By Katie Pearce
Current Staff Writer
Though Metro’s new strategic plan focuses mostly on short-term needs, one vision for the distant future — to build a new rail tunnel through Georgetown to Thomas Circle — is already catching attention.
The idea, which could potentially create a Metro station in rail-starved Georgetown, is certainly not new as a conversation piece. But a concrete proposal in that direction from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority gives the topic new steam.
The authority released its 10-year strategic plan last week. Dubbed “Momentum,” the plan lays out the system’s immediate priorities as well as a vision for the long term, as the region prepares to take on a 30 percent population increase over 30 years.
The plan’s first priority is maximizing the existing transit network, requiring at least $1 billion per year. Goals for 2025 — which include using only full eight-car trains and increasing the capacity of core Metro stations — would cost an additional $500 million per year.
Then there’s a set of goals for 2040, which would require an additional $740 million per year. Among those is a proposal to separate the Blue and Orange lines and the Yellow and Green lines in the system’s core. Doing so would involve building two new tunnels terminating at Thomas Circle — one running north-south along 10th Street NW and SW; the other crossing the Potomac River from Rosslyn, and beneath Georgetown via M Street.
Tom Harrington, the authority’s director of long-range planning, noted that the new plan doesn’t contain much detail on these tunnels. “In Momentum, [the Georgetown tunnel] is purposely drawn with big fat arrows. It doesn’t show you station locations and so forth,” he said.
“The bottom line is, at this stage, we’re talking about the need to separate the two lines,” Harrington said.
Congestion at the Rosslyn stop — a strain expected to grow once the new Silver Line to Dulles is up and running — would justify the project, according to Metro documents. Harrington said tackling Rosslyn congestion as part of the 2025 goals could “potentially be a starting point” to the conversation about the new tunnel.
Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans gave enthusiastic support for a tunnel beneath Georgetown in an interview yesterday.
As a resident of the neighborhood himself since 1993, “I would like to have a Metro in Georgetown,” he said, adding that he believes he “represents the majority of the people” on that point. Currently, he said, he can’t use public transportation to get to work without a lot of time, hassle and confusing fees.
According to Evans, the D.C. Council intends to pass a “sense of the council” resolution supporting the goals of the “Momentum” plan next Tuesday.
But the legislator has some other ideas for how a line through Georgetown might work. Personally, he’d prefer to see it run south from Tenleytown down Wisconsin Avenue, which could also address Glover Park’s transit deficiencies.
And if Metro does build a tunnel across the Potomac, Evans believes it needs to be “big enough to fit cars as well,” to alleviate traffic on Key Bridge and the Whitehurst Freeway. With a car tunnel in place, he said, there could even be justification for tearing down the Whitehurst.
The transit authority has considered various ideas for a Rosslyn-originating tunnel in the past, including one running to Union Station. Though the “Momentum” vision cuts off the new tunnel at Thomas Circle, a parallel planning effort is exploring options for a new Blue line running along M Street NW eventually to H Street NE and the Benning Road stop — via either New Jersey or Constitution avenues.
Harrington said the transit authority will review these concepts and others in its “Regional Transit System Plan,” expected to come out in the middle of this year.
According to Evans, another idea would be to run a line up Pennsylvania Avenue, “cutting back over to Metro Center.” He said a station near the International Monetary Fund at 700 19th St. NW could make sense.
Joe Sternlieb, executive director of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said a central stop near Wisconsin and M streets would be ideal for the neighborhood, but “both God and the devil are in the details.”
The business group supports the general concept of a tunnel through Georgetown, which Sternlieb said “has been on the wish list for a very long time.”
He said he expects his group to participate in advocacy and planning sessions soon.
But Sternlieb said the high price tag for Metro’s total list of aspirations — the widely reported $26 billion — also “makes people realistic” in their expectations.
Though the “Momentum” plan calls attention to the need for stable funding, it doesn’t go into specifics.
Evans believes the same funding mechanism that brought Metro to the city decades ago — with the feds pitching in half the costs, and the District, Maryland and Virginia splitting the rest — can work again. “You just have to make the commitment to that,” he said.
Another backdrop to the Georgetown tunnel is the neighborhood’s history with Metro. To this day there are conflicting rumors about why a Georgetown stop never made its way into the network.
