November 17 Community Meeting Q and A
Metro has prepared the below questions and answers (Q&A) addressing comments raised at the November 17, 2020 community engagement meeting on Metro's Northern Bus Garage Replacement Project.
Q: Are all retail entrances at grade (in terms of accessibility)?
A: There are a total of 12 pedestrian entrances to the Bus facility along 14th Street, including 5 as retail entrances, 4 for WMATA, 2 for the community room and 1 entrance for Uptown Main Street (UMS). All entrances are at grade with the exception of the (2) historic administration building entrances which has an ADA compliant ramp and a stair and the southernmost retail entry/exit which will have a stair because of the grade change.
Q: Are the retail entrances external (street/sidewalk) or internal (go inside shops or restaurants to enter)?
A: Sidewalks on 14th Street lead to entrances to the retail space. Because the retail use is unknown at this time, determination about what the entrances will lead to (whether directly into the retailer or into an interior corridor) will be made once planned retail use is advanced. It is not anticipated that any negotiations with an occupant will occur until about a year before the garage completion.
Q: Is Uptown Mainstreet paying rent for their space? If yes, is WMATA giving them a special rate or a break because they are a local community organization? Or are they paying a monthly rent for that?
A: WMATA and Uptown Main Street have not engaged in any lease negotiations yet. Having said that, we are willing to work with them on a rent rate that they can afford as a local community organization.
Q: Where in the US is there retail in a diesel bus garage? Have you done any studies on the feasibility of this? What do we as a community gain from this renovation?
A: The retail is not in the garage, but is located on the 14th Street frontage of the garage and separated by a service corridor from the interior of the bus garage. Our retail consultant, Streetsense, sees no conflict. Retailers will make their decision about whether or not to locate here based on the customer market, functionality of the space and the lease terms.
Q: How is WMATA not able to predict retail uses 5-6 years from now? Isn’t that what Economic development studies/assessments do? How is it not possible in 2020 to provide these kinds of projections?
A. Retails, office or residential uses cannot be predicted that far in advance. Real estate leasing is not an exact science. Retail tenants, in particular, are difficult to predict and do not typically make commitments to leasing more than 1 year in advance.
Q: To clarify - are there 20 spaces for the employees of the retail plus 20 spaces for customers of the retail (in addition to parking for WMATA employees)? There’s concern about how successful retail will be if there’s no parking access.
A: The current design includes 20 parking spaces for retail employees. This amount of parking is consistent with the small retailers (grocer, cafe, etc.) that the site can accommodate. Our analysis of the street parking shows that there are plenty of metered parking spaces on both sides of 14th Street. Pre-pandemic, their occupancy typically ran at 30%.
Metro will discuss with DDOT any additional measures that can be taken to avoid retail parking on residential streets. Programs such as the Safe Streets pilot program or increased residential permit parking program use may also minimize impacts to the neighborhood. There is also multimodal transportation (bus, walking, bicycle) options from the neighborhood that may decrease parking demand.
In addition, the required security at the facility further constrains Metro’s ability to offer surface parking. Buses are used for emergency events, so they have to be locked down and secured like any other major public building. Retail employees will go through security checks just to get on site. Allowing public parking onsite introduces an unrecommended additional risk. These security requirements are further described in FTA Circular C 5800.1 Safety and Security Management for Major Capital Projects.
Q: What is the total # of parking space for WMATA employees? Could that be reduced and their staff be encouraged to take transit to provide some parking for retail customers for both sides of 14th Street?
A: There are 326 spaces total parking spaces onsite. WMATA anticipates that approximately 300 of these spaces will be reserved for Metro employees to cover the peak needs around shift changes and avoid parking on the surrounding neighborhood streets. These spots will be utilized by bus operators who need to get to the facility very early, when transit does not run, and also by operators who work the last shift change and bring the buses back to the garage at the end of the day, when there is no transit to get home.
Q: The bike lane adjacent to loading zones on 14th Street typically gets blocked by delivery trucks and parked cars. Are there any other options?
A: Metro intends to provide a loading zone to prevent blocking of the bike lane, though options are limited. Metro does not want double parking on the street. Trucks/deliveries will not be able to back up to the loading zone since it is not allowed by DDOT. The trash would get rolled out to the street, or deliveries would be wheeled into the delivery area. The proposed delivery location is currently used for vehicles backing into the existing entrance, but Metro is eliminating backing movement in the proposed design. The reason the curb remains in this area is to make it easier for a hand truck or the like to be pushed into a loading zone.
Q: Can we confirm that retail parking will not spill into the residential streets by placing concrete barriers to block outside traffic from entering the residential streets? They have done this around the Chevy Chase Pavilion in Friendship Heights.
