Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sense of Place

Over the past week, I've met several people from "Silver Spring." I have to say that it seems people from Montgomery County have reduced the name 'Silver Spring' to the point of uselessness. From my experience anyone who lives east of Connecticut Avenue claims to be from Silver Spring and everyone who lives west of Connecticut says Bethesda (except in Rockville).

What would the Metro map look like if we used
how people defined the area to name stations?

While neither Silver Spring nor Bethesda are incorporated places and therefore don't have definite boundaries, one can use common sense to define the places. I work in Silver Spring (note: not "Silver Spring") and I can really call it Silver Spring. But if you live in Kensington, a place which is incorporated and has definite boundaries, you shouldn't call it "Silver Spring." I've even heard of people calling Langley Park and Burtonsville "Silver Spring."

I certainly understand why people want to call most of Montgomery County "Silver Spring." It's a phenomenon repeated across the Country. For instance, if you are marketing housing to anyone from Atlanta, you should bill it as being in "Vinings" (even if it's in Denver).

But when it comes to having a sense of community, it seems that people won't claim the places they actually live. In the District, it seems, people have a much stronger connection to neighborhoods so what is driving the lack of community in the suburbs?

What are your thoughts?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Green Corridors

This post is the fourth in a series of posts I am writing about lessons planners could learn from Canada. My recent trip showed me North American cities that have done a better job of managing their urban fabric than is typical south of the 49th Parallel.

After Montreal, a short stop-over in Ottawa was in order. Spending just under 12 hours in Canada's capital city was not much time to explore, but it was enough time to see the main sights. Parliament was particularly impressive. It's siting is also an example of good planning, on a bluff overlooking the Ottawa River.

But I want to focus this planning discussion on a different aspect of Ottawa.

My recent post on Montreal focused on large greenspaces, which are essential to creating a vibrant urban environment. Just as important are green corridors linking small and large greenspaces and knitting the city together.

Ottawa's Rideau Canal fits this role nicely. Completed in 1832, it was built to defend Canada from a potential attack by the United States. The waterway is 125 miles in length, connecting Ottawa to Kingston, on Lake Ontario. Only about 12 miles of the route was man-made, the remainder of the journey is made using rivers and lakes.

The locks at Ottawa with the
Gatineau Bridge in the background

One can still traverse the canal today. It is run by Parks Canada, which charges a small fee to operate the locks along the journey.

Through Ottawa, the canal is the centerpiece of a greenway which connects neighborhoods to the city center. Flanked by multi-use trails, it is a wonderful linear greenspace. In the winter, the canal becomes one of the world's longest ice skating rinks, and people from Ottawa will commute to work by ice skate.

The waters of the Rideau Canal
are flanked by ped/bikeways

Connecting parks is important to ensure that everyone has access. They can also become alternative transportation corridors, as is clearly the case with the parks along the Rideau. And while Ottawa is certainly doing a good job in this corridor, Washington is also doing well.

Here in the Metropolitan Washington Region, we have several good green corridors. Most notable are the C&O Canal and Rock Creek Park.

The towpath parallels the
calm waters of the canal

The C&O Canal is similar to the Rideau. From Georgetown, the canal runs up the Potomac in a mostly forested setting. Because it is down in the Potomac Valley, there aren't too many communities directly on its path, and access is more limited than it is to the Rideau.

The setting, however, is beautiful and offers a wonderful way to escape from the city when one needs a breath of fresh air. The canal offers an glimpse of a slower time and a more bucolic America.

The Capital Crescent Trail crosses
over the C&O on an old railroad trestle

Today, like the Rideau, the C&O Canal provides an alternative transportation corridor. Bikers and joggers use this sylvan corridor to get exercise or to get to jobs in the District.

A lock along the C&O

Another good example of a green corridor is verdant Rock Creek Park. I introduced Rock Creek Park late last year on Track Twenty-Nine. Linking the National Mall to Rockville in suburban Maryland, this large park also provides a place for recreation and transportation in DC and her suburbs.

Massachusetts Avenue crosses over
Rock Creek Park and the Parkway

These examples, in Canada and Washington, offer a glimpse of how planners can best link our urban greenspaces. Corridors like these leverage our greenspaces and we should do more to encourage their construction.

Touching the Past

The rails embedded in the streets of Georgetown have long been dormant, yet they are one of the last tangible reminders of a transportation network long gone from Washington. For six and a half decades, from 1895 until 1960, trolleys plied tracks alongside the Potomac on their way to the loop at Cabin John, Maryland. Today, this line leaves much more evidence of its existence than other lines, but still only a few traces remain.

The history of the Cabin John Trolley goes back to 1892, when the Washington and Great Falls Electric Company was chartered. In August of 1895, streetcars were running from the Aqueduct Bridge in Georgetown to a loop just east of the MacArthur Boulevard bridge over Cabin John Creek.

Sunlight filters through the boards
of the decaying Foundry Branch
Bridge near Georgetown

From Georgetown to Cabin John the line operated in a private, semi-exclusive right-of-way. Within the City of Washington, the line traversed city streets from Union Station to Georgetown University. In later years, the route was number 20.

Route 20 had the honor of serving Washington's trolley park. Like Pittsburgh's Kennywood and New York's Coney Island, these early amusement parks were built to garner transit ridership. In this region, Washingtonians took the trolley out to Maryland to spend the weekend at Glen Echo Park.