The transit authority’s response to that question is to direct people to Zachary M. Schrag’s book “The Great Society Metro,” which describes obstacles both in neighborhood opposition and in complexities of engineering and costs, Harrington said.
Last week the Georgetown Metropolitan blog firmly disputed the “popular stereotype” that Metro evaded the neighborhood because “rich Georgetowners wanted to keep the minorities out.”
Council member Evans, who twice chaired the Metro board, said he researched the topic extensively and found some “truth to the rumor” that neighborhood opposition killed Metro for Georgetown in the 1970s. Since Congress ran the city at that time — and several members lived in Georgetown — Metro abandoned the idea of a stop there, he said.
This article appears in the Jan. 30 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Deirdre Bannon
Current Staff Writer
Georgetown and Burleith residents offered various suggestions for improving the area’s parking situation last week, including “performance parking” in commercial areas, charges to visitor parking on residential streets, and a designated parking zone for neighborhood residents.
While opinions varied at the D.C. Department of Transportation meeting Wednesday, one sentiment rang clear: “Do no harm.” Residents, for example, don’t want to see changes that could benefit parking in commercial zones like Wisconsin Avenue or M Street unintentionally make parking more difficult on the streets where they live.
The Transportation Department convened the meeting as it seeks to address the parking shortages that have become a common complaint in the neighborhood. As it looks into new solutions, the agency is asking residents what works and what doesn’t work for parking now. Officials stressed that the future programs don’t have to be permanent, but can adapt to the neighborhood’s needs.
“We are nimble when it comes to implementation,” said the Transportation Department’s Damon Harvey at the meeting. “If we make a change and it doesn’t work, we will change things again to make sure our stakeholders are happy.”
A working group made up of representatives from the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and the citizens associations of Burleith and Georgetown has been meeting with the Transportation Department for several months to discuss parking, and the groups joined to host Wednesday’s meeting.
“Our objective is to make on-street parking better,” said the Transportation Department’s “parking czar” Angelo Rao, emphasizing that the agency isn’t looking for a one-size-fits-all solution. “To satisfy this goal, we need you to be our partners and give us your feedback so we can provide the best service.”
A number of business owners and residents embraced the concept of performance parking in commercial areas. The idea is to encourage turnover in places like M Street and Wisconsin Avenue by implementing variable parking rates, charging the highest prices when the spaces are most in demand. Proceeds from performance parking are directed back to the community — a popular advantage of this program. Similar systems are already in place in Columbia Heights and near Nationals Park.
“Turnover is an important issue for everyone in Georgetown — it propels the whole process,” neighborhood commissioner Tom Birch said at the meeting. “Whatever happens in Georgetown, it must be a system that is fair and equitable.”
Rao asked residents what they thought about charging visitors to park on residential streets, either through installing meters or a pay-by-cellphone system that would require installing new street signs. While a few said they were open to that idea, most opposed it.
“We need to dispel the myth that it’s difficult to find parking in Georgetown,” said Birch. “If you ask people to pay to park on residential streets, you will make that worse.” Exacerbating Georgetown’s reputation as a parking nightmare, Birch said, could result in contractors, friends of residents, and consumers choosing not to come to the neighborhood.
Some proposed restricting residential parking only to those who live in Georgetown and Burleith, rather than allowing anyone who lives in Ward 2 to park in the often-crowded areas. But others didn’t like that idea, saying that for public transportation-starved neighborhoods like theirs, it’s important to have options to park elsewhere in the ward, like near the Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom Metro stations.
Other ideas that had some consensus included reducing the residential parking permit restrictions by one hour, from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m., which would make visitor parking easier for those attending dinner parties or other evening events.
Another popular idea — a plan for shared parking — would identify commercial parking lots or garages in the area that empty after business hours and could be used by visitors to local restaurants at night or to faith-based institutions on weekends.
Still, some residents made it known that they have no problems parking now, and they don’t want anything to change. Instead, they want to see more enforcement of existing parking restrictions.
Representatives from the Transportation Department said the city’s parking enforcement budget has shrunk in recent years, reducing the number of officers on the street. Residents suggested that the neighborhoods’ citizens associations and business improvement district could raise funds for a parking enforcement officer exclusively for Georgetown.
Though debate was vigorous at the meeting, at its conclusion neighborhood commissioner Ron Lewis, who is also member of the parking working group, called the range of ideas “very useful.”
