On Monday, we posted our second photo challenge to see how well you knew Metro. I took photos of 5 stations and we asked you to try to identify them. Here are the answers. How well did you do?
We got 23 guesses on this post. One commenter, Justin, got all 5 correct. Excellent work, Justin! Another 4 commenters got 4 right.
Over 75% of you got the first one right. This is an inbound Red Line train arriving at Silver Spring. You can see the Lenox Park residential tower in the upper left corner, which seemed to help several of you find the answer.
The second image is a picture of Braddock Road, taken from a southbound Amtrak train. Only 5 of you got this one right, but most people made educated guesses based on the railroad tracks visible in the foreground. I thought this one would be easy, since Braddock Road and King Street are the only two stations with this roof design (3 people guessed King Street).
While WMATA does have a few unique stations, most fall into 8 basic designs. Knowing which design elements are present could help you get the right answer in the future. The devil (and the answer) is in the details.
The third image is of the lower level of Gallery Place. Eight of you guessed correctly. Another six guessed either Metro Center or L'Enfant Plaza, which were also great guesses, since the three downtown transfer stations have a similar layout.
One commenter, Justin, gave his reasoning for picking Gallery Place over the other two:It's underground transfer, which makes it Gallery Place, Metro Center, or L'Enfant Plaza. There's a red transfer dot, eliminating L'Enfant Plaza. There are four lines of text on the wall, and the second line is small. If it was Metro Center, the second line on the Virginia side would be longer for Silver Line, and there wouldn't be one on the Maryland side, since Silver/Blue both go to Largo.
Image 4: New Carrollton.
This picture is of the eastern entrance to New Carrollton. One distinct feature of this station is the extra-wide overhang on this side of the station. It's the result of a provision for a bypass track into the railyard here that was never installed. Six of you got this one.
This one did prove to be the hardest: only four of you got it right. But I'm impressed. Everyone gave it a good go and made educated guesses.
This is a sign at Greenbelt in the pedestrian tunnel that links the faregates to the Lackawanna Street entrance and the MARC Camden Line platforms. At Greenbelt, the Camden Line platform for Baltimore (eastbound) is only accessible from this tunnel. The only other place where that happens is in Rockville (2 of you guessed Rockville).
At New Carrollton (3 guesses) both MARC tracks are on an island platform, so there's no need to distinguish between directions. Silver Spring (2 guesses) does have split tracks, but both are accessed from a bridge that is off WMATA property.
I think one thing that threw people off was the "westbound." But remember that MARC (and before it, the B&O) considers both the Camden and Brunswick lines to run east-west. Baltimore is railroad east of Washington and Brunswick is railroad west. If you pull up a Camden or Brunswick line schedule, you'll see they refer to trains as eastbound and westbound.
Next Monday, we'll have 5 more photos for you to identify. If you want a sneak peek, you can follow me on Instagram. Thanks for playing!
No one could have foreseen that DC's zoning could push middle-class residents out of the District and force people to drive even to get milk, right? Actually, planners in 1970 warned of exactly of these dangers.
44 years ago, when Richard Nixon was president, the same consultants that noted outdated ideas at the root of DC's then-outdated zoning code foresaw other problems looming for the city.
The first Walter Washington administration hired planning firm Barton-Aschman to examine the zoning code after the MLK assassination riots, urban renewal, the Metro, and freeway revolts. Planners greatly rethought their approaches after these seismic events.
Not all of Barton-Aschman's comments were negative, but they criticized the technocratic, autocentric attitude that underlay the 1958 zoning code. They found fault with the 1958 code's absolute separation of commercial and residential uses, which underlies the ban on corner stores.
They noted that the then-planned Metro system justified higher densities downtown and less reliance on automobiles. Finally, they anticipated that zoning restrictions made it hard to build enough housing for a growing city.
Barton-Aschman foresaw the problem with restricting housing supply
Studies for the 1958 code by its main author, a consultant named Harold Lewis, predicted that 870,000 people could live in DC under his zoning regimen. But that assumed large families and urban renewal instead of historic districts. The 1970 report says:It is possible that zoning makes it difficult to develop new family-type housing units in the district, while also inhibiting the development of high-rise apartments which may be more attractive to single persons and families without children. ... If zoning helps deter population growth, is it contributing to an imbalanced society in the District?They noted that these restrictions would push out the middle class, "leaving predominantly the rich and the poor of both races." They wrote that this is not a local fluke, but one that is recognizable nationwide:The Douglas Commission has pointed out that existing codes and ordinances of major cities across the country deter the development of low-cost housing by private industry. Land is too expensive, parcels are to small, height and floor area ratios are too low, and density patterns are too restrictive to encourage modern, attractive, and livable low cost residential projects.Aggressive downzoning, ostensibly to preserve urban character, exacerbated these problems during the 1980s. The report raised this concern, warning, "Local residents might stretch the zoning process to become exclusionary." The specter of explicit segregation was fresh in the public's memory, so they worried that the code might be abused to the same end.
Barton-Aschman realized that Metro changed everything
Barton-Aschman's 1970 report was blunt about how Metro would change the city:Perhaps the metro system alone is a sufficiently important factor to justify a complete review of policies assumed in the 1956 Zoning Plan and reflected in the existing Zoning Regulations.Lewis, meanwhile, saw his plan as an alternative to a mass transit system. At a public hearing on July 28th, 1956, he justified his plan:Washington has, of course, a free choice as to which means of transportation it wishes to dominate the central city, ... no new transit system can possibly start operation for several years at the earliest, and it is therefore obvious that the  zoning must be based on solid present trends and solid present fact.Those trends? Declining transit ridership and the extensive network of highways that were soon to snake their way through Washington's neighborhoods.