A Philly PCC in front of the
Glen Echo Park entrance

Today, the notes of carousel music still drift through the trees, but the clang of trolley bells can no longer be heard. The glory days of the trolley park went the same way of the golden era of the trolley. Glen Echo Park only survived 8 years after the demise of the Cabin John trolley. Recently, a PCC streetcar was brought back to the restored park. This vehicle was a part of a fleet of streetcars running on Philadelphia's streets, and it's good to see this relic at the park. It's in bad shape, though.

Streetcars have been absent from Glen Echo for 48 years, but traces remain.

Yesterday, I when into the Potomac Valley to trace this artifact before it is forever washed away. The photographs here are the record of my adventure. The former right-of-way is easily accessible by bicycle. From Georgetown it's a short bike ride up the Capital Crescent Trail to the tunnel under the C&O Canal at Foundry Branch. Once on the north side of the canal, a few steps up Foxhall Road leads to a vista of a rusting trestle. I continued up the C&O to Cabin John and returned along MacArthur Boulevard, which shadows the old streetcar line.

A volleyball net stretches across
the ROW in Sherier Place, NW DC

In a few places, the ROW is visible as an extra wide median in neighborhood streets. I wonder if the residents of Brookmont realize that streetcars used to ply the center of Broad Street or if those living along Sherier Place in Northwest can remember streetcars gliding by?

Streetcars no longer glide through
Brookmont in Montgomery County
but their legacy remains in this green space

In Georgetown, on O & P Streets between Wisconsin and 35th, rails are still embedded in the cobblestones. Here, one can see the unique third rail conduit exclusive to DC. Congress forbade the use of overhead wires, so streetcars had to use an underground power source. The resulting trench was hard to maintain, but Washington made do.

Rails in P Street NW in Georgetown

After Georgetown, Route 20 streetcars stopped at a plow pit and changed to overhead catenary for the remainder of the trip to Cabin John.

Except for a segment through the Dalecarlia Water Treatment Plant, the right-of-way is moslty still intact. I'm not sure about the ownership, but the grading for the streetcar is clearly visible all the way to Cabin John Creek. The line is quite overgrown in places, and a few decaying bridges remain as the last vestiges of this piece of history.

The streetcar bridge over Foundry
Branch near Georgetown University

The cut for the streetcar loop at Cabin John is also quite noticeable. The outbound half of the loop is quite clear of underbrush, and seems to be in use as a walking path. The inbound part of the loop is very overgrown and is not really accessible. The loop falls entirely within the Cabin John Regional Park of Maryland's M-NCPPC.

Here, the grading of the loop is still
clearly visible after 48 years of dormancy.

I think it has a lot of potential as a heritage streetcar line, but it would also be expensive--perhaps prohibitively so.

Historic pictures:

Metro Service Advisory: 8/29-9/1

This Labor Day weekend, Metro will be undertaking major track rehabilitation on the Blue and Yellow Lines in Virginia. There will be NO RAIL SERVICE between National Airport and Braddock Road from 9PM Friday until opening Tuesday.

Yellow Line trains will operate between Greenbelt and National Airport and between Huntington and Braddock Road.

Blue Line trains will operate between Largo and National Airport and between Franconia-Springfield and Braddock Road.

Shuttle buses will operate every 5 minutes between Braddock Road and National Airport.

Metro advises adding 30 minutes to your travel times through the area.

See their press release here.

UPDATE: 8/25: 3:12P
I just noticed that on my map, Stadium-Armory's dot does not appear. This is just a typo. Stadium-Armory WILL BE OPEN as usual this weekend.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Assets: Charm, Culture, History

This post is the third in a series of posts I am writing about lessons planners could learn from Canada. My recent trip showed me North American cities that have done a better job of managing their urban fabric than is typical south of the 49th Parallel.

Thursday I asked you to guess where the above photo was taken. I was surprised not by the accuracy of the responses, but rather by the lack of "Europe" as an answer.

Quebec City is perhaps the most European place this side of Europe. Arriving at Gare du Palais, one is treated to quite a wakeup call. You're supposed to have to arrive at an Airport to get to Europe from North America, not a train station.

I've always found Canada's bilingual nature attractive. From cereal boxes to street signs, the Canadians do it in two languages. Except in Quebec. Here in la belle province, French culture is almost overwhelming. Montreal is cosmopolitan enough to be bilingual and while many of the Quebecois in Quebec City speak English, many don't (or won't admit it).

But that's not what makes this place feel European.

The urban form is breathtakingly European. Quebec still has its city walls, still has its winding narrow streets, still has its connection to its past.

This connection is something that I think many American cities lack. In today's world of global media and trade, it is extremely difficult to keep everything from clothes to speech unique. But the urban form is something which should be harder to change than one's jeans. Unfortunately, in the name of progress, we have torn down culturally significant buildings and wiped neighborhoods like those in Vieux-Quebec off the map.

Perhaps we can restore some of these areas. But I think it is significant to note that it is not impossible to sustain a European urban from in North America. Canada's gasoline prices are only slightly higher than ours, so the pressure to suburbanize is probably strong there too. And sprawl does exist in the Great Lone Land. Perhaps policy is where the difference lies.

