Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Man Fatally Shot at 13th and T Streets

Even though violent crime is down overall from the same period last year, the Logan/U Street area seems to be picking up. We've had reports of multiple muggings and robberies during the past few weeks, and now we have a murder.

According to the Washington Post, early this morning at around 12:40 AM an unidentified man was gunned down along the 1300 block of T Street. Two MPD officers on patrol a block away responded immediately to the sound of gun shots and found the man, who had been shot multiple times. A dark colored SUV was seen near the time of the shooting.

As you may recall, last September two people were shot--one dead, one wounded--on T Street, only a block away from the location of this shooting.

Anyone with information is asked to call the MPD's tipline at 202-727-5099.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What Could DC Learn From London?

All images by Mr. 14thandyou
Happy Memorial Day everyone!  Here's a post we've been working on for some time, and the three day weekend provided us with enough time to get it finished...

Here at 14thandyou, we don't exactly take great pains to disguise the fact that we think DC is a pretty fabulous place to be. Our city is beautiful, the cultural opportunities are immense, the outdoor activities plentiful, the green spaces lovely, the educational institutions outstanding, and--perhaps most importantly-- the dining superb. In short, DC and its environs offers an opportunity for a pretty fantastic quality of life.
However, you can't address all of the "good" of the city without also discussing the "bad". You may find DC a great place to be, but it doesn't mean that you can't also remain on a constant vigil for ways in which the city could improve. It wasn't all that long ago, of course, that DC was viewed largely as a cultural backwater, a sleepy southern town more infamous for political follies than for anything the city itself might offer. (The District did not have a world-class performing arts venue until the Kennedy Center was erected in the early 70s, for instance.) It has come a long way in a short period of time.

Not long ago, the 14thandyous returned from a trip to London. Mrs. 14thandyou had spent some time in Britain's capital city during her college years, whereas it was Mr. 14thandyou's first visit. Central London is unquestionably one of the most beautiful, exciting and vibrant cities that the world has to offer. Visitors are welcomed to block after block of Victorian-era homes and gardens, not to mention some of the finest shopping and dining options anywhere. It is truly a magnificent city. It is with this in mind that the 14thandyous returned from our trip with an eye towards some things that DC could adopt from its British counterpart.

On its face, it may seem a bit unfair to compare one of the largest and most culturally sophisticated cities in the world with Washington, DC. To be sure, no one who has ever tired of our traffic, sweltering summers and sometimes-inept local government could ever be said to have "tired of life." And with that position of global prominence comes an equal supply of resources, both financially and otherwise. But that doesn't mean that there aren't lessons that DC could take away from London that would aid in its continued growth and development--lessons that could be implemented here, if so desired.

Relax the Residential/Commercial Zoning Laws

Imagine strolling through the leafy streets of Georgetown, Shaw, Capitol Hill or other DC neighborhoods. Rather than having commercial corridors expressly laid out along only a handful of specific streets and blocks, picture those shops, restaurants and other businesses interspersed within residential areas. Impossible to imagine in DC? Most likely, but it's something that you encounter frequently within even the toniest areas of London. In the middle of Chelsea, which contains some of the most expensive real estate in the world, you'll find commercial strips lined with pubs, restaurants, supermarkets, bookstores, homewares and more. It's not considered scandalous to locate a pub at the corner of an otherwise residential street. It creates a far more vibrant neighborhood, and not to the detriment of the people living there.

In DC, zoning laws make that idea prohibitive, and what the zoning laws don't cover ANC and neighborhood groups do in their zealousness to protect residents from interspersing residences with commercial activity. This isn't a call for unfettered development everywhere in the District mind you, but rather a call for a more sensible adoption of DC zoning laws--as well as local neighborhood opinion--that would ease the nearly complete prohibition of commercial development in otherwise residential sectors.  This type of zoning leads to vast swaths of blighted commercial corridors (found in certain central DC neighborhoods) and contributes towards more residential neighborhoods being underserved by commercial activity.  Finally, such development also encourages cohesiveness and a greater sense of community within neighborhoods, where the corner cafe or market down the street becomes an additional focal point to residents of the neighborhood. 