A: We will bring that concern to our conversations with DDOT staff. In addition to the possibility of physical barriers, there are other programs that may be considered such as the Safe Streets pilot program or increased residential permit parking program use to mitigate the impacts to the neighborhood. The type of retail will determine the parking demand. There is also multimodal transportation (bus, walking, bicycle) options from the neighborhood that may decrease the parking demand.
Q: What number of parking spaces will have EV charging capabilities?
A: There are currently 10 EV charging spots for automobiles, but WMATA is evaluating additional vehicle charging capabilities to cover up to 20% (or 60) of the total parking spaces.
Q: How is parking thought through with regards to current and future retailers? What are some of the considerations that will part of this multi-year process determining how retail fits and how the design works?
A: The project is in a planning phase. While we expect to provide parking for retail employees on-site, customer parking will be on-street. Details of the management of customer parking have not been worked through yet. Given that leasing commitments by retailers do not occur until a year or two in advance of opening, the retail space is designed to be flexible to accommodate various potential combinations of retailers. This is very typical in retail development. Since the completion of construction of the new garage appears to be five or six years off, the flexible design approach (i.e. planning for how tenants and customers will access the retail spaces and how utilities will be provided) is how we can adjust to any number of retailers that may be interested in the future.
Q: How will WMATA protect pedestrians from getting hit by an exiting bus and fast closing exit doors, especially by 14th Street? Will there be a WMATA employee at the exit at all hours when the retail businesses are open? It looks like there will be little advance notice to pedestrians when a bus is exiting. I have concerns that there’s going to be a pedestrian accident there.
A: Safety is extremely important to WMATA. We are looking at many different measures to ensure safe pedestrian movements around the reconstructed Northern Bus Garage. Design is ongoing, and all final measures will be reviewed and approved by DDOT. There is a traffic signal at the bus exit – Decatur St, and there is currently a pedestrian walk signal, which will be retained. We anticipate replacing the existing signal equipment with a new, upgraded signal which would most likely include countdown pedestrian signal heads. The exiting buses would be controlled by the signal, and therefore the pedestrians would know when it is safe to cross by following the signal control.
Entrances and exits for other ramps along 14th Street will be controlled by an electronic gate system that is common in all Metro facilities. Typically, the gate can only be engaged with a key code or swipe card before you can enter or depart the facility.
Q: What elements of this design are actually going to improve public safety and the neighborhood?
A: Metro ceased bus operations at this facility in Summer 2019. It is essential to resume service from the Northern Bus Garage site as soon as possible in order to provide the efficient and reliable service of the routes served by this facility. Meanwhile, the bus garage will be built for the future, incorporating design choices that facility future electric bus technology conversion.
Q: WMATA left this facility in June 2018 and by their estimations will return sometime in 2025. Why not stay away as long as it takes to come back all electric?
A: One of the most important security considerations is lighting, making it a safe area so that there is visibility. Another measure that came up during previous community meetings, and reflected in the current design, is additional windows for increased visibility onto the surrounding streets (“eyes on the street”). We will have security personnel (MTPD officers) and guard service at the main entrance and parking deck entry 24/7 for the facility, and the facility will have numerous CCTV cameras around the perimeter to help monitor the area. One of the latest measures that WMATA is working on in coordination with DDOT is widened sidewalk along Decatur St to provide for a well-lit, wide shared use path and improvement circulation around the reconstructed NBG.
Q: What types and how many vehicles will be going in and out of the administrative side of the building belonging to MTP?
A. There will only be automobile traffic in this area, not buses. The automobiles will be entering and exiting the garage, driven primarily by our bus operators, maintenance and operations staff. There will be several hundred vehicle movements each day.
Q: What will be the route of the diesel fluid Bus coming and going? Arkansas Ave? The path from 14th Street to Arkansas Ave takes you past Upshur Recreation Center / Playground / Kids park / Baseball field / swimming pool. Three schools are close by [West / Maya Angelou Elementary School and Powell]. Your diesel buses will ride through the residential area, then make a tight left turn on Buchanan Street past People's Congregational Church UCC and finally entering directly across from DSK Mariam Church. You are impacting thousands of women, children, adults and seniors. How do you account for that?
A. The buses operating out of Northern Division will follow the same routes that were active prior to NBG’s closure. However, it is worth noting that buses are currently restricted from operating on Arkansas Ave. The reconstruction of the bus garage is separate from Metro’s Bus Network Design, which is a separate process with public notification and engagement opportunities.
Q: Could you provide a little background on what laws or regulations require the level of security that you are describing?
A. The building is being secured based on best practice for an essential facility. These security requirements are further described in FTA Circular C 5800.1 Safety and Security Management for Major Capital Projects.
