be one-way, transit functionality, street frontage, curbs, storm run-off... anything. I imagine it would force a developer not to over engineer his streets in the new subdivision. If the "Boulevard" leading into the neighborhood has six lanes and no buildings or pedestrian facilities fronting the way, it would have to be renamed a 'highway'. And what potential suburbanite buyer would want to live in a neighborhood where the entrance road is a 'highway'?

Perhaps it's a little shaky. But, if properly implemented and enforced, I think it could ostensibly promote smarter development. At least it would mane I'm not crossing a 'boulevard' with five lanes of speeding traffic and no crosswalks every time I want to wet my whistle at the Greene Turtle.

UPDATE: Route 1 is Baltimore AVENUE, not Boulevard. The two are virtually synonymous, so just replace the word "boulevard with the word "avenue" (except University Boulevard) and ignore the fact that I'm a geographer who doesn't know the streets in his own neighborhood.

Friday, July 4, 2008

4th of July

Happy 4th of July, everyone! This is a public service message: Please be good to your Metro officers, this is the worst day of the year for them. Go easy on them.

Also, Track Twenty-Nine reminds us that DC is still missing out politically, with some great examples of why DC should get more voting rights.

Most importantly, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, thank the troops today, no matter what your stance on any war might be. Most soldiers put politics aside when they lace up their boots. All any of them want is the best for America. I've been spending a lot of time in Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Petworth, and the disabled soldiers from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Med Center are all over the place. I always buy them a drink or at least express my gratitude for their service. In a time where what they do tends to be broken down into just another piece of campaign propaganda, I humbly request that one this day we take a bit of pride in what they do. We're lucky to have so many soldiers around this area, let's honor their sacrifices. I believe it was George Orwell who said the people of America sleep well in their beds at night because rough men stand ready to do harm on their behalf. Or something like that.

Happy 4th. Be safe.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Imagine the Purple Line

It's everyone's favorite light rail debate. Few people argue we don't need an east-west transit link through suburban Maryland. Most people just disagree on how and where it ought to be build. I personally think it ought to be a heavy rail. largely underground. I think that once the light rail is built, the immediate need for more capacity will be very apparent, $200 barrels of oil aside.

I'm not opposed to the light rail idea. I think it would be very successful, other than a few NIMBYs sponsored by Columbia Country Club (who is illegally using much of the county's right-of-way) and a couple of crybabies in Silver Spring who don't want the train to run down their street. I can live with the line being light rail. I can't live with the limitations of the current proposal, however.

So long as this train is MTA and not WMATA, it will, of course, stay in Maryland. but what if it went all the way around the Beltway, plenty of others think it should? What if, instead of just being a glorified bus, it was fully integrated with the Metro system? Sure that would require an enclosed station for every stop, but why not? This is fantasy. A fully integrated rail circumnavigating Washington DC!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you my Purple Line:

View Larger Map

A quick rundown of the stations, with the path to the next station in parentheses follows. Mind you that these are just what I would name the stations, and the routes I would use.

Bethesda Metro (follows Georgetown Branch Trail)
Chevy Chase Lake: Connecticut Av at Manor Rd (Georgetown Branch Trail)
Lyttonsville: Brookeville Rd at Lyttonsville Pl (Metropolitain Branch ROW)
Woodside: 16th St north of East-West Hwy (Red Line ROW)
Silver Spring Metro (Wayne Av)
: Wayne Av at Manchester Pl (tunnel)
Long Branch: Arliss St at Garland Av (Piney Branch Rd)
Piney Branch: Piney Branch Rd at University Blvd (Univ Blvd)
Takoma-Langley: Univ Blvd at New Hampshire Av (Univ Blvd)
Langley Park: Univ Blvd at Riggs Rd (Univ Blvd)
West Campus/UMUC: Univ Blvd at Adelphi Rd (Campus Dr)
Student Union: Campus Drive near Regents Drive (Campus Dr)
East Campus: Rossborough La at Route 1 (Paint Branch Parkway)
College Park Metro (River Rd)
Calvert Park: River Rd at Rivertech Ct (River Rd and Kenilworth Av)
East Riverdale: Riverdale Rd at Kenilworth Avenue (Riverdale Rd)
Veterans Parkway: Riverdale Rd at Veterans Pkwy (Veterans Pkwy)
Landover Hills: Veterans Pkwy at Annapolis Rd (Annapolis Rd to Harkins Rd)
New Carrollton Metro...'s where I start taking some creative liberties...

...(Ardwick-Ardmore Rd)
Glenarden: Ardwick-Ardmore Rd at MLK Highway (Brightseat Rd)
FedEx Field (Arena Drive)
Largo Metro (Harry S Truman Dr)
Kettering/PGCC: Truman Dr at Campus Dr (Truman Dr to at-grade-ROW to Ritchie Rd)
District Heights: Ritchie Rd at Walker Mill Rd (Ritchie Rd)
Forestville: Forestville Rd at Pennsylvania Av (Forestville Rd to Beltway)
Morningside/Andrews AFB: Suitland Rd at Allentown Rd (Beltway)
Temple Hills: Beltway near St Barnabas Rd (Oxon Hill Rd)
Oxon Hill: Livingston Rd at Oxon Hill Rd (Oxon Hill Rd to Harborview Av)
National Harbor: Nat'l Harbor Blvd at Waterfront St (Wilson Bridge)
Alexandria South: Washington St at South St (Washington St)
Old Town Alexandria: Washington St at King St (King St)
King Street Metro (Duke Street)
Landmark: Duke St at Van Dorn St (Duke St)
Lincolnia: Little River Tpk at Beauregard St (Little River Tpk)
Pinecrest: Little River Tpk at Braddock Rd (Little River Tpk)
Annandale: Little River Tpk at Columbia Pike (Beltway to Gallows Rd)
Merrifield: Gallows Rd at Arlington Blvd (Gallows Rd)
Lee Highway: Gallows Rd at Lee Hwy (Gallows Rd)
Dunn Loring Metro (Gallows Rd)
Tyson's South: Gallows Rd at Old Courthouse Rd (Tyson's Corner Center Parking)
Tyson's Central 123 Metro (Tyson's Blvd)
Tyson's North: Westbranch Dr at Jones Branch Dr (Beltway)
Great Falls: Beltway at Georgetown Pike (Beltway to Clara Barton Pkwy)
Cabin John: MacArthur Blvd at 7 Locks Rd (MacArthur Blvd)
Glen Echo: MarArthur Blvd at Goldsboro Rd (Goldsboro to River Rd)
Somerset/Kenwood: River Rd at Dorsey Lane (Little Falls Pkwy to Arlington Rd to Edgemoor Lane to Bethesda Metro

I'm sure there will be plenty of suggestions as to what you folks think the alignment should be. Please share. However, like plenty before me, I have a vision of a vastly expanded Metro system into which this alignment fits perfectly. As soon as I find a suitable manner to illustrate it, I'll share the whole thing with the world. But I'm just starting this blog. I don't want to overwhelm the world quite yet.