In his published report, as well as the 20 public meetings held to discuss the plan, Lewis saw those highways as serving a second function, separating residential and commercial uses.
He saw the inner beltway as a great "dam" that would forever keep a shrunken downtown from bleeding into into residential neighborhoods—at least the ones that survived highway construction. Secondary arterials like Wisconsin Avenue in NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in SE would divide the city into residential cells, free of commerce.
Lewis tried to eradicate all corner stores
Lewis also saw corner stores as a blight, and proposed relocating all commercial activity to well-parked shopping centers, like the one in Spring Valley today. Residents could then drive down one of the major thoroughfares to the store.
Although Lewis had to introduce a Special Purpose (SP) mixed-use zone after the first round of comments, he still tried to force noncompliant uses like corner stores to close. The Zoning Advisory Commission decided that the enabling legislation didn't permit that. They agreed that separating uses was theoretically sound, but not politically feasible. Therefore, this attitude persists in the code's minutiae.
We don't know whether the authors at Barton-Aschmann would support the text of the proposed new zoning code as it was set down last September 9th. But we do know that they saw a lot wrong with the text we have now. We've known about those problems for decades; scouring the flawed assumptions and integrating the ad-hoc fixes is unavoidable to create a code for the 21st century.
Standardized test image from Shutterstock.Next year DC will begin giving tests based on the new Common Core state standards. Judging from a practice test available online, these assessments will need major revisions before they'll come close to being able to measure students' actual capabilities.
Montgomery County has 100,000 more residents than 10 years ago, but the amount of driving in the county has actually stayed the same, says a new study on how people get around. Meanwhile, more people are walking and biking inside the Beltway, and bus ridership is growing well outside it.
Drivers traveled about 7.3 million miles on state roads in the county in 2012. It's a slight decrease from 2011, but about the same as in 2002, when the county had just over 900,000 residents, compared to 1.005 million residents today. It's in line with both regional and national trends, and suggests that people didn't stop driving simply because of the Great Recession.
The results come from the Mobility Assessment Report, which the Planning Department conducts every few years to identify Montgomery County's biggest transportation needs. County planners measured pedestrian, bicycle, and car traffic throughout the area, in addition to looking at transit ridership.
Silver Spring has more foot traffic, Bethesda has more cyclists
Planners counted the number of pedestrians at 171 locations and the number of cyclists at 25 locations across the county, and plan to do more detailed studies in the future. Not surprisingly, the most walkers and bikers can be found in the county's urban centers, including Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Wheaton, as well as White Flint.
The county's busiest pedestrian intersection is Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring, with 9,500 pedestrians each day. (By comparison, the intersection of 7th and H streets NW in the District sees 29,764 pedestrians daily.) All of the county's busiest intersections for cyclists were in Bethesda; number 1 is Woodmont Avenue and Montgomery Lane, with 163 bikes during the morning and evening rush hours.
More bus riders in the Upcounty
Montgomery's busiest Metro stations are inside the Beltway, including Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Friendship Heights, as well as Shady Grove, a major park-and-ride station. The most-used Metrobus routes are also closer in, like the C2/C4, which serves Langley Park, Wheaton, and Twinbrook and serves over 11,000 people each day, and the J line, which serves Bethesda and Silver Spring.
Surprisingly, the county's busiest Ride On routes are now in the Upcounty: the 55, which runs along Route 355 between Rockville and Germantown, and the 59, which serves Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Montgomery Village. These routes all carry between 3,000 and 4,000 riders each day; the 55 is one of the county's most frequent bus routes, running every 10 minutes during most of the day.
That said, transit use in the county has fluctuated in recent years. After decreasing during the recession, daily Metrorail ridership has remained stable since 2009 and fell slightly from 28,504 riders between July 2012 and July 2013 to 27,360 during the following year. About 57,000 people rode Metrobus each day over the past year, a decrease of 6,000 from the previous year.
Most transit riders in the county take Ride On, which carried 88,370 people between July 2012 and July 2013. While it's a slight increase from the year before, it's still 7,000 fewer riders than in 2008, when the county made significant service cuts that were never restored.
More people are using the ICC, but fewer than expected
Meanwhile, more people are using the Intercounty Connector, the highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel north of the Beltway that opened in 2012 and will finish construction this year. An average of 30,000 vehicles used the toll road each weekday in 2012, while traffic rates have increased about 3% each month.
But traffic on the ICC is still much lower than state officials' estimates, raising the question if it was worth the $2.4 billion cost. It does appear to have taken cars off of parallel roads, like Route 108, Route 198, and Norbeck Road, where traffic has fallen by up to 16.9% since the highway opened.
Some roads are always busy
Planners noted several roads that have consistently high congestion, like Rockville Pike, Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, and Colesville Road. It's no coincidence that these are four of the corridors where both the county and the State of Maryland are studying the potential for Bus Rapid Transit.
There isn't a lot of room to widen these roads or build more interchanges, meaning we have to find new ways to add capacity. Trends suggest that Montgomery County residents are driving less and using transit more, at least when it's frequent and reliable. And as the county continues to grow, we'll have to provide more alternatives to driving if we want to offer a way out of traffic.
Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, now completely approved by city agencies, will be a historic and dramatic development for Philadelphia
The City Planning Commission’s Civic Design Review committee has given the final city agency approval for the construction of the landmark Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, which will be the tallest building in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania when completed. This means that the developers, Liberty Property Trust, can begin construction soon, once all financing is secured. The total cost of the CITC will be $1.2 billion, with just $40 million coming from the state and city to expand the underground concourse that connects to the existing Comcast Center concourse and the regional rail at Suburban Station. The site of the new tower is a sad-looking parking lot on Arch Street, where another major development was planned a few years ago but didn’t work out. The construction of the new tower for Comcast is such a huge development for so many aspects of the city, including the city’s economy, skyline, architecture, as well as, the city’s identity.