Q: In addition to the horizontal green roof cover, can vegetated walls/trellis systems be installed around the mechanical penthouse on the roof? Vertical vegetative systems?
A: WMATA appreciates this suggestion and will consider opportunities to add more vegetated roofing around the mechanical units. In previous design concepts for Northern Bus Garage, we had shown some vertical vegetative panels incorporated in the facades. The HPRB and community did not respond positively to the vegetative panels, so we removed them in the revised design. Based on the latest exterior design supported by the community, green walls would not be included.
Q: Could some of the green roof elements be incorporated into green walls instead to get retail customer parking on the roof for both sides of 14th Street?
A: One of the comments we received from the Community and HPRB on the original 60% design was that the building was too high and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood. We went back and reduced the height, including the area on the car parking level to provide a more appropriate massing along the street edge. It is not feasible to reintroduce parking along the edges without also increasing the height of the building. The remaining roofs that do not contain parking have photovoltaics or a green roof, which do not require the roof height to be raised. Also, as noted previously, based on FTA security guidelines, we cannot bring unscreened retail customers into the building.
Q: For vertical vegetation systems, interested to know what some specific objections were because I see the imposing walls and I would've thought that some green systems would be a nice way to break that up?
A: The vertical green walls came up during the HPRB initial meeting. The HPRB Board didn't feel the green wall concept fit into the overall facility redesign and they didn't understand the purpose of it. The team did not work to include green wall elements into the new design and we do not believe they would fit well within the current aesthetics.
Q: There is a concern about brick height along Arkansas Avenue, homes will have to face the towering structure and that seems inappropriate?
A: We have lowered the roof in every location we can, but the mid-block area along Arkansas is where the car ramp goes up to the roof. We tried to take some wall panels along the ramp and add transparency where possible, but we cannot lower the car ramp. The design team further reviewed the design of the walls along the car ramp. The southernmost portions of the ramp walls were able to be either lowered by 8 feet uniformly or also sloped to follow the car ramp as a parapet further reducing the visible wall area. These design refinements provide a less significant height difference between the southeastern brick wall and car ramp’s red paneled wall, which was understood to be the community member’s primary concern. This change has been updated in the elevations and rendering view 6 and will be presented to the HPRB at the December 17th hearing.
Q: Is the wall section on Arkansas Ave taller than the existing building, and if so, by how much?
A: It varies. The new section in the southeast corner of the site is similar to the existing building height. The section through the brick screen wall at the north end of Arkansas is approximately 10 to 15 feet higher than the existing building. As discussed previously, the car ramp walls are taller because of the programmatic requirements for the project.
Q: Has WMATA done shadow studies relating to impacts to neighboring homes during different seasons?
A: The design team ran a shadow study for the site. Because of the large setback of the new facility along Arkansas Ave. and Iowa Ave., the building has a minimal impact on the neighboring homes in terms of shading. The neighboring properties do not fall within the facility’s shadow until the sun begins to set, which is like the situation that exists today. This ranges from around 3pm on the winter solstice to 7pm on the summer solstice. The project has been designed to comply with all zoning restrictions for building height.
Q: Will the facility be an end point for bus routes similar to Friendship Heights?
A. Friendship Heights is a regional transit center and bus station serving Metrobus, Ride On and various shuttles. Northern Bus garage is not intended to serve as a bus station for multiple operators. The historic bus loop on 14th Street NW at Colorado Avenue is designed to serve that purpose. Some Metrobus routes may begin or end at the garage (as has been done over its 100-year history) but it is not intended or designed to be a Regional Bus Station.
Q: How many buses are going to be housed in the garage? What types of exhausts will be released? What are the impacts on air quality within 5 blocks from the garage?
A: Roughly 150 buses are planned to be stored in the facility and operate out of it. The building is designed to be negatively pressurized so that air does not escape without first being filtered. All the inside air will go through scrubbers to remove impurities before it is released out of the building. Buildings like this have to go through several air changes per hour to be safe for the occupants, which is why it goes through a scrubber system. Please see the Q&A from Community Meeting #3 on this topic.
Q: Assuming there will be some number of years between the bus garage project completion and electrification of DC’s bus fleet, what impact will continued use of diesel buses have on the community? In regard to community members’ health? In regard to environmental impact? When will WMATA be able to answer these questions of environmental health impacts without completing an EIS or EA? It seems like it can’t be answered without one. We won’t be able to effectively feel like the community will be safe. It feels backwards, having a diesel bus barn 5-6 years from now. Why are you not willing to budge on moving forward with an electric fleet?
A: We conducted a briefing in community meeting #3 that addressed many of your questions and refer the community member to information that has been posted regarding these concerns. The level of environmental review is determined by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the review process is FTA-sanctioned. FTA has told us that the probable class of action determination is a documented categorical exclusion.
