Housing Complex

With Capitol Crossing Groundbreaking, a Scar Finally Begins to Heal


A "scar." A "blight on the urban landscape." A project that "tore the Capitol Hill neighborhood from its moorings." City and development officials had all sorts of descriptions this morning for the I-395 tunnel that ripped through downtown D.C. in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But they all could agree on one descriptor: not much longer for this world.

City leaders and developers gathered this morning by the freeway gash to celebrate its imminent demise. The road won't actually disappear, of course; it'll just vanish from the sight of people on the streets above, decked over to create a major new mixed-use development called Capitol Crossing. The project has been nine years in the making, and construction is already underway on the freeway. Today marked the official groundbreaking, a symbolic moment that provided a chance for officials to heap their bile on the urban-planning mistake that brought us here and their praise on the development that will supplant it.

A promotional video from the developer, Property Group Partners, calls Capitol Crossing "one of the great projects of our time." The company's founder and president, Jeff Sussman, hailed the groundbreaking as "a great day for Washington, D.C. and a great day for us." His colleague Bob Braunohler labeled it "an urban planner's dream for over 50 years." Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton painted it as a victory for the District over the suburbs, which have historically subordinated D.C.'s priorities.

"395 is about the region," she said. "You hear all that noise? That's more about them than about us." Capitol Crossing, she continued, "gives us back a neighborhood, a whole section of our city that was lost to us."

Read more With Capitol Crossing Groundbreaking, a Scar Finally Begins to Heal

Morning Links

popMetro apologizes to Blue, Orange, and Silver line passengers for yesterday's mess. [WMATA]

Again, Metro didn't communicate well with trapped passengers. [WAMU]

D.C.'s bag-fee revenue is being spent on things other than river cleanup. [Post]

Congress will vote on Metro funding cuts tomorrow. [National Journal]

D.C.-area home prices hit their highest level since 2007. [UrbanTurf]

Does D.C. really need much higher Capital Bikeshare density? [GGW]

Today on the market: 3BR condo in a popped-up Hill East rowhouse—$569,900

Dock-Blocked No More: Capital Bikeshare Offers “Guaranteed Open Docks” Downtown


Every Capital Bikeshare member knows the frustration. After a pleasant commute downtown, you arrive at your office, only to find that the nearest Bikeshare dock is full, with nowhere to ditch your bike. No problem: You head to the next-closest station; it's full, too. You pull out your phone and check the app, and see that the closest dock with available slots is half a mile away. You might as well have walked to work.

In short: You've been dock-blocked.

Now, for the first time, Bikeshare is introducing a fix. At two downtown stations, the program will be providing "guaranteed open docks" on weekday mornings. At 21st and I streets NW and at 13th Street NW and New York Avenue, Bikeshare will set up corrals between 7 and 11 a.m. on weekdays. That means that if the dock is full, Bikeshare will have a staff member on hand to collect your bike.

Bikeshare is rolling out the service this Thursday. It'll continue through the end of September, and may continue or expand after that if demand is high enough.

But before you declare victory against the dock-block, remember that it takes two to bike-share: a cooperative station on either end of your ride. Even if your commute downtown now has a guaranteed happy ending, it won't do you any good if you get dock-blocked by an empty dock at the start of your trip.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

“Arcing Insulators” Strike Again


Metro is a mess this morning for riders on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines. "Fire department activity" and reports of smoke have closed the Orange and Silver lines between Foggy Bottom and Clarendon and the Blue Line between Foggy Bottom and Arlington Cemetery.

