Posts by matt johnson
If you live or work in Montgomery County, you’ve probably heard about the ambitious plans to build Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) here. You can learn more about the proposal at a panel discussion in Silver Spring this Wednesday.
Bus Rapid Transit is a type of transit using buses, which can include many of the aspects normally associated with light rail. Attributes like reserved lanes, all-door boarding, traffic signal priority, and off-board fare collection speed up buses, and allow transit riders to get where they’re going faster.
The county has announced plans to build as much as 160 miles worth of BRT in Montgomery, to bring quick transit to as many residents as possible.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth is organizing the panel, and its Executive Director, Stewart Schwartz will be moderating. Panelists are members of the Transit Task Force, and will discuss where the lines will go, how it will work, and where the funding will come from.
If you’d like to learn more or be a part of the discussion, the free panel will be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building at 1 Veterans Place in Downtown Silver Spring. The panel, on Wednesday, August 8, will start at 7:00 p.m., and doors will open at 6:30.
If you plan to attend, please RSVP.
Building a successful and attractive transit system takes more than drawing lines on a map and buying snazzy vehicles. In addition to the many technical issues, one of the most important factors is values. Who is the system for, and why will they use it?
International transportation consultant Jarrett Walker, who writes the blog Human Transit, has a new book by the same title about the values behind transit, transit’s limits and opportunities, and why people do and don’t ride.
On Tuesday, February 7, the Planning Commission is hosting Jarrett as a part of our speaker series. The talk will start at 7:30 pm in the Planning Board auditorium at 8787 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.
If you can’t make it to Silver Spring on the 7th, there are other chances to see Jarrett.
Several local organizations are cosponsoring an informal chat and question/answer session with Jarrett next Thursday, February 9th, at 6:30 pm.
That event will be at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) offices at 1666 K Street NW, Suite 1100, starting at 6:30. Young Professionals in Transportation, Women’s Transportation Seminar, the American Planning Association, APTA, and Greater Greater Washington are cosponsoring the event.
To go to the evening event at APTA, you do need to RSVP. Additionally, there are a limited number of books available at a discounted rate. You can reserve one when you RSVP.
Also on the 9th, Jarrett will speak at the National Building Museum from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. The National Building Museum is located downtown at 401 F Street NW. It may fill up so RSVP to reserve your space.
For those of you who live or work in the Baltimore area, Jarrett has also announced a lunchtime talk at Penn Station. It will run from noon until 1 pm on Tuesday the 7th.
All of the events are free.
Jarrett’s book, like his blog, is full of insightful commentary. I was particularly interested in his discussion of the relationship between connections and frequency in enabling transit to be a more feasible mode. It was especially poignant for me, since the Metrobus and Prince George’s County bus routes in Greenbelt were restructured around these principles just last year.
Prior to the change, we basically had a “direct service everywhere” design, which meant either long waits for the right bus or long rides on the wrong bus. Jarrett talks about how good design (both frequency and connections between routes) can mean that transferring might get you there more quickly and more reliably at the same cost to the agency. My experience on the ground backs that up, and the book explains why transit works that way.
Anyone who has ridden transit on a regular basis will appreciate the points Jarrett makes. Especially his matrix showing the seven demands of useful transit service. Transit designers must take these demands into consideration if they hope to compete for riders.
I won’t get too in depth, here. But I will strongly encourage you to buy Jarrett’s book. And hopefully I’ll see you at one of his events in the area.
As a part of the Purple Line, Montgomery County will fund upgrades to the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring. Tomorrow, the Planning Board will hear recommendations from its transportation planning staff about several issues facing the trail. After hearing testimony, the Planning Board will send recommendations to the Montgomery County Council.
The current design from the Maryland Transit Administration includes a number of improvements to the trail. The upgraded trail will be expanded to 12 feet wide, whereÂ feasible, and paved. Additionally, the trail will be extended from its current terminus at Lyttonsville 1.5 miles farther east to Downtown Silver Spring. New overpasses or underpasses will be provided over Connecticut Avenue, Jones Mill Road, 16th Street, and Colesville Road.
This is good news for trail users.
Planning staff is calling for the installation of lighting along the new trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring. The trail would be lit during the hours the Purple Line is open, and would allow the trail to be used safely during commuting hours. The recommendation is to design lighting so that it does not disturb neighboring properties.
Staff is also calling for emergency call boxes to be placed at intervals along the trail. This will help to promote security and reduce crime. New landscaping will help to create a pleasing trail experience and will screen trail users and neighbors from the Purple Line.