Regardless, I think many lessons from the urban form in Quebec can be taken. Nowhere else in North America will you find such a place as this.

The license plates in Quebec proclaim "Je me souviens." I remember.

It seems we would also do well to remember our past too.

I am a huge supporter of new urbanism, although admittedly it has its flaws. I am an even bigger supporter of old urbanism. Quebec is a great example of this.

One Cross Tie Closer

I just wanted to draw your attention to an article in today's Post. According to the paper, the FTA has authorized the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to begin construction on the Dulles Metrorail Project (Phase I).

Some work is already being done in the Tysons Corner area. This work is utility relocation and was not technically part of the Metro project, although it is necessary before Metro construction can commence. The work authorized by FTA is not a formal go-ahead. They could still say no to the $900 million in federal funding, but allowing construction to start is very promising of final approval.

Phase one of the Dulles Metrorail Project will create a new Metro line, the Silver Line running along with Orange Line trains from Stadium-Armory to East Falls Church. It will also construct new track from East Falls Church to Whiele Avenue along the Dulles Toll Road. In Tysons Corner, the line will detour through the business district.

For other posts on the Silver Line, click here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Great Cities Have Great Parks

This post is the second in a series of posts I am writing about lessons planners could learn from Canada. My recent trip showed me North American cities that have done a better job of managing their urban fabric than is typical south of the 49th Parallel. Sorry it has been so long in coming.

From Halifax, my trip took me to Montreal, a charming city on the Saint Lawrence River (proncounced san la ranh). It's almost hard to believe that Montreal is a North American city, but as European as it is, it is also clearly of the new world.

What struck me as Montreal's greatest asset were its large parks. While pocket parks are certainly essential to all urban places, they aren't the kind of parks to which I am referring. I am rather referring to the types of large urban spaces that Frederick Law Olmstead was so famous for.

In the center of the Island of Montreal stands Mount Royal from which Montreal gets its name. This entire mountain is a beautiful Olmstead-designed park. The park appears wild, which is often a feeling Olmstead often tried to create. It offers a great place to get away from the city without actually leaving. Once under the tree canopy, one can really almost forget that one is surrounded by one of Canada's largest metropolises.

On the shoulder of the mountain, a meadow appears complimented by a beautiful lake. This lake (Lac aux Castors/Beaver Lake) was reminiscent for me of Lake Clara Meer at another Olmstead Park, Atlanta's Piedmont Park. Higher up, one reaches an overlook and plaza. Here, the views of downtown Montreal are breathtaking, rivaled perhaps only by the view of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington.

In addition to Mount Royal Park, Montreal is complimented with parks running along the Saint Lawrence. In an attempt to view the rapids on the river upstream from Montreal, my traveling companion (who is a whitewater enthusiast) set off along the Metro to Angrignon. From there we walked through some quiet neighborhoods to the riverside park, known as Parc Honorable George-Oreilly. The Lachine Rapids are quite amazing, but I was more impressed with the park. I was reminded strongly of my time in Europe by this greenway stretching as far as the eye could see in either direction. I suppose it is similar to the parks along Chicago's lakefront as well. At any rate, it is a well done park. I would love to have a park like this along the Potomac inside of the Beltway.

And of course, no visit to Montreal would be complete without a visit to Parc Jean-Drapeau, site of the 1967 Montreal Exposition. This park is on two islands in the middle of the Saint Lawrence. A short Metro ride from the city center, the park has its own stop. Of course in this case, the Jean-Drapeau Metro Stop was built to serve visitors to the Montreal Expo, but even if it weren't for that, I think access to parks is a worthwhile use for transit. I wonder if the FTA would look so favorably on a stop like Jean-Drapeau?

But even though Montreal has many good examples of parkland, it also has one example of poor urban design. The home of Olympic Stadium, Parc Olympique is the precise opposite of what Jane Jacobs would consider good urban form. The park is bleak and desolate, dominated by concrete. There were a few tourists about, but by and far the park was far to quiet to feel secure. Perhaps it was different during the Olympics, but the park should have also been designed for the post-Olympics.

This park is part of Montreal's Olympic legacy as much as Munich's is, but in my opinion, Olympiapark in Munich is a far better remnant than what we see in Quebec. Of course, it's not too late for the park in Montreal. A number of changes would dramatically improve the atmosphere. More greenery would be an excellent start, and so would moving some of the walkways back down to street level where the "eyes on the street" concept would add a better feeling of security. Additionally, bringing more uses to the area would result in the park being more peopled.

All in all, it seems that Montreal would be a good place to take a lead from when it comes to park building.


You Guessed the Location!

Well, folks, yesterday, I posted a photo and asked you to guess the location. And guess the location you did.

Michael, you got it right first, it is in Vieux-Quebec.

Dustin, Bravo! You got the location and time just about perfect. Amazing. The photo is indeed a picture of Rue du Petit-Champlain taken from the bottom of the stairs, actually up a few, looking toward the Saint Laurent. It was taken around 2:30 in the afternoon.

I'm going to have to be cleverer next time, eh?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guess the Location

Alright. Who wants to guess where the following picture came from? The closer and more specific the better. For instance, Beverly Hills would be better than Los Angeles. Of course LA would be better than California. You get the idea.