Encourage Density

This is certainly a highly charged topic and one that could be debated ad nauseum, so I'll try to keep this particular point focused on one particular issue:  encouraging development around Metro stations, both within the District and in the surrounding areas as well.  Within London, clustered development around Tube stations is found all around the central city, meaning that where one finds a subway station in London, one will also likely find all manner of shops, retailers, restaurants, etc.  This not only encourages smart growth land use patterns, it also leads to more walkable, cohesive neighborhoods.
DC has started to make real inroads with this type of development.  Around certain parts of downtown (Penn Quarter, Farragut Square) as well as the Orange Line corridor and certain parts of Montgomery County, dense commercial and retail development is centered around Metro stations.  Still, a number of stations are underdeveloped and lacking appropriate levels of density.  A good example of this is the U Street station, where plans are in the works to transform two underutilized corners near the station entrance into significantly denser developments more befitting of their location.  This type of development is a boon for the city, as well as for residents and visitors alike, and should continue to be encouraged.

Keep the Streets Clean

London is a remarkably clean city, and I don't even need to add the caveat "for its size". It's just clean, period. Some of that is no doubt cultural. There seems to be a greater amount of respect given to public spaces in London, in that littering is greatly frowned upon (and thus largely not practiced.) But that's only part of the explanation for why London's streets are by and large free of refuse and other debris. The city employs individuals who patrol the streets on a regular basis and sweep up the trash that accumulates. These individuals don't merely patrol the most popular and visible thoroughfares, you'll see them throughout the city, sweeping up everything in their wake. If you spend any time in central DC, you've probably seen those downtown BID employees (the ones wearing red jackets) who are stationed near Metro stations and busy tourist areas to assist tourists with directions, transportation questions and other issues. They're a great idea, but why not expand their responsibilities to street sweeping? Additionally, the city could work through the ANCs and neighborhood associations to employ individuals in neighborhoods outside of the Mall and central business district to keep the streets swept and maintained. It's surprising how something so relatively minor can go a long way in improving the quality of life in a city.

Also, the District could look to end its practice of refusing to place trash cans along residential blocks that receive significant amounts of litter. One finds trash cans throughout London--including the residential areas--and the city's trash and litter problem seems none the worse for wear.

Maintain Your Green Spaces

My, but aren't London's parks gorgeous? The lawns are lush and green, the walkways well-maintained, the ponds and lakes clean and largely free of debris. Contrasted with DC's parks and green spaces--including the National Mall--London's are simply in better shape. Why the focus on parks, you may ask? Parks are among the most valuable assets that a community and a city has. They're beautiful places that all can enjoy, and provide much-needed solace from the urban roar surrounding them. As a Logan resident, I love having places like Logan, Thomas and Dupont circles nearby for strolling and relaxing. In addition, the amount of investment, financially and otherwise, that a city invests in its park system speaks to a city's character.

Now, I know that one of the biggest strikes against this idea, as far as DC is concerned, is that a number of our parks--including the Mall, Rock Creek, all traffic circles and the downtown squares--are maintained by the NPS. But there is nothing preventing the District from seeking a partnership with NPS that would allow the two to work together to keep our city's parks free of trash and other debris. In the long term, this also means lobbying strongly for the federal funds needed to rehabilitate the Mall and other downtown DC parks. Places such as Franklin Square and McPherson could be lovely oases of urban tranquility if spruced-up and properly maintained. The amount of greenspace that DC has trumps that of many other American cities; so the groundwork has already been laid.

Continue Investment in Public Transportation and Infrastructure

One of the positive aspects of DC that people remark upon visiting our city is the public transportation options available.  The Metro does a reasonable job of covering the DC region, while the bus system, Circulator, forthcoming streetcar lines and programs such as SmartBike serve to fill in the gaps.  This is unquestionably a very positive aspect of our city, but some perspective is in order.  The Metro is a great system, but there are numerous people within the city and the area for whom commuting via Metro isn't an option.  Even within the denser, more heavily served central part of the city, some areas are not as well-served by Metro as they should be, and getting from some destinations to others is unnecessarily burdensome.

