Posts tagged ‘pedestrians’
Part of what we are trying to accomplish with our visions for communities throughout MoCo is a blend of the best urban, suburban and rural environments. Over the past three years, the County Council has been bold in adopting plans that work toward creating an active, sustainable MoCo.
The key is implementation of those new visions.
Consider our pedestrian environment in places like downtown Silver Spring and Rockville Pike, where redevelopment has and will change the street environment, generating a lot more activity. In downtown Silver Spring, the latest significant change is the pending opening of the Live Nation entertainment venue on Colesville Road.
Fast-forward past the opening and imagine the streetscape after the concert ends. Hundreds of patrons spilling out onto Colesville, making their way to cars, Metro or crossing the street to head into the downtown or hopefully, Fenton Village south of Wayne for an after-concert bite or beverage. (Yes, there is nightlife in Fenton Village – two of my favorites are Jackie’s and the Quarry House.)
The concert-goers have two intersections they might cross: Colesville and Georgia or Colesville and Fenton. Both have recently been redone (one of them twice), and the result is the usual type of crosswalks.
But let’s consider a different type of crosswalk. Something new (but actually old) that engages the pedestrian, giving him or her priority over the cars. Intersections that actually make the pedestrian feel secure and reduce apprehension about crossing a downtown street, where most of the cars are intent on getting through the intersection to get somewhere else.
Should this be our priority? Helping cars move through our downtowns faster so they can get somewhere else? Or should we be focused on the people who want to stop, visit, patronize our businesses or enjoy our markets, events or meet friends? Can we do both?
Believe it or not, the Fenton | Colesville intersection was once just like the intersections that are all the rage in cities like London, where pedestrian traffic and motor car interactions are in constant conflict. This intersection was a “scramble intersection.” When the light went red for cars, it went red in all directions. Then it was the people’s turn to take priority to move through the intersection. You could walk in any direction in crossing. You could walk at 90 degrees, or even 45 degrees, to avoid crossing to the other side, then again to get to the opposite corner.
Scramble is about a shift in priority from autocentric to pedestrian- and bike-centric movement. It’s a simple and very efficient way of moving people and cars, and we used to do it.
This approach can work in many places here. Think about Rockville Pike a few years from now when the White Flint plan begins to become reality. A pedestrian environment shared equally with cars.
Consider the many intersections in MoCo where this approach could be beneficial for people walking, in wheelchairs, on bikes, as well as in cars.
We are working on some designs in downtown Silver Spring, close to our offices, like Fenton and Colesville, where this approach makes a lot of sense. If we could transform one or two intersections into a great multi-use intersection, maybe we could resurrect the model that MoCo had at one intersection so many years ago.
Imagine that Live Nation event emptying out onto Colesville, where hundreds of patrons will safely move south into the downtown. Beyond the post-event traffic, the hundreds of people who cross this intersection every day could do so safely, without the apprehension of conflicts with turning vehicles, cars running red lights, or crossing the street twice to get to the opposing corner.
This solution doesn’t cost a lot. In fact, it makes the curb design simpler and requires some changes to signals. And it removes street clutter. As we complete these designs, we will try to build a constituency to implement these at strategic intersections around the county.
The County is moving forward with some exciting new strategies for infill growth. We can bring our infrastructure along to help us realize the visions expressed in our plans for major intersections in places like Takoma Langley, Long Branch, White Flint and our busy downtown areas. It is time to rethink how we do pedestrian infrastructure to complement our planning visions.
Planners are making good progress on community planning work this spring. We transmitted the Planning Board draft of the Wheaton Sector Plan and an amendment to the Clarksburg plan focused on retail staging. Coming soon are Takoma Langley and Kensington, and, later this year, Burtonsville. And if our budget request is funded, Chevy Chase Lake will follow, then the start of several new plans over the next year including Glenmont, Gaithersburg East/the Montgomery Village Sector Plan and White Flint II.
