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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
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
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
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
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
Tags: parks, urbandesign



“Sneckdowns” reveal street space cars don’t use

Every time it snows, vast sections of city streets remain covered by snow long after plows and moving cars have cleared the travel lanes. These leftover spaces are called “sneckdowns,” and they show where sidewalks or medians could replace roads without any loss to car drivers.


A DC sneckdown from the 2009 snow storm. Original photo by Rudi Riet on flickr.

The term sneckdown is a portmanteau of “snow” and “neckdown,” the latter being another term for sidewalk curb extensions. So it literally means a sidewalk extension created by snow.

Following the recent snow storm in New York, Streetsblog put out a call for photos of sneckdowns in the wild. They received plenty of responses.

Next time it snows here, be on the lookout.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

January 8th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: environment, roads/cars, transportation, urbandesign



It’s fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations

Despite years of planning to transform Tysons Corner from a car-oriented edge city into a walkable downtown, some Virginia residents are surprised to learn that Tysons’ 4 Metro stations will not be surrounded by parking lots.


Development planned at the Spring Hill Metro station. Image from Fairfax County.

The confusion seems to stem from a mix-up about what Metro stations in Tysons Corner are supposed to accomplish. Are they places for DC-bound commuters to board, or are they the destination stations for people working in Tysons? There will surely be some of both, but most users will be the latter, and they’re who the line must be designed to best serve.

If stations are surrounded by parking that will reduce the number of buildings within walking distance of Metro. Not only that, it would also make the walk less interesting and more dangerous, since walking through a busy parking lot is hardly a pleasant experience. That in turn would reduce the number of people who could use Metro to commute to Tysons. That would undermine the entire project.

The main purpose of the Silver Line project is to transform Tysons Corner. Tysons is a behemoth, with about the same amount of office space as downtown Baltimore. It can’t grow or continue to prosper as a car-oriented place. Nor would it make sense to invest almost $7 billion in a new Metrorail line if it were not going to support a more urban Tysons, or serve easy commuting into Tysons.

Consider other walkable downtown areas, like downtown DC or Rosslyn. Would it make sense if Gallery Place Metro station were surrounded by parking instead of buildings? Of course it would not. Tysons will one day be the same. It may not look like that yet, but it never will if its best land is used for parking lots.

Yes, it’s true there should be enough parking along the Dulles Corridor for commuters into DC to use the system. That’s why there are large parking lots at the Wiehle Avenue and West Falls Church stations. There’s no need for drivers to enter congested Tysons Corner to find parking, when more highway-oriented stations exist specifically for that purpose.

Alternatively, those few drivers who do want to park in Tysons will surely be able to do the same thing they do in Ballston, DC, Bethesda, or anywhere else: Pay to park in a nearby garage, and walk a couple of blocks. As more new buildings are built near Metro stations, there will be more available private garages to pick from.

There may be some small number of people currently living in Tysons who refuse to walk to stations, and will have to drive out of Tysons to find parking. That’s unfortunate, but accommodating them with parking lots at urban stations would make those stations less convenient for the larger number of walkers, and future walkers.

Temporary parking isn’t a panacea

Some suggest that since it may be a few years before all the land near Metro stations is developed, it could be used as interim parking on a temporary basis. In fact, that’s exactly the plan at the McLean station, where 700 parking spaces will be available at first.

That could be a workable idea in a few places, especially at McLean, which is the easternmost of Tysons’ 4 stations. But it’s less practical than some may assume, because most of the land surrounding these stations isn’t currently empty.

For example, Greensboro station is surrounded by strip malls. They will eventually be redeveloped into high-rises, but in the meantime the property owners make more money with retail there than they would with just parking.

In places where Fairfax County or WMATA can strike deals with landowners to let Metro riders use existing parking lots, that’s fine. But it does not make sense to tear down functional money-making buildings and replace them with temporary parking lots. Especially when there are better parking options elsewhere for drivers hoping to park and ride.