Contrast Metro with London's tube, and you'll gain an understanding of how a truly extensive public transit system functions.  Throughout central London, one is rarely more than a couple of blocks from a station entrance.  The sheer volume of lines, coupled with line duplicity along high-volume corridors, means that no two destinations are more than a few minutes' ride away.  Additionally, the existence of a central "loop" line means that the disparate lines coming into the central city all converge--in a manner of speaking--onto one centralized line (not unlike Chicago's loop).

What can DC do to continue moving in this direction?  To begin, I would suggest a renewed focus on "building out" the core of the Metro system--that is, the section of the system that serves central DC and the close-in Maryland and Virginia communities.  Focus on the ongoing development of new intercity lines--particularly a second east-west line that relieves the burden currently handled by the Orange/Blue lines--as well as the creation of in-fill stations along existing lines in underserved areas.  The construction of the Purple Line in Montgomery County is another good step forward, but should be developed in concert with a long-term plan to ultimately develop a "loop" line that encircles the core of the region.  The creation of additional Circulator lines should be another component to the city's ongoing transportation plans.  Using the recently created McPherson Square - Woodley Park line as a model, the Circulator offers the ability to connect neighborhoods in the city that are not served (or poorly served) by Metro.  Finally, an increased focus on other transit options, such as the pioneering SmartBike program, should be considered as well.

Lest one think that London has nothing to learn from DC's transit service however, I will posit this:  the Tube stops running at a ridiculously early hour.  That Metro runs until 3 AM on weekends, and until midnight throughout the remainder of the week, is a tremendous asset to the region--and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

As I mentioned above, the point of this discussion was not to attempt to compare the two cities, as they exist on completely different levels.  Rather, it is meant simply to provoke a discussion on some things--some relatively significant, others quite simple--that the District might do order to continue its ascension to the ranks of truly global--and exceptional--cities.  By applying some of the methods and strategies employed by a city regarded as among the finest in the world, the District could continue to make improvements towards becoming a better place for the millions of us who live and work here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

U Street Hotel Update: CSNA Offers Support for Project

At last week's meeting of the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association, a close vote gave support to JBG Cos. in their pursuance of HPRB approval for a hotel at the corner of 13th and U streets.

By a 19-16 vote, the CSNA voted to issue a letter in support of the project to HPRB. The letter will outline that the CSNA supports the redevelopment of the parcel, that a hotel is a proper use for the site, and that the proposed design is in keeping with the historical character of the neighborhood. The only point on which the CSNA did not support the project was in the issue of density, with the feeling being that the project was too tall and the setbacks not sufficient in keeping with other buildings in the vicinity.

It seems odd that such effort would have to be expended to obtain historic preservation approval for a project on a street that, architecturally speaking, is not very historic. The two biggest buildings on the block--the Ellington and the Reeves Center--have both gone up during the last 15 years, while the adjoining blocks of U Street represent a mish-mash of styles ranging from Victorian rowhouses to wretched storage units. On a personal level, the 14thandyous think that the design of the hotel looks pretty swell, and we are glad to see the CSNA largely get behind the project.

This is simply the first of many hurdles for the project, which next must go through zoning approval--a decision that, based upon some of the comments made at the CSNA meeting, could prove more contentious. Still, for those--like us--who believe that increased density is a logical and important step for the continued redevelopment of U Street, it was an important step nonetheless.

Neighborhood Comings, Neighborhood Goings

A couple of recent neighborhood business happenings to report on.

First, the race to open the neighborhood's first gelato spot has been won by Baltimore-based "Pitango Gelato", who also has plans to open up a store in Reston. The new gelato shop is located on the 1400 block of P Street, across the street from Complete Foods. What makes Pitango a unique place for gelato? According to their website, it's their use of something called "extreme ingredients" such as grass-fed organic milk. Now, whether that makes the gelato taste better than the sub-par gelato made with plain old non-organic cow's milk is anyone's guess. But for $4.85 for a small gelato, it'd better be.

