Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Greater Greater Risk to Life and Limb

Tonight I attended a a get together with several of the other writers at Greater Greater Washington, which I really enjoyed. It was my first experience meeting urban planning bloggers face to face, and a lot of thought provoking conversation ensued. Greater Greater Washington has been a great forum, and meeting the other writers it is easy to understand why. I look forward to seeing them again at the 1 Year Anniversary at RFD next week.

The downside to this meeting tonight was that it was in Penn Quarter. No, I have nothing against Penn Quarter (other than the ground-map of the World at the Navy Memorial that has a very outdated rendition of the Aral Sea), but it is quite an ordeal to get down there from Fort Meade in sleet.

On the way home from Greenbelt Metro Station at around 10 pm, I had to call 911 to report a very bad accident 7 car accident on Route 1 that looked like it had just occurred. I think a southbound snow plow side swiped a northbound minivan and a chain reaction ensued. I slowed down, made sure everyone was alright, and called 911 to report it.

Another mile or so up the road (just north of Contee Road), I got a good scare when driving up a hill I saw a Ford Explorer facing sideways and sliding right towards me. I stopped and waited for impact, but fortunately the SUV hit one of the few curbs on that stretch of Rt. 1 and came to a stop. Thank goodness.

Of course, all I could think as that truck was careening towards me was "I can't have anything happen to my car". I wouldn't be able to get to work, or anywhere else for that matter.Car culture has left me putting my property ahead of my health. But hey, I can get to work with a broken arm. I can't get to work without a car. It's too bad, because even trains slowed by the weather would be safer (and probably faster) than driving in this horrible weather.

Fortunately, That was not a problem. But tomorrow when all the tens of thousands of employees of Fort Meade drive to work, how many of them will risk a car accident? For us, we don't have any other choice. For the most part, we don't have any other way to get to work.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New on Google Maps

I noticed on Friday that Google Maps has updated its imagery for Washington, DC. How did I notice? Well, this wasn't there before:

View Larger Map

Other cool areas you can check out changes:
-Columbia Heights
-Silver Spring

I was disappointed to see that National Harbor hasn't been updated. Post any other cool areas where you've seen a change. I love watching the city evolve over time. And we're lucky to be living in a city that's changing for the better.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I love watching areas go from urban blight to prime real estate. 14th and U is a great example; when I was in high school, the very names of the streets carried horrible stigmas, but nowadays that corner is perhaps one of the most famous non-government areas of DC. Okay, maybe after Georgetown... but even parts Georgetown were very neglected while I was growing up.

Yes, in a perfect world, we'll all have our four story house in Kalorama right near a Metro station and some nice shops. But the fact of the matter is that the meat and potatoes of a city's population can't afford to live in such fancy digs, and it is unwise to over-gentrify a city for this reason. Plumbers, teachers, fire fighters, custodians, and other working class professionals demand more moderately priced housing.

Gentrification can be a good thing for some parts of a city. But recently I came across one very controversial blogger (warning: coarse language) from Brooklyn who is an extreme case of just howout of control gentrification can get. Gentrification causes tension between socio-economic classes, which often translates into racial tension. Even when it doesn't, it prices out workers who are vital to the day-to-day function of a city... the EMTs, bus drivers, carpenters, police officers, and mechanics. These (and countless others) are all noble professions vital to any community. It sends the very wrong kind of message when a city forces out its lower-wage residents.

But this is no reason to stop progress in working-class neighborhoods. There is a right way to fix these areas. It can be cost effective and productive for the city, and it doesn't have to include wholesale outpricing of the neighborhood's residents. One such project in Southeast (tip: River East Idealist) has shown that an area can be rehabilitated while keeping the people who brought the sense of community there. The investment in the Wheeler Terrace development was largely the product of the residents, who, faced with losing their homes to gentrification, fought to have their development refurbished instead of razed in favor of luxury condos.

Though this level of community activism is admirable, it shouldn't take this much effort for a struggling community (particularly one neglected by the city for so long) to keep their homes while the neighborhood recieves a makeover. Mixed use and mixed income ought to come with new developments, but older working-class residential developments should not be stomped out when a city gets refurbished. They ought to recieve the type of elbow grease that encourages their working class residents to want to live there, a sign that their city recognizes its need for a blue collar workforce

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who Has the Day Off?

Considering the unprecedented transportation challenges that we'll experience on Tuesday, much of the region is taking the day off work. Much of the DoD at Fort Meade is not, however. My colleagues in Virginia are kind of screwed by this. I have taken the day off to guide visiting family around the event, but that's a vacation day for me.

So do you have the day off? Where do you live and work? How is your employer treating the day off? Is it for practical or patriotic reasons? Are you planning to attend the Inauguration? Share your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How I'm Getting to the Inauguration

Hopefully I'll be over my cold by then, but I do plan on attending the Inauguration, which is now only a week away. But with massive transportation issues that day and estimates as high as 5 million people coming to town, getting there seems to be a scary proposition.

I'll have two out of town visitors that I'm putting up at my home in Laurel. My usual stations of choice are Greenbelt, College Park, Cheverly, and New Carrollton. But considering that the Green and Orange Lines are located on the Beltway, I think I'm going to try a different approach.

I'll be heading to Silver Spring Metro station. Here's why: first of all, the other stations on that end of the Red Line (Forest Glen, Wheaton, and Glenmont) will certainly see a great deal of volume, but I do not believe that the gobs of out-of-towners will be flooding them the way they will at Shady Grove, New Carrollton, and Greenbelt, considering the much more "ideal" locations of those stations being at major highway junctions. Forest Glen is right off the Beltway, but it is a tiny station, and it is not marked on the Beltway the way other stations are.