The most costly decision that will have to be made is whether to put the trail above the train in the tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue.Â Right now, estimates place the cost of keeping the trail in the tunnel at $40.5 million, which is 43% of the cost of the entire trail. Planning staff have recommended against putting the trail in the tunnel if the price remains so high. For a fraction of that cost, the surface alignment could be significantly improved. The Planning Department is calling for more study before making a final decision.
Not having the trail in the tunnel would mean that trail users would need to cross Wisconsin Avenue at grade. If a surface alignment is chosen, the staff recommends prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists crossing Wisconsin Avenue. They recommend a working group be convened to hammer out the design details.
A surface alignment is clearly not as nice for pedestrians and cyclists because of the Wisconsin Avenue crossing. But there are plenty of ways to make the crossing of Wisconsin safe and efficient for trail users.
The Planning Department recommends that if the surface alignment is used through Bethesda, that the trail will be made as user-friendly and safe as possible. While the exact design solutions have not been determined, many solutions will be considered, including creating a bicycle/pedestrian only signal phase for crossing Wisconsin Avenue, a separated â€ścycle trackâ€ť, raised crosswalks, and more.
And letâ€™s not forget that even if the tunnel under Wisconsin is lost to the Purple Line, the trail will still be vastly improved. It will be paved, bridge several major arterials where people have to cross at grade now, and extend 1.5 miles farther to downtown Silver Spring.
Land in our urban areas is very valuable and much of it is currently used for parking. But what might places like Silver Spring be if they had more park space? Today, we are participating in National Park(ing) Day to find out.
Taking several spaces on Ellsworth Drive in Downtown Silver Spring, planners from the Montgomery County Planning Department and other organizations have claimed a few more square feet for parkland in the central business district.
The event is being held today on Ellsworth Drive from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Participating in the event are 5 organizations who support a greener future. In addition to the Planning Department (2 spaces), the DC chapter of the Congress for New Urbanism, the Green Commuter, Pyramid Atlantic, and Growing Soul (1 space each) have joined the celebration of public space.
Ellsworth Drive is already the most pedestrian friendly street in Silver Spring. On many weekends, the street is closed to cars, and becomes an extension of the sidewalks. In fact, the adjacent block is closed to traffic today (between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue).
On the next block, the planning department is using one parking space for a three-dimensional display about complete streets. A complete street is designed to promote its use for all users: pedestrians, cyclists, transit, and cars.
Two other spaces have become temporary extensions of Veterans’ Plaza. They provide the space normally used for storing two cars for relaxation. The final 3 spaces contain displays on cycling, sustainability, and art.
Downtown Silver Spring is one of Montgomery County’s urban areas. And while it’s an extremely walkable place, over 82 acres of ground is devoted to parking. That’s almost 22% of the land area of the CBD. And that number does not include on-street parking.
In comparison, parks, plazas, and privately-owned open spaces make up only 21 acresâ€”a little under 6% of the land area.
Today, Silver Spring’s public open space got a little larger. If you’re in Downtown Silver Spring, stop by the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton to enjoy your street; it’s for people, not just cars.
Ever wondered how the names of waterways vary from state to state? An interesting map now shows the differences in waterway toponyms in the United States.
The patterns of settlement across the country give reason to the difference. From the brooks of New England and the kills of New
Netherland York to the bayous of New France Louisiana and the rios of New Mexico, the variety of names adds flavor to a diverse nation.
The stark differences, especially in the Mid-Atlantic and New England show how varied the histories of those regions are, despite their size.
The map shows creeks and rivers in gray, since those names are so common nationwide. Though sometimes things get mixed up. Consider Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River: It’s a kill and a river.
Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.
Planners in Montgomery County are working to determine how to best accommodate bicyclists as the county continues to grow. They’ve created a tool known as a “heat map” to figure out the best places to invest in bike infrastructure.
With limited funds, planners have to prioritize bike infrastructure, just like other types of infrastructure. This tool should help planners figure out which projects will have the biggest impact.
As expected, the primary bicycle hot spots are in the more urban communities in the downcounty area. Silver Spring, Bethesda, and Friendship Heights top the list of areas with high cycling demand.
Wheaton, White Flint, and Rockville also have high demand for cycling infrastructure.
The map was developed by measuring proximity to trip attractors such as Metro stations and public facilities. Density and the mix of land uses also factored into the analysis.