On the flip-side of the coin, it seems that high-end fashion retailer Circle Boutique has closed its doors and emptied out their storefront. Can't say that the 14thandyous ever spent much time in Circle Boutique, but I will say that this does put a damper on our dreams of 14th Street becoming the next Madison Ave. Hey, maybe there's still hope for Room and Board to swoop in?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Delays for 11th Street Reconstruction

If you ever venture along 11th Street, NW in Shaw, you are well aware of the street reconstruction underway. Though this project was very necessary given the state of the street, it has been incredibly destructive. The latest news is that the street reconstruction has just been delayed due to "utility conflicts." If all goes well, however, it should take WASA about a week from the 15th through the 21st of this month to complete their construction, and residents shouldn't experience any additional pain other than periodic daytime water outages.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maggie Moos Leaving U Street?

While perusing the April minutes of the Carodozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association meeting (which will undoubtedly become the title of a chapter in our forthcoming book "So You Want To Write a Blog?"), we uncovered this little nugget of information that had somehow passed us by for the last month:

Maggie Moos presented the idea of changing from ice cream to gelato Italian eatery. They plan to seek a liquor license in order to serve coffee/gelato with alcohol. Once changed to gelato, store would no longer be affiliated with Maggie Moos.

A gelato bar? Is this a new thing? Let me guess: it was all the rage in NYC, and now someone's trying to export the idea to DC, in much the same way that i'm bracing for the forthcoming "donut craze".

If this is indeed the case, put me in the corner of "this sucks", particularly if it means I can't get a Maggie Moos shake anymore. Hey, at least I should be happy that they aren't converting to a "small plate" restaurant...

This Blog May Be Hazardous to the Health of Pedestrians

OK, perhaps our blog is rather benign when it comes to pedestrian safety, but our namesake intersection most certainly is not.

Last year, the intersection of 14th and U Streets was named as the second most dangerous intersection in the city. As frequenters of that pedestri-auto free-for-all, such a revelation doesn't surprise us in the least. Between the checked-out drivers scrambling to get through the intersection, pedestrians who ignore the crosswalk signals and a density that rivals that of any in the District, it's a miracle there aren't more injuries and fatalities there.

Well yesterday, DC mayor Adrian Fenty unveiled his plan for increased pedestrian safety, targeting the ten most dangerous intersections in the District. Dr. Gridlock has a pretty good summation of the master plan, which includes the following points:

  • Ensure all transportation and real estate development projects include safe and convenient pedestrian facilities.
  • Construct new sidewalks where missing on streets in the District.
  • Improve pedestrian access and safety at uncontrolled crossings and intersections.
  • Improve pedestrian access and safety at bus stops.
  • Revise the DDOT Design and Engineering Manual to better address pedestrian safety and accessibility.
  • Train roadway planners and designers to make sure they understand these new safety policies and practices.
  • Increase penalties for motorists for infractions that impact pedestrian safety.
  • Expand the speed camera enforcement program.
  • Teach people the rules of the road and the benefits of walking.

Many of those points aren't really that debatable, and some make you wonder why the District hasn't been doing it already (it seems that teaching drivers the "rules of the road" would be pretty standard stuff, no?) But there are a couple of issues worth pointing out.

One, all of the plans and ideas in the world won't matter if it's not supported by enforcement. I can't even begin to recount the number of times I have been practically mowed down by a driver on 14th Street as I try to cross at Corcoran--one of those "uncontrolled crossings and intersections" mentioned above. Several times, this has happened while a police car was also in the vicinity. So long as drivers can routinely behave this way without repercussion, it will continue to happen.

