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Ten little cities near DC with awesome urbanism

Central cities are booming all over the US, as Americans rediscover the benefits of walkable urbanism. But the boom isn’t confined to only big cities. Smaller cities are also enjoying a renaissance of their own.

Here are ten little cities near DC with genuinely great urbanism.

Frederick, MD: With stately historic buildings, fancy restaurants, rowhouse neighborhoods, and the best riverwalk in the region, Frederick is a bona fide quality city. Photo by Gray Lensman QX! on Flickr.

Hagerstown, MD: Less fancy and more blue-collar compared to Frederick, Hagerstown’s solid core of 19th Century streets is more like Baltimore than DC. Photo by J Brew on Flickr.

Cumberland, MD: If Frederick is a mini DC and Hagerstown a mini Baltimore, Cumberland with its sharply rising hills and narrow valleys is a mini Pittsburgh. Photo by Dave Olsen on Flickr.

Annapolis, MD: With its baroque street grid, 18th Century state house, and as the home of the Naval Academy, Annapolis was an impressive town years before DC existed.

Winchester, VA: Winchester has a successful pedestrian mall, and the most gorgeous library in Virginia. Handley Library photo by m01229 on Flickr.

Charlottesville, VA: Charlottesville’s pedestrian mall is even more successful than Winchester’s, while the University of Virginia contributes The Corner, an interesting student ghetto neighborhood, and Thomas Jefferson’s famous Lawn. Photo by Ben G on Flickr.

Staunton, VA: 19th Century warehouse town sister to nearby Charlottesville’s academic village. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Fredericksburg, VA: Similar in size and scale to Old Town Alexandria, if it were 50 miles from DC instead of right across the river. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

York, PA: Probably the most substantial city on this list, York is a veritable museum of 18th, 19th, and early 20th Century buildings. And its surrounding Amish countryside offers an object lesson in sharing the road. Photo by Joseph on Flickr.

Gettysburg, PA: The battlefield is justifiably more famous, but downtown Gettysburg is a charming little place, often overlooked. Photo by Tom Hart on Flickr.

Not enough? Don’t miss Ellicott City, Manassas, Leesburg, Martinsburg, Warrenton, Front Royal, Culpeper, Harrisonburg, Brunswick, Harper’s Ferry, and many more.

To qualify for this list, I excluded cities large enough to have tall buildings downtown (sorry Baltimore, Richmond, Harrisburg, and Wilmington), and any city close enough to DC be accessible via WMATA (Alexandria, Silver Spring, Kensington, etc). Otherwise the list is essentially subjective.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

November 4th, 2014 | Permalink
Tags: galleries, top10

Top 10 busiest Amtrak routes

click to enlarge
An Amtrak Cascades train leaves Seattle. Photo by KurtClark on flickr.

Rail use in America continues to climb ever higher. In July, Amtrak posted its busiest ridership month ever. But what are the busiest individual routes?

Let’s take a look. Here are the 10 highest ridership Amtrak routes, as of July, 2013:

Number 1: Northeast Regional
July, 2013 ridership: 687,331

Number 2: Acela Express
July, 2013 ridership: 276,477

Number 3: Pacific Surfliner (Southern California)
July, 2013 ridership: 271,517

Number 4: Capitol Corridor (Northern California)
July, 2013 ridership: 140,533

Number 5: Keystone Service (NY to Harrisburg, PA)
July, 2013 ridership: 123,874

Number 6: San Joaquin (Central California)
July, 2013 ridership: 117,348

Number 7: Empire Service (Upstate New York)
July, 2013 ridership: 99,801

Number 8: Cascades (Pacific Northwest)
July, 2013 ridership: 85,565

Number 9: Hiawatha (Chicago to Milwaukee)
July, 2013 ridership: 79,423

Number 10: Lincoln Service (Chicago to Saint Louis)
July, 2013 ridership: 66,461

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed ridership data as being for the full fiscal 2013 year. Data is for July, 2013 only.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

August 16th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: intercity, The New America, top10, transportation

Maryland, Virginia, fund these projects!

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Tysons grid of streets, no. 2.

Maryland and Virginia will both enact major new transportation funding bills this year. Neither bill says exactly which projects will be funded, but here are the top 10 projects in Maryland and Virginia that most deserve to get some of the funds.

Number 1: 8-car Metro trains. Metrorail is near capacity, especially in Virginia. More Metro railcars would mean more 8-car trains on the Orange, Blue, and Silver Lines.

Number 2: Tysons grid of streets. Tysons Corner has more office space than downtown Baltimore and Richmond put together. Converting it to a functional urban place is a huge priority.

Number 3: Purple Line. Bethesda, Silver Spring, Langley Park, College Park, New Carrollton. That’s a serious string of transit-friendly pearls. The Purple Line will be one of America’s best light rail lines on the day it opens.