On Thursday November 19, 2020, the WMATA Board of Directors considered information on powering of bus fleets (electric vs. diesel) during a presentation entitled “Framework for Transit Equity: Sustainability Principles.” The presentation begins at the 1 hour, 20 minute mark in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdULb2aK_CQ.
Electric fleets require technology to operate and substantial electrical infrastructure (capable of providing a significant amount of electricity for recharging). The required electrical infrastructure is currently not in place. This is something that is beyond WMATA’s control. We will continue working with PEPCO to coordinate how they build out the infrastructure necessary to recharge the buses at depots. In addition, we need to design our bus routes so that electric buses can complete a full route on a single charge. Our current planning efforts are designed to add electric buses to the fleet as efficiently as possible once the infrastructure and technology requirements are satisfied. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with the community.
Q: You talked about setting a baseline for the area with regard to particular matters?
A: WMATA does not set baselines for particulate matters. Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments reviews regional data for conformity with Clean Air Act program requirements. As a recipient of Federal Funds WMATA has to ensure that the project complies with the Clean Air Act conformity requirements.
Q: With the scrubbers that you have, will they pick out PM1? PM1 particles are very tiny and quite dangerous for people's health because it can get into your bloodstream. I don't’ see that you’re using activated carbon filters.
A: Response to this question was also provided as part of the Q&A from our Community Meeting #3. Summary of the response is below:
Although there is no regulatory requirement, the dry scrubber system is designed to remove approximately 75% of the PM1 particles. There are two major standards available in the market describing the efficiency of the air filters, MERV/ASHRAE 52.2 and ISO 16890.
- MERV system mostly focuses on the percentage of particles captured at specific particle size ranges – refer to the table provided in the Q&A responses above.
- The second standard is the ISO 16890 which focuses more on the particle size distribution of Particulate Matter (PM). The ISO 16890 testing method is broken down in 4 different categories:
- ePM1 (the smallest and most harmful particles)
- ePM2.5 (used mostly by the WHO and EPA)
- ePM10 (also used by the WHO and EPA)
- ePM-Coarse (for very light-duty or pre-filtration applications) ASHRAE has developed the table below to capture the comparison between MERV system and ISO 16890 (which referenced to PM):
As seen from the table, the MERV 14 filters will capture approximately 75% of the PM 1 particles.
Q: It's not about smelling fumes. There's plenty we can't smell that can still impact our health.
A. Please refer to the Q&As for Meeting #3 for information about air treatment.
Q: If technology is the problem, why isn't WMATA considering trolleybuses? Trolleybuses have been around for 100 years and are proven technology, unlike battery-electric buses.
A. Metro currently has no plans for implementing trolley buses. SEPTA operates 38 Trackless Trolley vehicles. Trackless Trolleys are proven technology; however Trackless Trolleys operate on catenary wires, which are very costly to install and maintain. Further, Trackless Trolleys are dedicated to a specific route, which would not work in the WMATA environment. When detours occur, the Trackless Trolley operate an EPU (Emergency Power Unit), which is a Cummins engine. Therefore, you are not getting away from the diesel engine. The average cost of a Trackless Trolley is roughly the same as an electric bus.
Q: If you plan to be all electric from the start you would not have to plan for scrubbers. Would that help cover the cost of going electric off the bat?
A. Regardless of the bus technology in place we still need to maintain some quantity of AQ "scrubbers" to meet life safety codes and design criteria for minimum air changes per hour for maintaining a healthy workspace for the building occupants. There are many operations within the space beyond the exhaust emissions that need to be managed. The savings overall on reduced scrubber requirements for an all-electrical fleet would only cover a small fraction of the overall investment required to fully electrify the facility in particular when you look at the offsite grid investment needed to serve the charging demand for the buses.
Art in Transit
Q: How and when will the community have input into art projects incorporated into the final design?
Q: When will WMATA present revised concepts to HPRB? Can the public speak or are they just witnesses?
A: The HPRB public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, December 17th. Details about the hearing have been posted in the bus garage vicinity. Our government relations team will also distribute information to the ANC leaders ahead of the hearing. A link is available on the notices that will bring you to the HPRB website where questions or testimony can be submitted to HPRB, and one can register for an opportunity to speak at the hearing.
Q: What will future dialogue look like?
A: Moving forward, this is not the end of our community engagement. We are committed to providing updates quarterly and when additional information is available. We will send out updates when appropriate through our email listserv. To sign up for the listserv you can email: MCAP_NBG_Reconstruction_Project@wmata.com. We will add you to our email listserv so that you receive future updates and notices about meetings surrounding issues around the NBG Project.