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DC can save the Olympics, if Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles all help

Boston has backed out of its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, and officials are begging DC and other cities to try and host the games. But fewer and fewer cities want to. What if, instead of picking one host city, the entire country pitched in, with venues spread out in several cities coast to coast.

Don’t pick one. Pick them all. And add 10 more. Image by the USOC.

The Olympics have a big problem. Virtually no democratic cities anywhere in the world want to host them anymore. The combination of sky-high costs for new facilities, and the inconveniences put upon the populace by way of construction and tourist traffic, have made the Olympics too much for one city to bear.

But why should one city have to?

To save the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup offers a compelling alternate in which countries host instead of cities.

Brazilian host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Image from Wikipedia.

Different events would take place in different locations, hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. No single city would have to shoulder the burdens of more than one or two events.

With a whole country to choose from, organizers could find existing facilities for virtually every event. Much less new construction would be necessary. Many fewer one-time-use buildings would become abandoned after the games end.

And with fewer athletes and visitors in any one location, existing infrastructure and hotels could accommodate more of the influx of guests, with less disruption to residents. Hosting a single Olympic event would be more like hosting a college football bowl game, or the baseball All Star game.

In short, everything would become easier.

And although it’s true that some World Cups suffer from overspending too, certainly the problem is less acute when it’s spread over an entire nation.

The downside

This would admittedly be a drastic change to the culture of the games. It would be difficult for anyone to attend more than one event in person. Athletes would no longer live and socialize in a single Olympic Village. Something about the in-person experience of being in a city dedicated completely to the Olympics would be lost.

Without that complete dedication, it’s unlikely urban politicians would find the will to use the Olympics to upgrade infrastructure.

But that overwhelming experience is part of why so many cities don’t want to host the Olympics anymore. For residents whose lives are put on hold, it’s a bug, not a feature.

Meanwhile, the opening and closing ceremonies would still provide glimpses of that invigorating everyone’s-here feeling. It would be a trade-off, but perhaps a worthwhile one.

What role would DC play?

If Olympic officials spread the wealth/burden, what events might DC be fit to host?

A look at the possible venues for DC’s 2014 bid shows what facilities already exist, and therefore might be a good fit.

We probably wouldn’t get the opening ceremony. That needs an NFL-sized stadium, and our only options are either too old or too isolated. They’d work in a pinch, but some other US city can probably offer something more appealing.

Weightlifting could occur at Constitution Hall. The convention center could host table tennis, handball, or badminton.

The marathon could follow the path of the Marine Corps marathon. Rowers could set off from Georgetown.

And of course, the Verizon Center would be a killer spot for basketball. Or really any gym sport. How about gymnastics?

How would this change your opinion of the games? Would readers who oppose a DC Olympiad support a US games, with only one or two venues in DC?

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

August 10th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: events, in general, proposal

Hogan will build the Purple Line, not the Red Line

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced today the state will build the Purple Line.

Hogan announced his decision to build the light rail line at a press conference at 2:30 this afternoon.

To reduce costs, trains on the Purple Line will come every seven and half minutes rather than every six. The state will not change the alignment, nor the number or location of stations.

The Purple Line has been on the books for decades, and enjoys wide support in Maryland’s urban and suburban communities surrounding DC. It was primed to begin construction this year, but Governor Hogan has been threatening to cut it since entering office.

Our neighbors in Baltimore are not so lucky. At the same presser, Hogan announced the Baltimore Red Line will not move forward as currently conceived.

 Comment on this at the version cross-posted to Greater Greater Washington.

June 25th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: events, government, lightrail, transportation

Where to go wireless: The next big streetcar question

Now that DC’s oft-delayed H Street streetcar is hopefully near opening, DDOT officials are planning the next wave of lines. One of the biggest emerging questions (besides the role of dedicated lanes) is where the streetcars should run without wires.

Current law prohibits wires under the Whitehurst Freeway. Should that change? Image from Google.

