March 22, 2012 - 8:47 am

Metro station names get a little more rational

WMATA decided to revise our iconic Metro map to include the Silver Line and account for slight changes in rush-hour service on the Orange and Blue Lines. The new design, pictured above, ameliorates one of the agency’s usability problems: name sprawl. The new map wisely rearranges several station names to move the less important parts of sprawling names onto smaller subtitles.

When the system was built, station names were originally designed to be short and represent geographic places. Due to politics, local boosterism, and unwise interference from local politicians, some names have exploded in length. The U Street station name, “U Street/African-American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo”,  is often cited as the poster child of clunky name sprawl. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. U Street as a place has a history and regional recognition strong enough to stand on its own. The station was originally listed as “U Street”, but then “Cardozo” got tacked on.  Worse yet, in 1999 the DC Council voted (and paid) to change the name from “U Street-Cardozo” to the ridiculously longwinded “U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo” in honor of the new memorial at the 10th Street entrance.

Since shortening a station name is fraught with political peril— imagine the accusations if you tried to remove “African-American Civil War Memorial” from U Street’s name— WMATA is simply rearranging long names to create primary names and subtitles.  U Street isn’t the only station getting this much-needed reordering.  Woodley Park (Zoo/Adams Morgan), Gallery Place (Chinatown), Mt. Vernon Square (7th St – Convention Center), and Archives (Navy Memorial – Penn Quarter) are among the other station names that will become less graphically imperious on the map.

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September 23, 2011 - 1:39 pm

Council officially names park

It’s official. At its legislative session on Tuesday, the DC Council officially named our new park the Park at LeDroit.

Here is a short video of the bill’s passage:

March 13, 2010 - 2:02 pm

Shaw Fits and Starts

Broadcast Center One as viewed from the CVS at 7th & T Streets

When climbing the escalator out of the Shaw Metro’s north entrance, one emerges between Seventh Street on the left and a vacant field on the right.  The vacant field has been set for renewal with a plan going back several years.  In January, when we first started writing about the project, Radio One was still planning to move its headquarters to the site and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) was considering space there, too.

At the February ANC1B meeting, the development team’s lawyer stated that the combination of UNCF and Radio One would require a reduction in the number of apartments from 180 to 133.  With Radio One unceremoniously backing out, the number is now restored to 180.  In January, the amount of retail space was reported to be 22,000 square feet.  Now that UNCF plans to occupy 5,000 square feet on the ground floor for an outreach center, the retail component may have changed.

Two weeks ago we reported that Radio One had snubbed Shaw and decided to stay put in Lanham, possibly putting the project in jeopardy.  Luckily, UNCF, in offering to purchase half of the 100,000 square feet of office space, provides a sufficient commitment to get the project further financing.

The following table illustrates the changes in the project since the beginning of the year and reflects numbers gleaned from various sources.

Radio One Radio One + UNCF UNCF
Office Space (sq ft) 96,000 160,000 100,000
Housing units 180 133 180

On Friday, the WBJ reported that UNCF’s chief had formally testified before the D.C. Council seeking a $3.8-million property tax break and a $710,000 grant to move to Shaw.  LeDroit Park’s ANC commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) testified in support of the legislation, which will be taken up by the full council in April.  If approved, the development team promises (yet again) to break ground in August.

One casualty of the proposed move is the Howard Theater, already delayed and crumbling under the elements.  The $710,000 relocation grant would come from money set aside for the theater’s revival.


March 02, 2010 - 5:48 pm

Narrowly Missing the Mud

Thanks to a wave of citizen pressure on the council, LeDroit Park narrowly avoided yet another delay in park construction.

Last night we learned that Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5), would offer a bill this morning to prevent the mayor’s office from re-appropriating $1.5 million to the park project here in LeDroit Park.  His stated reason for throwing a wrench in the process was that his bill was simply a “procedural matter to ensure that the funding source is constant with the Deputy Mayor[‘s] testimony that the funds will not be taken from other projects and that the funds are properly identified.”

As though a phone call within the Wilson Building wouldn’t have answered that question.  Threatening to further delay a much-needed construction project that the council and mayor had already promised may not be the most prudent way to stick it to the mayor’s office; Mr. Thomas woke the sleeping dragon.

