New Suburbanism: Walkability & Transit

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In previous posts, I’ve discussed the economic challenges facing Montgomery County: stagnant wage growth, an aging workforce and increasing poverty. I’ve also highlighted our assets, including high incomes, low unemployment and a highly educated workforce. I’ve pointed out that high housing costs are the result of limited supply and that both businesses and residents of all ages prefer neighborhoods that look and feel “urban,” even if they aren’t located near transit or in major city centers. I hope that I have been successful in showing how and why real estate development is essential to economic development. In particular, the supply of housing (at every price point and including both subsidized/regulated projects and market-rate units) is crucial to attracting and retaining the mix of workers … Continue reading

Planning Department’s Painted Purple Pathway: A How-to Guide

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Sometimes a parking lot lies between you and your heart’s desire – reaching the café to buy a frappucino, enjoying a quiet moment along a shaded stream, dropping by your favorite lunch spot.  Or perhaps the car-choked lot is the gateway to your workplace.

Parking lots are rarely places of delight and walking through one often feels like being trapped in a nasty computer game.

Well, a couple of us who regularly advocate for squeezing every possible bit of walkability into communities decided to get our own house in order. Witness the bright new path through our parking lot at the Planning Department’s headquarters in Silver Spring.

This walkway connects the Woodside Park neighborhood to the north with Downtown … Continue reading

Is Walkability Worth as Much as a Walk-in Closet?

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It may be, according to a new report from CEOs for Cities that measures home value in walkable and less walkable communties.

The data in Walking the Walk is based on Walk Score, a website that measures the walkability of any given address by counting how many destinations (parks, library, stores) are within walking distance.

(I would quibble this approach only to note that my house is close to a hardware store, sushi shop (!), and a national park, but with few sidewalks leading to them, walkability is limited.)

Nonetheless, using data from ZipRealty in 15 major markets, they found home values were between $700 to $3,000 higher than is less walkable neighborhoods.

So it seems a sidewalk and a place to walk can increase not … Continue reading

Streetscape Challenges for Planners and Users

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This Thursday, the Planning Board will review the County’s DHCA plans to upgrade the 25-year old streetscaping along Georgia Avenue between Selim Street and Silver Spring Avenue. The goals are to meet ADA standards and to install new soil panels that will help street trees reach full maturity.

But it’s more than a matter of setting in a few bricks and new trees. The design of the sidewalk space and its elements has to mediate among the needs of all users. Business owners want trees that don’t obscure their storefronts and signs. Curb edges and varied paving materials can hold up wheelchair users but can help blind pedestrians navigate. Agencies undertaking the work, trying to make the most out of … Continue reading

Cool Communities

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The Coalition for Smarter Growth came out today with its Cool Communities report, that is, places that are mixed use and walkable, generating fewer auto trips and lower greenhouse gas emissions. The report has found a way to quantify diversity and local design, characteristics that are essential to community function and character, but often overlooked in more technical discussions.

Based on recommendations in the executive summary, Montgomery County seems to be doing a few things right—focusing development at Metro stations and making infill development and infill transit top priorities.

Another recommendation is to “create urban street grids” that support “walk and bicycle access to transit.” In Montgomery, all projects in most urban and suburban area include sidewalks, and outside urban … Continue reading