DC has important monumental views that wires could impact. Therefore, DDOT has been promising hybrid streetcars that can run off-wire for part of their route since 2009. It could mean wires along some roads but not at major intersections, crossing state avenues, or across the National Mall, for example.

DC Councilmember Mary Cheh is convening a public hearing today to discuss the question with District Department of Transportation (DDOT) officials including new director Leif Dormsjo.

Where wires are legal

Current DC law prohibits overhead wires in the central L’Enfant city (basically everything between Florida Avenue and the Anacostia River) and Georgetown, except on H Street. In 2010, the council exempted H Street from the law, specifically to permit streetcars there.

But only exempting H Street was never a permanent solution. It was a stopgap to let H Street move forward while giving DDOT time to study wire-free planning in more detail. Now it’s time for a broader plan.

Wires on H Street.

Is wireless technology ready?

The 2010 law also required DDOT to study wireless streetcar technology before building any other lines, so leaders could make an informed decision about other exemptions.

DDOT completed that study in mid-2014, and in it concluded that off-wire technology is still only practical for short distances. Batteries, ground-based power supplies, and various other wire-free systems do exist, but they’re vastly more expensive and vastly less reliable than traditional overhead wires. Hybrid streetcars that operate on-wire part of the time, and off-wire at other times, remain by far the best option.

Moving forward, the DC Council could opt to change the wire law in one of four ways: 1) Keep the existing law allowing wires only outside the core; 2) Prohibit wires everywhere; 3) Allow wires everywhere; or 4) Allow wires in certain additional locations, but not others.

DDOT’s report proposes an approach in line with option 4:

In the near term, proven overhead contact system (OCS)-based technologies will form the basis of the system, with limited application of off-wire technologies in the most sensitive areas to the extent possible. As technologies advance, the amount of off-wire operations will be gradually increased.

This option makes sense. Most people agree that the north-south streetcar line should be wireless when it crosses the National Mall, but it would be absurd to demand the K Street line be wire-free when it runs under the Whitehurst Freeway.

Others worry that DDOT will not actually “gradually increase the amount of off-wire operations” once wires are in the ground. If DC buys streetcars that can handle only limited off-wire operation, it would cost money to upgrade, and that might not happen for a long time.

But wire-free technology still only works for short distances, so a hybrid is still the way to go. Modern streetcar wires can be relatively unobtrusive and won’t mar the streetscape. Allowing overhead wires in some other areas while prohibiting them in the most sensitive spots is the rational solution.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

February 4th, 2015 | Permalink
Tags: events, preservation, streetcar, transportation

Gift ideas for the DC urbanist

Is there an urbanist in your life? Of course there is; you’re reading this blog. Here are a bunch of great gift ideas to satisfy your favorite urban geek, or maybe add to your own wish list.

DC streetcar holiday cards from Analog, and Ben Ross’ book Dead End.

There are tons of great genre gifts available in stores and online. But special mention goes out to two that come from members of our own urbanist blogging community:

Ben Ross’ book Dead End

Ben Ross is a frequent GGW contributor and a prolific author. His book Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism is perhaps the most cogent explanation ever written about the motivations of community activists. Dead End is $26 new from Amazon.

DC streetcar greeting cards

Get your correspondence on with DC streetcar themed Christmas cards, which my wife Melissa makes for her Brookland store Analog. A set of 8 cards is $14, available online, at the shop, or at upcoming pop-up markets in Rosslyn and Silver Spring.

More great options

White house tree ornament, Metro map phone case and bracelet, DC neighborhood wall art.

This year’s White House Christmas tree ornament is an old style train ($24).

Local graphic designer Cherry Blossom Creative makes a series of colorful DC neighborhood wall prints ($20).

WMATA has an official DC Metro Store that sells a wide variety of Metro-themed products, including iPhone cases ($39), bracelets ($32), mugs ($12), model buses ($35), and more. Or if you’re looking for something more functional, how about a SmarTrip card loaded with fare money.

