Expanding Downtown

» Debating growth limits in a downtown? Consider transportation.

Washington, D.C. is a lucky city: Its downtown has been filled up with new construction over the past few decades to such an extent that it has virtually no space for new office buildings. Some, like Matt Yglesias, have suggested that one way to resolve this problem would be to increase densities by ridding the city of its height limit, which in essence makes it impossible to build structures in the city that are over about 10 stories. Lydia Depillis, another local commenter, has argued that the municipality still has plenty of developable sites which, though they may not be directly downtown, still offer opportunities for more office space.

What would be the manifestations of these different approaches? How can we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of upzoning the center city for more office space? Is our goal to produce vital, walkable, and dense downtown districts, or simply to expand new construction there, no matter the use?

The missing ingredient in this discussion is transportation. When we discuss the demand in downtowns like Washington’s for more office space, we sometimes make an assumption that the transport network will be able to handle whatever is thrown at it. In fact, there is a direct relationship between a downtown’s growth and the transportation provided to it. In general, businesses want to locate their offices in places that are accessible and that provide the benefits of agglomeration, and this sometimes means downtown, but not always. If the trip to and from the center — by whatever mode — becomes too arduous, there are significant reasons to locate outside of it. How does this fact apply to a place like Washington?

Once a downtown — which I will define as a traditional single-use American CBD — reaches a certain size, once it provides employment for a certain number of people, it has three basic options:

  • One, it can do nothing to its transportation network, in which case the downtown has no capacity to absorb increasing growth. In these cases, residential uses become more important since the relative land values demanded for office space decrease (as it is harder for more people to enter into the downtown from elsewhere and there is more interest in walking to and from work). This is arguably what has happened to places like Chicago’s West and South Loop, where almost all recent development there has been in the form of residential towers despite the close proximity to the downtown core.
  • Two, it can expand or improve transportation through the highway network, in which case parking lots become increasingly valuable and may displace existing buildings. This was the choice cities like Houston took since 1950, sacrificing what had once been walkable neighborhoods for an automobile-dominated core.
  • Three, it can expand or improve transportation through the transit network (bus and/or rail), in which case higher densities become increasing valuable and taller buildings may replace shorter ones or parking lots. This has happened in Washington, D.C. since the construction of Metro beginning in the 1970s.

The discussion in Washington has hinged around the opposite side of the conversation, focusing on land use instead of transportation. The argument, asserted by people like Stephen Smith, suggests that the problem is that the government is exerting inappropriate control over densities by limiting heights and the result is that rents in the office core are increasing far higher than they would were there to be skyscrapers.

The problem is compounded by the fact that downtown Washington’s growth is limited, notes Ryan Avent, by the fact that outlying neighborhoods are stuck to one- or two-story buildings (and there is little push to challenge that condition), so the Paris approach, in which the entire city is made up of 6 to 10 story buildings, is not much of an alternative, either.

These arguments are compelling: mini-downtowns in the suburbs, such as along Arlington’s Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, can absorb some of the growth, but there is clearly strong demand for continued concentration in the center city.

Whether this is a long-term phenomenon, however, depends on the transportation provided into the downtown. Imagine that the height limits in Washington were lifted — or, at least, buildings twice as high could be built. In the short-term, this would surely produce the desired effects, allowing downtown to absorb more of the region’s job growth, reduce office rents, and aiding in the continued gentrification of the city as a whole.

In the longer-term, however, as the city’s downtown building stock is gradually replaced, the worker density in the center of the city would roughly double. Would this be sustainable?

If the city’s transportation network remains as it is, mostly relying on the existing Metro network and a functioning, if not great, bus system, this would cause significant problems. Here’s why: Much of the Metro system is already at capacity during peak hours. In essence, today’s transportation network is designed with a capacity roughly equivalent to what is generated under the current height limit.

Moreover, road expansion is simply not an option, not only because there is no room for new highways into downtown but also because, as already stated, a focus on roads-based transportation encourages downtowns to be transformed into automobile-based neighborhoods.

As the transit system becomes more congested, because of job expansion and a lack of transportation improvements, the cost of transportation into the core — in terms of time and money — will increase. This will reduce the appeal of locating offices downtown and encourage new construction to be residential rather than office-based. Is this desirable for Washington? Does the city want a mixed-use core or a office-based one?

The alternative is allowing an increase in zoning along with an improvement in the transportation network. This may seem obvious, but Washington has not yet committed the funds to an expansion of the Metro network or serious improvements to the bus corridors, putting in question the viability of a lifting of the height limits. The downtown’s growth must be approached by considering transportation and land use in complement with one another.

Image above: Downtown Washington, DC from Flickr user Ken Lund (cc)

96 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • To immediately write off higher density in surrounding neighborhoods seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. It’s like saying that raising gas taxes is politically unfeasible. However, when it comes down to it, these are the things that will just have to be done if we want to move forward.

    The benefit of the Paris model, which also applies to London, Copenhagen, Berlin, and any number of European cities is how they maximize their transit networks in ways we don’t here in the US. By concentrating so many jobs in the center and relying on a mostly hub and spoke network, we have to over-build our transit (and highway) networks to handle that peak rush hour volume. All the capacity goes to travel in one direction while it is mostly empty going the other way and throughout most of the rest of the day.

    In those European cities, with jobs more distributed and with more of a network of transit, they don’t have huge floods of people all going to the same place at the same time. That allows for better utilization of equipment (say 80% full one way and 50% full the other, compared to our 110% crush loading inbound versus 10% outbound during the morning rush) and also yield better and more comfortable service.

    Is that an easy thing to accomplish? No, but projects that try to better connect the various “spokes” of transit lines, such as Chicago’s Circle Line, combined with proper universal fares and transfers between the CTA and Metra, would go a long way to opening up more areas to commercial development. Even things like free light rail or streetcar circulators that serve downtown and immediately adjacent areas could be a big boon to supplementing existing transit (or even a lack thereof). That allows people to get around a larger downtown area without needing to pay a whole new transit fare, a transfer, or to get in their car or a taxi to go somewhere that’s maddeningly close, but not quite within walking distance.

    • simple

      Jeffrey is correct. This is a key and often overlooked benefit of Chicago’s Circle Line proposal — that it would greatly increase city and regional access to/from a wide swath of relatively under-developed urban land (including the Illinois Medical District, the City’s second-largest trip generator). The CTA Circle Line plan has often been mischaracterized as just being about creating shortcuts (which it does, although the critics say “not well enough”), but really it’s very much also about city-building in a 24/7 transit supportive manner — far moreso than a typical line extension further into the suburbs.

  • I don’t think anyone in DC is proposing to increase density without also increasing transportation options in downtown. However, that increase in density also provides an opportunity to finance new transportation options.

    The New York Avenue infill station for Metro included a substantial contribution from the private land owners in exchange for significant upzoning in the areas around the station. When you start that same conversation with downtown landowners about funding transportation improvements there, they more or less say “what’s in it for me?” If there’s an increase in allowable FAR and allowable height, then there’s something to talk about.

    Ergo, it’s hard to see more Metro lines in the core without some corresponding increase in development. However, adding density also provides a mechanism to help finance new transportation improvements/capacity.

  • Geoffrey H

    I agree with Alex B but would add that a great way to fund an expanded network would be through tax-incremental financing, which was used to expand the Toronto Spadina line north into Vaughan. Rather than/or in addition to private development charges targeted to construction costs, you could dedicate all future taxes from the new development for a certain period or dollar figure would go to paying off the cost of the expansion in transportation service. Win-win.