(Hint: It's not actually LA)

Have fun! I'll post the answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Where I've Metroed

As I've pointed out recently, this blog is celebrating one year and this celebration marks my one-year anniversary of living in Washington as well. This year has been a year of change for me. Since last August, I've started graduate school, lived in Maryland and the District of Columbia, and begun to explore my new home region.

It has been quite an adventure.

Since the Metro map is one of Washington's most recognizable symbols, I've decided to use a modified version to illustrate where I've been in the city. Metro has 86 stations, which is quite a lot when you think about it. My last home was Atlanta, where MARTA has only 38 stations. It took me almost 4 years to "use"* every MARTA station.

*I define use here as having entered or left the faregates at a station. It's
not enough just to ride through or even get off and walk around the platform.

Ironically enough, the last station I used on MARTA was Medical Center. It's ironic because that station is closest to by birthplace, Northside Hospital (of course the station didn't open until 11 years after my birth). It's also fitting because I haven't yet used the Medical Center station here in Washington. Perhaps I can save it for last.

But while it took me the better part of 4 years to use the 38 MARTA stations, I've already used 56 stations here in Washington. But I still haven't covered all of the line segments. I've never ridden the Green Line south of Southern Avenue and I have yet to go beyond Rockville on the north side of town. Riding the entire MARTA system was one of the first things I did after moving to Atlanta. It was also one of the first things I did when living in Munich, but I suppose I just haven't had a chance. After all, WMATA's 106 miles of track certainly dwarf MARTA's 48.

But while my explorations of the areas around 56 of Metro's stations have been many and varied, my explorations beyond its reach seem woefully inadequate. Being carless has trapped me inside the Beltway for the most part, it seems. Having a bike helps--indeed it is one of the sources of a couple of visited Metro stations. I once biked from Rockville to Foggy Bottom and also from Southern Avenue to Bening Road, but I've yet to venture up to Great Falls.

So I suppose the long and short of it is that while I've certainly seen a lot of Washington in my year here, I sometimes feel that I haven't even scratched the surface.

How do your adventures compare?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. I must admit that when I started Track Twenty-Nine, I was very much a fish out of water. Having freshly gotten off of the Amtrak Crescent from Atlanta, I was new to Washington and was entering a new phase of my life.

And it has been quite a year for this little blog. 130 posts and over 8000 page loads later, and Track Twenty-Nine is still chugging along with a full head of steam.

I had no idea where I was going to take Track Twenty-Nine when I started typing last August. I'm not sure I know where I'm going to take it now, but I do have some rough ideas. You can look forward to a continuation of several of the series I've started and there are some more transit maps in the works. Trust me, those are the most popular things on the site, by far. Indeed, my Streetcar plan, has drawn more visitors than ever to the site! Yesterday, there were 705 page loads, more than double the second highest date since I started keeping track on October 1.

I am impressed with the support and compliments I have gotten from my readers. I check the URLs referring to Track Twenty-Nine a couple of times a week and I'm happy to see a growing number of blogs linking here. I'm also quite happy to note that I'm sometimes referred to in other bloggers' posts.

I have intended all along to inspire a discussion. And it is wonderful to note that I'm finally succeeding. I value the input of others and input is precisely what I've been getting with my Streetcar plan. I hope the comments continue there as well as in my future posts.

But, I pontificate enough as a blogger. Now it's your turn. Where would you like to see this blog go over the next year?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Revised Streetcar Map

I have revised the Streetcar Plan's map to make it more readable. In order to do this, I have removed some information. Originally, Metro stops (existing and proposed) were named and included line information. Now, only "M" logos appear to show station locations.

Hopefully this map will be easier to read and understand.

For more details on my streetcar plan, visit:

Technical Difficulties

Dear readers, I have been experiencing a few technical glitches with Blogger over the last couple of days. For some reason, by streetcar map is not displaying correctly on my most recent post, "Along Came a Streetcar".

Hopefully, this map will look better. If not, I'll make some revisions to make it more readable.

Thank you for your patience.

Along Came a Streetcar

There has been a lot of talk about streetcars lately. I’ve always intended to come up with a streetcar plan as a part of the set of transit plans I’ve been creating lately. And slowly, but surely, I’ve been able to work on it.

But I’m not the only one working on these plans. According to the New York Times, 40 cities in the United States are talking about streetcars for their central areas. 40! Amazing. Even little Boise, Idaho has got streetcars on its mind. Recently, Richard Layman had a few things to say about streetcars too. These reports about streetcars are, I assure you, pure coincidence. I’ve been working on the streetcar plan for over a week, but it’s been on my list for some time.

Some notes about the plan: This a version 1.0 plan. Based on comments, I’ve changed my other plans, and I’d love to hear from you. Please tell me what you think.

This plan, like my others, represents what I think the region can support right now—not what will be needed in 2030. In 2030, I would hope that this network exists as a small portion of something rivaling Pittsburgh before the 1970s.

I chose lines based on connection commercial nodes. I know that some of the lines are long. Not very many people will ride from Friendship Heights to the National Archives, but that’s not the point. I once heard Portland’s Streetcar referred to as a “pedestrian accelerator.” The point in to expand the range of people going on foot, encourage redevelopment, and offer alternatives.

Many of the corridors I picked were once streetcar lines in DC’s past. The 14th Street Line, for instance, caused the development of Columbia Heights and 14th Street Heights. The trolley barn is still in use today as a Metro bus garage. The trolley loop still has a structure dating back to the days of electric traction, it’s where WMATA’s 50s line buses short-turn at 14th and Colorado.

Streetcars would mostly operate in traffic, like the Portland Streetcar (pictured at top). Stops would be similar to bus stops, but would include more streetscaping.

So, without further adieu, the Plan:

14th Street/Capitol Hill Line:
This line starts in Northwest DC, near the Rock Creek Tennis Center. At the northern end of the line, transfers are available to the Eastside Light Rail (sky blue color) along 16th Street in my Metro/Light Rail plan. From 16th and Colorado, the line proceeds east along Gallatin Street then south along 14th. The line follows 14th south through the city, all the way to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, south of the Mall. Along the way, it passes through several old streetcar suburbs, including 14th Street Heights and Columbia Heights.

At C Street SW, the lone turns east off of 14th Street. Jogging sough along 12th to continue on C, the line passes near L’Enfant Plaza, where it turns south on 7th Street. After passing the waterfront, the line travels along M Street SW/SE, past Nationals Park, and then turns north on 8th Street SE/NE. Passing through Barracks Row and the Eastern Market sections of Capitol Hill, the streetcar turns right onto Independence Avenue. Near RFK Stadium, the line turns north on 19th Street, east on E Street, and north on Oklahoma Avenue to reach the new Oklahoma Avenue Metro Station. Here the 14th Street/Capitol Hill Streetcar shares its terminal with the H Street/State Department and Boundary Street Lines.

Wisconsin Avenue/Rosslyn Line:
The Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar starts at Columbus Circle and Union Station. Proceeding northwest along Massachusetts Avenue, the line shares tracks with the H Street/State Department Line. At Mount Vernon Square, the tracks proceed along the south side of the square, with transfers available to the Georgia Avenue and Connecticut Avenue/Crosstown Lines. The Wisconsin Line continues west along K Street. At Washington Circle, the H Street Line diverges and the Wisconsin Line turns northwest again, along Pennsylvania Avenue. At 29th Street, the line bends westward onto M Street and stops just before M and Wisconsin. Here, the line splits.

The Rosslyn Branch continues along M Street, turning south to cross the Potomac on the Key Bridge. On the southern shore, the line cuts diagonally though the park atop I-66 to reach North Moore Street. Here, passengers can transfer to the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines at Rosslyn Station. The Rosslyn Branch continues by turning west on Wilson Boulevard, which it follows to the Courthouse area of Arlington. The streetcar terminates at a loop near the Court House Metro.

The Wisconsin Branch turns north from M Street onto Wisconsin Avenue. For several blocks, it shares tracks with the Boundary Street Line. North of Q Street, the Wisconsin Line is once again alone on its tracks. It travels all the way to Friendship Heights and the District Line before turning around using Western Avenue and Wisconsin Circle.

H Street/State Department Line:
This line starts at Oklahoma Avenue Metro. Proceeding west along Benning Road and H Street, the line passes through some of Washington’s ungenrified neighborhoods. The line turns south using two different streets to access Masachusetts Avenue: northbound cars use 6th Street, southbound cars use 4th Street. At D Street, the line turns west again, turning north onto Massachusetts Avenue almost immediately. From Columbus Circle to Washington Circle, the line is coterminous with the Wisconsin Avenue Line. At Washington Circle, the line turns south along 23rd Street, making several stops to the State Department Loop, located at 23rd and Constitution.

Connecticut Avenue Line:
Starting at Mount Vernon Square, the Connecticut Avenue Line proceeds south along 7th Street to Constitution Avenue. Turning west on Constitution and north on 12th Street, the line travels through the Federal Triangle area. At I Street, the line once again turns west, heading toward downtown. After passing Farragut Square, the line turns north on 20th Street. At 20th and Q, the line has a stop for patrons changing to the Red Line and the Boundary Street Line. This is also the end of the Georgia Avenue Line, which travels along with the Connecticut Line between Mount Vernon Square and 20th & Q. Georgia Avenue streetcars turn back on a siding just north of Q Street.

Connecticut Avenue cars split here. Southbound streetcars turn from Connecticut onto 20th Directly, northbound cars turn right on to Q Street, crossing over Connecticut, then turn north onto the Connecticut Avenue access ramp. After the intersection with Florida Avenue, the line diverges. Connecticut Avenue streetcars continue north on Connecticut Avenue, while Crosstown trains travel north on Columbia Road. Crossing the Rock Creek Gorge on the Connecticut Avenue Bridge, the line passes through the neighborhoods of Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. Eventually, the line reaches the District Line and the Chevy Chase, DC neighborhood. Streetcars turn around by going around Chevy Chase Circle.

Mid-City/Crosstown Line:
The Mid-City/Crosstown Line follows the Connecticut Avenue Line downtown, diverging to follow Columbia Road just north of the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Passing through Adams-Morgan, the lone turns north on 16th Street for one block. At Irving, the line turns east, crossing the 14th Street Line at the Columbia Heights Metro stop. Continuing east, the line crosses the Georgia Avenue Streetcar, and turns south along Warder and Michigan to pass south of the Washington Hospital Center and north of the McMillan Reservoir. Near Catholic University, the line turns east on Monroe Street. The line follows Monroe Street through Brookland before turning south at South Dakota Avenue. The South Dakota Loop turns Crosstown trains around by traveling (one-way) southbound on South Dakota, southwest on Rhode Island--where trains stop and transfer is available to Rhode Island Avenue Streetcars—west on Kearny Street, and north on 22nd Street.