Number 4: Baltimore Red Line. Baltimore has a subway line and a light rail line, but they don’t work together very well as a system. The Red Line will greatly improve the reach of Baltimore’s rail system.

Number 5: Silver Line Phase 2. The Silver Line extension from Reston to Dulles Airport and Loudoun County is one of the few projects that was earmarked in Virginia’s bill, to the tune of $300 million.

Number 6: Arlington streetcars. The Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars both have funding plans already, but could potentially be accelerated.

Number 7: Route 7 transit. Leesburg Pike is the next Rosslyn-Ballston corridor waiting to happen. Virginia is just beginning to study either a light rail or BRT line along it.

click to enlarge
Corridor Cities Transitway, no. 8.

Number 6: Corridor Cities Transitway. Gaithersburg has been waiting decades for a quality transit line to build around. BRT will finally connect the many new urbanist communities there, which are internally walkable but rely on cars for long-range connections.

Number 9: MARC enhancements. MARC is a decent commuter rail, but it could be so much more. Some day it could be more like New York’s Metro North or Philadelphia’s SEPTA regional rail, with hourly trains all day long, even on weekends.

Number 10: Alexandria BRT network. This will make nearly all of Alexandria accessible via high quality transit.

Honorable Mentions: Montgomery BRT network, Potomac Yard Metro station, Virginia Beach light rail, Southern Maryland light rail, VRE platform extensions.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

April 3rd, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: BRT, commuterrail, funding, government, lightrail, metrorail, roads/cars, streetcar, top10, transportation

Top 10 busiest Amtrak stations

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Chicago Union Station, busiest outside the Northeast. Photo by Vincent Desjardins.

As a follow-up to Monday’s map of Amtrak stations by ridership, here are the 10 busiest, ranked in order. Although it’s not surprising that New York, Washington, and Philadelphia are the top 3, it is pretty surprising that 2 of the top 5 and 4 of the top 10 are nowhere near the Northeast.

Number 1: New York Penn Station
8,995,551 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 2: Washington DC Union Station
4,850,685 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 3: Philadelphia 30th Street Station
3,872,392 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 4: Chicago Union Station
3,393,695 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 5: Los Angeles Union Station
1,606,121 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 6: Boston South Station
1,360,162 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 7: Sacramento Valley Station
1,175,046 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 8: Baltimore Penn Station
953,170 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 9: Albany-Rensselaer Station
769,626 boardings/deboardings per year.

Number 10: San Diego Union Station
753,739 boardings/deboardings per year.

The rest of the top 25 includes most of the secondary stations in the northeast, like Wilmington (12), BWI Airport (17), and Harrisburg (21), plus 6 more stations outside the northeast. Those are Seattle (14), Portland (15), Irvine (16), Milwaukee (19), Emeryville (20), and Bakersfield (24).

February 6th, 2013 | Permalink
Tags: intercity, top10, transportation

Top 10 largest shopping centers in the region

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Georgetown Park Mall. Not on the list, but I have a picture of it!

Washington Business Journal has an interesting list of the largest shopping centers in the region, by total square footage. Neato.

As expected, they’re all in the suburbs, most are enclosed malls, and the largest is Tysons Corner. What’s not expected is that two entries are strip malls, and a couple of malls that are often considered to be struggling are among the region’s largest.

Click each shopping center name for a google maps aerial.

Number 10: Lakeforest – Mall, 1.05 million square feet.

Number 9: Fair Lakes Center – Power Center, 1.17 msf.

Number 8: Montgomery Mall – Mall, 1.22 msf.

Number 7: Virginia Gateway – Power/Lifestyle Center, 1.37 msf.
I’d never even heard of this, the largest non-mall shopping center in the region.

Number 6: Dulles Town Center – Mall, 1.4 msf.
Last major enclosed mall built in the region.

Number 5: Potomac Mills – Mall, 1.52 msf.

Number 4: Fair Oaks – Mall, 1.6 msf.

Number 3: Wheaton Mall – Mall, 1.65 msf.
The fact that this is bigger than Montgomery Mall is a major surprise.

Number 2: Springfield Mall – Mall, 2 msf.
I wouldn’t have guessed this would be closer in size to #1 Tysons Corner than to #3 Wheaton.

Number 1: Tysons Corner Center – Mall, 2.2 msf.
No surprise this is #1, even without its next-door neighbor Tysons Galleria.

April 27th, 2012 | Permalink
Tags: top10

Top 10 bus paint jobs

Fairfax City’s CUE bus has a good paint job.

We have a lot of different bus providers in this region. In addition to WMATA, every county or county-level locality has its own system. Last year BeyondDC ranked them by ridership, providing a basis for meaningful comparison of service levels.