The CITC will be built by Liberty Property Trust, the developers of the existing Comcast Center; which is on the next block at 17th and Arch Streets; and Liberty Place, and designed by Foster + Partners Architects, with landscape design by Olin and engineering by Pennoni Associates. It will be owned by Comcast, which will be the lead office tenant, when it is completed. The new tower will be 59 storeys and 1,121 feet (341 meters) tall, including an art-deco “lantern light blade” that will light up at night to create a focal point for the skyline, and the building will be a total of 1.694 million square feet. The tower will be on a podium that will extend the length of the 1800 block of Arch Street. It will be set back slightly from 19th Street and significantly from 18th Street, allowing for daylight to shine onto the historic Arch Street Presbyterian Church, across 18th Street and next to the existing Comcast Center, and also to neighboring office and residential buildings. There will be almost 1.3 million square feet of office space, most of it taken up by Comcast, in 13 three-story collaborative work lofts, each of which will have a three-storey atrium (or “sky garden“) at the eastern end in order to create a high-rise, high-tech campus with open and collaborative spaces. At the top of the office portion will be a large employee cafeteria, also in an atrium setting, with a video screen and some sort of multi-storey slide to the lower level of the atrium. The top third of the tower, beginning apparently at the 48th floor, will have a Four Seasons Hotel with 222 rooms, a spa with an infinity pool (not an Xfinity pool, mind you) facing the existing Comcast Center, a top floor lobby and observation space (with trees in planters that will be higher than the tallest redwoods) and a top floor restaurant. The observation floor will be approximately 900 feet in the air, about 400 feet higher than the City Hall observation deck, and on a clear day viewers will be able to see the casinos of Atlantic City, among other things. The hotel portion will be set back on the north and south sides, with a green roof on top of the Comcast employee cafeteria. At the base will be a lobby winter garden and “urban room”, 64 feet high with a mezzanine lobby at the 18th Street office entrance, and a porte cochere at the 19th Street entrance to the hotel, as well as a block-long restaurant along Arch Street that will have outdoor seating and benches. The hotel will be accessible by elevators running along the 19th Street facade that will have glass enclosures, allowing views of the city while traveling all the way up to the top floor. The elevators, on 19th Street, will be part of an “expressed core” for the building. This design will allow views through the building from east to west. Above the first floor will be the official mezzanine lobby of the office buildings, and above that will be the hotel ballroom and then above the ballroom will be television studios for NBC10 and Telemundo. The exterior of the tower will be clad in glass panels and metal trim, which will have a distinctive zigzag pattern on the east and west sides of the building. The small plazas at each end will be covered in black granite, like the existing Comcast Center plaza.
Under the tower will be an extension of the SEPTA concourse, connected to the existing Comcast Center food court by a colorful, winding tunnel underneath 18th Street, with a glass fountain in the middle and two retail spaces at the entrance to the connector tunnel. The underground concourse will allow pedestrians to walk seamlessly from the Comcast Center up to 19th Street, and the walkway will slope up towards 19th Street from the lower level. During audience comments at Civic Design Review, I suggested that the underground concourse should have more retail, or a food court similar to the popular, and uniquely locally flavored, food court at the Comcast Center. John Gattuso, of Liberty Property, said that they would like to add that retail later on, once they feel there is enough of a market for it. I had mentioned that there are about two dozen residential projects that were either recently completed, are under construction, or are soon to be built within a short walk from the new tower. Mr. Gattuso acknowledged that and said that Liberty’s goal is to try to attract neighborhood residents into both towers’ food courts.
There will be 70 parking spaces underneath, and considerable bike parking. Liberty Property Trust estimates that about 70 to 80 percent of workers in the building will use mass transit, 10 percent will walk to work, and the rest will bike to work. The developers hope to build the CITC to be LEED Platinum certified. The Civic Design Review committee voted that the developers and designers do not need to return to CDR again and that they need to comply with just three recommendations: explore participation with the city’s new bike share program, request that relevant city agencies encourage SEPTA to minimize the impact on 18th Street of the underground passageway, and continue a dialogue with the Arch Street Presbyterian Church during construction to minimize disruption to the church’s services and operations, including a daycare and preschool. The developers plan to break ground on the project this summer and be complete by 2017. Liberty Property is, also, considering building another, probably smaller, building for Comcast on the northeast corner of the intersection of 18th Street and JFK Boulevard, and maybe another office tower on the northwest corner of 19th & Arch in the future.
Again, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center is such a momentous project for the city. It gives the city an even more dramatic skyline, making Philadelphia one of the premier skyscraper city’s of North America, in a class with New York and Chicago only. Adding such tall towers always makes a city look bigger and more prosperous, and this project is adding many new jobs to the rapidly developing neighborhoods in this part of the city and providing new amenities for the neighborhoods and office district. It will act as a visual symbol of the city and its high-tech economy, while also being a new high-profile tourist attraction, literally and figuratively. It joins other new office buildings, such as the 47-storey FMC Tower, soon to be built on the University City waterfront as part of the Cira South development, and new office space for high-tech businesses at the University City Science Center and the Navy Yard, as well as, industrial loft conversions for creative companies throughout the city, though especially in North Philadelphia.
