Thursday, September 22, 2011

Huff Post DC Thies Strikes A Nerve on Un-Built D.C. I-95

The Huffington Post has started a DC blog, and its writer Chuck Thies has bravely struck a nerve:
" with summer approaching and an infant in the backseat, we decided driving a car without air-conditioning and questionable safety features was no longer an option. We sold the Volare for one dollar to a Rasta man from Philadelphia who was recovering from hip replacement surgery.

Then we joined ZipCar, which lasted for five years. It worked well.

A month ago my son started school across town. It is a public school, but the cost of commuting is pricey. A roundtrip taxi is more than twenty dollars in the morning and slightly less in the afternoon. ZipCar rental is risky at one hour; in order to avoid late fees that means a 90-minute reservation twice daily. And commuting by bus is an untenable time suck for self-employed parents: two separate routes, 45-minutes each way, two times every day.

So, last week we rejoined the community of car owners.

Now we are back in the crosshairs of those who prosecute the war on automobiles. I have already heard it several times: "You don't need a car," "You could do that with a bike," and so on.

Every day hundreds of thousands of vehicles hit the roads in our region. Some are delivering refrigerators; some transport salespeople, technicians and consultants who would lose valuable time waiting for a bus or whose customers are nowhere near a Metro; some are heading to the doctor; some are police or emergency vehicles; some are bringing materials to a building project; and, many are simply passing through.

In the 1950s transportation experts saw the future. They designed an outer beltway with Potomac River bridges connecting Virginia and Maryland. Roads like the Inter-County Connector, Rt. 301 and the Fairfax County Parkway are vestiges of this unrealized dream. Other highways, like I-95, were re-routed in deference to politics, not planning. If you look at a map of major roads in the region, it is plain to see what the designers had in mind. It is also possible to imagine those dreams reaching fruition.

The metropolitan area is growing. People are moving here and businesses are hiring. This trend is expected to continue for two more decades with more than 1.5 million new jobs coming to the region. Not all of those employers will be walking distance from a Metro. Every new home will not be built on a block with a bus stop. People with jobs will buy cars and drive them to places to spend money. That is reality.

I love walking, bikes and riding our much-maligned Metro. I do not like sitting unnecessarily in traffic. If the war on automobiles succeeds we will all be caught in a jam and the long-term prosperity of our region will be at risk."

Greater Greater Washington has a piece by David Alpert reporting on Thies piece, taking issue with Thies assertion of a "war on automobiles".
And Chuck Thies, an insightful commentator on District corruption issues on WPFW and the Georgetown Dish, decides to use his inaugural post to complain about the push for safer and better bicycle facilities as a "war on automobiles."

I'd link to it, except the Huffington Post uses detailed analytics to determine how long to leave posts on its home page, and this one needs to roll off as quickly as possible.

Here's the link. The vast bulk is a long recitation of every car Thies has owned and the location of every places he's lived or worked. But Thies comes to the conclusion that he can't drive because of the location of his son's new school, and therefore, any public policy that's not about automobility is the "war on cars":
There are powerful, multiplying forces aligned who seek to make driving as difficult as possible. They oppose spending money to build roads and want to occupy your parking space with a bike rack.

Don't get me wrong; I love public transportation, bicycling and walking. ... A month ago my son started school across town. ... So, last week we rejoined the community of car owners.

Now we are back in the crosshairs of those who prosecute the war on automobiles. I have already heard it several times: "You don't need a car," "You could do that with a bike," and so on. ...

People are moving here and businesses are hiring. ... Not all of those employers will be walking distance from a Metro. Every new home will not be built on a block with a bus stop. People with jobs will buy cars and drive them to places to spend money. That is reality.

I love walking, bikes and riding our much-maligned Metro. I do not like sitting unnecessarily in traffic. If the war on automobiles succeeds we will all be caught in a jam and the long-term prosperity of our region will be at risk.