Second, Silver Spring has plenty of stuff to do. If for some reason I make it down there and there is good reason not to go into the city, there are dozens of places to go and watch history unfold on TV. I plan on catching dinner there after the festivities, and showing the area off to my cousin and his friend.

Third, ample parking. As a car-oriented person, I have to take this into account. Hopefully you won't have to do so. Silver Spring has ample garages, and there ought to be enough folks getting off work to make parking there a viable option. Also, I don't believe that tour buses will be flooding this station in the same manner that they will be flooding other outer stations.

My the first reason is my primary reason. I figure people coming from points south will flood the VA stations. From the northeast, they'll all head towards Greenbelt. From the northwest, Shady Grove, and from the east, New Carrollton. Perhaps Huntington and Branch Avenue might be decent options by that logic. Does anyone else have any good plan for getting down there? Are there major flaws in my logic? How are you getting down there?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Stupid Growth: St. Elizabeths

What does this look like to you:

View Larger Map

Does it remind you of this?

View Larger Map

Or this?

View Larger Map

Using St. Elizabeths Hospital to house the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters is a bad idea when the land would be much better suited to house a new UDC Campus.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Metro Question

Can Metro run 24-7 if it is single tracked during the hours which it is otherwise closed? I'm sure many people would love 24/7 Metro, but I have been told the primary reason we cannot do this is because Metro lacks the ancillary tracks of the New York City System. Track maintenance would be impossible if the lines never closed... but if they single tracked during the overnight alternating tracks each night, would it still be possible to maintain the tracks while running trains, say every hour or so?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Another Great Metro Vision

Beyond DC, GGW, and Track Twenty Nine have all done incredible visions of what Metro could look like in the future. Now Цаrьchitect has envisioned something entirely different for the Blue Line.

I highly recommend checking Цаrьchitect's map and his description of the proposal. One of these days, I promise I'll get my own out onto the internet.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Stupid Growth: Landover Metro

It's no secret that PG County is lousy at developing around its Metro stations. But check this madness out by Landover Metro station on the Orange Line:

View Larger Map

In the bottom right (southeast) is what at first glance looks like a bunch of huge single family homes. on second glance, I'm pretty sure they are apartments. But even if they are, they are incredibly suburban considering their proximity to Landover station. And proximity is something that station has in short supply.

To the north and west, the station is bulwarked by US-50. No pedestrian facilities to serve the neighborhood a stone's throw away on Parkwood Street. Instead, you have to drive almost a mile via Landover Road and Pennsy Drive to get to the station. At that point, most people may as well drive to Stadium-Armory or Eastern Market. Even low density neighborhoods should have access to their nearby stations.

But back to that residential development on 75th Avenue... granted, I've only been to Landover station once or twice, and I've never seen this development in person. But it doesn't appear to have any safe and direct access to the Metro station a couple blocks away. The only close thing to Landover station is ample parking. And there are few places where Landover station is more convenient than New Carrollton or Cheverly, or even driving. This is not how development around stations ought to look. This is why Landover and Cheverly are among the least used stations on the Orange Line

Industrial super-blocks around Metro stations definitely need to be broken up and repurposed for mixed use. Otherwise, the incentive to use trains is diminished, which increases traffic and devalues the investment in Metro. This is an unfortunate patter on the eastern end of the Orange line. More practical development practices must be embraced at these stations, otherwise they could become a financial strain on the rest of the system, obsolete stops slowing the trip from New Carrollton to Downtown.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Imagine Seven Corners

Yikes. Just the thought of an area named "Seven Corners" makes me not want to drive there. Wilson Boulevard, Roosevelt Boulevard, Arlington Boulevard, Leesburg Pike, Broad Street, Sleepy Hollow Road, and Hillwood Avenue all converge in nearly the same place at the southern tip of Falls Church. I have only driven through this area a select few times, always on weekends, and only once on purpose. It is a nightmare. No doubt that in an area named after it's intersection, the intersection would be the most dominant feature of the landscape.

Michael Perkins over at GGW suggested that I use this area to start my New Year's resolution to write more on Virginia... and it couldn't be a more desperate region for a street grid. Serving mostly strip malls and car-dependent medium-density apartments, the roads through this area operate with a series of frontage roads, bridges, and quasi-interchanges. One might argue that this area is too sparse to merit much investment in the road system. But I believe a better working street grid could reduce the painful traffic jams while at the same time accommodating pedestrians and transit, perhaps even catalyzing further growth. Here's what that part of town might look like if it had a better street grid:

View Larger Map

The region could start by improving pedestrian facilities from the East Falls Church Metro station, located just under a mile north of the intersection at Wilson and Roosevelt. Keeping Arlington Boulevard up to its current semi-freeway standard would be possible with lots of overpasses, but of course this would be far more costly. A sunken freeway, however, has far less impact on connectivity than an at-grade route.

Traffic will of course be relieved by the addition of new roads, guiding cars around the disastrous intersection for which the area is named. This approach is known to work better than widening roads, as it cuts down on the number of vehicle miles required for a particular car travel, reduces traffic (particularly if there is an emergency situation blocking one of the roads), and induces more pedestrian travel. The added capacity allows some reduction of automobile capacity on the existing major roads to make way for transit and/or streetscape improvements. In the end, cars, pedestrians, transit riders, residents, and business owners tend to benefit more from well connected streets. Seven Corners would no doubt benefit immediately from reduced traffic jams, before any other changes are made.

Centralized locations such as Seven Corners shouldn't be unsavory destinations because of traffic. With attractions such as the unique Eden Center, a predominantly Vietnamese shopping district on Wilson Boulevard, Seven Corners could be a great destination, not just a clogged interchange out in the burbs. I have limited experience with this location, so strongly encourage comments with suggestions or further information.