Comcast plans to add at least 1,500 entirely new jobs, and will likely transfer other jobs for a net increase of 3,000 to 4,000 new jobs in the city. The additional office space would be attractive to emerging high-tech and creative companies, or companies like Comcast that are a mix of both high-tech and creative industries. The work spaces are designed to be attractive to high-tech workers, who prefer the open and collaborative space elements to the traditional cubicle-style corporate office layout, and the spaces are designed to be attractive to creative workers, who prefer the loft spaces of former industrial buildings. The CITC is intended to be a modern-day industrial and office tower, and an alternative to suburban office campuses, where most high-tech companies are located. Rather than commute a long distance from the city to an isolated suburban office campus (which is common in the Bay Area), high-tech workers, who increasingly want to live in the city, can just simply walk or bike to work (or have a short commute on a bus, trolley, or train) from their trendy city neighborhoods.
As I already mentioned, the CITC will be within walking distance of so many new condo and apartment developments, as well as, other new and improved hotels. The existing Four Seasons Hotel will likely be taken over by another operator or be converted to condos. Also, across Logan Circle on the Ben Franklin Parkway, the soon-to-be-former Family Courts Building will be converted into a luxury Kimpton Hotel, while the upper floors of Two Liberty Place will also have a luxury hotel and a very large W and Element Hotel tower will be built at 15th & Chestnut Streets. Across 19th Street from the CITC, 1900 Arch Apartments is being built and across Arch Street from the Comcast Center the Robert Morris Building was recently renovated into apartments. Other residential developments that were recently built, or will be built soon, include 2040 Market Street apartments, at 21st and Market Streets, 1919 Market apartments, at 20th and Market Streets, a new office and apartment building behind the One Parkway Building, a large condo development planned for 23rd and Arch Streets, and an addition to the Edgewater apartments. North of the Parkway, The Granary apartments on 19th Street were recently finished and more developments are planned, including Museum Towers II apartments and townhouses next to Baldwin Park on 18th and 19th Streets, Rodin Square apartments and retail at 21st and Callowhill Streets, a new apartment tower at 1601 Vine Street, and two new apartment buildings at Broad and Callowhill Streets. The new Four Seasons will be literally two short blocks from the Parkway, which is being enhanced with improved public spaces, such as Sister Cities Park, Love Park, and Dilworth Plaza, and the new Barnes Foundation museum.
This may be the most exciting article that I’ve written thus far on this blog. The effect of the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will be far-reaching throughout the city and region, but especially in Center City. If you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in Center City, or any other part of the city, please contact me at email@example.com or check out my Long & Foster agent portal, here, or our Long & Foster Center City office, here. You can, also, view and follow my Facebook realtor page, Gabriel G. Philly Realtor, or follow me on twitter, @GabrielGPhilaRE. You can, also, watch this cool video, which the architects posted on Youtube, and you can view these renderings and my many pictures of the CITC’s architectural model, from the Civic Design Review meeting, and my other pictures of the site and neighborhood, below.
Photo by ehpien on Flickr.More lanes around Dulles?: The Virginia DOT unveiled a plan to build more highway lanes on the west side of Dulles, to connect the proposed Bi-County Parkway to the airport. (WAMU)
24 hour bus service, anyone?: Metro is conducting a survey to determine if some bus lines should run 24 hours. Currently, some lines run until 3 am, and there is increasing demand for longer hours. (DCist)
Let cities decide on transportation: A former federal transportation official says that one way to save the US transportation program is to put more money in the hands of local communities rather than only giving money to states. (Atlantic Cities)
Assaults rise on area trails: Area trails are seeing more assaults as the weather changes. Police say that they often see a spike in these types of crimes with increased outdoor exercising in the spring. (Post)
How Clinton helped save DC: A 1997 bill helped pull the District out of its financial crisis, by having the federal government pay for the courts and assume pension debt it had itself created. Bill Clinton seriously considered also making DC a tax haven, though DC regained prosperity without it. (Post)
Markets, movies for Courthouse Square: Arlington residents want a public space at Courthouse Square to host markets and outdoor movies as well as social gatherings and relaxation, according to a survey. Many pushed to put any parking underground instead of on the surface. (ArlNow)
Can the Garden City be the future again?: Can good planning and design create residential suburbs that aren't sterile sprawl? Or are prewar dreams of suburbs doomed, no matter how good the plan? (The Architect's Newspaper, Neil)
And...: DC is the nation's fourth funniest city by comedy club density and number of funny tweeters. (DCist) ... A Georgetown preschool closed because the building owner couldn't get insurance. (WJLA) ... DC outbid Prince George's to woo CBS Radio. (WBJ)
Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
Incentive programs to replace lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping are one of many tools local water suppliers are using to reduce the demand for water. Photo courtesy East Bay Municipal Utility District
As California grapples with one of its worst droughts in recorded history, many in the Bay Area are wondering what should be done to ensure that we have sufficient water. In our 2013 report Future-Proof Water, SPUR analyzed the current and projected water requirements of the Bay Area and assessed methods of addressing these needs according to sustainability, reliability and cost-effectiveness. We found that the most environmentally friendly and cost effective measures tend to be those that reduce water demand, rather than those that aim to develop new supplies.
With the 2014 drought persisting, we decided to take a closer look at the leading approaches in the Bay Area that reduce demand by fostering water conservation and efficiency. We investigated the strategies deployed by local water suppliers and had discussions with leading researchers in the field.
Some effective strategies are nearly ubiquitous among not only Bay Area water agencies, but throughout the state and in other semi-arid climates. They have typically been around for many years and have become familiar to most customers in the region. Such strategies include: subsidized home audits; rebates for high efficiency appliances and fixtures; vouchers for irrigation technology; assistance and training for low-water landscaping techniques; educational programming and outreach; lawn-removal incentives and grant money for local water-saving projects. Though water savings are often difficult to attribute to specific methods, a study conducted in the East Bay demonstrated that a combination of high efficiency fixture upgrades in residences resulted in a 36 percent water savings, while Cal Water determined the distribution of free precision spray nozzles to be one of the most cost effective ways to conserve water in its service area (projecting a 30 percent water savings per sprinkler head)
Some Bay Area water suppliers are also running newer, more innovative conservation programs that use pricing strategies and newer technologies to accelerate water savings. In certain cases, other public agencies have become involved to help develop codes and ordinances that promote water efficiency. Some Bay Area agencies have adapted programs from other regions with great success. In other instances, innovations are being pioneered by one or two Bay Area utilities and others have begun to follow suit. Here’s a look at what's working.
