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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



Notes from Europe: 19th Century urban renewal

I’m on vacation in Europe until the 24th. Each weekday until my return there will be a brief post about some feature of the city I’m visiting that day.

Without a doubt, Paris is home to the world’s most successful urban renewal scheme. The Haussmann Plan was carried out primarily between 1853 and 1870, and significantly contributed to the creation of Paris’ most famous boulevards and its iconic architectural style.

Under the guidance of city planner Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, large sections of Paris were demolished and rebuilt along wider, grander, straighter boulevards. And new building regulations were adopted that delineated the height and form of buildings.


Boulevard Haussmann, with its strictly regulated buildings.
Photo by Thierry Bézecourt via Wikepedia.

March 19th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, history, History of cities, urbandesign



Notes from Europe: Versailles was DC’s prototype

I’m on vacation in Europe until the 24th. Each weekday until my return there will be a brief post about some feature of the city I’m visiting that day.

Versailles was the seat of the French monarchy for over 100 years, through the bulk of the 18th Century. Its baroque design had a major influence on Pierre L’Enfant’s design for Washington, DC.

This photo shows the palace and the Place d’Armes, but doesn’t it look an awful lot like the westward view from the US Capitol?


Versailles. Photo by Lionel Allorge via Wikipedia.

March 17th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: history, urbandesign



Notes from Europe: Off to Paris

I’m off for 10 days in Europe. Each weekday until my return there will be a brief post about some interesting urbanist or transportation feature of the city I’m planning to visit that day.

I’ll be spending most of time in Paris, but will also be stopping in a few other places.

Today, enjoy this view down the Avenue de la Grande-Armée, from the Arc de Triomphe.


Paris. Photo by Cameron Wears on flickr.

March 13th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: urbandesign



Why grids are better for walking, in 1 simple graphic

This graphic shows how much ground a pedestrian can cover walking along street sidewalks in a gridded Seattle neighborhood, versus a nearby suburb. Although both maps show a one-mile radius, there are far more destinations within that radius in the gridded neighborhood.

Seattle and Bellevue maps from sightline.org.

Both maps show neighborhoods that are primarily single-family detached houses: Greenwood, Seattle and Eastgate, Bellevue. But the similarities end there.

In Bellevue trips are indirect and circuitous. Not only are far more residential streets accessible in Seattle, but also more commercial streets (in purple on the map). Both neighborhoods have plenty of parks (shown in green).

Granted, the two maps appear to be at slightly different visual scales, population density is probably higher in Seattle, and pedestrians in Bellevue can probably cut through yards to get places a little faster. But the overall point remains true that far more destinations are within easy walking in Seattle, which – surprise – is why more people walk there.

For the record, the key isn’t a strict rectilinear grid; it’s interconnectivity. Boston’s medieval web of streets is just as good, and maybe even better. The real key variable is the density of intersections, not the straightness of streets.

February 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: land use, maps, pedestrians, transportation, urbandesign



NFL stadiums belong in the suburbs

Should Washington’s football team relocate back to Washington? The DC Council is considering replacing RFK with a new stadium, hoping to lure the team back to DC, from Maryland.

It’s a terrible idea.


FedEx Field and its acres of parking. Photo by the US Navy.

Some people will no doubt oppose this idea simply because it’s expensive. But that’s not the problem. Stadiums are cultural amenities that people want, so it’s appropriate for cities to subsidize them sometimes.

This is a terrible idea because football stadiums specifically don’t fit well in cities. NFL stadiums are only used for 8 home games per year, and need large surface parking lots to accommodate the tailgating culture ingrained into football fandom.

The RFK site may not be in the middle of a walkable neighborhood, but surely there are better uses for it than a rarely-used stadium and vast parking lots.

I’m glad we have an NFL team in the region, but let’s leave their stadium in the suburbs.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 26th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: development, government, urbandesign



Silver Spring Transit Center is a terrible place for a park

click to enlarge
Don’t build a park here. Photo by obz3rv3r on flickr.

Dan Reed has a strong post up today on GGW reporting a proposal to build a park next to the Silver Spring Transit Center, and arguing why that’s a terrible idea.

Other Dan is completely right. Just to throw my support behind his sensible arguments:

  1. It’s not a pleasant place to be. Good urban parks need active streetscapes around them, with plenty of retail. The old Silver Spring turf worked well because it was at a location people wanted to hang out in. The transit center location on other other hand is surrounded by a parking garage, huge landscaped setbacks, blank walls, and loud, high-traffic highways next to which nobody wants to spend time. The edge conditions are awful. If you just built a park there the result would not be Dupont Circle. It would be this – dreary and dangerous.
  2. There are already parks directly across the street in two directions. One north at 2nd and Colesville, and the other east on the Wayne Avenue side of the Discovery Building. Granted the Discovery park is privately owned and is often fenced off, but getting Discovery to open it up more would be a vastly better and cheaper outcome than taking land next to the transit center. In any event, the other one is open all the time.
  3. Developing the site would actually produce a better park. Since parks should be in pleasant and active locations, good ones should be lined with pleasant buildings. The only way to line this site with pleasant buildings is to construct some pleasant buildings, and put a square in the middle. That’s a fine idea. Incidentally, that’s already the plan.
  4. A park would increase car traffic. Yes, it’s true. The best way to decrease car traffic is to put as much development as close to major transit stations as possible. Displacing the planned development adjacent to the transit center with a park would mean that development happens somewhere else, almost certainly somewhere less transit accessible and by extension more car-dependent.