Meanwhile, a separate incident this morning shut down service around the Capitol Heights station on the Blue and Silver lines, although that problem has since been resolved. What do these two incidents have in common, other than wreaking havoc on thousands of commutes to and from the D.C. suburbs? They were both caused by "arcing insulators," according to the Washington Post. (Metro spokesman Dan Stessel did not immediately return a call to confirm the causes of the incidents.) Once an arcane term, "arcing insulator" has become a regular part of the Metro lexicon, ever since arcing on a Yellow Line track caused a train to fill with smoke on Jan. 12, leaving one passenger dead and sending more than 80 to the hospital. Read more “Arcing Insulators” Strike Again

Morning Links

admoD.C. sues Results Gym founder for operating illegal Dupont party house on Airbnb. [UrbanTurf]

Can D.C. and other cities hold onto families with children? [Post]

Columbia Road NW storefronts will remain as property gets redeveloped. [UrbanTurf]

An interactive visualization of D.C.-area streetcar planning over the years. [GGW]

Rosslyn aims to become bike-friendly. [WashCycle]

Today on the market: Adams Morgan 2BR condo—$799,000

With Museum Plans Scrapped, New Franklin School Effort Draws Five Suitors

The Franklin School's crumbling interior will require substantial work.

The Franklin School's crumbling interior will require substantial work.

It's do-over time for the Franklin School. Three months after the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser scrapped plans for a museum at the historic school building on 13th Street NW, awarded by previous Mayor Vince Gray, five developers have submitted new bids to bring the property to life.

Last February, Gray announced that he'd selected a team helmed by art collector Dani Levinas to turn the vacant building into a "kunsthalle" called the Institute for Contemporary Expression. But Bowser, as part of a broader rethinking of Gray's contract awards, decided to scrap that plan, citing concerns about ICE's finances.

She put the site out for new bids, and five developers have responded. ICE is not among them. In fact, just one of the four bidders from last year re-applied this time around: the CoStar Group, which previously pitched the site as its "primary global technology research and development center."

Douglas Development, which had proposed a boutique hotel, and a digital hub concept from Lowe Enterprises, Bundy Development Corporation, and DC Innovates chose not to toss their hats back into the ring.

Instead, in addition to CoStar, there are four new bidders: the Aria Development Group, which has focused on residential and mixed-use properties; Dantes Partners, led by a former D.C. official who's worked on the New Communities project; Friedman Capital, which has worked on the long-planned Adams Morgan hotel; and Thoron Capital, a D.C.-based firm that focuses on transit-oriented and mixed-use properties.

The respondents lack the big names of the earlier respondents, like Douglas, one of D.C.'s leading developers, and EastBanc, a partner in the ICE project and a dominant force in Georgetown-area development.

Read more With Museum Plans Scrapped, New Franklin School Effort Draws Five Suitors

Morning Links

edgewoodD.C. files suit against troublesome house flipper. [WAMU]

Has Arlington, once a pioneering urban suburb, lost its way? [Washingtonian]

Borderstan is back (on June 1). [Borderstan]

A D.C. archaeologist looks back. [OPinions]

How bikes balance. [CityLab]

Today on the market: Edgewood 2BR condo—$295,000

Scaled-Back Brentwood Overhaul Draws McDuffie’s Support, Tenants’ Opposition


A project that could transform the Brentwood neighborhood is up for zoning approval tonight after being scaled back significantly. But current residents of the Brookland Manor complex, fearing displacement, are opposing the plans, setting up a fight for the Zoning Commission to resolve.

The Mid-City Financial Corporation, based in Germantown, owns Brookland Manor, a low-rise apartment complex with 525 units spread over nearly 20 acres just off Rhode Island Avenue NE. The apartments, 373 of which are subsidized by the federal government through the project-based Section 8 program, date back to the Great Depression. They're not in good shape. The complex has become a crime hotspot. And with development and dollars spreading eastward along Rhode Island Avenue to nearby Brookland, Mid-City has an opportunity to turn an aging property into a lucrative opportunity.

As Mid-City frames it, though, the project is a legacy-building one for the company's 85-year-old founder, Eugene Ford Sr., who started the firm in 1965. Rather than scrapping its Section 8 contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and building entirely market-rate units, Mid-City has chosen to keep 373 of the new apartments under Section 8, while adding 1,273 market units by building higher and denser.

"You know the Museum Square story," says Mid-City Executive Vice President Michael Meers, referring to the embattled Mount Vernon Triangle building whose owner has sought to demolish it and displace the Section 8 tenants in order to build luxury apartments and condos. "We’ve taken the position that it needs to be safeguarded."