    • Buckeyeman

      Why not revive the proposal for a secong east/west Metro line be and use TIF to build that?

    • jim

      The current favorite for additional infrastructure is the Separated Yellow Line, running along 10th St SW/NW from the Potomac to Thomas Circle. It would be cheaper than the Separated Blue Line and provide better congestion relief.

      • Phil

        How would separating the Yellow Line from the Green be more important than the M Street Tunnel (although I think it should run up NH to Dupont, across P to Logan, then down to Mt Vern, and then Mass to Union Station)? The capacity problem is far more severe at Rosslyn than anywhere else.

  • i have a bunch of issues with what is written here, but the overarching theme is most troublesome — it seems to be almost a sport — we have a building height limitation in downtown DC, so let’s see how many of the world’s alleged problems we can blame on that height limitation.

    with that in mind:

    1) at what point did ‘average DC office rents’ become higher than ‘average NYC office rents’? if it was ever true before, i’d be curious if it is still true now.

    2) why would this matter, one way or the other? i.e. why not choose Phoenix or SF or Chicago or Kansas City or Vancouver or any other town to compare to?

    3) is an ‘average’ number between DC and NYC at all meaningful? does population density matter? DC is 10,000. NYC is 27,000. Manhattan is 70,000. Staten Island’s is 8,000.

    4) are walking and biking not transportation options? i.e. are people only allowed to get around via motorized transport (buses, trains, cars, etc.)?

    5) is there any evidence that cities without height restrictions can have lower office space rental rates? i’ve only seen the opposite.

    there are other issues with this entire line of inquiry, but these are just a few quick things that jumped out at me.

    and, for the record, i don’t expect many folks to entertain these sorts of questions — an ideological attack on height limits has nothing to do with rental rates or anything else — height limits have to be banned because humans must obey the market — not vice-versa, even when the market doesn’t behave the way some hope and expect it would/should. height limit opponents operate on faith, not evidence.

    • Without commenting on the larger themes of your post; it’s worth noting that were there to be upzoning in downtown Washington, and buildings torn down and replaced with taller ones, that the same landlords would own the new buildings–it’s not likely you’d see a more competitive real estate market, at least not without a significant drop in demand.

      • The argument to drop the height ban isn’t in order to reduce rents in downtown DC – that’s the prime real estate, rents would remain high there, they could just occupy more leased space.

        The effect would be in reducing pressure on adjacent areas. Currently, areas adjacent to downtown are serving the same core downtown market, and paying the same rents (or very close to them). This is problematic because that area would otherwise take a much different development track. It would still be dense, it would still have office buildings, but it would likely have more residential (due to less pressure to attract the top dollar for office rents) and the offices it does have would be cheaper, thus providing space for new start up companies, etc. This is all important for the health of the city’s economy – a diversity of price points.

        The more competitive market would be adjacent to downtown, not in downtown.

        • Buckeyeman

          Maybe that height limit shouldn’t necessarily by removed but it might no hurt to perhaps modify or relax it to at least a limited degree.

        • Woody

          Start-ups? I thought that the entire supply of D.C. office space was taken by lawyers, lobbyists, trade association headquarters, and various offices of the military-industrial complex. It surprises me to think of actual, non-parasitic businesses from any other field trying to operate in that particular micro-climate. I would expect real businesses, and real start-ups, in Richmond or Baltimore or Bethesda or Alexandria or any where but D.C.

          And it boggles my mind that folks are eagerly searching for how to put forth an argument of a real public need to justify changing the rules to benefit those industries, at the expense of a historic skyline well over 100 years old.

          • Nathanael

            The MIC personnel and the lobbyists and the lawyers — they buy ordinary goods and services just like the rest of us. That’s a source for demand for “real” businesses in DC.

    • Peter, you’re confusing correlation with causation here. Supply restrictions cause prices to go up; that’s standard economics, unless you have a model that argues otherwise (and those could exist – see e.g. Krugman’s model about the California energy crisis). However, because of the ubiquity of zoning in the US, the default is to limit density; only in places where demand is very high is there the political will to allow taller buildings and less parking. This creates an illusion that repealing zoning restrictions increases rents, instead of decreasing them.

      Also… I like the way you’re inverting things. The default situation is to limit heights; to do otherwise would be to “ban height limits,” not to “allow people to build higher.”

    • “humans must obey the market” – I think this is where you sound a bit ideological yourself. Some people believe there are (in this case planning) goals that are more important than appealing to the anonymous market gods.

      • I think Peter was objecting to the libertarian position on things (the premise that “humans must obey the market”), not promoting it.

        And to that extent, I would agree with it. The whole belief that we should not pass laws which attempt to regulate or counteract market forces is like that we shouldn’t try and build aircraft because it “violates” the law of gravity. Obviously, market forces should be characterized and understood by policymakers, but there are legitimate policy objectives beyond mere non-interference.

        • And as well, “market forces” exist because of existing institutions which rest on previous actions of government, since “market forces” are just the normal reactions of people to events when they act through existing market institutions.

          Decrying the regulation of human behavior as “interfering” with something that only exists due to the regulation of human behavior is just a smoke screen for “we like what we get with this set of regulations and don’t like what someone else gets with that other set of regulations”.

          • Nathanael

            This cannot be overstated. For an undisputed example, the foreclosure fraud crisis is threatening the functioning of the entire real estate market — because the government rules about title are *the only reason a market exists*. If people stop trusting the government’s courts to give them a fair deal — which is happening in the rocket dockets in Florida where banks are being allowed to steal homes with no prof that they even hold the mortgage — the market will change into something quite different, one based entirely on “squatter’s rights”.

            Which might be an improvement though I don’t usually think so. But anyway, the point is that the market ONLY exists due to the government, and this is true of ANYTHING related to land use; without a social agreement, expressed through government, on land use, it degenerates to something much more basic than a market — the extreme example being “You aren’t at home today? It’s my house now.”

    • Alan Robinson

      To add to the list,

      Residential densification in downtown cores is not the result of insufficient transport capacity, and it is only mildly related to transportation speed. It is really a function of the connectivity and services that a dense residential core provide, and the high demand for such an environment. It’s really the same reason businesses want to locate in downtown cores.

  • Mike O

    I wonder how much more Metro capacity exists? I think there is more there. First of all, ten car trains and longer platforms are possible, and not prohibitively expensive.

    Second, Metro, like BART is adding more cars over the years. The old cars could be rebuilt as “commute time cars” – few seats, mostly standees, extra doors, etc. Since they would supplement the existing (new) fleet, they would only be used during commute. Car-hours would be low, since they would only run 8 hours a day, or so.

    Third, express trains, or A-B service (old Chicago) speeds up the system. Also, turn back trains make better use of cars. Turn back works best if you build infrastructure (tracks and platforms) but that can also be part of infill stations.

    Once a train reaches downtown, it becomes a “reverse commute” train. Then, these could skip stops, making it practical to, say, live near Silver Spring and work in Tysons Corner.

    And (expensive) triple tracking and RER-like tunnels under the existing system.

    • Ben

      Mike, Nat Bottigheimer from WMATA noted that if the Red Line is running all ten car trains, without, any problems or service issues, it can accommodate 22,000 pax/hr. Mr. Bottingheimer noted this is the equivalent capacity to having a ten lane highway down Connecticut Ave.