Montgomery is the third jurisdiction in the region to develop a bicycle demand map. It follows efforts in the District of Columbia and Arlington County, to develop demand maps for locating Capital Bikeshare stations.
Planners will be able to use this tool to prioritize Capital Bikeshare stations, bike lanes, and other cycling facilities.
We’re still looking for input into the methodology. If you have ideas about how to improve the study, please share them.
Crossposted on Greater Greater Washington.
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a full day in Cleveland, Ohio. And I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. As it turns out, Cleveland is a pretty nice place.
I’d only ever passed through Cleveland on Amtrak’s Capitol Limited in the middle of the night. So I was unsure of what to expect, but my perceptions certainly focused on Cleveland as a rust belt city with some pretty serious environmental problems.
What I found was a city (and a region) facing a severe economic crisis, but one whose downtown and core neighborhoods cling to vibrancy. I was impressed with the urban form of Downtown, a district which has seen better days, but whose architecture and streetscape has fared better than many other cities I’ve visited.
My trip was short, constrained by the amount of time I had off and the exigencies of cheap airfare. I only had time to visit a few neighborhoods: Shaker Square, Larchmere, Ohio City, the Flats, the Warehouse District, and Downtown.
The first neighborhood I explored was Shaker Square. The neighborhood is centered on the Shaker Square shopping center, the second planned shopping center in the United States. The center comprises four buildings fronting directly onto the square. A light rail line cuts the square in half with its east-west axis. Within the square is a green space.
The surrounding neighborhood was built as a planned streetcar suburb. The immediate vicinity is characterized by low- and mid-rise apartment buildings, which helps to build transit ridership and places residents within walking distance of the shops.
But the density falls off rapidly as one walks away from the transit station. Within a block or so, are beautiful single-family and two-family homes on tree-lined streets. If I were to live in Cleveland, this would definitely be a place I’d consider.
After seeing Shaker Square and a little of Larchmere, I headed for Ohio City. Just across the Cuyahoga River from Downtown, Ohio City is home to the spectacular West Side Market. Unfortunately, I got there a few minutes after the market closed, so I wasn’t able to see the inside. But just seeing the exterior of the building was worth the trip.
Ohio City is one of Cleveland’s older neighborhoods. It didn’t appear to be in quite as good condition as Shaker Square, but had plenty of activity and a good street wall along the major arteries. I wish I’d had more time to explore, but with the clock ticking, I decided to head for the Flats.
Named for their position on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the Flats lie below the bluffs where Downtown and Ohio City are located. The lack of easily accessible bridges over the river made it impossible for me to get over to the west bank, which looked to have more going on. As it was, the east bank was almost deserted. I enjoyed the views (and photo opportunities) of the river and high bridges, but with no streetlife, I decided to head back up the bluff to the Warehouse District.
Since the 1990s, the Warehouse District has become the new entertainment district, supplanting the Flats. Perhaps the district is livelier on weekends; it certainly doesn’t have the crowds that Washington’s Gallery Place has. But there were plenty of loft-dwellers out and about. I stopped for a cup of coffee before continuing my exploration.
Washington doesn’t have an analogue to the Warehouse District because it was never an industrial city, as Cleveland was in the 1900s. The district’s old building stock has made for great reuse as apartments and entertainment venues.
I headed for the lakefront, but I was stymied by the lack of clear paths down the bluff. My line of sight was blocked by an elevated freeway, and even if I’d tried, walking down West 9th Street, I would have landed literally in the middle of nowhere, as the area hasn’t redeveloped yet. Construction of the new convention center blocked other paths farther east. By the time I reached East 9th Street, which would have taken me down to the lakefront, I was ready to head back toward the center of Downtown.
If I could change one thing in Downtown Cleveland, I would make it easier for people to access the lakefront. Downtown Cleveland seems more disconnected from its waterfront than any city I can remember visiting.
As I headed back to my hotel, I discovered elements of the City Beautiful movement. The Civic Center area of Downtown is built around a mall and is surrounded by government buildings, almost all in the Neoclassical style – major hallmarks of the City Beautiful. The City Beautiful movement underlies the principles of the McMillian Plan, which is responsible for the Washington we know today.
As it turns out, the Cleveland Mall and Civic Center area bear the fingerprints of Daniel Burnham, designer of Washington’s Union Station. The Civic Center is a very complete example of the City Beautiful movement, and I was impressed.