“We’re trying to do the best for the community,” he said.
“This is a pilot, so it’s a flexible, adaptable program — we don’t have to feel like we’re making a right decision or wrong decision when we make changes,” added neighborhood commissioner Ed Solomon. “We can try something and see what works — and if doesn’t work, we can always come back and change it.”
Over the next three to four months the agency will synthesize the ideas from the meeting and come back to the community to discuss which proposals are feasible. For more information or to provide feedback, email email@example.com.
This article appears in the Jan. 23 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.
By Elizabeth Wiener
Current Staff Writer
A hastily drawn agreement between Pinstripes Bowling and residents of Georgetown Park Condominiums cleared the way yesterday for zoning approval of a 12-lane bowling alley and bocce ball courts at the redeveloping Shops at Georgetown Park mall.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment unanimously endorsed the plan after viewing a detailed — and legally binding — set of operating conditions for the bowling alley and its various eating and drinking facilities. The agreement was being finalized right as the zoning hearing began.
The upscale bowling alley, complete with bars, an Italian bistro and upstairs banquet facility, is a key part of Vornado Realty Trust’s effort to transform the underused mall at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street into a more attractive shopping and entertainment destination.
Pinstripes, which already has four venues in the Midwest, envisions using 28,000 square feet of space on two levels of Georgetown Park, sandwiched between a parking garage below and condos above, for its first East Coast location. Dale Schwartz, Pinstripes’ founder and chief executive officer, said the concept “redefines entertainment and dining,” and said more than 80 percent of the business is “beverage and dining,” with bowling only offered as one option.
“Bowling alleys historically attracted the Harley-Davidson crowd,” he told the board. “That’s clearly not what we do.”
But the plan initially ran into significant resistance from the condominium association, which feared a bowling alley would create disturbing levels of noise and vibration. Already frayed by the noise of construction elsewhere in the mall, the condo owners united in opposition to a venue they feared might make the disruption permanent.
Their opposition swayed the Georgetown advisory neighborhood commission to vote unanimously on Jan. 2 to oppose Pinstripe’s zoning application. Normally, that would merit “great weight” in the zoning board’s deliberations, but the commission also indicated it would withdraw its opposition if Pinstripes and the condo owners reached a mutually acceptable operating agreement.
There was a bit of drama inside and outside the hearing room Tuesday as Pinstripes attorney Allison Prince and condo association attorney Marty Sullivan scrambled to finish the long agreement — and an attached set of conditions — before the zoning board could act.
“We’re very close to agreement, 98 percent there,” said Sullivan as the day opened. When the case was called about an hour later, Prince said: “We have crossed that 2 percent threshold.”
Sullivan told the zoning board that his clients had formally withdrawn their opposition. And with the agreement in hand, board chair Lloyd Jordan noted, “the ANC moves to the support column.”
Among the agreement’s conditions, Pinstripes is pledging to:
• allow the condo association’s own sound engineer complete access during construction, to make sure all soundproofing specifications are met.
• limit the number of people who can use outdoor patios on both levels, and end outdoor operations at 10 p.m. on weekends and 9 p.m. on weekdays. None of the facilities, indoors or out, would open before 8 a.m.
• put screening around the patios to protect “the privacy of neighbors” on both sides of the C&O Canal, which flanks Georgetown Park. Movable walls will be used to prevent noise from escaping whenever amplified music is used inside.
In addition, as Prince pointed out, the entire operation will be bound by D.C. code requiring any establishment serving alcohol in Georgetown’s waterfront zone to limit noise escaping its doors to essentially “the level of the human voice.”
And even though only the bowling alley requires zoning approval, Prince said the agreement covers much more. “We took a global approach with conditions that address the totality.”
Even so, board members had some doubts about the noise controls, and whether they would work at Georgetown Park. Despite a lengthy report by Pinstripes’ sound engineer, Jordan noted, “I don’t see any actual readings from this facility.”
But members seemed reassured when Vornado official Scott Milsom described the 12-inch concrete slab between the bowling alley and floor above, and another thick slab between the banquet level and condos. “Any vibration and noise will be completely eliminated,” Schwartz said. “The goal is this is essentially inaudible in the residential space,” his sound engineer said.
After the board granted approval, Schwartz said Pinstripes hopes to begin construction in the next few months, and to open by the end of 2013.
This article appears in the Jan. 16 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.