      One of the real issues and capacity constraints for WMATA is crowding at the transfer stations at peak hours. L’Enfant, Gallery Place, and Metro Center can become dangerously crowded during peak hours. WMATA is looking at creating a pedestrian passage from Farragut West to Farragut North, saving both travel time and relieving crowding at Metro Center.

      • Why 22,000? New York City Transit carries 33,000 on the busiest track pair, and the Paris RER carries 55,000. Are they assuming everyone should have a seat?

      • Ben, I think you mean 8 car trains (the Max allowable on Metro).

        Alon, they might be assuming everyone has a seat. Metro cars are arranged in more of a commuter rail seating configuration that doesn’t make good use of transverse seating and doesn’t maximize standing room.

        I’m not sure where that 22,000 pax per hour number comes from. Most Metro cars have about 68 seats, and WMATA has the standing capacity listed at 175 total per car. In reality, they can handle more, but that’s the listed max. 175*(8 cars)*26 tph gives a theoretical max capacity of ~36,500.

        Taking an 8 car train of just seated people gives a capacity of ~14,000 pax per hour.

        WMATA doesn’t currently have enough rolling stock to run all 8 car trains – current peak service is a mix of 8 and 6 car consists. Perhaps that accounts for the discrepancy.

        • The RER has commuter-style seating, too. On the single-level trains, it leads to severe overcrowding in the vestibules, and a lot of unused space in the narrow corridors between the seats. The trains are somewhat longer than on the Washington Metro and slightly narrower. (However, some rush hour trains on the busiest RER line are three-door bilevels with large vestibules; despite the high passenger density, those trains did not feel too crowded when I rode them at the peak hour.)

        • Nathanael

          I wonder if the passenger limit is actually set by one (or more) of the downtown stations, which have their own fire code limits on number of passengers.

          I know London’s Underground is restricted by station overcrowding.

  • sorry – forgot to add more figures and links.

    speed of rental rate recovery is not the same as rental rates:

    http://www.observer.com/2011/real-estate/more-second-best-ny-projected-behind-sf-office-rent-growth

    as best i can tell, DC office space rates are about $50/sq-ft. New York’s are about $100/sq-ft. not sure if these are ‘average for the entirety of each city’ or just ‘busy/downtown’ areas.

    my guess is that a couple of boutique-type commercial real estate firms ginned up this report, sold it to the WaPo, which intentionally misreported it, and free marketeers and self-described planner-types willingly used the falsified data to try to trash DC’s height limits.

    and, is there any evidence that the height restrictions caused or contributed to either increased DC office rents or the faster recovery of DC office rents?

    no.

    was increased DC office space rental rate recovery due primarily, potentially exclusively, to largess on the part of the federal government in expanded hiring?

    yes.

  • Patrick M

    This post adequately defines some of the key feedback loops that give you Houston or Portland, depending upon how you make decisions in a city.

    But I’d continue this exploration by tossing NYC from the discussion. It’s just the outlier of American places in so many ways.

    Re: walking and biking, I think Boston, which has a very high walk-to-work share, would make for an interesting comparison. In particular, some GIS analysis of both cities that could explain why the workforce in Boston is more likely to be able to walk to work than the DC workforce would be interesting.

    But in all the discussion of new rail lines and new office space, there is a software issue that is neglected among the hardware issues- that you could accommodate far more peds, bikes, and transit users at comparatively modest cost…as long as you’re willing to take road space from cars and give it to bikes, peds, and buses. Paris is there. DC is not.

  • Woody

    This post sort of blew past the possibility that height limits in our nation’s capital should be maintained for the same reason they were put in place long ago.

    I’m strongly opposed to having skyscrapers overshadowing the civic temples, palaces, and monuments of patriotic pride that give Washington its grand and unique look. Keep the height limits and deal with it.

    ———–

    I’m old enough to have seen the changes when the capital city of Texas (and my birthplace) lost its height limits. It used to be that coming from the south on Hwy 81, you’d crest a hill and before you was a modest skyline dominated by the Capitol and the University of Texas Tower in the distance. The highway led into Congress Avenue, a stately street that progressed uphill from the Colorado River to dead-end in front of the majestic red granite Capitol Building (a near replica of the white marble Capitol in D.C.). Mind you that Austin was planned, and the streets named, in that period when Texas was an independent country.

    First came an insurance company headquarters casting a shadow over the Capitol grounds, about as lovely as an 18-story grey-painted filing cabinet could possibly be.

    Soon to follow were several my-bank-is-bigger-than-your-bank boring looking office towers occupied by institutions that within a few short years had all been taken over by bigger banks out of Dallas and Houston (and then by bigger banks out of New York, Charlotte, etc.)

    By then old Hwy 81 had become Interstate 35, maybe 8 blocks to the east of the downtown core. From a new bridge and long elevated stretches, you could now see the growing skyline of downtown — but barely see the Capitol Building at all.

    Today more self-important office buildings, expensive hotels, and even condominium towers have joined Austin’s downtown. They now overshadow the once-majestic Congress Avenue that used to focus on the Capitol for its entire length, but now the Capitol can be seen in full only when you are right up on it. The result, gently put, is generally disappointing, however tall it may be. What had before been a dramatic, singular cityscape is today largely just another stretch of American ordinariness.

    The newest development in the city’s downtown is now a few blocks to either side of Congress Avenue, and a good distance from the extraordinary Capitol Building. But too late now to push back the commonplace commercial structures that were built years ago right next to very special and historic places of civic pride.

    I hope such a fate does not befall the beautiful low-rise city begun to the plans of Pierre L’Enfant.

    • Woody, thanks for this comment. I should have noted in the post that a perfectly legitimate argument to take in this discussion is that preserving the heights limit is too important from an aesthetic and historical perspective to allow higher buildings.

      I should say, though, that I think that if we are to take that side of the argument, we need to find significant ways to expand the core office market in other places, because there clearly is a high demand for it and there is significant merit in attempting to keep as much of the regional office market within the center cities as possible.

      One way to handle this problem would be to continue to allow (and encourage) high rises or at least higher densities in Metro-accessible places like Rosslyn and Bethesda and to create new such communities in currently underdeveloped areas like Anacostia, Prince George’s Plaza and of course in the District’s primary development areas like the McMillan Reservoir. If you cannot do so, you are basically encouraging the growth of office space elsewhere — in the exurbs, basically, which isn’t something we should be aiming for.

      Finally, there are significant areas outside the current Metro system but within the general regional core that could see significant upzoning and consequently absorb some of that growth. One example: I discussed the Route 7 and Columbia Pike Corridor, specifically, about a year ago.

      • Woody

        Yonah, I have no problem with what you suggested. I wouldn’t even have a big problem with a little Manhattan within D.C. itself — if it’s at least one mile from the monumental and historic core. And well served by transit linking it to the established city.

        In the case of Austin, I don’t have any problem with the current crop of towers near Lady Bird Lake (on the Colorado River through downtown), or closer to I-35.

        It should have been possible to greatly densify Austin’s downtown while (a) retaining a view corridor along Congress Avenue, limiting heights for about a block on either side, and (2) keeping 18-story grey filing cabinets at some decent remove from the capitol grounds.

