Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Unresolved versus Closed as a determination in handing City inspection/service matters

How DC deals with nuisance and unsafe property inspections is in the news because of two deaths resulting from a fire at an illegal rooming house.

 It turns out that months before, after responding to a call, a police officer informed the city's building department of the likely illegality but for various reasons the property was not inspected, because the person assigned to do an inspection couldn't get in, and after the third attempt, instead of seeking a warrant to demand entry, he "closed" the case.

But the case was closed because he wasn't able to take action. Not because it was "resolved." In fact, the matter remained unresolved.

-- "'A failing of the systems': In rowhouse fire, D.C. missed many chances to save lives," Washington Post

Cases that are unresolved shouldn't be deemed closed, they should remain pending, because they are unresolved.

I have written from time to time about this generally, in terms of 311 responses by "the city," performed after I have made calls (or website entries) about problems I've come across, inclding stolen and abandoned cars, broken water pipes, dead animals, broken tree branches, and a loose board on the bike gutter at the foot of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that still hasn't been fixed. (I reported that and something else while scheduling a bulk pickup, which is easier to do on the phone, than online.)

-- DC 311 informational webpage
-- 311 Online

A big problem for a long time is that you get an email notice of "closed" but with no information about what happened.  I wrote about it at some point.

A few years later, after receiving notice with more explanation, I waxed about the change ("Improvements in 311 response: still has a ways to go," 2018) but a commenter made the point that cases are often closed because for whatever reason, the person sent out to check can't find the problem, or because the system still isn't set up super well to deal with certain places, such as on bridges.

(This came up with a call I'd made about a dead animal on the street. The person assigned couldn't find it, so he knocked on our door. It turns out that it had been pushed out of the travel lane into the gutter. So clearly, not every person assigned to a matter may exhibit perserverence and a willingness to investigate a bit.)

The new process devised by the city to deal with such reports by police officers -- immediately notify a particular supervisor who will then liase with the building department is flawed because it still relies on individuals.

What should happen is that the 311 system of problem reporting be extended to include these kinds of notifications of problems.

The 311 system does not include an option for reporting a potentially illegal rooming house.

In 2017, I was somewhat dismissive about the city's touting its use of a grant to fund a center on innovation in public services on "form redesign."

-- "Five new forms: is that all you've got?

It's important, but I realize what would have been more important is a focus on investigating and improving "processes" and how "forms" are the fulcrum that you can use to work and improve the process.

Basically, when I do plans, (1) I look at what are the preferred outcomes; (2) determine whether or not preferred outcomes are generated routinely by present processes; (3) then look "backwards" at the system and process that produces unpreferred outcomes and determine why this is the case; (4) making recommendations for changes in the process so that preferred outcomes can be generated routinely.

For example, dealing with renting out our house legally, that is filing for a business license, finding out what items are necessary to be included in a single family house for health and safety reasons, getting those tasks acoomplished, but also dealing with the various other necessary processes (exemption from rent control, providing certain documents to the tenants to be signed, providing the right forms to the right city agency afterward, is very complicated, often with conflicting information.

Actually, DCRA which has been criticized for the failure to deal with the house that burned, was pretty helpful to us. I went down to the inspection office and met with someone who went over the checklist with me, answered my questions, etc. Unfortunately for us, you have to do certain things when you're renting that you wouldn't have to do if the property is owner occupied (e.g., balustrade around attic stairway, storm windows on all windows for habitable spaces, even the basement) which cost us a few thousand dollars extra that we hadn't counted on.

But because we had that consultation, we knew what we had to do. And because we did everything that the form asked for, even more (extra fire extinguishers) we had no problem with the actual inspection was performed.

But then dealing with filing papers about the exception from rent control, with a different city agency, we got conflicting information, were given forms that one person said we didn't need to file, and another person never mentioned the necessity of particular forms, etc.

Clearly there's a need there for "process improvement" in many areas of activity provided by government agencies, and this is hardly a problem unique to DC.


1.  More information should be provided to the reportee about the disposition of a matter reported to the city.

2.  The city should change the language marking performance of service calls from "CLOSED" to either "RESOLVED" or "UNRESOLVED."

3.  A process should be developed to further investigate and address matters that remain unresolved in normal response processes.

4.  Evaluate workflow processes on an ongoing basis, changing them as necessary, with the aim of continuous process improvement.

5.  Unify problem reporting systems within the rubric of the 311 system to capture reports of illegal housing matters too.  Require city employees to use the 311 system to report problems*.

This reminds me of an incident in Seattle where a bicyclist died because there wasn't warning signage about upcoming stairs ("
City warned of stair hazard before bicyclist died
," Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

It had been reported, but to an individual's voicemail box, not to a general 311-type system.  It's better to rely on systemic processes that capture reports of service outages, problems, and failures, rather than calling individuals -- yes it can work when you reach them, but not if you can't.

From a business literature standpoint, the book by Thomas Davenport, Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technologyhas been very influential on my thinking.

And Jakob Nielson's writings on "usability." 

But I haven't really read much on UX or "user experience."

Clearly these kinds of approaches need to be adopted by local governments concerning workflow processes and the way they organize their work and generate preferred outcomes.

And not just by people who work in IT.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bicycle stuff

1.  Bike shops are closing in DC.

According to one proprietor I talked with, generally, sales are down (nationally) but revenue is flat, because shops are selling more expensive bikes.

Bicycle-based tour group in front of the Newseum.

In DC, with bike sharing, e-scooters, and ride hailing, there is a decline in sales of bikes.

People are perhaps most inclined to take up bicycling in the core, and there the network of bike share stations is pretty complete (whereas outside of the core, it is many many blocks between stations), so having your own bike for point-to-point travel isn't an imperative.

This company closed stores in Adams Morgan -- losing out to a Wawa -- and just a couple weeks ago in Downtown, because the rent was so high ($20,000/month).

A few months ago, the bike shop in Brookland on the Metropolitan Branch Trail also closed, likely due to a mismatch between rent and sales also, along with still, relatively low regular biking for transportation numbers outside of the city's core.

2.  I do think there is an argument to be made for providing subsidies to bike shops as part of a broader program of transportation demand management and shifting more people out of the car.  But if people aren't biking, subsidizing a shop doesn't make sense.

So an active slate of programming aiming to shift people to the bike is a must.  As I mention frequently, many UK cities have either free or low cost programs where people can borrow a bike with helmet and lock, for periods of up to a month, to test out switching to biking as transportation.

-- Cycle training for adults and children, London Borough of Hounslow

From "Hounslow scoops award for cycling success":
Hounslow Council has picked up the 2019 London Road Safety Award for their pioneering cycle training scheme that has raised the profile of adult cycle training in the borough while increasing participation.

The scheme has seen a significant increase in the number of participants on their adult cycle training sessions over the last three years.

In 2016 the council changed the way people accessed the training, which helped not only to increase participation but more importantly, its reach to communities that are underrepresented in cycling. Adult participation numbers went from just under 100 adults in 2016/17 to 1,686 in 2018/19.
TravelSmart programs aren't bike-specific, delivered either at the neighborhood scale or at the workplace.

3.  Bike wash stations.  A bike mechanic working on my bike this past week admonished me for not keeping my bike (chain etc.) clean.  How about public bike wash stations?

I remember thinking having a bike wash station in the apartment building that opened up at 1st and M Streets NE in NoMA many years ago was an unnecessary amenity.  Now I am not so sure.

There are a number of options ("A Carwash For Bikes Means It's Ok To Ride Through That Mud Puddle," Gizmodo).

4.  The semi-abandoned BikeStation at Union Station is slated to become a bike hub run by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.  I was always skeptical of the Bike Station at Union Station.  It was very expensive, about $4.5 million, ugly (modern weird thing on the grounds of a Beaux Arts masterpiece), and didn't provide much value -- about 125 spaces for bikes and a repair station which also served as a staging point for bike rental by Bike and Roll.

Washington Area Bicyclists Association outreach table at Union StationLast year, Bike and Roll stopped running the facility, or at least, the repair and rental part of the operation.

Yesterday, WABA had an outreach table adjacent to it, and I was told that WABA will be taking it over, but the bike parking won't be retained.

Among activities they plan are using the station as a staging point for bike rides and tours.  Why didn't I think of that?

In my comments to the Federal Railroad Administration planning process for Union Station expansion I did make extensive points about making Union Station a model for bike-related services and programs.

Except for Union Station in Los Angeles, no train station in the US really does a good job at this.  It's opposite in Europe and Asia, and even the UK, which is a laggard in biking (like the US) compared to Continental European, where countries like the Netherlands and Denmark do way better than the US.  But the bike facilities at LA Union Station, while good, pale compared to say, the Cambridge station in the UK, which has space for 3,000 bikes -- of course, they also have the demand for it!

5.  Bike sharing operation and bike advocacy organization to have joint space in Buffalo, New York ("Doughnuts, comic books – and records – coming to former Record Theatre," Buffalo News).  In the bike sharing bids I worked on years ago, we also proposed putting a bike hub on as the front end of the back end repair operations of the program. From the article:
We're excited about the emerging tenant mix," said Jason Yots, president of Common Bond Real Estate. "We hoped to attract community-focused organizations to this site. GObike and Reddy Bikeshare fit that bill perfectly, given their neighborhood-building activities on both sides of Main Street."

GObike and Reddy will collaborate to provide retail, office, classroom and workshop spaces oriented toward bicycles. Officials from the two organizations said the "new location will bridge the gap between educational and cultural institutions throughout the city," as well as between various communities, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Northland Corridor, University Heights and University at Buffalo.

“Our organizations’ shared space will foster better collaborations, allowing both of our organizations to improve access and reach new audiences throughout the region," said Justin Booth, executive director for GObike. “A dedicated educational space will allow expansions in GObike’s programming such as Recycle a Bicycle and adult education to help all road users interact in a safe manner.”

Community members and students will also have better access to the combined space. “This evolution of our partnership with GObike means an enhancement of support and encouragement for biking and bike sharing as a form of transportation, recreation and fitness in the city of Buffalo,” said Jennifer White, marketing and communications director for Reddy Bikeshare.
The Velo Quebec office is also a cafe and bookstore serving bicyclistsThe model I developed was based in part on the headquarters of VeloQuebec in Montreal (pictured at right).

It's on a major cycletrack, has a cafe, bike tourism operation, and sells bike-related merchandise (no repair or sales) including books, like their own published Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists: A Technical Guide, which when I bought it in 2010, was still an early example of best practice (a lot of books and plans on the topic have been published since). 

Our idea was to go beyond this, more like the bike shop + cafe concept + sales, with a heavy focus on bicycling from a transportation demand standpoint, but also to promote urban bicycle-oriented tourism.

Adopt A Road sign, Wayne Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland, Montgomery County6.  Can't Adopt a Road programs be extended to bicycle paths, routes, and trails?  Of course, they are in some places.  But the idea of sponsorship for me is more about "reference groups" and reinforcing the idea that biking is not merely for recreation and that bikes are practical tools, not merely toys.

7.  Presidential candidate Cory Booker introduces "Transit to Trails Act" (via Cape May County Record).  It's not enough to make me want to vote for him, and what is more damning is that there used to be a program promoting and funding better mobility connections to National Parks, but it was dropped in the most recent federal transportation bill. Still, it's always good to be promoting better ways to connect to park assets. From the article:
According to a release, the Transit to Trails Act creates a grant program to fund projects that make transportation to green spaces and public lands more accessible for critically under served communities.

Representatives Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced a companion measure in the U.S. House of Representatives.

A lack of transportation options often excludes those in under served communities from accessing our public lands, which are a national resource that should be readily available to all Americans. The Transit to Trails Act focuses on the areas of the country with the highest need for better transportation options and makes access to these public lands more equitable and convenient for all.
In DC, we could do a lot better ("A gap in planning across agencies: Prioritizing park access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users compared to motor vehicle access," 2015). But likely that is a problem not exclusive to DC.

Is this supposed to provide bicycle parking?  If so it's either upside down or poorly designed.8.  You're not helping: is this supposed to be a bike parking aid?  One of the problems of the conversion of public parking on the streets to digital systems is the removal of parking meters, the stanchions for which are used by many to park their bikes.  Contraptions have been created to bolt on to stanchions so they can still be used for bike parking.

I don't know if that is the purpose for this thing on the 700 block of 7th Street NW in DC.  The holes are too low to be able to use them to lock a bike frame to it/through it.

Maybe it was installed upside down?

In any case, not only have they removed parking meters, they removed the bike rack that was proximate to the Bed, Bath and Beyond store on this block, which I regularly frequent for "health and beauty products" and the store brand olive oil, which we like.

9.  Bike co-ops should be given space in recreation centers, etc.  The Velocity Bicycle Cooperative has space on Mount Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, which is awesome.  But most such co-ops around DC (Gearing Up Cycles in DC, Mount Rainier Bike Co-op in Maryland) have marginal spaces even if they are decently located.

Shouldn't these kinds of operations be supported by access to space in recreation centers?

(I've made this point many times but it's always worth repeating.)

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Personalizing your use of public space

People with their own tablecloth for a public table, 4th Street SW
People with their own tablecloth for a public table, 4th Street SW.

To be clear, I think this is cool.


Paint can last a long time

Pennsylvania Railroad bridge over Bladensburg Road, northbound, Washington, DC

This bridge, now a part of the Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, still shows the faded lettering of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which ceased to exist in 1968, when it merged with the New York Central Railroad to become Penn Central, which went out of business in the 1970s.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Naomi Klein, author of On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, with Jane Fonda, tomorrow night in DC

-- 'We have a once-in-century chance': Naomi Klein on how we can fight the climate crisis," Guardian

From The Intercept:

Naomi Klein With Special Guest Jane Fonda

Washington, DC – September 17, 2019 – On Wednesday September 18, The Intercept editor in chief Betsy Reed, senior correspondent Naomi Klein, author of On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal, as well as actress and political activist Jane Fonda will meet to discuss the climate crisis.

What: Naomi Klein - On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal
Date: Wednesday September 19, 2019
Time: 7pm EDT
Where: Sidwell Friends Meeting House
Address: 3825 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington, D.C. 20008

The event and book signing, sponsored by Washington D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose, will be held at the Sidwell Friends Meeting House at 3825 Wisconsin Avenue NW Washington D.C. 20016. Attendees are invited to participate in the thought-provoking discussion and discover ways to actively get involved in climate activism on a local and global scale. Naomi Klein will begin the evening by briefly speaking on the book, followed by an interview with Betsy Reed, and subsequent discussion with activist Jane Fonda.

Tickets are priced at $15 and $10 with a student ID. Limited RSVPs are available. For more information on the event or press credentials please reach out to Kimu Elolia at

About The Intercept: The Intercept is an award-winning nonprofit news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Its in-depth investigations and unflinching analysis focus on surveillance, war, corruption, the environment, technology, criminal justice, the media and more.

About Naomi Klein: Naomi Klein is a senior correspondent at The Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem endowed chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, most recently of "The Battle for Paradise." She has also written "No Is Not Enough," "This Changes Everything," "The Shock Doctrine," and "No Logo."

About Betsy Reed: Previously, she was Executive Editor of The Nation, where she led the magazine’s award-winning investigative coverage. She has edited several best-selling books, including Jeremy Scahill’s “Blackwater” and “Dirty Wars.” Reed co-edited the New York Times best-seller “Going Rouge: Sarah Palin, An American Nightmare” with Richard Kim.

About Jane Fonda: Jane Seymour Fonda is an American actress, political activist and former fashion model. She is the recipient of various accolades including two Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, the AFI Life Achievement Award, and the Honorary Golden Lion.

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Friday, September 13, 2019

World's largest bicycle parking facility at Utrecht Central Station in the Netherlands

Photo from Bicycle Dutch.

Nigel, our correspondent from New Zealand, calls our attention to an article in Dezeen, "World's biggest bicycle park built below Utecht train station," about the completion of phase three of the bicycle parking facility at the main train station in Utrecht, Netherlands.

It provides space for 12,656 bikes, including 1,000 rental bikes and a bike repair shop.

This video shows more of the facility. How there are separate facilities for bikes with baskets or child seats; how there are two levels to the racks, and digital indicators of availability, extending to information about the upper versus the lower racks, just like in the most advanced car parking garages in the US. There isn't space for cargo bikes, but there is a nearby facility provided to accommodate cargo bikes.

Different levels connect to the train platforms, the train station, or the outdoor plaza.

The cost per space was about $2,550.  By contrast, in the US, it costs from $20,000 to $30,000 per space to build an above-ground car parking garage.  And it can be more for below-grade facilities.

Out and about last weekend, when the weather was pretty nice, I saw a lot of people bicycling (and using e-scooters and now the mopeds from Revel and Razor), and it seems like the use of the Capital Bikeshare system is higher too.

But this merely emphasizes my point that more resources need to be put into assisting people in transitioning to bicycling as a primary form of transportation.

-- "Eight "mutual assistance programs" that can build support for biking as transportation on the part of low income communities

Infrastructure (defined as lanes, cycle tracks, trails, etc., as opposed to facilities like maps, kiosks, bike shops, bike repair facilities, bicycle parking, air for tires, etc.), obviously, is key, but it's not enough to induce mass take up of biking for every day transportational use.

Adding infrastructure does increase biking amongst people who are particularly logical and driven by information.  But most people are not like that.

The Utrecht bicycle parking facility is a great example of how many elements are necessary to create a(n) (eco)system that supports "cycling as traffic"/"Cycling as a system"
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012
Bicycle Traffic as a system, diagram, German National Bicycle Plan, 2002-2012

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LUNCHTIMESTREETS: A street transformation idea from London

Given the two recent posts on pedestrian streets in cities ("Planning urban design improvements at the neighborhood scale: Dupont Circle, DC" and "More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends"), this post, also a reprint, "LUNCHTIMESTREETS: A street transformation idea from London," from the World Streets Emergency Climate/Mobility Action/Plan blog is particularly timely.

Note that I do seem to recall a similar initiative in Boston...

-- Lunchtime Streets - Campaigns - Active City Network

What is Lunchtime Streets?

Lunchtime Streets Chancery Lane. Tuesday 3rd – Thursday 5th September find out more below!

Lunchtime Streets is an event that removes motor traffic from a street over a lunchtime period, so people can enjoy their lunch in a safer and more pleasant environment.

Making the streets safer for people is key to both the City of London Corporation’s and the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategies.

We use this type of temporary project to measure the effects and perceptions of the local community when reducing traffic at a peak times, when most people are travelling on foot or bicycle will be key to making the streets safer. The results of the study may lead to future enhancements of the public realm.

It is also a great way to enjoy your lunchtimes. We welcome the involvement of local working, studying and residential community.

Upcoming Lunchtime Streets

Chancery Lane

The next Lunchtime Streets initiative will take place at Chancery Lane:

Tuesday 3 September
Wednesday 4 September
Thursday 5 September

On these days Chancery will be closed to motor vehicles from 10am to 3pm, with lunchtime activities taking place between midday and 2pm.

A full programme will be posted online before the event…but you can expect more plants and planters, seating, food stalls, a bike show, giant garden games and more, and even more!

We welcome any involvement from local businesses, workers and residents.

Please contact the City Corporation’s Road Danger Reduction team to share any suggestions and register any needs:

Is this a new concept?

No – Cities around the world have been finding ways to demonstrate that they put people first and that streets can be re-imagined and do not always need to be dominated by vehicles.

In European capitals such as Oslo, Copenhagen and Amsterdam (to name a few) timed closures and car-free days or times in City centre streets have shown they can improve the quality of the air, the safety of the streets, and encourage people to use and enjoy the public realm.

Is this something you would like to see on your street?

You can also let us know what you think by filling out this two minute survey: Lunchtime Streets.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bogotá is building cultural spaces in the bases of the pylons supporting their cable car system | Transportation infrastructure as an element of civic architecture and the network of civic assets

I just mentioned ("Planning urban design improvements at the neighborhood scale: Dupont Circle, DC") how I think that transit station entry buildings could be expanded somewhat to include community spaces.

Adjacent to the entry building to the Mont Royal Station, there is a food and garden market.  (There is a similar setup at the Papineau Station, and others.)

Montreal doesn't do this, but looking at their surface stations, such as at Mont Royal-Plateau, or Papineau, gave me the idea.  It's a concepet that could be extended to other transit agencies.

(For awhile the Federal Transit Administration supported the provision of child care centers at transit stations.  In the DC area, one such was built proximate, but not within, the Shady Grove Metrorail Station.

Bogotá has commenced construction on cultural spaces  ("Construction of luxury cultural spaces begins in TransMiCable pylons," City of Bogotá) at the bases of four pylons for their cable car system, called TransMiCable.

TransMiCable extends transit to the steep hills of the Ciudad Bolívar district and connects to Line T of the TransMilenio bus rapid transit system, which is a world class best practice example of such bus service.

According to the article, there are 26 cultural, social, and urban design projects underway or planned in association with the TransMiCable system -- leveraging the point I make about how the introduction of new transit infrastructure and programs should be utilized to drive complementary improvements across the existing transit network, increasing the likelihood of success for both.

-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network"
-- "Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?"

It's also an example of what I call Transformational Projects Action Planning.

The first cultural center is being built at Pylon 10 in the Share neighborhood of Ciudad Bolívar. It will include "a gallery, a walkable deck and stages for music, dance, performing arts and audiovisual projections."

At Pylon 20, in the Manitas neighborhood, the facilities will include an artist training center as well as a neonatal clinic.

At the El Paraíso Viewpoint, a city history museum is going to be developed, along with an art gallery and a tourism visitor center.

Similarly, there are small library facilities installed at some TransMilenio stations, including El Tunal Portal and the General Santander station.  (In the US, some libraries have installed book vending stations at transit stations, such as in Calgary and Anaheim.)

Not specifically associated with transit infrastructure, another initiative of the Bogotá government is the creation of what they call SuperCADEs, which are unified government services,  bringing together as many as 37 city, district, and national government functions into one place.  One being built alongside the TransMiCable is a facility in Manitas.


Using transportation infrastructure projects as a way to drive forward other civic asset projects ought to be standard operating procedure in local government project planning.

-- "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods," 2013

But it isn't.

We can learn a lot from Bogotá. 

And Medellín.

-- "'Social urbanism' experiment breathes new life into Colombia's Medellin," Toronto Globe & Mail
-- "Medellín's 'social urbanism' a model for city transformation," Mail & Guardian

Among others.

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More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends

This entry is an expansion of Item #6 in "Planning urban design improvements at the neighborhood scale: Dupont Circle, DC."

More and more, out of the idea of promoting sustainable mobility and walkability especially, I now believe that the city needs to create more small sections of pedestrian prioritized spaces, and that like how 7th St. from Pennsylvania to North Carolina Avenues SE is closed in front of Eastern Market on weekends (below), so should 17th St. between P and R.
7th Street SE at Eastern Market

The idea is to support those areas of the city that are already highly pedestrian oriented.  Because the typical pedestrian mall is many blocks long, and a pedestrian district can encompass 20-50 blocks, I couldn't see implementing pedestrian spaces at that kind of scale in the US.  But there are a number of places that can support a "pedestrian district" for one to four blocks, at least in the temperate months.

The Dupont Circle neighborhood is a premier example, as we can see from its WalkScore rating.
WalkScore for Dupont Circle

Montreal creates similar pedestrian districts in the summer, although they also have 24/7/365 pedestrian areas in their Old Port and by McGill University. It's called Aires Libres -- free air.

St. Catherine Street, the heart of the "Gay Village," is pedestrian-exclusive during this roughly four month period although some shop owners believe it hurts their business.  It is the site of an art fair for part of the period, and is programmed at other times, along with art installations ("Aires Libres 2019 - The Montreal Gay Village continues to shine as an LGBTQ and contemporary art beacon ," press release).
Rue Ste-Catherine, Montréal

Pedestrianized spaces need to be actively managed and programmed.  For a weekend pedestrian district to succeed on 17th Street, it would need to be programmed and managed, and in terms of programming, if it is open all year, for all four seasons of the year.

The experience with such places is that they need to be managed to be successful, the pedestrian mall in Boulder ("Now I know why Boulder's Pearl Street Mall is the exception that proves the rule about the failures of pedestrian malls," 2005) and the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica ("Third Street 3.0 in Santa Monica," Los Angeles Business Journal) are good examples of this.
Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica
Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica

It could be a coalition of neighborhood groups, including Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, the Dupont Circle Civic Association, merchants groups, the Dupont Circle BID, etc. The model for management would be what pedestrian malls and BIDs do.

In the region there are two ped malls in Charlottesville and Winchester. Both peter out at the ends in terms of success, but they are much longer, and don't have the immediately proximate population density of the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
Winchester pedestrian mall

But it could be a deal changer providing renewed oomph to the 17th St. commercial district, which faces massive competition from 14th Street especially as it has revitalized but also from Connecticut Avenue and Upper P Street. (An article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, "Tom Sietsema’s 8 favorite places to eat right now," says Le Diplomate gets 3000 customers/day on the weekend. That's just one establishment on 14th St.!)

Monthly during the temperate months, restaurants in Denver's Larimer Square sponsor dining in the street.

Open Streets Project as a resource.  The Open Streets Project is more focused on "temporary" street closures for walking, biking, and play, modeled after Ciclovia in Bogotá ("Bogotá closes its roads every Sunday. Now everyone wants to," Vox).  But it could still be a useful resource.  They offer manuals, case studies, etc.

People dancing in the street

Start by doing this from the Spring to the Fall.  Rather than start off doing this for the entire year, I'd start smaller, like the Aires Libres summer program in Montreal, and just do this for the temperate months.  Aires Libre is from mid-May to the third week of September.  Since it stays warmer here a little longer, I'd suggest running it from mid-May to mid-October.

Yoga In Times Square
Yoga in Times Square, NYC.

Transportation demand management.  A traffic plan, especially to accommodate deliveries, etc., would be required.  Ideally, a kind of parking district could be created ("Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: | Part One: Bethesda" and "Parking districts vs. transportation/urban management districts: Part two, Takoma DC/Takoma Park Maryland") to provide for parking in place of the spaces removed from 17th Street (I need to do a parking space count).

Traffic Safety: Install Retractable bollards.  I would recommend installing retractable bollards at P, Q, and R Streets, using the model of Liverpool, although the Liverpool bollards are a lesser grade in terms of ideal security requirements (ability to withstand a vehicle traveling 50 mph), and properly rated bollards should be installed instead.  (In Liverpool, there was a driver rage incident and he was able to crash through the bollards, because they didn't install bollards capable of resisting vehicles going at a high rate of speed.  See "Special report: How Liverpool crowds could have been exposed to mass casualty terror threat despite a year of warnings," Liverpool Echo).
Liverpool's pedestrianized City Centre shopping district and a retractable bollard system

The way it's set up in Liverpool is that there is a priority delivery period for access in the morning, and access can be provided later, using a key card.  There are safety lights that flash when the bollards retract and advance.

(I don't know why DC is resistant to installing bollards.  Now it uses heavy vehicles to block streets when they are closed for special events.)

Special roadway materials treatments.  Long term I'd recommend a special roadway materials treatment for the section. 7th St. SE is one example, as is Exhibition Road in London (below).
Exhibition Road urban design treatment, South Kensington, London

Half St. SE between M St. SE and the Nationals Stadium is also getting a special pedestrian oriented treatment.
Rendering showing special pedestrian urban design street treatment for Half Street SE, in the vicinity of the Washington Nationals Stadium
Rendering showing special pedestrian urban design street treatment for Half Street SE, in the vicinity of the Washington Nationals Stadium

"Pedestrian fatalities and street design" discusses the concept of utilizing differentiated roadway materials other than straight up concrete or asphalt as a way to slow traffic and/or indicate a pedestrian-focused area.

Another great example, the sidewalk treatments on the Copacabana in Rio and Biscayne Boulevard in Miami (below), by Roberto Burle Marx.
wave pattern in sidewalk Biscayne Blvd Miami, Ricardo Burle Marx

In Santa Monica, Colorado Avenue leads to the Santa Monica pier and is perpendicular to the Downtown, and the location of the Expo Line transit.  Both the sidewalk and street have special design treatments denoting their pedestrian-centricity.
Santa Monica streetscape, Colorado Avenue

Santa Monica streetscape, Colorado Avenue

Facilitating movement between the neighborhood and the commercial district without requiring a car. I'd recommend considering creating a combined people and delivery pick up and drop off service. What communities use is an electric vehicle usually with a capacity for 6 people, and they are primarily advertising sponsored.

Passengers at the beach on Arizona Street inquire about the new electric vehicle shuttle now available in Hollywood. The Sun Shuttle, operated by Circuit, is available for free in downtown Hollywood, on Hollywood Beach and along Federal Highway. To catch a ride, passengers can download the Ride Circuit app, wave down a driver, or go to a designated pick up location. (Mike Stocker / Sun Sentinel)

The idea is to move people between home and Metrorail stations and commercial districts without their having to drive.

A number of communities have contracted with an electric vehicle operator to provide this kind of mobility option.  This article ("They’re like Uber but free: New electric shuttles popping up all over South Florida," Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel) describes the different business models to pay for the service.

Integrating business district promotion organizations. The Dupont Circle Main Street program has been in operation for 16 years. Recently, a separate BID was formed ("New Dupont Circle BID names first executive director," Washington Business Journal) which I think is unnecessarily duplicative. There is no reason that "clean and space" and public space improvement initiatives couldn't have been added to the Main Street program.

It's important to separate the functions, principles, and operations of the commercial district management organization from the funding. In DC, BIDs are funded by an upcharge tax on commercial property. Main Streets raise funds independently as well as receive monies from the city. 

In San Diego, they provide a standard way to fund such organizations: an upcharge tax on commercial property; but the business promotion group can organize however it wants, as either a Main Street program or a BID, and either can deliver clean and safe and transportation management programs, and public space improvements.

Green Benefit Districts. Another funding model, from San Francisco, is the Green Benefit District. It also includes residential properties (BIDs may include apartment buildings, and condominium buildings if a majority of owners agree), including individually owned houses, and provides additional funds to maintain neighborhood green spaces and sidewalks. Such a funding system could be implemented as well, to provide for better maintenance of such spaces in and outside of the commercial district sections of Dupont Circle.

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Planning urban design improvements at the neighborhood scale: Dupont Circle, DC

In 2017, when I was writing the series on "complementary transit network improvements" first on the DC area Purple Line light rail program ("Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network") and then on the Silver Line Metrorail in Northern Virginia ("Using the Silver Line as the priming event, what would a transit network improvement program look like for NoVA?"), I started thinking about how to apply this approach to neighborhoods and urban design.

Except I haven't done any writeups.

One is the Southwest area of DC, spurred by the coming "online" of The Wharf district, the revitalization of the 1960s era urban renewal program on Washington Channel.

Another is Dupont Circle, a neighborhood in DC served by Metrorail, on the edge of Downtown, and anchored by a major circle park, Dupont Circle, which is anchored by a great fountain.

dupont circle fountain

Dupont Circle

The ideas for Dupont Circle also grew out of my frustration that separately, in an uncoordinated way, there are two major urban design interventions happening there.

One is the construction of a canopy over the Dupont Circle North entrance to the Metrorail, and immediately adjacent to it is the creation of a "cap" over the undergrounded section Connecticut Avenue, which starts west of the circle and gets back to the surface closer to R.

At the very least Metro Station canopies ought to have an architectural lighting treatment.Connecticut Avenue underpass between Dupont Circle (north side) and Q Street NW
In "PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District: Part 1: Setting the stage" from the Purple Line series, I laid out the urban design foundational thinking, applied but not unique to Silver Spring.
17th Street Festival, DC
At the recent 17th Street Festival, I ran into people I knew and we talked about this kind of stuff, including how a group of residents are opposed to the plans by DC's Department of Transportation to put in a cycle track on 17th Street ("17th Street in Dupont could get a protected bikeway," Greater Greater Washington), which between P and R Streets functions as the "neighborhood serving commercial district" anchored by restaurants, a supermarket, hardware store, and sundry retail. It contrasts to the more regionally serving retail districts on Connecticut Avenue and 14th Street.

14th Street in particular has drawn away a lot of business from the restaurants on 17th Street.

The conversation reminded me of my "framework" concept, including a big one, that on weekends, 17th Street between P and R Streets should be pedestrianized.

From a sustainable mobility standpoint, I think pedestrianizing this street for at least part of the week would serve far more people than a cycletrack, accentuating the pedestrian-centricity of the neighborhood.  Plus there are parallel bicycle facilities on neighboring streets.

An urban design oriented neighborhood improvement program for the Greater Dupont Circle neighborhood

1.  All of the neighborhood's parks, open spaces and other civic assets should be managed as a network. Including Dupont Underground, the art facility using the old underground trolley station.  (This is complicated because it would involve the National Park Service, DC, and nonprofits.)

This would include events like First Fridays, produced by Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, the free weekend museum event in June sponsored by the Dupont-Kalorama Museums Consortium, etc.

Public Realm as an Interconnected system, Slide from presentation, Leadership and the Role of Parks and Recreation in the New Economy, David Barth

Dupont Underground

Dupont Circle First Friday Brochure 2017_3pp2

2. Remove at least one traffic lane from Dupont Circle and expand the Circle.  In the 1950s, many of DC's "traffic circles" which function as part as neighborhood parks, were shrunken by the conversion of some of the park land to traffic lanes.  Both Thomas Circle and Logan Circle got this treatment.
But in 1980, Logan Circle was restored, in part as a complementary improvement in association with the introduction of Metrorail--by reducing traffic throughput, it was thought that more people would be encouraged to use rail transit.  Around 2005, similar restoration occurred at Thomas Circle.

If you were to do lane by lane traffic counts, it would be proven that the lanes closest to the Circle are minimally used.

3. Coordinate decking over a section of Connecticut Avenue with Dupont Circle North Metrorail Station exit improvements. Ideally the canopy could have even been a public space building--community building (I've thought that exit station structures could have public space elements along these lines for awhile), but should be a public art element (e.g., neon).

-- "The Proposed Design for a Public Deck in Dupont Circle," Urban Turf

Connecticut Avenue deck proposal

High Trestle Trail art bridge, Madrid, Iowa
High Trestle Trail art bridge, Madrid, Iowa 

A number of station grounds for rail transit stations in Montreal are used for community food and garden market stands.  The grounds of the Mont Royal station include a visitor center.  But shown is the Atwater station.
STM Atwater Metro station building Montreal, Quebec Canada 01202013 ©Ian A. McCord

The station entrance buildings for the Metro system in Montreal gave me the idea that it would have been possible to build a community serving building on the top of the these structures.

4. The building used by the Main Street program, an old NPS building, should serve as a true visitor center.  Supporting sub-city tourism in part through the creation of a network of visitor centers located in high profile neighborhoods is discussed in "Some DC tourism issues (National Tourism Week: May 7th - May 13th)."

-- "Why Miami-Dade has more visitor centers than any city in the U.S.," Miami Herald

5. Make 19th St. between the Circle and Q Street a permanent pedestrian street (but with access for deliveries.)

6. Make 17th Street between P and R Streets a pedestrian district on weekends.

This is discussed in more detail in the next entry, "More about making 17th Street between P and R a pedestrian space on weekends."

Ironically, years ago, I criticized a neighborhood proposal to permanently pedestrianize 17th Street ("How to f*** up 17th Street NW in Dupont Circle," 2007).  While my thinking about pedestrian districts and segments has evolved, the reality is that making this stretch permanently pedestrianized would be a mistake, because there isn't enough activity during most days to make it work.

17th Street NW, Dupont Circle

When empty such spaces are very much forlorn, and this was the problem of the early wave of pedestrian malls in the US, which were tried out as a way for center city districts to compete with the rise of suburban shopping malls.

Burdick Street pedestrian mall, Kalamazoo, postcard
The Burdick Street pedestrian mall in Kalamazoo, Michigan was the first such urban design initiative in the US.

However, seeing pedestrian districts in Essen, Dortmund, Hamburg, Liverpool, and various parts of London, like Mare Street in Hackney Wick, made me realize that while I am right that most US cities lack the volume of pedestrians necessary to make "pedestrian malls" work 24/7/365 ("Now I know why Boulder's Pearl Street Mall is the exception that proves the rule about the failures of pedestrian malls," 2005), this doesn't mean that pedestrian districts can't be developed in the  US.  We just have to be very strategic about it.

We should start small, and focus on those places where it makes the most sense and is likely to be very successful.
Mare Street/Narrow Way pedestrian zone, Hackney, London
While it looks like it's been there forever, Mare Street has been pedestrianized for only a few years.  It's just a couple blocks, near the Hackney Central Overground Station.

Like 7th Stree SE in front of Eastern Market on the weekends, which has been pedestrianized (which continues to be a source of contention on the part of the food vendors inside the building).
7th Street SE at Eastern Market

In the region, there are two longer pedestrian malls in Virginia.  Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, and thousands of students without cars, is the best known.  But Winchester also has one.  Like Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, they tend to peter out at the ends. But the core of each pedestrian mall is reasonable active.
Downtown mall

For this to work on 17th Street, there would need to be a traffic plan with access for deliveries, and a way to utilize what are now private parking structures part of apartment or office buildings adjacent to the district.

7. Execute the dedicated transitway for buses on 16th Street (in progress).  The 16th Street line is one of the busiest in the city, but it takes an hour to get from Silver Spring to Downtown.  Speeding up bus service by providing dedicated travel lanes during peak periods would make a big difference.

I don't know the exact breakdown of people throughput, but generally on streets with highly used bus lines, at least 40% of the total passenger volume moves on the buses, with something like 300-400 bus trips per day, contrasted to volumes of other motor vehicles greater than 20,000.  By prioritizing bus movement even more people can be attracted to the bus.

-- 16th Street Bus Lanes Project website
-- 16th Street NW Transit Priority Planning Study, DC Department of Transportation< -- "D.C.'s 16th Street on track to get a bus lane," Washington Post, 2016
-- Bus lanes coming to 16th Street, but it could cost you some parking," Post

8. Create an integrated system of valet parking across the Dupont Circle commercial district. People could drop off a car at one station and pick it up at another. (This was offered for a time at the North Park Main Street in San Diego, which had an underutilized municipal parking garage.)

9. If necessary, create an intra-neighborhood shuttle service to support intra-neighborhood movement between activity centers and transit stations, to reduce motor vehicle trips.

The ideas in #9 and #10 are discussed in depth as item #5 in "PL #5: Creating a Silver Spring "Sustainable Mobility District" | Part 2: Program items 1 - 9."

10. Create the 14th street bikeway (in progress).

11. Create an enhanced network of intersections which prioritize pedestrian safety on 16th Street from P St. to U Street. Pedestrian scrambles aren't necessarily the option, but the idea is to repattern the behavior of motor vehicle operators.  High profile designs for pedestrian scrambles make it clear that pedestrian movement, rather than automobile traffic speeds, are the priority.

This is the intersection at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles ("L.A.’s New Diagonal Crosswalks Are Literally Saving Lives," Los Angeles Magazine).
Pedestrian scramble treatment, Hollywood and Highland Avenues, Los Angeles

The primary point is to treat the intersections as a key element of the pedestrian network rather than individual disconnected elements.

-- Urban Street Design Guide, National Association of City Transportation Officials

Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica is another example to be referenced.  The street leads to Santa Monica Pier, is where the transit stations are located, and is perpendicular to the Downtown and the Third Street Promenade pedestrian mall.  The sidewalk and street have special design treatments.

This is the intersection at the entrypoint to Santa Monica Pier.
Special intersection treatment, Colorado Avenue and Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, California

12. Similarly, along the lines of my belief that road pavements should be changed in cities to emphasize slower speeds, this section of 16th St. (as well as in Mt. Pleasant, say from Columbia Road to Park Road/Monroe Street), and especially 17th Street between P and R Streets could be paved in asphalt block as a visual, aural, and physical cue to drive more slowly.

-- "Pedestrian fatalities and street design," 2019
-- "An example of using variegated road material treatments in Bothell, Washington," 2017

Or a treatment like Exhibition Road in the Kensington district of London.  (This section ends as a small pedestrian district around the South Kensington London Underground Station.)
exhibition-road-south, Kensington, London, UK

13.  Should there be a Circulator bus between Dupont Circle and U Street?  I know residents clamor for it.  But like the other routes, I don't think it would be highly used.  And without dedicated transitways, the buses are likely to be stuck in traffic.

While the idea of extending the current line seems straightforward, it would introduce significant delays to the servie by extending to the U Street corridor, which has tough traffic on weekends.  Better to have separate lines, if service between Dupont Circle and U Street would work.
Proposed extension of Dupont Circle-Rosslyn DC Circulator to U Street

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