Still need more? Everything from last year’s gift guide would still work, Urbanful has an extensive marketplace, and Etsy is filled with DC-themed gifts.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

December 10th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: events, in general

Nothing to say about the Arlington streetcar

In case anyone is wondering, as an Arlington employee it’s not prudent for me to blog about the Arlington County board’s decision to cancel the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars.

Greater Greater Washington has excellent coverage of the issue, though.

November 21st, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: events, government, streetcar, transportation

To rehab part of the Red Line, Metro will close it for 14 weekends

Grosvenor Metro station. Photo by Isaac Wedin on Flickr.

Get ready for major construction along the Metrorail Red Line. Starting in the summer of 2016, WMATA will close portions of the Red Line between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor for 14 weekends, including one stretch of at least 7 consecutive weekends.

The good news is that in exchange for all those closures, Metro will complete a whole cadre of major rehabilitation projects up and down the line, and begin construction on the Purple Line. Instead of the piecemeal reconstruction that’s characterized Metro rebuilding elsewhere, this will be a comprehensive program that will solve several problems at once.

Metro will fix water leaks in the subway tunnel, repair the piers that hold up the elevated tracks near Grosvenor, rebuild the platform at Grosvenor, and begin construction on a new mezzanine at Bethesda station, for transfers to the Purple Line.

The most significant construction will happen just outside Medical Center station, where Metro workers will install a large arch between the tracks and ceiling, to help waterproof the tunnel.

Medical Center arch. Image from WMATA.

The work is necessary because water leaks in the subway tunnels have been causing electrical failures. In addition to waterproofing the area around Medical Center station, workers will power wash the tunnel, fix leaks in the tunnel, install better drain pipes, and replace tunnel lights and electrical cables.

Since the water leaks are an immediate problem that will take several weekends to fix, WMATA will take advantage of the station closures to do other work as well.

Workers will rehabilitate the elevated tracks near Grosvenor, where the metal bolts holding up the aerial structure have begun to degrade. Although the structure is not in any immediate danger of falling down, it could become a threat if Metro doesn’t fix the situation now.

At Grosvenor station itself, workers will replace the crumbling original platform tiles with the newer Takoma-style tiles the agency has been using in recent years.

Finally, Metro will begin construction on its portion of the Purple Line, at the Metro stations that will double as Purple Line transfer points. At Bethesda, workers will begin to install a second entrance and mezzanine. At Silver Spring, workers will begin to plan a similar connection, although construction won’t begin yet during this period.

Bethesda second mezzanine. Image from WMATA.

There’s no doubt all this construction will be painful for riders, but it’s better than the alternate. At one point, Metro management was considering completely closing this part of the Red Line 24×7 for at least five weeks. By closing only the weekends, at least the line will remain useful for commuters.

Correction: The initial version of this post implied that a new arch would go inside Medical Center station. It is actually in the tunnel just outside the station.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

October 6th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: events, metrorail, transportation

Silver Line opening day, in 41 photos

Metro’s new Silver Line is officially open and carrying passengers. Enjoy this photo tour of the new line and opening day festivities.

> Continue reading at Greater Greater Washington

July 28th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: architecture, development, events, galleries, metrorail, transportation

It’s a huge weekend for US transit openings

Mid summer is prime time for big transit openings, and this weekend is a doozy. Three big projects around the US are opening today or tomorrow.

Silver Line. Photo by Fairfax County.

Denver Union Station. Photo by Ryan Dravitz for DenverInfill.com.

Tucson streetcar. Photo by Bill Morrow on Flickr.

By now, probably everyone in the DC region knows the Silver Line opens tomorrow, Saturday the 26th.

The same day, Denver’s gloriously updated Union Station opens its final component, the renovated historic main hall. Other portions of Denver’s Union Station opened in May.

But Tucson beats both DC and Denver by one day. Their Sun Link streetcar opens today, at 9:00 am Mountain Time (11:00 am Eastern Time). Sun Link uses the same streetcar vehicles as DC’s H Street line, built by the same company, as part of the same production run.