Today I’m in the mood for something a little more frivolous. Therefore, in the interests of nerdy transit fun on a Friday afternoon, here are the 10 largest DC regional bus agencies ranked by the quality of their current standard livery:

Number 1: WMATA Metrobus
WMATA’s new paint job for buses looks great, and the idea to show local and express buses in different colors was an inspired move. My only complaint: That you can’t see the local red or express blue from the front, where it would be most useful to riders waiting at bus stops.

Number 2: Fairfax City CUE
Clean, modern, unique. I’m a big fan. Best bus most Washingtonians have probably never seen.

Number 3: Arlington ART
Simple, but in a good way. The wavy green is instantly recognizable and more fun than the standard stripe-on-white-background.

Number 4: DC Circulator
The wavy red is good in all the same ways as ART’s green, and the addition of yellow adds a little more interest. So why rank Circulator below ART? All those destination names printed on the side of the bus are cluttering and confusing; you can’t get to Georgetown on the 14th Street route, so Georgetown shouldn’t be in big letters on its side.

Number 5: Fairfax County Connector
Fairfax’s ketchup and mustard scheme rounds out the top 5 as the last of the paint jobs I personally like. Others say it’s tacky. What do you think?

Number 6: Montgomery County Ride-On
Solid colors are more noticeable and better looking than horizontal stripes. Ride-On’s new livery at least has that going for it. But it seems backwards. Rear-facing chevrons and trim make the bus look like it’s perpetually slowing down, and I can’t help but think the pastel colors will begin to feel dated quickly. The old paint scheme was a lot better.

Number 7: Prince William Omni-Ride
The best of the three bus systems that still use a horizontal stripe on a white background. Omni-Ride tops the other two because its stripe is the thickest.

Number 8: Alexandria Dash
Looks like its from about 1985. The diagonal bit is something. Not much, but something.

Number 9: Prince George’s County The Bus
Even by the standards of stripe-on-white this is ugly.

Number 10: Loudoun County Transit
The dishonor of last place goes to Loudoun, for not even trying. Logo sticker on a plain white background. Y-a-w-n.

Honorable mentions: No list of cool bus paint jobs would be complete without mentioning REX, Metro’s Go Green, and Dash’s streetscape liveries. They’re all great, but as special schemes are not eligible for the main ranking.

November 12th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: bus, fun, top10, transportation

Top 10 historic train stations

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Point of Rocks station

Train stations are the perfect nexus of transit and architecture geekdom. Obviously, I love them. Since I also like to make lists, and since the DC area is fortunate enough to have several excellent examples of historic depots, here is a list of what I think are the best ones:

Number 10: Manassas
I’m a sucker for turrets and covered platforms, which help this otherwise unextraordinary station squeak in at number 10. Used by VRE and Amtrak.

Number 9: Chesapeake Beach
Click the link and look at the picture with the station all prettied up for Christmas. Isn’t that adorable? Too bad it’s no longer a functioning depot.

Number 8: Harpers Ferry
Solid all around, and it gets bonus points for being next to an awesome mountain tunnel. Used by MARC and Amtrak.

Number 7: Rockville
B&O Railroad architect Francis Baldwin designed a ton of great Victorian stations in Maryland. More will appear further down. Rockville’s is no longer in use as a depot.

Number 6: Fredericksburg
This big brick station is best remembered for its industrial looking covered platforms. We don’t have much of that steel look in DC, so it’s fun to find nearby. Used by Amtrak and VRE.

Number 5: Martinsburg
It used to be common for hotels and train stations to co-locate (especially out west). This is the only local example I know of. Used by Amtrak and MARC.

Number 4: Gaithersburg
Another of Francis Baldwin’s B&O depots, this one seems straight out of a fairy tale. Used by MARC.

Number 3: Frederick
This vintage 1854 building is reminiscent of Washington, DC’s old B&O station, which was demolished when Union Station was built. No longer in use as a depot.

Number 2: Point of Rocks
The best of Baldwin’s B&O stations, this one is just gorgeous. Used by MARC.

Number 1: Washington Union Station
Really, could there be any other answer?

Honorable Mentions: Fairfax Station, Laurel, Kensington (the latter two are Baldwin stations). Also note that I excluded the Baltimore area, which has a ton of good stations as well.

October 5th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: architecture, commuterrail, intercity, preservation, top10, transportation

Top 10 Amtrak destinations from DC

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Acela NE Regional train at Boston’s South Station.

For most Americans Amtrak is a curiosity, but for those of us along the east coast it is an actually useful mode of transportation. The three busiest Amtrak stations are New York, Washington, and Philadelphia, after all. So with that in mind, here is BeyondDC’s list of the top Amtrak destinations from DC.

The list is based on a subjective combination of ease of travel via Amtrak and, y’know, whether the destination is a place anybody would want to go.

Number 10: Boston Big city, plenty of frequent trains, Acela the whole way. Boston would be much higher on the list if it weren’t so far. At 450 miles it’s on the outer edge of a reasonable distance for travel by train.

