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Another way to see the US: Map of where nobody lives

There are more than 300 million people living in the United States today, but America is such a huge country that we still have staggeringly vast areas that are completely devoid of humans. This map illustrates those places. Everything colored green is a census block with zero population.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.

The eastern US is pretty well populated except for a few spots in mountains and swamps. But the west is a different story. It’s covered with enormous stretches of land that are simply empty.

And Alaska’s emptiness makes even the western contiguous states look densely populated. Those green areas near the Arctic Circle look bigger than most other states.


Map by Nik Freeman of mapsbynik.com.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 16th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: demographics, land use, maps



Curb-protected cycletracks now appearing in DC

Two new cycletracks will open in DC this spring, on M Street NW and 1st Street NE. Their designs are a step up from previous DC cycletracks, since they each include spots — though on M, a very brief spot — where a full concrete curb separates bikes from cars.

The 1st Street NE cycletrack (left), and the Rhode Island Avenue portion
of the M Street NW cycletrack (right).

The 1st Street NE cycletrack connects the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Union Station and downtown DC. DDOT installed its curb last week, from K Street to M Street. Crews are still working on striping and signals, but the project is close to opening.

The M Street cycletrack is longer than 1st Street’s overall, but the portion with a curb is shorter. It’s less than one block, where the cycletrack briefly curves onto Rhode Island Avenue in order to approach Connecticut Avenue more safely. DDOT officials say the M Street cycletrack is a week or two from opening.

Typically DDOT uses plastic bollards instead of curbs. The bollards are less expensive, easier to install, and can be removed occasionally to perform street maintenance. But they’re less attractive and less significant as a physical barrier, compared to a curb.

April 14th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, transportation



Lipstick can help the Tysons pig, a little

Fairfax County is considering dressing up the Silver Line’s mammoth concrete pylons with murals. The idea could help animate the otherwise bleak, gray structures.


Mock up of a possible Silver Line mural. Image from the Tysons Partnership.

Ideally the Silver Line would’ve been underground through Tysons Corner. But federal rules that have since changed prevented that, forcing the Metro line above ground, onto a huge elevated structure.

That wasn’t the end of the world, but it did condemn Tysons to some unnecessary ugly.

So why not dress it up? Murals can unquestionably make big gray structures more colorful and interesting. They’re easy to implement, don’t cost very much, and help a little. There’s not much down side.

Murals are, however, still just lipstick on a pig. They don’t solve the underlying deadening effect of bare walls. For example the Discovery building mural on Colesville Road in Silver Spring is surely better than bare concrete, but shops & cafes would’ve been better still.

And Tysons’ murals won’t be as effective as the one in Silver Spring. Colesville Road is basically urban, basically walkable. The block with the mural is the weakest link on an otherwise lively urban street.

But in Tysons, the Silver Line runs down the middle of Leesburg Pike, one of the most pedestrian-hostile highways in the region. If murals are added to the Silver Line, they may become the best and most interesting part of the streetscape, as opposed to the worst.

So by all means, Fairfax County should absolutely do this. Murals are a great tool to cover any large blank structure. But what Tysons really needs is walkable streets with lively sidewalks.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, metrorail, transportation, urbandesign



Tetris on the side of a skyscraper? Why not, it’s the future

What does it look like when one of Philadelphia’s most prominent skyscrapers becomes a giant Tetris game board?

It looks awesome, that’s what.


Photo by Bradley Maule for PhillySkyline.com.

Last Saturday, organizers for Philly Tech Week temporarily turned the 29-story Cira Centre into a huge game of Tetris. And it wasn’t just for looks. Actual people played actual games, with the whole city looking on.

Meanwhile, construction is wrapping up on the DC region’s new tallest skyscraper. Just sayin’.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 10th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: fun



Tennessee’s BRT feud shows even modest projects face opposition

Often when a new city proposes its first rail line, opponents who don’t like spending money on transit call for BRT instead. So it’s tempting to think cities might have an easier time implementing new transit lines if they simply planned BRT from the start. Unfortunately, BRT often faces the exact same opposition.