        Today the look of our nation’s capital is different from any city in the world. Changing its core to high rise commercial scale could benefit downtown landowners and a few developers. But it would end up like the Christian makeover of the Moslem city of Cordova in Spain where a Gothic-style Cathedral was placed smack in the middle of the forest of arches and columns that comprised the Great Mosque. When the Emperor Charles V visited, he ruefully remarked, “You have destroyed something unique to make something commonplace”.

        • Scott Wood

          I’m a relative newcomer to Austin (about 6 years), so take my opinions on the matter as you will. :-)

          They did retain the view corridor on Congress Avenue, and over 20 others. Yes, it’s framed by taller buildings to the sides, but it’s still visible along Congress well south of the river.

          I support retaining the Congress Avenue corridor and maybe a couple others (e.g. a narrower version of the view from I-35 — you most certainly can still see the Capitol building from there), but currently I think they’re giving too much, not too little, deference to the Capitol building.

          Austin is both a capital and a growing city, and their needs must be balanced. There are few remaining places Downtown where a tall building could be built without having to work around some capital view corridor or another. Aesthetics are nice, and shouldn’t be discarded entirely, but they shouldn’t completely trump practicality. And suburban sprawl isn’t pretty. I’m glad Downtown lost its height limits, and wish more of central Austin would have the allowable density/height increased.

          I don’t think the Frost tower is “boring looking”, BTW.

          • AlexB

            I agree. The zoning map of austin is covered with view corridors that stretch all over the place and actually work. Maybe it’s not like it was 20 years ago, but the Capitol has hardly disappeared.

            • Woody

              Newcomers, It’s not like it was 50 years ago was my point. Apparently Austin’s view corridors were zoned in AFTER the damage was done and provoked a great hubbub (about the time I moved away).

              The swing of the pendulum, I guess. After a couple of mistakes, like allowing the 18-story grey filing cabinet looming on the west, the reaction was perhaps over-reaction. But an excess of view corridors today can’t protect a view long lost.

              That could be a risk in D.C., too. Change the rules to allow a skyscraper on that parking lot between Union Station and the Capitol. Before the grand opening for that new skyscraper, the laws would be changed to mandate view corridors reaching to the Mason-Dixon Line.

              Planners need to keep in mind there are limits to what changes the public will accept. In the highly sensitive case of D.C., the public having an opinion on the matter is more or less the entire population of the US.

              Glad Yonah is helping to widen the debate before bad decisions are made.

              • FG

                I just read an article about a new residential tower in Austin and the view corridors, requiring views from the building of the State Capitol, is this what you guys were referring to?

                Just as an FYI, DC’s height limits came about because of a 12/13 story apartment “tower” called The Cairo which people felt impinged upon the capital building.

      • Paris solved the same problem with La Defense, might a similar solution work in DC? (Or might certain parts of Alexandria or Arlington Counties already be starting to function as such?)

        • In both Paris and Washington, the development of a huge CBD west of the city created more problems than it solved – namely, creating geographic inequality between the poorer residential suburbs to the east and the favored quarter to the west.

      • Buckeyeman

        Yonah, I really like your idea o9f allowing and encouraging development in the Metro-accsseible areas you’ve mentioned. Having ridden Metro in 1980 and 1992, the areas I saw in Maryland and Virginia have always been suburbanization as it should be. I know that the DC area outside of town isn’t all that way but I still have always been impressed with what i’ve seen.

      • Michael Lewyn

        “Finally, there are significant areas outside the current Metro system but within the general regional core that could see significant upzoning and consequently absorb some of that growth.”

        You mean like Tysons Corner? Haven’t we been doing that for 50 years? Do we really want more of that?

    • jim

      I would be more sympathetic to preserving the view of civic temples if those temples hadn’t been transformed into little fortresses over the past decade. And it isn’t clear to me why the massive parking lot between the Capitol and Union Station is of greater aesthetic value than a tall building would be.

      • Ben

        Jim– you’re exactly right with this one. The surface parking lot next to the Capitol South metro station, behind the House office buildings also needs to go. The District loses significant property tax revenue from having it as a surface parking lot. With Congress allegedly being so concerned about the deficit, I’d hope they’d give serious consideration to selling this.

        • Buckeyeman

          Yes, Ben, I agree with you wholeheartedly with selling the land under that psrking lot you mentioned. Selling that and Uncle Sam’s shares in GM and Chrysler, if they have any in Chrysler, should reap the taxpayers quite a wad of cash and help our deficit at least some. Every last bit ought to help.

      • PeakVT

        I suspect the House and Senate imagine that there will be office buildings on those two lots in the not-so-distant future.

  • Ben

    I attended a very interesting discussion by Chris Leinberger (Brookings, U. of Michigan), sponsored by the U. of Michigan DC alumni club, of which my friend is the president, on Thursday. Mr. Leinberger said that within the next 15 years, the not only will all the land in the central business district of DC be developed but most of the remaining parcels in the downtown adjacent neighborhoods (Southeast Waterfront, L’Enfant, NoMa, etc…) will be developed as well (http://www.bayareavision.org/marketplace/MeetingMaterials/TODMKT2009-Keynote(Leinberger).pdf , Slide 26). Mr. Leinberger also noted that we have overbuilt the traditional auto-dependent suburbs, as this was largely the only type of development built from 1945 – 1990/95. He said there is now a huge pent-up demand for housing in walkable urban communities. Something like 70-80 percent of households in the next couple of decades will be childless (either the retired baby-boom generation or the Millenials who are delaying marriage and child-rearing). Another interesting point was that in 2000, a house in McLean or Great Falls, with some of the best schools in the country was selling for 25% more per square foot than a house in a walkable urban neighborhood in Dupont, with some of the worst schools in the country. By the end of the decade, the house in Dupont was selling for 75% more per square foot than the house in McLean (slide 15).

    Regarding this posting on the Transport Politic blog, Nat Bottigheimer from WMATA noted in his presentation to the Tenley Historical Society in October 2010 that peak period trips into the central business district of Washington on the Red Line will grow modestly because the downtown core is mostly built out. With the development of White Flint and North Bethesda, many of the new trips will be reverse commuting. The real capacity challenge for Metro rail is on the Orange and Blue lines, especially in Rosslyn, with the continued growth of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and more importantly, the massive redevelopment of Tysons from an edge city to a walkable urban area. Chris Leinberger called the Tysons transformation ‘the mother of all redevelopments,’ with perhaps as much as 100M square feet of new development. I’ve read elsewhere that this could very well be the largest development project outside of Dubai. A Greater Greater Washington post on the Tysons transformation said that it will have as much office space as Seattle when completed. I asked Mr. Leinberger to describe the scale of this, since most people can’t fathom how much development 100M square feet is. He said it will be roughly the equivalent of creating another Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

  • Joe

    My question is why has the discussion totally discounted the investment DC is making in the new streetcar system, which is not only adding capacity in the downtown core (by offering an alternative to the Metro for travel within central DC) but is expanding coverage of the DC rail system to areas without Metro. Surely the Streetcar corridors will become likely spots for new commercial areas and will allow DC, if it chooses, to make a measured increase in it’s density, without investing in a new Metro line into the CBD.

  • riggabyte

    Since when is the goal to “aid gentrification?” What’s the point of making arguments about the affordability of transit if the point is to force people out of their homes and offices with rising rent, and replace hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants with overpriced, overly manicured boutiques?

    • That’s a great question. Do you think eliminating the height limits will aid gentrification or reduce it?