Boundary Street Line:
Parallel to the Crosstown Line, the Boundary Street Line follows historic Boundary Street, now [Florida Avenue]. Starting at Oklahoma Avenue Metro, the line travels northwest along Florida Avenue past Trinidad and Galluadet University. After crossing Georgia Avenue, the line swings west onto U Street. At 16th, it swings southwest onto New Hampshire Avenue, which it follows to Q Street. Transfers are available to the Connecticut, Crosstown, Georgia Avenue, and Rhode Island Streetcars and the Red Line at 20th Street. Continuing west on Q Street, the line crosses Rock Creek and enters Georgetown. Turning south on Wisconsin, the line is multiplexed with the Wisconsin Avenue Line for several blocks. At M Street, the boundary Street Line continues south to a terminal on the Georgetown Waterfront.

Georgia Avenue Line:
This line starts at Q and 20th NW, near Dupont Circle. Traveling south along 20th Street, the line shares its track with the Connecticut Avenue Line. North of Mount Vernon Square, the line continues along 7th Street. At Rhode Island Avenue, the Rhode Island Line diverges, while the Georgia Avenue Streetcar continues north on 7th Street/Georgia Avenue. The line follows Georgia Avenue all the way to Silver Spring, Maryland and is roughly parallel to the 14th Street Line. At Silver Spring, the line turns south onto Colesville Road and enters the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Rhode Island Avenue Line:
This branch of the Georgia Avenue Line also runs into Maryland. It follows Rhode Island Avenue from Georgia Avenue to Perry Street in Mount Rainier. Transfers can be made to the Crosstown Line at South Dakota Avenue.

Here’s a Google map of my proposal:

View Larger Map

The streetcars need a place to be stored overnight and also a venue where maintenance can be performed. If other cities examples can be followed, new development along the corridor could be made to accommodate a trolley barn as a condition of zoning approval.

At least two locations do seem to have immediate potential, however. At Oklahoma Avenue Metro, the parking lots at RFK will be redeveloped. However, it seems possible that room for Trolleys could be left somewhere on site. Additionally, if non-revenue tracks led south from Rhode Island Avenue along Eastern Avenue near Mount Rainier, a Trolley storage/maintenance facility could be constructed on the industrial sites south of the CSX Capital Subdivision (MARC Camden Line).

Additionally, it might be possible to return WMATA’s Northern Bus Garage in 14th Street Heights to trolley service.

What other corridors do you think would support a streetcar?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why so Hurrious?

As I've pointed out before, one of the main reasons for my move back into the city was because I missed biking. As such, my trips to the grocery store are much easier, and my commute to the office is shorter by bike than by Metro (but only by about 5 minutes).

And now that I've once again become a bike commuter, I really have to wonder: why so hurrious?

I used to bike commute between my apartment in the Home Park neighborhood in Atlanta to my office across from Hurt Park downtown, a distance of 3 miles. My new commute takes me from North Columbia Heights to NoMa, a shade over 4 miles.

And while DC is more bike friendly than Atlanta, it's drivers aren't. I love the fact that DC has a network of bike lanes and trails. The city is also flatter and has a great street network. But the drivers here are very aggressive.

I suppose that traffic seemed tamer in Atlanta because the freeway network was mostly completed. So the suburban traffic doesn't have to race through neighborhoods just to get to the I-75/85 Raceway. Also, because Atlanta was never planned to be a grand capital, many streets are narrow and frequently congested.

But what's the rush anyway? It seems to me that people are in far too much of a hurry these days. They can't wait for me to clear an intersection before turning, they whiz by with mere inches to spare, and they gun their engines as they pass--as if to demonstrate their superiority.

Perhaps these motorists are just insecure. They are ashamed of themselves, perhaps? They race out of traffic lights like horses out of the gate at the Kentucky Derby only to have a bicycle--a bicycle--catch them at the next light. Perhaps they regret the expense of their Ford Enormous and wish they too had the ability to cycle to work.

Perhaps they're just rude or ignorant of the law.

They wouldn't be alone in that, though. According to the WashCycle, recently an MPD (DC) officer followed an injured bicyclist to the hospital to give him a ticket for riding on the sidewalk after being struck by a right-turning vehicle on Independence Avenue. Biking on the sidewalk isn't even illegal in the District (except in the CBD).

If the cops don't even know the rules, why should we expect motorists to? And let's not forget that in DC, bicyclists have to know three sets of laws (DC, MD, VA) regarding bicycles.

But education aside, we'd all be a little better off if drivers (and bicyclists) just calmed down and took it easy. We need to respect our fellow road users and remember that we all have a right to use the transportation infrastructure.

And drivers: before you intimidate a bicyclist, remember that that's one less driver to congest your route. And even if we're slow-moving, we're usually at least as fast as you in an urban area, and we'll be out of your way as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"History's Gonna Change"

I'm sure we've all seen Back to the Future. Indeed, it's one of my favorite trilogies of all time. One of the reasons for that is it's treatment of the city through time.

