Boston gets bike helmet vending machines

Boston's bikeshare program, Hubway. Photo by the author.

Boston’s bikeshare program, Hubway. Photo by the author.

 

We’re really excited that Montgomery County now has Capital Bikeshare, and have written (a lot) about the many benefits of bicycle-friendly communities. However, as our community shifts from being auto-dominant to having more complete streets, there is a learning curve. Safety has been a concern throughout the process. Bike lanes play a critical role in helping everyone feel safer and are a critical piece of infrastructure. But what about helmets?

Boston is leading the way on this initiative, with Mayor Thomas Menino unveiling a machine that dispenses bicycle helmets for the city’s bike share system, Hubway. The “HelmetHub” machine is the first of its kind in the country. There is only one machine now, which will be used to gather data about use before more machines are introduced in 2014.

The rental fee is $2, with the stipulation that they must be returned in 24 hours. Otherwise, they can be purchased for $20. Helmets returned to the machine will be inspected and sanitized.

Mayor Menino said in a statement “Our goal is to make Hubway a great and safe way to get around town.” You can read more about this initiative here, and be sure to check out HelmetHub’s website as well!

Where will the elementary school be located? It may be too soon to tell.

Sketch plan of White Flint Mall property.

Sketch plan of White Flint Mall property. Retrieved from MontgomeryPlanningBoard.org.

A letter from the Board of Education that was sent to the Planning Board at the request of Montgomery County Public Schools was the highlight of a Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association meeting on Wednesday. Accordingly, Bruce Crispell, director of long range planning for MCPS, as well as Nkosi Yearwood and Brooke Farquhar from the Planning and Parks departments were there to explain the history of the school site and answer questions.

A few things became clear during the course of the meeting. First, both the Department of Planning and Department of Parks staff are still supporting the sector plan recommendation to locate the school south of the White Flint Mall site (currently a parking lot). However, they are meeting with Lerner Enterprises, the owners of the mall, to see how to find a way to increase the acreage for the elementary school. The site identified in the master plan for the school has been constrained by a revised road alignment to accommodate a “specific tenant” that will generate a lot of truck traffic, according to Yearwood. At this time, Lerner has only submitted a sketch plan, which is largely conceptual, for their site. Yearwood explained that the next step in the planning review process, a more detailed preliminary plan, is likely coming next year.

On MCPS’s side, all of the proposed sites are challenges. Crispell explained that MCPS likes to have 12 acres for an elementary school,  and that their typical requirements for an elementary school include 3 playgrounds and 3 paved areas for activities such as recess and physical education. This program of requirements is one of the reasons why MCPS is now looking at another site behind White Flint Mall, adjacent to White Flint Neighborhood Park – MCPS has many schools that co-locate outdoor activities with parks. Additionally, MCPS is looking to have land dedicated for the school so that acquisition won’t be an added expense.  During the course of the meeting it became clear that all of the potential sites likely have some dollar amount attached to them, but that MCPS will continue to favor those that come at the lowest cost. This reality is why some other sites suggested are considered unfeasible.  When asked about the current properties MCPS owns, Crispell explained that all of those properties currently have another use, and that MCPS prefers to have new land for a growing population, within the sector plan, to serve that community specifically. When one resident called for a more urban design for a school, such as a play area on a roof, Crispell replied “I don’t think we’re there yet,” though because of its smaller site Somerset Elementary in Chevy Chase has been thought of as a model for the new White Flint Elementary School.

The community’s concerns included traffic and the future of their park. Some were frustrated that White Flint Neighborhood Park would not be open for public use during the school day, particularly because the sector plan calls for the current park to be expanded. In terms of traffic, many community members were opposed to school busses and other additional traffic cutting through their neighborhood to reach the new elementary school. (While the plan is supposed to be walkable, it is likely that some busses will be needed, and school staff will be driving). Ken Hartman from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center explained that it may not be necessary to have access to the school from the neighborhood, as is the case with Bethesda Elementary, where traffic can only enter from Arlington Road.

Ultimately this school is ten to 20 years (or perhaps more) away from being constructed.  The challenge lies in planning for these long range projects when nobody knows what the reality on the ground will be so far into the future. The Garrett Park Estates/White Flint Park Citizen’s Association voted against the recommendation that the site north of the mall be designated for the school and suggested that other sites continue to be investigated. Some members urged the county representatives to think more creatively about possible solutions. We will keep you updated as we hear more.

Updates from the November Downtown Advisory Committee meeting

The White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee met again on November 12th to continue discussing how to make the area a great downtown destination. In fact, Jeff Burton, deputy executive director of the Bethesda Urban Partnership (BUP) came to the meeting to discuss just that with members of the committee. The discussion started with the Bethesda Streetscape Plan, created in the early 90s to give Bethesda a specific feel. Jeff explained that the plan was developed to create uniformity and consistency in the area, and was formed with the idea that there would be a group like BUP to maintain.