      • riggabyte

        It’s a good question. I would guess that, on the whole, laxer height limits would reduce gentrification, because an increase in supply would lead to a reduce in prices. Even if the price of corner offices in the new skyscrapers were to increase, other areas in the older buildings, or in the central city just outside the CBD would decrease or stay the same. I’m very much in the tank with Jane Jacobs when she says that diversity of rents and incomes (and uses, and demographics and routes…) is essential for a city to function properly, and though gentrification is probably great for taxes and campaign contributions, it cripples diversity.

        I honestly don’t know what to do about it, though. I’m a strong believer in improving urban areas, as I’m sure we all are, but of course once that happens, the people with the money use it to live and work there. So though density on the whole seems that it would help, I’m far from certain and I’m interested to hear what you’d say about it.

        I would also consider urbanizing edge cities so that the cheaper land they are built on could prevent high-density office space with street life from being the sole province of downtown. This becomes particularly important as better urban policies make suburbs less and less desirable, and more and more the refuge of a working class that has difficulty affording the transportation costs of navigating the sprawl.

        What I’m reacting too–I hope not too strongly–is the line of yours that suggested that gentrification is of itself a major *goal* of transit and land use policy, when it should be viewed with ambivalence at best.

        • Point taken. I should say that while I did not endorse the gentrification, when we talk about replacing shorter buildings with taller ones and expanding the downtown business district, we’re basically advocating using the “highest and best use” strategy to determine land use, which means gentrification.

          Whether we should be using the “best use” strategy is another question.

          • FG

            Is expansion of the core or replacement of office buildings with larger ones actually gentrification per se?

          • riggabyte

            This is a very difficult issue, and I’m still figuring it out. We want economic growth, but we don’t want that growth to displace the people who are already there. “Highest and best use” clearly prioritizes the former at the expense of the latter, but what would be a more balanced policy look like? I know affordable housing policies would need to be a part of it, but gentrification is deeper than housing and in any case we’re talking about offices. It seems to me that the status quo would just lead to higher and higher rents.

            Anyone have a solution?

            • Adirondacker12800

              Higher and higher rents isn’t always the outcome. Some businesses will decide that the high rent in the CBD isn’t worth it and move out. Building all those office towers over in Virginia had an effect. It’s why there are office towers in Long Island City, Jersey City and to a lesser extent Newark, Stamford and White Plains.

              • riggabyte

                Then perhaps a solution would be some small increases in density downtown–with some restrictions to preserve sight lines, diversity of age in buildings, and classic architecture–and stronger relaxations on density in other, nearby areas, combined with some rules to encourage street life and urbanism. If necessary, as Yonah argues it is for DC, a better public transit network to cover the increased capacity. Or would this just increase rents across the board with nothing to for the lower-income tenants and business owners?

      • Something to keep in mind about high rise buildings and gentrification inside DC. The District of Columbia was designed to be and remain a special place that would reflect the greatest of American aspirations. Though I’m a fan of well-designed skyscraper clusters, I fail to see how 40-60 story buildings in DC would be aspirational. If anything they would be at odds with DC’s landscape design principles.

        Let us also remember than many school teachers, firemen, sanitation workers, security guards, postal workers, retail workers, and students live just outside the Federal District. Should we idly watch gentrification destroy their balance to the housing ecosystem in our nation’s capitol?

        I’m all for fixing up dumps and replacing ill-conceived crappy public housing, but there has to smart progress that also benefits the working poor/lower middleclass who supported DC before it became “hot property” to gentrify and want to continue living in DC.

        In other words, like San Francisco, DC needs a law requiring ~20% of new housing projects to offer sub-market rates. I’m sure that SF approach has its issues, but overall and in the long term, I’m equally sure its best for SF and DC.

  • astonvillan

    I think that the height limit is something integral to the city and as a lifelong Washingtonian I don’t think that removing it should be on the table nor will it be mst likely even if it was beneficial to our city because of the feds and city council. I think that majority of the capacity problems can be solved by the blue line split (although the addition of the silver line may not counteract some of the benefits) and a separate yellow line downtown to relieve crowding on the green line. these two steps (major projects) along with the new streetcar system, I believe, will be adequate (although certainly not all that I would hope for) in terms of rail transit in the city. I also think that an expanded downtown into areas such as Van Ness wouldn’t be a bad thing and do a lot to distribute future development and transit ridership more evenly to get the maximum out of our existing resources. The Glenmont end on the red line could also handle additional passengers I believe (not between Union station and the core however.) Anyway separation of lines and development around underutilized stations will hopefully solve some issues although walking to work may not be encouraged if much of this happens.

  • Jake

    I’m a bit confused. Do you consider it a bad thing that places like Chicago’s West and South Loop are starting to build more residential rather than business towers?

    Is it necessarily such a bad thing that more people would be/are living in the downtown area? I think one of the worst parts of American CBD’s (notable exceptions, of course) is the fact that after 6pm on weekday evenings, it’s dead. I lived in DC for about a year and while it got considerably better in some parts about having people out on the streets outside of the workday, there were certainly other times where it was dead comparatively to what you’d expect from a big metropolis like DC.

    Just curious.

    Jake

    • Not at all! I’m just suggesting that this would be a consequence of a failure to expand transportation capacity into the core. If anything, this may be an argument to both increase height limits and limit transportation capacity. This discussion really is about whether we think it’s more of a priority to expand the downtown’s role as the region’s primary business district, or whether we want it to be a diverse, mixed-used place. In the abstract, I’d pick the latter choice, but that brings some negative results, such as increasing office sprawl — which likely increases residential sprawl.

      • But one can use transit to promote the development of the non-downtown office space around non-downtown activity centers. In essence, creating a poly-central metropolitan area.

        That’s one of the things Paris appears to be doing with their Ring lines.

      • FG

        Do you really need height to gain density? I’m not sure that one fully demands the other – more efficient use of space could make up for height in many case to increase density.

        I’m not sure sure about the west and south loop argument, since those have never historically been office areas, but manufacturing or even red light districts (the levee at the edge of the south loop for instance). American downtowns used to be 24 hour spaces, not through residential use specifically, but through entertainment and business uses easily accessible through transportation networks.

        • In downtown DC, yes, you do need to gain height to increase density. All of the buildings are essentially built to the maximum height allowed, and they include more-or-less 100% lot occupancy.

          • FG

            Not necessarily – it might be possible to design the buildings more efficiently, lowering ceiling heights (floor to floor specifically), less space per individual office, etc to keep within the proscribed building envelope and meet both zoning and building codes. I see lots of inefficiencies in office building planning which could be changed to gain more occupant capacity.

            • I’m telling you, DC’s office floor-to-ceiling heights are already quite low. Developers would much rather have them higher, since tenants like that – but the height limit does not allow for that when it would mean losing one whole floor of office space.

              Trust me, DC’s development community has value engineered this stuff to death.

              You’re still running into massive economic inefficiencies and hidden costs, however. How are you going to lease prime office space in the core of the city when that space is actually inferior to space outside of the city?

              We want downtown to be dense. That’s what downtowns are, that’s what they’re good at. Laws like the height act do not help.