Tiered Water Pricing
The price of water can create a strong incentive to conserve, and pricing water consumption through tiers can be one of the most effective ways to reduce demand. In a tiered system, customers pay a certain water rate per unit for an initial amount of water, a slightly higher rate per unit if they exceed the first threshold, and additionally higher rates at higher thresholds depending on the structure of the system. This allows consumers to determine their own water use but provides strong financial incentives to remain within a particular limit. The Estero Municipal Improvement District, supplying Foster City, employs a three-tier pricing structure for residential customers designed to ensure fiscal stability regardless of consumption patterns, while the City of Hayward constructed a four-tier pricing structure that incorporates residential wastewater charges, making it unique among pricing strategies.
Another approach that uses pricing incentives to reduced water use is water budgeting. This method is similar to tiered water rates in that consumers are given strong financial incentives to use a lower volume of water, with steep costs associated with higher water use. Depending on a variety of factors, such as number of residents within a household, size of yard and type of vegetation, a household’s water budget is calculated and customers pay a basic rate up until their account’s specific water budget; they’re penalized with higher rates if their water use exceeds their budget. Because of water budgets’ complexity, water agencies have introduced them slowly, often starting with the large landscape class first. Both the Estero Municipal Improvement District and the Contra Costa Water District have instituted landscape water budget programs with success. Meanwhile, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) is piloting a water budget program for single-family residences, one of the first in the nation to do so.
Decoupling is the concept of separating a utility’s sales from its overall profits. Conventionally, water savings could lead to decreased revenue and lowered profits for an investor-owned utility, creating a disincentive to promote conservation. With decoupling, a private utility is reimbursed for net revenue losses if it does not reach its sales forecast, and in turn must pay back excess revenues to its clients if it exceeds its forecast (though it may still make a modest profit for investors). The concept began in the energy sector and migrated to California’s private water utilities in 2008. The California Public Utilities Commission piloted decoupling mechanisms for private suppliers such as the California Water Service Group, which serves parts of the peninsula and other portions of the state, and other private utilities have since followed suit. Decoupling allows investor-owned utilities to join public utilities in pursuing statewide conservation goals (20 percent reduction by 2020) by removing the disincentive, but does not guarantee reduced water use on its own.
Improved Water Meters
As California attempts to reduce statewide water consumption, it acknowledges the old adage: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. State law now mandates that all California cities install water meters by 2025; research has demonstrated that communities without water meters use 39 percent more water than the state average. Many Bay Area water agencies are taking things a step further by switching to smart meters, or advanced metering infrastructure, to provide both the utility and the customer with better data. This real-time information allows utilities to know immediately if there are abnormal usage patterns or spikes in demand, potentially indicating a leak or pipe rupture that can be addressed right away. For one utility, switching to smart meters reduced water loss from 6 percent to 2 percent. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is making extensive use of advanced metering technology and has transitioned nearly all of its previous meters to the new technology.
Meters are essential to measuring water use, but even in places where meters exist, there is often a gap of information between which users consume how much water. This is the case in places like multi-unit buildings, RV parks or commercial complexes where tenants pay a pooled water bill. Submeters track water consumption for each individual tenant or renter, allowing for bills to be paid more equitably and encouraging those using the most to conserve in order to pay less. Water agencies and utilities have begun to subsidize submeter installation, through rebates like those offered by EBMUD and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. In a case study evaluating the effects of submeters on mobile home parks, Santa Clara Valley Water District found the average household used 23 percent less water after the installation of submeters.
In addition to new and improved meters, cutting-edge technology added to meters is enhancing the ability of utilities and their customers to conserve water. In Palo Alto, a gadget called the Barnacle, made by Aquacue/Badger Meter, allows the utility and customer to get accurate real-time data on water use without having to redo piping or replace the existing meter. Instead, the Barnacle attaches easily to the piping and uses sensors to provide accurate data, helping identify leaks in old structures where installing new meters would be prohibitively expensive. Sonoma County will also be piloting this technology, as well as another piece of hardware called the Unmeasured Flow Reducer, by A.Y. McDonald. This piece tracks smaller leaks that normally do not create enough pressure to be registered by a standard water meter, but nonetheless can result in significant amounts of water loss.
Presenting Consumption Data
In addition to introducing new hardware, some water agencies are exploring software’s capacity to influence demand. EBMUD and the City of Palo Alto Utilities have made use of WaterSmart technology. This software creates a web portal for each customer that emphasizes the utility’s conservation program and makes customized recommendations. In addition, WaterSmart sends personalized water reports that show consumers how they compare to others with similar household types and property sizes, creating a type of peer pressure that has led to 5 percent reductions in water use and an increased likelihood to participate in conservation offerings.
The small Sonoma town of Windsor, a leader in sustainable development in the Bay Area, developed the Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) on-bill financing program in concert with the Sonoma County Water Agency. Through PAYS, customers pay for home energy and water efficiency upgrades, such as new appliances, fixtures and even landscaping, through a small surcharge on their regular monthly bill, paid back over 10 to 15 years. The surcharge is set to be lower than the amount of savings gained from efficiency improvements, hence “pay as you save.” This program has been particularly popular among multi-family residences, which are often difficult for conservation programs to reach. Noting Windsor’s success, several other utilities in the Bay Area are now developing on-bill financing schemes.
