Recently: instant neighborhoods, unmasking institutional capital, dockless bikeshares compared

Cranes around Navy Yard, from roof of 100 M SE

Three things I’ve written elsewhere this week, the first two inspired by the mechanics of my neighborhood’s growth:

1. “Instant neighborhoods” don’t make for great cities, but DC insists on them in GGWash. I really do relish living in a neighborhood that’s growing and changing quickly, but it’s a little bit unnerving to think that we may be repeating the biggest mistake of Southwest’s past — the hubristic assumption that our best-laid urban plans can anticipate every need, for all time.

2. Meet the everyday people who own these iconic Washington-area buildings in  GGWash. Amidst a lot of dark insinuations about outside money, it’s kind of funny to uncover the rather more quotidian reality of who’s paying for all these new buildings.

3. I wrote a Twitter thread about riding all four of the new, dock-less bike sharing systems that have launched in DC this past week. Click through for the reviews:

 

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What to memorize before you’re in a crash

Crash report

I was injured in a hit-and-run crash last year, and unlike so many others, the driver is being brought to justice. (I recently talked to a prosecutor about the case.) Here’s what I’ve learned to do: shout out the license plate number. Then repeat it, even louder. Get in the habit of doing this whenever you see bad driving, and certainly do this instead of cussing. You will need to make this so habitual that it becomes instinct — at the moment it happens, you will not be able to think clearly.

What happened to me: I was on a short summer vacation to Toronto. On a whim, I decided to take the bus to the nearby city of Hamilton, just to see something different. (Oh, it’s different, all right.) As I was crossing Main at James, with the light, I noticed a left-turning car proceeding through the intersection — clear of traffic, but not yet clear of me. I had a stomach-dropping realization of “uh, that car is going to intersect with my leg” a moment before the car’s bumper grazed my ankle.

I pivoted and began shouting out the license number repeatedly. This (a) helped me remember it when I had a chance to get to the corner and write it down, for recitation to 911, (b) alerted the driver that yes, someone had noticed, and most importantly (c) caught the attention of a witness, who was thinking clearly.

A witness who was a block away ran back towards me just afterwards, told me that the motorist had turned right, offered a description of the car complete with a correct license plate number [I was off by one], and offered to look in that direction for the car. He found the car two blocks away, parked in a parking lot, confronted the driver, and told him that he needed to return to the scene — which he did. (Like a good Canadian, this witness apologized profusely on behalf of Hamilton, and while we were waiting for the police talked about his hockey league.)

Everything else about the sequence of events was relatively easy to recall when on the phone with 911, and later when filing the police report. But without the license plate number, there’s no way that I could have even begun the process.

All of the above is also good advice, but only after you’ve correctly remembered the license plate number.

Friday photo: a room with a view

C&O Lockhouse 22: your very own waterfall (well, waste weir)

Click for video

The C&O Canal’s Lockhouse 22 made a great destination for a Thanksgiving-holiday S24O. Not only is it an easy 40-mile roundtrip from Georgetown along the easy towpath, but Pennyfield Lock is situated on a secluded stretch of the river, surrounded by protected lands on both sides of the river — Blockhouse Point Park, the Dierssen waterfowl sanctuary, and NoVa’s Seneca Park.C&O Lockhouse 22, Travilah/Tobytown, MD

Not mentioned among Lockhouse 22’s amenities was that running water surrounds this lockhouse. Mike High’s book notes that Pennyfield has a “waste weir” that directs canal overflows into the Potomac just upstream of the lock; since this is the first lock below Seneca, where the downstream reach of the canal is watered, there’s usually a good flow across the weir. There’s also a bypass flume just inland from the canal, which also burbled with water headed for a small, stream-fed pool just below the lock.

By contrast, the closer-in Canal Quarters lockhouses (#6 and #10) might have electricity but are surrounded by traffic (Clara Barton Parkway) rather than water. Lockhouse #25 is just a few miles up, but looks out at the Lansdowne golf course rather than parkland. At mile 49, #28 pushes the boundaries of a weekend trip and sits next to busy railroad tracks, and #49 looks grand but is way out west.

Yes, the cabin was chilly — the thick stone walls keep the interior cave-like year-round — and a bit spooky at night, especially when light reflected off the rising moon suddenly appeared. The firewood had been scattered about the woods by vandals, but fallen wood was plentiful. Since it was winter, the water pumps are locked and we had to pack in a couple of bottles of water. At $100 a night, it would make a superb rustic getaway for a small group.

Friday photo: Canopy street

image

America’s federal government (unlike governments elsewhere) has historically frowned upon continuous canopies of roadside trees — or, indeed, any roadside trees at all. After all, anything that distracts drivers from the task of racking up lots of miles, at high speeds, is simply inadmissable.

Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to find these few hundred linear feet of bucolic bliss lining a federally maintained road just a few miles from the Beltway. Of course, this road is within the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, and the USDA is probably friendlier to (cultivated) trees than its counterparts in other agencies.

Oops, NPS accidentally fixed the Peters Point trail crossing

Rock Creek trail crossing at Peters Point

Peters Point, which I earlier called the worst trail junction in town, was miraculously fixed for a few days.

All it took was a resurfacing project that sent cars around the useless little loop. Since the drivers were forced to slow down and pay attention, they were much more likely to notice the crosswalk and yield to pedestrians. That’s even though the temporary crosswalk was more difficult to see, and a set of warning signs were taken away.

Now that the main roadway resurfacing is complete, though, everything’s back to “normal” now. The really sharply angled ramp has been regraded, and perhaps the crosswalk will be restriped with a ladder rather than two thin lines, but I don’t expect to see compliance to ever again be quite as high.