              • FG

                But they are still leasing aren’t they? It’s more important to be close to the government than to have great or cheap office space. That’s why back offices have historically been sent out to the suburbs (interestingly, downtown St. Louis is now attracting data centers to it’s historic core, in both former office and manufacturing buildings) but executives and professionals stay downtown. I should also point out that many large offices that moved to the suburbs can be traced to the desire of their decision makers for a short commute – see the office parks in the North Shore in Chicago, for instance. I think the whole argument about creating a vertical downtown by removing height limits rather than a more “spread” one is rather weak – I think someone else mentioned capacity issues at individual stations as one of these. And an esoteric question, what is more aesthetically pleasing? Manhattan or DC? Are the streets pleasant, do they get sunlight, are they in shade?

              • Adirondacker12800

                And an esoteric question, what is more aesthetically pleasing? Manhattan or DC?

                A highly subjective one. Times Square has it charms. So does sitting on a mountain top with no one around.

              • I think the whole argument about creating a vertical downtown by removing height limits rather than a more “spread” one is rather weak – I think someone else mentioned capacity issues at individual stations as one of these.

                Station capacity issues are easily solved with minor improvements – stairs, faregates, etc.

                This isn’t an argument about which one is ‘better’ – spread or vertical, this is about the costs of that spread orientation.

                As Ryan Avent notes – once you get to a very dense area, transportation beyond walking isn’t necessary at all: http://www.ryanavent.com/blog/?p=2376

                There are also costs to this kind of spread downtown. Location, location, location. Office space at the core of downtown isn’t easily substituted by office space spread someplace else, far away. That form is a hidden cost on all activity within the District.

  • DBX

    And here’s why Chicago — for its own economic development and for the sake of having more jobs close into the city — needs to focus its attention in the abject condition of its rail network within the city limits. Having Metra connect properly to the CTA rail system; capacity expansion projects such as making the Red Line a subway on the north side; once again using the former Illinois Central Metra Electric infrastructure at the immense capacity for which it was designed — these are the projects the city needs. I’m honestly skeptical about the current attention on extending transit lines farther out from the core; the core system has to work, and currently it really doesn’t.

    The Red Line extension is a case in point. Restoring service levels on Metra Electric to 1950 standards (once every ten minutes off peak) and integrating it with the CTA for fare purposes would be a relatively modest expenditure and a huge economic boon to downtown and the south side of the city. And yet the priority seems to be to spend $1.5 billion on connecting the far south side into the already decayed Red Line. It makes no sense — even though in the end both projects will be necessary as the price of oil spikes ever upward.

    • david vartanoff

      Indeed exploiting what is already built should be a higher priority. The Gray Line call for Metra Electric to be fare integrated w/CYA is so spot on. Double tracking South Shore from Kensington to Hegewisch with a station at Bishop Ford, serves the “market” of the Red Line extension at a fraction of the cost. Restoring previous in-town stations on other Metra routes in tandem w/CTA for transfer. uses the infrastructure we already have.
      The major defect today is the lack of connectivity.

      • FG

        The South Shore is already double-tracked all the way to the Dunes. The CTA expansion is to serve Roseland – a station way over on the expressway won’t improve transit access much to the west.

        I’m not holding my breath for the gray line – it’s really a half-baked proposal which doesn’t really take the suburban commuters who use the line into account. I suspect most of the current riders would be upset about the CTA running the line. More fare integration would good, but it should apply to ALL Metra lines, not just one.

        • david vartanoff

          @FG South Shore IS single track across the CN(IC) freight/pass mains at Kensington, a source of delay which would be more critical if frequent headway trains to Hegewisch were implemented. As to the Gray Line, the proposal explicitly speaks of continued Metra staffing/mgmt, merely CTA fare integration and increased frequency within the city. As a former commuter from Bryn Mawr, I know there is plenty of capacity for restoring 1950s era headways. As M Electric already has (albeit clunky) electronic fare control, changing out the machines to accept CTA instruments is trivial. Most M Electric stations are at streets w/CTA crosstown bus routes–that’s the point.

          • FG

            Excuse me WHAT? Electronic fare control???????? I’m a current (and lifelong rider) Metra Electric commuter and I can emphatically state that the stations have NOT had the turnstyles for over ten years now (OK, I’m exaggerating there, 8 years). And even for the 20 years before they got rid of it tickets were ALWAYS checked onboard by conductors anyways. And the problem is that the proposals don’t seem to address whether or not the suburban service would have faregates or not – it would be awful to go back to that system – it was a huge hassle when boarding the SS outside of downtown. The gray line calls for using the middle tracks, which would mean a need for THREE platforms at shared stations – one island platform for “Gray Line” service and then a side platform each for north and south bound suburban services. HUGE costs since the viaducts would have to have major changes, as well as staffed stations, as well as probably quadrupling the onboard train crews.

            Increasing the daytime and evening frequency would be great – it might increase ridership (though iffy, the weekend trains are ghost towns during the day, despite fare parity with the CTA on the SC branch and up to 79th on the main line). The south side is very car oriented except for getting downtown.

            Sorry to rant, the whole proposal just irks me no end.

        • Nathanael

          Metra Electric is Quad-tracked all the way to Kensington. It’s trivial to run subway-frequency services on the local tracks and suburban services on the express tracks.

  • PeakVT

    In the abstract, I favor a height limitation. In my experience, I find the character of height-limited cities that I have visited (Paris, London, DC, others) much more enjoyable than non-limited cities (Chicago, New York, Miami). While there is an certain economic logic to allowing something like Manhattan to evolve, I don’t believe economics should be the sole driving force for anything, including the urban environment. For example (perhaps the ultimate example), the destruction of Penn Station to allow for the construction of Madison Square Garden certainly put that bit of land to a “higher” economic use. But the downside is that hundreds of thousands of people suffer through the miserable experience of the current station every single day.

    OTOH, there are height limits and there are height limits. What I have seen of this discussion as it has raged on across several blogs has been entirely non-specific about both current and future heights, and at what locations. So I put together a map of allowable heights under the current zoning law using a free GIS program and data from the DC Government. A screenshot of “downtown” is here, and a broader view is here. The legend can be seen on the left. I didn’t included the specific zoning, except that R1A/B and R2 (all three are single-family detached and semi-detached only) are entered as 39 and 41 feet respectively.

    What the map tells me is that if “downtown” is forever defined as roughly between Rock Creek, Mass. Ave., Union Station, and the Federal bits, then there really is not much place to go other than up. But it looks to me like there is a significant area or areas where the maximum height could be raised without removing an overall height limit for the city. Even within the borders above, the limit could be raised from 90 to 110ft over half of the area. Beyond that, I don’t see why a 90ft limit (or maybe 110 ft with 4 floors of housing) shouldn’t be allowed, block by block, to march on forever.

    I haven’t followed the development debate in DC since I moved away from the area, so there may be good reasons why the limits are what they are, where they are. But just from looking at the zoning, the District appears to be attempting to preserve some relatively low density areas very close in, and I see no reason why that should be so.

  • This suggests lifting the height limits contingent on an increase in transport capacity ~ which if turned around suggests funding all or part of the increase in transport capacity through the incremental increase in property due to the increase in the height limit allowed by that increase in transport capacity.

    In other words, a transport-easement version of tax increment financing.

  • Ted King

    Is there is a counterpart to the height limit – to wit an official depth limit ? I know that parts of Wash., D.C. were swampland and so the basements in those areas would tend to be damp. But what about moving computer equipment and files into the drier basements ? I’ve heard that half or more of the Pentagon’s floor space is underground. So if you have ten floors above ground why not have three or four more floors below ground ?