I have been questioning staff as we embark on new planning efforts, asking, What is our Big Idea? What will this planning effort achieve? And, because we cannot ask these questions in a vacuum, What would we want to achieve without constraints versus with constraints?
My last post, “Federal Highways,” outlined the Montrose Parkway underpass (or overpass, depending upon which way you are traveling). The graphic below superimposes one of the sketch plans we received for a several-block area in the heart of White Flint over the area occupied by the Montrose underpass. It is apparent how much land the underpass “sterilized” for future growth, housing, revenue and more importantly, the real impact it has on the possibilities for the White Flint II area.
The White Flint II Sector Plan has as a major constraint that will dictate what can be achieved. That constraint is the barrier the underpass has created. It is, in effect, White Flint’s Berlin Wall.
Ten or 15 years from now, as White Flint hits its stride, there will be plenty of destinations drawing people into the area. Some will take transit, but most will drive. They will seek out parking and walk along new pedestrian-friendly streets lined with windows and activity. Many will work and live in this emerging community.
Will those same people look north to the White Flint II area and say, “Hey, let’s go shop or eat over there?” And if they are making this decision, will they walk? No way. It will be a barrier just like the photo above. As the new streets and activities emerge in White Flint, they will not extend the grid across the underpass.
Would you really drive one-quarter or one-half mile north and find a new parking spot in White Flint II to shop or eat? It’s unlikely you’d find something there that will not already be in White Flint. And this is the challenge of White Flint II. What can it become? What can happen there that will make it distinct from White Flint?
This question would be different if the Montrose / 355 intersection had remained at grade. The street grid could have extended north to south. The building infrastructure could have created a seamless transition across the intersection, not much different than say Georgia and Colesville Road in Silver Spring. People could and would walk across the area into White Flint II because the transition would be lined with active uses day and evening.
So as we prepare to look at the White Flint II area, we have to take a hard look at what is possible. We have White Flint becoming known as NoBe (North of Bethesda), we have Rockville to the north, with White Flint II mostly in the middle. Will it be SORo (South of Rockville) or can it establish it’s own identity? Can we expect the same demand for high-rise construction in White Flint II as in WF I? Will traffic modeling reveal that White Flint I occupies the bulk of the available and projected road capacity?
Or should we expect more like Twinbrook Station, a recent successful project north and east of White Flint at lower densities with a residential focus? Should this be the future of White Flint II, with splashes of retailing that are more convenience-focused than destination oriented? Will there still be a market for destination retail like the Container Store north of Montrose?
Several property owners own land both north and south of Montrose. How they lease south of the road in White Flint I – whether to big box retailers or smaller retail – will have a big impact on what happens to the north in White Flint II. That model does not fit into the urban character of White Flint. Property owners will lease according to the market, and will avoid investments that compete with other uses in the area. This will not only impact the retail market but the residential market as well.
If White Flint I is to be higher density condo and rental, there may not be enough market share for both areas in the next 15 years. Perhaps White Flint II will be about managing expectations, meaning it may take awhile for the collective vision to emerge. This is the approach that we are investigating for the Long Branch neighborhood, where the near and long term goals are differentiated by the actions we can take to create incremental change.
Maybe 20 years from now the Montrose underpass may be MoCo’s elevated expressway. The mistake realized decades later in places like Seattle, Toronto and San Francisco, where lots of money was invested to reverse the damage and open up new opportunities for creating better environments for people, not autos.
There are lots of things to consider when we start the White Flint II Sector Plan.We hope for engaged conversations with property owners, residents and business operators — all of whom will help guide the possibilities that White Flint II can be.
Last week, I was invited to Boston by the Federal Highway Administration to talk about livability. Five years ago, would anyone have thought that would be possible?
Think about all the highways we have nationally, where the gas tax goes, and the fact that less than 1 percent of the $30 billion plus spent on highway funding is spent on pedestrians.
It seems like a huge ship we have to turn around.