The problem isn't with a public policy that increases transportation options, but rather with these people who hassled Thies for driving. It's fine for Thies to drive if that's easiest for him. I drive sometimes. I have friends who drive to work….

… I bike a lot. I take Metro and buses. And sometimes I drive. I don't feel bad about my transportation choices, but neither do I say that a project which helps people on one mode I use sometimes is a war on another mode.
Agreed, the problem is not about increasing transportation option. More options are better, as are options better designed for fit within the existing environment- with that becoming far more practical as demonstrated with Spain’s Proyecto Madrid Rio burying its M-30 urban freeway beneath new parkland.

Yet surprisingly little is said about the transportation option that would have served 100s of thousands of people daily- the elimination of all of Washington D.C.'s planned freeways of its downtown inner hub and its northern radials?

SO what does Alpert have to say?
Thies wasn't just talking about bikes; he's also talking about opposition to the Outer Beltway and most other freeways conceived in the 1950s. There are plenty of arguments against that as well, but most of all, none of it would help Thies' own personal driving concerns, which is what his whole article focuses on (after the many stories about the many cars he bought and sold, for how much and to whom).

If anyone can feel under attack, it's cyclists. Tom Coburn is currently tying Congress in knots to try to cut any dedicated bike and pedestrian funding, which if approved would surely lead most states to zero out entirely any spending on bike lanes and sidewalks.
Alpert can only there say “there are plenty of arguments against that was well” regarding the biggest deletion of a transportation choice (choosing not to perhaps of the numerous outright lies about the un-built freeways promoted by The Washington Post), with Thies hitting the nail on the head about un-built I-95 in Washington, D.C. –

“re-routed in deference to politics, not planning. If you look at a map of major roads in the region, it is plain to see what the designers had in mind. It is also possible to imagine those dreams reaching fruition.”

Indeed, I-95 was re-routed onto the eastern portion of the I-495 Capital Beltway in 1976 or 1977, after the abandonment of planning in 1976 to route it down a widened Baltimore-Washington Parkway and then along New York Avenue to connect with the I-95 Center Leg (subsequently renamed the I-395 Third Street Tunnel).

That plan came after the July 1973 cancellation of the last true extension (that is, via the clearly intended stubs at the interchange with the Capital Beltway) via the existing 250 foot wide PEPCO power transmission line right of way to its southern end at Ray Rd near New Hampshire Avenue, and continuing (in order to avoid the powerline substation) along New Hampshire Avenue’s western or southbound side to the DC-MD line, so continuing to turn to follow the B&O Metropolitan Branch RR (opened since 1863) that we know today as the above ground branch of the WMATA Red Line and the CSX/MARC RR- a total of 4 sets of RR tracks. I-95 was to follow this corridor to an interchange atop the railyards, and then following New York Avenue to connect with the Center Leg/Third Street Tunnel; it was accompanied by an I-295 Inner Loop East Leg to RFK Stadium and then curving along the Anacostia River to the SE Freeway Barney Circe stub; plus a cross town I-66 tunnel primarily beneath K Street. Planning in a 1971 report shows the tunnel concept of minimizing local impacts – think about noise and emissions containment – applied also to the final connecting segment of I-95 to the Center Leg and a portion of the I-295 Eats Leg along New York and Mt Ollivet with replacement housing atop; it also shows a similar yet inferior concept for the segment in the Brookland/CUA area, of a covered highway with replacement housing and community facilities, though with the western side with an open wall design that would have thrown and likely amplified the traffic noise towards CUA- a likely reason why an elevated design had been rejected, and perhaps a concern with earlier (1966) planning for this deck to continue directly alongside CUA. Oddly, a fully enclosed tunnel-way was apparently un-considered.

Likewise, it may seem bizarre how such a highway – un-built I-95 in Washington, D.C. and its connection to the stubs at the Capital Beltway was ever cancelled, let alone widely perceived as a “white man’s roads”- particularly given the low numbers of dwellings it would have displaced.