    • jim

      Actually, not much of the Pentagon is underground. The basements are all on the periphery of the building, under the VIP parking lots. There aren’t wide enough gaps between the columns holding the building up to use the space under the actual building for more than storage.

  • jim

    I think that in the case of DC, “we sometimes make an assumption that the transport network will be able to handle whatever is thrown at it” because the existing transit network is still fairly cheaply expandable. Current peak demand for Metrorail into the core (Dupont, Mt. Vernon Sq., Union Station, Eastern Market, L’Enfant Plaza, the Potomac being the crossing points) is 74 Kpax/hr. Using the existing infrastructure, running as many eight car trains as possible — buying additional cars and hiring additional operators — assuming 100 pax/car, the system could bring 113.6 Kpax/hr into the core. MARC, the Maryland commuter rail, has (unfunded) plans to quadruple capacity by adding tracks to existing RoW and buying additional trainsets (and hiring more operators). VRE, the Virginia commuter rail, doesn’t have any formal plans that I know of, but could do something similar, probably more cheaply, at least on the Manassas line. And someone above mentioned DDOT’s streetcar plans.

    In this particular case, transportation is the easy part. Land use is the hard part. So people push on land use.

  • AlexB

    Is the transit capacity of Chicago really at capacity? I thought that besides the lines serving the north side, most lines were below their historic levels. Please explain.

    I think this post presents a false choice. The maximum floor area in the CBD of DC is defined by its geographic size and the height limit. You can increase the floor area by increasing the maximum height OR increasing the size of the CBD’s footprint. Why can’t it continue to spread outwards, to the north, east, southeast, over the Patomac to Virginia, etc? Of course, this would need a better metro to get better access to these adjacent areas, and it would displace residential development. This is a part of a city’s growing pains, unfortunately.

    I don’t entirely buy Alon’s argument that building La Defense type of business district outside the CBD is necessarily bad for the poor. If the problem is access for people without a car to new jobs, it’s the government’s job to provide that access, and for everybody, not just the poor. This would be a problem for any new development that isn’t immediately planned with new transit options. This is the problem of urban planning in general: where do we put all the new people and jobs given our existing land use and transportation infrastructure?

    Creating an outlying business district is already what’s happened at Tyson’s corner, right? I’ve never been to Tyson’s Corner and I don’t imagine it’s an urban planning masterpiece, but it does serve to distribute jobs around the region. I never heard anyone call Tyson’s Corner racist because it was built far from DC’s poor, even though it was planned much more poorly than La Defense. Having just one business district is not good for a large city. Such a set up requires too much transit capacity in/out and provides none for what would be circumferential travel. After a certain point, it’s just inefficient. We need to stop thinking in terms of hub and spokes and more in terms of constellations. American cities have been multi-nodal for decades now.

    • It was not racist to build Tyson’s Corner. The east-west dynamic in Washington was not pre-planned; it just happened that black middle-class suburbanization proceeded from the ghetto to the least favored quarter, which was located the least conveniently for access to the new edge cities.

      It’s very difficult for a government to successfully plan these things ahead of time. Paris needs to sink tens of billions into remedying its own east-west dynamic, and that’s a city where a fully underground line costs not much more than an above-ground line in Washington. The alternative is to bring development to the ill-favored quarter; this so far hasn’t happened – upscale chains tend to avoid PG County, sometimes due to naked racism and sometimes because it’s a less profitable location than Fairfax.

    • FG

      Is the transit capacity of Chicago really at capacity? I thought that besides the lines serving the north side, most lines were below their historic levels. Please explain.

      NO. Short Answer. There’s plenty of room for shorter headways on the busiest lines.

      • simple

        It’s not quite that simple, FG. There is in most cases plenty of line capacity, but the CTA rail network requires many of the lines to share the same two tracks (and two level junctions) in the Loop, which does pose a significant peak capacity constraint at the downtown terminal. Then there are capacity constraints of Clark Jct, and at the Howard and 95th Red Line terminals. There are potential higher capacity ways to operate the loop, with reconfigured pairing of lines, but improving throughput at Clark Jct and the Red Line is not so easily done. So saying “there’s plenty of room for shorter headways on the busiest lines” in Chicago is an overstatement.

        • FG

          The red and blue lines, which are the busiest lines have plenty of room for expansion – frequency of trains is still less than it was a few years ago. The lines on the loop aren’t the busiest lines. I don’t really think terminal capacity is an issue when trains on out of the terminal.

          • Nathanael

            The Red Line is capacity-limited on the north side. The Loop lines are capacity-limited in the Loop.

            The Blue Line is not capacity limited.

            Metra Electric and most of the Metra lines are very far from capacity-limited; Metra Electric runs less intensive service than the IC did in the 1950s. Hence the repeated push for a “Grey Line”.

            • FG

              So you’re telling me that the red line is at capacity despite reduced train frequency from like ten years ago? The headways have been reduced several times (there were a few stealth service cuts about five years ago) which is why I have trouble believing that.

              • simple

                AM southbound peak hour on the Red Line currently sees 16 trains, after last year’s service cuts (and these trains are typically operating over the loading standard at the peak load point, between Clark/Division and Chicago Ave). I do not recall a CTA schedule in the past 5-10 years that has had more than 18-19tph SB in the AM peak. Happy to see the link if you can find or scan one that has more than that much service. It would be quite difficult / increasingly unreliable to push much more than 20 Red tph through Howard and/or Clark Jct given current track configurations and interactions with the Yellow, Purple, and Brown trains.

            • david vartanoff

              CTA’s Red Line called North South Thru Route service was 24 TPH in the 50′s. While the Yellow line didn’t exist, full North Shore service did meaning multiple runs per hour through to the Loop and south to Roosevelt Road. There was a time when the junction @ Lake & Wells was said to be the busiest on the planet.

          • simple

            I guess it depends on what your definition of “plenty” is.

  • Michael

    I find this post interesting because I feel the question whether or not to expand downtown is happening in New Orleans. Although presently there is room to expand in our downtown one has to ask themselves for how long as the downriver (the faubourgs) and the upriver (garden district) are historical neighborhoods and therefore protected. Currently there is a new “biodistrict” that is expanding the downtown core into Mid City (which is lakeside of downtown). New Orleans is on the eve of a mini boom with the new streetcar lines and medical districts being built and one has to wonder how the city will handle that in the midst of so much historically protected land.

    In this link you can see an examples of the state and the city site plans and their conflicting natures. I think very soon we will be asking ourselves in NOLA some of these very same questions.

    http://media.nola.com/politics/photo/hospital081410jpg-eeab5a46914886d7.jpg

  • Mike O

    I hear what you are saying about capacity. One way to improve capacity at crowded stations is to build platforms on both sides.

    If transfers are a huge part of the problem, why not bore a couple of tunnels and have trains that travel on multiple lines. You would only do this at commute times, but this would reduce the number of transfers on the crowded platforms.

  • Drewski

    DC already expanded inside the District–to L’Enfant and Navy Yard. There’s still plenty of room. If you expand the concept of “core” into Anacostia, you can use existing underutilized land and create a new concept of urban spine. DC’s streetcar plans definitely include Anacostia, and densification in this area can be done with maximum profit and minimum loss or inconvenience to people already in the area.

    It took forever to get the Green Line extended out to Anacostia. Densification in Anacostia can not only take advantage of the existing Metro, and the existing streetcar plans, but can also better justify a vaguely-considered light rail line out to deep Charles County MD.