When Mid-City pitched its plans last fall, some residents were cautiously supportive. "I believe that’s a good idea," Minnie Elliott, president of the Brookland Manor/Brentwood Village Residents Association, told me then, referring to an overhaul of the complex. Her only fear, she said, was that "we don’t want them to displace the people that live here." And if Mid-City's commitment to minimizing displacement waned, she said, "we’re going to make noise."

Now they're making some noise. The tenant association will speak in opposition to Mid-City's plans tonight before the Zoning Commission, which will rule on Mid-City's application for a zoning change to allow for the increased density on the site.

Read more Scaled-Back Brentwood Overhaul Draws McDuffie’s Support, Tenants’ Opposition

Most-Used Bikeshare Station Gets 1,000 Times the Traffic of Least-Used Station


The Capital Bikeshare station at Massachusetts Avenue NW and Dupont Circle gets a lot of love. In an average month, 9,751 people start or end trips there.

Six-and-a-half miles east, not far from the Maryland border, the Bikeshare station at 49th Street NE and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue isn't quite so popular. In a typical month, just nine people use the station.

In other words, Bikeshare's most-used station gets more than 1,000 times the usage of its least-used station.

A recent Bikeshare survey showed that its users are becoming whiter and wealthier. But the per-station usage numbers, from the Office of Revenue Analysis' District, Measured blog, suggest that's less a factor of availability in poorer, majority-black parts of town, and more the result of lower usage in those areas.

That shouldn't be surprising. Given the city's topographic-bowl formation, outlying areas of the city tend to be higher and hillier. Neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are particularly hilly and difficult to bike around without breaking a sweat. There's a clear correlation between topography and ridership. Here are the 10 stations that are the most likely to be the start of trips, rather than the terminus:

Read more Most-Used Bikeshare Station Gets 1,000 Times the Traffic of Least-Used Station

Local Governments Partner With D.C. Tech Incubator to Make Cities Smarter


A woman is biking north on 15th Street NW on a recent afternoon, in front of the Loews Madison Hotel. Suddenly, a taxi driver heading the other way U-turns into her, knocking her to the ground. A few passersby and the hotel doorman quickly help her up, and the driver gets out of his cab to check on her. She appears to be OK. Information is exchanged. The driver leaves; the cyclist lingers a while, then leaves, too.

A few minutes later, Dan Hoffman arrives at a coffee shop across the street, 15 minutes late for a meeting. He has just come from Capitol Hill, he says by way of apology, where he briefed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and several congressional staffers on the “Internet of Things”—a future of networked devices and systems that communicate with one another. When told of the incident that just occurred, he cuts in with a vision of the future, when sensors and “vehicle-to-infrastructure technology” will prevent such occurrences.

He lays out the scenario. “Someone’s in the bike lane. Someone’s pulling around. Car senses that that’s a bike lane, shouldn’t be going there. Or car senses biker. Car stops.”

Hoffman thinks he can help get us to that future. As Montgomery County’s first-ever chief innovation officer, a job he’s held since October 2012, Hoffman is responsible for bringing creative and efficient new approaches to the county government and its technology efforts.

Put another way, he’s the grown-up supervising the county’s tech playground. And the sandbox at the center of the playground is the Thingstitute, an innovation lab that the county opened in January in a historic Rockville courthouse. The Thingstitute serves as a test bed for local entrepreneurs to experiment with new technology, with the goal of getting a jump on the Internet of Things and incorporating it into the county’s development. The Thingstitute’s cornerstone project, the Safe Community Alert (SCALE) Network, builds sensors that can send automatic signals to first responders when they detect, say, hazardous gases at a senior housing facility.

Last month, Montgomery County took a step that Hoffman thinks will help get it to the smart-cities future he envisions. The county announced a partnership with 1776, the tech incubator that launched in downtown D.C. in 2013 and quickly became the epicenter of the District’s tech scene, with 285 member startups now. The arrangement is designed to give Montgomery County startups access to 1776’s resources and guidance, and to allow the county government to work with existing 1776 members to incorporate their technology into public infrastructure that could include everything from traffic lights to government buildings.  Read more Local Governments Partner With D.C. Tech Incubator to Make Cities Smarter