Best Practices for Suburban Bicycling Planning

The Montgomery County Planning Department hosted the second event in its 2016 Winter Speaker Series with a presentation by Jennifer Toole, president of the Silver Spring-based Toole Design Group. This firm is currently assisting the Montgomery County Planning Department as it updates its Bicycle Master Plan.

View the  video presentation featuring Jennifer Toole on February 23.

View the short video news recap about the February 23 event.

Toole discussed the need to provide high-quality bikeways, now evident in cities, for suburban areas where the demand for safe bicycle conditions is growing. “Due to higher speeds on suburban roads, there is a greater need for separation between bicyclists and adjacent motor vehicle traffic,” said Toole. “There is also a greater need to address issues at intersections, driveways and property entrances in the suburbs.”

Drawing on her own experience, Toole discussed projects in the Netherlands and other locations to demonstrate the potential of bike travel in the suburbs. “Some designers throw up their hands when it comes to making suburban roads more bike-friendly, but it can be done successfully as shown in other countries,” she notes.

Toole debunked the myth that conditions in the Netherlands had always been primed for good bicycling. She compared cycling in the Greater Washington, DC region to Rotterdam, where bicycling has proven to be compatible with a lower density environment. As noted in her presentation, it took a concerted effort to transform a country with wide roads like the Netherlands into a bicycle-friendly society.

Lessons from New York City

Last week, my kids had a day off school so we decided to take an impromptu long weekend in New York City.  Now, the funny thing about being so deep in the weeds on White Flint over the last few years is that this work has started to color how I see the world around me.  Although we traversed all over the city, the only time we got into a car was to give our kids the “NYC Taxi Cab experience” and the little fitness tracker I wear went off the charts with my physical activity.  Even though we were tourists and walking more than normal, I was still quadrupling my regular days where I drive to an office and sit before driving home.

Of course, New York City is as urban as urban gets.  It’s definitely not the level we’re trying to reach with White Flint, so I don’t want to cause confusion or panic — I’m not suggesting we go off the deep end and build Manhattan in Montgomery County.  But, we must admit that New York City has figured out some innovative ways to make walking, bicycling and transit attractive options so that cars are needed less.  And, we can learn from their experiences and consider some of the ideas as we work to improve conditions here.

Something I saw all over the City were bike lanes.  Below, notice how the bike lanes are protected from traffic by parked cars, and pedestrians on the sidewalk are even further buffered.  Also – notice that there’s a trash can on every corner.  We don’t yet see these around White Flint but this is the type of amenity that the Downtown Advisory Committee is working on.

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Another street with the same bicycling amenity.

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On this more-narrow street in the West Village, there was room created for a parking lane, a travel lane and a bike lane.  Not pictured, to the far right, is a pocket park with a well-used playground.IMG_1573

Even in our old Bronx neighborhood, we found sharrows on the pavement reminding drivers to share the lane with bicyclists.IMG_1576

And, yep, we even found this  street sign in Midtown:IMG_1553

It was found here, where bicyclists even have a dedicated crosswalk:

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Taking the infrastructure seriously enough to do it right is important because by offering commuters and other travelers safe passage, we will get them out of their cars more. 

We also noticed a well-thought pedestrian refuge, created for those who couldn’t safely make it all the way across a street with the “walk” sign:

IMG_1580_1And, excellent way-finding opportunities for visitors:

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We also spent time in a most impressive public space – The High Line park. Originally an elevated freight rail line that ran along the west side of Manhattan in the early 1900’s, the tracks have been sitting empty since 1980.  About fifteen years ago, a group of residents created “Friends of the High Line” to convert the eyesore into something worthy of their neighborhood.  So, starting in 2009, sections of The High Line have been opened to the public for their free pleasure.  On the Saturday morning we visited, the foliage-lined walkway was enjoyed by visitors, residents and joggers.  Every block or two, the space would expand to offer a unique and interesting space for enjoying the city above or below.

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The train tracks are still visible next to the walkway – water fountains along the path help irrigate the myriad plants within.