Deluged with emails between residents, civic association leaders, Jim Graham (D – Ward 1), Kwame Brown (D – at large), and Mr. Thomas, himself, the council passed a revised version of Mr. Thomas’s bill, this time explicitly approving the re-appropriation.  Now there’s a u-turn!

Our thanks to all the residents who contacted the council to voice their disapproval.  Mr. Thomas admitted receiving an avalanche of 230 emails this morning on the matter.

And who said citizen democracy doesn’t work?

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February 25, 2010 - 7:38 pm

Radio One Pulls Out; Shaw Metro Still Barren

Broadcast Center One as viewed from the CVS at 7th & T Streets

We reported a few days ago that the developer for Media Center One (a.k.a. Broadcast Center One), a mixed-use project slated for the area around the Shaw Metro, had inked a lease with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).  Good news for the long-delayed project.

Now the Washington Business Journal reports that the main tenant, Radio One, has inexplicably decided to stay put in the glitzy media town of Lanham, Maryland.

Though the development team says the project will go forward, we have trouble believing they can secure additional financing until they sign a replacement tenant.

At the previous ANC1B meeting, a lawyer representing the development group announced the group’s intention to convert 50,000 square feet of apartment space into office space.  With Radio One out of the picture, perhaps they can revert the 50,000 square feet to apartments.

What’s most upsetting is that in January 2008, the District offered $23 million in subsidies to lure Radio One to the city.  Two years and two months later, the land still sits vacant while Radio One just wasted two years of the taxpayers’ time.

We hope the developer finds a replacement soon, but unless the city is able to transfer the subsidy to another commercial enterprise, any struggling firm may balk at the District’s ridiculously high 9.975% corporate income tax rate— especially when Maryland and Virginia only charge 8.25% and 6.0%, respectively.

January 01, 2010 - 11:52 pm

New Year, New Tax

Happy New Year!

Now pay up.

DDOE's New Speak CampaignOur city council and mayor, ever desperate for new sources of revenue, have levied, effective today, a five-cent tax on every paper and plastic bag.  So unless you carry reusable bags in your pockets for every unforeseen trip to the store, get ready to shell out.

The stated purpose of the tax is to clean up the Anacostia River and three or four cents of every nickle collected will go to the Anacostia River Protection Fund.  Some stores have the option of offering a five-cent credit to customers who bring their own bags.  In such cases, store owners will be allowed to keep two of the five cents of the tax they collect.

The bag tax applies to every store that sells food or alcohol.  Since Best Buy sells candy near its check out lines, the tax applies there, too; you’d better take a reusable bag to carry your new DVD player home on the Metro.

Paper bags, which are biodegradable, are also taxed, not because of any potential impact on the Anacostia, but because of politics: store owners feared that a tax on plastic bags would encourage customers to opt for their more expensive paper counterparts.

For those who own cars (your author is not one of them), it might be easy to store one’s bags in the trunk and to pull them out at the store.  The rest of us are expected to carry bags on our persons, which is a nuisance that the mayor, with his city-provided SUV, and the council, with their free street parking in front of the Wilson Building, probably don’t understand.

Our biggest complaint about this tax is not so much the money, but the degree of condescension it exudes, implying that those who use plastic bags are sinners destroying the Anacostia.  Readers of this blog will note our distaste for litter, especially the heaps of it that pile up in front of the Howard Theater on the Block of Blight.  It’s easy to levy a feel-good tax, whereas a sustained effort to fine people who litter and to sanction businesses whose customers litter isn’t nearly as sexy.

New Year, Newspeak

Adding to the condescension is the legislation’s wording, which refers to the tax by the more innocuous word fee, as though city residents are too stupid to identify a tax when they see it.

The District Department of the Environment, which is responsible for administering the new tax (oops, I mean “fee”) has jumped on the Orwellian bandwagon, too, refusing to use the word tax.  Even worse, their campaign against plastic bags (see the image above) is an exemplar of newspeak, urging us to “skip the bag [to] save the river”.  For those of use who don’t litter— the majority of District residents— to “skip the bag” will not “save the river” since we wouldn’t have littered anyway and by reusing other bags, we avoid paying the tax to finance the river clean-up.  Ironically, by skipping the bag, we are not helping to save the river.

