Tag Archives: bethesda

Local planning

Rename or un-name the Bi-Purple County Line Transitway while it’s still possible (or cheap)

So the political wars over the Purple Line largely ended last week, when the light rail option was selected over the BRT one by the National Capital Transportation Board. The decision now frees the transportation enthusiast crowd to fight over petty and superficial little things, like, for example, the name.

The name “Purple Line” was born back to a day when a legitimate discussion was ongoing between an outer heavy rail line, and the inner light rail line. More specifically, it was born when the Bethesda-Silver Spring light rail line was a separate project from the Silver Spring-New Carrollton Purple Line altogether. But they were merged sometime back under Gov. Glendenning (Wikipedia says it was under Erlich, but that contradicts my memories), and suddenly everyone stopped paying attention to the PG County side. Governor Erlich had the decent sense to not oversell the mid-tier transit line, but managed to make the name situation worse. His DOT’s name, the Bi-County “Transitway,” is an unadulterated sample of bureaucraspeak, managing to say absolutely nothing about anything, while also sounding incredibly unexciting. Bi-County? Which counties? Washington and Allegheny? Marin and Cook? Transitway? There’s no meaningful thing that the term “transitway” promises, although it does sound a bit like a moving walkway or even a slidewalk. I hear that when you visit the mausoleum of Kim Il-Sung, they have one of those things.

But calling it the Purple line unfairly associates it with heavy rail lines that operate in a very different way. Mixing the modes damages the legibility of Metro’s human-interface concept, embodied in its map. More importantly, it disassociates the particualr line from its value as part of a larger network of streetcars. When extensions are made elsewhere and it is connected to the Georgia Avenue Streetcar, it will be possible to run trains from Bolling AFB to Bethesda. Rather than hype up one particular service, instead reminding potential riders of the total extent of the system will likely increase ridership.

Frankly, I think any distinctive branding should simply disappear into the area’s future streetcar network. David Alpert had it right in his metro scheme, simply drawing all overground rapid transit purple. But if named it must be, then let’s go with this spiffy dollop of NIMBY fears, presented in the style of Jim Graham:

That Bastard O’Malley/Erlich/Glendenning’s Inflationary-Federal-Fiat-Currency-Funded-Puce-Hued- Two-County-Not-Underground-New-Carrollton-Silver-Spring-Chevy-Chase-Bethesda-Oh-God-Won’t-Someone-Think-of-the-Trees/It’s-a-Combine-Harvester-for-Toddlers-All-Singing-All-Dancing-Thug-Travelator.

Anyone have a better idea? I, for one, can’t wait for the epic battles between the Sharks and the Jetsons.

Local planning

Macomb Giant: Where to from here?

The Zoning Commission has approved the Macomb-Wisconsin Giant project, after a difficult and involved process that began in 1619 1998.  Jeff Davis posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv about it this morning:

Last night, the Zoning Commission voted unanimously (4 to 0) to approve the
Giant PUD Application. The zoning process was robust, transparent, and fair and it yielded a terrific overall result.

He’s right, the overall result is excellent urban planning and competent architecture that  adds considerably more and better density to a major thoroughfare, while also managing to unite a mottled context of various building types and styles. The architects, Street-Works, have produced excellent cityscapes work in Shirlington, Reston, and Bethesda. Based on their prior experience, it’s safe to predict that the project will be a success. More than that, I predict that the already thriving area will become a new locality, a broad place that people will perceive intuitively as distinct from Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights. 

And that’s a good thing, because Wisconsin Avenue needs more of this healthy density. The example that this sets will be a lesson to Ward 3, demonstrating how a few stores and few more stories can create an enjoyable neighborhood center. Not only will the extreme non-failure of the site be ammunition for people who support smart growth, it will serve as a billboard for those who are not engaged in debates, that urbanism is possible in Northwest. But it will be some time before the buildings are built and the storefronts occupied, so until then, activists for urban neighborhoods will have to focus on two things.

  1. Getting there. One of the criticisms of  the new project stemmed from the limited mass transit options in the proposal, legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. WMATA needs to step up bus service and introduce an express line on Wisconsin, either to Georgetown or Woodley Park. Bus facilities such as bus bulbs need to be added to Wisconsin, even at the expense of roadway space. Likewise, DC ought to facilitate the placement of SmartBike facilities, bike racks, and carsharing spaces.
  2. Connecting the surrounding neighborhoods. People must be able to walk to the new development. The current plans emphasize pedestrian traffic, but DDOT needs to improve the streetscape around Macomb, to lure neighborhood residents off of side streets. Without buffering from Wisconsin or new signals along Wisconsin, pedestrians lose the calmness that makes walking so appealing. 

Those who fought hard to get the right kind of development should not give up the momentum they have now, and instead should fight for even better facilities. This includes opponents, who should still look to make the area as leafy as possible, and ensure that Giant sticks to its promises. Resident involvement is one of the most crucial parts of developing community, so although the fight over the Giant has been so acrimonious, it’s important to realize that it will happen, and anyone interested must remain involved in working to ensure good growth elsewhere in the neighborhood.

planning

United States Bicycle Route 101

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Did you know that the United States has signed bicycle routes? You didn’t? Yeah… don’t feel bad, nobody else seems to know about them, and I only stumbled upon them trying to do this month’s Wikiglean. Obscurity notwithstanding, two bike routes do exist and the legal framework is still around – and right now is just the time to breathe life back into the system and make them serious transit.

Back in the 1970s, after the shock of the Oil Crisis, planners – AASHTO even – had the forward idea of determining and assigning interstate bike routes.  Primarily meant for low-traffic roads or dedicated trails, the routes were to connect cities for touring purposes. However, by 1982, only two routes had ever come into being, and so the system went the way of the DMC-12. But conveniently for Washingtonians, the two existing trails currently run through Virginia and one is poised to benefit the Washington Metropolitan area. read more »