It would have displaced 0 in Maryland,as per 1973 planning, thanks to the PEPCO right of way; plus 13 commercial retail spots including two gasoline stations.

It would have displaced 59 in Washington, D.C. from the Maryland line southerly to the railyards interchange near New York Avenue: 23 and 5 alongside and near the northern side of New Hampshire Avenue, and then 34 at the western edge of Brookland with the highway routed entirely upon the RR’s eastern side.

It’s final segment along the northern side of New York Avenue, from that interchange to the Center Leg – the North Leg – East – would have displaced about 600 dwellings (replacing this vanguard of late 1800s charming latter 1800s townhouses with 1970s-esgue higher rises). The I-295 East Leg (the alternate route for DC I-95 to continue on through the SW Freeway and 14th Street Bridges to the “I-395” Shirley Highway in Virginia) would have displaced and replaced 172 1920s era townhouses.

Meanwhile, not building these highways ended up with the widening of the I-495/I-95 Capital Beltway in and near Alexandria Virginia with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge , as well as the complete reconstruction and enlargement of the interchange of this Capital Beltway with the I-95 mainline at Springfield: the former displacing some 330 dwellings; the latter 57: neither AFAIK with replacement housing. Nor with any such serious environmental mitigation as being covered- with Alexandria Virginia’s Washington Street Urban Deck being weirdly cut from 1,100 to a mere 200 feet as an 11th hour decision against and without even acknowledging the overwhelming opposition to this upon the Wilson Bridge Project’s Stakeholder Participation Panel on the Route One Interchange and Washington Street Urban Deck.

So accordingly, it is OK to displace 387 dwellings in Virginia (without replacement) , but not 231 (59 plus 172), nor 831 to include the connection to the Center Leg, WITH replacement housing and covering over as tunnel to contain traffic noise and emissions (an environmentally far more sensible idea oddly neglected by the transportation and environmentalist organizations).

Oddly, regarding the most architecturally worthy spot involved – the some 600 dwellings alongside New York Avenue, subsequent planning for this segment (revealed in a 1996 report commissioned by the DC Mayor’s Office) presents a tunnel with a curvature for the transition with the Center Leg that fails to meet FWHWA line of sight standards for curved tunnels; yet it ignores the never officially considered geometrically feasible routing option for a tunnel beneath O Street NE and NW before turning southerly beneath the recreation field at Dunbar HS, displacing not 600 but rather some 34 south of N Street and between 4th Street and New Jersey Avenue- a 95% reduction in displacement, with superior line of sight.

So we’ve demolished 387 in Virginia, for the sake of 93 (59 plus 34) or 165 (93 plus 172)- despite the matter of displacement, nor environmental mitigation- and for the sake of a LONGER route.

And with within Washington, D.C. it was that stretch of I-95 northward from New York Avenue (not inefficiently easterly and then via a Baltimore-Washington Parkway widened and redone to accommodate large trucks), displacing a mere 59 dwelling by early 1970s planning, or 69 by latter 1960s planning, got this political grief about “white mans’ roads through black mans' homes”.

One can see where this highway would go along the western edge of the Washington, D.C. area of Brookland- through the WMATA parking lots and bus depot area, and northwards through the industrial buildings all immediately along the RR’s eastern side. And southward through the 34 (1970+ planning) or 69 (1966+ planning) nearest to the RR- it would not have gone through the area of this RR where it widens as it passes south beneath Franklin Avenue, despite that option’s potential for the best windshield vista anywhere along I-95 from Maine to Florida. Clearly such a routing makes perfect sense regionally and locally: this RR is about midway between the eastern portion of the Capital Beltway in Maryland, and the George Washington Parkway in Virginia; it is the area’s sole existing above-ground transportation corridor and industrial corridor providing the space to construct a freeway with minimal residential displacement.