Like the streetscape plan, the conversation got very specific as to what makes a great downtown feel, from what materials are best for sidewalks to how many different types of trees should be planted and where. Some of the main themes included:

**Brick sidewalks – this is what is in Bethesda. Jeff explained that brick sidewalks are relatively easy to maintain, though it may take a few years for the material to settle. A big focus of this discussion was making sure the sidewalks are easy for everyone to use, particularly people with disabilities. What materials should be used for other amenities, such as benches, was also discussed. Aesthetic qualities as well as ease of maintenance should be considered.

**Trees and other plans are critical in creating a sense of place.  Planters offer a relatively inexpensive to make a big impact in the look and feel of an area.

**Maintaining a clean, pleasant environment is crucial. Having a downtown management team for maintenance is extremely important. One thing that we will have to be aware of in White Flint is the space between the various developments, and making sure these areas don’t get forgotten about.

Ultimately it’s going to take a lot of coordination between the many different developers and property owners as well as the State Highway Administration to create a great looking streetscape with a unified theme that is also interesting and easy for everyone to enjoy. These finer details, from sidewalks to trash cans are critical in creating a true sense of place – a wonderfully unique White Flint.

The Downtown Advisory Committee usually meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 8am at the Conference Center. However, the group will not have their normal meeting in December, as they will be on a half day retreat. In the meantime, we understand that those who represent the county (Dee Metz and Ken Hartman) have been hard at work with the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) budget, which includes White Flint projects in various stages. Additionally, the Department of Transportation is looking at Marinelli and Nebel street areas for more comprehensive safety features. Finally, some members of the committee are working to get a zip code for the White Flint area, including writing to/meeting with Representative Chris Van Hollen’s office.

Businesses want bike lanes

What do tech companies say is crucial to attracting and retaining employees? According to Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, it’s bike lanes. She explains:

Ten years ago we never would have thought that walkability or bike lanes would be economic development tools…We’re working on the creation of a comprehensive protected bike lane plan for downtown…We would like to make bikes an integrated part of downtown. We want more people biking in the normal course of the day, not just because it’s a novelty, but that’s how they commute.

Door also mentioned that Denver is a huge magnet for Millenials, one group Montgomery County is trying to attract to the area. Interestingly, the county is also working to attract more cybersecurity companies.

Check out more about this topic on the Streetsblog website.

New report highlights the hidden costs of suburban sprawl

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013

Source: Sustainable Prosperity, thecostofsprawl.com, November 5 2013.

A report from a University of Ottawa research and policy network released last month reveals that suburban sprawl comes with a bigger price tag than many might expect. While (understandably) the report largely focuses on development in Canada, the big picture holds true for the U.S. as well. Author David Thompson notes in an interview that transportation is a major hidden cost; long commutes and needing more cars per household (and subsequently, the taxes to create the infrastructure to support these cars) is a huge expense. “Free” parking, which as the report notes, isn’t really free since it is instead built into prices at stores, is another hidden cost.

Thompson has said:

“We’ve known about the environmental effects for decades, we’ve known about the health impacts for 10, 20 years…Now we’re learning that the financial costs of sprawl are going to be staggering and we’re leaving a major deficit to our children and grandchildren.”

Concerned that Thompson is suggesting we all pack up and move to the city? Don’t be. As one Canadian newspaper explains, “Thompson stressed that curbing sprawl doesn’t mean everyone must live or work in a skyscraper. His report advocates infill development and suburban retrofits. The latter phenomenon is more common in the U.S. where older malls, industrial and commercial properties are being redeveloped into suburban hubs.” Sound familiar?

You can read the full report here. Want just the highlights of the report? Check out its informative and easy-to-use website at http://thecostofsprawl.com/.

Reminders of why we need complete streets

In early October the National Complete Streets Coalition held their first ever National Walking Summit, where community leaders from around the country came together to share ideas on policies, design guidelines, advocacy techniques and other tools that support walking.

Take a look at this PowerPoint from the Summit, which highlights some of the basic reasons why we need more complete streets in White Flint and beyond! Some of our favorites include:

  • 66% of Americans want more transportation options so they have the freedom to choose how to get where they need to go
  • 73% currently feel they have no choice but to drive as much as they do
  • 57% would like to spend less time in the car
  • 17% of all trips are less than 1 mile…of these trips, 47% are driven

The streets of White Flint are poised to transform from auto-centric roads filled with fast (or conversely, traffic-jammed) cars to boulevards that welcome people traveling on foot, in wheelchairs, on bikes, in buses, and in cars. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there, but we’re up to the challenge! Consider joining us to help make our streets safer and easier to navigate for everyone.

An update on Pike and Rose

The shopping center at Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike is slated to get a facelift. Used with permission from Federal Realty Investment Trust.

The shopping center at Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike is slated to get a facelift. Used with permission from Federal Realty Investment Trust.

As mentioned before, much of the October Implementation Advisory Committee meeting focused on an amendment to the plan for Federal Realty’s Pike and Rose development. The first phase of Pike and Rose is well underway, with residences slated to open in the spring of next year and retail in the fall. Additionally, earlier this month the Planning Board approved plans for phase 2 of the project. However, neither of these plans included the building at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike (where the Starbucks and Bank of America are located).