Heading over to Public Square, the symbolic heart of Cleveland, I was surprised at the vibrancy of Downtown. Given the state of the economy, I expected Cleveland to have a lot more vacancy downtown. But the major streets had plenty of restaurants and shops. There were even a good deal of pedestrians out after 6pm, generally a pretty dead time for central business districts.
Of particular note was the Euclid Avenue corridor. This is Cleveland’s main drag, and it showed. A streetscape/transit project was completed just a few years ago and that made the street feel cared-for. There were lots of clubs and restaurants. Just off Euclid, East 4th Street has been converted to a pedestrians-only area lined with sidewalk cafes. On that Monday night it was proving popular with fans headed to some nearby sporting event.
Farther out Euclid, Playhouse Square offers many opportunities to see a show. In fact, it’s the second largest theater complex in the United States (after New York’s Lincoln Center).
Back at Public Square, one of Cleveland’s most well-known landmarks, Terminal Tower, stands watch over her home. It sits at the hub of the city’s transportation network and for many years, was one of the world’s tallest buildings. Built in the Beaux-Arts style in 1930, it was not only a skyscraper, but also Cleveland’s Union Terminal.
The atrium to the building, which is open to the public, was meant to be the grand foyer to Cleveland for those arriving by train. And in appropriate placement, the doors open out onto Public Square. While the atrium is not as large as the grand halls of stations in Chicago, Washington, or Los Angeles, it is one of the most ornate and breathtaking spaces of all the great train stations I’ve visited. It’s a real shame that no trains (except for rapid transit) call here.
Cleveland is truly a city of hidden gems. One day is not nearly enough time to devote to this great city. I wish I’d had more time, but I suppose it just gives me an excuse to go back. If you ever have the chance to visit Cleveland, I highly recommend it.
When it comes to the built environment, the Washington region has long been one of the proving grounds for Planning.
From the first-ever National Planning Conference in 1909 to the demonstration of New Urbanism at Kentlands, Washington has benefited from planning ideas that often seemed far-fetched at the time.
Greenbelt, Maryland is no exception. It’s the best-preserved example of New Deal-era utopian town planning in the United States, and has been named a National Planning Landmark. This Saturday, I’m leading a bike tour of the community (details below). I hope you can make it.
Faced with housing shortages, a decimated economy, and deteriorating conditions in cities, the Roosevelt Administration, as a part of the New Deal, set out to build 4 “greenbelt towns” as an example of how suburban development could and should move forward.
Partially inspired by England’s garden city movement, Greenbelt was intended to be a self-contained community surrounded by a green belt of parks, forests, and farms. Today, Greenbelt is not as isolated, but the historic center maintains its park-like setting.
Planning of the town was holistic, in keeping with the principles of the New Deal. In addition to housing, a commercial center was constructed. Civic buildings included an elementary school/community center and recreational buildings.
Perhaps most unique in the design was that residential buildings were turned “inside-out”. Residential structures have their main entrances on the “garden side.” The design of the community meant that pedestrian paths wound through superblocks, where buildings were turned inward toward parks, gardens, and social interaction. At the rear of the units is the street, the so-called “service side.”
Much of the architecture in the community is based on the International style with Art Deco elements. Some elements which are now becoming more common in urban design have been present in Greenbelt for over 7 decades. One example is the “shopping court” at the Roosevelt Center, where shops front on a pedestrian plaza, and parking is in the rear.
Greenbelt was designed with the automobile in mind, but it was not designed for the automobile. I think this is the largest and most crucial difference between Greenbelt and the prototypical post-war suburb. The community is walkable, traffic is calm, and despite being surrounded by sprawl, cars do not dominate the landscape.
The greenbelt towns were intended to be prototypes for suburban development. But the experiment didn’t become typical of suburbia. It did, however, help to inspire several planned communities, including Reston in Virginia, and Columbia and Montgomery Village in Maryland.
This Saturday, October 2, I’ll be leading a bike tour of the community. The tour will be approximately 4 miles in length and will include a tour of the Greenbelt Museum. It will cost $5.
The tour will begin and end at the Greenbelt Metro station. It starts at 1pm and will be complete by 5pm.
If you’re interested in attending or have questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This past weekend, the Capitol Riverfront area celebrated the grand opening of the Yards Park.
The new park is located along the Anacostia River between 3rd Street SE and the Navy Yard. It was built as a public-private partnership between the developer of the Yards, the government of the District of Columbia, and the General Services Administration. It’s managed by the Capitol Riverfront BID.