Not that the deadly and criminal behavior by car drivers stopped, of course. This guy illegally blew through the crosswalk without stopping, slowing, or even bothering to look for the cross traffic that was inches away.

Rock Creek trail crossing at Peters Point

A few possible bike + train itineraries via Amtrak’s Capitol Limited

Harper's Ferry in October

The Capitol Limited rolls into Harpers Ferry, W.V.

The launch of roll-on/roll-off bicycle service on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited makes it much easier for bicyclists to travel the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O canal towpath. Although the train’s mileage is very similar to the trail’s, a look at the mileage charts will still come in handy when planning an expedition.

For instance, one could complete the trip over two (slightly ambitious) or three (light) weekends, rather than blocking off an entire workweek and hoping for no rain. Starting from DC, this might look like:

Capitol Limited schedule

Capitol Limited, 2015 schedule

C&O Friday
4 PM: Amtrak from DC to Cumberland; overnight. (The late departure makes it possible to get most of a workday in.)
C&O Saturday
Bike 85 miles from Cumberland to Williamsport
C&O Sunday
Bike 68 miles from Williamsport to Reston; Silver Line back

GAP Thursday
4 PM: Amtrak from DC to Pittsburgh; overnight
GAP Friday
Bike 76 miles from Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle
GAP Saturday
Bike 75 miles from Ohiopyle to Cumberland
GAP Sunday
9 AM: Amtrak from Cumberland to DC

The trip’s even easier starting from Pittsburgh, since you can roll off the early-morning Capitol Limited and have a full day of bicycling ahead. Here’s an easy-pace three-weekend schedule, involving just one weekday:

GAP (Part 1) Saturday
5 AM: Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Connellsville
Bike back to Pittsburgh (downhill)

GAP (Part 2) Saturday
5 AM: Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Connellsville
Bike 44 miles to Rockwood
GAP (Part 2) Sunday
Bike 45 miles from Rockwood to Cumberland (mostly a fantastic downhill)
7 PM: Amtrak from Cumberland to Pittsburgh

C&O Friday
5 AM: Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, arrive 9:31 AM
Bike 60 miles to Hancock
C&O Saturday
Bike 65 miles to Harpers Ferry
C&O Sunday
Bike 59 miles to Washington DC
4 PM: Amtrak from DC to Pittsburgh

For Washingtonians, Harpers Ferry is also a gateway to a great many weekend road rides in the western hills. Begin with the 4PM ride out on a Friday, and an overnight in the old town. The next day, choose between several loop routes near Harpers Ferry, like around Antietam or South Mountain. After one more overnight (no need to carry everything), take the train back the following morning.

Or take the train out on a Friday evening and begin riding back east along the C&O, perhaps spending a night at a trailside campsite or a cabin (Lockhouse 28 and the Bald Eagle Island campsite are 10 miles downriver, bikeable before sundown during DST). Then, head up out of the valley to explore northern Loudoun or western Montgomery counties. Ultimately, either the W&OD or C&O (or even RideOn on Monday morning from Poolesville) offer a return trip into town.

Another, less complete trail links two other cities along the Capitol Limited — Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Here’s how that trip would work as a one-way.

DC will not become ‘like Amsterdam.’ It’ll be better.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser said this week “that the District will not become ‘like Amsterdam,’ as though being ‘like Amsterdam’ would be a bad thing,” says a blog post by the Netherlands Embassy.

The embassy backed up their umbrage with a stylish infographic showing off several metrics where Amsterdam handily surpasses the District — particularly in transportation choices, as Amsterdam offers its current residents more waterways, more bikeways, and more streetcar lines.

For one point, the infographic concedes that the District is bigger and better than Amsterdam: Washingtonians can now legally possess over 11 times as much marijuana as Amsterdammers. But since the Netherlands has more permissive laws regarding the retail sale of marijuana than the United States, many visitors (like, perhaps, Mayor Bowser) instinctively use “Amsterdam” as shorthand for a place with libertine drug laws. (Dutch society has a long history of taking a uniquely hands-off approach to social policy.)

On several other points, though, the infographic shows that although DC isn’t quite there yet, we’re well on our way. DC already has ambitious plans to beat Amsterdam on two points: the Sustainable DC Plan projects another 250,000 Washingtonians, for a total of 868,000 to Amsterdam’s 810,000; and the Move DC plan has plotted out 343 miles of bikeways, including 72 miles of Dutch-style protected bike lanes, which easily beats the mere 250 miles of bikeways in Amsterdam.

DC is also making significant progress in closing the 12-museum gap with Amsterdam. With an evergrowing number of museums here, DC is well on its way to overtaking Amsterdam in this particular metric. (I don’t have statistics handy, but it seems likely that DC has fewer but larger museums, which probably have an edge in terms of collection size and total visitors.)

On two other metrics, though, we have a long way to go. At the current rate of construction, it will be a while until DC manages to build its 16th streetcar line — but note that the Dutch embassy conveniently doesn’t count Metro lines, as DC boasts six to Amsterdam’s five (almost), as construction on their north-south line is almost as delay-prone as our streetcar.

The yawning gap between the two cities’ canal networks is only half as dire as the Dutch say. Yes, Amsterdam has 165, but DC actually has two operating canals, not one: The embassy may have been confused by the name of Washington Channel, which is a brackish waterway built to drain tidal flats and to keep open a shipping channel. In other words, it’s hydrologically far more similar to Amsterdam’s canals than the freshwater C&O.

In any case, I’ll concede that more of Amsterdam is below sea level than Washington. In an era of rising sea levels, though, that’s probably not something worth trumpeting.