Buying this valuable land and turning it into a park has absolutely no upside. It would be expensive and it would be a bad park and it would screw over the transportation network. Please, Montgomery County, waste no more time on this terrible, terrible idea.

PS: At Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, Richard Layman has an extensive discussion of Silver Spring park issues.

February 19th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: land use, parks, urbandesign



Sneckdowns take over the streets

The recent snow made for the best sneckdown spotting weather in DC since the term first entered our lexicon. Last week we put out a call for photos of sneckdowns in the wild, and plenty of you responded. Here are some of the best.


17th and Potomac Ave, SE. Photo by Justin Antos.

In the wonky world of urbanism advocacy, sneckdowns have gone viral. The term, referring to places where snow formations show street spaces cars don’t use, first popped up in New York. Since then it’s made headlines in Philadelphia, Chicago, Vancouver, and more.

It’s true that actual engineers shouldn’t design streets solely around piled snow, but certainly sneckdowns are a handy illustration of how we give too much pavement to cars.

Here are more local examples, sent in by readers.


14th St and Independence Ave, SW. Photo by @gregbilling.


M St and Jefferson St, NW. Photo by @gregbilling.


Rhode Island Ave and R St, NW. Photo by @MaryLauran.


Rhode Island Ave and Q St, NW. Photo by @MaryLauran.


4th St, NE. Photo by @TonyTGoodman.


Fairfax Dr and 10th St N, in Arlington. Photo by @guusbosman.


Greenbelt. Photo by msickle.

Thanks to everyone who sent in photos! Keep watching #dcsneckdown on Twitter for more.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 

February 18th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: environment, roads/cars, transportation, urbandesign



Send us your sneckdown pictures

Now that’s we’ve had a big snow in DC, send us pictures of sneckdowns you spot in the wild. You can tweet them with hashtag #dcsneckdown, or email them to us at
sneckdown@beyonddc.com
. On Monday, Greater Greater Washington and BeyondDC will publish the best ones.


Sneckdown today in Southeast DC. Photo by Ralph Garboushian.

Sneckdowns are where snow formations show the street spaces cars don’t use.

GGW reader Ralph Garboushian sent us this one already. He describes it:

“Shoveling and plowing patterns in front of my house show how the intersection of Potomac Avenue, E Street & 18th Street SE could be made safer for both pedestrians and motorists. The current design is a disaster – I have seen several accidents at this intersection, including one that sent a car nearly into my front yard and another that took out a historic call box and nearly knocked down a utility pole. In addition, this intersection is right in front of Congressional Cemetery and on the way to the Metro and sees heavy pedestrian traffic.

The intersection’s poor design combined with motorists speeding down Potomac create a hostile and dangerous atmosphere for pedestrians. This intersection desperately needs traffic calming and these plow/shovel patterns illustrate how it could be done.”

We look forward to seeing more!

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

February 13th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: environment, roads/cars, transportation, urbandesign



Support “The Diagonal” redesign option for Franklin Park

DC and the National Park Service (NPS) want feedback on their latest proposals to redesign Franklin Park. Of the 3 options on the table, the one titled “The Diagonal” is by far the best.


“The Diagonal” redesign option for Franklin Square. Image from National Park Service.

This proposal would introduce new paths leading diagonally from the corners of the park into its center. The center itself would feature a larger and better central fountain. Right now the center is poorly used, partly because access to it is circuitous, and the existing fountain is underwhelming (when people notice it at all).

Alone, these are big improvements. But this proposal also makes another strong change: It adds plaza space to the southwest corner of the park, along 14th and Eye Streets.

This proposal rightly accepts the reality of how that small part of Franklin Park is used, and modifies it accordingly.


The southwest corner is effectively a plaza already. With so many people using the bus stops on Eye Street, and entering the park from McPherson Metro station, the intended grass lawn there is more of a dirt patch than an actual lawn. Insisting it remain a lawn would be unrealistic, an eyesore, and would deprive the park’s users of what they really need. This proposal rightly accepts the reality of how that small part of Franklin Park is used, and modifies it accordingly.

Move the statue to 14th/Eye instead of K

Finally, The Diagonal plan moves the existing Commodore Barry statue from the 14th Street side to a more prominent location along K Street. This is a good change, but it would be even better to put the statue directly at the corner of 14th and Eye, to give the new southwest corner plaza a focal point.

I suggested these sort of changes in September. It’s encouraging to see them carried forward. They’re neither radical nor excessive. They retain the park’s existing strengths while tweaking its most important nodes.

The other options

Except for the welcome addition of a playground that’s common to all 3 redesign options, the other 2 alternatives are more conservative.

The option titled “The Center” would focus on cleaning up the existing park elements without making major changes. It would add a small plaza space along K Street, but nothing in the busy southwest portion of the square.

The other option, titled “The Edge”, adds a plaza and 2 small buildings along Eye Street, and makes some improvements to the central fountain. This would be better than the do-almost-nothing “Center” concept, but isn’t as strong as “The Diagonal.”

Send in comments

It’s not every day we get the chance to redesign one of downtown’s main public spaces. It’s important to get this right.

NPS is hosting a public meeting on Wednesday, February 19 to discuss these plans and gather feedback. You can also comment via email. Please do so, and support “The Diagonal.”

February 12th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: parks, urbandesign



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