California’s recent passage of an updated building code, known as CalGreen, included stricter requirements in a number of areas for new construction or major renovations, including water use. Cities like Hayward have often elected to target water use in their local building codes. In some instances, these codes call for even greater water efficiency than the state requires. San Francisco’s code, for example calls for a 30 percent reduction beyond the baseline.
Retrofit on Resale
A few cities in the Bay Area went beyond green building codes to follow San Luis Obispo’s lead in instituting retrofit-on-resale ordinances. Such policies require either the buyer or seller of a building to bring any inefficient fixtures and dated plumbing up to present federal plumbing standards, as is the case in San Francisco. San Francisco’s Retrofit-on-Resale ordinance is projected to achieve water savings in 2018 that would not normally be reached until 2030. North Marin Water District took things a step further by requiring retrofits to go beyond federal standards in showerhead and bathroom faucet efficiency.
San Francisco and Hayward feature ordinances that go beyond state water standards outside the home, as well. California’s AB 1881 required that municipalities develop their own water efficient landscape ordinances or meet baselines set by the state. Rather than beginning at a 2,500 square foot threshold, San Francisco’s ordinance applies to landscapes as small as 1,000 square feet in its first tier, while Hayward’s Bay-Friendly Landscaping Ordinance requires a minimum of 75 percent drought-tolerant plants in the landscaped area.
Water Saving Recognition
Many utilities can use regulations and restrictive policies to curtail water use, but some include carrots as well as sticks to promote conservation. EBMUD has a WaterSmart Business Certification Program to highlight East Bay businesses that work with the utility to evaluate and manage their water use, following a prescribed certification checklist. Eleven businesses and institutions recognized by the program in 2013 reduced their water use by a combined 25 million gallons in one year. Water conservation is one of the standards in the San Francisco Green Business Program, a certification program recognizing environmental achievements by local businesses.
Only a dozen communities in the country institute the strict policy of water-demand offsets, but EBMUD has applied this type of tool in a few contexts. In such instances, a developer of a new house or subdivision must offset the projected water use of the development through conservation measures elsewhere. In order to approve one development in Danville, EBMUD required the developer to make a two-to-one offset in addition to onsite conservation measures. Though EBMUD’s policy may sound strict, it’s not nearly as stringent as that of the small town of Cambria, down the California coast, which mandates a 10:1 ratio of water offsets for any new development.
Water conservation is the responsibility of everyone. We hope this overview of some of the most effective, innovative and interesting best practices in the Bay Area can advance the discussion about what our region can do to reduce demand during this record drought.
View of Ocean Beach from the Cliff House. Image by Maria Bakali.
What: Open House on Ocean Beach Master Plan Implementation Projects
When: Saturday May 10, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (drop in for brief presentations noted below)
Where: County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park (near Lincoln Way and 9th Ave) map
Join SPUR, partner agencies, community leaders and consultant teams for an update on projects to implement the recommendations in the 2012 Ocean Beach Master Plan. The plan was developed through a two-year public and interagency process. It presents a series of recommendations to improve coastal access, restore ecological function, and protect critical infrastructure in the face of chronic erosion and sea level rise.
This open house will provide updates on three projects currently underway to carry those recommendations forward. The project teams will be on hand to discuss their work in progress and get your ideas and feedback. Stop by any time from 9am-12pm. Brief optional presentations will provide some background on each project.
1) Coastal Management Framework (9:30 am)
2) Transportation Study (10:30 am)
3) Open Space Design Study (11:30 am)
Each of these will result in proposed projects that are ready for environmental review, permitting, and implementation on the ground over a period of several decades. New trails, a cleaner beach, restored dunes and bluffs, and safer roadways are all being explored, all while protecting public investments in clean coastal waters.
As sea levels rise, big changes are inevitable, but we can work with the changes to make better places for everyone. This award-winning effort is on the cutting edge of adaptive coastal planning.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is seriously looking at how to let passengers bring ordinary bicycles aboard MARC trains. A background briefing by top MARC officials last week left bicycle advocates with the distinct impression that they want to allow bikes on some weekend trains within the next year or so.
A cyclist boarding a train in Germany (not Maryland). Photo by Steven Vance on Flickr.
MTA officials have long said that the combination of high speeds and full trains prevented allowing bikes. At a meeting three years ago, advocates pressed the matter with Simon Taylor, the Assistant Administrator of MTA, and John Hovatter, Director of MARC and Maryland Commuter Bus Operations.
Taylor and Hovatter made it clear that there was no real prospect for bikes on trains anytime soon. But they also said that MARC was planning for weekend service, and that bikes "should" be allowed if that service started.
At the time, weekend trains seemed like a remote possibility. Now they are a reality, and MARC officials are evaluating options for allowing bikes aboard some weekend trains.
Why MARC does not allow bikes on trains
Taylor and Hovatter explained their reluctance to allow bikes on trains to several advocates at the 2011 meeting. Federal safety rules require bicycles to be securely tied down on trains running faster than 70 mph, lest they become projectiles in a crash, the officials said.
On the Penn Line, trains exceed 70 mph along most segments except in Baltimore. On some stretches, the trains exceed 110 mph when pulled by electric locomotives. MTA engineers have been unable to devise a way to quickly secure bikes without permanently removing 3 to 5 seats from the car for every pair of bikes. With full trains, that is not a tradeoff that MARC is willing to make.
The Camden and Brunswick Line trains are not so full, so removing a few seats in favor of bike racks might be reasonable for those trains. But MARC rotates all train sets (except for the electric locomotives) between the three lines, so modifying cars for those two CSX lines would make Penn Line trains even more crowded.