Two projects that have faced major opposition, the Nashville BRT (left) and Cincinnati streetcar (right). Images from the cities of Nashville and Cincinnati.

Nashville is the latest city to face strong opposition to its first BRT project, called the Amp. The Tennessee state legislature recently passed a bill blocking the line.

The debate mirrors one going on a few hundred miles north, in Cincinnati. There, opponents tried to kill that city’s first streetcar line. The state government even tried to block it.

Both Nashville and Cincinnati are among America’s most car-dependent and least transit-accessible large cities. Nashville’s entire regional transit agency only carries about 31,000 passengers per day. Cincinnati’s carries about 58,000.

For comparison, Montgomery County’s Ride-On bus carries 87,000, never mind WMATA.

In places like Nashville and Cincinnati, authorities have ignored transit for so long that any attempt to take it seriously is inherently controversial, regardless of the mode.

Arguments may fixate on rails, dedicated lanes, or overhead wires, but for at least some opponents those issues seem to be simply vehicles for larger ideological opposition.

That may sometimes be true even in places with stronger transit cultures. Arlington’s streetcar and Montgomery’s BRT network are both controversial themselves. Both have plenty of detractors who say the plans are unaffordable or would get in the way of cars.

Ultimately there are many reasons a city hoping to improve transit might choose BRT or rail. The two modes are both useful, and smart cities use them both based on the specific needs of the location.

But either way, expect similar tropes from opposition. It’s inescapable.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 9th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, streetcar, transportation



Slideshow: Baltimore via MARC

Now that MARC’s Penn Line runs on the weekend, it’s easier than ever for Washingtonians to day-trip up to Baltimore. I made use of the service over the winter, for no reason but to bum around and take some pictures. That’s the sort of thing a city nerd like me enjoys.

If you’re enough of a city nerd to look at my pictures, here they are.

April 8th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: galleries



Map spotlights busiest bus stops for 16th, 14th, & Georgia Avenue lines


Map from DDOT.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.

The map shows where riders are going on WMATA’s busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

It’s a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC’s densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It’s not surprising then that 16th Street’s riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It’s easy to see why DDOT’s streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, streetcar, transportation



“Bikeometer” shows cyclists are significant

Yesterday Arlington unveiled the region’s first “bikeometer,” a high-tech device that counts how many cyclists pass by, and displays the daily and yearly totals for anyone to see.

By publicly displaying the data, the bikeometer helps illustrate that a lot of people really do use bikes to get around.


Arlington bikeometer. The numbers aren’t visible due to the camera scanning frequency. Photo by BeyondDC.

The bikeometer is on the Custis Trail in Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge. It’s a busy crossroads for cycling traffic headed into DC from Virginia. Older bike counts have shown thousands of cyclists per day at the location.

As of about 11:30 am yesterday, after only a couple of hours running, the display already showed 768 cyclists.

The device is technically called an Eco-TOTEM. It reads an underground wire, which counts bikes rolling over the trail above and sends the data to a digital display.

Arlington’s bikeometer is the first such device in the eastern US, although they’re common on the west coast and in Europe.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

April 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, transportation



Howard & Anne Arundel create a new transit agency, but better service may not be the point

Howard and Anne Arundel Counties have teamed up to create a new transit agency that will take over bus operations in the two Maryland counties.

The new agency will be called the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland (RTA). It will replace the Howard Transit and Central Maryland Regional Transit bus networks that currently operate in the area.


Existing CMRT bus. Photo from CMRT.

The decision to consolidate services seems aimed primarily at saving money. A single agency will combine its overhead costs, reducing operating expenses by an estimated 17%. That will save about $2 million per year.

It’s unclear whether that $2 million will be reinvested towards improved transit service, or simply redirected back to each county’s general fund. Howard and Annue Arundel have the weakest transit coverage in the Maryland suburbs, so they could certainly use improved service.

Annapolis Transit may also opt to join the newly consolidated agency, but hasn’t yet agreed.

March 31st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bus, transportation



Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here’s a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009 Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city’s public realm. 5 years later, they’re still there, and people are still playing them.


Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren’t particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The idea could work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

March 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: parks, proposal



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