However, the federal leadership through the EPA, HUD and the DOT, and their joint Sustainable Communities Initiative, has created an energy that will bring a new direction into federal highway spending.
Can we translate that into a shift in local thinking as well?
A 1940s video was forward-thinking about how rapid transit can replace the motor car as well as save taxpayer dollars
When I arrived in Montgomery County in 2008, the White Flint property owners and members of my staff tried to divert $50 million in funding for the Montrose Parkway underpass, the first phase to reconstruct Rockville Pike, to study a future transit line along that street. Our efforts were unsuccessful. While I am sure many love to drive through the underpass, think of the missed opportunity.
I have driven the underpass on several occasions, just to assess the connectivity. Frankly, it is not that great. Connectivity is expedited in one direction – east-west – but getting off the road to head north or south is a pain. A regular at-grade intersection with turn lanes, appropriate signaling, pedestrian infrastructure and plantings would have been wonderful and much more effective for the broader public.
You can forget the pedestrian environment on the overpass. I watched a bike commuter ride across and was struck by how brave he was. With new condos just south of Montrose and major mixed-use development plans on the way in White Flint, the whole Montrose project works against what the new master plan is trying to create. People do not walk over overpasses, they walk where there is something at the edge of the sidewalk that enlivens the space. Current and future residents will have to drive to the shopping north of Montrose if as White Flint develops, they go north of Montrose at all.
This graphic illustrates the point about the Montrose underpass. It sterilized huge tracts of land that could have been used to create a vibrant urban intersection with buildings framing the street, people on the sidewalks interacting along the street edge, traffic moving at effective speeds and with room for future surface public transportation.
Not do-able some say? I pass along the best example of a street designed effectively for high traffic high pedestrian activity: the Champs Elysées. Think about it. This street has some of the most expensive shopping in the world. Cars stop along the curb to drop or pick up Europe’s elite to patronize those shops. There is a sidewalk that can best be described as too big, tourist numbers beyond comprehension, views that astound, trees galore, yet the road itself carries more cars per hour than many interstate highways. You can cross the Champs on foot at numerous signalized intersections, yet the traffic still moves, except of course on the last day of the Tour de France.
I am not saying the Montrose underpass should have been the Champs Elysées, but it could have been an at-grade intersection that offered a terrific urban pedestrian experience. That would have also opened up land for development that has been consumed by roadways and created the urban experience White Flint needs while generating a heck of a lot more property tax for the county.
And with the hope of future bus transit in the roadway there will be an opportunity for shifting travel patterns.
A terrific video showing the impact of public transit on removing cars from the street. Consider that this was a 1940s video where the thinking was so relevant to today. Where did it all go wrong? While European and Canadian cities followed the pattern pattern of the video, many American cities went in the opposite direction.
In Montgomery County, we are fortunate that both County and the State leaders are looking in a different direction.
Consider all the initiatives underway.
§ The growth policy the planning department advocated and the council adopted that calls for a part of impact fees to be dedicated to transit
§ Zoning that assigns increased density for places close to basic services like groceries and dry cleaners
§ the state has their “ag print” and “green print” initiatives that are leading into the emerging Plan Maryland program which we hope will result in a rethink of the priority funding areas (areas of growth for each county)
§ the state MDOT leadership in funding infrastructure through smart growth is a national model
In participating at the FHWA session, it became obvious that here in Maryland we are leading the nation in not only thinking about change, but in preparing for the future as well. It is a great time to be planning here in MoCo. The Planning Department, the County Council and the state Departments of Planning and Transportation — are in sync at many levels. Together we can shift the thinking from one of “moving cars, to moving people”.
MoCo can turn things around with an efficient rapid transit system that is multi modal, multi dimensional, and reaches places in the county where transit currently does not exist. The work the Council, planning department and other county agencies is leading to alternatives such as the Purple Line and bus rapid transit as well as amending our traffic assessment methods which will lead to a better transportation system where people live closer to work and have more options for connecting to the places they need to be and the things they need to do.