Could MARC allow bikes on the Camden and Brunswick lines with the existing train configuration? Given that WMATA allows bikes on off-peak Metrorail trains, it might seem safe to do so. But Taylor and Hovatter countered that the CSX track is much poorer, generating side-to-side jostling which can cause bikes to slip out of the hands of the owner and strike another passenger. The low platforms at almost every station are another obstacle.
None of these problems is insurmountable, but in MTA officials' minds, they seemed to all add up to make bikes more trouble than they are worth.
A possible breakthrough emerges
Last year's gas tax increase provided additional funds for transportation, making it possible to finally add weekend service. Last summer, I reminded Hovatter that he had said "bikes should be allowed" when weekend service starts, because the trains will not be crowded. I asked if he could provide us with an update of his thinking.
He responded:I would suggest we wait a few months to see how it is working and how many passengers we will be hauling. We are only running 3 car train sets to start off. If the trains are packed, and we hope they are, I doubt we will be able to handle any bikes, except the folding ones that we allow right now. Check back with us when it starts.I was not encouraged by that response, but other members of Maryland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (MBPAC) were more optimistic. Greg Hinchliffe, who represents Baltimore on the committee, pressed MDOT's Michael Jackson to set up a meeting with MARC officials and MBPAC.
As soon as the meeting began, it was clear that something had changed. Rather than listen to cyclist pleas for better service, the MDOT officials decided to have Erich Kolig, MARC's Chief Mechanical Officer, start the meeting with a presentation that gently lampooned MARC's existing policy. With a perfect deadpan, Kolig showed the MARC website:Here is our bicycle policy: "Due to safety concerns, MARC's bicycle policy allows for the transportation of folding bicycles only... However, folding bikes are no longer restricted to those carried in a case." You see, we do have a bicycle policy.All the advocates, and Jackson, laughed loudly.
Kolig then explained that he thinks the weekend service and MARC's capital equipment upgrades provide an opportunity to start carrying bikes on some trains. While the trains have attracted more passengers than expected, they still carry fewer people than the weekday trains. His presentation included illustrations depicting how bikes can be safely stored aboard the trains. He had clearly thought through how to do it, and how to keep the cost low enough to make it economically feasible.
Kolig and Hovatter asked the advocates to not reveal any details of the proposal.
Hovatter seemed favorably disposed to the proposal, although he did not promise that MARC will actually implement it. The decision to go forward is a few steps above his pay grade. And some unanticipated problems may arise, since railroads are highly regulated and MARC owns neither the track nor the largest stations on the Penn Line.
Hopefully, the Maryland Department of Transportation will approve Kolig's recommendation and at least start a pilot project with bikes on weekend trains, as soon as practicable. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has offered to help MTA officials get cyclist feedback on any draft plan.
Cross-posted at WABA Quick Release.
Not to be outdone by its neighbors' aggressive plans for rail and BRT networks, Fairfax County has an impressive transit plan of its own.
Now Fairfax has a major countrywide transit plan too, called the High Quality Transit Network. Top priorities are to finish the Silver Line and the Bailey's Crossroads portion of the Columbia Pike streetcar, but that's not the end of Fairfax's plans.
Both rail and BRT are possibilities for all those corridors. Some may end up light rail or streetcar, others bus. Route 1 and I-66 could even include Metrorail extensions.
In addition to all that, Fairfax County Parkway is slated for HOT lanes, which could make express buses a more practical option there.
As the DC region continues to grow, and demand for walkable, transit-accessible communities continues to increase, these types of plans are crucial. If our major arterial highways are going to become the mixed-use main streets of tomorrow, transit on them must significantly improve.
Fairfax is undeniably still spending a lot on bigger highways. Planners' inability to calm traffic on Routes 7 and 123 through Tysons, for example, indicates roads are still priority number one. But it takes a plan to change, and this is a strong step forward. So good on Fairfax for joining the club.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Photo by Wayan Vota on Flickr.West End Library finally moves forward: DC's appeals court denied the final appeal from a Ralph Nader-backed group seeking to block the West End library project, which will create mixed-income housing and a new library and fire station. (Post)
Third Church offices going up: Another building delayed by years of contentious fighting had a groundbreaking ceremony: the office building to replace the Brutalist Third Church of Christ, Scientist at 16th and I NW. (WBJ) ... Is this a "distinctive church giving way to a bland, ordinary office building" or an "underused, anti-urban shell giving way to a pedestrian-friendly building"? (@ghostsofdc, @beyonddc)
What DC can learn about alleys: Alleyways are making a comeback around the country and in DC, becoming inviting and walkable spaces. However, a Mount Vernon Triangle alley shows that regulations can make it hard to activate a space. (Elevation DC)
Van Dorn transformation in progress: The Van Dorn Street area could become a busy, mixed-use area instead of low-density industrial with 3 projects bringing around 800 apartments and 100 townhouses. (WBJ)
From rental to condos: In a city with a shortage of condo units, one 84-unit building at 16th and S NW is converting from rentals to condos. Will this be a trend to watch in the rest of the city? (UrbanTurf)
No to Bloomingdale and the District?: Is calling the area around 1st and Rhode Island NW "Bloomingdale" a form of Columbusing? Does referring to DC as "the District" disempower the people of DC? One long-time resident says so. What do you think?
No time soon for transit center: The much-maligned Silver Spring Transit Center won't be complete until early 2015 as disagreements remain over the concrete beams, The project costs have already ballooned from $26 million to $120 million. (WTOP)
Post goes HOT: The Washington Post editorial board supports high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in DC, saying they could help alleviate DC's traffic problems and add revenue for transportation.