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In one space where the path widens for visitors to pause and soak in their surroundings, loungers are mounted onto the tracks and can be moved for customized groupings.
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Other little pockets allow bleacher-style viewing of the streets below.
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The view, of 10th Avenue, was particularly popular among visitors and tour groups.  And, when one turns around, the Statue of Liberty is visible in the distance.
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A gift shop where all of the proceeds benefit Friends of the High Line:
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And, Friends of the High Line had some awesome events planned.  The day of our visit held two Social Soup Experiments where meal was created from all-local ingredients. Guests sat at long communal tables to enjoy community with their food. Both were sold out.
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Stay tuned tomorrow to learn how DC is looking to implement a similar public space downtown (hint.

One last relevant bit I noticed was much harder to capture well with my camera.  Those were the pedestrian-only spaces that have been created by closing off blocks here and there to traffic.  Where a diagonally-directed street crosses through the regular grid, there are sometimes little triangles created.  These are tricky intersections for vehicles, so City officials have used them for another purpose – pedestrian plazas.  The one we observed was in Herald Square, right in front of Macy’s.  But, as the NYC DOT website shows, these public plazas span all of the boroughs and have not negatively impacted traffic.  Here’s what the website says:

Streets make up approximately 25% of the City’s land area and yet, outside of parks there are few places to sit, rest, socialize, and to enjoy public life. To improve the quality of life for New Yorkers, DOT creates more public open space by reclaiming underutilized street space and transforming it into pedestrian plazas.

In addition to the plazas listed below, there are 26 plazas that are in some phase of planning, design, or construction with three additional plazas expected each year. The most high profile pedestrian plazas are improving quality of life and safety for New Yorkers and tourists at Times Square, where the City is preparing to make permanent the public space enhancements that were installed as part of a six-month pilot during the summer of 2009.

What wonderful, holistic thinking and planning!  Thankfully, because great ideas are thriving all over the country and all over the world, we need not invent many new wheels here in White Flint.  Maybe some of the innovations implemented in New York would serve us well here, too.

Take A Walk Around White Flint

**** NOTE — this has been RESCHEDULED TO SATURDAY, OCTOBER 25th at 9:15am. Click here for more information****

 

Friends of White Flint and the Governor’s Institute for Community Design invite you to a Walking Tour of White Flint, this Saturday, October 11th.  Join me and former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening on a one-mile stroll through our community.  The tour will focus on current conditions and planned improvements to the pedestrian environment in White Flint, and highlight the challenge of balancing the needs of all of the roads’ users while we transform this auto-oriented area into one that’s more walkable and bikeable.  See more details below and email us at info@WhiteFlint.org with any questions!

  • What: White Flint Community Walking Tour
  • Where: Tour will begin and end at the Pike Central Farmer’s Market, located in the parking lot at the corner of Old Georgetown Road and Executive Blvd.  Please plan to walk approximately one mile.
  • When: Saturday, October 11th  at 9:15am.  It will last approximately 75 minutes.
  • Who: Hosted by Friends of White Flint and the Governor’s Institute for Community Design. Tour will be led by Lindsay Hoffman and former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening.

A TedTalk on Shifting Gears towards Bicycle- Focused Street Design

Mikael Colville-Andersen, an urban designer in Copenhagen, recently gave a Tedx Talk focused on bicycle culture in cities. For Colville-Andersen, city planners and designers need to now focus on creating complete street designs that are supportive to other means of transportation, especially bicycles. In the talk, Colville-Andersen provides a short description of how streets were designed originally for the benefit of cars and motor vehicles.  Since people are using other means of transportation more and more, our streets need to fit people’s modern lifestyles.

The best way to design streets for bicycles, Colville-Andersen says, is to focus on the human scale- people’s behaviors and patterns of how they move around cities. He brings up the idea of “desired lines, ” the actual areas, spaces, and streets that people travel most on. These lines can help define where elements such as bike lanes or cycle tracks should be placed. It is a really fascinating and perfect way to figure out how to design areas for bicyclists. We need to remind our communities why it is so important to incorporate these infrastructures into our cities and urban areas as we continue to advocate for biking infrastructure in the White Flint sector.

 

 

Pedestrian/Bicyclist Advocacy

Our last Friends of White Flint meeting was focused on pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and ways we can improve them in the short-term.  Although the White Flint Sector Plan does include robust improvements in this realm, we don’t anticipate seeing many of them immediately as they’re parts of larger infrastructure and other redevelopment projects.  But, as we’re encouraging folks to get out of their cars more, we must find ways to make it safer for them to do so now.  We’re grateful that representatives from county government – Councilmember Hans Riemer and representatives from both MC DOT and the County Executive’s Office – as well as the State Highway Administration were present to offer their ears and their voices to the discussion.

From the meeting, FoWF has narrowed down on five points where we’d like to see progress.  I’ve started by sending an email to county stakeholders asking to continue the conversation.  Here are our points of focus:

  • Our community has grave concern about the intersection of Executive Blvd and Rockville Pike.  That super-block, combined with bus stops and attractions located on both sides of the road, encourage jaywalking – which has turned deadly.  What is the timeline for evaluating this stretch of road to offer safer alternatives for those crossing without a car?  Super-blocks abound in White Flint – are there safety measures we can implement now while we await full build-out?
  • How can we improve the southbound right-turn from Rockville Pike onto Executive Boulevard so drivers are more aware of crossing pedestrians?
  • How can we be of use on advocating for better bike infrastructure and, ultimately, BikeShare?
  • We have asked for one before but, on the recommendation of Councilmember Riemer at our meeting, I’d like to renew our request for a Walkability Audit. As infrastructure plans and designs are being developed, this would be a great time to ensure all bases are being covered the first time.
  • A member raised the suggestion of limiting “rights on reds” in the district.  While this move would, anecdotally, seem to reduce hazards, is that truly the case?  If so, what are the steps to implement such a change at our busier multi-modal intersections?

Of course, this is just the tip of an iceberg but we think it’s a pretty solid starting place.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress – we hope you’ll do the same as you notice other spots where safety is a particular concern.

What’s Important to our Members?

In our last weekly email, we asked members to share what’s important to them in the redevelopment of White Flint and, therefore, where FoWF should aim its focus.  We were thrilled by the response!  Here are some of the points raised:

  • We should keep bicycle access and safety at front of mind.  All areas should be accessible for cyclists.  And, there should be secure bike parking at all residential units and bike parking readily available at commercial establishments.
  • Baby Boomers want to ensure that they aren’t being forgotten when the county works to draw the young professional demographic.  Prioritizing accessibility and well-integrated residential and commercial areas that balance all users will make this the most friendly place for all.
  • Focusing on and advocating for as much green space as possible remains a priority.  At the moment, White Flint neighborhood park is a real gem but we need to ensure that we build out spaces like Wall Park and the Civic Green, and support developers who are integrating green space into their redevelopment plans.
  • One member suggested making as much of the White Flint district as smoke-free as possible, including sidewalks, parks, parking lots, grassy areas, bus stops, bus shelters, etc.  The many benefits would include putting White Flint on the map as a healthy place to live/visit/work, widespread free publicity, a market niche, reduced litter, better aesthetics, etc.
  • Keeping small and local businesses remain a priority for our community!
  • Shading our sidewalks and installing benches to make them more friendly to those with limited mobility.

Many of these points are already part of the plan for a redeveloped White Flint, but it will take advocacy and attention to ensure that they’re executed timely and to their full potential.  We’ll keep you posted as we learn of ways where your voice will make a difference!

Also, do you get our weekly updates?  We send an email out every Thursday morning that recaps anything you might have missed during the previous week and highlights other important points!  Either sign up on our homepage at www.WhiteFlint.org or, better yet, join!  Just visit www.WhiteFlint.org/membership and have your voice heard!

Bicycles Outselling Cars Throughout Europe

In a follow up to our post from yesterday, it seems that bicycles are now outselling cars in almost every European country. In his article, NPR’s Krishnadev Calamur and his colleagues examined figures from “27 member states of the European Union for both cars and bicycles.” They found that in 25 out of the 27 countries they looked at, bicycles outsold cars. The top 5 countries are listed below in the graph.

Chart comparing new passenger car registration and bicycle sales in five European countries.Source: NPR;
They also looked into which countries had the highest bicycle-to-car ownership ratio. These top 5 countries are Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, and Lithuania. But why are bicycles more popular among Europeans than cars? The economic recession has hurt most of Europe pretty hard, which has made car sales decrease significantly. In addition, the millennial generation are not interested in using cars for transportation. Car sales have reached a 20-year low in these countries. Fewer millennials have driver’s licenses than any other generation. They are much more interested in using other means, such as bicycles.