Five Things, Arranged by Size and Scope

A few found ideas.

One: First, let’s start with what’s in the room. My friend Anna at NOMOFOMO informed me of the publishing of a rather serious book about John Cage’s rather infamous piece 4’33”. The plainly titled book, it turns out, is by Kyle Gann, probably one of the most famous people ever driven off of Wikipedia. Hopefully the book will cool some of the really obnoxious commentary that trots its tired ass out whenever you mention the piece. On a related note, I was at the Smithsonian American Art Museum when some man wearing a North Face vest walked into the room with his brood and began ridiculing the works as “The Painter who Couldn’t draw curves, The Painter who Couldn’t Draw Faces, the Painter Who Didn’t Care,” repeated smugly for several minutes. Unfortunately for his smugness, we were in a gallery entitled, GRAPHIC MASTERS III. There were no paintings so … no painters either, boss.

Two: Anyway, over in my neighborhood, Richard Layman wrote a simple piece in regard to the recent efforts to build a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue – and the consequent vicious opposition. The arguments are not that new, but he does break down the current bogeyman that guided transit will be hopelessly snarled up by obstructions. His point: it happens more often on highways, and can be minimized with design. On that note, and getting much bigger (153 comments at writing), is the thread on DCMud about the Safegate Pause.

Three: Moving out to the general idea of the neighborhood,  Kaid Benfield penned a remarkably concise and thoughtful definition of Transit-Oriented Development. He emphasizes the oriented part, making the point that it’s the way the neighborhood and buildings facilitate transit use and walkability that is most important. It’s worth a read.

Via Elemental/Mammoth
Quinta Monroy, via Elemental/Mammoth

Four: Getting a lot bigger, Mammoth covers mammothly (as they promised) the best architecture of the decade. Unlike so many lists of flashy blingitechture and navelgazing critiques of said blingitechture and excess, the list contains projects emblematic of new directions in architecture. Included is the Large Hadron Collider, cheap manifest-traditional housing, Chinese High Speed Rail, geoengineering, and using good design to recover from years of terror. After reading it, I feel like calling this next decade for Latin America.

Five: Finally, getting into centuries and abstract ideas, Kirk Savage will be doing a live chat tomorrow on Greater Washington.  Savage is the author of Monument Wars and Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves. The latter book is about the depiction of slavery in public art. The former traces the role of the monument in America over two hundred years as the changes played out in Washington, DC. I’m only about halfway through the book, but it is really good. He puts an impressive amount of information about monuments, memory, and architecture into a genuinely enjoyable read. I don’t have enough thoughts at the moment, but there will be more coming from it.

Until 1 PM Tuesday, you can always submit questions at this page, and I’ll let you go with some bonus Eames:

2 thoughts on “Five Things, Arranged by Size and Scope

  1. Neil–

    Here are a few quick thoughts about the alignment and operational details of a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar. I would have dedicated north-south lanes in the median of Wisconsin Avenue for the streetcars. According to the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Transportation Study (,a,1249,q,618838.asp ):

    “The northern portion of Wisconsin Avenue (from Fessenden Street to Calvert Street ) generally has 60 feet of pavement within a 120 foot right-of-way. The 60 feet of pavement width is currently striped for six lanes, each 10 feet wide.”

    You can maintain two lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction with two dedicated streetcar lanes if you eliminated the curbside parking along this section of Wisconsin Avenue . I would reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour (currently 30 mph for most of this corridor) to reduce potential harm to pedestrians on the sidewalk and plant more trees throughout the corridor to create a greater buffer between pedestrians and the curbside lane of vehicle traffic.

    The slower speed limits would also encourage more people to take transit, as the time differential between streetcar and auto is narrowed as the speed limit decreases from 30 to 25 mph. I would also charge higher rates for parking on the streets immediately off Wisconsin Avenue since these streets will have to accommodate the cars that previously parked on the curbside lanes of this street. I would also think that as there is more infill development along this corridor (which a streetcar would encourage), much of the new development would have underground parking. There could be shared-parking arrangements with some of the spots available to the public for $5-$10 per day, such as what exists at CityLine now. Eliminating on-street parking on Wisconsin Avenue would also require a serious commitment to enforcing the Residential Parking Permit zones so neighbors in these communities are not crowded out.

    Some might object to the higher parking charges on the streets immediately off of Wisconsin Avenue but this higher cost of driving would encourage people to take transit and walk instead to local destinations. The addition of a streetcar line on Wisconsin Avenue and the development that would follow would make this corridor immensely more walkable, making it possible to entirely forego a car on local trips.

  2. One of the big problems with removing parking is that it tends to increase the speed that people drive at. Speed limits, without unrealistically strict enforcement, are a poor substitute for designs that control speed. Having lanes in the middle that were mostly empty is also likely to make people drive faster. I’m not sure what the best way around this problem is, but there it is. Also, its worth noting that the outer lanes are already closed to parking during rush hour in the more crowded direction (which at least when I was in high school did little to alleviate the congestion).

    Also, as a more general concern, why are people so excited about street cars (and light rail) in the first place? Wouldn’t BRT be more cost effective (no tracks) and just as fast? What does having rails give you? I don’t want to come across as confrontational about this, I’ve just never seen a clear explanation. Potentially more energy efficient? Faster? Doesn’t have the “only poor people ride the bus” stigma that seems to exist in many places?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *