This section will provide a place to put snapshots (or works of art) representing various topical/controversial sights around DC related to NARPAC's interests, but not rating sections of their own. Most will relate to new additions to the web site for this month and hotlinks are provided.The recent snapshot of DC's impressive new Nationals' baseball stadium (below) was taken from the pedestrian walkway of the Douglass (South Capitol St) Bridge on a bright February afternoon, a scant six weeks before it is scheduled to open. It is somehow emblematic of the root problems in our nation's capital city. On the overt side, the stadium is a major symbol of the enormous economic development now underway in DC's expanding "downtown area" (now comprising Wards 2 and 6). Almost $13 billion dollars worth of capital improvements are in progress, with more yet to start. These developments will provide upscale new apartments for some 9000 new households consisting of perhaps 18,000 persons (and their 15,000 private vehicles), as well as enough upscale office space for about 118,000 new jobs, mostly skilled and mostly held by commuters from DC's remarkably wealthy suburbs. Getting to M Street SE and SW from the wealthier suburbs to the west (northern Virginia) and north (Maryland's Montgomery County) may well become a major unaddressed transportation challenge.
But on the covert side, this flashy new stadium is equally representative of DC's almost total inability to address its basic "infrastructure" problems, both human (where endemic poverty still elbows out the stability and values of a solid middle class), and physical (where DC's public transportation and water/sewer systems are rapidly becoming obsolete). By NARPAC's broad estimating techniques, the costs of sustaining DC's current poverty levels have risen more than $1.1 billion in the past five years, continuing to consume a full 50% of DC's budget.. The tax revenues from the capital improvements estimated above are unlikely to exceed one-third of this runaway "human infrastructure maintenance cost". Physical infrastructure maintenance currently consumes at best 1.5% of DC's current operating budgets, and improvements currently underway amount to about $150 million, less than 1.2% of ongoing commercial capital improvements.
The design of the new stadium and its immediate approaches demonstrates the total lack of transportation planning. All means of access and egress are blended into a single ground plane for pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, taxis, emergency vehicles, and the through traffic of one of the city's most heavily trafficked arterials including heavy truck flow 24/7. The photo above, taken from the center of the area's worst traffic intersection, shows the almost finished main pedestrian ramp into/out of the stadium. The lone red-shirted workman (lower right-hand side) will soon be able to skateboard, segway, or wheelchair right into that intersection. On its north side, the stadium site is wasted by two large above-ground low-density parking structures. What ever happened to urban decks, elevated pedestrian crossings, underground tour bus stations, smart curbs, automated parking? The only innovation in this amateurish package is proposed valet parking for bicycles!
There is only a single Metrorail underground platform within five blocks of the stadium, serving only the Green Line. It is two blocks east of this intersection where the rapidly developing M Street passes over South Capitol Street (the area's only grade-separated intersection). All fans approaching by Red, Blue, Orange, or Yellow Lines will have to change stations at one of the city's three most congested stations. In fact, there are only two Green Line stations, poorly located, along the western end of the emerging new South M Street Corridor. Nevertheless, DDoT's transportation study for the stadium suggests that there are four other metro stations "within reasonable walking distance" of the stadium (toward downtown). In fact, they average sixteen blocks away: four times the average recommended by DDoT's longstanding "transit-oriented" urban smart growth mantra. Continued economic growth will surely be wasted without increasingly overdue human and physical infrastructure growth to vitalize it. Read NARPAC's first quarter 2008 editorial to learn more DC's basic need for regional and federal assistance.
This gloomy snapshot of DC's "City Hall' on a cloudy/rainy day in December seems to reflect growing concern for the new Fenty Administration's blunt and careless management style. NARPAC's year-end editorial expresses concern for the possibility of losing the public trust needed to get difficult socioeconomic changes enacted. This cavalier, counter-productive attitude in public relations is exemplified in a recent talk by the new head of DC public schools facilities modernization. To make matters gloomier, a new report on national "economic mobility" for the Pew Family Trust by the Brookings Institution suggests, quite inappropriately, that the 'American Dream' is shot because American kids are not all making more money than their American parents. A combination of poor methodology and poor presentation allows the casual reader to draw the wrong conclusions. It is disappointing to NARPAC that the obvious correlation between kids educational attainment and that of their parent(s) is totally ignored.
o The 2-photo cluster above compares a typical taxi waiting line outside DC's Union Station (upper), and a similar line in Bethesda, MD (lower) outside its newly evolving "Fifth Avenue" shopping area in Friendship Heights (just outside DC's northwest boundary). DC is one of the few cities that uses a confusing zone system for fares and (fiercely) independent cabbies, while the rest of the world has adopted time/distance meters, and encourages taxi fleets. DC has now wasted months trying to decide yet again whether or not it will remain out of step with the rest of the urban world. The zone system generally favors poorer residents who are forced to get to their widely-dispersed places of work by cab (often in the suburbs), while the meter system has been almost universally adopted to optimize convenience for urbanites (and revenues for cabbies) moving around the downtown area. The meter system does pass the costs of traffic congestion along to the passenger, and eliminates cab-sharing in bad weather, but it also induces more cabbies to work the more strenuous routes and times. In any event, DC has long placed its local politics above its broader national/global image, and again appears to the world to be unable to make up its mind to change. No wonder we look so incompetent!
The four snapshots below show the almost-finished new grade-level intersection of South Capitol Street and Potomac Ave at the southwest corner of the new baseball stadium. The long-time overpass that separated high-flow, two-way bridge traffic from the slower local traffic on Potomac Ave has been eliminated. DC's DDoT is apparently trying to "improve the walking experience" in and around this newly-developing "Near Southeast" sector of downtown DC. The upper left photo shows the as-yet unopened intersection from its southwest corner, looking north towards the barely discernible capitol dome (just to the right of the central traffic light). The upper right photo shows the view east from Potomac Ave across South Capitol Street towards the newly-developing Southeast Federal Center. The large new ballpark is on schedule to open next spring. It offers no above- or below-grade crossings of any of the streets bounding it.
The lower photos show the graceful sweep of South Capitol Street from beyond this unexpected new intersection looking north (left), and south (right). The Douglass Bridge itself, spanning the Anacostia River to Poplar Point on the far side, is clearly visible framed by the central segment of the temporary pedestrian fence. NARPAC's concerns for the potential carnage at this busy intersection (when the fences go) are expressed in its posting on DC's "Themail" discussion forum. We think the failure to consider safety in the "walking experience" equation for DC pedestrians ranks right up there with the failure to consider parental/societal influences on the "education experience" for poor kids , both nationally and in DC.
Three low-utilization DC government properties in the "West End" neighborhood are currently being "seriously threatened" by replacement at no cost by a private developer encouraged by both DC's mayor and Council. The properties serve important local and citywide functions, but squander scarce downtown acreage capable of far greater revenue-productivity.
Only a block (a "square", that is) northwest of Washington Circle, "Squares" 37 and 50 have now become as contentious as was George Washington University's "Square 54" to the south. And West End activists are now clucking just as loudly as did Foggy Bottom activists two years ago, even though the outcome is just as inevitable. In both cases, the net result will be greater city revenues from tightly regulated increases in downtown urban density. In this new case, however, the phony rallying cry shifts from the "unthinkable, totally unacceptable, expansion of the unruly GWU campus", to the "unspeakable, totally unjustifiable, transfer of the people's sacred city property to an unscrupulous developer bent on darkening the people's sky".
The developer, EastBanc, well-known in this part of town, intends to replace the existing West End Libraryove, left) on the northwest corner of 24th and L St, as well as the dated fire house for the DC's Truck Company 2, (above, right) on the northwest corner of 23rd and M St.. He would also replace the 80-year old, 4-story walk-up Tiverton Apartments fronting on 24th St, and the remarkably decrepit headquarters of the high-profile Special Operations Division of DC's police department. Greater details on this planned redevelopment, and the controversies caused by the way it has been handled, have been added to the end of NARPAC's GWU analysis.
This inherent conflict between new-broom zeal to make progress, and the paranoia it evokes amongst those who resist any exercise of leadership (or dictatorship) has now manifested itself yet again. Political leaders appear to 'diss' their constituents; and those constituents try to rein in those leaders with 'rights' not really bestowed in our representative democracy. The resulting wasted energies not only threatens attempts to resolve near-term problems, but stymie as-yet ignored efforts to address the city's growing backlog of unresolved long-term issues, from poverty to transportation. Six neglected policy issues are identified in this month's NARPAC editorial urging the DC Council to step up to their role in our national capital city's long-term future.
The usually low-profile NARPAC was momentarily caught in the spotlight of NBC4, when its
founder and president Len Sullivan offered his (low) opinions of bringing trolleys back to DC
to NBC reporter Tracee Wilkins. His inputs were drawn from NARPAC's earlier light rail analyses.
The Old Naval Hospital has been sitting on the south side of Pennsylvania Ave (above), and the north side of E Street (below) since 1864 when it was built to serve Civil War forces, a scant seven blocks from the US Capitol. The Navy left in 1911, and after several other tenants, it has recently sunk into deep disrepair. DC's Office of Property Management will soon decide whether to honor the requests of the Capitol Hill neighborhood to restore the buildings and grounds to "offer a wide range of educational and life-long learning opportunities for local youth and adults, including classes in computer literacy, languages, music, drawing and painting, parenting, creative writing, cooking and nutrition."
But the fact is that this represents a remarkably sensible proposal by a DC non-profit group to belly up to a small part of the city's most endemic problem: the education gap that crushes the expectations of many DC residents. NARPAC worries that this "outside the box"approach may be excluded from the mayor's narrower plans to make over DC's school system. We summarize 10 years of NARPAC comparative analyses of this American urban curse in our July, 2007, web site update.
These informal photos taken at the Washington National Cathedral on Wisconsin Avenue in Northwest DC focus on the opening of its new underground parking facilities. 440 cars and 18 tour buses can be accommodated beneath the structure's meticulously groomed grounds. The Wisconsin Avenue entrance for cars is shown far left in upper left photo. Elevators bring visitors up to glass-enclosures (one still sporting a blue construction tarp). Tour buses disappear down a ramp parallel to the sidewalk (still blocked by orange cones), upper right. The middle photo shows the tourists first view of the cathedral if they take the stairs up from the bus bay. Underground car spaces are show lower left, tour bus bay lower right. This appears to be our capital city's first underground tour bus facility some 20 years behind European capitals!
By contrast, as the new Washington Baseball Stadium takes shape (in remarkably good time, incidentally), two large, ugly, above ground, multi-deck parking structures are taking shape. The lefthand photo, taken from perhaps 50 yards behind the left fielder, shows wild flowers springing up amongst the construction detritus in the foreground. Just beyond them sprout the ground-level piers for the western parking garage. What a waste of enormously valuable property! In the far background behind the ever-moving cranes, the skeletons of the top-dollar skyboxes are taking shape. This impressive new expansion to DC's downtown area is badly tainted by thoroughly inadequate transportation planning. The biggest novelty in ball park construction may well be the (so far unnamed!) roboticsheep's hoof soil tamper-downers, which rolls, shimmies and shakes on demand. It is shown in right photo with its handler, maneuvering to avoid traffic on N Street.
Headlines in each of these areas in May were widely ignored by Washington-watchers as they
focused on the Mayor's high-stakes maneuvering to revitalize DC's public school system. They are
the subject of NARPAC's June editorial on city
headlines missed in May.
Every workday morning in the nation's capital, over 400,000 people arrive by public and private transportation to make their living in the downtown area, a high-powered combination of government employees and private office business workers. Many of them surface at the Farragut North metro station on the Red line (left photo), or the Farragut West station at the southern end of Farragut Square on the Blue/Orange Line (right). Roughly one-third of them are DC residents and the other two-thirds commute from the nearby suburbs. Later, an equal number of out-of-town tourists will swarm through on average.. Think you can tell the difference between them all? If all else fails, try giving them the standard three-pronged reading tests from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, a program of the National Center for Education Statistics. More than four out of ten DC residents will test "below basic": having trouble understanding bus schedules, reading maps, and filling out job applications, as will two out of ten American tourists. Possibly one in ten commuters from the suburbs as well as visitors from European and Asian countries will have similar difficulties. A recently released "State of Adult Literacy" Report from DC's "State Education Agency" at the University of DC (!) proposes to solve this major national embarrassment for DC residents through community service centers and local libraries. NARPAC thinks the problem is much more basic: DC parents and public schools need to take their responsibilities back from UDC!
It's springtime in Washington, and again we are taking a few moments to celebrate the beauty of the nation's capital at the annual Cherry Blossom festival. Now back to more prosaic matters... Click on the thumbnail
adjacent to each caption below to bring up the full scale picture.
One accomplishment claimed by DC's new Mayor Fenty in his first "State of the District Address" is to have kicked off "a new Georgia Avenue express bus, 'Metro Extra'". In fact, it has been a significant aspect of DC's plans to upgrade Georgia Ave and commented on by NARPAC in July of 2006 ("better than trolleys!"). The shiny new blue buses (above, center) are now running every ten minutes on "Route 79" between the major Silver Spring public transit station and the downtown Archives/Navy Memorial Metrorail station near Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues. NARPAC rode bus #2812 all seven miles downhill past Howard University (above, left) on Georgia Ave, and the new Convention Center (above right) on 9th St. on a recent dreary April weekday morning. It was a smooth, comfortable ride with an extraordinarily pleasant driver whose competence could put her in line to invigorate a dull, colorless WMATA management. The various, mostly local, riders have adjusted well to the many fewer stops (15 vs 54 and mostly on-request only). But it was late in the rush hour (9:15AM) and traffic and ridership had thinned to a level where the "express" virtues of the new fleet were not evident. We neither passed, nor were passed by, any slower, older Route 70/71 bus. NARPAC believes much bolder long-range transportation planning should be one of DC's 5 highest priority needs not yet mentioned by the new DC administration.
With eight consecutive years of "over-balanced" budgets, noticeable income and property tax cuts, and investment pouring into our capital city, DC's CFO is still ghostwriting budget transmittal letters from DC's mayor to the President of the United States alleging an insurmountable "structure imbalance" requiring federal or regional assistance. As the CFO sees the world, DC should be allowed to tax federal properties like the US State Department, shown above left. That would make it possible to maintain very low-productivity commercial properties, upper right like these one block south of the south entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro Station, while Maryland's Montgomery County upgrades its much higher productivity commercial properties, lower right like those one block north of the north entrance to the Friendship Heights Metro Station along Wisconsin Avenue. NARPAC thinks the District could use a Program Analysis Office to provide both the DC Council and the Mayor a more rational basis for improving the stature and self-sufficiency of a what should be a world-class city. Spending public money is not an end in itself.
George Washington University . GWU has agreed to modernize the entire school in return for being allowed to build new college dormitories on the tennis courts (shown above) behind the school. This could be a rare "win-win" situation for the school's physical infrastructure. But it will do little if anything to improve the crucial "family potential" index recently developed by NARPAC to explain the poor test scores of DC's underprivileged kids. The new city administration's effort to "fix the schools" may work for the aging plumbing, but do little to make young minds more receptive to learning in those schools.
On a recent rainy January Friday, kids leave Wilson Senior High School (above, left) and many head for the Tenleytown Metro Station that takes them home anywhere across the District. A few ride the escalators backwards (above, right). Wilson is one of DC's best high schools, but also symbolic of the two educational worlds in which its kids live. In 10th grade reading, 84% of white students (perhaps 25% of total enrollment) rank as "advanced or proficient (A/P)", and only 4% "below
Suggestions--or contributions--for additions are welcome.
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This page was updated on Feb. 15, 2007
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