A festival marked the opening this weekend. It included bands, artists, vendors, and more. I had the opportunity to stop by, and I snapped some photos. The park is very well designed, and I can only hope it is an example of future waterfront parks in the area.
It has many features which help to make it a great urban park. In addition to passive spaces like lawns and plazas, a pavilion and terraced steps offer places for programmed activities. I imagine that the boardwalk, with its sweeping views of the Anacostia River, will be very popular.
Greeting people walking from M Street and the Metro is a splash fountain. It was very popular with kids on Saturday. A waterfall drops from the level of the splash fountain into a pool at a slightly lower level. A platform allows people to walk behind the waterfall. And the pool into which the waterfall empties is about a foot deep, which allows people to wade in it.
A walkway around the perimeter of the wading pool leads to a boardwalk alongside the Anacostia. The boardwalk is lower than street level, and where it intersects the pool, there appears to be room for retail underneath the overlook plaza at the level above.
That plaza is adjacent to the “Lumber Shed”, which is temporarily being used as a pavilion. Eventually, it will be enclosed for use as retail or dining.
Further east, terraced steps allow gathering for concerts or performances on the boardwalk, where a stage can be set up.
West of the overlook plaza, a unique steel bridge crosses over the wading pool and leads to a green lawn surrounded by wavy wooden benches. Another passive green space is to the east of the Lumber Shed.
This park is a great addition to Washington. The well-thought design is long overdue and the features give Washingtonians new ways to relax and recreate. Hopefully, DC will find a way to extend this park and also replicate its design elements along other parts of the Anacostia and the Potomac.
Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.
In March, one of our planners, Claudia Kousoulas, showed the difference in scale between urban development and the infrastructure underlying suburban development by overlaying the I-270/I-370 interchange on top of Bethesdaâ€™s Woodmont Triangle area.
The amount of space we devote to moving cars is almost surreal at times. At Montrose Road, Interstate 270 is a whopping 14 lanes wide. At that rate, it seems weâ€™re trying to rival places like Atlanta and Los Angeles.
But what is even more amazing is the amount of space we devote to storing cars. When people think of the automobile, it is invariably involved in going somewhere. But cars spend the vast majority of their time parked.
In Montgomery County, we devote about 2.5% of our land area to parking. Thatâ€™s more than 12 square miles. Itâ€™s slightly less than the amount of land covered by water in the county. Can you imagine the Potomac River, and the Triadelphia, Rocky Gorge, and Little Seneca reservoirs all covered in parking lots?
Perhaps more shocking is that the amount of space we devote to parking and driving exceeds the amount of land devoted to buildings in Montgomery County.
Buildings cover about 4.1% of the countyâ€™s land. But roadways cover 4.3%, meaning that we use 6.8% of the area of the county just to move or store automobiles.
Silver Spring is one of Montgomery Countyâ€™s urban areas. There we find that 21.9% of the land area of the Central Business District is devoted to parking cars. Most of that area is surface parking. Only 3.8% of the land area of the CBD is used for structured parking. Another 16% of the land area is used for roadways.
In fact, four times as much area is devoted to surface parking than is devoted to parks in the Silver Spring CBD.
In White Flint, along the suburban Rockville Pike corridor, the numbers are even more extreme. I used the boundaries of the recent sector plan area to calculate the percentages.
There, some 45.9% of the land area is devoted to parking. Another 13.2% is devoted to roadways, meaning that 59.1% of the land area of the neighborhood is given over to cars.
Here, the lack of a parking lot district makes shared parking much more difficult. And that means that each business is providing more spaces than would be needed in a â€śpark onceâ€ť district.
All told, approximately 34.6 square miles of land area in Montgomery County is devoted to automotive transportation. If all the roads and parking areas in Montgomery County were placed in Arlington County, Virginia, they would completely fill Arlington, and there would still be 10 square miles of parking and roads left over. Or, placed in Washington, they would cover over half of the land area in the District.
Accommodating this sea of parking places a huge cost on both the public and private sectors. And it also has a major impact on the environment. But perhaps most notable is the opportunity cost of using valuable land in our activity centers for parking. In White Flint, despite the presence of a Metro station, 45.9% of the land area is devoted to parking. Only 17.7% of the land is used for buildings!
As the county grows more dense, the acres of parking in places like White Flint are becoming more valuable as potential sites for redevelopment. How we address the parking issue will have an enormous impact on the future of the county.