Speaking of the H Street streetcar, although it’s not opening this weekend, it is nonetheless making visible progress. The final streetcar vehicle has finally arrived in DC from the factory. Four streetcars are now on H Street for testing, plying the route on their own power. And pylon signs are starting to appear at streetcar stations.

All these projects have been a long, difficult road. It’s great to see them starting to pay off.

July 25th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: events, intercity, metrorail, streetcar, transportation

DC buses should be better; let’s talk about how

Overcrowded bus.
Photo by dcmaster on flickr.

More and more people are riding the bus in DC. That’s great, but it’s also straining the system to its limits. Experts from DDOT and WMATA will discuss how to make buses work better for more people at a free panel on Wednesday evening.

Buses come every couple of minutes on WMATA’s busy 16th Street line. But it’s not enough. Rush hour passengers often watch bus after bus pass by, too jam packed to allow even one more person on board. Other lines face similar problems, or soon will.

What can we do? Simply adding more buses may not work, because there are so many buses already on 16th Street that they bunch together, forming long pseudo-trains where multiple buses all come at the same time. Even if the last bus is empty, bunching like that slows down the entire line for everyone; waiting passengers wait longer, and moving buses move slower.

Meanwhile, WMATA’s central DC bus storage barn doesn’t have any extra room for new or bigger buses, so even adding more articulated buses would be difficult, expensive, and take years of planning.

Streetcars could increase capacity, but they’d take even longer to implement. And they work better for shorter trips on commercial streets anyway, as opposed to the longer commute trips common on 16th Street.

Bus lanes are a possibility, but repurposing car lanes for transit takes a lot of political courage. So far leaders in DC haven’t been willing to take that leap.

What’s left? What can we do? Or can longer buses or bus lanes actually work?

Come to 1701 16th Street NW on Wednesday from 6:00 – 8:00 pm to hear experts weigh in. Panelists include DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, WMATA’s head bus planner Jim Hamre, DDOT transit planner Sam Zimbabwe, and former New York City Director of Transit Planning Joseph Barr.

RSVP with the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

April 29th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: bus, events, transportation

Donate to GGW to keep it strong & limit ads

Donation link

Greater Greater Washington wasn’t the first blog about urbanism or local policy-making in Washington, DC, but it’s the one that changed the discussion. It’s the one that brought arcane subjects like zoning and transit planning into the city’s mainstream.

By the time I first discovered Greater Greater Washington, I’d already been writing BeyondDC for many years. I was one of a cadre of bloggers writing about development and transportation, along with people like Richard Layman, and DCist’s Ryan Avent,.

But we were few and far between, and most of us either had other jobs or split our writing with other subject matters. DC’s online urbanist community, such as it was, had no home base and no leader. We were a niche network of geeky wonks, great at expressing opinions but not so good at building broad support.

Greater Greater Washington changed all that.

When David Alpert showed up, with his mountain of energy and dedication, that was a game-changer. David had the skills and time to do what the rest of us couldn’t. He went to public meetings, he drew maps, and he wrote, and wrote, and wrote. All of it was accessible to anybody. All of it was interesting, and exciting. All of it elevated the public discussion about what Washington could be.

And the readers poured in. Then some of the early readers started writing too, and the whole thing grew exponentially.

At first, I admit, I was a little jealous.

But it took me about 3 seconds to realize what was happening. A mere blog was becoming a community, and that was too wonderful a thing to pass up. I had to be part of that.

And become a community Greater Greater Washington did. With more writers and more readers, we started to have an impact. Not only on other policy wonks, not only on the editorial pages of other media, but on the tone of the discussion itself, and later on elected officials.

Now, everyone in town knows the practicality and benefits of car-free or car-light living. We can swing budgets, and change construction plans,.

Thanks to Greater Greater Washington, urbanists in the DC region are a political force. We’ve gone mainstream, and we’re making a difference.

Please help us keep making a difference. Please donate what you can to GGW, so our community will still have the strong voice it needs.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

March 5th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: events, site



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