Cleaning up the river is a worthwhile goal, but levying yet another regressive excise tax wrapped heavily in moralistic rhetoric is neither honest nor fair.  Financing river cleanup should come from proven sources of river pollution, including sewers (by taxing water bills), impervious real property (WASA already charges a fee for this), and by enforcing anti-littering laws more aggressively.  Many of us, the majority I’d expect, use plastic bags and dispose of them responsibly so they don’t soil our communities and rivers.  Nonetheless, we are the scapegoat pretext for this new tax.

We are willing to bet a shiny nickle that this latest feel-good tax will do little to curb littering and we expect the heaps of garbage to continue to pile up in front of the Howard Theater.

December 17, 2009 - 12:23 am

Park Contract Shuffle

Gage-Eckington Demolition

The D.C. Council voted unanimously to reorganize the controversial park construction contracts.  Ten of the contracts will be managed by the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, which mainly handles school reconstruction.  The office is highly regarded as efficient and reliable.

Three of the contracts, including the one for the park in LeDroit Park, will be handled by the Department of Parks and Recreation and not the Housing Authority as originally planned.

Banneker Ventures, which had received all of the original contracts, is threatening to sue the city for a breach of contract.  D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles believes Banneker has strong legal footings upon which to build a case; the Council is not so sure (or doesn’t care).

Councilmember Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) believes the three contracts directed to the Dept. of Parks and Recreation may be able to go forward as originally planned because of the more open nature of their original approval.

Perhaps our local mud pit will open next year as verdant as planned after all.

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November 17, 2009 - 7:18 pm

Gage-Eckington Razing Featured on Fox 5

The new park for LeDroit Park is one of the halted park construction contracts, but demolition work is still going on.  Fox 5 aired a story this evening on our not-quite-stalled park project.

Resident Hugh Boyle and his grandsons are shown observing the construction work while Maria Fyodorova, heavily involved in the planning of the dog park, explains that residents have been caught in the crossfire in the feud between the mayor and the Council.

Even the This is How We Live mural at Third and Elm Streets gets a cameo!

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November 14, 2009 - 9:09 am

Widespread Disappointment on the Parks Fiasco

The Post is running a story today about other District communities disappointed by the ongoing parks feud between the Council and the mayor.  The disappointment appears to be widespread:

In interviews with advocates from Chevy Chase to Woodland Terrace to U Street, most activists said they oppose the delays. “They’ll be fighting, and our kids and residents are suffering,” [Football coach Steve] Zanders said.

And some are accusing the Council of feigning surprise:

Willie Ross, a Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, said the contracts must be investigated, but the council should have been more vigilant about its initial oversight. He said that some members attended groundbreakings with the mayor for projects that are now under scrutiny.


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November 01, 2009 - 7:08 pm

Our Park in Limbo

On Friday the City Council held a joint hearing on the contracting dispute that has now ensnared the forthcoming park in LeDroit Park. The Post reported that Councilmember David Catania (I – at large) insisted the contracts are illegal, but Attorney General Peter Nickles (a Fenty appointee, we should note) insisted the contrary.

Our own ANC Commissioner Myla Moss (ANC1B01) submitted testimony on behalf of the neighborhood and the LeDroit Park Civic Association imploring the Council not to delay park construction. She noted in her testimony that the park design was the product of a transparent and exhaustive community process that developed a plan that is both affordable and popular in the neighborhood.  She further noted that the park plan had been discussed with several members of the mayor’s cabinet and with Councilmembers Jim Graham (D – Ward 1) and Harry Thomas, Jr. (D – Ward 5); the park plan was no surprise.

At the previous LeDroit Park Civic Association meeting, Mr. Graham noted that the Council had specifically set aside money for the project.

There’s still no word on what will happen next, but we certainly hope that certain members of the Council do not take the matter to court; litigation could delay the project for at least a year, if not several. Rebidding the contracts, we have heard, could delay construction by several months.

Alternatively, the Council could simply review the contracts as the law demands and approve the current plan (at least for our park and for other parks that have significant popular backing). We see this as unlikely since this would require the mayor to admit that his administration broke the law and it would require Mr. Nickles to backtrack on his current position that the contracts are legal.

It is also possible that the mayor and Council could come to some sort of lawful agreement to let work continue without delay. We hope the last option prevails and we suspect certain member of the Council are working to that solution; Mr. Graham is well aware of his constituents’ justified impatience.

One last thing: we thank Ms. Moss and the Civic Association leaders for their testimony.  This sort of advocacy requires a significant personal commitment of time and energy.