Number 9: Coastal Connecticut From cosmopolitan New Haven to touristy Mystic Seaport, there are plenty of places to go, and it’s on the high-qualify Northeast Corridor.

Number 8: Charlottesville Virginia’s likable college town makes for a perfect day trip. Unfortunately there aren’t many trains, so scheduling can be tough.

Number 7: Williamsburg Ditto Charlottesville, but the train schedule is a little easier.

Number 6: Hudson Valley With light houses and fortresses perched atop rocky riverside embankments, the views are nothing short of stunning. As long as you’re staying south of Albany the trip is easy and relatively cheap. For extra savings, take Amtrak to New York and then use Metro North for the second leg.

Number 5: Atlantic City OK, you have to transfer to a New Jersey Transit train in Philly, but that ain’t no thang.

Number 4: Richmond At two-and-a-half hours it’s a comfortable ride, and even though it’s south of DC there are enough trains that scheduling is pretty easy. Use Main Street station rather than Staples Mill for a more urbanistically and architecturally interesting trip.

Number 3: Baltimore Everybody loves the Inner Harbor, right? The only problem with Amtrak to Baltimore is that it’s almost too close. On weekdays those $7 MARC tickets trump the faster but more expensive Amtrak trip.

Number 2: New York America’s unquestioned king of all things passenger rail would be number 1 if the bus from DC wasn’t such a competitive option. Still, there’s something magical about arriving in Penn Station via train (even if Penn Station is a hole).

Number 1: Philadelphia It’s a relaxing-length ride along the high-quality Northeast Corridor, and it’s to a fun city. Amtrak is always my mode of choice to the City of Brotherly Love.

Dishonorable Mentions: Amtrak is what it is, and so even though we’re on the east coast there are some nearby destinations that *should* be easy to reach via train, but unfortunately aren’t. Pittsburgh is almost exactly the same distance from DC as New York, but the one train there per day dumps you off in the middle of the night and is essentially unusable. Harrisburg is as close as Richmond and has decent Amtrak service, but you have to go out of the way to Philadelphia and then backtrack to use it. Norfolk and Virginia Beach are too far from the Newport News station for it to be very useful, although that is due to be fixed.

August 13th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: intercity, top10, transportation

The best big American cities

It’s Friday, I don’t particularly have anything to say that hasn’t been said before (oil spill bad, fare hikes better than death spiral, yay streetcars), and having just been out of town, other cities are fresh in my mind. So what they heck, here is my completely subjective list of best American cities. Everybody loves meaningless lists right? Right.

My top five, in order:

  1. New York. On the scale of urbanism it just blows everything else in the country away. Really, there’s no other option for #1.
  2. San Francisco. The second densest city and the most beautiful landscape. It’s just too bad they don’t have a better subway.
  3. Washington. Yes yes, we are a self-loathing city and it’s not supposed to be acceptable to think Washington is so great, but have you seen the rest of the country? We have the best transit outside New York, awesome neighborhoods, great architecture… I’m not afraid to admit that I love DC.
  4. Boston. So similar to DC, and better in some ways (we don’t have anything like the North End), but also so much uglier. Boston is a paradise for brutalism.
  5. Chicago. The first time I visited Chicago I was expecting another Manhattan, and the Loop didn’t measure up. Cool skyscrapers, but that New York activity level just wasn’t there. I was disappointed. Regardless, Chicago is still one big hunk of awesome, and if I didn’t have a particular love for the more European layouts of Boston and DC, I might be tempted to rank Chicago 3rd.

Honorable mentions: Philadelphia (a clear #6 IMO), Seattle and Portland (I haven’t yet visited but hear good things), Pittsburgh (too bad it isn’t larger). Plus the litany of good smaller cities like Madison and Savannah, but they really belong in a different topic.

What do you think?

May 14th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: fun, in general, top10

Top 10 US Combined Metropolitan Areas

This is an easy one, so here you go.

Yesterday the US Census released its annual population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas for 2009. Listed below are the 10 largest Combined Statistical Areas, which along with MSAs and UAs are one of the three main measures of metropolitan population. Ryan Avent has a discussion going about the Census estimates.

Rank Area Population
1 New York-Newark-Bridgeport 22,232,494
2 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside 17,820,893
3 Chicago-Naperville-Michigan City 9,804,845
4 Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia 8,440,617
5 Boston-Worcester-Manchester 7,609,358
6 San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland 7,427,757
7 Dallas-Fort Worth 6,805,275
8 Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland 6,533,122
9 Houston-Baytown-Huntsville 5,968,586
10 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville 5,831,778

The next ten are (in order) Detroit, Seattle, Minneapolis, Denver, Saint Louis, Cleveland, Orlando, Pittsbugh, Sacramento, Charlotte.

March 24th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: top10



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