    There’s another advantage to this concept. Anacostia has an existing rail r/w, which is planned for use by a streetcar line. It could also be an extension of the Purple Line, which would allow a high-frequency, high-quality orbital connection to Prince Georges in general, plus UM and the Purple mainline (in Montgomery) in particular. Virginia will not have the money to bring the line across the Potomac, but it will very likely be willing to pay for buses across the 495 bridge to a (provisional) terminal in Anacostia. In turn, even Virginia will be likely to pay for its share of a connection between Alexandria and Anacostia. It benefits all three parties, and a connection from Virginia via Anacostia allows fuller use of the Metro’s capacity. This is functionally similar to the approach in Paris.

  • drj

    To much height would make the place dark caverns. Light comes in now an feeds the trees and people, while providing valuable sunlight for heating green buildings. I would not dismiss the height restriction.

  • This conversation is painfully useless. Why? Because conservatives in Congress would never permit wealth creation that would help make the DC public school system competitive the best of their states’, or even with suburban schools in the region. If anything, conservatives would destroy the US Department of Education and stop the billions of dollars transferred from wealthy liberal states to poor conservative states. How do conservatives in Congress control DC? Because Congress abolished all State and Federal legislative elections and offices with out replacement, for Maryland citizens converted into disenfranchised 2nd class citizens, aka DC Citizens, during the 6th Congress. US Reps. Thomas (MD-2) and Craik (MD-3) weren’t just fired in 6th Congress, their offices were abolished for all future DC citizens. DC Citizens have no final say over their own city.

    Congress could end 2nd class citizenship and make DC a full State by removing the simple 1801 law defining that Congress would use the US Constitution’s Federal District privilege, and where that would be. Instead of a disenfranchising autocratic Congress controlling the District’s future, Congress could use the same portion of the Constitution for exclusive jurisdiction of military bases and Federal Offices, such as the US Pentagon, for managing Federal buildings such as the White House and Congress, and similar, but not disenfranchise the homes and streets of 600,000+ DC citizens. The same law striking down the 1801 law, could convert the new ordinary territory of DC into full State with 600,000 people, so that no Federal Taxes are lost, with a state larger in population than Wyoming, and almost as big as Vermont’s population. This would restore legislative elections and restore “Advice and Consent” in the appointment of judges over DC citizens, both ended in the 6th Congress.

    If DC were as populated as during 1950 US Census, 800,000 pop, it would be bigger than (or as big as) either Dakota, and Alaska. If DC was WWII sized again, >900,000 pop, it would be bigger than Delaware. If DC were as densely populated as Manhattan, it would be 6 times larger population than today, or 3.6 million people, ahead of Connecticut (29th largest pop) and Oklahoma (28th largest pop).

    Conservatives in Congress who control DC by disenfranchising the >600,000 citizens would not permit DC to grow like other efficient liberal cities such as New York City. DC maximum building height is roughly 14 stories tall or 160 feet tall. The Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. NYC has over 100 building (and growing) over 600 ft tall. The Washington Monument, like the Statue of Liberty, would not get mentioned in NYC as tall building.

  • If DC had standard US voting rights what should DC do? Skyline!

    See my Skyline metro line proposal map (cyan color), and skyscraper zones (pink) to build DC employment markets. This website rejects links! Sorry about that.

    All my maps
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65540798@N08/

    Regional map of my proposed Skyline (Cyan blue) line map
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65540798@N08/6603236315/in/photostream/

    Downtown map of my proposed Skyline (Cyan blue) line map and (pink here) skyscraper zones
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/65540798@N08/6603236089/in/photostream/

    Skyscrapers and rail is the best way to improve opportunity, by maximizing the number of people who can reach a downtown marketplace at rush hour at a minimal costs (in time and energy per trip), which creates faster growth, which has repeatedly created massive wealth. That wealth would support Public Schools, such as UDC which is considered to much weaker than most similar schools. Opportunity also suggests jobs, mostly jobs for people with education. I suggest Skyline Metro line (cyan blue on map linked here) to maximize access to downtown from North West DC areas not properly served by Metro, connecting them to best existing labor markets.

    Considerable care is required to place and shape skyscrapers for long term pleasant growth and access to sun light for neighbors. See Hugh Ferris image linked below. Skyscrapers aren’t usually torn down, so building one full height tower, e.g. 80 stories, is better than two half height towers, e.g. two 40 story buildings.

    In 1811, the New York State Legislature passed a law for gridded streets in NYC, the Commissioner’s plan, by copying the DC street grid built for the 1801 arrival of Congress in DC. Effective urban density creates very valuable opportunities, which creates faster growth, which repeatedly creates real wealth. The street grid and row houses help focus a region on its markets. Rail and skyscrapers are next.

    Four burrows of NYC are more than 320 miles by rail from NY Harbor. NY Harbor is not SuezMax 66 feet deep, only recently deepened to 50 feet deep. The NY Barge Canal (the updated Erie Canal) is basically closed to commercial traffic. The direct barge route from NYC to Montreal was never unified, so is not a substitute for NY Barge Canal for keeping grain prices low in NYC. Barge traffic up the Hudson and along Connecticut is small these years.

    All NYC has its voting rights, walkable gridded street, subways and commuter rail, and skyscrapers, and that keeps it growing to this day. Even after 9/11 NYC is building many very impressive tall towers. DC does not have the voting rights, preventing the NYC style growth.

    Population density of DC was 10,065/sq.mi in 2011, and Manhattan 66,940.1/sq.mi, in 2000 US Census. If DC were 6.7 times larger in population, equaling Manhattan’s density, it would be 4 million people.

    • If 4 Million people in DC proper, is the maximum upper bound with Manhattan population density, that is more people then Oregon’s 3.9 million population, currently the 27th largest state in the US.

      The Washington Metropolitan Area (a US Census Region for much of Northern Virginia, DC, South West Maryland, and eastern West Virginia, is already about 5.5 million people in the 2010 US Census.

      Growing from 600,000 back to 1950 US Census 800,000 or WWII Federal Reserve pop of 900,000, would require planning and investment. Getting to Brooklyn density of 3.6 times the current DC density, would mean a population of 2.16 Million people in DC, or slightly more than half the density of Manhattan, which would make DC 4 million instead.

      A Brooklyn density DC population of 2.16 Million would make DC larger in population than New Mexico, the 36th largest population state.

  • Nathaniel P.

    It is interesting to me, that even a year later, actually more than 1 year later, my concerns about vehemently opposed political conservatives and foot dragging liberals in the US Congress, not letting 600,000+ DC citizens build up its downtown marketplaces with proven urban density, and rail mass transit, has not had a single reply from anyone. Is it that list website is like the nation, where 82% of Americans don’t know that DC is disenfranchised?

    How many Americans even understand that public policy to minimize time and energy per trip or transaction through highly effective urban planning, terraforming flat streets, maximizing useful and walkable urban density, with separated and dedicated tunnels for subways, as well as literal and metaphorical bridge building, is even more important than temporary tax cuts? Once the land and excavating costs of key transportation corridors are paid off those investments last forever. These investments create a feedback loop, creating greater opportunity, therefore faster growth, which compounds, creating massive wealth.

    Congress needs to let DC rejoin the Union, therefore reestablishing its 19th Century voting rights, so DC can grow its downtown and economy, and therefore fund its public schools, to catch up with the 21st Century.

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