Secondly, jaywalking is a tremendous problem in this city. And I don't just mean people diving out into the intersection with 2 seconds left on the countdown clock either. I'm talking about people who just step off the curb in the middle of the street and begin a slow amble across to the other side, all the while cars are forced to come to screeching stops to avoid hitting the person. U Street and 14th Street are infamous for this kind of behavior, but in truth I've seen it everywhere. I've heard it argued that the police should have better things to do with their time than enforce jaywalking laws, and I'm sympathetic to that. Yet, along busy commercial corridors at peak traffic times, persistent jaywalking becomes both a nuisance and a safety issue--and it should be enforced.

As both a pedestrian and a driver in this city, I'm sympathetic to the arguments from both sides, but what's apparent to me is that lax enforcement, coupled with outright idiotic traffic planning measures on the part of DDOT, have contributed mightily towards this problem of pedestrian safety that we're now witnessing. With regards to the utility of the mayor's plan, to quote one of the commenters responding to the Dr. Gridlock piece: I'll believe it when I see it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Support Neighborhood Business - Cast Your Wammy Vote

The Resstaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington is in the process of soliciting votes for their 2009 "Rammy" awards. Among the contenders are two Logan/U Street establshiments: Cork and Marvin, who are both up for "Best neighborhood gathering place". I'm certain the competition will be fierce.

You can cast your vote for either of these two establishments (provided you think they are deserving) by clicking here. Note that voting closes on Sunday, May 10.

R Street Muggings

Courtesy of neighborhood crime-watchers Borderstan, we learn of some Rather unsettling news: three muggings during the past week, all along R Street between 13th and New Hampshire.

The three incidents include a robbery with gun along the 1300 block of R Street, another robbery with gun at the corner of 15th and R, and yet another robbery with gun at the corner of R and New Hampshire. In at least one of the incidents, suspects have been arrested. It is unknown if the suspects arrested are also suspects in the other incidents.

It is said frequently, but it bears repeating: particularly with warmer weather here, it is important to take precaution when you're out and about, even in areas that "appear" nice. You can also sign up to receive crime alerts from DCPD by visiting this address.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Local ANCs Get Their 'Meet On

Typically, the first full week in any month means one thing: it's ANC meeting time. There are a number of interesting items on the agendas of the various ANCs whose activities play a role in defining the Logan/Dupont/U Street corridor. Among them:

ANC2F (Logan Circle/western Shaw) will meet this Wednesday evening at the Washington Plaza Hotel at Thomas Circle. The full agenda is available on the ANC's website. Among some of the highlights:

  • City council member Jack Evans will be in attendance to address citizen's concerns. If you attend, you might want to ask Jack about the status of his commercial property tax-lowering bill, which has been discussed--but not yet formally introduced.

  • Two liquor license-related issues will be addressed, including extended operating hours for trendy wine bar Cork and the issue of noise complaints surrounding the recently opened Cafe Salsa.

  • The ANC will also address a proposed vacant property tax increase, which is meant to spur the redevelopment of properties held by landlords who do not see the financial incentive to raise their property from a current state of disrepair.

  • Finally, a somewhat odd item to have on an ANC agenda, the commission will discuss the proposed marriage equality law, which is being address by the DC Council today. I'm not certain what the discussion will entail.

ANC1B (U Street, Shaw, LeDroit Park) will meet on Thursday, May 7 at the Reeves Center. Pertinent items for discussion include:

  • The "U Street Mural" project and an introduction to a new restaurant coming to U Street, the "U Street Cafe".

  • The ANC1B design review and committee will take a look at the proposed U Street Hotel project, whose developer, JBG, is looking for community support for the project.

  • There are also a slew of ABRA matters, including the conversion of Nellie's liquor license from a "restaurant" class to a "tavern" class (see our recent post about this issue as it relates to SaintEx here) as well as a petition for a new license for an establishment called "Dixon".

ANC2B (Dupont Circle) will meet next Wednesday, May 13, and do not yet have an agenda posted.

Additionally, the Cardozo-Shaw Neighborhood Association will hold its May meeting on Thursday, May 14, where--among other things--JBG Cos. will be in attendance seeking support for their U Street Hotel project.