So does the PEPCO routing, however it was only the officially considered route for less than a year, within 1973, between its outright cancellation that July, and the February 1973 abandonment of the officially considered route since the 1950s of Northwest Branch Park, passing directly alongside the roughly simultaneous planning of Prince Georges County Plaza Shopping Mall.

Indeed, that was initially noted when this corridor was chosen for Washington, D.C. I-95, in 1962 by the White House:
Use of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad corridor to bring Routes 70-S and 95 into the city is the key to meting the need for additional highway capacity in northern Washington, Montgomery County, and northwestern Prince Georges County, and at the same time avoiding the substantial relocation of persons, loss of taxable property and disruption of neighborhoods that would result from construction of the Northeast, North Central and Northwest Freeways proposed in the 1959 plan. Further savings are realized by placing the rapid transit lines to Silver Spring and Queen’s Chapel in this same railroad corridor.” – Recommendations for Transportation in the national capital region a report to the president for transmittal to Congress by the National Capital Transportation Agency- November 1, 1962

This was part of a highway design evolution- existing right of ways, helping result in significant reductions from the impacts of the 1959 planning- numbers. The JFK Administration was more open to unorthodox means of achieving more environmentally comprehensive grade separated express roads.

The following year, the U.S. President in a letter notes:

“…I noted that certain portions of the highway network within the District of Columbia required further study. The guidelines which I believe should be followed in this re-examination are as follows:
The re-examination should focus upon the sections of the highway plans which have from the beginning been the most uncertain and the most controversial- the North Leg of the Inner Loop and the Three Sisters Bridge, both of which involve the manner in which necessarily involve a re-study of those additional portions of the plan which are directly affected by the conclusions reached in the re-examination…”

“ the very large part of the highway program which is not under study can go forward as scheduled.”- John F. Kennedy letter June 1, 1963

Notably the June 1, 1963 JFK letter has him discuss the I-66 North Leg and the [I-266] Three Sisters Bridge as controversial and in need of further study.

Since his Administration’s November 1, 1962 report had down-scaled the former while unequivocally excluding the latter altogether, his June 1, 1963 letter can be taken to suggest that JFK had become receptive to considering the Three Sisters Bridge, landing essentially alongside Georgetown University for further consideration.

By that years end, President JFK had been assassinated, 8 days after he personally dedicated the Baltimore to Delaware segment of I-95, and the Baltimore, Maryland engineering firm, J.E. Greiner and Associates begins the preliminary engineering report on WDC’s North Central Freeway.

The planning was grossly botched: 37 routes all over the map. A recommended route #11 largely along the RR yet deviating significantly in Brookland, and even more-so in Takoma Park for a segment of the I-70S portion.

Selecting the B&O corridor routing was the consensus ultimately of the early 1960s controversies over the 1959 planning. Yet J.E. Greiner deviated from the JFK plan, being its betrayal.

That they would do this after cancelling the Northwest Freeway west of Rock Creek Park- created the backdrop of the protest.

The "Support" for the North Central Freeway by organizations as the Federal City Council, undermined it by endorsing the infinitely more invasive 1964 route #11 Railroad Sligo East plan.

Each successive plan would introduce new objection:

Washington, D.C. Cancelled Freeways Hegelian Dialectic

A law suit against the B&O North Central Freeway by the law firm Covington & Burling on the grounds that it lacked the support statutorily required of the DC City Council and USNCPC- some two before those entities had reversed their support.

The Specious Reasoning of the 1968 USNCPC Reversal

The Circumstances of the 1969 DC City Council Opposition to the B&O North Central Freeway

The Specious Reasoning of the mid 1970s 'de-mappings'private automobiles obsolete by the 1990s because of less petroleum, 1975 memo 'eg don't build the DC I-66 K Street Tunnel because the connecting segment in Virginia is being cancelled' yet that latter segment was built,

The Washington Post Lies About the DC I-95 Route

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