For those of you who haven't seen the movies, the characters are time travelers whose situations keep getting them stranded in the wrong year. The range of the movies stretches from 1885-2015, with the Doc and Marty visiting 1885, 1955, 1985, 1985 Alternate, and 2015. All of the events take place in the fictional Hill Valley, California, a small town, presumably on the edge of a metropolitan area (at least by 1985).

If you look carefully at scenes from Hill Valley in 1955 ("they've really cleaned this place up"), you can see how vibrant the town square is. By 1985, they've paved over the square itself for parking and most of the businesses are run down. The bench on which Marty and Jennifer sit near the beginning of the film (#1) advertises that Zales is 'now in Twin Pines Mall'. In 1955, it was on the square. By 2015, however, Hill Valley's downtown is experiencing a renaissance. The shops are occupied, there is a little cutrification (Cafe 80s, the Antique Shop), but it appears vibrant. The square is now a reflecting pool for the Courthouse and houses an underground shopping mall.

It is certainly interesting to the town transform. We see the prototypical 1950s town square through the eyes of a child of the baby boomers. A kid growing up in the 1980s, who has no idea of what his town used to be. While his parents' generation hung out at Lou's Diner on the square and frequently walked or biked home, Marty's generation presumably hangs out at the Mall and have a much greater attachment to their cars (hence the drag races).

And even the costs of sprawl are noted. We discover after Marty makes it back to 1955 for the first time, that in 1985 Doc is living in his garage. If you read the newspapers framed on the walls, you'll note that Doctor Brown sold the Brown estate to developers, presumably to finance the Delorean. That explains why in 1985, Marty leaves the Doc's place, and steps right into the parking lot of a Burger King. The typical suburban strip is visible in the background.

But what is most interesting is the movies' prediction of the future, only 30 years distant from the movie-present, 2015 is drawing nearer. And it seems that the writers predicted gentrification and reurbanization. While I don't think we'll have flying cars within the next 7 years, it's not too far-fetched to see the continuing tide of revitalization in our urban areas (including small towns).

And that brings me to my question:
What does the future hold for America's Cities and Suburbs?

I recently commented on a post at Atlanta Fifty-Forward about increasing diversity in the suburban counties. Atlanta Fifty Forward is a forum about Atlanta's development over the next 50 years. It was started by the Atlanta Regional Commission to serve as a discussion of the issues facing the region. But the issues facing Atlanta are not unique to Atlanta. While I regard increasing diversity (in the suburbs or elsewhere) as a good thing, I sometimes wonder if it's too late for the suburbs. Anyway, I've included my comments on Atlanta Fifty-Forward below:

Kudos to Gwinnett for its diversity.

I have long valued living in the city for the diverse nature of the populace, and Gwinnett’s homogeneity is one of the reasons I wouldn’t have considered living there. I still won’t, but it looks like even cookie-cutter, sprawl-poster-child Gwinnett is on the right track.

Or is it?

In 1998, Tom Toles, cartoonist for the Buffalo News, drew this cartoon:

Titled “The Plan,” Mr. Toles editorializes it as “The Vast White Ring Conspiracy.” The six step plan is as follows:
1. Whites live in cities, saying “The growing glory of civilization.”
2. Minorities move into cities. They say “hello,” whites say “goodbye.”
3. Whites flee to suburbs, saying “Ah, this is better.”
4. Whites move into second-ring suburbs, saying “Cities are dead, this is better still.”
5. Minorities move into first-ring suburbs, saying “This is better — I guess.”
6. Whites move back into cities, noting that “It worked!”

And that seems to be precisely what’s happening. Recently it was reported that Atlanta is growing whiter. The article, published in Governing Magazine, shows that while the *City* of Atlanta is growing whiter as a percentage, the *Region* of Atlanta is growing less white. And Atlanta is leading the nation, with only Washington even close to a similar rate.

And let’s look at the suburbs. For the first time in decades, VMT is dropping. People are driving less, Gwinnett turned down MARTA in a 1-1 vote, quite a bit smaller of a margin than the 1990 3-1 no vote. With new urbanist developments sprouting across the country, the rolling hills of North Georgia’s suburbs are no exception.

Because while the suburbs are finally becoming diverse, they’re also becoming less popular. They’ve always been unsustainable, it’s just that before now, Americans didn’t care.

Loudoun County, Virginia is not dissimilar to Gwinnett. In the Washington Region, it is characterized by single-family estates and strip shopping centers. And, until recently, it was one of the nation’s fastest growing counties. But an article in yesterday’s Washington Post is very telling. In the first half of 2008, Loudoun’s number of foreclosures was only slightly less than the number of new houses approved.

The mortgage crisis, economic downturn, rising fuel prices, and (I believe) a dissatisfaction with the urban form of the suburb is leading to a change in where Americans want to live.

The question is, I suppose, is Mr. Toles 1998 prediction coming to pass?

In a similar vein, the Freakonomics Blog at the New York Times has a quorum up regarding the fate of the suburbs (Hilldale, you are my density). James Howard Kunstler opens the piece with his predictions for the end of life as we know it. Other writers are not so pessimistic about our future, with some writing just about demographic shifts and the like. Some predict a more urban suburbia with better transit.