We recently had a walk through the Wheaton central area as part of our Montgomery Plans series on County Cable Montgomery. It was a great opportunity to talk about the wonderful bones of what is one of the most diverse parts of our county. The businesses, activity and residents present a great foundation for growing the social and economic base of the community.
Our Wheaton master planning effort underway builds on the strength of the businesses and existing communities that surround them. The interface between those communities is a critical element to offering new services while ensuring the scale and type of development fits in. This is a challenging exercise, and the level of participation by residents both in Wheaton and Kensington over the past year has helped us develop appropriate planning and zoning tools in the emerging plan.
Have a look at the short video. The exciting new Safeway site development where a state of the art food center with 486 condominiums has just been approved, offers not only the newest food shopping experience in the County, but it also will help bring new people into Wheaton. This has been the experience where other mixed use projects have occurred.
Standing in the County parking lot west of Georgia off Reedie Drive, we can envision the exciting urban form that can complement the existing businesses and attract newcomers into the community.
It is not often we see “double ended” retail: in this case, at the higher elevation along Georgia and the lower level off the alley facing the parking area. The contrasting frontages offer different character and scale in retailing. I always like to shop in small spaces like alleys, and the food selection — Italian tuna for example — is now a staple for my shopping needs. Take a walk here and you’re sure to find something you like.
The Wheaton Mall, with the addition of the DSW, Macy’s and so many other shops including the Dollar Store (so handy for the office party gifts), offers a different experience as well as considerable growth potential. As part of our current master plan process. the mall owners are exploring short- and long-term strategies for reinventing the mall, something they have done in other parts of the country.
Look up Veirs Mills past the mall and the vacant car dealer. This is real opportunity to create a whole new face to the site with active frontages and enhanced pedestrian connections across this busy roadway. While the high level of vehicle traffic may seem overwhelming, I always like to answer that there are plenty of examples of busy streets acting as the spine for active pedestrian scale retail activity. Veirs Mill can be one of these streets and so can Georgia. It’s about investing in pedestrian infrastructure. And this does not mean slowing vehicle movement. We already have some signalized intersections so cars will not be slowed.
This blog is about visualizing the future so think for a moment about the Veirs Mill-Reedie Drive intersection. The pavement is re-striped into a “scramble” intersection where, when traffic stops, pedestrians cross in all directions. Enhanced signalization, wider sidewalks, new lighting systems and buildings frame the sidewalks with large open windows and creative lighting displays. Encouraged by the improvements, people walk to and from the Metro and from the mall into downtown Wheaton for additional shopping, eating, or just browsing.
While folks who drive through on Georgia and Veirs Mill and don’t stop are missing out, we hope the new master plan currently working its way through Planning Board approval will help set a framework for new mixed uses. Key to this is having the County parking lots redevelop to serve as a catalyst.
In the plan, we are seeking the right balance between the desire for insulation from activities that may be seen as creating issues – such as noise outdoor storage places or odors from restaurants – and the need to provide for infill opportunities to help upgrade some properties to more active uses. The recent development proposal on the north side of University across from the Giant store is a good example.
Several houses have been boarded up for some time. A bank branch is proposed for the site. Would a low-rise, three-story building with a mix of uses close to the sidewalk with a setback to the residential properties to the rear, limited and screened parking, been a better proposal for residents and the community? We have lots of drive-through banks, curb cuts and fragmented building forms along our arterials.
As we grow it will be very important to begin to coordinate the building form and uses along our commercial streets to encourage more mixed uses and pedestrian activity. This is a challenge all over the County, and one we are just beginning to explore in the Burtonsville Commercial Crossroads Neighborhood Study.
If you are familiar with Wheaton, many of the points in this posting will be familiar to you. If you are a stranger to Wheaton, take a Saturday afternoon and check it out. Park the car and explore what the area has to offer. It’s a lot more than just the world famous Chuck Levins music store. And don’t forget to eat one of the many restaurants. In fact, try an entrée at one place and dessert at another.