The bottom line is that Tysons Metro stations were planned correctly. Some interim measures are OK if they’re practical, but surrounding Tysons Metro stations with parking would undermine the entire reason for running the Silver Line through Tysons in the first place.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

December 3rd, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: metrorail, roads/cars, transportation, urbandesign



9 suggestions to change the height limit

Congress is considering whether or not to change DC’s height limit. Here are 9 suggestions that will help the city get the most benefit out of changing (but not eliminating) its height regulations.


Paris’ La Defense skyline. Photo by KJ Vogelius on flickr.

Much of the debate about the height limit has settled into two opposing camps, those who want taller buildings, and those opposed to any change. But it doesn’t need to be so black and white.

Regulations can change in practical and beneficial ways, without destroying Washington’s unique layout. If Congress repeals or changes the DC Height Act, the District will be free to regulate height in much more flexible ways.

That in mind, here are some suggestions that Congress and the DC Council should consider as they move forward.

1. Don’t eliminate, calibrate

Even though eliminating all height limits completely isn’t anyone’s proposal and has never been seriously on the table, it’s worth saying up front just to be clear. There are good reasons to regulate height, but our existing laws are not necessarily the ideal set. We can make them more ideal with some fine tuning.

2. Target development where we want it

Many assume raising the height limit would result in taller buildings everywhere, or all over downtown, but that need not be the case. It would be smarter to pick specific areas where we want to encourage more development, and only increase the limit there.

The city can raise the limit only on blocks with a Metro station entrance, for example, or only within 1/8 mile of Metro stations with low existing ridership, or only near Farragut Square, or only in Anacostia. Whatever.

No doubt where to allow them would be a contentious question, but the city already has many regulations encouraging or discouraging development in certain areas. There’s no reason the height limit can’t be used in the same way. We can be selective.

3. Grant a residential bonus for downtown

Downtown DC has no trouble attracting development, but office is usually more profitable than residential, so downtown is often packed during work hours but pretty empty in the evenings. More residential would help downtown stay active on evenings and weekends, not to mention reduce the capacity stress on our transportation network by allowing more people to live close to their work.

But under current rules, developers often can’t justify using floor space under the height limit for residential when office is more lucrative. If they got a bonus for residential, allowing them to build taller only if some or all of the added height were used for apartments, that would benefit everyone.

4. More offices can go downtown, but also other places

We want a lot of office buildings downtown because that’s where our regional transportation system converges. But we also want office buildings outside downtown so residential areas don’t empty out during work hours, and to encourage a healthy economy throughout the city.

Uptown nodes like Bethesda and Clarendon are good for the region and would be good for the city, and would happen in DC if we allowed them to. So while it may be desirable to allow taller buildings in some parts of downtown sometimes, it’s also desirable to encourage office development elsewhere as an anchor for uptown commercial districts.

5. Be inclusive of affordable housing

Height limit opponents say taller buildings will make DC more affordable, because it will increase the supply of housing, thus helping to address rising demand. Supporters of keeping it say tall buildings will make DC more expensive, because new development is almost always expensive. They’re both right, but those points aren’t mutually exclusive.

New buildings are indeed almost always expensive, because it costs a lot to build a skyscraper, and developers need to turn a profit within a few years.

But new buildings eventually become old ones, and this isn’t a short-term decision. Buildings that are expensive at first often become the next generation’s affordable housing. Part of the reason DC has an affordable housing problem now is that we didn’t build enough new buildings a generation ago. If we don’t build enough new units now, the next generation will be out of luck too.

In the mean time, we can solve the short-term affordability problem with inclusive zoning; in exchange for allowing taller buildings, the city should require some of their units to be affordable. Win-win.

6. Require good architecture

Some who want to change the height limit say regulations hurt DC’s architecture, resulting in boring-looking buildings. Meanwhile, many others hate tall buildings because so many skyscrapers are ugly. Both arguments are equally bad, because the world is full of both great and ugly buildings of every height.

But there’s no denying that tall buildings stand out, and thus become landmarks whether beautiful or ugly. To ensure we get the former rather than the latter, DC (or even NCPC) could require aesthetic review & approval for the design of any building above a certain height.