What do you predict? What do you think the suburbs will look like in 40 years?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Waste of Energy

It's still really too early to start reviewing the platforms of our presidential candidates, in my opinion. However, last week had both candidates talking about energy and I think the discussion is worth bringing up here.

I believe that the single most important issue facing this country right now is Energy Policy. While I mention energy quite often in this forum, I am, as you know, primarily focused on transportation and urban growth issues. These, while worthy of their own discussions, are really a subset of energy policy and they merit discussion by the candidates.

At this point in the election cycle, the candidates are still firming up their positions, and certain aspects of their policy goals may change (as happened last week), I will probably look back over energy later in the campaign along with other policy areas.

Right now I am very disappointed. I understand that people running for public office have to first be elected before they can influence policy, and that sometimes they have to be soft on certain issues in order to win.

At the same time, I feel that Americans need some straight talk from our public officials and candidates. Many here have been living the American (pipe) Dream made possible by cheap oil and bad policies in the post-war era. They regard the recent energy shocks as light turbulence. It's time for the captain to interrupt the in-flight movie, however. We haven't gotten to the point where we deploy the oxygen masks yet and if we act soon, we might not have to; however, if we continue to pretend that it's business as usual, we will soon find ourselves in an even worse predicament.

That's why I was proud of Senator Barack Obama for calling out Senators Clinton and McCain on their suspend-the-gas-tax proposal. Not only would suspending the gas tax not lower gas prices, but it would also increase consumption and hasten the date of crisis, but the suspension would also forfeit $1 billion in revenue. Incidentally, just two weeks ago, the US Department of Transportation announced that the highway trust fund is going to run out in October due to lessened gas tax revenue from the drop in demand. I'm certainly glad that we didn't forgo that revenue; we would have run out even sooner.

But the Junior Senator from Illinois is beginning to seem less prescient. The New York Times reported last Tuesday that Obama has proposed releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and has softened in his opposition to offshore drilling.

The quandary for progressive politicians like Senator Obama was pointed out by the Washington Post's cartoonist, Tom Toles, on July 30th. In his cartoon, two Uncle Sams are sitting on a see-saw. One is trying to reduce global warming, the other is trying to reduce gas prices. For some strange reason, the see-saw isn't moving in either direction.

Senator Obama is under extreme pressure to reduce gas prices, and their height is certainly a major problem for most Americans, but as we are seeing, the market is causing them to drop as we speak. As of August 10, CNN was reporting that gas was down for the 24th day running. CNN also points out that the drop in oil prices is a mixed blessing, blaming the drop in prices on reduced demand due to the recession. According to the article, the drop in May was the third largest drop in prices since 1942.

But despite that pressure, I had hoped that Mr. Obama would tell Americans what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear. Still, it's not all bad. Mr. Obama has many progressive elements in his energy policy, and while I disagree with a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, his policy is still much better than maintaining the status quo as proposed by Senator McCain.

The esteemed Senator from Arizona wants to increase off-shore drilling of oil--a move which wouldn't have an impact before 2030, and whose benefits would not significantly reduce the price or be long-lasting, according to a report by the US Energy Information Administration.

The only way America will be able to permanently solve its energy problem is by reducing its demand for fossil fuels. The only way we will get Americans to reduce their usage (demand) is to use market forces, which means that in the long run, high gas prices are better. Even Time Magazine has pointed out that high gas isn't all bad.

So, to compare the candidates:

Senator Obama's Energy Policy
(list is not exhaustive)
Reduce Demand for Oil:
  1. $150 billion over 10 years to develop clean energy sources.
  2. Put 1 million hybrid cars on the road by 2015.
  3. Increase amount of energy from renewables.
  4. Greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system.
  5. Increase fuel economy standards.
  6. Create tax credit for purchasing "advanced" vehicles.
  7. Increase energy efficiency.
  8. Weatherize 1 million homes annually.
  9. Develop clean coal technology.
  10. Support Amtrak funding.
  11. Develop high-speed freight and passenger rail.
  12. Invest in public transportation.
  13. Greater incentives for transit usage.
  14. Strengthen metropolitan planning.
  15. Ensure that transportation planning process considers Smart Growth.
  16. Require energy conservation be considered as a part of transportation planning.
Increase Demand for Oil:
  1. Release oil from SPR.
  2. Promote responsible domestic production of oil and natural gas.
  3. Cut down on traffic congestion.
Senator McCain's Energy Policy
(list is not exhaustive)
Reduce Demand for Oil:
  1. Tax break for buying clean cars.
  2. Prize for Commercially viable battery.
  3. Encourage automakers to manufacture more flex-fuel vehicles.
  4. Expand alcohol-based fuels.
  5. Enforce existing CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards.
  6. Advance clean coal technologies.
  7. Build more nuclear power plants.
  8. Tax credits for renewable energy production.
  9. Create a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases.
Increase Demand for Oil:
  1. Open up areas for off-shore drilling.
  2. Support for gas-tax holiday.
  3. History of animosity toward transit.
  4. History of animosity toward Amtrak.
What do you think of the candidates on energy?

Addendum, 11 August, 9:45 AM:
Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed
for the New York Times which was published Saturday. I just discovered it this
morning. It's certainly a more concise way of saying what I've said over several
posts here. It's well worth a read.