Shopping center at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike today. Photo by the author.

Shopping center at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Rockville Pike today. Photo by the author.

Federal Realty is not planning on redeveloping this part of their land for 10 to 15 years. However, they did not want to leave the building as is for many years while new buildings spring up around it. Therefore, they are proposing a new façade, outdoor seating areas by Starbucks and Chipotle (which is moving to where Serenberry used to be), landscaping improvements and better pedestrian circulation for this area.

Shopping center with an improved facade. Used with permission from Federal Realty Investment Trust.

Shopping center with an improved facade. Used with permission from FRIT.

The plan also includes adding about 1,000 square feet to the area behind the future Chipotle location to hide the trash/loading area from view on Old Georgetown Road. Federal Realty’s Evan Goldman explained that this will be a small retail shop.

Back of the shopping center today. Used with permission from Federal Realty Investment Trust.

Back of the shopping center today. Used with permission from FRIT.

One member of the IAC raised the concern that this amendment does not include enough pedestrian and bicycle improvements, a crucial component of the White Flint Sector Plan. Goldman explained that there will ultimately be three pedestrian/bicycle entrances to the area, notably one at the corner of Old Georgetown and Rockville Pike (currently, a fence restricts access to the area from most of the street). This pedestrian crossing will continue to be marked in front of the Bank of America drive-through tellers. The light poles in the sidewalk will also be removed, and there will be a broader concrete area at the corner to create more room for both pedestrians and cyclists. Once Muse Alley (a pedestrian only street) opens, there will be even more access to the site.

Ultimately, Federal Realty and the community compromised. The entrances to the site will be wider than originally planned, ultimately going to eight feet wide. The fence, which some people thought should be removed, will stay as a way to control pedestrian traffic while the big surface parking lot that is currently there remains very active. However, the fence will be moved slightly to improve drivers’ views of pedestrians when they are turning on to Old Georgetown Road from the Pike.

Once FRIT incorporates changes agreed upon at this meeting  to their plan, they will go before the Planning Board. The date for this has not yet been set. Federal Realty hopes to start the project in January, aiming to complete the improvements by May or June of 2014.

A small retail addition will be added. Used with permission from FRIT.

A small retail addition will be added. Used with permission from FRIT.

Updates from the Implementation Advisory Committee, Oct. 21 2013

The Implementation Advisory Committee met again this Monday to discuss updates on what’s happening in the area. About half of the meeting was focused on an amendment to the Pike and Rose phase I plan – we’ll have more on that soon. For now, here are general updates from the meeting:

Nkosi Yearwood from the Planning Department updated the group on the Marinelli bike lanes.  Some of these improvements come from the recommendations from MoBike.

Chad Salganik, a resident member of the IAC, sent a letter in favor of the abandonment of Executive Boulevard, which is a crucial part of the western workaround. Dee Metz, White Flint Coordinator from the County Executive’s Office, explained that the next step in the process is to get technical comments from the Planning department as it relates to Gables Residential’s project. She added that the new Executive Boulevard is already in the county’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) process, but assured that abandonment won’t take place until the new road is open to traffic.

Rachel Newhouse from the Parks department updated the group about the community meeting regarding Wall Park held last month.  One member of the IAC raised a concern that programming for the civic green, a different park in the sector plan, was being left behind with all of the current focus on Wall Park. Another topic of concern was having an easy way for people to get back and forth between the two parks, especially when different events are happening in both spaces. Rachel explained that Parks has not forgotten about the civic green, but the site of the future civic green is currently on privately owned land, and negotiations with that property owner have been ongoing. She indicated that the Parks department  will need to think about ways the two parks will be different; another meeting to discuss this topic may be scheduled in the future.

Dee Metz also updated the group, and explained that she has been spending much of her time on budget issues. While the county has agreed to forward fund some of the infrastructure improvements in the area, the improvements needed are going to cost more than what was expected. Needing to buy more property throughout the area that was originally programmed for land swaps and other deals will be an another additional expense. She said that we won’t know the County Executive’s budget until the end of the year.

Stay tuned for updates on Pike and Rose, coming next week!

Walkable neighborhoods: building community and social capital

A study from the University of New Hampshire demonstrates that walkable neighborhoods enhance one’s quality of life, specifically one’s social capital. Social capital is defined in the study as “a measure of an individual’s or group’s networks, personal connections, and community involvement, brings benefits such as reduced isolation, career connections, and neighborhood safety.”

Researchers compared different neighborhoods in New Hampshire and surveyed 700 residents, asking them the number of locations they could walk to in order to determine that neighborhood’s level of walkability. In general, more walkable communities scored higher than less walkable communities on every measure of social capital. More specifically,

“The authors found that individuals in more walkable neighborhoods tended to have higher levels of trust and community involvement, whether that was working on a community project, attending a club meeting, volunteering, or simply entertaining friends at home. Residents in the more walkable neighborhoods also reported being in good health and happy more often than those in the less walkable neighborhoods.”

You can read more about this study here.