And...: In honor of Earth Day, check out these 10 Earth Day-friendly homes in the region. (WBJ) ... Here are 6 bike gadgets to help keep you safe, including a 112-decibel horn. (Guardian) ... If you live in DC, you might need a new driver's license. (WAMU)
Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.
Do you know how the proposed changes in school boundaries and feeder patterns will affect your family? Thanks to Code for DC and DC agencies' willingness to provide data, there's now an app for that.
Can the mostly-empty space beneath the railroad tracks approaching Union Station become active spaces that enhance the NoMa neighborhood? The NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) hopes so. Some other cities have been able to activate underpasses; can these show the way?
The BID launched a design competition to find "an artist, team of artists, designer or architect" to "beautify, enliven and activate" the spaces under the tracks on Florida Avenue and K, L, and M Streets NE with a "sensory experience."
"We want to turn those spaces into places that people want to come visit because they are so attractive and cool," says Robin Eve-Jasper, president of NoMa BID.
Funding comes from the $50 million Mayor Gray recently authorized to help NoMa combat its dearth of parks. The DC Council still must approve the spending, but Eve-Jasper says that she expects this to happen by the end of May. Responses from design teams are due by May 9, with a plan to present proposals to the public in September and select a final design in October.
Underpasses get little activity today
Pedestrians currently use the underpasses as little more than empty zones to cross from one side of the tracks to the other.
M Street is the most active of the four, as it is the main access route to the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station and the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) for residents who live on the east side of the tracks. It also contains a Capital Bikeshare station on its northern sidewalk.
Neighborhood residents headed to NoMa's main activity center at the corner of M and First Street NE, where there is a Harris Teeter supermarket, other stores and offices, also use the M Street underpass.
Cars dominate the Florida Ave and K Street underpasses, which dedicate six and four lanes to car traffic, respectively. Both streets have narrow sidewalks and see significantly less pedestrian traffic than M Street.
The L Street underpass is the least used of the four, according to my observations. It has wide sidewalks and only two lanes for cars—like M Street—but lacks easy access to the Metro or the MBT, and the activity center of its sibling a block north.
Other cities have activated underpasses
Highway underpasses have become public space in a number of other cities. Many include basketball courts, bike trails, skate parks and play areas for children.
Underpass Park in Toronto, located under the western end of the Eastern Avenue overpass near the Don River, is a widely-cited example. A recent Architectural Record report found the park's basketball courts and skate park popular among area residents, but the children's area was less so.
The article also noted that an art installation called Mirage, which includes reflective panels that add light to the underpass, does provide some illumination but adds that more mirrors would have brightened the space.
Other examples include Burnside Skatepark in Portland, Oregon and I-5 Colonnade Mountain Bike Park in Seattle, both of which are under overpasses.
The underpasses in NoMa lack the height and depth of many of these spaces. This makes it difficult to fit amenities like basketball courts or skate parks, though a linear children's play area could fit on either L or M Streets.
Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood may offer some of the closest examples to the spaces in NoMa. A number of underpasses under a Metra rail line through the neighborhood sport murals by local artists and some even have corner shops built into their corners.
Asked what NoMa BID envisions for the four spaces, Eve-Jasper says that she is leaving that up to the architects and designers to decide. What do you think would work best in the underpasses?
Poking through the archives of the Washington Post, Tom at Ghosts of DC found a plan to sink several roads in downtown DC into trenches, build tunnels, and create a large underground parking structure beneath a big plaza where Freedom Plaza now stands.
Tom writes that, "The motivation for this was the push to make Pennsylvania the 'grand axis of the Nation,' removing unnecessary bottlenecks and messy intersections."
From the Post article:Between 6th and 13th sts., E st. would be simply a "depressed street"—a road sunk beneath ground level and roofed over at intersections, but mostly open to direct sunlight.
At 13th, however, it would become a tunnel, dipping under the proposed National Square and continuing beneath the southern fringe of the White House grounds, emerging at a point just west of 17th st.
Under the plan, E st. would be widened to six moving lanes and two access lanes and would have separate underground levels for traffic, parking and pedestrians. ...
Pennsylvania ave. itself would be kept at its present 8-lane width but would be repaved with a tinted, decorative material, such as hard brick laid over concrete.
Because of the distinctive materials used, one architect commented, "it will not only look different but sound different" to motorists.This would have turned E Street into something close to a freeway downtown, continuing the existing freeway west of the White House. Downtown would have felt a lot more like another product of that era's transportation mindset, L'Enfant Plaza, with its multiple levels of roadways that go under and over in an effort to speed cars while forgetting about what's best for the pedestrian experience.
A "depressed street" creates a big barrier, psychological as well as physical. Even if people only cross at the corners, a street with stores on each side but a huge trench of traffic in between feels much more like two disconnected places than one with a solid street in between.
Harriet Tregoning has stated a belief that after the Connecticut Avenue underpass near Dupont Circle cut one side of the street off from the other, it hastened the decline of retail along that stretch. Besides, this plan would have demolished most of the buildings along E at the time and made it far wider, curb to curb.
What's now Freedom Plaza (and large Pennsylvania Avenue roadways on each side) would have instead become a square with special pavement to create perhaps a sort of shared space not solely for cars. The picture from the Post doesn't seem to depict any cars nor any people, so it's hard to know how it might have worked.
It perhaps couldn't have been much worse than the complete failure of a plaza we have today; a fountain would have been far more appealing to people than a giant marble dead zone only appealing to the skateboarders Park Police constantly chase off.
Maybe this could have been a bustling European-style square. Or, given what we know of the federal design mindset of the time (and sometimes of the present day), perhaps it would just have looked very stately, monumental, and devoid of life.