That sounds cumbersome, but it’s standard practice in many cities, and DC already does it in some neighborhoods.

A city the size of DC wouldn’t want to insist on aesthetic review for every building, but there’s no good reason DC can’t do it for tall ones.

Of course the devil is in the details. To use this sort of oversight, DC would have to establish design guidelines that tell architects what the city will approve or deny. That could be contentious, and might not be the same everywhere in the city.

7. Preserve historic facades and encourage entrances

Frequent, unique-looking entrances are incredibly important for quality walkable urbanism. One problem with tall buildings is many are so wide that they’re boring to walk next to at the ground level. The minimalist facades of modern architecture compound the problem.

This is why the urbanism in Georgetown is better than Rosslyn. It’s not that Rosslyn has buildings that are too tall, it’s that Rosslyn’s buildings are too wide, and too bare at the ground level.

While it’s not practical for tall buildings to change completely every 25′ the way rowhouses in Georgetown do, their ground floors can be designed to look and function as smaller buildings, and historic buildings can be integrated into larger developments above.

This may not strictly be a height limit issue, but it’s a good way to ensure that taller buildings improve the streetscape. It can be accomplished using the design guidelines and architectural review process outlined above.

8. Outlaw surface parking lots

Surface parking lots are the bane of walkable urbanism, but they’re common in almost every skyscraper-heavy downtown in America, because one large building can sap up years worth of demand, leaving developers of other properties waiting in limbo for reason to build.

Many developers in downtowns around the US opt to leave land nearly empty rather than fill it with short buildings, on the chance that they may strike it big with the next big once-a-generation mega skyscraper. Surface parking lots provide a convenient way to use that land in the mean time.

This is a big problem, and DC is not immune. In 2008 the developer of what’s now the shiny office building on the northwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street wanted to use that land as a parking lot.

Outlawing surface parking lots in areas where tall buildings are permitted would go a long way towards ensuring downtown DC never looks anything like this.

9. Protect the iconic monuments

Development economics are important, but they’re not the only thing. The most valuable land in DC is probably the White House Ellipse, but we’re not going to put skyscrapers there. DC’s skyline view of the Capitol and Washington Monument is one of the world’s most iconic, and should of course be preserved.

But taller buildings in Farragut Square or Brookland or Anacostia wouldn’t impede that view any more than they do in Rosslyn, and La Defense did not destroy Paris.

We can, and should, allow taller buildings where they’re most appropriate, while protecting the views that define our city.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 30th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: architecture, government, land use, preservation, proposal, urbandesign



Notes from Seattle: A very complete street

Each day this week while I’m in Seattle for Railvolution there will be a brief post about some cool transportation-related thing in that city.

Seattle is currently rebuilding its Broadway corridor to add a new streetcar line. When complete, Broadway will have both a streetcar and a cycletrack, making it one of America’s most multimodal streets.

It’s going to be quite a sight.


Seattle’s Broadway corridor. Video from SeattleStreetcar.org.

Tomorrow: Ferries.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

October 24th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: bike, streetcar, transportation, urbandesign



The future of San Francisco transit, according to Star Trek

Take a look at this street scene from the recent Star Trek movie. It shows San Francisco in the year 2259.

Apparently in the universe of Star Trek, city streets will look pretty much the same 246 years in the future as they do today. Cars, a cable car, and a fancy articulated bus, all on a road with basically 20th Century lane markings. The pedestrian crossing and traffic signals are different, but it’s a wholly recognizable scene.


From Star Trek Into Darkness.

On the other hand, by the year 2372 things change quite a bit. These next 2 images are from the Star Trek: Voyager episode Non Sequitur, and show a street in San Francisco’s Mission District.

It’s a fully pedestrianized space, complete with a subway entrance to the fancy future Trans Francisco subway system. Very progressive overall.


From Star Trek Voyager.


From Star Trek Voyager.

October 11th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: bus, fun, metrorail, transportation, urbandesign



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